Explanation of Vote in the First Committee on Resolution L.54: Further Practical Measures for the Prevention of an Arms Race in Outer Space”

Ambassador Robert Wood
U.S. Permanent Representative to the Conference on Disarmament
New York City
October 20, 2017


Mr. Chairman, I would like to deliver an explanation of vote on behalf of the United Kingdom and the United States on draft resolution L.54, entitled “Further practical measures for the prevention of an arms race in outer space.”

Mr. Chairman, our delegations will vote “No” on draft resolution L.54. This resolution seeks to establish a UN Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) to “consider and make recommendations on substantial elements of an international legally-binding instrument on PAROS, including, inter alia, on the prevention of placement of weapons in outer space.” We have a number of substantive and procedural concerns which lead us to our “No” votes.

First, it would appear that the authors of this resolution intend to use the Russian and Chinese draft “Treaty on the Prevention of Placement of Weapons in Outer Space, the Threat or Use of Force against Outer Space Objects” (PPWT) as the foundation for the GGE’s review. We have long opposed negotiating a legally-binding agreement based on the PPWT at the Conference on Disarmament because of our fundamental concerns with the PPWT. These concerns are as follows:

The draft PPWT would not effectively prohibit the development of the most pressing threat to outer space systems today, namely terrestrially-based anti-satellite weapons; The draft PPWT fails to resolve definitional problems of what constitutes a “weapon in outer space,” given the dual-use nature of many space technologies; Furthermore, the draft PPWT fails to address the challenge of creating an effective verification regime.

The resolution acknowledges the “deep regret” over lack of progress in the Conference on Disarmament, which our countries share. Furthermore, we have said many times that we are prepared to engage in substantive discussions on space security as part of a CD consensus program of work. However, the explicit linkage in the resolution’s Operative Paragraph 2 to “the immediate commencement of negotiations on an international legally-binding instrument on PAROS,” as part of a “balanced and comprehensive program of work” would not achieve consensus on an already contentious topic. Furthermore, the inclusion of “legally binding” implies no discussion of transparency and confidence-building measures (TCBMs), which are not legally binding. Finally, it is unlikely that a legally binding instrument would constrain or inhibit others from developing counterspace capabilities to challenge perceived adversaries in outer space, while publicly promoting non-weaponization of space and “no first placement” of weapons in outer space.

Second, outer space TCBMs will likely be on the agenda for the UN Disarmament Commission’s 2018-2020 session. Our countries want to ensure that a PAROS GGE does not distract from that process.

Third, because the UN 2018-2019 biennium budget has already been negotiated, any new GGE would require the allocation of additional resources, which our countries oppose in principle.

It is also worth noting that this resolution offers an example of China’s attempts to impose its national view of multilateralism and world geopolitics on the international system. Our countries cannot agree to this language, but look forward to working with China and others in the months and years ahead to sustain and strengthen the international norms on which the global system is based.

For these and other reasons, our countries do not support this resolution. We will vote “No” and urge others to vote “No” as well.

Our countries aim to prevent conflict from extending into space. We believe that political commitments and legally binding agreements that cannot be confirmed or verified by the international community are not the answer.

The United Kingdom and United States look forward to continuing to engage constructively and pragmatically with other UN Member States in order to strengthen the safety, stability, security, and sustainability of outer space activities.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.