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
Advanced Maui Optical and Space Surveillance Technologies Conference, Wailea Marriott
Maui, HI
September 16, 2015

As prepared


Thank you for your kind introduction and the opportunity to speak to you today. It’s a pleasure to be back in beautiful Maui. I'd like to express my gratitude to the Maui Economic Development Board for the opportunity to talk with you again. I always enjoy coming to the AMOS conference – not just because of the location – but also because it gives me an opportunity to engage such a knowledgeable audience on space issues and space situational awareness technologies.

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.

As this audience is well aware, the outer space environment is very complex and competitive, with over sixty nations and numerous government consortia, scientific, and commercial firms accessing and operating satellites for countless economic, scientific, educational, and social purposes. This situation has elevated international space systems and activities to a global scale – that is, they are of benefit not to only their immediate users, owners, and operators, but also to the global economy and security environment, as well as individual nations and societies. In this dynamic environment, how do we address the challenges associated with orbital congestion, collision avoidance, and responsible and peaceful behavior in space? How do we make progress in implementing voluntary, non-legally binding transparency and confidence-building measures, or TCBMs, to enhance stability in outer space?

Today, I would like to discuss steps the United States is taking diplomatically, in concert with international partners, to address these challenges. As part of this, I want to discuss how space situational awareness (SSA) is a critical component of how we address these challenges.

Threats to the Space Environment

Many have observed that the space environment is becoming increasingly congested, contested, and competitive – with threats to vital space services increasing in the coming years as some nations pursue disruptive and destructive counterspace capabilities. As the United States and others have noted repeatedly for nearly a decade, the continued development by some nations of a variety of destructive space capabilities represents a threat to all peaceful space-faring nations. As Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said in his Congressional testimony last February,

“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.”

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. Furthermore, the policy states that purposeful interference with space systems, including supporting infrastructure, will be considered an infringement of a nation’s rights.

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 cooperation with allies and partners, and encouraging responsible behavior to prevent mishaps, misper­ceptions, and the chances of miscalculation.

Strengthening Cooperation with Allies and Partners

First, we seek to use diplomacy to gain the support of our allies and friends, both to enhance our diplomatic efforts and also to enhance the resiliency of U.S. space systems. We have established numerous space security dialogues with our allies and partners. We currently have 15 dialogues around the world. These dialogues help us to explain our understanding of the collective threats, as well as our diplomatic and national security goals. Such dialogues help solidify mutual efforts and more efficiently and effectively accomplish mutual goals. Earlier this week I met with my Australian and Japanese counterparts in Canberra where we had a very productive exchange of views on space security topics of common interest to our alliances. Furthermore, our Department’s leadership has also carried our message in numerous bilateral and multilateral dialogues.

Diplomacy helps prepare 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 (DoD) and elsewhere to make sure our efforts are synchronized, so that investments by our allies and friends can contribute to strengthening the resilience of our mutual space architectures and our Space Mission Assurance. The resulting deterrent effect created by such a web of integrated capabilities is greater than the sum of its individual parts.

Of course, a key element of that interagency cooperation with DoD lies in space situational awareness, particularly in SSA information sharing agreements with foreign partners. To date, the United States has signed 11 SSA sharing agreements and arrangements with national governments and international intergovernmental organizations, and 49 with commercial entities. The latest sharing agreement was signed with Israel on April 19, 2015. International cooperation on SSA is very important, as international partnerships bring resources, capabilities, and geographical advantages. The United States is also collaborating with our friends and allies in Europe as they continue developing their own SSA capabilities. The State Department, in collaboration with the DoD, has engaged in technical exchanges with experts from the European Space Agency (ESA), the European Union (EU), and individual ESA and EU Member States to ensure our existing and planned SSA systems contribute to a more comprehensive situational awareness picture to ensure the safety, sustainability, stability, and security of the space environment. Looking ahead, the United States also sees opportunities for cooperation on SSA with other nations and nongovernmental space operators around the globe, including expanded sharing under the U.S. Strategic Command’s SSA Sharing Program.

