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Diplomacy in Action

Protecting Space for Future Generations is in the Vital Interests of the Global Community

Frank A. Rose
Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance
Space Security Conference 2013: United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research
Geneva, Switzerland
April 2, 2013



Thank you, Theresa Hitchens, for your kind introduction. It is a pleasure to be participating with these distinguished speakers and attendees at this UNIDIR space security conference in Geneva. This is my third year of participating in this annual conference, and I welcome the opportunity to explore and discuss this year’s topic, “enhancing confidence, securing space stability.”

In my talk today, I’d like to focus on the following three topics:

  • The importance of space capabilities in today’s world
  • The challenges created by an increasingly congested and contested space environment
  • Opportunities for international cooperation to respond to these challenges

The Importance of Space Capabilities

For over five and a half decades, nations around the globe have derived increasing benefits from the peaceful use of outer space. Satellites contribute to increased transparency and stability among nations and provide a vital communications path for avoiding potential conflicts. The utilization of space has helped save lives by improving our warning of natural disasters and making recovery efforts faster and more effective. Space systems have created new markets and new tools to monitor climate change and support sustainable development. In short, space systems allow people and governments around the world to see with clarity, communicate with certainty, navigate with accuracy, and operate with assurance.

As one of many examples of how satellites contribute to maintaining international peace and security, it is worth recalling that this year marks the fiftieth anniversary of both the Limited Test Ban Treaty and the launch of the first nuclear detonation detection (NUDET) satellites, called “Vela.” The first two U.S. Vela satellites were launched on October 16, 1963, six days after the “Treaty Banning Nuclear Weapon Tests in the Atmosphere, in Outer Space and Under Water” went into effect. These and other Vela satellites successfully monitored compliance with the Treaty and provided scientific data on natural sources of space radiation for over two decades.

Today, NUDET sensors on Global Positioning System (GPS) and other spacecraft provide a worldwide, highly durable capability to detect, locate, and report any nuclear detonations in the earth’s atmosphere or in near space in near-real time – contributing to crisis stability as well as to treaty monitoring.

Threats to Space Services

As more nations and non-state actors recognize these benefits and seek their own space or counterspace capabilities, we are faced with new challenges in the space domain.

Now there are approximately sixty nations and government consortia that own and operate satellites, in addition to numerous commercial and academic satellite operators. This increasing use — coupled with space debris resulting from past launches, space operations, orbital accidents, and testing of destructive ASATs which generated long-lived debris – has resulting in increased orbital congestion, complicating space operations for all those that seek to benefit from space. Another area of increasing congestion is the radiofrequency spectrum. As the demand for bandwidth increases and more transponders are placed in service, the greater the probability of radiofrequency interference and the strains on international processes to minimize that interference.

In addition to the challenges resulting from space debris and radiofrequency interference, space is also becoming increasingly contested. From the U.S. perspective, concerns about threats were recently noted in an assessment issued last month by James Clapper, the U.S. Director of National Intelligence.

“Space systems and their supporting infrastructures enable a wide range of services, including communication; position, navigation, and timing; intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance; and meteorology, which provide vital national, military, civil, scientific, and economic benefits. Other nations recognize these benefits to the United States and seek to counter the U.S. strategic advantage by pursuing capabilities to deny or destroy our access to space services. Threats to vital U.S. space services will increase during the next decade as disruptive and destructive counterspace capabilities are developed.”

Responding through International Cooperation

In response to these challenges, the United States continues to be guided by the principles and goals of the National Space Policy that was signed by President Obama in June 2010. The policy places increased emphasis on international cooperation to deal with the challenges of the 21st century.

To address the hazards of an increasingly congested space environment, the United States has expanded efforts to share space situational awareness services, including notifications to government and commercial satellite operators of close approaches that could result in satellite collisions. These and other “best practices” can form the basis for the development of a set of guidelines for the long-term sustainability of space activities. Long-term sustainability of space activities is a topic being addressed by a working group of the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, which will be discussed in greater detail by Dr. Peter Martinez, the working group chair, later today.

To address threats to space activities in the increasingly contested space environment, the United States continues to pursue a range of measures to strengthen stability in space. In doing so, we expect to increase the security and resilience of space capabilities, continue to conduct Space Security Dialogues with our friends and partners, and pursue transparency and confidence building measures, or TCBMs.

