For generations humans have been fascinated with what lies beyond the surface of the Earth. As time has gone on, and scientists have discovered more about the vast expanses of outer space, humanity’s desire to control it has also grown substantially. In many ways, despite the cliche, outer space is the final frontier. Its economic and strategic benefits have many states longing for a “piece of the pie”. The issue of militarizing outer space is not a new one, however. In fact, the cornerstone for international law on outer space comes from resolution 2222 (XXI) adopted in 1967, commonly referred to as “The Outer Space Treaty.” And since then, the United Nations has made continued efforts through the Conference of Disarmament, the Disarmament and International Security Committee (DISEC) and the General Assembly as a whole to promote transparency and communication to prevent sparking an all-out arms race in outer space.
It is with this understanding that we go into discussions regarding the future of space exploration and militarization. Currently, a number of nations have begun to discuss their plans for military space operations, some expressing an immediate interest in utilizing it for strategic and defensive purposes, while others have discussed the dangers of doing so, and the need for restraint in utilizing the environment for weapons of war. Currently, no nation has deployed any active weapons in the traditional sense of the word, but it’s important to note that not all military resources are strictly weapons; various militaries around the world have used satellites to assist in coordinating military action, spy on hostile nations, and even disrupt civilian resources in space. Defining what constitutes “militarization” in the context of space will be an important aspect of these discussions to come.
Space, by its very definition, is a broad topic to tackle under any circumstance, and care should be taken when dictating new agreements that oversee and bind its use. Defining what makes a weapon in space, understanding the resources already available and soon to be developed for space, and sharpening the rapidly blurring line between civilian and military actions in space are all important functions of this discussion, and should be priorities for review in this body. The use of space as a resource and commodity will only grow and expand in time, not shrink, and the work this body accomplishes will be integral to how that development will progress in the future.
Outer Space – UNODA
Outer Space Treaty (unoosa.org)
Outer space – Conventions and Definitions
Arms control in outer space: Status, timeline, and analysis