Developing norms for enhanced security in outer space: Process and priorities

Jessica West Featured, Reports, Space Security

Submission by Project Ploughshares to the Open-ended Working Group on Reducing Space Threats

May 2022

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This document reflects research and analysis conducted by Project Ploughshares Senior Researcher Dr. Jessica West and Gilles Doucet of Spectrum Space Security on how the existing normative framework in outer space can serve as a basis for informing the development of additional norms of behaviour for security-related activities. Insights draw from the detailed coding of 90 space governance documents, expert feedback from an online survey, and a global series of workshops. This research was funded by the Mobilizing Insights in Defence and Security (MINDS) program of the Canadian Department of National Defence.

Why norms?

The Open-ended Working Group (OEWG) aims to make recommendations on possible norms, rules, and principles of responsible behaviours relating to threats by States to space systems.

Norms refer to standards of acceptable – and expected – behaviour that are often rooted in, and reflective of, shared values and principles. Norms inform the ways in which we interact with one another, the behaviours that we observe, and the processes that we follow. As such, norms, and the core values on which they are based, are at the centre of collective governance and are a necessary starting point for progress on efforts to prevent an arms race in outer space (PAROS).

While the collective effort to mitigate threats in space through norms of behaviour must include a shared understanding and appreciation of the types of activities and behaviours that States find threatening, mitigating these concerns requires a shared commitment to principles, norms, and rules of behaviour that nurture reassurance.

Norms provide many important benefits in a security-related context.

Norms help to build trust and nurture common understandings and interpretations of events and behaviours among diverse space actors, reducing the opportunity for misperception and unintentional escalation of conflict.

Norms can also help to limit potentially harmful activities and promote behaviours that contribute to long-term and mutual security in outer space.

Norms can provide the basis for additional security-related and arms control measures.

Further details about the relationships that connect norms, transparency and confidence-building measures (TCBMs), and legally binding arms control agreements can be found in the paper published by UNIDIR entitled Norms for Outer Space: A Small Step or a Giant Leap for Policymaking?

The following are recommendations on how to approach the development of new security-related norms in outer space, as well as possible priorities.

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