Using Diplomacy to Advance the Long-term Sustainability and Security of the Outer Space Environment

Frank A. Rose
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance
31st Space Symposium
Colorado Springs, CO
April 16, 2015

As prepared


Thank you for your kind introduction and the opportunity to speak to you today.

My name is Frank Rose, and I am the Assistant Secretary of State for Arms Control, Verification and Compliance. It’s a pleasure to be back at the Space Symposium, and I’d like to thank Elliot Pulham and all the sponsors for inviting me back again.

By way of introduction, while I am the Assistant Secretary for Arms Control, Verification and Compliance, my work at the State Department is focused on enhancing strategic stability around the world. Arms control, verification and compliance are some of the tools we use to enhance strategic stability and reassure our allies and partners that we will meet our security commitments. Given the importance of outer space to our national security, we also work on efforts to ensure the long term sustainability and security of the outer space environment.

This morning I would like to discuss steps the United States is taking diplomatically, in concert with international partners to address the growing threats to space security.

Threats to the Space Environment

First, the threat to outer space is real and growing. As Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said in his recent Congressional testimony,

“Threats to U.S. space systems and services will increase during 2015 and beyond as potential adversaries pursue disruptive and destructive counterspace capabilities. Chinese and Russian military leaders understand the unique information advantages afforded by space systems and services and are developing capabilities to deny access in a conflict.”

In particular, China’s continued development of anti-satellite weapons remains a major challenge to the outer space environment. China’s 2007 anti-satellite test left thousands of pieces of debris in orbit that continues to threaten the space systems of all nations.

The 2010 U.S. National Space Policy makes it clear that it is not in the interest of anyone for armed conflict to extend into space. It states,

“The United States considers the space systems of all nations to have the rights of passage through, and conduct of operations in, space without interference. Purposeful interference with space systems, including supporting infrastructure, will be considered an infringement of a nation’s rights.”

It also states that,

“the United States will employ a variety of measures to help assure the use of space for all responsible parties, and consistent with the inherent right of self-defense, deter others from interference and attack, defend our space systems and contribute to the defense of allies space systems, and if deterrence fails, defeat efforts to attack them.”

It is not in the international community’s interest to engage in a space weapons arms race. Such a race would not bode well for the long-term sustainability of the space environment.

Indeed, protecting U.S. national security by preventing conflict from extending into space in the first place is a major goal of our diplomatic engagements. In that regard, we work to prevent conflict from extending into space via two diplomatic tracks; strengthening our deterrent posture, and encouraging responsible behavior to prevent mishaps, misper­ceptions, and the chances of miscalculation.

Strengthening Our Deterrent Posture

First, we use diplomacy to gain the support of our allies and friends. We have established numerous space security dialogues with our Allies and Partners. These dialogues help them understand the threat, as well as our diplomatic and national security goals, which is critical in persuading them to stand by our side, often in the face of tremendous pressure from our adversaries. Not only have I made numerous trips to meet with our allies in Canada, Europe, and the Asia-Pacific, I have also visited India (where we held our first space security dialogue this March), South Africa, and elsewhere in Africa to raise U.S. concerns about the threats to space systems and to discuss the way forward diplomatically. Furthermore, our Department’s leadership has also carried our message in numerous bilateral and multilateral dialogues.

Diplomacy also prepares the way for closer military-to-military cooperation and allied investment in capabilities compatible with U.S. systems. We work very closely with our interagency colleagues in the Department of Defense to make sure our efforts are synchronized so that investments by our allies and friends contribute to strengthening the resilience of our space architectures and contribute to Space Mission Assurance. The resulting deterrent effect created by such a web of integrated capabilities is greater than the sum of its individual parts.

For example, the Department of State works closely with the Department of Defense on Space Situational Awareness (or SSA) information sharing agreements with foreign partners. The United States has found international cooperation on SSA to be important, as international partnerships bring the resources, capabilities, and geographical advantages. We have also worked to strengthen military-to-military cooperation in satellite communications and space-based maritime domain awareness.

Promoting the Responsible Use of Outer Space

Second, we use diplomacy to promote the responsible use of outer space and especially strategic restraint in the development of anti-satellite weapons.

Diplomacy has an important role in responding to the development of anti-satellite weapons developments that threaten the outer space environment. Responding both privately and publicly to tests of anti-satellite systems is a critical component of our diplomatic strategy.

For example, in 2007, China faced tremendous international pressure following its destructive ASAT test, and this response from the international community appears to have been a factor in China changing its approach. We have not seen a destructive ASAT test since then, although China did conduct a non-destructive test of this system in July 2014. I have not been shy about expressing the U.S. Governments concerns about Chinese anti-satellite tests directly to our Chinese counterparts. We need to continue to call out the disruptive actions of countries like Russia and China both publicly and in cooperation with our allies and partners.

The Department of State is also using diplomacy to reduce the chances for conflict extending into space through the promotion of responsible international norms of behavior, both bilaterally and multilaterally. Norms matter because they help define boundaries and distinguish good behavior from bad behavior.

For example, we have discussed preventing mishaps and reducing potentially destabilizing misperceptions or miscalculations with China.

