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UN recommends new treaty to ensure peace & security in outer space

  • Published
    3rd Jun, 2023
Context

The United Nations (UN) has recommended a new treaty for ensuring peace and security as well as preventing an arms race in outer space.

What is Outer Space?

  • Outer space, also simply called space, refers to the relatively empty regions of the universe outside the atmospheres of celestial bodies.
  • It is used to distinguish it from airspace (and terrestrial locations).
  • Outer space begins about 100 km above the Earth (Kármán line), where the shell of air around our planet disappears.

With no air to scatter sunlight and produce a blue sky, space appears as a black blanket dotted with stars.

About the treaty:
  • Currently, there is no agreed international framework on space resource exploration, exploitation & utilisation.
  • The treaty has also recommended a combination of ‘binding and non-binding norms’ to address emerging risks to outer space security, safety and sustainability.
  • The recommendations come ahead of the UN Summit of the Future, which will be held on September 22-23, 2024, in New York.
  • Objective:
  • In the view of conflict which could arise if countries do not agree on international principles on activities in the exploration, exploitation and utilisation of space resources.
  • It could also lead to environmental degradation and cultural loss.

Key provisions of the treaty:

  • The UN recommended an effective framework for coordinating space situational awareness, space object manoeuvres and space objects and events. 
  • They also urged member states to develop norms and principles for space debris removal that consider the legal and scientific aspects of space debris removal. 
  • As for space resource activities, they propose an effective framework for sustainable exploration, exploitation and utilisation of the Moon and other celestial bodies.

Problems to be addressed:

  • Issues of Space debris:
    • More than 24,000 objects which are 10 centimetres or larger, about one million smaller than 10 cm and likely more than 130 million smaller than one cm have been recorded.
  • Increase in Number of satellites:
    • The number of satellite launches has shot up exponentially in the past decade after it stayed consistent from 1957-2012.
    • In 2013, there were 210 new launches, which increased to 600 in 2019, and 1,200 in 2020 and 2,470 in 2022.
  • Increased involvement of countries:
    • Due to the increased involvement of private sector in counties like the United States, China, India and Japan can develop a situation of conflict in future space.

Currently the space debris and any issue related to Space are addressed by national and regional bodies in coordination.

Existing treaties:

  • In 1959, the United Nations established the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space to review and enable international cooperation in the peaceful uses of outer space.
  • In 1963, countries agreed to prohibit testing nuclear weapons in outer space; in 1977, the prohibition of altering the space environment as a weapon was agreed upon.
  • More recently, member states have set up a series of guidelines, frameworks and recommendations on issues such as mitigation of space debris, nuclear power source safety, the long-term sustainability of outer space activities and transparency and confidence-building measures in outer space activities.
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