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U.S. Satellite Strike Sets Back Space Weapons Ban
The U.S. Navy's successful use last week of a modified missile interceptor to destroy a failing spy satellite is likely to undermine efforts to ban weapons from space, the Associated Press reported (see GSN, Feb. 22).
By targeting the satellite, the Navy demonstrated the ability of its Aegis missile defense technology to hit objects in space other than enemy ballistic missiles. The event illustrated the technological similarities between "space weaponry" and "missile shields," AP said.
The United States has opposed moves to ban weapons from space due to concerns that such a prohibition could compromise Washington's existing missile defenses, AP said. Orbital missile killer systems are included in some U.S. designs.
China, India, Israel and Japan have also sought "hit-to-kill" missile defense technologies, said Jeffrey Lewis, an arms control analyst at the New America Foundation.
"It seems to me we may never have had the opportunity to constrain the technology," Lewis said. "It's pretty hard for me to see that happening now."
A draft space weapons ban recently proposed by China and Russia does not directly address ground-based antisatellite systems (see GSN, Feb. 13).
"People will beat up on the United States" at the current U.N. Conference on Disarmament because of the Wednesday satellite shot, said Michael Krepon, an arms control expert at the Stimson Center in Washington.
"The Russians and Chinese will point to their treaty and try to drum up support. But it isn't really going anywhere, for familiar reasons," he said. "Nobody can define a space weapon and nobody can verify a space weapon."
Stalled efforts to agree on a full space weapons ban could give way to a new push to develop a more informal code of conduct over weapons in space, experts said.
"There's a growing consensus among nations, including space-faring and missile-possessing nations, that there should be some rules of the road, some standard for responsible behavior in space," said Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association. "A key is going to be what the next U.S. administration decides to do."
Responding to a survey of U.S. presidential hopefuls conducted by the Council for a Livable World, Senator Barack Obama (D-Ill.) supported establishing a space weapons code while Senator Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) said she would confine space weapons "as much as possible." No Republican candidate responded.
However, one longtime observer of arms talks expressed skepticism about an informal code governing space weapons. "Very often, such codes simply don't work. People ignore them," said Jozef Goldblat, a Geneva scholar (Charles Hanley, Associated Press I/International Herald Tribune, Feb. 25).
After analyzing debris left by the satellite strike, the U.S. Defense Department today said it has a "high degree of confidence" that the missile destroyed the satellite's fuel tank, "reducing, if not eliminating, the risk to people on Earth from the hazardous chemical."
The tank contained 1,000 pounds of toxic hydrazine that U.S. officials believed could endanger humans if the fuel tank had fallen to earth.
"By all accounts this was a successful mission," Gen. James Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in a statement at the Pentagon today. "From the debris analysis, we have a high degree of confidence the satellite's fuel tank was destroyed and the hydrazine has been dissipated" (Robert Burns, Associated Press II/Google News, Feb. 25).
Independent defense analysts said they expect few or no pieces of satellite debris to fall to the surface, AP reported.
"I wouldn't want to get hit by one, but the chances are pretty small," said analyst John Pike.
Within hours of the successful strike being reported, China said it was watching for dangerous debris and asked the United States to release operational data.
"We provided a lot of information before it took place," U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates told reporters, adding that he wants details from the strike to be transparent.
"We are prepared to share whatever appropriately we can," he said (Pauline Jelinek, Associated Press III/International Herald Tribune, Feb. 22).
Nov. 8, 2013
This report is part of a collection examining implementation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1540, which requires all states to implement measures aimed at preventing non-state actors from acquiring NBC weapons, related materials, and their means of delivery. It details implementation efforts in Central America, South America and the Caribbean to-date.
July 15, 2013
The submarine proliferation resource collection is designed to highlight global trends in the sale and acquisition of diesel- and nuclear-powered submarines. It is structured on a country-by-country basis, with each country profile consisting of information on capabilities, imports and exports.