Inadvertent or deliberate irresponsible behavior in outer space by nations can lead to massive international crisis or aggravate an existing one. Virtually anything can be used to destroy a nation’s satellite system and other devises. Outer space stands militarized today; militaries around the world are reliant upon satellites.
The information gathering is from a wide sphere of subjects including communication, command and control as well as monitoring, Peaceful outer space use for military interests are interestingly used for total non-peaceful actions as well; direct bombing through satellite use being one example. Devises created especially to be placed in outer space with a capacity to wreck destruction is a dangerous reality of space warfare.
Creating an arms race in the space has been a great concern for nations. Besides the physical negative cascading effect of adventurism in space, waste of resources and space debris, causing destruction to satellite systems takes military and asymmetrical warfare to another level altogether.
The greater the number of space objects launched in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) the lesser the space for civilian systems. This holds good for peace times as well. In case of a war, enough satellites destroyed will create massive space debris creating lesser ability to subsequent space access.
PPWT (Prevention of Placement of Weapons Treaty) against weapons’ deployment in space is a step in the right direction to have control over deployment of weapons in space to avoid multidimensional issues associated with proliferation of space weapons.
Both China and Russia look at this as a threat to global security. An updated Draft Treaty on the Prevention of the Placement of Weapons in Outer Space, the Threat or Use of Force against Outer Space Objects presented in the United Nations General Assembly by Russia and China notes the following;
“Recognizing that, while the existing international agreements related to outer space and the legal regime provided for therein play a positive role in regulating outer space activities, they are unable to fully prevent the placement of weapons in outer space.” (2014)
However, lack of support from states like US, has created obstacles in its going through. US dismissed the suggested revised Treaty as flawed. Ambassador Robert Wood, the U.S. representative to the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva observed, “Neither the original PPWT nor the revised version addresses the most pressing existing threat to outer space systems: terrestrially-based ASAT systems.” (Jeff Frost, September 11, 2014)
Interestingly, the Draft Treaty offers a ban on placement weapons in space yet is quiet on launching ASATs from the ground. The ASAT or Anti-satellite weapons are made to destroy space weapons. Latter designed to destroy space weapons used specifically for strategic military objectives.
US views Chinese endeavors in her civil space programme an objective to use it militarily. Space Wars, a book by Colonel Li Daguang, published by National Defense University in 2001, offers an opinion that a combination of civil and military technology needs to be developed, aimed at catering both to peace and war times.
The crux in failure to come to a better understanding lies in lack of confidence in other nation states. This makes it all the more important to come to the same page for this crucial issue.
The road to an understanding on PPWT lies through TCBM (Transparency and Confidence Building Measures) and upgrading them for needs of the day. General Assembly of United Nations adopted for the first time based on recommendations of the First Committee in 2010 to observe responsible working of nations in outer space.
The resolution established a group of government experts (GGE) to study in depth the TCBM. In many resolutions that followed, the General Assembly has suggested member states to implement suggested guidelines with respective policies based on national interest but not in conflict with the interests of the member states
What is needed is to view bilateral, national, unilateral steps in view of increasing space traffic leading to space debris, increasing dangers of collusion and a higher level of awareness to increase space security. Individual or collective efforts by some states at expense of others to monopolize the space for military and civilian purposes will lead to a clash of interests that may spiral out of control.
An interesting question poses itself with Pakistan’s recent inclusion as a full SCO member. Can Pakistan work for a more secure environment by an upgrading of TCBM leading up to a PPWT that better reflects the challenges the world faces today in terms of fight for outer space?
Though nothing is going to cement anytime soon, Pakistan’s interest and support followed by active lobbying by bringing the SCO members together to build pressure for this to materialize will be a step in the right direction establishing her as a responsible member in the comity of nations.
The writer is a lawyer, academic and political analyst. She has authored a book titled ‘A Comparative Analysis of Media & Media Laws in Pakistan.’ She can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org and tweets at @yasmeen_9