Statement at the Thematic Discussion on Outer Space –Disarmaments Aspects
in the First Committee of the 78th Session
of the United Nations General Assembly
New York, 20 October 2023
The environment of outer space envelops us, regardless of national borders, and extends indefinitely outward. Since the first satellite orbited the Earth in October 1957, outer space has remained relatively peaceful. The Outer Space Treaty prohibits the placement or stationing of weapons of mass destruction in that environment and on celestial bodies. Beyond this important prohibition, the military use of outer space remains relatively uncontrolled, which risks the prospect of an arms race.
Indeed, satellites are used for monitoring military activities on Earth, as well as for military communications and navigation. In a more concerning development, numerous States have conducted tests of anti-satellite weapons, which crowd low earth orbit with ever more debris, hampering the peaceful use of this increasingly important domain.
In response to such a challenge, this Committee should support the continuation of efforts aimed at the exclusion of direct ascent testing of anti-satellite missiles, building upon the resolution adopted by the General Assembly last year that condemned such testing. Beyond this, the Conference on Disarmament should be supported, under its agenda on Prevention of an Arms Race in Outer Space (PAROS), in the negotiation of undertakings to preclude the use, or stationing in outer space or on Earth, of destructive capabilities aimed at objects in outer space.
The Holy See condemns outrightly any aspiration to extend to outer space the weapons and military capabilities that cause immense suffering and destruction on Earth. As a response to the increased expenditures on the research and development of outer space military capabilities, this Committee must return to its main objective: general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control, an objective that the overwhelming number States have adopted. Should outer space be weaponized, this noble goal will only move further out of reach.
While a legally binding agreement on PAROS may prove difficult to reach in the short-term, non-binding measures can help build trust. These measures include the implementation of norms and transparency- and confidence-building measures (TCBMs). In this regard, the Holy See first welcomes the convening of the Open-Ended Working Group (OEWG) on Reducing Space Threats through Norms, Rules and Principles of Responsible Behaviours. In conducting its work, the OEWG should ensure that its agenda does not duplicate efforts already underway in the Conference on Disarmament and the UN Disarmament Commission (UNDC).
Furthermore, my delegation regrets that the UNDC failed to achieve consensus on “recommendations to promote the practical implementation of TCBMS in outer space.” These measures could materially support the maintenance of a weapons-free outer space, for example by establishing “keep-out” zones around satellites and providing for pre-launch inspection of payloads to ensure their benign character. Discussions on outer space in the UNDC constituted a confidence-building measure (CBM) in and of themselves and should provide an impetus to concretize trust-building efforts.
In conclusion, allow me to reiterate the importance of preserving the peaceful nature of outer space, given the ever more prominent role it plays in commerce, development and research. May the work of this Committee preclude the evolution of technologies and capabilities that would militarize the celestial domain.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
 Cfr. A/RES/77/41.