Speech of Frank Rose, Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance, U.S. Department of State, at the 32 Space Symposium in Colorado Springs (CO).

The outer space environment is very complex, with over 80 nations and numerous government consortia, scientific, and commercial firms accessing and operating satellites for countless economic, scientific, educational, and social purposes. At the same time, threats to space systems from debris or irresponsible activities is adding to this complexity. We are clearly concerned by Chinese and Russian pursuit of weapons systems capable of destroying satellites in orbit, as the Director of National Intelligence noted in Congressional testimony this past February.

This complexity and the importance of space to our economy, our national security, and our everyday lives, has heightened the international diplomatic community’s interest in space security considerably.

In this dynamic environment, diplomacy can assist in addressing the challenges of developing guidelines for space operations and orbital debris mitigation, and encouraging responsible behavior in space through the development of norms and voluntary transparency and confidence-building measures. Diplomatic engagements also provide an opportunity to enhance a common understanding of the goals and challenges related to the outer space environment, thus creating support for U.S. policy.

Our diplomatic efforts are also focused on raising international understanding of the global consequences of conflict in outer space. Preventing or deterring such conflict is a global interest for all countries, because the resulting impacts of that conflict would not be limited to the militaries and countries involved, but would extend to all space-farers and all who depend upon space – which is pretty much everyone on this planet.

In addition, diplomacy is an essential element in influencing countries’ calculus related to the development or employment of counterspace systems. The Department of State’s diplomatic efforts can be used to enhance and complement other U.S. Government activities to increase space mission assurance and ultimately deny an aggressor the benefits of attacks in space.

Our diplomatic efforts include specific engagements in both bilateral and multilateral fora, in bilateral space security dialogues, and in the various United Nations organizational entities and regional fora. We are committed to using these efforts to prevent conflict from extending into space.

Bilateral Diplomatic Engagement

We have made it a focal point of our diplomatic efforts to discuss space security issues with a range of countries – friends, allies, partners, and those who are interested in greater cooperation. The State Department has established over 15 formal space security dialogues with a number of partners, including: the United Kingdom, France, Germany, the Republic of Korea, Japan, India, South Africa and the UAE. We use these dialogues to discuss the challenges to the space environment, multilateral diplomatic initiatives, and opportunities for practical, bilateral cooperation.

In addition to our formal space security dialogues with many governments, we have expanded our space security discussions with a range of other partners, such as Turkey, Chile, Indonesia, Singapore, and Vietnam. Additionally, we are expanding our space security-related conversations in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries. In many cases, our candid discussions have given the U.S. a better appreciation for our partners’ perspectives, and helped identify areas for cooperation and coordination.

In addition, these diplomatic engagements have resulted in increased interest in bilateral and multilateral space cooperation in areas interest in bilateral and multilateral space, including:

I believe that most of these nations have a similar view of a space environment that is safe, secure, and sustainable. Needless to say, there are sometimes significant disagreements about how we get to that end-state.

At the same time, we also look for opportunities to engage Russia and China on these issues. Doing so will underscore the detrimental impact that irresponsible actions could have on the space environment and ensure that there are no misperceptions or miscommunications in a potential crisis. We previously conducted Space Security Dialogues with Russia, but we have chosen to suspend them due to Russia’s ongoing aggression in Ukraine.

I am also in regular communication with my Chinese counterparts and we look forward to scheduling our inaugural space security exchange in the near future in fulfillment of an outcome from the June 2015 meeting of the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue.

We also are holding a series of civil space dialogues with China, including bilateral consultations on satellite collision avoidance and the long-term sustainability of outer space activities.

debris in the movie Gravity credits - Gravity

Space debris as depicted in the movie ‘Gravity’

Multilateral Diplomatic Engagement

On the multilateral front, we actively participate in, and often lead, efforts within the United Nations, as well as at the regional level, in support of the long-term sustainability and security of outer space. The United States remains committed to efforts in multilateral fora to pursue a range of measures to enhance space security and sustainability

At the regional level, the United States has supported the members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to initiate and host space security workshops over the past three years. These workshops have proven to be productive and informative fora for raising awareness and understanding of space systems and space activities in the Asia-Pacific region.

For the past three years, we co-sponsored UN General Assembly resolutions with Russia and China that urged the international community to consider implementing the recommendations of the 2013 consensus report of the United Nations Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) on outer space transparency and confidence-building measures (TCBMs). We remain optimistic that these recommendations can be implemented. In fact, because we have such an important story to tell regarding the implementation of these TCBMs, we will prepare a comprehensive report in the coming months to detail all we are doing to implement the GGE’s recommendations and their contributions to enhancing stability in outer space.

