Russia and China table new draft treaty to prevent weapons in space

Mia Gandenberger | Reaching Critical Will

The Conference on Disarmament (CD) met on Tuesday, 10 June 2014 where the Russian Federation and China introduced a new draft of their joint treaty on the Prevention of the Placement of Weapons in Outer Space (PPWT). The United States delivered a statement on its space policy and responded to the new draft with a preliminary assessment.

In addition, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Senegal, Mr. Mankeur Ndiaye, delivered a statement and the Acting Secretary General of the CD, Mr. Michael Møller, who provided some clarifications to his proposals from 20 May 2014.

New draft PPWT text

Ambassador Borodavkin of the Russian Federation introduced the new draft of the Prevention of the Placement of Weapons in Outer Space (PPWT), which it first submitted together with China in 2008.

He noted that this new draft was drafted in light of comments and suggestions received from the previous version. The second draft of the PPWT sees quite a lot of changes from the first version presented six years ago. All articles, as well as the preamble, have been amended and the order of the provisions has been rearranged. However, at a first glance, it does not appear that the new draft include any new elements missing in the first draft, for example prohibiting the testing of anti-satellite weapons. 

The most notable changes are that the definition of “outer space” has been removed from Article I, while other definitions like “use of force” or “weapon in space” have been slightly amended. Slight modifications to Article IV, the right to self-defense, have also been made. A few changes to the procedural parts of the treaty have been made, to provisions regarding an Executive Organisation to facilitate implementation, rules for amending the treaty, and rules for withdrawal. Other modifications are can be found in the explanatory note provided with the draft treaty text.

Much like his Russian colleague, the Chinese Ambassador Wu Hiatao stressed that both delegations are open for views and suggestions to further improve the draft text.

Mr. Frank Rose, United States Assistant Secretary of State for Arms Control, Verification and Compliance, noted that his preliminary assessment of the new draft PPWT “does not address the significant flaws” in its previous version, such as including an effective verification regime or dealing with terrestrially-based antisatellite systems.

While Mr. Rose repeated the US position on legally binding measures in space, which states that it is willing to consider proposals that are “equitable, effectively verifiable, and enhance the national security of international participants”, he also noted that the US had “not yet seen any legally-binding proposals that meet these criteria.”

Instead, Mr. Rose wanted to focus on non-legally binding efforts where progress could be achieved, such as the Group of Governmental Experts on transparency and confidence building measures in outer space activities; the recently concluded open-ended consultations process on an International Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities (ICoC) and the work of the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS). 

For more information about the open-ended consultation process on the ICoC, please read Reaching Critical Will’s summary here.

Work of the CD

Mr. Mankeur Ndiaye, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Senegal, recalled recent successes on disarmament such as the adoption of the Arms Trade Treaty last year and the meetings on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons in Oslo and Nayarit. He argued that these events were indicative of the willingness to find more effective ways to make progress on disarmament issues. Furthermore Mr. Ndiaye expressed his countries support for proposals of the Non-Aligned Movement such as UN General Assembly resolution 68/32 and the holding of a fourth special session on disarmament.

Acting Secretary General of the CD, Mr. Michael Møller, in response to last week’s plenary discussion, provided some clarifications on his proposals for the future work of the CD:

  • Search for common ground with a view to producing framework convention(s): Mr. Møller referred to such past proposals as the UN Secretary General’s 5-point plan, the building blocks proposal from a group of states in the Open-Ended Working Group, and the Brazilian proposal on a possible structure of a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty contained in CD/1888. He also encouraged governments to explore elements that could present a basis for future treaty negotiations
  • Voluntary, politically binding regimes: Mr. Møller argued that such regimes could eventually be a first step towards negotiated legally binding agreements.
  • A subsidiary body to review the methods of work of the CD: Mr. Møller identified areas that member states might whish to look at, such as the rule of consensus, the nature and role of the Presidency of the CD as well as the CD’s representativeness. He also suggested that member states review the decision governing the interaction with civil society that was agreed upon in 2004. He noted that such discussions could move from an informal setting to a more formal subsidiary body setting, once the possibility of agreement becomes clear.
  • CD-Civil Society forum: Mr. Møller will try to organize the forum in way that will enrich the debate and meets member states approval, thus it will most likely not take place before late fall or winter this year.

Next plenary meeting

Over the coming days, CD delegations will continue to meet informally and without civil society under the schedule of activities. The next public plenary meeting will be held on Tuesday, 17 June 2014 at 10.00 in the Council Chamber. 


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