U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Jan. 17 the United States will join Europe and other nations in developing an international code of conduct for space operations so long as the resulting text does not restrict “our national security-related activities in space.”
In a written statement apparently intended to clarify remarks made by other U.S. government officials in recent months, Clinton sought to stress the fact that the U.S. government endorses the idea of a space conduct code, which has been proposed by the 27-nation European Union.
“[T]he United States has decided to join with the European Union and other nations to develop an International Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities,” Clinton said in the statement. “A Code of Conduct will help maintain the long-term sustainability, safety, stability and security of space by establishing guidelines for the responsible use of space.”
Continued use of space is “at serious risk from space debris and irresponsible actors,” the statement said, without naming specific nations whose actions are viewed as irresponsible. “Unless the international community addresses these challenges, the environment around our planet will become increasingly hazardous to human spaceflight and satellite systems, which would create damaging consequences for all of us.”
The most consequential recent voluntary action by a government that was condemned by many nations, including Europe and the United States, was China’s use of a land-based missile to destroy a retired Chinese meteorological satellite in 2007. The intercept caused decades-long pollution of a swath of low Earth orbit used for meteorological, Earth observation and other purposes by many spacefaring nations, including China.
U.S. military and government officials have said that while the European-designed code has many attributes, it may need some modification to ensure that it does not, intentionally or otherwise, restrict U.S. freedom of action in space with respect to national security.
These U.S. officials have never spelled out exactly what it is in the code that might be constructed as restrictive, nor does the Clinton statement.
The statement concludes that, despite these caveats, the United States “is committed to working together to reverse the troubling trends that are damaging our space environment and to preserve the limitless benefits and promise of space for future generations.”