In addition, and very importantly, through bilateral and multilateral dialogue and diplomatic engagement we seek to identify areas of mutual interest and hopefully reach agreement on how to prevent those interests from being harmed in peacetime, and in conflict.

During the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union found many areas of mutual interest in avoiding potentially destabilizing actions. The 1963 Limited Test Ban Treaty, which prohibited the testing of nuclear weapons in outer space, started a fifty-plus-year string of bilateral arms control treaties and agreements with the Soviet Union, and later the Russian Federation. We also came to agreement in many other realms, including chemical and biological weapons.

Simply stated, if the United States and the Soviet Union could find areas of mutual interest in the realm of nuclear deterrence and chemical weapons -- with the tensions and stakes as high as they were -- then in today’s climate we should be able to find areas of mutual interest among all space-faring nations regarding space security.

Indeed, I would argue that it is reasonable to assume that most nations, if not all nations, would find it to be in their national interest to prevent conflict from extending into space, knowing that such conflict would degrade the sustainability of the space environment, hinder future space-based scientific activities, and potentially reduce the quality of life for everybody on Earth if the benefits of space-based applications were eroded. Convincing other nations, including China and Russia, of this objective is the role of diplomacy.

The United States and China have already implemented some bilateral transparency and confidence building measures (or TCBMs) to prevent the generation of additional debris in space. As part of the 2014 U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue, led by Secretary of State John Kerry, we reached agreement on the establishment of e-mail contact between China and the United States for the transmission of space object conjunction warnings. Not only does this communication help prevent collision between objects in space, it will help to develop trust and understanding between the United States and China.

Over the past few years the United States has also supported a number of multilateral initiatives that should reduce the chances of mishaps, misperceptions and potential miscalculations. Multilateral TCBMs are means by which governments can address challenges and share information with the aim of creating mutual understanding and reducing tensions. Through TCBMs we can increase familiarity and trust and encourage openness among space actors.

One of the key efforts that we have been pursuing is working with the European Union to advance a non-legally binding International Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities. The Code would establish guidelines to reduce the risks of debris-generating events and to strengthen the long-term sustainability and security of the space environment. Among the draft Code’s most important provisions is a commitment for the subscribing States to refrain from any action -- unless such action is justified by exceptions spelled out in the draft Code -- that brings about, directly or indirectly, damage or destruction of space objects. We view the draft Code as a potential first step in establishing TCBMs for space.

The State Department is also leading U.S. efforts in the framework of the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UNCOPUOS) to move forward in the development of a draft set of guidelines for sustainable space operations to include ways to prevent the generation of space debris.

Another important recent effort was the United Nations Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) study of outer space transparency and confidence-building measures. That UN group, for which I served as the U.S. expert, published a consensus report in July 2013 endorsing voluntary, non-legally binding TCBMs to strengthen sustainability and security in space. The United States subsequently co-sponsored a resolution with Russia and China referring the GGE report’s recommendations for consideration by the relevant entities and organizations of the United Nations system.

These diplomatic efforts contribute to reducing misperceptions and miscalculations and help lower the chance of conflict extending into space.

I would like to add one more thought for your consideration. If we do not lead with active diplomacy on international space security issues, it is more likely that others will seek to fill the diplomatic vacuum with initiatives that meet their own national interests without regard for the broader interests of the international community.

The United States has focused on TCBMs over the last several years because these can make a real difference in the near term. Such measures can lead to greater mutual understanding and reduce tensions.

In contrast, Russia’s and China’s diplomatic efforts to pursue legally binding treaties and other measures do not reduce the chances for mishaps, misunderstanding or miscalculation and provide little or no verification capability to make sure that everyone is playing by the same rules. Moreover, their diplomatic efforts do not address very real, near-term space security threats such as terrestrial-based anti-satellite weapons like the one China tested in 2007.

To be more specific, Russia and China continue to press for a “Treaty on the Prevention of the Placement of Weapons in Outer Space, the Threat or Use of Force against Outer Space Objects,” known as the PPWT. Russia also is making concerted diplomatic efforts to gain adherents to its pledge of “No First Placement” of weapons in outer space. These two documents are fundamentally flawed. They do not address the threat of terrestrially-based ASAT capabilities, and they contain no verification provisions. Yet, at the same time, these proposals may gain some support internationally because many countries are attracted, naturally, to the idea of preventing the weaponization of space. As a diplomat, it is my job to explain why support for these Russian and Chinese proposals is misplaced and may even be counterproductive, while offering pragmatic alternatives, such as TCBMs, which demonstrate U.S. leadership and help shape the international space security agenda.


If conflict extends into space, the right to explore and use space for peaceful purposes would be threatened.

If diplomacy fails, and the use of force does extend to space, the United States must be prepared to protect our space capabilities and prevail in conflict. That is absolutely clear.

The goal of our diplomacy, however, is to prevent conflict from extending into space in the first place.

Diplomacy can help strengthen U.S. and allied deterrent posture and help prevent mishaps, misperceptions, and mistrust among nations.

These two diplomatic tracks, supported by other instruments of U.S. national power and the support of our allies and friends, will hopefully persuade any potential adversary that attacking the United States in space would not be in its best interests.

Thank you for your time and attention.