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Summary: 27 July 2015, New York – Welcoming Remarks by Mr. Jacek Bylica, Principal Adviser and Special Envoy for Non-Proliferation and Disarmament, European External Action Service, at the Multilateral Negotiations on an International Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities, 27-31 July 2015

– Check against delivery –

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, Dear Colleagues,

On behalf of the European External Action Service (EEAS) I would like to warmly welcome all of you to the Multilateral Negotiations on an International Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities.

This meeting has been organized by the European Union with the assistance of the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA). All UN Member States have been invited to attend. We are glad to see that representatives from over one hundred States have registered for these Multilateral Negotiations. In addition, a number of observers are present, including the UN Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA).

This demonstrates that the subject of promoting responsible behaviour in and peaceful uses of outer space is of great interest and importance not only to established space-faring nations, but also to new entrants into space. And of course many other nations and organizations benefit from the services provided by space assets.

Space plays an increasingly pivotal role in the efficient, every-day functioning of modern societies and their economic development. The use of satellite communications, earth observation, and navigation generates a growing number of applications and services. These include weather forecasting, environmental and climate change monitoring, disaster management, transport, natural resource management, agriculture, and others. As a result, space is increasingly seen worldwide as an important source of economic growth, social well-being and sustainable development. Each of you can probably think of a number of space applications which are relevant for your country and even for you personally.

During the ‘cold war’, space was an almost exclusive domain of the two superpowers. However, in recent decades the landscape of space activities has changed radically. It now includes a wide diversity of institutional and private actors. Today, more than sixty nations and government consortia operate satellites. Among those, nine countries have the capability to launch objects into Earth orbit and this number is likely to grow. Since the beginning of the space era, just over half a century ago, about 6,600 satellites have been launched. Of those, some 1,200 are operational; the rest have lived out their useful lives and are part of the space debris, which can pose a collision risk to functional satellites.  Several satellite failures have already been attributed to space debris.

So space activities are expanding and their importance is crucial. Space is a resource for all States in the world; those which do not yet have space activities could have them in the future. The EU considers that strengthening the safety, security and sustainability of outer space activities is an important goal that will contribute to the development and security of States. The EU is committed to the elaboration and implementation of transparency and confidence building measures, as means to achieve these aims. The EU is particularly sensitive to the risks posed by space debris, irrespective of their origins, which are detrimental to present and future activities. These, in short, are the motives behind the EU initiative for a voluntary Space Code of Conduct.

This process started with a number of Resolutions of the UN General Assembly early in the 21st Century. They invited Member States to submit to the Secretary General concrete proposals on international outer space transparency and confidence building measures. The EU voted in favour of these resolutions, and in its 18 September 2007 note to the Secretary General, the EU laid down the principles of a comprehensive code of conduct on space activities that would allow safe access to space for all, would be voluntary and open to all States. On 5 June 2012 the EU presented a draft for a non-legally-binding International Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities at a multilateral meeting in Vienna. The EU informed that it had launched consultations with the countries that had activities or interests in outer space.

The initiative received an important new impulse with the completion of the report of the UN Group of Governmental Experts on Transparency and Confidence-Building Measures in Outer Space Activities. It had been established by the UN Secretary General with broad geographic composition and chaired by a representative of the Russian Federation. In its consensus conclusions and recommendations the UN GGE, inter alia, endorsed “efforts to pursue political commitments, for example, in the form of unilateral declarations, bilateral commitments or a multilateral code of conduct, to encourage responsible actions in, and the peaceful use of, outer space”.

This Report was followed by the adoption, by consensus, of the related UNGA Resolution 68/50, tabled jointly by China, Russia, and United States. Furthermore, in its resolution 69/38, the UN General Assembly, inter alia:

– “Encourages Member States to review and implement, to the greatest extent practicable, the proposed transparency and confidence-building measures contained in the report, through relevant national mechanisms, on a voluntary basis and in a manner consistent with the national interests of Member States; and

– Requests the relevant entities and organizations of the United Nations system, to which, in accordance with resolution 68/50, the report of the Group of Governmental Experts on Transparency and Confidence-building Measures in Outer Space Activities was circulated, to assist in effectively implementing the conclusions and recommendations contained therein, as appropriate”.

