US State Department Rejects Proposed Space Code of Conduct

US Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Ellen Tauscher (Credits: RIA Novosti).

On January 12th it was revealed at a Washington DC press conference that the US State Department would not endorse a Space Code of Conduct for spacefaring nations proposed by the Council of the European Union in 2008, finding it “too restrictive.” The 12-page document, lastrevised in 2010, calls for nations to “have access to, explore, and to use outer space […] fully respecting the security, safety of space objects in orbit consistent with international law and security, safety, and integrity standards.”

Ellen Tauscher, Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, stated while responding to an unrelated question that the US State Department ” is not going to be joining with the Europeans on their [space] treaty.” Detailed in the proposed Code were several measures for reducing space debris through deorbiting aging satellites. The Code also called for increased international transparency and communication in the event of on-orbit anomalies, including satellite malfunctions, accidents causing orbital debris, atmospheric reentry, and maneuvers that would bring satellites close together.

Despite rejection of the EU Code, there is still the possibility that the US will offer a counter-proposal to the treaty; when later pressed on the issue, Tausher said “What we haven’t announced is what we are going to do. But we are going to be doing that soon. We’re still in the ‘not saying no’ part, but we’re not saying ‘yes.’” She also emphasized that the US continues to work with Russia to improve space security.

The Code of Conduct was first proposed by the European Union after the 2007 Chinese ASAT test and the shooting down of US spy satellite USA-193 by the US Navy fifteen months later created a large cloud of space debris that still remains a hazard to spacecraft in low Earth orbit. In 2011, 37 US senators wrote to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressing concerns that adopting the EU Code of Conduct could have consequences for American national security. Also in 2011, at the release of the National Defense Department’s National Security Space Strategy, then Deputy Secretary of Defense William Lynn spoke positively of the proposed Code of Conduct, stating that the strategies outlined in the proposal were consistent with US space security strategy.


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