Formulation, Coordination, and Implementation of Promoting Space Security and Sustainability

Mallory Stewart
Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance
2015 Space Resiliency Summit, Mary M. Gates Learning Center
Alexandria, VA
December 9, 2015

Thank you, [Mr. Robert Zitz, moderator], for your kind introduction. I’d like to thank Defense Strategies Institute for inviting me to speak at this conference which is supporting the Wounded Warrior Project, an important organization that works to raise awareness for the needs of injured service members.

Over the past day and a half, you’ve heard from many senior leaders in the U.S. Government about the steps their Departments and Agencies are taking to address space resilience within the purview of their systems and technical capabilities. I’d like to offer a complementary perspective, that of the U.S. Government’s efforts to strengthen space mission assurance and resiliency through diplomacy and international cooperation.

It’s appropriate at this Resiliency Summit to begin with the Department of Defense’s definition of “resilience,” as found in the recently released “Space Domain Mission Assurance Resilience Taxonomy” white paper:

Resilience is “the ability of an architecture to support the functions necessary for mission success with higher probability, shorter periods of reduced capability, and across a wider range of scenarios, conditions, and threats, in spite of hostile action or adverse conditions.”

I certainly agree with this definition from a technical perspective, but this definition also supports a broader reading. To achieve resilience, we need to establish the best supporting “architecture” by building an international framework that reinforces our efforts in the outer space environment, and enables the highest functioning of our space assets under any circumstance. U.S. diplomatic efforts aim to do just that by encouraging bilateral and multilateral space cooperation to help shape a more secure and stable outer space environment, and advance our collective space capabilities and objectives.

As everyone here is well aware, the outer space environment is increasingly congested and complex, with over 60 nations and numerous government consortia, academic, and commercial entities accessing and operating satellites for countless economic, scientific, educational, social and security purposes.

International cooperation in this setting is crucial to preventing an entropic trajectory. Without cooperation at the international level, the most hardened and technologically advanced space systems may not survive for long in the future chaos of Earth’s orbits. Today, I will describe several of the U.S. diplomatic efforts that are aimed at achieving the most stable, secure, and sustainable space environment for the resiliency of all peaceful uses of space.

Protecting the national security of the United States and its allies by preventing conflict from extending into space and avoiding or deterring purposeful interference with our space systems is a major goal of our diplomatic engagements. This goal is described in the 2010 U.S. National Space Policy which makes clear that it is not in anyone’s interest for armed conflict to extend into space. The 2010 Policy also states that purposeful interference with space systems, including supporting infrastructure, will be considered an infringement of a nation’s rights.

There are two main diplomatic approaches to achieving this goal: (1) we are strengthening space cooperation and information sharing with allies and partners to enhance collective space situational awareness and maximize the interoperability and redundancy of our space assets, and (2) we are encouraging the development of “best practices” and norms of responsible behavior in the space faring community to enhance resiliency through the prevention of mishaps, misperceptions, and the chances of miscalculation.

The first category of our diplomatic engagement strives to gain international support for common ends, including sharing space derived information to support ongoing operations. It also prepares the way for closer military-to-military cooperation to address mutual threats and to develop capabilities with shared compatibility standards (and thus greater redundancy in the event of a failure). One mechanism we use to discuss cooperative approaches with our allies and space partners is through space security dialogues. The State Department currently has 15 bilateral and multilateral dialogues around the world. These dialogues address each side’s understanding of the threat, and include discussions of our respective diplomatic and national security goals. Such discussions are critical in developing common positions on issues such as the benefits and challenges of transfers of dual-use technologies or on the development of common positions related to rules of behavior in outer space.

Such discussions are also a useful format for discussing further ways of strengthening technical cooperation that could assist with the goal of increasing resiliency. That is why the Department of State works closely with the Department of Defense to strengthen international cooperation in satellite communications and space-based maritime domain awareness. Tomorrow, I will be co-chairing an EU space security dialogue with our EU counterparts to address space security cooperation. These kinds of engagements, coupled with our ongoing discussions with the European Union on opportunities for U.S. Government users to access the full range of the EU’s positioning, navigation, and timing (PNT) services, are a great example of the types of cooperation we seek with our allies and partners.

