Proposed Prevention of an Arms Race in Space (PAROS) Treaty

Status: Currently being discussed in the Conference on Disarmament (CD).

Background: In 1959, the UN General Assembly established the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS) in Resolution 1472 (XIV). This committee identified areas for international cooperation in the peaceful uses of outer space, devised programs to be undertaken by the United Nations, encouraged research on matters relating to outer space, and studied legal problems arising from the exploration of outer space.

During the 1960s and 1970s a number of agreements were adopted to prevent the weaponization of outer space. These include the Partial Test Ban Treaty, formally titled the Treaty Banning Nuclear Weapon Tests in the Atmosphere, in Outer Space and Under Water (1963), the Outer Space Treaty, formally titled the Treaty on the Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies (1967), the Rescue Agreement, formally titled the Agreement on the Rescue of Astronauts, the Return of Astronauts and the Return of Objects Launched into Outer Space (1968), the Agreement Relating to the International Telecommunications Satellite Organization "Intelsat" (1971), the Liability Convention, formally titled the Convention on International Liability for Damage Caused by Space Objects (1972), the Launch Registration Convention, formally titled the Convention on the Registration of Objects Launched into Outer Space (1975), the Moon Agreement, formally entitled the Agreement Governing the Activities of States on the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies (1979).

Although these treaties ban the placement of weapons of mass destruction in space, they do not prevent states from placing other types of weapons in space. As a result, many states argue that existing treaties are insufficient for safeguarding outer space as “the common heritage of mankind.” In order to address this, the final document of the UN General Assembly’s Special Session on Disarmament mandated that negotiations should take place in what is now the Conference on Disarmament (CD), “in order to prevent an arms race in outer space” that are “held in accordance with the spirit of the [Outer Space Treaty].”

In 1985 the CD established an ad hoc committee to identify and examine issues relevant to PAROS such as the legal protection of satellites, nuclear power systems in space, and various confidence-building measures. The United States resolutely opposed giving the committee a negotiating mandate, preferring bilateral talks with the Soviet Union. The committee convened each year through 1994. No further committee meeting occurred due to objections made by the United States. In 1990 the United States stated that it “has not identified any practical outer space arms control measures that can be dealt within a multilateral environment.” With its large missile defense program and technical advantages in potential space weaponry, the United States has consistently refused to negotiate PAROS in the CD.

Obligations: Under the draft treaty submitted to the CD by Russia in 2008, State Parties would commit to refrain from placing objects carrying any type of weapon into orbit, installing weapons on celestial bodies, and threatening to use force against objects in outer space. State Parties would also agree to practice agreed confidence-building measures.

A PAROS treaty would complement and reaffirm the importance of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, which aims to preserve space for peaceful uses by prohibiting the use of space weapons, the development of space-weapon technology, and technology related to “missile defense.” The treaty would prevent any nation from gaining a military advantage in outer space.

Compliance: When disputes arise between State Parties, they will first attempt to settle through negotiation and cooperation. If this fails, the situation may be referred to the executive organization of the treaty.

Developments:

2014:  On 27-28 May, EU delegates met in Luxembourg for a third round of open-ended consultations concerning the proposed International Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities, the fifth draft of which was published on 31 March.

On 10 June, Russia introduced to the Conference on Disarmament an updated draft of its working paper with China, “Treaty on the Prevention of the Placement of Weapons in Outer Space, the Threat or Use of Force Against Outer Space Objects (PPWT).” Relevant changes include the omission of the definition of “outer space,” amendments to other definitions and adjustments to Article IV on the right to self-defense.

On 4 December, the UN passed a Russian draft resolution on banning arms race in outer space was adopted during the assembly's 69th session with 126 votes in favor and 4 votes against. Georgia, Israel, Ukraine and the US were the four countries that opposed the draft resolution.

2013: On 14 January the General Assembly adopted Resolution 67/113 "International Cooperation in the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space.” The resolution reaffirmed the importance of international cooperation in developing the rule of law for space, noted the concern regarding a possible arms race, and advised that States with major space capabilities should actively contribute to the goal of preventing an arms race.

On 11 February in the Conference on Disarmament, a working body was established entitled "Prevention of an arms race in outer space" in order to discuss substantively and without limitation all issues related to an arms race in space. The Working Group will be chaired by the Ambassador of Kazakhstan, Mr. Mukhtar Tileuberdi.

On 19 March the CD discussed outer space security generally, and also discussed the draft Treaty on the Prevention of the Placement of Weapons in Outer Space, the Threat or Use of Force Against Outer Space Objects.

