A European Approach to Space Security

European Security Efforts Under Construction

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Xavier Pasco
Reconsidering the Rules of Space

Joint space-related projects such as Galileo and GMES have stirred the interest of all European institutions involved with promoting a more proactive European Commission security policy. Both a European Commission white paper made public in November 2003 — “Space: A New European Frontier for an Expanding Union: An Action Plan for Implementing the European Space Policy”42 — and the nascent European Security Research Policy started in 2004 by the European Commission (and associated with a new security-and-space budget line in the EU’s Seventh Framework Programme for research and technological development) have indicated a larger effort to link space, security, and the European construction process. The European Commission also initiated the Report of the Panel of Experts on Space and Security (also known as the SPASEC Report), published in March 2005. The report “strongly recommends that the security applications of space should be given a high relevance in the forthcoming European Space Program” and that “this programme should be fully harmonised with other national and commercial programmes so as to obtain maximum synergy and affordability offering an enhanced capability for all aspects of security.”43

ESA has paid close attention to these security developments. The formation of a joint ESA-EU Space Council (with a mandate to give a wider political perspective to the elaboration of space programs in Europe and also to deepen the security aspects of those programs) represented a dramatic rapprochement with the European Commission. ESA is reforming itself to address space security issues more boldly. As the European Defence Agency (EDA) is getting organized, ESA is trying to reassert itself in a rapidly evolving landscape.

Behind possible institutional turf battles, real strategic issues are at stake for Europe, where the sharing of responsibility for security programs in space is now openly discussed. Many practitioners recognize that the only workable political direction for a twenty-seven-nation Europe consists in dealing with a broad and generic security concept rather than a more classical military one, with a possible major contribution from dual-use, high-technology space systems. Indeed, space information systems are perceived as important contributors — some might say “security enablers” — because the roots of such systems lie in well-entrenched European industrial know-how and may prove to be an important high-tech investment for future economic and industrial well-being.44

The European investment trend in generic security in space differs notably from the more military-oriented choices made by the United States. This fundamental trend has a number of direct and indirect consequences. It results in the absence in Europe of a real strategic shift toward space. Although space is perceived as an important asset for Europe, it is not yet considered a “vital national interest” as it is in the United States.45 A different mindset exists on each side of the Atlantic when it comes to considering the relative importance of space assets in military organization and equipment or in military doctrine itself. Even if some avenues for cooperation have been followed — notably through NATO, with the recent decisions concerning a common military satellite architecture — the different levels of investment, as well as the different roles devoted to the space segment in military operations, have greatly complicated the prospects for transatlantic cooperation in the military space field.

More indirectly, the relative divergence of views about the military value attached to the space segment points to transatlantic differences in conceptions of security in space. The security-oriented European decision to hold back on dedicated militarization contrasts with the U.S. position. The two positions are likely to be with us for some time. More important, the two distinct positions will continue to define two distinct security strategies.

Europe: Moving Closer to “Cooperative Security” in Space?

The increasing European interest in space has legitimized the view that any spacefaring nation can look for more security in space. The issue that remains is what type of security. The EU’s “Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities,” drafted at the end of 2008, argues that “security” must be conceived as addressing a large range of threats: “The purpose of the present code is to enhance the safety, security and predictability of outer space activities for all. . . . This Code, in codifying new best practices, contributes to transparency and confidence-building measures and is complementary to the existing framework regulating outer space activities.” Subscribing states would then “establish and implement national policies and procedures to minimize the possibility of accidents in space, collisions between space objects or any form of harmful interference with other States’ right to the peaceful exploration and use of outer space.”46

Because security has for so long not been a prime issue in the European space debate, a “European” position and even national opinions on the subject are hard to find. Acceptance of the principles embodied in the 1967 Outer Space Treaty has remained the basic diplomatic posture of all European countries that have considered these issues. Until 2008, the subject had not been part of any work commissioned by the European Commission or by ESA on the security aspects of space. These works and proposals have instead insisted on internal European coherence, both politically and institutionally, as a basis for common security-oriented programs.47 Still, Europe could no longer ignore the debate after the United States communicated its perspectives on the “weaponization of space” and triggered reactions from China at the CD. Even then, Europeans could do little more than note how much discussions about this particular issue among the United States, China, and Russia have been stalled for almost a decade in a forum largely influenced by nuclear-related issues.

Europe has been more active in another forum, the UN COPUOS in Vienna. Europe feels more comfortable talking about collective security in space than negotiating in a forum oriented toward military policy or disarmament. Several initiatives on collective security in space were launched in the 2006– 2008 period under the direction of COPUOS Chairperson Gérard Brachet, a French space scientist and former director of the Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales (CNES), the French space agency. The push for some “rules of the road in space” (promoting greater transparency and more practical regulations) that could be presented for the consideration of COPUOS’s technical and scientific subcommittee was a new move for COPUOS.48 The move influenced discussions of the “sustainable development of activities in space,” as well as the EU proposal for a “Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities.”

