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Decoding US conduct

Last week, a top State Department official surprised many when she indicated the US did not support a proposed “Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities” endorsed by the European Union. Speaking at a breakfast with reporters on January 12, Ellen Tauscher, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, said the proposed EU code was “too restrictive” and that the US would not sign on to it. “We made it very definitive that we were not going to go ahead with the European Code of Conduct,” she said, according to the Space News account of the breakfast. “What we haven’t announced is what we’re going to do, but we will be doing that soon.”

Tauscher’s comments took some by surprise, since it appeared in recent months that the US appeared willing to at least endorse the principles of the EU Code if not explicitly signing on to them. In an article Monday in The Space Review, lawyer Michael Listner speculated that the US would instead propose its own code of conduct in response. Such he move, he argued, might not necessarily win support from other spacefaring nations (which had expressed opposition to, or simply ignored, the EU document) and might also aggravate the Europeans.

On Tuesday, the US made its move. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton formally announced that the US would support the development of an “International Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities” in cooperation with the EU and other nations. “A Code of Conduct will help maintain the long-term sustainability, safety, stability, and security of space by establishing guidelines for the responsible use of space,” she said.

News of the new US effort was first reported Tuesday by the Washington Times, who got quotes from several people expressing concern that such a code might jeopardize national security by limiting what the US can do in space. However, Clinton said in her statement that “the United States has made clear to our partners that we will not enter into a code of conduct that in any way constrains our national security-related activities in space or our ability to protect the United States and our allies.”

What isn’t clear is how this “international” code will differ from the EU draft that has been circulating since 2008, including what specifically the US took issue with in the EU document as being too restrictive. A fact sheet about the new initiative in fact praises the EU code. “The European Union’s draft Code of Conduct is a good foundation for the development of a non-legally binding International Code of Conduct focused on the use of voluntary and pragmatic transparency and confidence-building measures to help prevent mishaps, misperceptions, and mistrust in space,” it states.

In at least some respects, then, the US “rejection” of the EU code is hardly a surprise, but part of a long-term effort to craft a more international document. Even EU officials said last year that their proposed code was a draft; one likened it to an “internal memo” that the EU was soliciting feedback upon but not expecting anyone to immediately sign on to. Development of a final international code of conduct might still be well into the future.

11 comments to Decoding US conduct

  • amightywind

    The US has been a good citizen of space. Without us all space faring nations would be at the mercy of Russian, Chinese, and European space junk. There is no upside to submitting to nations who would restrain our military operations in space. This is just another way for peaceniks and environmentalists to meddle.

  • Byeman

    Idiot, the US was responsible for a lot space junk from Delta second stage explosions.

  • “Identify Areas for Potential International Cooperation. Departments and agencies shall identify potential areas for international cooperation that may include, but are not limited to: space science; space exploration, including human space flight activities; space nuclear power to support space science and exploration; space transportation; space surveillance for debris monitoring and awareness; missile warning; Earth science and observation; environmental monitoring; satellite communications; GNSS; geospatial information products and services; disaster mitigation and relief; search and rescue; use of space for maritime domain awareness; and long-term preservation of the space environment for human activity and use.
    The Secretary of State, after consultation with the heads of appropriate departments and agencies, shall carry out diplomatic and public diplomacy efforts to strengthen understanding of, and support for, U.S. national space policies and programs and to encourage the foreign use of U.S. space capabilities, systems, and services.
    Develop Transparency and Confidence-Building Measures.”

    National Space Policy of the U.S. 2010

    So why change a good U.S. policy here?

    Sounds good to me.

    Russia and U.S. are the only nations that have pro-active space policies other nations need to adapt to this space policy.

  • BeanCounterfromDownunder

    Well a quick look through the proposed code doesn’t immediately identify any areas of obvious contention. The code’s voluntary and could hardly be called restrictive. Simply seems like another U.S. ‘do our own thing’ thing.
    Btw a U.S. policy, no matter how appropriate, is still only a U.S. policy, not an international policy or code. The U.S. National Space Policy 2010 doesn’t and wouldn’t need to change IMO. However you could link it to an international Code of Conduct and if really concerned, put some riders in it. All in all, seems like a bit of a non-issue.

  • Vladislaw

    “non-legally binding”, “voluntary”, “pragmatic transparency”

    Sounds like a waste of time or a make work project. Without some teeth it will be ignored by most countries.

  • “non-legally binding”, “voluntary”, “pragmatic transparency”

    Sounds like a waste of time or a make work project. Without some teeth it will be ignored by most countries.

    Also a bone to throw to the socially retro-neocons in Congress.

  • gregori


    Oh the horror of people trying to protect the Environment and make Peace, the Horror!!!

    I think this attitude is that of a rogue state, that anything can be achieved by being belligerent and uncooperative. The very same complaints that are thrown at North Korea, Cuba, Iran and so on.

  • Explorer08

    Dear Amightywind>

    Are you from the past? I have this vision of you as a jack-booted Brownshirt goose-stepping through the streets of D.C.

  • @gregori:

    Oh the horror of people trying to protect the Environment and make Peace, the Horror!!!

    Who would those people be?

  • gregori

    Environmentalists and people who want world peace. AMW is accusing them of meddling as if it was a terrible malicious thing, desiring to protect the environment and prevent wars. Are you being deliberately obtuse?

  • “Without us all space faring nations would be at the mercy of Russian, Chinese, and European space junk. ”

    What other space faring nations are there? Japan, Canada, India?


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