On 1-5 April, the GGE (Group of Governmental Experts) met for the second session in Geneva. Experts from 15 countries contributed to the final output of the Group. The experts agreed on a set of substantive TCBMs for outer space activities and recommended that States consider and implement them. Furthermore, the Group took stock of numerous proposals from governments and changes in the political and technological environment. On 4 June, the Cuban delegation made a statement to the CD stressing that the Cuban delegation was prepared to start negotiating a treaty on the prevention of an arms race in outer space.

From 8-12 July, the GGE held its third and final session in New York. The final report of the Group’s work was submitted to the General Assembly at its 68th Session: (A/RES/68/189).

On 3 September, Bangladesh made a statement on behalf of the Member States of the G-21 on PAROS. In the statement, the Group emphasized the need for space technology due to it being indispensable to everyday life. Furthermore, the Group also stressed the growing use of outer space and the need for transparency, confidence building measures, and better information on the part of the international community. Finally, the Group welcomed the joint Russian-Chinese initiative of a draft treaty on the “Prevention of the placement of weapons in outer space, the threat or use of force against outer space objects.” 

On 22 October, Ambassador Victor Vasiliev presented a statement as Chairman on behalf of the GGE on Transparency and Confidence Building Measures in Outer Space Activities. The Group had a few recommendations and conclusion:

  • Encouraged States to review and implement the TCBMs through relevant national mechanisms.
  • Recommended that the General Assembly decides how to further advance TCBMs in Outer Space.
  • Recommended universal participation in and adherence to the exiting legal framework relating to outer space activities.

Responses to the GGE were provided by a few states. The European Union welcomed the study and report of the GGE and stressed the importance of transparency and confidence building measures, including promoting international cooperation in exploration and use of outer space for peaceful purposes. Delegations from the Arab Group and NAM highlighted that proliferating weapons in outer space should be prevented. 

Two resolutions came out of the General Assembly session. A/C.1/68/L.40 is entitled “Transparency and confidence-building measures in outer space activities.” This resolution is to inform states to review and implement the proposed transparency and confidence-building measures. A/C.1/68/L.41 is entitled “Prevention of an arms race in outer space.” This resolution is the same resolution as last year.

2012: On 31 January, Russia reminded the CD of the draft Treaty on the Prevention of the Placement of Weapons in Outer Space which Russia and China had proposed in 2008.  Russia stressed the importance of transparency and confidence-building measures in this treaty, noting that the Governmental Group of Experts would begin work on this issue later in the year.

From 19-30 March, the Legal Subcommittee of the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space held its fifty-first session in Vienna.  The committee report emphasized that the Outer Space Treaty did not adequately prohibit the placement of conventional weapons in outer space and called for a dialogue between the Legal Subcommittee and the CD to address this.   

On 5 June the CD discussed PAROS.  Belarus, China, Iran, and Pakistan noted the gaps in the existing legal framework and Russia, China, and Pakistan each stated that PAROS is their delegation’s priority at the CD.  The EU suggested that the 2008 draft resolution proposed by Russia and China on the Prevention of the Placement of Weapons in Outer Space needed greater specifics in order to be effective.  Russia, the Republic of Korea, and India all noted that while transparency and confidence-building measures were important, they were not an adequate replacement for legally binding measures.  France, the United States, Russia, and the Republic of Korea all spoke in favor of the EU Code of Conduct for Outer Space.

On 23-27 July the UN Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) on transparency and confidence building measures in outer space activities met at the UN headquarters in New York City. Among the many topics discussed was PAROS, Several states indicated that they viewed transparency and confidence building measures as stepping stones to negotiating PAROS.

On August 29 Russian Federation Council speaker Valentina Matviyenko issued a statement on provisions Russia considers mandatory for future talks on reducing strategic arms saying, "Concerns further process of nuclear disarmament by all nuclear states and their step by step joining the efforts taken by Russia and the United States and prevention of an arms race in outer space."

On 30 August the Syria Arab Republic submitted a working paper on behalf of the Group of 21. The Group reiterated its support of preventing and arms race and stated there concern over the deployment of anti-ballistic missile systems.

2011: In January, three resolutions related to outer space were passed by the UN General Assembly. Resolution 65/97, adopted without a vote, addressed international cooperation in peaceful uses of outer space, encouraging all states to become parties to relevant international treaties. Resolution 65/68 called for greater transparency and confidence-building measures in outer space activities and passed with a vote of 183 in favor, none against, and one abstention (the United States), while Resolution 65/44 encouraged states to continue efforts to assure the prevention of an arms race in outer space and passed with a vote of 178 in favor, none against, and two abstentions (Israel and the United States).

