26th February 2021 Geneva, Switzerland
Next Steps on Responsible Behaviours in Outer Space
As I’ve mentioned a couple of times in my blog now, a big focus for us in the first part of 2021 is following up the UK-sponsored UN General Assembly resolution on reducing space threats through norms, rules and principles of responsible behaviours. I thought I’d use this post to give a flavour of what we’re up to.
The resolution invited Member States to examine the issue of space threats and the role of responsible behaviours from their own perspective. It also mandated the UN Secretary-General to compile and analyse the views of Member States and present a report to the next General Assembly session.
So our first job is to prepare the UK’s own national submission to that process, ahead of the 3 May deadline. We’re using this exercise to bring together different parts of the UK system with an interest – not just the foreign and defence ministries, but the business ministry and the UK Space Agency too. We’ll also reach out to industry and academia. The plan is to set out a holistic view of the threats facing space systems and the risk they pose to international peace and security, and how norms of responsible behaviours could mitigate them
A crucial feature of the process is that it is inclusive, transparent, and organic. Every state, whatever its level of involvement in outer space, is affected by these issues. We all have something to learn from each other about what space systems can do, and these discussions can help reduce the risk of misunderstanding and miscalculation, as well as contribute to the development of norms. So we also want to share our emerging thinking with other nations too, and hear from them how they’re approaching the exercise.
At the beginning of February we ran a workshop in collaboration with the Geneva Centre for Security Policy. We’re now beginning a series of (virtual) regional conferences with Wilton Park to convene colleagues from Latin America, Africa, the Middle East and Asia. We’re also comparing notes with our NATO Allies and other European partners.
The UNSG hopes to publish the report by August. On the back of it, the UK intends to bring forward a further resolution proposing a deeper discussion to begin the work of identifying and developing norms of responsible behaviour that we hope will lead to a better ordered, more secure outer space.
Before then, I hope we’ll get the opportunity to discuss the issues in more depth in the Conference on Disarmament, too. It was encouraging to hear several Ministers at this week’s High Level Segment talk about the importance of using the CD to advance work on mitigating space threats, notably around anti-satellite missiles, and the role that responsible behaviours could play.
We’d welcome the opportunity for more detailed work on this and other issues on the CD’s agenda in Subsidiary Bodies, though a few delegations seem determined not to let that happen. Either way, we’ll look forward to presenting our national space security policy, as called for in the resolution, in a CD plenary later in the session.