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Friday, 5 April 2019

Let's Talk About Disarmament In Space

Let's Talk About Disarmament In Space?
For more than ten years, despite several attempts, the United Nations has failed to achieve a new treaty for peace in outer space. This part of the extraterrestrial universe, where we have been venturing for fifty years, has become the theatre of strategic and military issues to control terrestrial and space activities.

Space is heavily militarized. Every day or so, hostile acts, difficult to control in the vastness of space, are played there. Few things filter on this space activity: this is an area covered by the defence secret. Technological advances are no longer limited to the Earth and the stakes are considerable. At once space gives us new possibilities of action on Earth and in our atmosphere, but it is in itself a new field of conquest and control, coveted by powers that have divergent and always competitive interests.

The beginning of this expansion was marked by the East-West competition in space with the first launch of a satellite ( Sputnik, 1957) and the first flight of a man around the Earth (Yuri Alexeyevich Gagarin, mission Vostok 1 on April 12, 1961) by the Soviet Union, to which the United States will later respond with the first man on the Moon ( Apollo 11 mission in 1969). This outbidding, still relevant with projects such as basic lunar or conquest of Mars, opened to other actors such as China or India with projects for all who are not exclusively civil or scientific. Major technological advances, still in the forefront in the military field and the strategic interests of nations, have developed the militarization of space.

Let's Talk About Disarmament In Space?
 Militarization and arsenalisation of space

The occupation of space for military purposes began with the first satellites. The Americans, for example, immediately sent in 1961 the first spy satellite, Discoverer, operated by the CIA, over the Soviet Union, and they were convinced that the Soviets would seek to destroy it.

Today, it is the use of observation satellites for operations, for example with optics able to discern information with an accuracy of 5 cm from space, to recognize objectives, to make intelligence or to allow military communications. According to Jerome Lespinois, the head of the division prospective studies CERPA today"  170 countries have about space capabilities, but there are only a dozen countries that have the means to access the space and are able to put objects in Earth orbit. Some are more present than others. Of the  2,000 existing satellites, more than 40  % are American or more than 850 in Earth orbit. These satellites have dual capabilities they are both civilian and military and can be used for civilian or military purposes, whether in the field of observation, infrared or telecommunications. There are purely military satellites for very specialized areas such as electromagnetic listening or to prevent, for example, attacks and ballistic missiles, but most satellites, including civil ones, are used for military purposes".

A militarization to distinguish from the "arsenalisation" of space, that is to say, the installation of weapons in space for the moment officially non-existent. But we do not know all the capabilities of the satellites that are deployed in the vastness of space and we only know what the powers are saying about their satellites. Jerome de Lespinois states that " There have been weapons deployment trials with dual capabilities as well because a satellite that is deployed with an articulated arm is as good for removing debris as it is for "desorbing" or capturing a satellite. But even if there were experiments, tests, there was no operational weapons system deployed in space ... There were missile experiments that were put on satellites for shots. destruction on other satellites also tests of approximation co-orbital satellites with an explosive satellite to neutralize another satellite, tests of nets, articulated arms, there has been a lot of experimentation.

However, in space, practically daily all kinds of acts of war occur, notes Jerome de Lespinois: "There are many acts of war. Spying is an act of war. The French Minister of the Armies revealed in Toulouse last September that a Franco-Italian telecommunication satellite in geostationary orbit, Athena-Fidus had been scrambled by a Russian satellite that had approached it, and that, it is not a friendly act. Hostile actions in space, there are everyday ... But we can say that space is "under-arsenal" compared to other natural environments such as air, sea or land and yet we have been in space for 50 years and that is a strategic anomaly ... There are hostile acts but to date, there has been no war in space".
Let's Talk About Disarmament In Space
 Few existing rules

Since the development of space activity, the United Nations has attempted to set international rules for space. But to date, the legal arsenal is still very limited and is based essentially on the 1967 Space Treaty. The purpose of the text is to codify a peaceful use of space that says in essence: no appropriation in the space of territories or other celestial bodies, prohibition of weapons of mass destruction, nuclear weapons and construction of fortifications on the Moon but which does not prohibit the deployment of other weapons in space. The only treaty that prohibited the deployment of weapons in outer space, the 1972 ABM Treaty, was unilaterally denounced by the Americans in 2001. At the UN Conference on Disarmament in 2008, the Russians and the Chinese have proposed a treaty to prohibit the placement and use of weapons in outer space, but these proposals have been rejected by the United States and Europeans. The refusal being motivated by the Europeans by the impossibility of defining what a weapon is in space. For example, the X37B which is the US space drone with a bunker with the possibility of an articulated arm can very well be a weapon: it is able to capture a satellite, to "desorb it" or to seize its sensors. And because space is huge, you can not tell if a satellite that does not work has broken down due to hostile action or an impact with large debris. Europe has proposed in this context a come of conduct, a "soft close",

A goal too ambitious on a topic too sensitive

In the continuity of the Space Treaty, the Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) hosted by the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA) which deals with the issue of disarmament of space and held its last assignment end of March 2019 in Geneva, ended once again without agreement after ten years of failure. The 25 countries participating in this closed-door negotiation, including China, Russia and the United States, failed to lay the groundwork for a space peace treaty and did not even manage to set a date for a possible resumption of negotiations. Russia and China are calling for a treaty to ban the deployment of certain types of military equipment in outer space. The Americans, for their part, argued against the treaty because any verification was extremely difficult in space and they were rather in favour of a code of conduct. For the Brazilian ambassador Guilherme de Aguiar Patriota, who chaired this meeting, the objective was perhaps " too ambitious  "on a particularly"  sensitive  "subject, he told reporters.
Let's Talk About Disarmament In Space?
These latest negotiations have also suffered from an unfavourable international context. The United States decision of February 2019 to withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Weapons Treaty (INF) signed with Russia in 1987 at the end of the Cold War, resulting in the departure of Russia from the treaty, did not create an ideal climate to negotiate. In addition, President Donald Trump submitted to Congress in early March a proposal to create a Space Force... And finally, right in the middle of the negotiations, India, to prove its capabilities as space forces, has fired a missile to destroy a satellite in low orbit at 300 km altitude (the international space station is 410 km), thus freeing up hundreds of dangerous debris in space, adding to the 23,000 objects in Earth orbit (satellites, pieces of rockets, debris ...) listed by the 18th American Space Control Squadron. A shot condemned by the Americans, via NASA, which confirms for the president of the negotiation, Guilherme de Aguiar Patriota, that it is necessary to set up a treaty, because in the current state of the international legislation, "  it is not expressly forbidden to destroy an object in space ".

Space, an economic power issue

For the observers, it is difficult to obtain an agreement to limit this militarization and the ban on weapons in an international context where everyone is currently seeking to position themselves in space by militarizing. In a context where even the first space power, the United States, does not want a binding jurisdiction that would limit its activity in space. For the head of the prospective study department of CERPA, Jerome de Lespinois, " today what is changing is that space has a powerful strategic interest, but it also has an economic interest. Space has become indispensable to the economic activities of States. Controlling space is directly controlling the flow of information that generates a growing share of global GDP. So today, states have a duty to protect the resources of their companies and the state assets that are deployed in space because there is a real issue. Not only an issue of military power but an issue of economic power. So, there is a paradigm shift in space: it is more an environment where the most important power is that of the states, what changes are what is called the "news space". "a new space where actors will become major economic players rather in companies that are linked to the information society," A space in transformation whose current balance between the forces involved holds as Raymond Aron said, with "peace through the empire".

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