Delegation of the European Union
to the United Nations - New York

EU Statement – United Nations 1st Committee: Thematic Discussion on Outer Space

New York, 29/10/2019 - 19:38, UNIQUE ID: 191029_12
Statements on behalf of the EU

29 October 2019, New York – European Union delivered by Ms. Marketa Homolkova, First Secretary, Delegation of the European Union in Geneva, at the 74th Session of the United Nations General Assembly First Committee Thematic Discussion on Outer Space

Mr. Chair,

I have the honour to speak on behalf of the European Union and its Member States.

The Candidate Countries the Republic of North Macedonia*, Montenegro* and Albania*, the country of the Stabilisation and Association Process and potential candidate Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as Ukraine and the Republic of Moldova, align themselves with this statement.

The EU and its Member States continue to promote the preservation of a safe, secure and sustainable space environment and the peaceful use of outer space on an equitable and mutually acceptable basis. We regard outer space as a global common good (res communis), to be used for the benefit of all. Strengthening the safety, security, sustainability and peaceful nature of outer space activities is best achieved through international cooperation. We continue to stress the importance of transparency and confidence-building measures and the need to advocate responsible behaviour in outer space notably in the framework of the United Nations.

In this regard, we would like to express our satisfaction that the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS) adopted the preamble and 21 Guidelines for the long-term sustainability of outer space activities, which will be annexed to the report of the Committee to be adopted by the UN General Assembly this year. We are looking forward to continuing the work on long-term sustainability of outer space activities with the prospect of possible new guidelines. The adoption of the guidelines and the continuation of the process are major achievements and a culmination of several years of work by COPUOS, which proved that multilateral space diplomacy and international cooperation can work and produce results. It is an important contribution to the transparency and confidence-building measures in outer space.

The EU underlines that the 1967 Outer Space Treaty and other applicable international law as well as guiding principles developed in the UN framework constitute the cornerstone of the global governance of outer space.

The EU recognises the common interest of all mankind in the progress of the exploration and use of outer space for peaceful purposes. We note the applicability of international law, including the UN Charter, to outer space in the interest of maintaining international peace and security and promoting international cooperation and understanding, as also reflected in Article 3 of the Outer Space Treaty, including the principles of the prohibition of the threat or use of force, and the inherent right of States to individual or collective self-defence.

We appreciate that experts in the Group of Governmental Experts on the Prevention of an Arms Race in Outer Space (GGE PAROS) took a comprehensive approach in an effort to build bridges between various positions. It was unfortunate that the GGE could not reach consensus on a final report. Nevertheless, there is a need to elaborate what constitutes a safe, secure and sustainable use of outer space, and what kind of behaviour cannot be considered as peaceful.

The EU and its Member States remain strongly committed to the prevention of an arms race in outer space which is essential for the strengthening of international security and stability and for safeguarding the long-term use of the space environment for peaceful purposes. We are concerned about the continued development of all anti-satellite weapons and capabilities, including earth-based, and underline the importance of addressing such developments promptly and as part of international efforts to prevent an arms race in outer space. We call on all States to refrain from destruction of space objects that generate space debris, notably multiple long-lived debris.

We would like to emphasise that a future framework for arms control in relation to outer space should involve effective and verifiable instruments designed to cover all relevant threats, be they earth-to-space, space-to-space, or space-to-earth. The development of such a framework could be achieved through an incremental process. It could start with an effort to strengthen spacefaring nations due regard to the corresponding interests of all other spacefaring nations, in particular through transparency and confidence building measures, and consensus-building regarding responsible behaviour in outer space, without excluding legally-binding instruments in the future. Such instruments could be realised by a step-by-step approach for example by agreeing on a test moratorium on anti-satellite weapons, the prohibition of the deliberate creation of space debris, notably multiple long-lived debris, and norms on close proximity orbital operations. The current draft Treaty promoted by the Russian Federation and China on the Prevention of the Placement of Weapons in Outer Space, the Threat or Use of Force against Outer Space Objects (PPWT) does not constitute a sufficient basis in this regard. We note that both proponents of the PPWT are among those States that already possess and are developing further capabilities, including earth-based anti-satellite capabilities, which are not explicitly included in the scope of the draft Treaty.

We also believe that the initiative "No First Placement of Weapons in Outer Space" (NFP), does not meet the criteria for the transparency and confidence-building measures, as agreed in the consensus report by the Group of Governmental Experts on Transparency and Confidence-Building Measures in Outer Space Activities of 2013. Again, this initiative does not address earth-based weapons targeting outer space assets. Moreover, it fails both to acknowledge and address the challenge that it has not been possible to define or agree on a definition of what a weapon in outer space would be. Accordingly, it is likely to contribute to an increased risk of misinterpretations, misunderstandings, and miscalculations. The definitional ambiguity regarding the question of what constitutes a weapon in space will affect all objects placed in space or possessing capability to affect objects in outer space that could in one way or another be considered to be a weapon. Furthermore, the NFP initiative contains no mechanism that would make it possible to effectively verify a State’s political commitment “not to be the first to place weapons in outer space”. Because of these reasons, the EU and its Member States are not in a position to support the proposed draft resolution on NFP.

We believe it is important to develop initiatives that will increase confidence and mutual trust between current and future space actors. In this regard, we would like to highlight the importance of Transparency and Confidence Building Measures that can make a contribution to the security, safety and sustainability of activities in outer space. We encourage further international cooperation to elaborate agreed principles of responsible behaviour in outer space.

If we look at the enormous technological development, the rapidly growing number of human activities in space and the increasingly diverse nature of space operators, both governmental and private ones, it has become very urgent to develop new relevant norms and rules within the UN framework, which is a unique platform for such activities.

A legally-binding instrument could be an option, however we believe that the most realistic near term prospect lies in agreeing on a voluntary instrument or voluntary norms. Such a voluntary instrument could establish standards of responsible behaviour across the full range of space activities and related challenges, such as the intentional creation, the mitigation and remediation of space debris, which is partially caused by intentional anti-satellite weapon testing, the conduct of proximity operations and coordination of collision avoidance in order to promote security and safety in outer space in an integrated fashion.

The idea of a voluntary instrument is not to replace, but to complement the COPUOS long-term sustainability guidelines. A voluntary instrument could include a political commitment by States and create a more structured cooperative framework. The compliance with existing international law as well as with transparency and confidence-building measures, as developed in the UN framework, would have to be ensured.

The idea to launch discussions on a voluntary instrument or voluntary norms, supported and mandated by UN Member States in the General Assembly, could be a way to deliver these objectives.

Thank you, Mr. Chair.


* The Republic of North Macedonia, Montenegro and Albania continue to be part of the Stabilisation and Association Process.

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