WASHINGTON — A U.S. review of an updated Chinese-Russian treaty proposal to ban weapons in space finds that it suffers from the same problems that made the original version unacceptable, an American diplomat said.

Ambassador Robert Wood, the U.S. representative to the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, said Sept. 9 that the United States had completed an in-depth review of the revised treaty, formally known as the “Treaty on Prevention of the Placement of Weapons in Outer Space and of the Threat or Use of Force Against Outer Space Objects” and generally referred to as PPWT. China and Russia had submitted an update to their original 2008 proposal in June.

“According to the U.S. analysis, the draft PPWT, like the earlier 2008 version, remains fundamentally flawed,” Wood said in his prepared remarks for a plenary session of the Conference on Disarmament.

Wood, in his speech, cited a number of issues with the PPWT, including the lack of a verification mechanism and no restrictions on the development and stockpiling of anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons on the ground. That means, he said, a nation “could develop a readily deployable space-based weapons break-out capability” should it decide to withdraw from the treaty.

Neither the original PPWT nor the revised version addresses what Wood called “the most pressing existing threat to outer space systems: terrestrially-based ASAT systems.” While the PPWT bans the placement of weapons in outer space, it does not ban “direct-ascent” ASATs launched from the ground.

China has tested direct-ascent ASATs on several occasions, including one in January 2007 that destroyed a Chinese weather satellite, creating a significant amount of space debris. In July, China carried out a test it claimed to be for a missile defense system, but which U.S. officials, including Wood, believe to have been a “non-destructive” ASAT demonstration.

Wood emphasized the use of nonbinding agreements known as transparency and confidence-building mechanisms as a better approach for improving space security. That includes the development of an international code of conduct for outer space activities proposed by the European Union several years ago.

“The United States is willing to consider space arms control proposals and concepts that are equitable, effectively verifiable, and enhance the security of all nations,” Wood said in his remarks. “However, we have not yet seen any legally-binding proposals that meet these criteria.”

Follow Jeff on Twitter: @jeff_foust


Norm Setting for Outer Space

U.S. Should Take a Cold, Hard Look at Space Code of Conduct

Jeff Foust has more than a decade of experience writing about space policy, entrepreneurial ventures and regulatory affairs. In 2001, he established spacetoday.net to aggregate and summarize the day's space-related news stories. In 2003, he started The...