Additionally, over the past few years the United States has co-led, or participated in, several international expert-level working groups on tools to support collaborative space situational awareness. And in the Working Group on the Long-term Sustainability of Outer Space Activities (LTS) of the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UNCOPUOS), SSA-related guidelines call for promoting techniques, and investigation of new methods, to improve the accuracy of orbital data for spaceflight safety; performing conjunction assessment during orbital phases of controlled flight; and promoting the use of common, internationally recognized standards when sharing orbital information on space objects.

Promoting the Responsible Use of Outer Space

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

Responding both privately and publicly to tests of anti-satellite systems is a critical component of our diplomatic strategy. For example, following China’s destructive ASAT test in 2007, China faced tremendous diplomatic pressure from the international community. We have not seen a destructive ASAT test since then, although China did conduct a non-destructive test of this system in July 2014. Nevertheless, we continue to express the U.S. Government’s concerns about Chinese anti-satellite tests directly to our Chinese counterparts. We need to continue to call out disruptive actions like these both publicly and in cooperation with our allies and partners.

It is reasonable to assume that most nations, if not all nations, would find it 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 everyone on Earth. Convincing other nations, including China and Russia, of this objective is the role of diplomacy. 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 from the United States to China for the transmission of space object conjunction warnings. Not only does this communication help prevent collisions between space objects, it will help to develop trust and understanding between the United States and China. I’d like to note that as of August 25, 2015, the U.S. Strategic Command’s Joint Space Operations Center has provided 928 close approach notifications to China. At this year’s Strategic & Economic Dialogue, the two sides also decided to have exchanges on space security matters. This will help to demonstrate both governments’ commitment to improving our bilateral relationship, improving transparency, enhancing strategic stability, and deepening mutual understanding regarding the stability and security of the space environment.

Over the past few years the United States has also supported a number of multilateral TCBMs to encourage responsible actions in, and the peaceful use of, space. It is important to note that the United States has been implementing TCBMs for many years: such as developing guidelines for spaceflight safety and debris mitigation, providing collision avoidance notifications, being transparent about our national space policies, national security space strategies, and military strategies, as well as conducting information exchanges, military site visits, and other activities. Such notifications not only improve our awareness, but also increase transparency by mitigating the risk of mishaps, misperceptions, and mistrust. The United States is already following such practices – as we did when we promptly notified Russia through diplomatic channels when we detected the Iridium-Cosmos collision in February 2009.

We have also worked in multilateral forums to promote TCBMs. For example, we are leading efforts in the framework of 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 effort was the United Nations Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) study of outer space TCBMs. The 2013 consensus GGE report noted that exchanges of information through bilateral, regional, and multilateral mechanisms are intended to serve as regular and routine opportunities for States to describe their current and planned space activities. Furthermore, the report suggested that a UN interagency mechanism could provide a useful platform for the promotion and effective implementation of space TCBMs. Over the past two years, we have worked within the UN system to encourage implementation of the report’s recommendations, including joining with Russia and China to co-sponsor two UN General Assembly resolutions recommending States consider the GGE report’s recommendations. Finally, the GGE report also recommended a joint ad hoc meeting of the UN General Assembly’s First and Fourth Committees to discuss space debris, space weather, long-term sustainability of outer space activities, and TCBMs in space activities. That joint meeting will occur in October and is an historic first for these two UN Committees which deal with disarmament and civilian space topics and issues, respectively.

We have also supported the European Union and others to advance a non-legally binding International Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities.

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. Some nations would prefer lengthy legally binding approaches to address the “weaponization” of space. However, these approaches may omit the preclusion of critical threats to space-based systems such as ground-launched anti-satellite weapons, and may also not include key verification mechanisms. 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 legally binding approaches is misplaced and may even be counterproductive, while offering pragmatic alternatives, such as TCBMs, which can help shape the international space security agenda in our collective interests.


So let me conclude by making the following points. If conflict extends into space, the right to explore and use space for peaceful purposes would be threatened.

The goal of our diplomacy is to prevent conflict from extending into space in the first place. Space situational awareness is a critical capability to help us achieve this goal.

Diplomacy can help strengthen U.S. and allied cooperation and responses to threats to the outer space environment, as well as help prevent mishaps, misperceptions, and mistrust among nations.

These two diplomatic objectives, supported by other instruments of U.S. national security and the support of our allies and friends, should contribute to persuading any potential adversary that attacking the United States in space would not be in its best interests.

Thank you for your time and attention.