joint Russia-China draft Treaty on the Prevention of the Placement of Weapons in Outer Space, the Threat or Use of Force against Outer Space Objects (PPWT)
Click to download PDF version of the PPWT Treaty
NOTE: The PPWT has a dangerous loophole. Under Article I(c) - Definition of the term "weapons in outer space" the Russia-China Treaty does not ban HAARP as a space-based weapon of mass destruction.
The PPWT also lacks an enforcement mechanism such as the outer space peacekeeping agency.
REACHING CRITICAL WILL COMMENTARY:
12 February 2008
Rotating President Labidi opened the Conference on Disarmament (CD) session and welcomed Russia’s Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, who addressed the Conference and presented the draft Treaty on the Prevention of the Placement of Weapons in Outer Space, the Threat or Use of Force against Outer Space Objects (PPWT). China’s Ambassador Li Baodong also read a message from the Chinese Foreign Minister, related the subject of the draft treaty. The session was briefly suspended for an inaugural ceremony of a sculpture presented by Russia to the UN and then resumed with representatives from Canada, Belarus, and Sri Lanka presenting their statements to the plenary.
Background to the PPWT
The key note of interest at the plenary was the introduction of the draft PPWT. The prevention of an arms race in outer space (PAROS) has been a longstanding agenda item in the CD, though no subsidiary body dealing with the subject has met since 1995. Debate on PAROS continued in plenary discussions, and in 2006 and 2007, the CD engaged in focused, structured discussions on the subject. At the CD and in the UNGA First Committee, where a draft resolution on PAROS is introduced annually, discussions often focused on the definition of PAROS and the implications of its meaning. The United States’ delegations to multilateral disarmament fora routinely argued, “One: there is no arms race in space. Two: there is no prospect of an arms race in space. Three: the United States will continue to protect its access to, and use of, space.” During the 2007 thematic debate on outer space in First Committee, Disarmament Counsellor Magnus Hellgren of Sweden explained, “In order to move away from this linguistic and philosophical debate, the discussion in the CD has of lately [sic] been focused not on a PAROS-treaty, but on a treaty to Prevent the Placement of Weapons in Outer Space, the so called PPW-treaty.”
Overview of the draft treaty
The draft PPWT introduced by Minister Lavrov is the first text formally introduced to the CD, though it is based on elements proposed in a working paper to the CD in June 2002 by Russia, China, Viet Nam, Indonesia, Belarus, Zimbabwe, and Syria. Minister Lavrov explained the draft treaty is designed “to eliminate existing lacunas in international space law, create conditions for further exploration and use of space, preserve costly space property, and strengthen general security and arms control.”
The preamble of both the 2002 paper and the new draft treaty emphasizes the need to keep outer space free from “military confrontation” and open to peaceful uses and exploration for the “development of humankind”. It also notes that while existing arms control and disarmament agreements relevant to outer space “play a positive role ... in regulating outer space activities,” they are insufficient to “effectively prevent the placement of weapons and an arms race in outer space.” It argues for “examination of further measures in the search for effective and verifiable bilateral and multilateral agreements in order to prevent an arms race in outer space.”
The draft treaty’s articles expand upon the elements contained the 2002 working paper. It defines certain terms, such as “outer space,” “outer space object,” and “weapons in outer space.” It specifies that the latter means
any device placed in outer space, based on any physical principle, specially produced or converted to eliminate, damage or disrupt normal function of objects in outer space, on the Earth or in its air, as well as to eliminate population, components of biosphere critical to human existence or inflict damage to them.
It subsequently explains, “a weapon will be considered as ‘placed’ in outer space if it orbits the Earth at least once, or follows a section of such an orbit before leaving this orbit or is stationed on a permanent basis somewhere in outer space,” and describes “use of force” or “threat of force” as meaning
any hostile action against outer space objects including, inter alia, those aimed at their destruction, damage, temporarily or permanently injuring normal functioning, deliberate alteration of the parameters of their orbit, or the threat of these actions.
