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Conference on Disarmament (CD)

CD BULLETIN, June 7, 2001

By Jenni Rissanen


The 876th meeting of the Conference on Disarmament (CD) was chaired by Ambassador Camilo Reyes Rodriguez of Colombia. China was the only country to take the floor and called for negotiations on the prevention of an arms race in outer space (PAROS).

Plenary Proceedings

China's Ambassador Hu Xiaodi took the floor to make a case for concluding a legally binding instrument to prevent the weaponization of outer space. Hu said his government had instructed him to submit a working paper entitled "Possible Elements of the Future International Legal Instrument on the Prevention of the Weaponization of Outer Space". This paper comes as a follow-up to an earlier working paper from February and goes further in outlining the kind of elements China regards such an instrument would contain.

The "Treaty on the Prevention of the Weaponization of Outer Space" should cover four main areas: (1) "not to test, deploy, or use in outer space any weapons, weapons systems or their components"; (2) "not test, deploy or use on land, in sea or atmosphere any weapons, weapon systems or their components that can be used for warfighting in outer space"; (3) "not to use any objects launched into orbit to directly participate in combatant activities" and (4) "not to assist or encourage other countries, regions, international organizations or entities to participate in activities prohibited by this legal instrument". Hu said that these obligations would prohibit all space-based weapons and weapons attacking outer space targets from the earth "once for all". In addition to these basic obligations, the paper contained China's proposals for definitions of 'outer space', 'weapons', weapon systems' and 'components of weapon systems'.

Addressing the rational behind China's call for the negotiations, Hu said the task was "not only necessary, but also a pressing task". Hu argued that world peace and the future of mankind depended on whether outer space was going to be "utilized rationally". There was a growing amount of civil activities in space, but it was also known that outer space was "now faced with the danger of being weaponized, which manifests itself in two aspects, namely the development of the missile defense program and the "space control" plan". Hu argued that it was "clear" that the system currently under research and development would "go beyond" the constraints of the Anti Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty and incorporate space weapon systems. Furthermore, Hu said the US military space development plan "Vision 2020" from 1998 demonstrated that "the combatant theory of assuring space superiority has been initiated". "Equally alarming" was also the space was exercise of January 2001 that envisaged outer space as a battle field. Hu also referred to the Rumsfeld Commission report from January this year that recommended that the United States should develop means to deter against hostile acts in and from space as well as develop new capabilities that could operate "to, from, in and through space".

Hu reasoned that these developments showed that the weaponization of space was "by no means a remote issue". Instead, the "danger was imminent and the issue most urgent". He felt that the international community had to act now before "the window of opportunity would soon close". A treaty along the lines that China was proposing would guarantee that all countries', whether big or small in their space capabilities, space interests and assets would be "equally protected".

In a clear message to the United States, Hu said that "if the real motivation towards space [was] to defy the obligations of international legal instruments and seek unilateral and absolute military and strategic superiority based on the political, economic and military strength, [this] would be another matter". The introduction of weapons to space would be "detrimental to the interests and security of each and every state, including the very one that introduces" them. Hu further warned against this saying that "the consequences [would] be most serious and in no one's interest".

Thus, as the multilateral negotiating forum, the CD "should play a role in this regard" and negotiate the treaty. Hu recalled China's proposed mandate for a subsidiary body on PAROS (CD/1606) and said China fully supported the recent Russian proposal as well (CD/1644).

The next plenary will be held on June 14, 2001 at the Palais des Nations, Geneva, and will be chaired by Ambassador Reyes Rodriguez.

To see the speeches, please visit the website of WILPF at http://www.reachingcriticalwill.org/cd/thisweek/thisweekindex.html

Jenni Rissanen is the Acronym Institute's Analyst attending the CD in Geneva. For her latest, in-depth assessment of developments see 'Geneva Update' in Disarmament Diplomacy No. 55.

© 2001 The Acronym Institute.