Press Releases

    GA/SPD/322
    19 October 2005

    Delegates Express Concern over Ever-Expanding Military Use, Weaponization of Outer Space as Fourth Committee Continues General Debate

    Defence-Related Activities Compound Problem of Orbiting Debris, Speakers Say

    NEW YORK, 18 October (UN Headquarters) -- While achieving notable progress in the peaceful uses of outer space, humanity was faced, nevertheless, with its ever-expanding use for military purposes, the increasing danger of its weaponization and the continuing research into and testing of space weapons, China's representative said this afternoon as the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) continued its consideration of the peaceful uses of outer space.

    He said those practices were contrary to the principle of peaceful uses of outer space, as set out in the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, and to the Space Millennium Declaration adopted at the Third United Nations Conference on the Exploration and Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UNISPACE III).  Hopefully, the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space would strengthen its efforts to oppose space militarization, prevent an arms race and explore ways to establish a comprehensive and effective legal mechanism governing its peaceful uses.

    Sharing China's concern, Malaysia's delegate said also that the question of space debris remained a cause of major concern, and was compounded by advances in space science and technology, particularly in defence-related activities such as the introduction of weapons into outer space.  It was well known that the growing amount of debris floating in orbit today could not only cause serious damage to or destroy spacecraft, but the implications of a collision could have greater impact than the international community might imagine.  Any weapon or space equipment destroyed while in orbit, particularly those with nuclear power sources, would seriously undermine international efforts to ensure the continued peaceful uses of outer space.

    He said that outer space technology could benefit developing countries, particularly in the realm of sustainable development, telecommunications, disaster management and environmental protection.  In that connection, Malaysia supported the activities of the United Nations Programme on Space Applications, which had been assisting the efforts of developing countries to participate in and benefit from space activities.  It was a matter of concern, however, that only limited financial resources had been made available to that programme.

    Underlining the need to use outer space solely for peaceful purposes, the representative of the Russian Federation said that militarization and an arms race in outer space should not be allowed, and drew the attention of Member States to a Russian initiative related to negotiations on a comprehensive convention on international space law.  The adoption of such a convention would allow the regulation of space activities, in line with today's realities and needs.

    Speakers referred to the recent natural disasters, stressing the important role that space technology could play in the prediction, mitigation and management of such events, and calling for the provision of existing technology to all countries without discrimination.  Thailand's representative, speaking on behalf of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN), called for the exploration of the possible establishment of a comprehensive global early-warning system to avoid future natural catastrophes, and the further development of existing technology for tele-education to disseminate knowledge of disaster management and preparedness.

    Also speaking today were the representatives of the United Kingdom (on behalf of the European Union and associated countries), Colombia, Syria, Cuba, Kazakhstan, Canada, Iraq and the United States.

    The Fourth Committee will meet again at 3 p.m. on Wednesday, 19 October, to conclude its general debate on the peaceful uses of outer space.

    Background

    The Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) met this afternoon to continue its consideration of the peaceful uses of outer space.

    Statements

    SIMON WILLIAMS (United Kingdom), speaking on behalf of the European Union and associated countries, said the European Commission had organized an International Conference in February 2005 to explore co-operation between space-faring and non-space-faring nations.  The conference had discussed the science, technology and development of global services such as positioning, earth observation and access to information.  The results from the conference had helped the European Union, working with the European Space Agency, to create a space programme that would reflect the need for international cooperation.

    The right of States to explore and use the shared space environment for the benefit and interests of all humankind was universally accepted, he said.  It was the concern and responsibility of all States to ensure that those rights were realized in the interest of maintaining international peace and security.  As more and more countries became involved in space activities, it was essential to tackle complex issues; for example, the increasing commercialization of space and the increasing pollution caused by space debris, space debris which would stand in the way of future space activities if no further measures were taken, both internationally and on the national level.

    Continued international cooperation in the field of space science and technology was essential and the European Union had done much to promote it, he said.  For example, the European initiative "Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES)" had demonstrated the increasing need for international cooperation, and had played a substantive role in achieving the goals of the World Summit on Sustainable Development.  The European Union also recognized the importance of space technology for navigation, geo-positioning and time synchronization.  And, in addition to the United States Global Positioning System and the Russian GLONASS system, the European Union was developing its own system, Galileo.

