In response to Russia’s February invasion of Ukraine, Canada has announced successive shipments of military goods to the Ukrainian government. As of mid-May 2022, the value of all committed transfers was in excess of $150-million, with military aid worth a further $500-million proposed in Canada’s 2022 federal budget.
“There is the real threat that the Ukrainian government can potentially not control all of these weapons,” said Kelsey Gallagher, a researcher with Project Ploughshares, a Canadian non-government disarmament group. “They could end up anywhere.”
On November 15, 2021, seven astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS) were ordered to take shelter because of the possibility of catastrophic collisions as the station passed through a cloud of debris. The astronauts remained in lifeboats while the ISS passed through the cloud multiple times.
If we set to one side the COVID-19 pandemic, the two most formidable existential threats are environmental degradation and the existence of nearly 14,000 nuclear weapons. Both could destroy human civilization and irreparably damage the ecosystem. Both are also the products of human decisions and actions; addressing the threat and containing the damage is now the responsibility of all humanity.
“Can the International Space Station be suddenly dropped over Europe? No. Is that going to happen? Again, no,” said Jessica West, a senior researcher at Project Ploughshares, a Canadian peace research institute at the University of Waterloo.
Contrary to popular imagination, outer space is not a “Wild, Wild West” of lawlessness. Human activities in outer space are governed by international law, including the United Nations Charter, international humanitarian law (IHL), and, most critically, the 1967 Outer Space Treaty (OST), which sets out broad principles on how states are to conduct themselves in this domain, including commitments to registration, due regard, responsibility, liability, and non-contamination.
On the second day of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Vladimir Putin warned the West of “consequences greater than you have faced in history” for any interference. Many observers saw a troubling, if veiled, reference to Russia’s nuclear arsenal. By day four, any lingering ambiguity about Putin’s willingness to invoke nuclear weapons dissipated: he ordered Russian nuclear forces to be placed on high alert and broadcast the decision for the world to see.
Russia’s illegal military incursion into Ukraine poses a grave threat to international security, undermines the rules-based international order, and endangers the lives of millions of civilians. It also risks escalating into a wider conflict, with devastating consequences in Europe and beyond.
The testing of kinetic anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons and the debris that they produce are currently garnering global attention and concern. This is partly because of the November 2021 ASAT test conducted by Russia; partly because of our expanding use and dependence on outer space; and partly because of the accelerating development, testing, and demonstration of kinetic ASAT capabilities.
Two titans from the Cold War era seem set to go another round, this time over the prospect of Ukraine’s membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), which the United States calls a sovereign Ukrainian decision and Russia opposes vehemently. Whatever the outcome of the current standoff, another confrontation between the United States and Russia that merits closer attention is brewing — one that may fundamentally reshape the US-Russia security relationship in the not-so-distant future.
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