U.N. Approves Resolution Not to Conduct Destructive ASAT Tests

U.N. Approves Resolution Not to Conduct Destructive ASAT Tests

The United Nations General Assembly overwhelmingly voted today in favor of a resolution for countries not to conduct direct-ascent antisatellite tests that create space debris. Four countries have conducted such ASAT tests and the United States was the only one voting in favor. China and Russia voted no. India abstained.

The United States initiated the effort to get countries to stop creating space debris by shooting missiles at their own satellites after Russia’s antisatellite test on November 15, 2021.

Vice President Kamala Harris announces a U.S. pledge not to conduct destructive direct-ascent ASAT tests that create space debris, April 18, 2022. Screengrab.

Vice President Kamala Harris, as chair of the White House National Space Council, pledged that the United States would not conduct destructive direct-ascent ASAT tests on April 18, 2022 and called for other countries to join. France became the ninth country to join the U.S. last week.

The pledge is very narrow. It does not prohibit development of ASAT systems or testing them, only testing them in a manner that creates space debris. Tests instead can be against a point in space, for example. Russia tested its Nudol system several times against points in space before the 2021 test that created about 1,500 trackable pieces of debris and imperiled the seven-person crew — including two Russians — aboard the International Space Station.

In parallel with its bilateral efforts, the Biden-Harris Administration is working through the United Nations to win multilateral support.

The U.N. First Committee, which deals with disarmament, global challenges, and threats to peace that affect the international community, adopted a U.S. draft resolution last month by a vote of 154-8, with 10 abstentions. That was a prelude to today’s vote by the General Assembly, which passed it 155-9, with 9 abstentions.

[The General Assembly] then adopted by draft resolution II, “Destructive direct-ascent anti-satellite missile testing” (document A/C.1/77/62), by a recorded vote of 155 in favour to 9 against (Belarus, Bolivia, Central African Republic, China, Cuba, Iran, Nicaragua, Russian Federation, Syria) with 9 abstentions (India, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Madagascar, Pakistan, Serbia, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Togo, Zimbabwe).  Among its terms, the Assembly called on all States not to conduct such tests and to continue discussions to develop further practical steps and contribute to legally binding instruments on the prevention of an arms race in outer space.  — United Nations Press Release

Harris praised the vote as a step toward establishing an international norm.

Discussions also are ongoing through the U.N. Open-Ended Working Group on Reducing Space Threats to establish norms of responsible behavior in space. Its next meeting is January 30-February 3, 2023.

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