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Considering responsible behaviours as part of managing threats to space systems

Oberon SAR – Credit Dstl – Defence Space Strategy

Reference number


Use of space systems – satellites, ground-based infrastructure and the data that travels between them – enables most aspects of our lives. Space systems are critical to health care, transportation, communications, energy and trade as well as national security. But space is becoming more contested, competed and congested. Threats to space systems could disrupt, damage, destroy or disable services dependant on them, and the increasing role of space in military operations increases the likelihood space systems will be threatened. We have just seen the danger to the ISS from the Russian anti-satellite missile test.

Suggestions to avoid weaponising space ignore the capabilities that exist in orbit and on Earth.  Militaries have been using space for several decades for navigation and timing, command and control and surveillance and reconnaissance. But if we accept it is too late to try to ban military threats to space, how can avoid escalation, conflict and catastrophic loss of services?

One proposal is to agree responsible space behaviours.  UNGA Resolution 75/36 in 2020 mandated a report by the UN Secretary General.  The 2021 resolution sets up an Open-Ended Working Group (OEWG) to consider the resolution’s focus of “Reducing space threats through norms, rules and principles of responsible behaviours”. This event will precede the first meeting of the OEWG (9 – 13 May) and support its dialogue. At this event, participants will discuss threats to space systems, international law as applied to space, integrated deterrence and existing frameworks for deconfliction in space, before considering responsible behaviours as a means to reduce threats to space systems.

In partnership with the FCDO and with support from Airbus

Wilton Park reference number: WP2009

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