Space Sustainability Making Slow Progress at the United Nations

Officials said that in presentations at the Advanced Maui Optical and Space Surveillance Technologies, or AMOS, Conference here Sept. 17 that a United Nations resolution passed with overwhelming support last December could help establish momentum for further discussions on the development of space behavior norms.

Fremont, CA: Diplomats and other experts see signs of progress at the United Nations in addressing space sustainability but warn that any sort of binding agreement may take years and years to emerge.

Officials said that in presentations at the Advanced Maui Optical and Space Surveillance Technologies, or AMOS, Conference here Sept. 17 that a United Nations resolution passed with overwhelming support last December could help establish momentum for further discussions on the development of space behavior norms.

Resolution 75/36 invited countries to submit their perspectives on existing and potential threats as well as security risks to space systems and ideas for “norms, rules, and principles of responsible behavior” for safe space operations. Thirty countries, including China, Russia, and the US, have formally submitted reports.

 “This is the first time that the US government put forward a substantial description on our views of responsible national security behavior in space,” stated Eric Desautels, acting deputy assistant secretary of state for emerging security challenges and defense policy, during a panel discussion at the conference. That included “strategic-level principles” regarding space behaviors that he said could be the basis for future work.

The focus on behaviors was crucial, he stated. “The implementation of norms can reduce the possibility of misunderstanding and miscalculation between national security satellites operating in space. Moreover, the alternative of developing a legally binding arms control agreement would take longer to develop and verification is a significant challenge.”

However, panelists acknowledged that translating those understandings of norms of behavior into a more binding document is still a long way off. Even seemingly uncontroversial proposals, such as a treaty prohibiting the testing of kinetic-energy antisatellite (ASAT) weapons from avoiding the production of additional debris, are difficult to implement.

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