85. U.S. Statement, Definition and Delimitation of Outer Space And The Character And Utilization Of The Geostationary Orbit, Legal Subcommittee of the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space at its 40th Session in Vienna from April
AGENDA ITEM 6
DEFINITION AND DELIMITATION OF OUTER SPACE AND
THE CHARACTER AND UTILIZATION OF THE GEOSTATIONARY ORBIT
STATEMENT BY THE DELEGATION OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
Mr. Chairman, my delegation wishes to express its general views on agenda item 6, matters relating to the definition and delimitation of outer space and to the character and utilization of the geostationary orbit, including consideration of ways and means to ensure the rational and equitable use of the geostationary orbit without prejudice to the role of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).
With respect to the question of the definition and delimitation of outer space, we have examined this issue carefully and have listened to the various statements delivered at this session. Our position continues to be that defining or delimiting outer space is not necessary. No legal or practical problems have arisen in the absence of such a definition. On the contrary, the differing legal regimes applicable in respect of airspace and outer space have operated well in their respective spheres. The lack of a definition or delimitation of outer space has not impeded the development of activities in either sphere.
We have not been persuaded by the reasons put forth for undertaking such a definition or delimitation. For example, some delegations support the notion of such a definition for its own sake. But without a practical problem to address, undertaking such a definition would be a risky exercise, as explained more fully below. Other delegations suggest that a definition or delimitation is somehow necessary to safeguard the sovereignty of states. However, we are aware of no issue of state sovereignty that would be solved by defining outer space.
Even if there were a problem the resolution of which a definition or delimitation of outer space would help to address, the Legal Subcommittee should still proceed with all due caution. Whatever definition or delimitation were ultimately agreed upon would by its nature be arbitrary at worst, or, at best, be constrained by the current state of technology. For example, technological advances have increased the height at which aircraft can sustain flight, while they have decreased the height at which the orbital flight of space vehicles is possible. These technological advances will likely continue. It would be dangerous for the Legal Subcommittee to agree to an artificial line between air space and outer space, when it cannot predict the consequences of such a line.
Mr. Chairman, to conclude with respect to the definition or delimitation of outer space, our position continues to be that the Legal Subcommittee should not take on this issue until practical problems have been identified so as to make it absolutely necessary to do so.
Turning to the issue of the geostationary orbit, or GSO, first, the United States remains committed to equitable access to the GSO by all States as well as to the need to satisfy the real requirements of developing countries for GSO use and outer space telecommunications generally. Proper management of the GSO in these regards is best done through the ITU.
The ITU is the international body that is charged by the international community with the rational, efficient and economic use of radio frequencies and the GSO. The question of ensuring equitable access to the geostationary orbit is a matter that the ITU has been squarely, vigorously, and satisfactorily addressing for a number of years. Moreover, we believe the ITU Constitution, Convention and Radio Regulations, and the mechanisms under those authorities for international cooperation among countries and groups of countries, takes into account the interests of states in
the use of the geostationary orbit and the radio frequency spectrum.
Second, the United States cannot agree with those that argue that the GSO is or can be subjected to the sovereignty of States or that States may have preferential rights to the use of such orbits. We remain committed to the position that because this orbit, at approximately 36,000 kilometers above the earth, is in outer space, its use is governed by the 1967 Outer Space Treaty. As you know the Outer Space Treaty provides in Article I that "Outer space . . . shall be free for exploration and use by all States without discrimination of any kind, on a basis of equality and in accordance with international law. . . ." Article II of this Treaty further states that outer space is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty or by any other means. Thus, a signatory to this Treaty cannot appropriate a position in the GSO either by claim of sovereignty or by means of use, or even repeated use, of such an orbital position.
Thank you for the opportunity to express our views on these important agenda items.