A final example of this type of diplomatic engagement, for which the State Department and the Department of Defense work in tandem, is the expansion of Space Situational Awareness, or SSA, through SSA information sharing agreements and arrangements with foreign partners. International cooperation on SSA is crucial, as international partnerships multiply capabilities, expertise, and geographical advantages. Furthermore, international cooperation enables us to improve our space object databases and pursue common international data standards and data integrity measures. To date, the United States has signed 11 bilateral SSA agreements and arrangements with national governments and international intergovernmental organizations, and 51 with commercial entities. And we will continue to pursue opportunities for cooperation on SSA with other nations and nongovernmental space operators around the world. The more we can establish a collective picture of what is happening in space, the more secure we can be in the safety of our own assets.

The second category of the State Department’s diplomatic engagement includes the promotion of the responsible use of outer space. Specifically, we aim to further enhance space resiliency through the multilateral development and implementation of voluntary guidelines for space activities. These guidelines can include, for example, establishing appropriate communication and consultation mechanisms and national regulatory frameworks, providing contact information for information exchanges among space owners and operators, and implementing practical measures to eliminate harmful radiofrequency interference.

We use diplomatic engagement in this way to reduce the chances for conflict extending into space through the promotion of international norms of behavior, both bilaterally and multilaterally. Such norms matter because they help define boundaries and distinguish good behavior from bad behavior.

In this regard, we see diplomacy as having 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.

Working with our Allies and partners, we can use diplomacy to prevent the development of destabilizing threats to the long-term security and sustainability of outer space.

It is clear that no one nation can develop norms of behavior on its own, but it is also clear, given the growing man-made threats facing the space environment, that we need to move quickly to achieve consensus on what such norms should entail. That is why we are pursuing pragmatic and timely measures such as transparency and confidence-building measures (TCBMs) in order to enhance strategic stability in space. TCBMs can occur as voluntary national commitments, or through bilateral, regional, or multilateral cooperation. Bilateral TCBMs can include dialogues on national security space policies and strategies, expert visits to satellite flight control centers, and discussions on mechanisms for information exchanges regarding natural and man-made debris hazards – and the United States is doing all of these. Multilateral, space-related TCBMs can include joint resolutions and commitments on space security, the prevention of debris-generating activities, and adoption of international norms of the aforementioned responsible behavior. The United States is also working with our partners and allies to pursue such multilateral TCBMs.

For example, in 2013, the US helped achieve the consensus report of the UN Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) on outer space TCBMs. This report recommended a number of TCBMs that offer a solid starting point for addressing challenges to space security and sustainability. The GGE report also provides useful criteria for the consideration of new TCBM concepts and proposals. The United States and many others have encouraged UN Member States to implement these recommendations, as soon as practicable.

It is noteworthy that the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS) and the UN General Assembly’s First and Fourth Committees deliberated this year on the GGE recommendations. In these deliberations, the United States highlighted the importance of continued progress on pragmatic efforts within the UN system, including the Conference on Disarmament, the UN Disarmament Commission, and the COPUOS Working Group on Long-term Sustainability (LTS) of Outer Space Activities. The LTS Working Group is developing a series of practical, non-legally binding guidelines for spaceflight safety, and an added benefit is that these often technical exchanges serve to build capacity and expertise on spaceflight safety in newer spacefaring nations.

Finally, I want to note that these two areas of U.S. diplomatic engagement also work together to support the resilience of our space architecture in another way: they can deter bad actors. By expanding space situational awareness and the redundancy (and thus decreased vulnerability) of our space capabilities on the one hand, and by developing greater TCBMs, including norms of responsible behavior such as notifications and mitigation of intentional debris on the other, we enhance our ability to both deter interference with our space assets, but also to attribute any such interference to specific actors. Attribution is critical to understanding whether a problematic space event is due to natural or man-made causes, accidental or intentional. If the latter, attribution may enable the international community to quickly hold a space actor accountable for its actions, further increasing stability of the space environment and deterring future disruptions.

With the global dependence on space ever increasing, the backlash from the international community against irresponsible actors can be powerfully felt. Diplomacy is the tool that can focus these international forces toward constructive ends.

To conclude, the U.S. National Space Policy instructs us to expand international engagement and cooperation to better address the challenges we face in outer space. As we’ve discussed, diplomacy and international cooperation contributes in important ways both to enhancing existing space mission assurance and resiliency, and to ensuring a safe and secure space environment for the future.

Thank you.