Russell Burrell, a Youth Fusion associate through Parliamentarians for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament, sat down with Professor Paul Meyer recently to discuss issues to do with peace versus militarization in Outer Space. Mr. Meyer is currently a Director of the Canadian Pugwash Group, Fellow at the Outer Space Institute, and adjunct professor at the School for International Studies at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, British Columbia. Formerly, he was Canada’s Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the United Nations and the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva from 2003 to 2007. Mr. Meyer has published academic and other articles on several aspects of international security, including nuclear non-proliferation, cyber security, and outer space. He also contributed a great deal to the Space section of the Disarmament Handbook “Assuring Our Common Future”. In our interview with Mr. Meyer, we discussed his background, what brought him into international affairs, how he came to work with the Canadian Foreign Service, and of course, outer space.
Who is Paul Meyer and Why Space?
During the interview with Mr. Meyer, he noted that his fascination with space started from a young age, with everything from looking at the stars at night to science fiction. As a diplomat, he became more aware of the growing importance of space for human society on multiple levels alongside its potential to be transformed into a warfighting domain rather than a peaceful global commons.
Professor Meyer’s journey started after finishing his bachelor’s degree in political science at the University of Toronto. With a desire for an international career, he joined the Canadian Foreign Service. Throughout his 35-year career in the Foreign Service, Mr. Meyer served in multiple stations, with his final appointment being as Canada’s Ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva. Mr. Meyer notes that while the job was satisfying, it was not without its challenges and frustrations. He added that as a professor, he has enjoyed being able to share his experience with his students and the insights as to the practical side of diplomacy.
(Outer Space) Concerns
When asked about the domain of most concern, Professor Meyer noted that things have taken a turn for the negative. The dissolution of key arms control accords, a new war in Europe, nuclear threats and the destructive potential of nuclear weapons are some of the most disconcerning aspects of the contemporary world. The breakdown of arms control efforts in general have been discouraging, and the pressure of preventing present conflicts from spreading into new domains, such as outer space, which, combined with cyberspace, has become essential to our everyday lives.
Since the 1967 Outer Space Treaty’s entry into force, outer space has been considered a global commons in which no one was allowed to claim sovereignty, and which must be used for peaceful purposes for the benefit of all humankind. However, the Outer Space Treaty and other international agreements concerning outer space, do not exclude military activity in outer space. They only regulate or limit it – and these limitations are being eroded or by-passed by political and technical developments. The last few years, in particular, have seen provocative rhetoric, policy measures, and actions on the part of several spacefaring nations to increase the military use of outer space, including the development of counter-space capabilities (such as anti-satellite weapons ASATs) in addition to surveillance, communication and targetting. There are also the development of capabilities and potential plans for the use of force from or into Outer Space. Four states have conducted destructive ASAT tests, adding to the already acute space debris problem.
Who’s in Space?
Although governments have traditionally had a monopoly over activity in outer space, the private sector has now come to play a pivotal role in space operations; a great quantity of satellites and satellite constellations are privately-owned. Major spacefaring actors such as the US, the EU, China, and Russia are no longer the only state actors either; as Mr. Meyer notes, there are around 60 to 65 smaller states that either own or operate satellites, which expands the stakeholder community in outer space, giving more diversity as to who can now call for responsible policies regarding space. This is not without its challenges; such as finding the right channels of communication amongst other stakeholders.
Despite the characterization of space as a warfighting domain by a leading spacefaring state, some have attempted to cool the bellicose rhetoric on space. They have been joined by other actors in space issues; academics, international institutions, policy makers (parliamentarians) and civil society organizations are playing an increasingly important role in securing space for peaceful purposes. Multilateral agreements, such as the Outer Space Treaty, and the Liability Convention, the Rescue Convention, the Registration Convention, and the Moon Agreement are essential to keeping the peace, but they are not without their flaws; Professor Meyer notes that as an early multilateral treaty, the Outer Space Treaty did not include follow-up mechanisms, such as meetings of states parties or a treaty review process, that would allow the parties to the treaty to be update commitments as the world changed. Mr. Meyer also mentioned that the “depository governments” of the Outer Space Treaty (namely the US, UK and USSR/Russia) can present a challenge, as they are often in conflict or disagreement with one another. Professor Meyer suggests that one way to extend the current ban on WMD in outer space would be to conclude an optional protocol whereby states may voluntarily sign up to support an extension of the existing ban to include conventional weapons as well. This approach brings the benefit of not having to open up the current treaty. The United Nations’ Open-Ended Working Group on Reducing Space Threats (OEWG)is another mechanism by which international institutions are attempting to bridge gaps left open by previous agreements. The OEWG’s primary focus in on reducing threats through building norms and reinforcing responsible behavior in outer space.
Among the many issues that we face here on Earth, there are a few that are pertinent to outer space. One of those is space debris. The issue of space debris is one area where significant progress and cooperation is seen in the OEWG and the Committee On the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS). As Professor Meyer notes, space debris is one of many areas where human security and space security intersect. Space debris is not the only issue; the other major issue area is the development of ASAT capabilities. Several states seem intent on obtaining the capability to destroy or disable satellites, some from the ground, and some in orbit.Given the growing ASAT threat, several states have proposed measures to limit or ban weapons in outer space altogether, one of these, mentioned in the parliamentary handbook “Assuring Our Common Future”, was the PPWT, an international treaty proposed by Russia and China, and another of these was an International Code of Conduct for Outer Space a set of measures and principles proposed by the EU. Neither has yet found sufficient support or footing due to disagreements, primarily between spacefaring nations, which global events and geopolitical tensions exacerbate. Mr. Meyer notes that the OEWG may be a mechanism for fostering cooperation by which threats in outer space may be reduced and space preserved for peaceful purposes.
This podcast has covered many of the issues of the space domain, and many of the actors participating in outer space activities. Our global society and daily lives now depend on services that are themselves dependent on space resources. Yet, space is an area of ever-increasing instability, and current international agreements remain limited in their scope and their ability to adapt to the changing global environment, this includes international tensions and the development of new technologies, such as ASATs and other emerging weaponry. It is imperative that space remain a peaceful domain and a global commons for all mankind, and specifically that space remains free of both conventional and nuclear weapons.
Article written by: Russell Burrell