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Policy brief | 3 July 2019

The Final Frontier: Prospects for arms control in outer space

Image of Sergio Marchisio

Sergio Marchisio |Full Professor of International Law at Sapienza University of Rome, Chairman of the European Centre for Space Law in Paris (ECSL/ESA) and Member of the Advisory Council of the European Space Policy Institute in Vienna (ESPI)

Arms Control CSBMs Cyber Emerging technologies International Law Nuclear Arms Control Risk Reduction Security Global Security

Space operations have profoundly changed since the adoption of the first legally binding international instrument, the Treaty on Principles governing the activities of States in outer space, the moon and celestial bodies (OST), in 1967.

Activities have rapidly evolved and the number of actors engaging in the space economy has proliferated, presenting both challenges and opportunities. Space technologies have demonstrably benefited humanity, as increased awareness of environmental challenges such as global warming attest, but there is also growing concern over the use and regulation of the space environment, too. As the line between civil and military technology blurs, and so called dual-use technologies increase, international regulation, trust and confidence building measures, and legally binding frameworks for outer space must be established.

In this policy brief, Chairman of the European Centre for Space Law at the European Space Agency, Professor Sergio Marchisio, outlines the complexity in managing the space environment, and why it is essential to do so. The brief assesses:

  • The evolution of space operations: challenges and dynamics. The current development and use of outer space is leading to congestion, orbital debris, and increased risk of collision and miscalculation. The growing range of space activities has allowed for ‘grey areas’ to emerge that require international attention.
  • The dangers posed by space operations to national security. Space security has become a globally shared concern. Operations span an increasing range of sectors, from the military to the commercial and this has complicated the assessment of both peaceful and hostile action.
  • Complexity of the topic of space security. Challenges are highly complex, but are also complimentary. Political sensitivities have, to date, not kept pace with technological developments in space activities. Problematically, existing international legal frameworks do not prevent actions that may lead to an arms race in outer space.
  • Perseverance despite difficulties: politically feasible recommendations. More than ever, a set of international norms addressing the security of space is needed. Short-term solutions can be found, but on-going initiatives to prevent space becoming a war-fighting domain must develop multilaterally – complimenting ongoing activities.

Read the full report here

The opinions articulated above also do not necessarily reflect the position of the European Leadership Network or any of its members. The ELN’s aim is to encourage debates that will help develop Europe’s capacity to address pressing foreign, defence, and security challenge.