    MA XINMIN (China) said that, while humanity was achieving notable progress in the peaceful uses of outer space, it was faced with the daunting challenge of ever-expanding military use of outer space, the increasing danger of its weaponization and the ongoing research and testing of space weapons.  Those practices were against the principle of peaceful uses of outer space, as set out in the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, and also contrary to the Space Millennium Declaration adopted at UNISPACE III.  Hopefully, the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space would strengthen its efforts in opposing space militarization, prevent an arms race in outer space and explore ways to establish a comprehensive and effective legal mechanism.

    He said his country had followed closely the negotiations on a draft Protocol on Matters Specific to Space Assets to the Convention on International Interests in Mobile Equipment.  It was necessary to conduct an in-depth study of the relationship between the future protocol and the current legal regime on outer space in order to ensure a positive role for the financing scheme, as provided for in the draft protocol, in facilitating the development of space activities within the existing legal framework.  Practical results had been achieved in implementing the recommendations of UNISPACE III.  The creation of an international entity such as a "Disaster Management International Space Coordination Organization" could promote more effectively the application of space technology in disaster reduction and management, particularly in developing countries.

    Addressing his country's achievements over the past year, he said China had successfully launched the polar orbit satellite Tan Ce 2 and some scientific experimental satellites.  The Shen Zhou VI manned spacecraft carrying two astronauts had touched down safely after completing its five-day flight.  In the area of international cooperation in the peaceful uses of outer space, the Government had strengthened and expanded its bilateral interaction and cooperation, and had participated in regional cooperation with encouraging results.  Over the next 10 years, China would focus on developing large-capacity, high-performance and long-life broadcast communication satellites.  As a developing space nation, China was willing to strengthen international exchanges and cooperation with the rest of the world in the field of space science and technology and make its contributions to sustainable social and economic development at both the global and regional levels.

    MARIA ÁNGELA HOLGUÍN CUELLAR (Colombia) reaffirmed her county's commitment to continued cooperation so that the achievements of space science contributed positively to the well-being of peoples around the world.  In recent years, the earth's population had suffered the devastating force of natural disasters, which could be prevented by improving early-warning systems.  In that regard, the Colombian delegation supported the creation of an international entity that would allow for global coordination in order to optimize services in the event of natural disasters.

    At the regional level, she said, Colombia had been in charge at the Fourth Space Conference of the Americas, and had taken advantage of that in order to push for regional cooperation and improve the application of the benefits of space science and technology.  By the same token, the Government of Colombia had promoted the Declaration and Action Plan of Cartagena, which strove, among other things, to educate people about the uses of space technology.  Currently, the Government was creating the Colombian Commission on Space.

    HAYDAR ALI AHMAD (Syria), calling for efforts to mobilize and apply space technologies for the benefit of all mankind, expressed satisfaction with the work of the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, among other things in applying space technologies for the benefit of development.  The best method to maintain outer space for peaceful uses was promoting international cooperation.  Syria was concerned that resources for assistance to developing countries, as envisaged in the recommendations of UNISPACE III, were limited and called in upon donors to increase their contributions.  Remote sensing was particularly important for sustainable development.

    He said that solving the problem of space debris also required international cooperation, including the sharing of technologies with non-space faring States.  The tsunami in the Indian Ocean and the floods and earthquakes of the past year had shown the dire need to find a more effective role for space technology in predicting natural disasters and alleviating their impact.  Such technology should be provided to all countries without discrimination.

    Noting the accelerated growth in the peaceful uses of outer space, he said that work could bring about important benefits for humanity.  However, Syria was concerned about programmes for the militarization of space.  Devoting the use of outer space for peaceful purposes required a sincere commitment by the international community, guaranteed by legal frameworks.

    RESFEL PINO ALVAREZ (Cuba) said it was necessary to preserve outer space for exclusively peaceful uses in the interest of real sustainable development, including the transfer of advanced space technology by the most developed countries in that field to the less developed countries.  Unfortunately the gap between developed and developing countries in numerous fields of science and technology was widening and was also present in the implementation of space science.

