Event ReportsPublished on May 07, 2014
The EU's proposed International Code of Conduct (ICoC) for space activities would not be successful if major space actors stay out of the ICoC, according to Indian PM's Special Envoy for Non-Proliferation and Disarmament, Amb. Rakesh Sood. He says the ICoC was welcomed simply due to the lack of alternate initiatives.
ICoC for Outer Space: Need to involve all major players

Observer Research Foundation’s new book, "Awaiting Launch: Perspectives on the Draft ICoC for Outer Space Activities" was released by the Prime Minister’s Special Envoy for Non-Proliferation and Disarmament, Amb. Rakesh Sood, on May 7, 2014.

The book, edited by Dr. Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan and Mr. Daniel A Porras, is a collection of two dozen papers by international experts, practitioners, negotiators on the need for and importance of an International Code of Conduct (ICoC). It aims to critique and discuss the ICoC, proposed by the European Union, bringing in views on the debate from a diverse arena, especially from Asia and the rest of the developing world. Outer space, as used by humans, is rather limited. In recent times, space has become congested, contested and competitive. Almost all of the discussants and participants unanimously acknowledged the importance of international cooperation as a prerequisite for efficient debris management and the goal of disarmament.

Speaking at the book launch function, Dr. Rajagopalan, Senior Fellow at Observer Research Foundation, pointed out that space had been neglected for a long time despite its growing use for a variety of functions, including in the military domain. Thus, the need for a set of comprehensive rules that guide activities in outer space is real. In that regard, the EU-initiated draft code of conduct for outer space activities is an important measure. She highlighted the importance of international cooperation to achieve sustainability and accountability in utilising space. The beginning of the multilateral negotiations for the current draft code of conduct began in Vienna in 2012.

Mr. Porras pointed out that the EU Code of Conduct had a series of shortcomings; most important among them being the lack of international consensus and initiatives by major international players. However, the EU has attempted to rectify this shortcoming by consulting countries through a series of regional seminars, facilitated by the UN Institute for Disarmament Research. Consequentially, the latest round of Open Ended Consultations of the ICoC, held in Thailand in 2013, reflected a greater degree of inclusiveness in comparison to the ICoC summit, held in Ukraine in the same year. However, these consultations are not as effective as diplomatic conferences and it is the latter which most of the non-European countries are aiming to participate in. He also noted that the EU has set up a deadline of late 2014 for the finalisation of the ICoC.

Amb. Rakesh Sood, in his keynote address, gave a historical interpretation of space powers and positioned India as the pioneer of space research in Asia. He mentioned the previous codifications in international cooperation on similar grounds, including at the Committee on the Peaceful Use of Outer Space (COPUOS) and the Conference on Disarmament (CD). He further elaborated the salient points of the ICoC, which included safety, security and sustainability of the space environment and space objects. The issue of dual-use technology in both military and civilian sides featured widely in his argument.

Amb. Sood said that a successful solution exists when a country, despite its size or power, has propositions which are consistent with its national interests. Hence, he added that the EU proposition would not be successful if major space actors stay out of the ICoC. He echoed Mr. Porras when he said that the ICoC is essentially a Transparency and Confidence Building Measure (TCBM) which was marred by non-transparency in the beginning. The code is only a soft option, and was welcomed simply due the lack of alternate initiatives. It is in no way constructed to have any legal obligation. The US government has gone on record saying that they have only agreed to be a part of the effort because it is political and non-binding in nature.

The book launch was followed by a panel discussion. The first speaker was Mr. Sheel Kant Sharma who, in his vast diplomatic career, has been India’s ambassador to Austria and the Permanent Representative of India to the IAEA and the UN. He said that the ICoC reflects a sense of responsibility and that countries would not prefer anarchy while dealing with matters of outer space. He said that India is keen to be part of the international forum, but it has to bring to the stage its own strength and competence, or risk being controlled by others. He concluded by saying that developing countries should keep the two debates of disarmament or self defence (Article 51) and development of indigenous space technologies separate. He highlighted that while the CD is the forum which deals with matters of disarmament, the COPUOS and the ICoC, principally, focus on the subjects of development, peace and sustainability.

Group Captain Ajay Lele, Research Fellow with the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA), said that the previous initiatives were much hyped but failed in their basic objective of generating greater confidence in space cooperation. The issue of space security received special attention after China conducted its anti-satellite test in 2013. He voiced his agreement with Ambassador Sood while arguing that the ICoC is the "lowest minimum" option, while what the world needs are hard laws. He said that international authorities must move away from the ICoC and shift towards a treaty mechanism.

A very engaging round of discussion followed where questions were raised on the geo-political forces which come to play in matters of major international treaties and speculations were made on how these forces could affect this particular code. Another important issue raised was that of cyber security and the threat it poses to assets in outer space. A key intervention in the discussion round noted the importance of delineating arms control measures from efforts towards debris mitigation, highlighting that while there might be a correlation between the two, there is not necessarily a causative link between the two. As the discussion round came to a close, amidst the deliberation on anti-satellite weaponry, it was posited that physical destruction of space vehicles is now passé, with the emergence of more convenient and attractive options, such as jamming and other technologies of power capture.

(This report was prepared by Sudakshina Ray, Research Intern, Observer Research Foundation, Delhi)

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