US Vice Admiral Calls for Code of Conduct for Space
March 29, 2017
The deputy commander of the U.S. Strategic Command is calling
for the development of a code of conduct for space as dreams of
altruistic exploration fade.
Vice Admiral Charles Richard believes establishing norms and
practices of behavior in space would help nations better
understand each other's activities.
"We're still sorting out what constitutes an attack in space,"
Richard said at a conference titled "Space Security: Issues for
the New U.S. Administration" held last week at the Center for
Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
“What is the indisputable evidence required within the
international community to assert violation of sovereign
territory in space? What constitutes provocation in space from
our point of view?” he asked.
No rules of engagement in space
Conducting exercises with U.S. partners and allies has revealed
the difficulty of answering those questions because there are no
rules of engagement for space, said Richard.
While acknowledging that "space is different," said Richard,
"Some of the questions we are answering have already been
answered in the maritime domain and in the air domain so we have
precedent to start from."
For decades, the roadmap for the arena was the Outer Space
Treaty of 1967 signed by Russia and the United States during the
Cold War, which has now been signed by 105 nations and signed
but not ratified by 24 more.
The agreement bans placing nuclear weapons or weapons of mass
destruction in Earth orbit, on the moon or on any other
celestial real estate. It further forbids, “the establishment of
military bases, installations and fortifications, the testing of
any type of weapons and the conduct of military maneuvers on
celestial bodies shall be forbidden.”
Over 1,400 satellites orbiting Earth
There are loopholes in the treaty's language. It did not
prohibit the use of conventional weapons or ban military forces
from space as long as they undertook non-aggressive activities,
such as scientific research or launching satellites for spying
and communications. (As of July 2016, there were 1,419
satellites orbiting Earth, about 350 of them for military use,
according to the Union of Concerned Scientists, which maintains
The wake-up call came in 2007 when China shot down an aging
Fengyun-1C weather satellite while testing an anti-satellite (ASAT)
device mounted on a ballistic missile. The test shattered the
satellite into more than 2,000 pieces and, for many, solidified
the notion of space as a theater of war.
In 2015, the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission
called for more study of China's counterspace program in its
annual report to Congress. On March 22, an official from the
U.S. Strategic Command told VOA that the U.S. military and China
have had several dialogues on space security and hoped that the
dialogue would continue.
Safe, stable and secure
Hays, a professor of space policy at the U.S. Department of
Defense and a professor of space policy at the George Washington
University Institute of Space Policy, said at the March 22
conference that the U.S. should not be the first country to
deploy weapons to space, but it should be prepared.
Richard said that while the U.S. would never want to extend war
into space, the question today is "How do we deter our
adversaries in space while keeping it safe, stable and secure? …
Whether you're guiding ships, jets, drones or missiles, space is
the domain that enables all others.
“If we have an agreed-to set of norms and behaviors, now you
start to minimize the chance of miscommunication,” he said,
adding that minimizing the chances of misinterpretation also
reduced the likelihood of “an inappropriate or disproportionate