Event ReportsPublished on May 26, 2011
As the two codes of conduct on space - European Union's (EU) Code of Conduct (COC) on Space and the Stimson Code - are gaining momentum in the international arena, Observer Research Foundation (ORF) organised a roundtable on Thursday, May 26, 2011 to discuss India's concerns with these codes.
Code of Conduct on Space: India Should Lead the Way

As the two codes of conduct on space - European Union’s (EU) Code of Conduct (COC) on Space and the Stimson Code - are gaining momentum in the international arena, Observer Research Foundation (ORF) organised a roundtable on Thursday, May 26, 2011 to discuss India’s concerns with these codes. A consensus emerged among the experts present during the discussion about the need for India to take the lead in shaping the guidelines for code of conduct on space and the requisition to carry forward the debate.

Presentations were made by three panellists - Dr. Ajey Lele of the Institute of Defence and Security Analyses, Dr. Rajeswari Rajagopalan of ORF and Dr. C. Raja Mohan of the Centre for Policy Research - who highlighted various aspects of the EU and Stimson Code of Conduct and also offered suggestions on how India can advance its interests while looking at various options.

Dr. Ajey Lele, who explained the Stimson Centre’s COC, held the opinion that the code was a good starting point as it looked into rules in space from a macro level perspective and followed a simplistic approach by charting out the rights and responsibilities of nations engaging in space activities.  He pointed out that the code misses out on certain aspects like deep space exploration that might gain importance in the future. He also touched upon other treaties such as the China-Russia PPWT, which examine the use of weapons in space but do not discuss the weapons that could be fired from ground into space. Dr. Lele mentioned that this could possibly be a move to put pressure on the US missile defence plans. On the discourse of US space policy, Dr. Lele stated that there has been little change in the policy since the Obama administration took charge. Space still remains important from the security point of view for the US. A change that could be noticed was the willingness of the Obama administration to discuss issues related to arms control measures. However concerns remain as the US does not want any embargo on the missile defence programme or development of space based weapons.  In conclusion he said that the US, Russia and China would dominate the space discourse and India needs to play a more proactive role to protect its interests.

Dr. Rajeswari Rajagopalan explained India’s concerns with the EU’s COC on space. She explained how the code does not move towards a legally binding rule in the future and fails to provide a mechanism for verification and monitoring. She pointed towards certain mistakes that were made during the drafting of the code such as the non-inclusion of Asian countries including India for the debate. As Asia emerges as the centre of changing geopolitics, and with Asian countries conducting ASAT weapon tests and enhancing their capabilities in space, it is essential to include Asia in any such debate. She advocated the need to include India while drafting a COC on space, as India has been a responsible space faring nation. She said that there was still time for India to shape up the debate and ensures that India’s interests are taken care of. She emphasised the need for New Delhi to shape up a Code that would not prohibit India from taking an offensive stance if the Asian security situation deteriorates. If India takes the lead in shaping up such a code, it will also have certain indirect benefits, as a strong political and strategic message would be sent to other countries like China.

Dr. C. Raja Mohan looked at the broader picture and observed that sooner or later there would be pressure on India to do something as the debate is changing at the global level. He charted out several reasons that should compel India to take some proactive steps. Space becoming central to daily life, commerce and security and more countries entering the outer space and China advancing its moves to target the US space programme are a few reasons that should drive India. He pointed towards certain problems within India, which need to be fixed such as lack of proactive preparation, and the lack of political will to create a space policy. He suggested that the Indian government should publically announce a military space policy and even though India remains opposed to weaponisation of space, it should start preparing for such a future. He also pointed towards a possible US-China rivalry in space, which would have serious implications for India and the need for it to understand the changing geopolitics of space. Giving the example of India being left out of the nuclear regime in the past, he said that it is vital for India to take part in the forming of any future regime or rules on space.

Suggestions were made during the open discussion about the inclusion of not only Asian countries but also other countries like Brazil who are significantly improving their capabilities in outer space. India’s existing technological capabilities that could be used to develop space-based weapons were also discussed during the meeting. It was also suggested that ORF should create a working group on space policy to carry forward the debate about making guidelines for development and utilisation of space.

The discussion, chaired by former Air Chief Marshal S. Krishnaswamy, was attended by diplomats, government officials and strategic experts besides the ORF faculty.

(This report was prepared by Rahul Prakash, Research Intern, at Observer Research Foundation).

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