The draft goes on to explain that states parties to the treaty undertake not to place in orbit “any objects carrying any kind of weapons,” not to install them on celestial bodies or other space structures, not to use or threaten to use force against outer space objects, and not to encourage any other parties to do so. It emphasizes the treaty will not impede the rights of states parties “to explore and use outer space for peaceful purposes in accordance with international law.” For matters of transparency and compliance, the draft provides for voluntary confidence-building measures. On verification and compliance enforcement the draft provides for the possibility of subsequent negotiation of an additional protocol and for the establishment of an executive organization for the treaty, which will consider complaints of treaty violations, organize and conduct consultations with states parties, and “take measures to put an end to the violation of the Treaty by any State Party.”
Analysis of the draft treaty
The draft treaty does not settle all of the questions government and non-government experts have asked over the years, such as:
* What implications will the current militarization of space have for this treaty? Space has been militarized since the earliest communication satellites were launched; today, militaries all over the world rely heavily on satellites for command and control, communication, monitoring, early warning, and navigation. Most states accept that “peaceful purposes of outer space” include military uses, even those which are not at all peaceful—such as using satellites to direct bombing raids or to orchestrate a “prompt global strike” capability. The use of space objects to conduct war on Earth is not addressed by this treaty.
* The militarization of space also presents many problems of “dual use technologies”—some space objects can be used for commercial or military purposes or as weapons. The draft treaty does not address how it will deal with dual-use space-based objects. Would any space object that can be maneuvered to intentionally crash into another space object—such as the XSS-11 satellite being developed by the US military and defense contractors—be considered a space weapon? It is advertised as an autonomous rendezvous space-based object intended to fix other space objects, but its capacity to maneuver around another satellite also allows it to disable or destroy its target.
* Many experts have asserted a treaty should also ban ground-based weapons aimed at attacking space assets, including ground-based ballistic missile defense systems. However, intercontinental ballistic missiles and missile interceptors, which could be used to attack space objects, travel on a sub-orbital trajectory. While some might travel through space, they never maintain sufficient velocity to achieve orbit. The draft treaty says states parties shall not “resort to the threat or use of force against outer space objects,” but it does not restrict the development, testing, or deployment of missile defense systems or other ground-based anti-satellite systems, only systems placed in orbit or installed on structures or bodies in outer space.
* The draft treaty does not ban development or testing of space weapons, only their use. So then, would China’s test in January 2007 of an anti-satellite weapon be considered a violation of the treaty? If states are allowed to continue developing and testing weapons, won’t this defeat the stated purpose of the treaty—which Minister Lavrov indicated was “strategic stability” and “political equilibrium”.
* As Hellgren pointed out in his October 2007 presentation, there are many diverging opinions on verification of a PPWT: some have argued for a normative treaty without verification provisions, others say it cannot be effectively verified, and some argue that verification should not be separated from other aspects of the treaty and that it should be addressed in the course of negotiations. The indication that verification “may” be covered by an additional protocol suggests the possibility of no or limited verification measures.
As Canada’s Ambassador Marius Grinius said, “the nature of the issues involved will require considerable detailed and complex discussion of a technical, legal, and political nature on which no consensus currently exists.”
However, it is heartening to see an attempt at forward movement in the CD. Minister Lavrov was quick to point out that the draft treaty is being submitted “with a research mandate,” rather than a negotiating mandate, with a view to the establishment of a relevant ad hoc committee in the future, “when appropriate conditions are there.” He insisted that the introduction of this draft treaty “does not add any complications to achieving a compromise on the programme of work of the Conference.”
Yet the mass media has presented the introduction of the draft treaty as a “showdown” between the United States and Russia/China over “competing international treaties, one banning the production of nuclear materials and the other trying to prevent an arms race in space.” The Washington Times quoted an unidentified US official as saying, “We put our FMCT [fissile materials cut-off treaty] draft forward in May 2006 and have been pushing it all along, before there was any talk of a treaty on outer space.” An absurd statement to say the least, given that an ad hoc committee on PAROS was established in the CD in 1985, the UNGA has adopted annual resolutions on PAROS with an overwhelming majority for over twenty years (according to China’s Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi), and Russia and China introduced possible elements for a PAROS treaty in 2002 (see above).
The Washington Times further (mis)reported, “Now Russia and China have linked negotiations on the FMCT” to the PPWT. Russia and China actually used to link the two items, and if they did so now it would be nothing new, as the Times suggests it is. However, in 2007 Russia agreed to adopt the compromise programme of work in document L.1, which called only for negotiations on an FMCT, thus dropping its linkage to PAROS. The Chinese delegation rejected L.1, and continues calling for a “balanced and comprehensive programme of work,” though it has not specifically demanded simultaneous negotiations this year.