The idea for a code of conduct grew out of a proposal made by the Italian ambassador to the CD in Geneva during the spring of 2007, and found a clear support in the more general effort initiated during the same year by the European Council to promote collective security in space. A working group has been developing a draft version of the code of conduct since summer 2007. A first “food for thought” paper was presented in September 2007 to the First Committee of the UN General Assembly, and a first version of a draft code of conduct was circulated to the United States, China, and Russia in July 2008. A second improved version of the text is under preparation for another round of consultations, envisioned for 2009. Japan, India, or Canada likely will be added to the list of countries consulted by the EU.

Considering the perceived need for protection of its space assets, Europe has ample room to discuss security matters without approaching the issues of weaponization. From Europe’s point of view, discussing weaponization is premature as long as several immediate collective security challenges are not properly addressed. Brachet has suggested that not focusing on the issue of armaments in space makes sense if one wants to deal with security at large.49

At a minimum, discussing security and weaponization issues in a transatlantic fashion cannot be disconnected from wider perspectives on future general changes in space. The effects on security of armaments in space would then be considered a sub-issue of the collective security architecture for future space activities. The space landscape will change dramatically over the next few years and will thus create new conditions for security. Increased activity, much like increased space debris, will create more opportunities for interference, intentional or not. The European response to divergent security strategies (especially the strategy favored by the United States) will likely be first to address impending changes, fix glaring security problems, and create the conditions for realistic security management in space — and only then to engage in dialogue about what further level of security or insecurity anti-satellite weapons could bring. Putting the issue of weaponization of space in such an enlarged perspective would allow it to be dealt with in a more comprehensive manner, thus improving the chances that this particular problem will be solved.

Which near-term security problems in space should be fixed before the issue of militarization is worth considering? A number of experts have already identified a set of candidate problems that could become part of active European policies.50

Cooperative Space Security as a Way toward Stabilization: A Possible European Challenge?

From Europe’s perspective, the space security debate is centered on a few axiomatic positions that must be taken into account if one hopes to devise broadly acceptable proposals. The current space security debate involves only a few countries (namely, the United States, China, and, to a lesser extent, Russia) that link their position in this domain to their larger strategic positions and relationships. The CD’s Prevention of an Arms Race in Outer Space (PAROS) initiative is also affected by the difficulties presented by the disarmament policies and institutions of the main players.

Space security talks have made little progress since 1999, when China revived the idea of negotiating measures to prevent an arms race in space. The PAROS initiative has encountered two types of obstacles: one relates to the strategic and military importance placed on space systems by the United States in the post–Cold War era; the other derives from the current diplomatic reluctance, mainly on the part of the United States, to accept new legal constraints on military activities. Whereas the United States wants to stick with the general terms of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, which allows some military activities in space, China and Russia have tried to develop more explicit prohibitions on space weapons.51 In 2003, China claimed that the United States wants to achieve space dominance by expanding its military uses of space, accelerating space weapons research and development, and developing military concepts.52 The United States merely reiterated that it “didn’t see the need for a new treaty.”53 Only very recently, discussions in the CD have been given a possibility to reopen with an agreement to set up a working group “to discuss substantively, without limitation, all issues related to the prevention of an arm race in outer Space.”54

This new perspective may result from a number of attempts that have been made since 2003–2004 to break this deadlock and give new dynamism to the CD debates by broadening the debate and finding more flexible methods. The attempts reflect a realization that the space security discussion must be considered more seriously by “external” actors in order to find new rationales to stir up new discussions. In January 2004, the French representative to the CD in Geneva noted that “the dominating thinking in Geneva was very much the result of the Cold War with predictable and heavy international verification systems apparatus, legally binding treaty commitment that come from very formal and codified negotiations.” He cautioned the CD not to ignore “the new forms of action in the disarmament domain, with politically binding agreements based on more flexible and informal working procedures.”55

A proposal presented by five ambassadors in January 2003 delinked three strategic issues: negotiations on a treaty to end fissile material production; nuclear disarmament; and space security.56 The proposal led, in May 2004, to an informal plenary session allowing a first “exchange of views.” The president of the May 2004 session remarked that the importance of both commercial and military space activities would make any interruption of these services catastrophic. After he stressed the necessity to “secure” activities in space, several other participants underscored the inadequacy of existing legal rules and the urgency of addressing this issue before space weapons become an international fact of life. Sponsors proposed assembling experts, users, and other interested nongovernmental organizations to help forge a common understanding of the PAROS debates.

The May 2004 plenary session helped persuade some of the most intractable nations to adopt new positions. China and Russia showed some flexibility in two “non-papers” distributed in August 2004 that, while reiterating that the ultimate goal was to negotiate a new agreement, affirmed that these countries were ready to start with more informal discussions in a special space committee proposed during the session.57 Other countries, including Canada, also reiterated their opposition to space weaponization and recognized the need for action. In March 2004, Canada co-organized (in collaboration with the UN Institute for Disarmament Research and a number of nongovernmental organizations), an international working group on “security in space,” forwarding the message that a coordinated and global approach was needed to guarantee security in space. On October 5, 2004, Russia pledged that it would not be the first country to deploy arms in space, inviting other spacefaring countries to follow the same path.

