Delegates at the United Nations Have Begun Forging New Rules for Space

International humanitarian law (rules that apply during a conflict between nations) states that civilians or civilian infrastructure cannot be attacked. This could also matter in space. “You can’t aim at a civilian object. You can only aim at military targets, and then you have to identify what those things are. A hospital or a school is always protected, but a bridge or a communications center can sometimes be military and sometimes civilians, “said Cassandra Steer, an expert in space law and space security at the Australian National University in Canberra and a speaker at the meeting. . The idea of ​​”proportionality”, which prohibits attacks on objects that have mainly civilian use and have few military advantages, should also be applied to space, he argues.

This makes it a thorny debate for space diplomats, given the abundance of “dual-use” technologies, says Azcárate Ortega. “Dual-use” refers to things like GPS and satellite imagery of the Earth, which have many everyday uses but also benefit military customers. (She distinguishes “dual-purpose” devices, such as a robotic arm for spacecraft service, or removing an abandoned spacecraft from orbit, which could be reused as a weapon against an opponent’s satellite.) There is plenty of room for more rules on this. area, says West, including transparency-focused rules, such as notifying others when using new satellite service or garbage collection technology.

Russia’s conflict in Ukraine, which has already had repercussions on space, overshadows the meeting. Earlier this year, Russian officials pushed for a postponement of the meeting, which was first scheduled for February, shortly after Russia conducted an anti-satellite test in November that produced debris that nearly cut off the station. Space International and during the accumulation of its forces throughout Ukraine. border. The Ukrainian war also provided insight into how commercial satellites could become embroiled in a war and how satellite signals could be blocked or falsified.

In recent years, Russian and Chinese diplomats have tried to advance a treaty to prevent the placement of weapons in space. But they made little progress with this. The United States blocked this effort, offering no alternative. Although destructive weapons have not yet been launched into space, Chinese and Russian fears about US weapons in orbit are not unfounded: some U.S. political leaders, led by Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, have called for develop and deploy missiles into space.

The United States has not been a leader in space control, Steer says, until Harris’ recent statement that the nation will refrain from anti-satellite missile testing. While some delegations, including those in China and Russia, would prefer to see legally binding treaties, voluntary declarations that most governments will accept could set a standard that could lead to more formal agreements later.

Just on the first day of the Geneva meeting, representatives from many countries had already spoken about the need for peace in space, including those in Mexico, Austria, Pakistan, Nigeria and Sri Lanka. The fact that delegations from countries without many spacecraft are actively involved is not surprising, given the importance of space security for all. Millions of people around the world depend on satellites for navigation, communications, broadband and finance, Steer says. These spacecraft are vulnerable to collisions with thousands of known pieces of large debris that are already clogging widely used orbits, as well as millions of smaller fragments that cannot be traced. A conflict that begins or spreads in space, especially one involving the United States, Russia, or China, would surely make the situation worse.

The rest of the week’s talks include presentations by Steer, Azcárate Ortega, and others on land laws that could serve as a guide as negotiators move from discussions to recommendations. If all goes well, delegates will agree on a consensus document by the end of the week, which could be a starting point for the September meeting.

While UN processes are running slowly and may carry a political burden, Azcárate Ortega is optimistic. “This seems to be moving forward after many years in which nothing really happened, or people were talking but there were no concrete proposals,” he says. “All sides of the geopolitical spectrum are coming to the table. I don’t expect everyone to agree from the outset, but it’s very encouraging.”

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