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There are clear rules for peace and war

by Kuan-Wei Chen, Bayar Goswami, Ram S. Jakhu and Steven Freeland,

Financial, navigation and meteorological systems depend on satellite technologies. Credit: Shutterstock

The release of the First Photos Taken by NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope will inspire generations with the infinite possibilities the space offers. It is clear that we have a responsibility to ensure that only peaceful, safe, sustainable, lawful and legitimate uses of space are undertaken in the interest of humanity and future generations.

To pursue this, over the past six years McGill University and a host of collaborating institutions around the world been involved in the drafting of the McGill Handbook on International Law Applicable to Military Use of Space.

In August, the first part of the McGill Manual was released. It contains the 52 rules, which were adopted by consensus by the group of experts. The rules clarify international law applicable to all space activities conducted during peacetime and during times of tension that challenge peace.

Growth of space infrastructure

since the beginning of the space age 65 years agowe have witnessed tremendous advances in space exploration that have benefited from life on Earth. Space technology research inquire about many of our modern conveniences. We bring and study asteroid mineral samples.

For decades we have been using satellite positioning, navigation and timing technologies. The United States 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 farming for food production, air traffic navigationthe security of the financial and banking systemand the synchronization of time across cyber networks.

Our increasing reliance on space infrastructure makes modern economies increasingly vulnerable to the effects of accidents, as well as illegal and irresponsible acts that affect the exploration and use of space.

Space on Earth

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

Driven by geopolitical tensions, several governments have tested anti-satellite weapons leaving one behind trail of space debris that will remain in orbit for decades or even centuries.

Space debris poses a major threat to other functioning space objects, not to mention people and property on the ground if pieces fall to Earth. This month, China launched several ballistic missiles that reached 200 kilometers above sea levelpotentially threatening satellites operating in low Earth orbit, meaning: prime space real estate used for critical communications and remote sensing worldwide.

Space systems are not only vulnerable to missiles, but can also be disrupted or destroyed in other ways, such as: lasers, spoofing, jamming and cyber attacks. The human costs and the consequences of a conflict in space can be devastating beyond consideration.

Space is not the 'wild west': there are clear rules for peace and war

Space Shuttle Columbia’s STS-4 mission, launched from Kennedy Space Center in 1982, was equipped with military missile detection systems. Credit: NASA/Unsplash

Confirm the law

As countries and commercial space operators study how to explore and use the moon and other celestial bodies for valuable resources, we must understand that space is not a lawless ‘wild west’. In fact, there is a clear set of fundamental legal principles that have been applicable to all space activities for decades.

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

These basic principles have been elaborated in a series of United Nations conventions on space law to which almost all spacefaring countries have subscribed. In addition, especially with the increased number of commercial and private space operators, countries are national space laws to regulate and oversee how all national space activities are conducted in accordance with international law.

Independent and impartial

The US government and others have confirmed that “conflict or confrontation in space is not inevitableIn the current geopolitical environment, it is necessary to confirm and clarify the laws that will prevent miscalculations and misunderstandings, and in turn promote transparency, trust building and some cooperation in space.

A significant number of international rules and legal principles apply to all space activities, including military space activities. However, these are sometimes subject to different interpretations creating confusion, ambiguity and uncertainty.

The McGill Handbook is an independent and impartial effort that clarifies and confirms that existing laws are relevant and applicable to enable new activities and applications. These laws limit irresponsible and dangerous actions and address new challenges in space.

The development of the manual involved more than 80 legal and technical experts. For example, they confirmed that there is an absolute ban on the testing and use of biological, chemical and nuclear weapons in space and that harmful interference in other states’ space assets is illegal. The experts also emphasized that the right to self-defense related to military space activities must take into account the unique legal and physical aspects of space.

Peace in space

Indigenous peoples in Canada and AustraliaLike with many cultures and civilizations around the worldhave long looked to the stars for guidance and inspiration.

Governments and commercial operators in space need to understand that: space is a shared global commons, where the activities of one country or company will affect all others. The publication of the McGill Manual marks an important milestone in supporting ongoing international efforts.

These internationally agreed laws should provide the basis for peaceful exploration and cooperation in space. The fate of future generations depends on it.


Amid tensions on Earth, United States claims ‘space conflict is not inevitable’


Provided by The Conversation

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Quote: Space Isn’t the ‘Wild West’: Clear Rules for Peace and War (2022, Aug. 18) Retrieved Aug. 18, 2022 from https://phys.org/news/2022-08-outer-space-wild – west-peace.html

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