UN talks on space peace treaty fail to reach consensus

Talks to prevent an arms race in space took on new urgency with India's March 27 announcement that it destroyed a low-orbiting s
Talks to prevent an arms race in space took on new urgency with India's March 27 announcement that it destroyed a low-orbiting satellite with a missile.

United Nations-backed talks to prevent an arms race in outer space ended without agreement on Friday, delivering another blow to global disarmament diplomacy.

Twenty-five nations—including major -faring powers such as China, Russia and the US—held two weeks of negotiations that aimed to lay foundations for a treaty ensuring peace in space.

Diplomats meeting within the so-called Group of Governmental Experts were not able to reach consensus on a set of recommendations, said Brazil's ambassador to the Conference on Disarmament, Guilherme de Aguiar Patriota, who led the talks.

"We could not reach convergence," Patriota told reporters, adding that the goal may have been "too ambitious."

"We are working on very difficult grounds because of the sensitivities around these issues," he further said.

Space disarmament diplomacy has been deadlocked for more than a decade.

Russia and China have backed treaty language that seeks to prevent the deployment of certain types of military hardware in space.

The US, even before the election of President Donald Trump, has typically rejected that approach on grounds that it is extremely difficult to verify the military capabilities of hardware deployed in space.

Instead, the US has preferred language that focuses on prohibiting certain aggressive conduct in space.

India satellite

Aside from disagreements on the content of a possible treaty, the talks were also hampered by a grim disarmament climate, highlighted by Washington's decision in recent weeks to scrap a crucial nuclear weapons accord with Russia.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon has drafted plans for a new "Space Force" on orders from Trump who has declared space a "war-fighting domain".

And while the talks were ongoing this week, India destroyed a satellite with a missile, boasting that it had joined the exclusive list of space powers.

Patriota said that rather than being harmful to the talks, the India test reinforced the need for some kind of treaty as it reminded nations "that shooting down an object in space is not expressly prohibited" under current international law.

India's actions challenged the narrative "that (the) existing regime is sufficient," he said.

But despite any impetus created by New Delhi, leaders in the world's space powers were "not particularly open to huge steps being taken" towards a treaty.

Friday marked the end of UN talks and there are no immediate plans for further negotiations, the Brazilian diplomat said.

He added, however, that "it was a great discussion" which may have "ripple effects" that could shape a future treaty.

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Mar 29, 2019
India's war-like actions are nevertheless in violation of UN General Assembly's December 2014 resolution "Prevention of an Arms Race in Outer Space," which calls on States, in particular those with major space capabilities, to contribute actively to the peaceful use of outer space, prevent an arms race there, and refrain from actions contrary to that objective." India therefore does deserve severe censure and probably also sanctions targeting their military-industrial complex and Modi's illiberal government.

Mar 29, 2019
To probably misquote Clauswitz, war is the extension of diplomacy by other means.

What we need to do is preclude nuclear weapons platforms in orbit with targets on the Earth, and this is going to be difficult in the extreme. This is perhaps a good thread to discuss the challenges on.

Unfortunately I don't see either China or Russia having any reason to agree to this.

Mar 30, 2019
It is unfortunate that India seems to have joined the metaphorical circular firing squad--where the participants are instead poised to toss grenades at each other.

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