Outer Space (Disarmament Aspects) Segment of Thematic Debate in the First Committee of the Sixty-seventh Session of the United Nations General Assembly
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
2012 has been an important year for looking forward in outer space and building on the accomplishments of those who have gone before us. This year we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the first American, John Glenn, orbiting the Earth. We also said goodbye to Neil Armstrong, the first human to walk on the Moon. As President Obama said, "Neil's spirit of discovery lives on in all the men and women who have devoted their lives to exploring the unknown - including those who are ensuring that we reach higher and go further in space. That legacy will endure - sparked by a man who taught us the enormous power of one small step."
The space environment has changed in dynamic and challenging ways since Neil Armstrong walked on the Moon. Surely most people of that time could not fully grasp the tremendous potential of space or how the world would become interconnected through, and dependent on, a broad array of space systems. When the space age began, the opportunities to use space were available to only a few nations, and there were minimal consequences for irresponsible behavior or accidents. Today, space is the domain of a growing number of satellite operators including approximately 60 nations and government consortia, as well as numerous commercial and academic operators. Although space is becoming increasingly easier to access, as well as to benefit from, space is also becoming increasingly congested with orbital debris. Consequently, the possibility of collisions in space also increases. The interconnected nature of space capabilities, and the world’s growing dependence on them, mean that irresponsible acts in space can have damaging consequences for all of us.
The United States recognizes that each member in this forum may have a different vision of how to ensure the long-term sustainability and stability of the space environment. For our part, the United States is focused on near-term, voluntary, and pragmatic transparency and confidence-building measures (TCBMs) to strengthen the long-term sustainability, stability, safety, and security of the space environment. At the same time, we are prepared to engage in substantive discussions on space security as part of a consensus program of work in the Conference on Disarmament. We are willing to consider space arms control proposals and concepts that are equitable, effectively verifiable, and enhance the national security of the United States and our allies – but we have not yet seen a proposal that meets these criteria. The proposal for a “Prevention of Placement of Weapons in Outer Space Treaty” does not do so.
The international community has made much progress this year in the pursuit of transparency and confidence-building measures. The European Union launched a multilateral diplomatic process to discuss an “International Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities”. Many countries here today, the United States included, are actively cooperating in the development of an International Code. The United States views the European Union’s draft as a good foundation for developing a non-legally binding Code of Conduct focused on the use of voluntary and pragmatic TCBMs. Such a Code would provide guidelines for responsible behavior in space that would help to reduce the hazards of accidental and purposeful debris-generating events. Moreover, it would increase the transparency of operations in space thereby minimizing the danger of collisions, and expand cooperation in areas that we all recognize as crucial for ensuring stability and sustainability in space. The United States looks forward to continuing to engage with the international community on this initiative.
This year has also seen the first meeting of the U.N.-established Group of Government Experts (GGE) on Space TCBMs. We congratulate Victor Vasiliev of the Russian Federation on his election as Chair of the study, and we welcome the progress made by the GGE at its first session in New York. The indicative program of work adopted provides a solid framework for experts to conduct a comprehensive review of the role of unilateral, bilateral, and multilateral mechanisms to strengthen stability in space. This GGE study provides a significant opportunity to explore international cooperation on pragmatic, voluntary, effective, and timely TCBMs. By maintaining a focus on voluntary and non-legally binding measures, a consensus report can contribute to a substantive discussion on space security here at the UN General Assembly First Committee.
The United States is pleased that the Scientific and Technical Subcommittee (STSC) of COPUOS has established a Working Group on the “Long-Term Sustainability of Outer Space Activities” (LTSSA), under the chairmanship of Dr. Peter Martinez of South Africa. Many of the best practice guidelines that are being considered by this working group – including those for space situational awareness, space operations, and space weather – are complementary to efforts to pursue TCBMs that enhance stability and security. During the COPUOS full committee meeting in June, the four expert groups supporting the LTSSA Working Group began to develop draft “best practice guidelines.” We are pleased at the progress these experts groups have made and look forward to the Working Group’s continued strides toward a set of final recommendations.
Mr. Chairman, we affirm that all nations have the right, consistent with international law and obligations, to use and explore space. With this right, however, comes the responsibility to preserve the environment so that future generations may make their own giant leaps for mankind. The United States is committed to working with the international community to address the challenges of today’s increasingly congested and contested space environment. We are proud of the steps the international community has taken this year towards strengthening the stability and sustainability of the space environment. Neil Armstrong reminded us of the importance of one small step. What better way to build upon his achievement, and other space achievements, by continuing these efforts in 2013 and beyond.
Mr. Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to discuss this important topic and your kind attention.