China, Russia Propose Weapons Ban in Space

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At a disarmament conference in Geneva, Russia and China formally presented a plan to ban weapons in space. From the International Herald Tribune:

Russia and China have pushed for years for a treaty to prevent an arms race in space, a threat that China underlined last year by shooting down one of its own satellites. In the face of U.S. objections that there is no arms race in space and therefore no need to negotiate a treaty, [Foreign Minister Sergey] Lavrov submitted a draft on the “prevention of the placement of weapons in outer space, the threat or use of force against outer space objects.”

“Weapons deployment in space by one state will inevitably result in a chain reaction,” Lavrov warned. “And this, in turn, is fraught with a new spiral in the arms race both in space and on the Earth.”

The draft treaty aims to fill gaps in existing space law and create conditions for the further exploration and use of space and to strengthen general security and arms control, Lavrov said. It is time “to start serious practical work in this field,” he said.

Senior arms-control analysts, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told The Washington Times:

“Russia and China are concerned that the U.S. military will surge further ahead by dominating space with conventional weapons.”

“It’s the global strike capacity that worries Russia, China and others, as the U.S. Air Force would have the capability within 45 minutes to strike any surface on the globe,” said one arms authority.

“It’s equivalent to a Death Star.”

In an op-ed piece in the San Francisco Chronicle, Mike Moore, former editor of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, cited a recent national poll indicating that Americans overwhelmingly oppose putting weapons in space:

What would America do if we thought another country were about to place weapons in space? What would we do if China starts building advanced anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons that could bring the international economy to a halt by crippling global communications and navigation systems? What would we do if Russia announced plans to build tiny unmanned space bombers capable of striking earthly targets? What would we do if the country in question actually had the technical and financial resources to pull it off?

We would condemn such plans and call on the international community to impose draconian economic and political sanctions until the policy was reversed. One can almost hear a president telling the nation, “This violation of international law and custom, this threat to peace and freedom, this tyranny of the heavens, shall not stand.”

In a piece in Wired magazine John Borland wrote:

Put aside the fact that a significant number of scientists and policy experts say space-based weapons are inherently vulnerable to attack, and thus provide little or no real military superiority. Weaponizing space – as some military officials have pressed for since the beginning of the decade – will almost certainly cause an arms race in space.

Indeed, the test of the Chinese satellite-killing missile in early 2007 is already proof positive of that. That test set off a fresh round of concern in military offices around the world, prompting air force officials even in South Korea to talk about the need of developing space-based weapons.

United States officials, in repeated policy speeches and in their 2006 National Space Policy, have argued that the country should not let its hands be tied by international agreements such as this proposed treaty. But if the gains from a temporary superiority lead simply to another expensive, destabilizing arms race, this time in space, well, that doesn’t seem like such a good deal to me.

The US has rejected the Sino-Russian proposal.

February 13, 2008 1:19 PM
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