Wednesday, August 15, 2018

U.S. “Space Force” Proposal and The Weaponization of Outer Space

Mike Dorf at his blog today:

“Last week, Vice President Pence announced the creation of a ‘Space Command,’ a first step towards what President Trump hopes to obtain from Congress: a ‘Space Force’ as a full-fledged new branch of the military to take its place alongside the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard. Despite the appeal of a Space Force to pre-adolescent boys whose mommies and/or daddies tuck them into Star Wars-themed blankets (and to a president whose emotional age matches the youngest of these boys), a Space Force is a terrible idea.”

I agree. Mike’s post, however, is not about international law and the weaponization of space (distinguishable to some extent from the ‘militarization’ of space, which has already taken place) but rather asks the question, “Would a Space Force be constitutional?” I’ll leave the possible answers to that question to Mike and his colleagues who are experts on constitutional law. Here I simply want to introduce some material relevant to the international law questions:

“The fact that a large number of States have been calling for the adoption of a treaty on the prevention of an arms race in space for decades now, and more recently with renewed vigour, demonstrates the international community’s belief that the existing legal regime is inadequate for halting the encroaching militarization of space. This should serve as a reason to re-examine what existing space law actually has to say on this issue. [….]

The peculiar circumstances which gave birth to the entire branch of international space law imply that the international community saw a chance for a new beginning in the ascendance of mankind to the stars. It was this perception that brought about the prohibition of claims of sovereignty on celestial objects, or the obligation to help astronauts regardless of their national origin. The same is true when it comes to mandating the ‘peaceful uses of outer space.’ Militarization should be seen as antithetical to the inspired goals and ideals set by space law treaties.

While many scholars would conclude that ‘the final frontier’ is increasingly militarized, the law clearly places a number of limits on the military activities of States in outer space. The ‘pacifist’ approach to the law is therefore more than just idealism. But simply interpreting the law is not enough. International law provides a framework for any scientific, commercial or even military activities in space. As such, it can restrict specific activities, but it may not direct them. The latter remains primarily the domain of policy. If the exploration of space is truly to provide humanity with a chance to start over, it needs to be guided by the principles of true equality, solidarity and cooperation between all States — and they exclude all forms of militarism.”—Pavle Kilibarda

(Pavle Kilibarda holds a LL.M. from the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights. He previously worked at the ICRC’s legal training sector, the UNHCR office in Belgrade and the Belgrade Centre for Human Rights, engaging principally with the legal position of refugees and asylum-seekers in Serbia.)

Please see the material at the Union of Concerned Scientists website.
See too the introductory analysis by Kilibarda (above) on the IRC’s blog on Humanitarian Law & Policy (in chronological order):


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