Remarks on International Cooperation in the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, in the Fourth Committee (Special Political & Decolonization)

Kenneth Hodgkins, Advisor
New York, NY
October 18, 2012


Since we last met, the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS) and its subcommittees – supported by the Office for Outer Space Affairs - made a substantial contribution to promoting international space cooperation. In this regard, the United States wishes to express appreciation to the Chairman of COPUOS, Dr. Yasushi Horikawa, the Chair of the Scientific and Technical Subcommittee, Mr. Felix Menicocci, and the Chair of the Legal Subcommittee, Mr. Tare Brisibe, for their work over the past year.

As the only standing body of the UN concerned exclusively with the peaceful uses of outer space, COPUOS has been extremely successful in fostering international cooperation towards this end. Whereas other UN organs, including the First Committee, hold competence specifically to consider disarmament and international security matters relating to outer space, COPUOS offers us a forum focused on promoting the cooperative achievement – and sharing – of benefits from space exploration and use by all nations.

I would like to note that in accordance with the U.S. National Space Policy of June 2010, the United States continues to emphasize increased international cooperation to promote the peaceful use of outer space in a wide range of areas. We continue to work closely with the United Nations and with other organizations to address the growing problem of space debris and to promote “best practices” for sustainable use of space. We also continue to pursue pragmatic transparency and confidence-building measures to mitigate the risk of mishaps, misperceptions, and miscalculations. The U.S. National Space Policy reaffirms the long-standing U.S. policy position that we are open to space-related confidence building and arms control concepts and proposals, provided they meet the rigorous criteria of equitability, effective verifiability, and consistency with our national security interests and those of our allies.

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the longest running civilian Earth observation program. The first U.S. Landsat satellite was launched in July 1972 and since that time, the program has provided on a world-wide basis essential information for land surface monitoring, ecosystems management, disaster mitigation, and climate change research. The United States was especially gratified with the events organized by OOSA at the last session of COPUOS commemorating this important milestone. It is worth noting that since 2008, the full U.S. Landsat image archive has been made available free of charge over the Internet. As a result, distribution of images has risen from an average of just over 50 scenes per day to more than 5,500 scenes per day in 2011. By April 2012, over eight million Landsat scenes had been provided to users in 186 countries.

There were notable achievements this year in COPUOS and its subcommittees that deserve our praise.

In the Scientific and Technical Subcommittee (STSC), we note the substantial progress made by the Working Group on the Long-Term Sustainability of Space Activities. We also appreciate the work of the four Expert Groups supporting the Working Group. The United States believes this topic is very timely due to the increasing number of space actors and spacecraft as well as increasing levels of space debris. It is essential that we come together to agree on measures that can be employed to reduce the risks to space operations for all. We are prepared to work productively to achieve that objective, and hope that we can reach consensus on a set of “best practice guidelines” during the course of the work plan for the Working Group.

We would also like to note the progress made at the Scientific and Technical Subcommittee on the multi-year work plan for the Working Group on the Use of Nuclear Power Sources in Outer Space. Following up on its excellent work in developing a safety framework for the use of nuclear power sources in outer space, the working group is now examining, through a series of workshops, any obstacles to implementing this framework through national mechanisms.

On the agenda topic of Near Earth Objects (NEOs), we note the progress made to expand the global network for NEO detection and characterization, and the efforts undertaken by Action Team 14 to develop Terms of Reference for an independent NEO threat mission planning and operations group. We look forward to discussions next year in the Subcommittee on how Member States might cooperate in the event an Earth-threatening NEO is discovered. Although there is more work to do in this area, we would remind all that the first key to any successful campaign to deflect a threatening NEO is to find it early. Thus, cooperation in developing detection capabilities and information sharing networks is of utmost importance.

As we have in past years, we again take this opportunity to note that COPUOS and its Legal Subcommittee (LSC) have a distinguished history of working through consensus to develop space law in a manner that promotes space exploration. The Legal Subcommittee played a key role in establishing the primary Outer Space Treaties -- the Outer Space Treaty, the Rescue and Return Agreement, and the Liability and Registration Conventions. Under the legal framework of these treaties, space exploration by nations, international organizations and, now, private entities has flourished. As a result, space technology and services contribute immeasurably to economic growth and improvements in the quality of life around the world.

At this year’s session, the Legal Subcommittee adopted a new multi-year work plan titled “Review of the international mechanisms for cooperation in the peaceful exploration and use of outer space.” The United States is particularly pleased that the agenda item was co-sponsored by China, Ecuador, Japan, Peru, Saudi Arabia, and the United States. Under this agenda item, the Subcommittee will take stock of the range of international cooperative mechanisms employed by Member States with a view to identifying common principles and procedures. This information will be helpful to Member States as they choose relevant mechanisms to facilitate future cooperative endeavors. This work will contribute to the Legal Subcommittee’s work on capacity-building in space law, by giving member States a better understanding of possible collaborative models.

Also at this year’s session, the Legal Subcommittee continued its consideration of several items recently added to the agenda. The Subcommittee completed the final year of a multi-year work plan reviewing national legislation relevant to the peaceful exploration and use of outer space. The work plan concluded with the adoption of a final report that was highly praised by delegations for its substance and utility for States considering the development of national space legislation.

Madame Chair, during the last session of COPUOS, two important documents were presented. The first was the UN publication entitled “10 Years of Achievement of the United Nations on Global Navigation Satellite Systems.” This report reviews the significant work undertaken by the UN in promoting Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS) for sustainable development, including the establishment of the International Committee on GNSS (ICG). The second document was introduced by the Chair of COPUOS, Dr. Horikawa, entitled “Next Phase in Global Governance for Space Research and Utilization.” In our view, this paper will stimulate thought and provide a framework for considering cross-cutting issues that will be before the Committee. And finally, we welcome the Committee’s decision to streamline its agenda by consolidating the item on the “Implementation of the Recommendations of Unispace III” and the item on “Space and Society,” as well as agreeing to add an item on “Space and Sustainable Development” under which space applications for socioeconomic development and the outcomes of Rio+20 could be considered.

Thank you.


PRN: 2012/232