The Associated Press reported that Washington called the introduction of the draft “a diplomatic ploy by the two nations to gain a military advantage,” and said Minister Lavrov’s introduction of the treaty “came with an implied threat.” It noted Minister Lavrov’s comment “that the nuclear arms race was started with a view to preserving the monopoly to this type of weapons [sic], but this monopoly was to last only four years,” implying Lavrov meant Russia would “catch up” to the United States in developing space weapons just as it did with nuclear weapons. However, unreported by the Associated Press, Lavrov went on to lament the waste of material and other resources “at the expense of finding solutions to the problem of development.”
In addition, the Associated Press reported, “Washington rejects the [draft treaty] because it feels it is only directed at U.S. military technology and allows China and Russia to fire ground-based missiles into space or use satellites as weapons of war.” This statement demonstrates the absurd spin put on issues that challenge US military dominance—the draft treaty would obviously prohibit the use of space-based weapons by all states parties, not just the United States, and does not limit any state party’s use of ground-based missiles, not even the United States’.
The Associated Press article goes on to report, “The U.S. says it is committed to ensuring the use of space for peaceful purposes, but insists that it will pursue programs to ensure that its satellites and other spacecraft are protected.” However, the US delegation stood alone in voting against the annual PAROS resolution in the UNGA in 2005–2007, and released a National Space Policy in October 2006 opposing “the development of new legal regimes or other restrictions that seek to prohibit or limit US access to or use of space,” and arguing it will continue to “dissuade or deter others from impeding [its right to operate in space] . . . and deny, if necessary, adversaries the use of space capabilities hostile to US national interests.” In addition, its programs to “protect” its satellites and other spacecraft include some of the most aggressive technologies yet to be unleashed on the international community. Minister Lavrov noted in his introduction
It is well known that there is inseparable relationship between strategic offensive and defensive armaments ... The desire to acquire an anti-missile “shield” while dismantling the “sheath”, where the nuclear “sword” is kept is extremely dangerous. And if one also places on the balance pan the “global lightning strike” concept providing for striking with nuclear and conventional strategic means targets in any point of the Globe in a matter of an hour after a relevant decision has been made, the risks for strategy stability and predictability become more than obvious.
Russia’s political philosophy
It is unfortunate that Minister Lavrov consistently referred to strategic stability and political equilibrium as the only potential sufferers from the deployment of weapons in outer space. Broader discussions of PAROS and space weaponization often neglect the effect that weapons in space would have on human security—particularly from the unconscionable waste of resources. In his outline of “the new Russia’s foreign policy philosophy,” Minister Lavrov indicated that social and economic growth “will be one of the key guarantees” of Russia’s security and recognized the “indivisibility of security and development.” Yet the Russian government has expressed its willingness to cooperate with the United States and NATO on developing missile defense systems for Europe—systems which the Russian government itself has routinely insisted are unnecessary because the threats they are deemed to protect against do not exist; systems which squander excessive economic resources; systems which undermine the “more just and genuinely democratic architecture of international relations” that Minister Lavrov called for in his philosophical treatise.
Response in the CD
Response to the draft in the CD on Tuesday was brief. Welcoming “Russia’s efforts to energize discussions” on PPW, Canada’s Ambassador Grinius said his delegation had “submitted detailed comments” on the draft. He also highlighted the Hague Code of Conduct (HCOC) as “a valuable and existing” transparency and confidence-building measure (TCBM) and suggested it would be unrealistic to create TCBMs ones when “existing ones ... are regrettably falling into disuse.” Ambassador Grinius also argued, “the dividing lines between civil and military issues in space are increasingly irrelevant in practical terms,” and called for greater cooperation among the UN’s space-related institutions and between the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space and the CD.
Sri Lanka’s Ambassador Dayan Jayatilleka congratulated China and Russia’s collaboration on the draft PPWT and “did not see why a fissile material treaty should take priority over the draft treaty submitted.” He also stated that the L.1 proposal should “be a starting point” for future work and proposed that a contact group should be set up to consult with member states who have reservations on L.1 to address these concerns.
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