On 4 February the United States released its National Security Space Strategy, which emphasized the need for the responsible use of outer space and greater international cooperation. Other key points included strengthening international norms, using a multilayered deterrence approach and enhancing overall national space capacity.

On 8 February, the CD addressed the prevention of an arms race in outer space, including a presentation of the EU draft Code of Conduct for outer space activities, which would provide guidelines to limit harmful interference, collision, or accidents in outer space. China and Russia highlighted a draft treaty on the prevention of placement of weapons in outer space presented by them in 2008. The CD returned to the discussion on 8 March with states calling for the creation of a legally binding treaty on PAROS and discussed verification issues.

From 28 March to 8 April, the UN Legal Subcommittee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space held its 50th session. At the meetings, delegates expressed concerns about “present gaps” within the legal regime on outer space and advocated for a “more comprehensive legal regime to prevent militarization in outer space.”

On 7 April, China issued a statement titled “Prevention of an Arms Race in Outer Space,” noting that the weaponization of outer space “is against the interests of all countries.”

From 1 to 11 June, the UN Committee on Peaceful Uses of Outer Space held its 54th session. The meeting focused on several issues, including satellite data usage for natural disasters, space debris, and climate change in relation to space. Also, delegates from Canada (in conjunction with the Space Security Index) issued a presentation discussing current trends in the militarization of space, specifically in terms of reconnaissance, surveillance, navigations, and intelligence operations. The delegation emphasized that despite the military activities, “no space-based Space Weapons have been used to date.”

On 13 September, Nigeria presented working paper CD/1965 entitled “Prevention of an Arms Race in Outer Space” to the CD on behalf of the G-21.  The working paper noted that existing legal instruments were inadequate to deter further militarization of space and recommended the draft treaty on the “Prevention of the Placement of Weapons in Outer Space” proposed by Russia and China in 2008 as a starting point for a PAROS treaty.

On 12 October, Sri Lanka presented draft resolution A/C.1/66/L.14 to the UNGA First Committee on the prevention of an arms race in outer space.  The draft resolution emphasized the need for verification measures to prevent an arms race and reaffirmed the CD’s role as the primary body for negotiating and drafting a treaty on the prevention of an arms race in outer space. It was adopted on 26 October by a vote of 171 in favor, none against, and two abstentions. On 2 December 2011, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) passed Resolution 66/27 on the Prevention of an Arms Race in Outer Space.

2010: From 18 January to 26 March, many delegations made statements that supported the PAROS treaty in the CD. Australia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan welcomed and supported the draft treaty submitted by Russia and China in 2008. The Russian delegation reiterated the need to move toward the implementation for the draft treaty. The delegations of Bangladesh, the European Union, Ireland, Libya, Republic of Korea, Romania, and Switzerland also made positive reference to the PAROS treaty during their statements. The United States delegation’s statements did not reference the PAROS treaty.      

On 1 April the United Kingdom launched its new Space Agency, designed to provide a single voice on space issues for the United Kingdom as well as coordinate, develop and promote space activities within the United Kingdom.

On 28 June the United States published a new outer space policy, which emphasized states’ right to explore and use space for peaceful purposes including national security activities. 

On 6 July the CD discussed PAROS again, where the   Group of 21 called for the negotiation of a treaty related to PAROS within the CD and welcomed a draft treaty on the Prevention of the Placement of Weapons in Outer Space tabled by China and Russia in 2008. Discussion of PAROS continued on 13 July with a presentation by the United States of their new outer space policy.   

On 26 November the European Union held the Seventh Space Council, which called for the creation of a comprehensive space strategy for the EU and discussed best practices in order to implement the Galileo and Global Monitoring for Environment and Security projects. 

2009: On 26 March, Canada introduced a paper to the CD entitled “The Merits of Certain Draft Transparency and Confidence Building Measures and Treaty Proposals for Space Security.”

On 28 October, the CD adopted draft resolution A/C.1/64/L.25 entitled “Prevention of an Arms Race in Outer Space.” The draft resolution was adopted by a vote of 176 in favor, none against, and two abstentions (the United States and Israel). This resolution had previously been blocked by the United States, which had voted against it since 2005. With Israel maintaining its abstention from previous years and the United States switching its vote to an abstention some progress was able to be made. The following day the CD adopted A/C.1/64/L.40, entitled “Transparency and Confidence-Building Measures in Outer Space Activities,” without a vote. For the first time in a decade, the CD reached agreement on a program of work. In their program, a working group was established for the “prevention of an arms race in outer space” in order to discuss “all issues related to the prevention of an arms race in outer space.” Unfortunately, no progress occurred due to the inability of the CD to implement its program of work for the year.