    Rejecting the idea of unleashing an arms race in outer space, he said Cuba was deeply concerned that some nuclear States, which were also space-faring nations, continued to block the negotiations of the Conference on Disarmament.  Regarding space law, the existing legal regime was not enough to ensure the prevention of an arms race in outer space; there was an urgent need to adopt new mechanisms for the proper observation and verification of Space law.  It was also important to develop strategies to reduce the possible negative consequences of space debris.  Greater attention must be paid to collisions between space objects, particularly those with nuclear power sources.

    The strengthening of international and regional cooperation to develop space research was of paramount importance, he continued.  International cooperation in outer space could be neither privatized nor monopolized by a small group of developed countries.  The United Nations had an important task ahead of it if wished to make maximum use of space technologies in the promotion of human development.

    YERZHAN KAZYKHANOV (Kazakhstan) said the use of outer space and the application of space technologies for sustainable development represented an important area of international cooperation to ensure overall social and economic progress.  The Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space did a lot in that regard, particularly in the area of telemedicine, natural disaster management and many other areas.  Kazakhstan took part in various international space projects, including the use of space science and technology for environmental protection, and was working to build domestic spacecraft, including the national geostationary communications and re-broadcasting satellite, "KAZSAT".

    He said the global nature of the environmental disasters involving the Aral Sea and the former Semipalatinsk nuclear-testing ground required a radically new approach by the international community, he said.  Member States should support a draft resolution submitted by Kazakhstan entitled "International cooperation and coordination for the human and ecological rehabilitation and economic development of the Semipalatinsk region of Kazakhstan".  The issue of environmental protection should become an important area of international cooperation in the extended application of space science and technology.

    Welcoming the recommendation in the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space report relating to the development of regional and interregional cooperation, particularly the establishment of regional space science and technology training centres, he said that maintaining outer space for peaceful purposes and a more extensive application of space systems to provide early warning of, and manage, emergencies, as well as the monitoring of the Earth's environment represented, required enhanced international cooperation.

    KHUNYING LAXANACHANTORN (Thailand), speaking on behalf of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN), said that the Organization, realizing the need for regional and interregional cooperation in maintaining outer space for peaceful purposes, had undertaken many intra-ASEAN projects, as well as some with other partners to foster and strengthen regional cooperation towards that goal.  One example was in establishing the ASEAN Sub Committee of Space Technology and Applications (SCOSA).  The ASEAN also supported continued international cooperation in identifying new areas where space technologies could be applied for sustainable development, particularly telehealth, education and the mitigation of natural disasters.

    Space science and space applications should be restricted to peaceful uses that contributed to the advancement of mankind, he said.  While lines should be drawn between the peaceful uses of outer space, as discussed in the Fourth Committee, and the disarmament aspects of outer space discussed in the First Committee (Disarmament and International Security), information sharing and proper coordination between the two Committees should be established and maintained.

    The international community should continue to study and employ available space technology for the strengthening and linking of existing regional early-warning systems, he said.  It should also explore the possibility of setting up a comprehensive global early-warning system to avoid future natural catastrophes, and to further develop existing technology for tele-education to disseminate knowledge of disaster management and preparedness to citizens of the world so as they might enjoy their rights to live in peace within a secure environment.

    ANDREA MEYER (Canada) said space provided benefits across a wide range of sectors and represented an increasingly valuable resource that must be protected so that its benefits could continue to accrue to all.  Canada was involved in a number of initiatives aimed at sharing the benefits of outer space, from the Geoscience for Andean Communities Project to the provision of satellite images to help navigators stay clear of drifting ice in the Vendée-Globe Challenge.  As the fortieth anniversary of the Outer Space Treaty would be celebrated in 2007, Canada encouraged all States that had not yet done so to ratify or accede to that "Magna Carta" of space.

    She also encouraged all States to consider extending the partial weapons ban found in the Outer Space Treaty to include all weapons.  In that regard, Canada called for the establishment of "crosswalks" between the space-related work of the First and Fourth Committees.  Likewise, the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space and the Conference on Disarmament must work more closely in areas where outer space was involved.  The exchange of information was essential in addressing that increasingly critical area of multilateral interest.

    Welcoming the progress achieved at the last session of the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, she highlighted the consensus reached by the Scientific and Technical Subcommittee on the adoption of guidelines for the mitigation of space debris.  While that work plan did not immediately meet the preferences of all participating States, it constituted a major step forward in ensuring safe and secure access to outer space for all.

