Statement of H.E. Archbishop Bernardito Auza
Apostolic Nuncio, Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations
First (Disarmament) Committee of the 70th Session of the General Assembly
Agenda Item 95: Prevention of an arms race in outer space
New York, 23 October 2015
My delegation extends congratulations to you as you lead this First Committee, assuring you of our full cooperation in the activity of the Committee’s vitally important efforts for world peace.
The question of the use of outer space is relatively new in human affairs. The first artificial satellite was launched into orbit around Earth less than sixty years ago. Since then the use of outer space has grown enormously. Today communications, observation and monitoring satellites play a vital global role in human activity. Global positioning satellites are part of our daily lives, providing locations and giving directions.
At the same time, military interests have led to a troubling search of ways to destroy satellites or render them inoperable. The international community was already aware of the dangers of the militarization of outer space even before the launch of the first artificial Earth satellite into orbit. In fact, efforts at the United Nations to maintain outer space for peaceful purposes began months prior to the launching into orbit of the first satellite in 1957.
Explosions and collisions of orbital components have resulted in the presence of dangerous amounts of debris in Earth’s atmosphere moving at great velocities, with the potential for deadly collisions with operational satellites, including manned platforms. Some States have evidently envisioned from time to time the deployment in outer space of weapons systems designed to destroy other objects in space, or even to launch attacks against targets on the surface of the Earth.
Outer space should be considered a global common good. It makes sense to agree not to take the military confrontations between and among States into that environment. States which have not yet done so are encouraged to ratify the Outer Space Treaty in order to reinforce it further and make its provisions more universal, in particular its prohibition of the placement of nuclear weapons or any other kind of weapons of mass destruction in outer space and the prohibition of stationing of such weapons on celestial bodies.
Weapons systems acting in space and the testing of weapons in space, however characterized, should be prohibited. The Holy See urges prompt action to initiate and conclude negotiations to this end, by acting inter alia under the agenda item for the prevention of an arms race in outer space in the Geneva Conference on Disarmament.
The space beyond Earth is also our common home, our common inheritance, a gift for the enjoyment of the whole of humanity. It is, therefore, of utmost importance to open outer space for scientific and peaceful research for the benefit of us all. The universally useful services that outer space technology provide must be made accessible, as much as possible, to all countries and peoples. While there are reasonable factors that prevent universal access to the beneficial uses of outer space, like the need for returns on investment for the huge capital costs of explorations and questions related to patents and intellectual property rights, States must work together to ensure that they benefit humanity as a whole. Indeed, in a time when outer space has become a huge economic asset, we must try to avoid that its usefulness become yet another cause of increasing economic and social inequalities among individuals and peoples.
Thus it would be best to negotiate a binding legal framework to maintain outer space for peaceful purposes, recognizing that its use for purposes such as communications and observation in support of international security will be accommodated, as indeed has been the case under the 1967 Outer Space Treaty.
In the meantime, adoption of an International Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities should be accomplished promptly. A draft Code has been in existence for some time now. The Holy See supports action to complete the steps necessary to adopt an agreed Code. My delegation reiterates the importance of action on the Code, which would undoubtedly help toward preventing an arms race in outer space and, consequently, toward averting a new, grave threat to international peace and security.
Reaffirming the importance of preventing an arms race in outer space, I state in conclusion the firm conviction of the Holy See that the space environment must be preserved as a common heritage of humanity and that we must do all in our power to keep its use exclusively for peaceful purposes.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.