October 17, 2017
Prevention of an Arms Race in Outer Space

Statement by H.E. Archbishop Bernardito Auza
Apostolic Nuncio, Permanent Observer of the Holy See

Seventy-Second Session of the United Nations General Assembly
First Committee Agenda Item 97 (a):
Prevention of an arms race in outer space

New York, 17 October 2017

Mr. Chair,

This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the Outer Space Treaty, which, along with the 1968 Rescue Agreement, the 1972 Liability Treaty, and the 1976 Registration Treaty, provides a foundational framework for ensuring that the conflicts that plague States on earth do not extend to outer space.

In seeking to address the security aspects of the outer space environment and to prevent an arms race, the work of the First Committee is linked to the work of the Fourth Committee, with its focus on the peaceful uses of outer space. My Delegation thus appreciates that the two Committees held a joint session last week “on possible challenges to space security and sustainability” to address this linkage.    

The enormous contributions of the peaceful uses of outer space to human progress are beyond doubt. As in many other scientific fields, however, technologies for the exploration and use of outer space can be double-edged; they can be used both for peaceful or bellicose ends. Thus, to prevent the real danger of the militarization of outer space and the consequent arms race, the tremendous advances in outer space technology must be accompanied by a corresponding heightened sense of responsibility for limiting the employment of such means to peaceful uses.

In the digital age, humanity has become ever more dependent on space technology for the conduct of everyday life. Life on earth has become vastly regulated by satellites circling outer space. It is therefore becoming more and more exposed and vulnerable to attacks against the space technology that regulates the services and resources upon which contemporary life depends, in particular in the big cities. The impact of a war in space on civilian life could thus be far more devastating than an armed conflict on the ground. This is a real life scenario. Thus, the militarization of outer space, and especially an arms race must be prevented.

Mr. Chair,

The international cooperation among the member countries on the design, development, operation and utilization of the International Space Station is a good example of ensuring peaceful uses of outer space technology and minimizing the dangers of its weaponization. A contrary sign is the testing being done by a number of States to deny satellites their functionality or destroy them outright, a practice that, among other things, leads to large quantities of debris polluting outer space and poses a serious threat to other satellites and astronauts.

The crucial importance of the outer space environment to all nations necessitates that this “common space” be treated in ways that go beyond traditional notions of national sovereignty or how we legally treat oceans or international airspace. The Holy See welcomes the recommendation by China, the Russian Federation and the United States, proposed last spring at the UN Disarmament Commission, to take up Transparency-and-Confidence-Building Measures (TCBMs) for Outer Space. It continues to regret, however, the inability of the Conference on Disarmament to pursue work under its agenda item on the prevention of an arms race in outer space. Work is needed not only on TCBMs but also on security-building measures to ensure that outer space does not become a place where our earthly conflicts are extended. It would be useful to guarantee that space launch vehicles are not a cover for ballistic missiles.

Finally, my Delegation would like to note that the objective of safeguarding the peaceful character of outer space does not mean that satellites will not be used for useful activities below, including in the fields of security and defense. Indeed, the use of satellites for observation is critical for huge and vast humanitarian operations, in monitoring and mapping the effects of climate change, in gathering evidence of possible genocide and other mass atrocities. Evidently, satellites are critical to weather forecasting, to the blogosphere and to the entertainment industry. In the area of disarmament, they are critical for the strict verification of the observance of arms control and disarmament agreements.

Mr. Chair,

The joint session of the First and Fourth Committees to discuss outer space makes clear that the sustainability of outer space must rule out the weaponization of outer space technology and the militarization of outer space.

Thank you, Mr. Chair.