August 1, 2012
Inquiry Based Research
Weaponizing Space Since the launch of Sputnik in October of 1957, the developed nations of the world have continued to send man and mechanical wonders into space. The International Space Station still orbits the earth, the manned moon missions gave scientists extraordinary amounts of data for study, and the NASA Space Shuttle program provided thousands of hours of information regarding space travel and its effects on the human body. Satellites in orbit help to predict weather, monitor environmental conditions, and assist the military in overseas operations. It is this last issue that concerns many in the scientific, political, and military communities: Are satellites only the beginning of the process of weaponizing space? While it is clear that this option is no longer in the realm of fantasy, very few scientists or scholars have written on the subject. This lack of information leads one to question the issue itself. In the issue of weaponizing space, it is critical to consider the legal ramifications,the effect on foreign relations, and whether private space programs would have an impact. An examination of the law uncovers three key doctrines that help in outlining the management of outer space: The United Nation’s Outer Space Treaty of 1967, The United Nation’s Liability Convention, and LOAC (the Law of Armed Conflict). Each of these key positions contributes to the understanding of laws that govern space operations.
The United Nation’s Outer Space Treaty of 1967 states that no one nation can own a particular portion of space or any celestial object (such as the moon) – effectively, every nation on Earth will share outer space (Frey 76). While this, in essence, is a fair and just policy, the leaders of unstable regimes may choose to ignore such a doctrine in its efforts to gain a foothold on celestial ground. It is clear that this treaty, while attempting to set ground rules about colonization of space, could very well instigate a war between nations claiming space objects as property. It is in the best interest of the world as a whole that all nations abide by this particular treaty. In an attempt to disincentivize nations from attempting to own celestial property or destroy the property of other nations, the UN created the Liability Convention.
The United Nation’s Liability Convention “addresses some ofthese problems by expanding when, how, andto what extent a nation is held accountable whenits space activities injure another’s interests” (Frey 77). What is most evident with this convention is that its primary goal is to assign fault to one nation for the destruction of space property belonging to another nation. It is a way for the courts to determine fault and provide financial relief for nations that have lost space equipment due to the negligence of another country’s space activities. What is disturbing about this particular convention is the notion that monetary penalties will be a deterrent to unstable nations.
History suggests that tyrannical leaders have no scruples when it comes to destroying the property of their enemies, regardless of any penalties they may incur. History has also established that the international court systems are incredibly slow in coming to trial and then in coming to a decision. Also, how could an international court possibly compel a rogue nation to compensate their enemies for property loss? It is clear that the UN is attempting to ensure that all nations “play nice” in space; however, the shortsightedness of these policies suggests that diplomats are lacking a true understanding of foreign relations.
The Law of Armed Conflict (LOAC) “sets limits on conflict-related issues,including when and to what degree force maybe used; targeting; and treatment of noncombatants,civilians, and prisoners of war.Although several LOAC principles are inapplicableto satellites, others, such as targetingprinciples, are very relevant to their…