Japan, Germany declare moratorium on anti-satellite missile tests

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SEOUL, South Korea — Japan and Germany pledged this week not to conduct direct-ascent anti-satellite (ASAT) missile testing, throwing their weight behind the U.S.-driven initiative launched in April to promote peaceful and safe use of outer space.

The two countries announced their commitment during the second session of the U.N. Open-Ended Working Group on reducing space threats, which is underway from Sept. 12 in Geneva.

“Japan commits not to conduct destructive, direct-ascent antisatellite (ASAT) missile testing and joins the US commitment announced in April,” Ambassador Ogasawara Ichiro, permanent representative of Japan to the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, said in a Sept. 12 statement. “Japan strongly believes that states should refrain from the deliberate destruction of space objects that creates negative impact on the space environment, especially through debris which could hamper access to and use of outer space for a long time.”

In a separate Sept. 13 statement, Japan’s foreign ministry said the country will “continue to play an active role to achieve secure, stable and sustainable outer space, including the development of norms of responsible behavior in outer space.”

Japan’s announcement was followed by the German one.

“Germany commits not to conduct destructive, direct-ascent anti-satellite missile testing,” the country said in a Sept. 13 statement. “Germany commends the United States of America for their commitment not to conduct such tests and all Nations who are joining this commitment.” It called on other countries to follow suit and advocated for the creation of a universal norm banning such testing.

Including Japan and Germany, a total of five countries have formally declared a self-imposed ASAT testing ban since April, when the United States pledged to ban direct-ascent ASAT tests that create orbital debris. 

Canada joined the initiative in May and New Zealand in July. And more countries are expected to join as the U.S. ramps up efforts to promote the ban. 

U.S. previews ASAT resolution ahead of UN meeting

Last week, during a Sept. 9 meeting of the National Space Council in Houston, U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris said the United States would introduce a resolution at the U.N. General Assembly this month calling for a halt on direct-ascent ASAT testing. 

“Later this month, the United States will introduce a resolution at the United Nations General Assembly to call on other nations to make the same commitment” that the United States made, Harris said.

Speaking at a space policy event in Washington last month, the U.S. State Department’s acting deputy assistant secretary for arms control, verification and compliance, Eric Desautels, said a resolution “would allow countries to go on record regarding their support, creating that shared agreement among the majority of U.N. member states, while increasing political pressure on countries that have plans for future ASAT tests.” 

In the mid-1980s, the United States developed and tested an air-launched missile capable of intercepting and destroying a satellite. A 1985 test destroyed a U.S. science satellite in low Earth orbit. 

In February 2008, the United States used a ship-launched missile to destroy a crippled U.S. spy satellite. While U.S. officials said the action was taken in the name of safety to prevent the satellite’s uncontrolled reentry, the move was widely seen as a response to China’s January 2007 use of a ground-launched missile to destroy a defunct Chinese weather satellite in a 537-kilometer polar orbit. The United States, in stark contrast to China’s unannounced test, briefed news media before and after the shoot-down of USA-193. 

Russia has conducted several ASAT missile tests since 2015, including a November 2021 test of a ground-launched missile that destroyed a Russian Kosmos satellite, creating a debris field that has put the International Space Station, SpaceX’s Starlink constellation and other low-Earth-orbiting satellites in harm’s way. India also possesses direct-ascent ASAT weapons. In March 2019, India used a modified ballistic missile interceptor to destroy an Indian satellite in low Earth orbit.