That proposed treaty, known as the Prevention of the Placement of Weapons in Outer Space Treaty (PPWT), is regarded by the Obama administration, and the Bush administration before it, as unverifiable and not in the U.S. national interest, according to public statements by both administrations.
“The code of conduct needs a few changes, but it is certainly far better than the PPWT,” Ms. DeSutter said. “One of the good things about it is that it recognizes specifically the legitimate right of self-defense in space and the virtue of the U.S. satellite shootdown in 2008. It does not appear to limit U.S. missile defenses in any way.”
However, she added that “it needs to be thoroughly reviewed to make sure that it protects U.S. intelligence and military satellite systems.”
A senior State Department official familiar with the interagency review of the code of conduct said: “We had everyone look at this. Our defense programs are not harmed by it.”
The State Department has exchanged language with the EU on the code of conduct. The U.S. and Russia also have begun talks about creating confidence-building measures regarding space-based activities. The U.S. has reached out to China on space issues, but Beijing has declined offers to discuss the issue, according to a senior State Department official.
One congressional staffer said many aides still had questions after Monday’s briefing.
“There are capabilities that we have in space and that we want to have in space,” the staffer said.
“We want to make sure our ability to conduct space situation awareness and to pursue those capabilities are not hindered by the code of conduct.”
Another congressional staff member said: “There is a suspicion that this is a slippery slope to arms control for space-based weapons, anti-satellite weapons and a back door to potentially limiting missile defense.”
Baker Spring, a defense analyst at the Heritage Foundation, said the staffers’ concerns are “likely to be well-founded.”
“Because it appears that they are talking about limiting operations, as opposed to limiting the weapons themselves, it could be that this is as much an agreement on the law of war as it is on arms control,” Mr. Spring said. “If it is something more like a law-of-war agreement, then you are creating a situation of legal jeopardy for a military commander who is responsible for operating systems in space.”
But Scott Pace, director of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University, said: “I don’t see this text as limiting U.S. capabilities. In fact, I see the idea of limiting space debris as deeply in the U.S. national interest and the interest of all space-faring nations.”
In briefings with Congress, administration officials have said they do not consider the EU code of conduct to be a treaty, meaning it would not have to sent to the Senate for approval.
Mr. Pace said that “saying responsible countries agree on responsible behavior is not the same as a treaty.”
Mr. Spring disagreed. He said the resolution of ratification adopted by the Senate last month for the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty spells out exactly the kinds of agreements that require the Senate’s approval and the definition of militarily significant limitations would cover the code of conduct.