Sunday, August 10, 2014


What is it about the rule of law that the US government doesn’t like?  The US is still holding out on signing the treaty to Ban Land Mines Ban, adopted in 1997,[i] and has managed to avoid joining the Law of the Seas Treaty which was negotiated in 1982.[ii]   Isn’t it time for Civil Society to mobilize for putting a treaty to ban weapons in space on the negotiating table if we’re to have any hope of truly banning the bomb?  After all, the Non-Proliferation Treaty calls for the elimination of nuclear weapons “and their delivery systems”.   Aren’t we leaving a lot out when we don’t address this issue?   And will any country be willing to negotiate for nuclear disarmament when the US blatantly proclaims its intention for full spectrum dominance and global strike capacity? 

China and Russia have been proposing a joint draft treaty for the Prevention of the Placement of Weapons in Outer Space (PPWT) since 2008, at the UN’s Conference on Disarmament. [iii] The United States has repeatedly blocked consensus in the CD to move forward on negotiating a treaty to ban weapons in space, saying, at one point, that the proposal was “a diplomatic ploy by the two nations to gain a military advantage”.[iv] 

In June 2014, Russia and China submitted an updated draft treaty, with an accompanying paper explaining what changes they had made since the 2008 draft.  Both the Chinese and Russian Ambassadors invited further comment and feedback. [v] The US objected again, stating that the new draft “does not address the significant flaws” in the older version such as including provisions for effective verification or for dealing with land-based anti-satellite systems.  As to a legally binding treaty, the US stated that while it would consider proposals that are “equitable, effectively reliable, and enhance the national security of international participants”, the US has yet to see “any legally binding proposals that meet these criteria” and wants to focus on non-legally binding efforts such as the Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities, and some other recent UN initiatives for transparency and confidence building that will not have the force of law.[vi] 
The US has been participating since 2008 with a European Union initiative proposing a “Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities to provide a non-binding set of rules of the road for a safer environment in space.  But it recently threw up new roadblocks against even that toothless  effort.  The US now insists that the Codes’ voluntary promise to “refrain from any action which brings about, directly or indirectly, damage, or to destruction, of space objects”, be qualified with the language unless such action is justified”.  One justification given for destructive action is the UN Charter’s right to individual or collective self-defense, thus lending legitimacy and codifying the possibility for warfare in space as part of the Code’s established norm.  Although the UN Charter prohibits aggressive action by any nation without Security Council approval, it makes an exception when a nation acts in self-defense.  There have been numerous occasions where nations by-passed the Security Council to take aggressive action in the name of self-defense.   Instead of banning anti-satellite weapons development and space warfare, this US proposal for the Code would justify such warfare as long as it’s done, individually and collectively, under the guise of “self-defense”.   Thus despite lacking the force of law that would be established with a legally binding treaty, this new US proposal for the Code would create the possibility for space warfare rather than its prohibition.  Because of these new blocks, the negotiations on the Code are now stalled[vii] while at the same time the US puts up new resistance to a reasonable proposal from Russia and China to legally ban weapons in space.  In the words of Pogo, a popular US comic strip, published in the 1970s by Walt Kelly, and satirized by many, “We have met the enemy and he is us!” [viii]

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