Moreover, in the Committee on the Peaceful Use of Outer Space (COPUOS), the U.S. Government – in close collaboration with the private sector – is taking a leadership role in international efforts to ensure the long-term sustainability of outer space activities.

Along with most other members of COPUOS, the United States supports efforts to complete clear, practicable, and proven guidelines for the long-term sustainability of outer space activities in 2016.

However, our multilateral efforts are not without difficulties and challenges. In the Conference on Disarmament and elsewhere, Russia and China continue to promote their draft legally-binding “Prevention of the Placement of Weapons in Outer Space Treaty,” or PPWT, which is unverifiable and does not address the threat of terrestrially-based anti-satellite weapons, among other deficiencies. Russia’s “No first placement of weapons in outer space” initiative is fundamentally flawed and would not reduce the possibility of mishaps, misunderstandings, or miscalculations. These proposals typically gain a measure of support internationally because some countries are initially attracted to the idea of preventing the weaponization of space. However, in my diplomatic engagements, while supporting the goal of ensuring that space does not become a haven for conflict, I continue to point out the reasons why the United States cannot support these proposals and why the United States supports voluntary and pragmatic alternatives, such as transparency and confidence building measures.

Space Sustainability and Strategic Stability

Beyond our efforts to develop broadly agreed-upon rules of responsible behavior, we must also pursue efforts to deter terrestrial conflicts that extend to space. This is integral to both strategic stability and space sustainability, and diplomacy has a key role to play. Our allies and partners around the globe are investing in space systems of their own. They bring tremendous capabilities, a shared set of values, and an eagerness to cooperate. As such, we seek to strengthen the resiliency of our space systems through international cooperation. In a time of flat or declining defense budgets here as well as in many other countries, such cooperation has become increasingly important. This resiliency adds robustness to space capabilities in the face of natural space weather events, system failures, and incidents in orbit, and contributes to deterring attacks on space systems by minimizing or eliminating any gain from such action.

International diplomacy is a key component of creating the resiliency necessary for space mission assurance. For example, my Department of State colleagues focused on civil space cooperation have been engaged in ongoing informal bilateral discussions with the European Union for several years on opportunities for U.S. Government users, including the Department of Defense, to access the secure, limited access Galileo signals known as Public Regulated Service (or PRS), in addition to the system’s open signals. As DoD contemplates the next generation of receivers for its transportation and weapons systems, the goal is to plan for deployment of multi-GNSS receives, perhaps even developed jointly with partners in Europe. There are strong resiliency benefits from such an approach.

A second development with potentially dramatic impacts on space sustainability is the accelerating emergence of a host of new commercial space activities that are capitalizing on advancing technologies and decreasing barriers to entry. Already we are seeing rapid growth in the number of systems on orbit.

We have already identified the need for more space situational awareness cooperation, which our allies and partners can help with. But, this trend will take the international community beyond the need for mere space situational awareness and could require new approaches to manage space traffic and prevent collisions that could damage space sustainability for all. Though still emergent, international diplomacy in this area will be essential to assuring the predictability that investors seek and to having practices that assure both long-term growth and long-term sustainability in space.


In conclusion, I am concerned about the continued development by Russia and China of anti-satellite weapons. I want to reiterate that the United States is committed to preventing conflict from extending into space, and our diplomatic strategy supports this goal. The possibility of conflict in space is in no one’s interest.

Mission assurance and resilience is one area where international cooperation has benefits during peacetime and deters conflict in space. Further, international diplomacy plays an important role in preventing or reducing the impact of a conflict in outer space, which strengthens strategic stability and space sustainability.

In light of these opportunities and challenges, I am optimistic about the future of our diplomatic efforts in support of our long-standing principles and goals of the U.S. national space policy and international space cooperation. We have made considerable progress in reaching out not only to our allies and space partners, but also to a broad group of other established and emerging space-faring nations. We have also helped change the international conversation in order to focus efforts on pragmatic areas of cooperation such as TCBMs and away from unverifiable proposals such as the PPWT.

And we will need to continue these diplomatic efforts. The rapid progress in private sector space capabilities, systems, and technologies will require thoughtful consideration, not only at the national level, but also with allies, partners, other spacefaring nations, and industry, for new ways of thinking about solving the shared challenges we face. I’m absolutely convinced that, to successfully realize the future we seek, we must together do the hard work of building on our existing fifty-year foundation of national space policy principles and goals. Building on this foundation, we must continue promoting and pursuing voluntary TCBMs, non-binding guidelines, and norms of responsible behavior in outer space. Only then can we ensure the long-term sustainability and security of the outer space environment for generations to come.

Source: US Department of State

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