UN General Assembly 74, First Committee: thematic debate on outer space

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The UK aligns itself with the statement delivered by the European Union. I would like to make some remarks in a national capacity.

Our societies increasingly rely on space. We are seeing things that we did not previously think possible, such as in-orbit servicing and an improved ability to understand what is happening in space. These advances give us hope.

But challenges to our ability to operate safely and securely in space are proliferating. Jamming of positioning signals threaten navigation and, potentially, our economies. Capabilities have been developed to hold satellites at risk.

For fifty years, the international legal framework, including the Outer Space Treaty, has served us well in addressing the challenges of operating in space but we need to ensure that the international framework keeps up with our evolving use of space.

Some nations have proposed a draft treaty to Prevent the Placement of Weapons in Space but it is too narrow, fails to resolve serious political, technological and practical challenges, and cannot be effectively verified.

We need a broad approach that addresses all these concerns, that accounts for the rapid development of new technologies and recognises the equities that civil, commercial and military actors hold in space.

In March, the Group of Government Experts on Preventing an Arms Race in Outer Space concluded its work, in which the UK played an active and constructive role.

In April 2019 the UK organised a Wilton Park conference entitled “Operating in Space: Towards developing protocols” with experts representing most of the active space-faring nations.

In June, we welcomed the adoption of twenty-one guidelines for the Long Term Sustainability of Space at COPUOS. We look forward to seeing them implemented by all nations.

Mr Chair

Now we need to discuss a new set of questions, including how to better communicate in normal times and at times of heightened tension, and how to clearly demonstrate our intent and explain our behaviours.

We are clear that we must move beyond the outdated concept of the placement of weapons in space, work with new direction and build a new political consensus.

We need to build trust in each others’ actions; define acceptable and unacceptable behaviour; establish norms around the use of on-earth technologies that can affect satellites; and improve our techniques for verifying capability and intent, and for attributing attacks.

We do not rule out the possibility of agreeing a legally binding treaty on outer space in future. But to move forward, we need to find ways to reduce the risk to operating in space. The United Kingdom would be interested in exploring a new approach and we hope that you will join us.

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