The EU has been very clear throughout that the proposed Code would not be a new treaty but a voluntary, politically-binding document. It should be comprehensive in scope, so it should cover both civilian and military outer space activities. Nonetheless, as a transparency and confidence-building instrument, the draft does insist, inter alia, on the importance of taking all measures in order to prevent space becoming an area of conflict and reaffirmed existing commitments to resolve any dispute in outer space by peaceful means. The purpose of the draft Code is not to duplicate or compete with other initiatives or draft treaties. Quite to the contrary, the UN GGE concluded that voluntary political measures can form the basis for considerations of concepts and proposals for legally binding obligations.

The EU, with the involvement of the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research (UN1DIR), has held three rounds of global Open-ended consultations (OEC) on the Code’s draft: in Kiev (16-17 May 2013), Bangkok (20-22 November 2013) and Luxembourg (27-28 May 2014). Overall these were attended by Delegates from some 95 UN Members States. Having had the privilege of chairing these three rounds of OEC, I concluded the third round with some concluding remarks, in my personal capacity, from which I would like to quote now as they remain valid:

First, there exists broad international interest in the initiative on a non-legally binding International Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities which had been initially proposed by the European Union in 2007 in response to the call by the United Nations Secretary General. Many Nations from around the World declared their readiness to remain engaged on it.

Secondly, the process of three rounds of open-ended consultations (OEC) held by the European External Action Service, with the involvement of the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research in 2013/4, played a valuable role in developing a better mutual understanding of positions and concerns among the participating Nations.

Thirdly, a strong desire has been expressed by many participants in Luxemburg to move the process promptly from a consultative to a negotiating phase, in which the draft developed in the OEC process, to which many Nations have contributed and which remains open to further changes, could serve as the basis for future multilateral negotiations. A number of participants noted the need for some kind of United Nations endorsement.

Following the Open-ended Consultations in Luxembourg the EU High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy exchanged letters with the UN Secretary General updating him about the progress on the EU initiative for an International Code of Conduct. As a result, she was convinced that multilateral negotiations on the proposed International Code would be consistent with the conclusions and recommendations by the UN Group of Governmental Experts.

On 9 February 2015 the EU adopted a Council Decision in support of the EU proposal for an International Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities as a contribution to transparency and confidence-building measures in outer space activities.  The EU, guided by the concern about the long-term safety, security and sustainability of outer space activities, as well as an eagerness to implement the consensus recommendations of the UN Group of Governmental Experts, is committed to continuing its contribution to the conclusion of the multilateral process on the Code of Conduct. The EU Council Decision, inter alia, provides funding for the organization of outreach events and multilateral meetings, involving all interested States. This was done to facilitate negotiations on the basis of the draft text developed through the OEC for an International Code of Conduct, with a view to achieving its conclusion and formal adoption. 

On 19 June 2015 the EU High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy Federica Mogherini asked a former Member of the UN GGE Prof. Sergio Marchisio to take on the role of the Chair of the multilateral negotiations. Prof. Marchisio is an internationally acclaimed expert in space law, and has a long experience of contributing to enhancing the sustainability of activities in outer space, notably in the context of the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space and other relevant international bodies. With him we are in safe and experienced hands.

It is crucial to note that Prof. Marchisio would exercise the role of the Chair strictly in his personal capacity, not as a representative of Italy or the EU. The aim is to achieve the broadest possible support for an International Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities which would further promote responsible behaviour in and peaceful uses of outer space. The EU is providing support, including financial support, to the multilateral negotiations and will be contributing to the discussions as an observer. The document will be negotiated among the Member States of the United Nations.

Finally, without claiming any analogies or links on substance, let me point out that the recent nuclear agreement with Iran (known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) clearly demonstrates that a political agreement negotiated outside of traditional negotiating frameworks, and with very strong support from the EU, can make an important contribution to international peace, security and cooperation, and can subsequently be welcomed by the international community, including by relevant UN bodies. The process of developing the Space Code of Conduct has already taken almost as many years as the negotiations with Iran. Let’s hope it can also be brought to a successful closure in a not too distant future.

Thank you for your kind attention.

  • Ref: SP15-503EN
  • EU source: European Union
  • UN forum: 
  • Date: 27/7/2015

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