Sanjay Kumar writes: The United Nations General Assembly on 08 Dec 2015 has approved a Russian-led resolution calling for nations to refrain from being the first to deploy weapons into outer space. Known as the “no first placement” (NFP) initiative, the proposed UN resolution was drafted by Russia in 2014 as an apparent bid to place further restrictions on the militarization of space which is largely prohibited by the 1967 UN Outer Space Treaty.
The US delegation voted against the draft resolution and European Union nations abstained from the vote. The nations that voted in favour of Russia’s proposal include China and Syria.
Growing use of space for military purposes especially C4ISR and precision guided missiles has changed the dynamics of warfare and opened a new frontier altogether. US relies heavily on its space systems, it showcased it’s technological prowess in Operation Desert Storm wherein space based systems integrated with the terrestrial C4I infrastructure provided critical capabilities for war fighting in joint operations on land, sea and air. The GPS and other space systems have extended the reach of United States globally.
China has realised that criticality of US lies in its space assets which is the backbone of its war waging capability across the globe. Therefore, China has invested heavily into developing space weapons to jam and even destroy satellites. The China’s counter-space programme is directly aimed towards US and comprises of wide-ranging and robust array of counter-space capabilities, which includes direct-ascent anti-satellite missiles, co-orbital anti-satellite systems, computer network operations, ground-based satellite jammers and directed energy weapons. PLA emphasize the necessity of destroying, damaging and interfering with the enemy’s reconnaissance, communications, navigation and early warning satellites, to blind and deafen the enemy with a view to deprive him of initiative on the battlefield and make it difficult for him to bring their precision guided weapons into full play.
China recently tested the DN-2 and SC-19, two direct-ascent missiles that can hit satellites even in high orbits. The DN-2, in particular, is believed to be capable of annihilating US Global Positioning Satellites, which can cause serious damage on America’s intelligence gathering and war waging capability. US depends heavily on the GPS to direct strategic missiles on target and movement of its troops, warships and battle equipment.
The rising ASAT capabilities of China and Russia directly threaten US hegemony which it enjoyed over the years post Cold War. In the recent past both China and Russia have in a way challenged US hegemony, whether it was control of major sea routes in South-East Asia or conflict in Syria, and the sphere is increasing to economic domain and energy resources.
Therefore, it is vital for United States to protect its assets in space which are critical to its global dominance. To do so, one of the most viable options is to put suitable in-orbit system to immediately respond to such hostile attacks that threaten US assets in space. In such hostile scenario, time is very critical, ability to detect and tackle a threat with speed. The space based platforms / systems can only provide reliable tracking and interception of such hostile missiles within the available reaction time. Therefore, United States is strongly against any resolution that inhibits deployment of weapons in space which eventually compromises its global interests.
The United States delegation objected to the resolution as weak that overlooks the entire class of ground-based space weapons and also that space weapons are not adequately defined in the resolution, thus making it difficult to enforce or verify adherence to the provisions of the non-binding resolution. In the view of United States, the current wording of Russia’s proposal makes no mention of limiting the deployment of ground or air-based anti-satellite weapons, such as one tested by China in 2007, in which a ground-based missile intercepted and destroyed a defunct Chinese weather satellite. This was a monumental stride in anti-satellite weaponry and it also created a massive cloud of space debris.
The NFP initiative calls on nations to refrain from being the first to place military weapons in outer space, thereby preventing a new and potentially devastating arms race between the world’s leading space-faring nations — Russia, China and the United States, who are all working on space weapons. The resolution is nonbinding, but calls for negotiations held at the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva to put forth a legally binding international treaty preventing weapons from being deployed in space, and calls on all states to adopt national commitments to the resolution.
Space is a common heritage of mankind and it must be preserved for posterity for its peaceful use to enable future generations enjoy the benefits of space technology. Today space plays crucial role in communications, remote sensing, weather forecast, traffic management, education, medical services etc. Space should be kept free of any military-related application which would limit the scope and progress of its peaceful uses and would jeopardize the security of all.
It’s the time for all nations to come together to establish global legal norms for outer space activities to prevent its militarization and a global instrument to control outer space for peaceful purposes. World powers need to come together to declare space as a demilitarised zone and must extend the benefits of space technology to lesser privileged nations for betterment of the mankind.