“Outer space is a domain that no nation owns but on which all rely,” said U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Arms Control, Verification and Compliance Frank Rose. “Today, space is becoming increasingly congested from orbital debris . . . Left unchecked, such debris could result in access to some space services being seriously degraded or even lost – creating a direct threat to international security.”
Deputy Assistant Secretary Rose covered two aspects of ensuring the security and sustainability of the space environment: first, the risks and dangers to space systems from debris generating anti-satellite system tests; and second, the potential role of new international diplomatic initiatives in protecting the long-term sustainability and security of the space environment.
“The United States believes that the development and testing of destructive anti-satellite weapon systems are both destabilizing and threaten the long-term security and sustainability of the outer space environment,” Mr. Rose said. He noted that on July 23 of this year, the Chinese Government conducted a non-destructive test of a missile designed to destroy satellites in low Earth orbit. Previously in 2007, China intercepted and destroyed its own weather satellite in outer space which created thousands of pieces of orbital debris potentially lasting into the next century.
Given these threats and the increasingly congested nature of the space environment, in which an increasing number of governments and nongovernmental organizations are harnessing the benefits of outer space, the United States seeks to work with all nations around the world to ensure the long-term sustainability of the space environment.
The European Union's proposed International Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities is one of the important multilateral initiatives in this respect. The Code could help to reduce the chance of collisions, contribute to the situational awareness of the space environment, and strengthen stability in space by establishing norms for responsible behavior.
“Multilateral diplomatic initiatives contribute greatly to defining acceptable and unacceptable behaviors in space,” Mr. Rose said. “If we are serious about maintaining the space environment for future generations, we must support such measures that promote positive activities in space and further the creation of norms which dissuade countries from taking destabilizing actions . . . We can, and must, advance the long-term sustainability and security of the outer space environment for all nations and future generations.”