Tracking space security: Are we ready to go live?

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The Canadian government sponsored a First Committee side event on 18 October in cooperation with the Space Security Index (SSI), titled “Tracking Space Security: Are We Ready to Go ‘Live’?”

The event featured the release of the latest SSI report, Space Security Index 2016, which tracks annual developments and long-term trends related to the security of outer pace, and provided an opportunity to assess options for moving forward on pressing governance challenges through the UN.

Published in The Ploughshares Monitor Volume 37 Issue 4 Winter 2016 by Jessica West

Ambassador Rosemary McCarney, Canada’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations in Geneva and the Conference on Disarmament, opened the event with an overview of the SSI project. Highlighting that the annual report is currently in its 13th edition, she commended the unique contribution that it makes to space security governance initiatives, particularly through its effort to support a common approach to space security, defined as secure and sustainable access to, and use of space, and freedom from space-based threats. Jessica West of Project Ploughshares provided an overview of the project and its most recent findings. In her presentation, West called attention to what is described as the most significant shift in the history of the annual report: from an assumption of relative stability in outer space to one of instability and conflict on the part of leading spacefaring states. West argued that in the face of a growing possibility that geopolitical conflicts will escalate and cascade into outer space, “it is critical that the challenge of constraining the use of force in outer space be taken seriously.”

Assessing possible diplomatic responses, Paul Meyer, a former Canadian ambassador for disarmament who is currently associated with Simon Fraser University and The Simons Foundation, argued that “the prospects are not bright” right now. He asserted that there is a pressing need to reaffirm the principles of the Outer Space Treaty, urging a first-ever meeting of states parties to the treaty as a celebration of its 50th anniversary next year, including a reinstatement of international cooperation as the preeminent aim of activities in outer space.

Closing the panel, Michael Spies of the United Nations Office of Disarmament Affairs (UNODA) spoke to what he views as areas of progress on space security within the UN, including growing dialogue and cooperation between UN bodies separately tasked with “security” and “safety” provisions of outer space governance. Spies emphasized the need for states to implement existing transparency and confidence-building measures. In closing he drew attention to a potential new role for UNODA through the UN Disarmament Commission and its effort to encourage states to report on military space expenditure as part of its reporting mandate.

This article was previously published in Reaching Critical Will’s First Committee Monitor, No. 4, 24 October 2016, p. 23.

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