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Outer space is not the Wild West: there are clear rules for peace and war

Outer space is not the Wild West: there are clear rules for peace and war

Written by Kwan Wei Chen, Bayar Goswami, Ram S Jaco, and Stephen Vreeland, The Conversation

Financial, navigational and air systems depend on satellite technologies. Credit: Shutterstock

The release of the first images captured by NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope will inspire generations of the endless possibilities of outer space. It is clear that we have a responsibility to ensure that space is peaceful, safe, sustainable, lawful and legitimate only for the benefit of humanity and future generations.

To achieve this, over the past six years, McGill University and a range of collaborating institutions around the world have been involved in crafting The McGill Handbook on International Law Applicable to the Military Uses of Outer Space.

In August, the first volume of McGill Guide has been published. Contains 52 rules, approved by consensus by the expert group. The rules clarify international law applicable to all space activities conducted in times of peace and in times of tension that pose challenges to peace.

space infrastructure growth

Since the beginning of the Space Age 65 years ago, we have seen huge strides in space exploration that have benefited life on Earth. Research in space technologies informs many of our modern conveniences. We bring back mineral samples from asteroids and study them.

For decades, we have used satellite technologies for positioning, navigation, and timing. The US Global Positioning System—of which there are Chinese, European, Russian, Japanese, and Indian variants—is the backbone for essential applications such as emergency search and rescue, precision agriculture for food production, air navigation, financial and banking system security, and time synchronization over cybernetworks.

Our increasing reliance on space infrastructure makes modern economies increasingly vulnerable to the impacts of accidents, as well as illegal and irresponsible actions affecting space exploration and use.

space on Earth

In 2009, there was a communications blackout over North America after an accidental collision between a defunct Soviet satellite and an Iridium communications satellite. This was a stark reminder of how vulnerable Earth’s operations are to events in space.

Spurred by geopolitical tensions, many governments have tested anti-satellite weapons that leave behind a trail of space debris that will remain in orbit for decades or even centuries.

Space debris poses a serious danger to other operating space objects, not to mention people and property on Earth if pieces fall to Earth. This month, China Several ballistic missiles were launched, reaching 200 kilometers above sea levelpotentially threatened satellites operating in low-Earth orbit, which are prime space real estate used for critical communications and remote sensing around the world.

Space systems are not only vulnerable to missiles, but they can be interfered with or destroyed through other means such as lasers, circumvention, jamming, and electronic attacks. The human costs and consequences of a conflict in space could be unimaginably devastating.

outer space is not

The Columbia STS-4 space shuttle mission, which lifted off from Kennedy Space Center in 1982, carried military missile detection systems. Credit: NASA/Unsplash

pass the law

As countries and commercial space operators consider how to explore and use the Moon and other celestial bodies for valuable resources, we need to understand that outer space is not a lawless “Wild West.” In fact, there is a clear set of basic legal principles that have been applied to all space activities for many decades.

Since the launch of the first artificial satellite into Earth orbit in 1957 (Sputnik 1), there has been a clear consensus that outer space, planets and asteroids should be explored and used in accordance with international law, including the United Nations Charter.

These founding principles are articulated in a series of United Nations treaties on space law that nearly all spacefaring countries have joined. In addition, especially with the increase in the number of commercial and private space operators, countries are adopting national space laws to regulate and monitor how all national space activities are carried out in accordance with international law.

Independent and honest

The US government and others have asserted that “conflict or confrontation in space is not inevitable.” In the current geopolitical environment, it is necessary to confirm and clarify the laws that prevent miscalculation and misunderstanding, thus promoting transparency, building trust and some cooperation in space.

A wide range of international legal rules and principles apply to all space activities, including military space activities. However, they are sometimes subject to various interpretations that lead to confusion, ambiguity and uncertainty.

The McGill Guide is an independent and unbiased effort that demonstrates and reaffirms that existing laws are relevant and applicable to accommodate new activities and applications. These laws place restrictions on irresponsible and dangerous actions, and new challenges in outer space.

More than 80 legal and technical experts participated in the development of the guide. They asserted, for example, that there is an absolute ban on the testing and use of biological, chemical and nuclear weapons in space and that harmful interference with other nations’ space assets is illegal. The experts also highlighted that the right of self-defense associated with military space activities must take into account the unique legal and physical aspects of outer space.

Peace in space

Indigenous peoples in Canada and Australia, as with many cultures and civilizations around the world, have long looked to the stars for guidance and inspiration.

Governments and commercial operators in space must understand that space is a shared global commons, where the activities of one country or company will have implications for everyone else. The publication of the McGill Handbook represents a significant milestone in support of the ongoing international effort.

Peaceful exploration and cooperation in space should be guided by these internationally agreed laws. This depends on the fate of future generations.

Introduction to the conversation

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.Conversation

the quote: Outer Space Is Not the ‘Wild West’: There Are Clear Rules for Peace and War (2022, August 18) Retrieved November 25, 2022 from https://phys.org/news/2022-08-outer-space-wild-west-peace .html

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