Although the United States was not receptive,58 these initiatives found political resonance with a significant part of the international community. The proposal for an enlarged discussion in renewed forums has been endorsed by a number of countries. France is ready to support a separate mandate for the special committee, and Sweden, which supports the proposal, also favors launching informal technical discussions in the CD, with the possibility of inviting a wide array of space stakeholders from both the public and private arenas. According to the Swedish representative to the CD, the Geneva working process would directly benefit from interaction with a broader range of space users because space applications are increasingly dual use in nature and because conceptions of security are expanding in the post–Cold War era.

As of 2008, the CD forum has widely been perceived as presenting a difficult case for diplomacy in space. A Chinese and Russian proposal for a Treaty on the Prevention of the Placement of Weapons in Outer Space submitted to the CD in February 200859 has often been seen as presenting too many gaps and undefined notions (such as “space weapon”) to provide a good basis for collective space security. Emerging alternative forums that deal directly with “bottom up” issues, such as space surveillance data exchange, so-called space weather (addressing the issue of solar flares and radiations predictions), and possible “down to Earth” rules of the road or “best practices,” appear more promising in the current international context. Although born in the context of the CD, the EU draft “Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities” is now more likely to be pushed as a political initiative without any direct link to the CD. Similarly, without a common foreign policy, Europeans will likely find reasons to consolidate the “code of conduct” approach in lieu of the more formalized treaty-like follow-ups that automatically render topics more political and thus more sensitive.

42. http://register.consilium.eu.int/pdf/en/03/st14/st14886.en03.pdf.

43. SPASEC Working Group, Report, 41.

44. This is one of the main motivations underlying the Galileo satellite navigation program.

45. Department of Defense (DoD), “Space Policy,” DoD Directive 3100, July 9, 1999.

46. European Council, “Council Conclusions and Draft Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities,” December 17, 2008, 5, 8.

47. The issue is notably absent from the SPASEC Report, which concentrates on the possibilities for Europe to acquire and build a first European security capability in space. Only the issue of space surveillance is mentioned as a potentially critical area where a gap would damage the idea of a serious and autonomous European security capability in space. SPASEC Working Group, Report, 36.

48. See Gérard Brachet, Le rôle et les activités du Comité des Nations Unies pour les utilisations pacifiques de l’espace extra-atmopshérique (CUPEEA), vol. IX of Annuaire Français des relations internationales 2008 (Paris: La Documentation Française; Brussels: Bruylant, 2008), 905–915.

49. Ibid., 911.

50. See, for example, Europe and Space Debris, 110th International Colloquium on Aerospace Security, National Academy of Air and Space, Toulouse, France, November 27–28, 2002; Space for Defense: A European Vision (Paris: Académie National de l’Air et de l’Espace, Association Aéronautique et Astronautique de France, 2005); and Bertrand de Montluc, “Space Security, A Non-U.S. Point of View,” in Perspectives on Space Security, ed. John Logsdon and Audrey Shaffer (Washington, D.C.: Space Policy Institute, George Washington University, 2005), 79–90.

51. See, for example, “Possible Elements for a Future International Legal Agreement on the Prevention of the Deployment of Weapons in Outer Space, the Threat or Use of Force against Outer Space Objects,” Working Paper CD/1679, Conference on Disarmament, Geneva, June 2002, http://disarmament2.un.org/Library.nsf/0/0b9bdb56abb694a385256c0f004fa9c0/$FILE/cd1679.pdf. The paper was jointly presented by China, Russia, Vietnam, Indonesia, Belarus, Zimbabwe, and Syria.

52. “Final Record of the Nine Hundred and Thirty-Third Plenary Meeting, UN, Conference on Disarmament,” CD/PV.933, July 31, 2003.

53. Eric M. Javits, “Remarks to the Conference on Future Security in Space,” press release, United States Mission, Geneva, May 29, 2002.

54. CD/1863–Draft Decision for the establishment of a Programme of Work for the 2009 session, http://www.reachingcriticalwill.org/political/cd/papers09/2session/CD1863.pdf.

55. See, in French, http://www.reachingcriticalwill.org/political/cd/speeches04/Jan22France.htm.

56. “Initiative of the Ambassadors Dembri, Lint, Reyes, Salander and Vega: Proposal of a Programme of Work,” CD/1693, Conference on Disarmament, Geneva, January 23, 2003.

57. The two non-papers are “Verification Aspects of PAROS,” a non-paper by Chinese and Russian delegations to the Conference on Disarmament, August 26, 2004; and “Existing International Legal Instruments and Prevention of the Weaponization of Outer Space,” a nonpaper by Chinese and Russian delegations to the Conference on Disarmament, August 26, 2004.

58. In September 2004, U.S. Under Secretary of State John Bolton recalled, “We are not prepared to negotiate on the so-called arms race in space. We just don’t see that as a worthwhile enterprise.” John R. Bolton, “G8 Senior Group Meeting,” press release, September 10, 2004, http://www.us-mission.ch/press2004/0910BoltonTrans.htm.

59. See hhttp://www.fmprc.gov.cn/eng/wjb/zzjg/jks/jkxw/P020080220634677505482.doc.