Thematic Discussion on Outer Space (Disarmament Aspects)
in the First Committee of the 77th Session
of the United Nations General Assembly
New York, 26 October 2022
The Holy See, in these last decades has always followed attentively the discussions on the peaceful use of outer space. In fact, Pope Pius XII said that this “common effort of all humanity towards a peaceful conquest of the universe must contribute to imprinting more in the consciousness of men the sense of community and solidarity, so that all may have the impression more of constituting the great family.” Indeed, outer space is part of our common home, and every State has a duty in safeguarding it responsibly as steward for present and future generations.
To date, outer space has been spared from the introduction and stationing of weapons. For the Holy See, it is essential that outer space remain non-militarized permanently and be preserved for peaceful purposes, to the benefit of all.
The Outer Space Treaty, which entered into force in 1967 – just ten years after the first satellite was launched into orbit – partially ensures this, by prohibiting States from stationing in outer space or on celestial bodies or orbiting around the Earth nuclear weapons or any other weapon of mass destruction. Nonetheless, the challenges are well-known: despite outer space being formally on the agenda of the Conference of Disarmament since 1985, the international community has not yet succeeded in negotiating an agreement on the prohibition on all types of weapons in outer space.
Such a prohibition is more urgent than ever. The Holy See notes with alarm that various States have expended resources on the research, development and testing of orbital and space-based weapons. Not only do these developments risk an arms race in outer space, but they also hamper the growing use of outer space for peaceful purposes, including dual-use technologies with a military dimension, such as communications, observation, monitoring of activities on Earth, weather forecasting as well as the verification of arms control agreements.
With the number of orbiting objects in the thousands, with many more being planned to be deployed, outer space is increasingly becoming a more fragile environment, with an ever-greater risk of collisions and the creation of long-lasting debris. In this regard, the Holy See notes with concern that several states have launched tests of anti-satellite weapons that have created debris clouds, putting space objects at risk. Such testing – at any altitude – is incompatible with caring for our common home. It is accordingly welcome that the First Committee considers the adoption of a resolution introducing a moratorium on such tests.
The Delegation of the Holy See believes that a multilateral agreement not to launch direct ascent tests must be buttressed by other transparency and confidence-building measures (TCBMs). In this regard, the Holy See welcomes both the UN Disarmament Commission’s consideration of outer space TCBMs and the convening in Geneva of the Open-Ended Working Group (OEWG) on reducing space threats.
The elaboration of TCBMs and norms in outer space do not preclude, but rather lay the groundwork for the development of a legally binding agreement prohibiting the weaponization of outer space and weapons that threaten space objects. This would prevent an arms race in outer space and would definitively ensure that activity in this common environment remains rooted in cooperation for the benefit of all humankind.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
 Cf. Pope Pius XII, Address to the participants of the VII congress of the International Astronautical Federation, 20 September 1956.