Pentagon Tentatively Endorses Code of Conduct in Space

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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — The U.S. Department of Defense has tentatively concluded that a European code of conduct for spacefaring nations is consistent with U.S. interests and likely will be adopted by the U.S. government, a senior Pentagon official said April 13.

Gregory L. Schulte, deputy assistant secretary of defense for space policy, insisted that no decision has been made on adopting the code of conduct, which is a gentlemen’s agreement-type of document that has no force of law.

“The administration has made no final decision,” Schulte said here during the National Space Symposium. “But our preliminary assessment finds that it is a positive approach.”

The backers of the code of conduct hope that even a nonbinding document, if it collects the signatures of most nations active in space, will have a deterrent effect on nations that might consider testing anti-satellite weapons in space, as China did in 2007.

The Chinese test, which was successful, destroyed a retired Chinese weather satellite and polluted a highly used section of low Earth orbit with thousands of pieces of debris that will pose problems for satellite operators in that orbit for decades.

One U.S. Defense Department official said that while no serious objection to the code of conduct has been identified, the U.S. Congress must still weigh in with its advice, and be reassured that the document does not have the force of a treaty limiting U.S. freedom of action in space.

In a separate address to the symposium, a high-ranking Japanese government official said Japan fully backs the code of conduct and is urging all spacefaring nations to sign it.

Hirofumi Katase, deputy secretary general in Japan’s Secretariat for Space Policy, said the Chinese satellite test highlighted the mutual dependence of nations with respect to the main space thoroughfares in low, medium and geostationary Earth orbit.