Manners in Space

Over the past few years, the space superpowers have tried to decide on the proper etiquette for behavior in the skies. Should space be considered a combat arena like all other arenas? Can military use of space be limited, and to what degree? Can the positioning of weapon and armament systems be prevented?

In recent years, the number of countries in possession of satellites has gradually increased, and many countries now rely on satellite services for civilian, commercial, and military activities. Ensuring the proper activity of space systems is a global goal, and is no longer an issue limited solely to the superpowers.

Most treaties and agreements on the issue of space that countries abide by were formulated during the Cold War. While countries abide by the rules, many of these agreements do not consider the tremendous technological developments that have taken place since then. For example, the UN's 1967 Outer Space Treaty stipulates that space will be used for peaceful purposes, but it does not explicitly state that satellites must not be attacked. Since satellites are vital to the existence of the global economy and measure the political and military strength of a country, the debate over satellites forces countries into confrontations with one another.

The United States, Russia, China, and Europe agree amongst themselves that securing space activity is of great importance. However, there are still disagreements among these countries on how to secure space. In recent years, Russia and China have promoted proposals in the UN for preventing space arms races (PAROS and PPWT). Their support of initiatives to prevent weapons in space primarily stems from their desire to adopt a moral and peace-supporting image, along with the knowledge that the US will object to the placement of such limitations and prevent these initiatives from being implemented.

Europe supports these initiatives, but promotes its "Space Code of Conduct” plan. The US opposes the initiatives by Russia and China, as it sees them as attempts to limit its freedom to operate in space. The US is also of the opinion that without creating supervision, control, and enforcement mechanisms that would ensure that its partners operate by the rules, and without transparency and trust, such binding agreements will inflict more damage than good, and will hurt its national security in space and on the ground. Russia and China deny the US objections, and interpret the US stance as an aggressive once. Since there is no consensus on the Chinese and Russian proposal, only the European proposal is currently on the agenda. Its advantage is that it is not a binding international treaty.

A behavioral pattern or code is a set of "manners” that countries embrace on their own to achieve a mutual goal. Such a code is considered a preliminary measure for establishing binding international agreements, since it is intended to establish the trust needed to form the future basis for the consolidation of an international agreement for activities in space.

So far, the Obama administration cooperated with the European initiative, and continues to search for solutions to ensure peaceful space activity at the international level. However, two weeks ago, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced that the US would not support any agreements that would limit it in space. Her statement posed a large question over the future of the European initiative.

While the US did declare that it would continue to create agreed-upon international behavioral norms, at this stage, it seems that instead of promoting an international process for inspecting and consolidating behavioral norms in space, the US has halted it.

In the end, the suspicions of all the players have overcome the desire to reach a solution. In addition, the dependency of advanced countries and the global economy on satellite systems turns them into targets. The vulnerability of these systems necessitates that advanced countries promote international rules of behavior and norms that will define the rules of the game, and deal with the questions of how assets in space can be protected from accidental or deliberate harm. Other important questions that need to be answered are whether space be considered a combat arena, whether military use of space can be limited, and if so, to what degree, and whether the positioning of weapon and armament systems can be prevented.

These issues and others will be discussed at the Cyber and Defense Conference at the Yuval Ne’eman Workshop for Science, Technology, and Security, which will take place on March 20 at Tel Aviv University.

**Dr. Dganit Pikovsky is an expert on space policy at the Yuval Ne’eman Workshop for Science, Technology and Security at Tel Aviv University.