    WAN JUNAIDI TUANKU JAAFAR (Malaysia) said his Government was mindful of the potential of outer space technology to benefit developing countries, particularly in the realms of sustainable development, telecommunications, disaster management and protection of the environment.  In that connection, the Malaysian delegation supported the activities of the United Nations Programme on Space Applications, which had been helping developing countries to participate in and benefit from the space activities proposed under UNISPACE III.  However, Malaysia was concerned about the limited financial resources made available to that programme and urged the donor community to increase it voluntary contributions.

    The issue of space debris remained a cause of major concern to Malaysia, he continued.  That was compounded by the further advances in space science and technology, particularly in defence-related activities such as the introduction of weapons into outer space.  It was well known that the increasing debris floating in orbit today could not only seriously damage or destroy spacecraft, but also that the implications of a collision could have a greater impact than the international community might imagine.  Space-faring countries must be urged to pay serious attention to the potential problems that could be created by the collision of satellites and other launched space objects with space debris.

    He emphasized that any weapon or space equipment, destroyed while in orbit, particularly those with nuclear power sources, would seriously undermine international efforts to ensure the continuation of the peaceful uses of outer space.  In that context, greater efforts must be made to prevent the weaponization of outer space, particularly by drawing up an international legal agreement to prevent an arms race in outer space and to prohibit the deployment of there.

    ANNA LYUBALINA (Russian Federation) said that the regulation of the peaceful uses of outer space should be carried out on a multilateral basis, which only the United Nations could provide, particularly through Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space.  The Russian Federation, therefore, supported the preservation and strengthening of that body's role, especially by enhancing the efficiency and effectiveness of the Committee and its subcommittees.

    Underlining the need to use outer space solely for peaceful purposes, she said militarization and an arms-race in outer space should not be allowed and drew the attention of Member States to a Russian initiative regarding negotiations on a comprehensive convention on international space law.  Many Member States had already expressed their support, and the adoption of such a convention would allow for the regulation of space activities in line with today's realities and needs.

    ISSAN MOHAMMED KHADAIR (Iraq) said that since the very beginnings of space exploration, the United Nations had recognized its significance for both military and peaceful uses.  The Organization had devoted its efforts to the prohibition of the use of outer space for the development of weapons of mass destruction or the arms race, and had instead focused on the peaceful uses of outer space in order to improve the condition of humanity.  Iraq's delegation was confident that the twenty-sixth meeting of Agencies on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, to be held in Paris in January, would contribute further in that respect.

    Iraq was beginning a new era, he said, adding that it was an emerging democracy and a developing country and therefore had many concerns regarding the peaceful uses of outer space.  The country believed strongly in the importance of opening up the benefits of outer space to the world in order that developing countries gain from space technology, particularly in reference to sustainable development, education, health, agriculture and the management of natural resources.  Unfortunately, however, despite the many affirmations that space technology should be for the benefit of all peoples, many developing countries still did not enjoy those benefits, in comparison with the developed world.

    KENNETH HODGKINS (United States) said that whereas other United Nations organs, including the First Committee, had the competence to consider disarmament issues relating to outer space, Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space offered a forum that focused on promoting the cooperative achievements in, and sharing the benefits of, space exploration.  The Scientific and Technical Subcommittee had had a very constructive session in February, including the successful work of its Working Group on Nuclear Power Sources in Space.  It had identified potential options for establishing an international framework of goals and recommendations for the safety of planned space nuclear-power sources applications.

    He said progress had also been made on the mitigation of space debris.  The Space Debris Mitigation Guidelines of the Inter-Agency Space Debris Coordination Committee contained solid, technically-based measures for any State to adopt and implement in its national space activities.  The International Heliophysical Year in 2007 would serve to focus worldwide attention on the importance of international cooperation in research activities in the field of solar-terrestrial physics.  The effects of solar activities and space weather phenomena on daily life, the environment and space systems were becoming more apparent.

    A possible Space Assets Protocol to the Convention on International Interests in Mobile Equipment would facilitate the provision of commercial financing for space activities, he said.  Through a multiyear work plan, the Legal Subcommittee was examining State and international organization practice in recording space object in the United Nations Registry, with a view to identifying common elements.  The United States was particularly encouraged by the progress made by Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space in considering the spin-off benefits of space exploration and on strengthening its role in promoting international cooperation so as to ensure that outer space was maintained for peaceful purposes.

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