Critics See Planned Space Rules Threatening U.S. Defense Interests

The United States intends to join efforts to establish a multilateral agreement governing activities in outer space, but detractors said the effort could undermine related operations carried out by the country's armed forces, the Washington Times reported on Monday (see GSN, March 8, 2011).

The project would draw on proposed European Union rules that the Defense and State departments previously said could constrain U.S. policy options, according to the newspaper. U.S. Undersecretary of State Ellen Tauscher last week said Washington had dismissed the potential EU rules as "too restrictive," and a Defense Department Joint Staff analysis warns the code would harm U.S. defense-related activities in outer space (Bill Gertz, Washington Times, Jan. 16).

The proposed International Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities would "help maintain the long-term sustainability, safety, stability, and security of space by establishing guidelines for the responsible use of space," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Tuesday in a formal announcement of the effort. Washington intends to collaborate with the European Union and additional states to prepare the code, she added.

"The United States has made clear to our partners that we will not enter into a code of conduct that in any way constrains our national security-related activities in space or our ability to protect the United States and our allies," Clinton stated in released remarks (U.S. State Department release, Jan. 17).

The EU code represents a superior alternative to a space weapons treaty proposed by Russia and China, an informed Obama administration insider told the Times. The Obama and Bush administrations both have both ruled out the proposal (see GSN, Feb. 13, 2008). “We believe the European Union’s draft Code of Conduct is a solid foundation for future negotiations on reaching a consensus international code," the source said.

No final agreement would be reached in the near future, as talks are anticipated to extend well into 2012 and possibly into 2013, the insider said.

The plan is likely to face intense scrutiny from both chambers of Congress, according to the Times. It could be seen as an effort to skirt the mandate that treaties be approved by the Senate.

"U.S. military activities in space are a key strategic advantage for the United States," said former Air Force Lt. Gen. Thomas McInerney. "Any agreements that limit or constrain military space activities must be approached with extreme caution" (Gertz, Washington Times).

January 18, 2012
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The United States intends to join efforts to establish a multilateral agreement governing activities in outer space, but detractors said the effort could undermine related operations carried out by the country's armed forces, the Washington Times reported on Monday.

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