At the United Nations, progress on space sustainability is gradual

Policy Space

Diplomats and other specialists see hints of development at the United Nations (UN) on space sustainability, but they warn that any type of enforceable agreement might take many years. Officials said a United Nations resolution passed with overwhelming support in December might assist generate momentum for additional discussions on the formulation of space conduct rules in presentations at the Advanced Maui Optical and Space Surveillance Technologies (AMOS) Conference on September 17.

Countries were encouraged to submit their opinions on the present and prospective hazards and security concerns to space systems, as well as proposals for “norms, regulations, and principles of appropriate behavior” for safe space activities, as part of Resolution 75/36. The United States, China, and Russia are among the thirty countries that have formally filed reports.

During a discussion panel at the conference, Eric Desautels, who serves as the acting deputy assistant secretary in charge of the state for emerging security challenges as well as defense policy, stated, “This is the first time that the US government has put forward a substantial explanation on our opinions of liable national security behavior in space.” He mentioned “strategic-level concepts” for space behaviors, which he claimed may serve as a foundation for future study.

He stressed the need to focus on behavior. “Norms can help to limit the risk of misunderstandings and miscalculations between national security satellites functioning in space. Furthermore, negotiating a legally enforceable arms control deal would be more time consuming, and verification would be difficult.”

Similar sentiments were expressed by David Edmondson, who serves as the policy head in charge of the space security as well as advanced threats at the UK Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office. “The strategic goal of the United Kingdom is to avoid mistake and escalation from hostile activities in space systems, which might lead to conflict,” he said.

As the next stage of this process, the United Kingdom is preparing a United Nations resolution to establish an “open-ended working group.” The working group would establish a common understanding of the problem, reach an agreement on threatening actions in space, and begin writing behavioral guidelines to lessen the likelihood of space conflict.

“States will self-regulate their acts if they believe they are internationally unacceptable and likely to result in conflict,” Edmondson added. The United States and the European Union both endorse the draft resolution. “This is the start of a process, a procedure of common understanding, openness, and confidence-building, which the European Union and its member states fully support,” stated a special envoy in charge of the space and head of European External Action Service’s space task force, Carine Claeys. 

The development of that process is just as crucial as any guidelines or conventions that arise. Jessica West, a senior researcher with Project Ploughshares, said, “Process is crucial to doing any of this.” “It’s critical that the approach be as inclusive as feasible going forward. This necessitates a method for cultivating and expanding like-mindedness among distinct actors.”

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