The UK government is pushing for a UN resolution that aims to broker an international consensus on responsible behaviour in space – a unique initiative – the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (Britain’s Foreign Ministry) announced on 26 August.

The global economy – and systems that we use every day, including mobile phones, online banking and GPS – depend on safe, secure space systems. However, as space becomes increasingly congested and a theatre of international competition, the risk of accident, misunderstanding and miscalculation between nations is escalating.

The UK is leading a discussion on how this situation might be improved upon. All countries will be invited to take part in this open discussion and to submit their views on responsible and threatening behaviour to the UN Secretary General, for inclusion in a report to the UN General Assembly.

The UK is leading the global discussion on what responsible behaviour in space looks like. We believe a new approach is urgently needed to increase trust and confidence between countries operating in space to prevent an arms race or a conflict that could have catastrophic consequences,” stated Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab.

Military and security threats in space can damage the satellites that enable mobile technology and GPS systems, resulting in large scale disruption to the everyday lives of huge numbers of people. Many countries use military space systems to control battlefield communications, defensive and offensive missile systems and even nuclear forces. These systems are vulnerable to attack by space and Earth-based weapons, interference and malign cyber activity. When countries fail to communicate their intentions in space, or act in a threatening manner, the risk of retaliation increases, with potential for devastating consequences.

Conflict in space has potentially profound consequences and all powers should recognise the importance of this, not only to their economies, but to global security. Preventing malign activity and reducing the risk of accidents is incredibly important for the safety of the UK, and to the successful military operations that rely on systems in space,” added Defence Secretary Ben Wallace.

While weapons of mass destruction have been banned in space for over fifty years, there are almost no meaningful constraints on deployment of new weapons or technologies that can damage or destroy space systems, whether from the ground or in space. UN talks remain stalled, as current proposals do nothing to prevent attacks on satellites from Earth. The UK initiative offers a new approach – to break the impasse on space at the UN, increase transparency and reduce the risk of miscalculation between nations that could lead to conflict.

In March last year India launched its own anti-satellite (ASAT) missile system, becoming the fourth nation to possess such a capability. (Photo: Indian government information bureau)

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