2008:  On 12 February, China and Russia introduced a Draft Treaty on the Prevention of the Placement of Weapons in Outer Space, the Threat or Use of Force against Outer Space Objects (PPWT) to the CD. The United States dismissed this proposal characterizing the offer as “a diplomatic ploy by the two nations to gain a military advantage.”

On 20 February, the United States shot down a failed spy satellite that was carrying approximately a half-ton of hydrazine rocket fuel, a toxic chemical. Many countries criticized this act because the satellite was shot down using a three stage, Standard Missile-3, whose primary purpose is for use as an interceptor for the U.S. Navy’s missile defense system.

In April a working group was formed for PAROS in the CD.

On 10 July, the European Parliament passed a resolution on Space and Security.

On 8 December, the European Union established a Draft Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities. The European Union introduced this draft code to the CD on 12 February 2009.

2007: On 11 January, the Chinese fired a missile to shoot down one of its own ageing weather satellites. This raised fears in the United States concerning a potential space race. Japan also strongly condemned the test, declaring concern over its national security and the possibility of an arms race in space. Despite condemning the test, the United States continued to pursue several space and missile defense projects, many of which have dual-use capabilities.

On 15 June, the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space adopted space debris mitigation guidelines.

Russia again introduced a resolution for transparency and confidence building measures for activities in outer space. In accordance with previous years all voted in favor of the resolution except for the United States (objection) and Israel (abstaining). Russia and China also produced a working paper (CD/1679). This working paper discusses the definitions of concepts such as Outer Space, Space Weapons, Space Objects and the Peaceful Use of Outer Space.

In the UNGA the Secretary General released a report on the “Transparency and confidence-building measures in outer space.” This report discussed the positions of Austria, Bangladesh, Kenya, and Portugal on behalf of the European Union. The European Union proposed the development of a comprehensive code of conduct on objects and activities related to space, and suggested general principles, scope and participation for such a code. On 18 September, this code of conduct was attached to the Secretary General’s report on “Transparency and Confidence-Building Measures in Outer Space Activities.” (A/62/114/Add.1) In addition, the European Union is planning to submit this code of conduct to the CD. Two resolutions were passed in the UN: A/RES/62/20 on the “Prevention of an Arms Race in Outer Space” and A/RES/62/43 “Transparency and Confidence-Building Measures in Outer Space Activities.”

2006: Russia again introduced a resolution on transparency and confidence-building measures in outer space activities, which enjoyed substantial support. The United States maintained its objections and Israel continued to abstain from the vote. On 22 May, China and Russia tabled another working paper at the CD that related to the verification aspects of PAROS (CD/1778). This working paper suggested different types of confidence-building measures such as exchanges of information, demonstrations, notifications, consultations and thematic workshops. Two documents were adopted by the UN General Assembly: A/RES/61/58 (Prevention of an Arms Race in Outer Space) and A/RES/61/75 (Transparency and Confidence-Building Measures in Outer Space Activities).

2005: On 16 August an open-ended meeting was hosted by China and Russia on issues relating to PAROS. In addition Russia introduced a resolution on transparency and confidence-building measures regarding outer space activities. This resolution enjoyed support from an overwhelming majority, with only Israel abstaining and the United States objecting. The UN General Assembly adopted two documents:  A/C.1/60/L.27 (Prevention of an Arms Race in Outer Space) and A/C.1/60/L.30/Rev.1 (Transparency and Confidence-Building Measures in Outer Space Activities).

2004: United Nations document A/RES/59/65 “Prevention of an Arms Race in Outer Space” was adopted by the General Assembly and distributed December 17.

2003: United Nations document A/RES/58/36 “Prevention of an Arms Race in Outer Space” was adopted by the First Committee of the General Assembly.

2002: In spite of a continued deadlock in the CD, certain states, particularly China and Russia, continued to push for negotiations regarding PAROS. A joint working paper on the “Possible Elements for a Future International Legal Agreement on the Prevention of the Deployment of Weapons in Outer Space, the Threat or Use of Force Against Outer Space Objects” was submitted by China and Russia.

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A PAROS treaty would build on the efforts of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty to preserve space for peaceful uses by committing States Parties to refrain from placing objects carrying any type of weapon into orbit, installing weapons on celestial bodies, and threatening to use force against objects in outer space.