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U.S., EU eye anti-satellite weapons pact
Limits raise worries
The Obama administration is negotiating with the European Union on an agreement limiting the use of anti-satellite weapons, a move that some critics say could curb U.S. development of space weapons in general.
Three congressional staffers told The Washington Times that Pentagon and intelligence analysts said in a briefing Monday that the administration is looking to sign on to the European Union’s Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities.
The briefing followed the completion of an interagency review that recommends the United States sign on to the document with only a few minor changes to its language, according to two administration officials familiar with the review.
That recommendation is awaiting final approval from the National Security Council.
“The United States is continuing to consult with the European Union on its initiative to develop a comprehensive set of multilateral TCBMs, also known as the Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities,” Rose Gottemoeller, assistant secretary of state for arms control, verification and compliance, said Thursday at the U.N. Conference on Disarmament. TCBM stands for “transparency and confidence-building measures.”
A draft of the code of conduct dated Sept. 27 says countries that sign on to the document vow to “refrain from any action which intends to bring about, directly or indirectly, damage or destruction of outer space objects unless such action is conducted to reduce the creation of outer space debris and/or is justified by the inherent right of individual or collective self-defense in accordance with the United Nations Charter or imperative safety considerations.”
The United States has worried about the safety of commercial, intelligence and military satellites for years, but that concern has heightened since 2007. That year, the Chinese military successfully tested a ground-based missile that destroyed one of its own satellites.
In 2009, a communications satellite owned by satellite-phone maker Iridium crashed into a Russian satellite over northern Siberia.
Both incidents created debris that could collide with other satellites.
“Space debris, to me, I equate it with global warming in orbit,” said Matthew Hoey, a military space consultant who has worked for the U.S. government and the U.N. Institute for Defense and Disarmament Studies. “It is a race against time, and once we pass the tipping point, there is no reversing it. The ramifications of a collision on economics, space exploration and communications — these are grand issues.”
“It is not exactly binding,” he said. “There are not exactly penalties. It is a bit of an honor system. But it’s the first step towards space-based arms control that we will eventually need.”
The United States is a party to one major arms-control treaty dealing with outer space. Signed in 1967, that treaty bans countries from bringing nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction into space.
Paula DeSutter, who was an assistant secretary of state for verification and compliance under President George W. Bush, said the EU code would be much better for U.S. national interests than a space-based arms control treaty introduced by the Russian and Chinese delegations at the 2008 U.N. Conference on Disarmament.
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