First, the United States will pursue efforts to increase assurance and resilience of mission-essential functions against disruption, degradation, and destruction. These efforts include expanded cooperation with the private sector, allies, and partners around the globe to maintain continuity of services, including efforts to enhance the security and resilience of space networks and supporting ground infrastructures. Related efforts seek to improve domestic and international coordination of responses to purposeful interference — which the United States considers an infringement of a nation’s rights.

Specific examples include discussions in transatlantic fora, including the U.S.-European Union space security dialogue that I lead. They also include efforts by government and commercial satellite operators to improve information sharing for spaceflight safety and geolocation of intentional satellite communications uplink jamming, topics that will be addressed in greater detail in later sessions of this conference.

Second, the United States is pursuing bilateral Space Security Dialogues with traditional partners as well as with other established and emerging space-faring nations as part of its pursuit of TCBMs. The United States believes TCBMs should be pragmatic, voluntary, near-term actions that aim to increase trust and prevent misperceptions, miscalculations, and mistrust between nations. To overcome these dangers and risks requires, in part, building confidence between nations. This can be achieved with transparency, openness, and predictability through, for example, information-sharing.

In that vein, our Space Security Dialogues provide an opportunity for constructive exchanges on emerging threats to shared space interests, national security space policies and doctrine, and opportunities for further bilateral cooperation. In addition to the direct outcomes from these dialogues, bilateral exchanges themselves serve as important TCBMs which can be considered for adoption and implementation at a multilateral level. Given the complex and interrelated nature of space activities, the willingness of partners to engage in serious and substantive discussions in “whole of government” dialogues is what economists call a “leading indicator” of their commitment to multilateral discussions of space security.

With regard to the third area – multilateral TCBMs — you will be hearing later today from Ambassador Jacek Bylica and Victor Vasiliev on two of the most important efforts — an International Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities, or “Code,” and the UN Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) study of outer space TCBMs. While I will defer to them for specific details on these efforts, I will note that the United States is a strong supporter of both activities, as well as other multilateral efforts in specific regions – such as a workshop on space security that commenced last December within the framework of the ASEAN Regional Forum.

In January 2012, then-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton announced the U.S. decision to work with the European Union (EU) and other space-faring nations to develop an International Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities. In announcing this decision, the United States noted that “[a] Code of Conduct will help maintain the long-term sustainability, safety, stability, and security of space by establishing guidelines for the responsible use of space.”

As you will hear later today from Ambassador Bylica, the European Union is leading efforts to develop a text that would be open to participation by all States on a voluntary basis. The United States believes the EU’s latest draft is a useful foundation and constructive starting point for developing a consensus on an International Code. We look forward to participating in the open-ended consultative meeting that the EU and Ukraine will be convening in Kiev next month. These consultations, to which all UN member states will be invited, will provide an opportunity to address all elements of the draft Code. Along with our partners in the EU, the United States aim remains to find agreement on a text that is acceptable to all interested States and that can produce effective security benefits in a relatively short time.

Another multilateral effort to pursue TCBMs is the study by the UN Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) on Outer Space TCBMs, on which I am privileged to serve as the United States Expert. Under the capable chairmanship of our distinguished colleague Victor Vasiliev of Russia, the GGE offers an opportunity to advance a range of voluntary and non-legally binding TCBMs in space that have the potential to mitigate dangers and risks to space security.

The GGE intends to develop a consensus report to the UN Secretary General that outlines a list of voluntary and pragmatic space TCBMs that States could adopt on a unilateral, bilateral, or multilateral basis. As part of its effort to draw upon as much expertise as possible, the GGE has welcomed written contributions from intergovernmental bodies, industry and private sector, civil society, and other UN Member States not already represented in the GGE. We believe the GGE serves as a real opportunity to move forward with pragmatic steps to strengthen stability in space.


In summary, the United States takes seriously the challenges of an increasingly congested and contested space environment and is pursuing a range of measures to increase assurance and resilience mission-essential functions and to strengthen stability in space, including through cooperation with the full range of space-faring nations. We are increasingly reliant on space, not only when disasters strike, but also for our day-to-day life. However, our ability to continue to use space for these benefits is at serious risk. Accidents or irresponsible acts against space systems would not only harm the space environment, but would also disrupt services on which the international community depends. As a result, we must take action now and pursue TCBMs in space, including the ones that I discussed today. These TCBMs will enhance the long-term sustainability, stability, safety, and security of the space environment. Protecting the space environment for future generations is in the vital interests of the entire global community.

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