Russia Vetoes UN Resolution To Reaffirm Ban On Nuclear Weapons In Space

On Wednesday, Russia vetoed a UN Security Council resolution proposed by the United States and Japan reaffirming the obligation of countries that signed the Outer Space Treaty not to place nuclear weapons in orbit around the Earth. The resolution would ban member states from developing nuclear weapons specifically designed to be placed in orbit.

The Outer Space Treaty was signed in 1967. The treaty added new provisions to the Declaration of Legal Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, adopted by the General Assembly in 1963. Article IV of the Outer Space Treaty states:

States Parties to the Treaty undertake not to place in orbit around the earth any objects carrying nuclear weapons or any other kinds of weapons of mass destruction, install such weapons on celestial bodies, or station such weapons in outer space in any other manner. The moon and other celestial bodies shall be used by all States Parties to the Treaty exclusively for peaceful purposes. The establishment of military bases, installations and fortifications, the testing of any type of weapons and the conduct of military maneuvers on celestial bodies shall be forbidden.

“We have heard President Putin say publicly that Russia has no intention of deploying nuclear weapons in space. If that were the case, Russia would not have vetoed this resolution,” National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan stated.

“Russia is developing a space-based military capability that members of Congress and U.S. officials worry could pose a significant threat to the United States and its allies, possibly by damaging critical intelligence or communications satellites with a nuclear weapon, according to officials familiar with the matter,” The Washington Post reported in mid-February.

At that time, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby commented, “This is not an active capability that’s been deployed. And though Russia’s pursuit of this particular capability is troubling, there is no immediate threat to anyone’s safety. We are not talking about a weapon that can be used to attack human beings or cause physical destruction here on Earth. That said, we’ve been closely monitoring this Russian activity and we will continue to take it very seriously.”

“Russia conducted a direct-ascent hit-to-kill anti-satellite (ASAT) test on November 15, 2021, striking a Russian satellite and rendering it into more than 1,500 pieces of orbital debris. Reacting to the test, U.S. Space Command commander Army Gen. James Dickinson claimed that Russia is ‘deploying capabilities to actively deny access to and use of space by the United States and its allies,’” the Arms Control  Association noted in March 2022.

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