October 29, 2019
Statement on the Prevention of an Arms Race in Outer Space

Statement by H.E. Archbishop Bernardito Auza

Apostolic Nuncio, Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations

Seventy-fourth Session of the United Nations General Assembly

First Committee Agenda Item 96:

Prevention of an Arms Race in Outer Space

New York, 29 October 2019


Mr. Chair,

The Delegation of the Holy See welcomes the opportunity to contribute to the discussion of this Committee on security issues involving the outer space environment. This theme coincides with issues primarily dealt with in the Fourth Committee on the peaceful uses of outer space, an overlap reflected in the recent joint panel discussion with the Fourth Committee on challenges to space security and sustainability.

Article IX of the foundational Outer Space Treaty of 1967, to which nearly all space-faring  Member States of the United Nations are party, states: “In the exploration and use of outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, States Party to the Treaty shall be guided by the principle of co-operation and mutual assistance and shall conduct all their activities in outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, with due regard to the corresponding interests of all other States Parties to the Treaty.”

Clearly, this obligation raises considerable questions about efforts to interfere with, or destroy, the satellites of other States, or about the introduction of weapons into the outer space environment, since it is already categorically prohibited to orbit or station, on celestial bodies or elsewhere in outer space, nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction. Indeed, attacking satellites in any way, whether from space or Earth, or by launching weapons from outer space at targets on Earth, is inconsistent with the principle of cooperation and mutual assistance in peaceful outer space activities. 

Mr. Chair,

The continued, and increasing, reliance on outer space platforms that support communications, navigation, position finding and the daily commerce of activities here on Earth points to the importance of our work to support the security, efficiency and sustainability of such platforms.  Attacking them, or interfering with their proper functions, for example by illuminating them with destructive beams of electromagnetic energy, should therefore be prohibited. Moving a space platform to intercept another platform should be ruled out by establishing “keep-out zones” around satellites. Military activities resulting in the creation of space debris would be particularly reprehensible, as such debris threatens other space objects.

Mr. Chair, 

Our Delegation has, as on previous occasions, highlighted numerous needs and opportunities, in addressing space security and sustainability. It is unfortunate that there is little to note by way of progress since last year in addressing those needs. The UN Disarmament Commission was unable to convene this past spring because of an impasse, which should be resolved without delay so that the Commission can resume its consideration of transparency and confidence-building measures for outer space. Such measures can support both sustainability of operations and activities in outer space, and security more broadly, not only in space but likewise on Earth.

It also worthwhile to note that no negotiations on outer space have taken place within the context of the Conference on Disarmament. Member States of that Conference should intensify their efforts to restart the negotiating process. There is no utility in an arms competition in outer space, the prevention of which the Conference has on its agenda.

The importance of satellites for monitoring and verifying arms control and non-proliferation agreements, in particular those dealing with nuclear weapons, is by now universally accepted. Our Delegation has noted the previous consideration of the United Nations of establishing an International Satellite Monitoring Agency (ISMA). It would be useful to give further thought to internationally operated platforms to verify agreements for monitoring outer space and the Earth. Developments such as an ISMA would provide substantial support to space security and sustainability, to the objective of maintaining space free from weapons of any sort, and to ensuring the viability of disarmament agreements on weapons on Earth. Such undertakings could be further strengthened by an agreement to inspect payloads to be launched into space prior to launch to ensure their non-weapon character.

Thank you, Mr. Chair.