When the Soviet Union launched Sputnik 1 in 1957, it was humanity’s first significant foray into space. Our imaginations were opened to the wonders and temptations of the cosmos for human endeavor when science fiction suddenly became science fact.
A space arms race?
At the time, the prevailing Cold War mentality fueled suspicion and fear about what it meant to be in space and led to the military roots of space technology and applications. As you know, John F. Kennedy stated that “if the Soviets control space, they can control the earth, as in past centuries the nation that controlled the seas dominated the continents.”
The space race, as it later became known, was characterized by fierce competition between the Soviet Union and the United States for space supremacy.
Space technology and applications have evolved rapidly since the first satellite. Seven decades of space exploration and use have revolutionized the way the world communicates and vastly improved navigation in the air, on land and at sea.
Space science has allowed us to track weather conditions, improve land use, and significantly advance our understanding of our own planet and our place in the universe.
It seems that the desire to resist the cosmic ambitions of others and achieve supremacy in space seems to have revived. Despite the proliferation and commercialization of space activities, as well as the recognition of space as an integral part of the economic, social and scientific progress of each country, an alarming build-up of counter-space potential is taking place around the world.
Read more: The US plan to create a space force risks exacerbating the “space arms race”
Even as individuals can now participate in space missions, military strategists warn that the competitive and congested nature of space will lead to an outbreak of conflict in space.
Rising tensions on Earth increase the risk that humanity could somehow plunge into an unimaginable space war, destroying the economy and critical civil and military infrastructure that have become so dependent on space.
In April, the International Committee of the Red Cross warned the international community that “the loss of life from the use of weapons in outer space that could disrupt, damage, destroy or disable civilian space objects or dual-use space objects is likely to be significant.”
If there is a war in space, the destruction could have long-term consequences.
However, despite claims to the contrary, space war is not inevitable. The notion of space as a new “area of war” runs counter to the sixty-year understanding that space is a common territory governed by international law, where global interests converge to ensure its exploration and use for the benefit of all countries, regardless of their degree of economic or scientific development.
The first UN General Assembly resolution on outer space recognized the desire to “avoid spreading the current national rivalry to this new area.”
In 1967, ten years after the first satellite, diplomats came together at the height of the Cold War to negotiate the Outer Space Treaty. Today, 111 countries have become participants in this phenomenal feat of international diplomacy, which underlines the common interest of all mankind in the exploration and use of outer space “for peaceful purposes.” The treaty also confirms that space, including the moon and celestial bodies, can be freely explored and used by all states “on the basis of equality and in accordance with international law.”
Based on the traditionally reactive nature of international law, the Outer Space Treaty initiated the most important principle of law to enhance the common interests of all in outer space in order to counter potential colonization ambitions in space. By stating that outer space is “not subject to national appropriation” in any way, the Treaty established a fundamental governance system based on mutual understanding and friendly relations.
Race to the world
Since the 1980s, the UN General Assembly has annually adopted a resolution on the prevention of an arms race in outer space (PAROS), the latter of which reminds the international community of the “importance and urgency of preventing an arms race” and calls on states to “refrain from actions contrary to this goals”.
Preventing an arms race in outer space is vital, but it presupposes and may even legitimize the broader use of outer space for military purposes. The correct emphasis on the humanity of outer space and the preservation of its security, stability and sustainability necessitates peace in outer space.
The Outer Space Treaty and multilateral dialogue at the UN have for decades served as an anchor protecting outer space from conflict. There is no reason why this overarching legal and institutional framework for the world cannot continue to protect us from irresponsible behavior in space. Diplomatic language is shifting in that direction, as are initiatives to clarify international law in relation to the military use of outer space.
Governments, industry stakeholders, civil society and the younger generation have a role to play in advancing the benefits and common interests of humankind in space, drawing inspiration from the words of the first man in space, Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin: “There is a place. in space for everyone. “
In an era when humanity is facing climate change, a global pandemic and rapid resource depletion, there is no room for claims of dominance and supremacy. Rather, the common interests of the world, which we all share, are even more important both on Earth and in outer space.