U.N. Group Reaches Consensus on TCBMs for Space Activities

U.N. Group Reaches Consensus on TCBMs for Space Activities

A special United Nations group of experts has reached consensus on Transparency and Confidence Building Measures (TCBMs) for space activities. 

In a statement, the U.S. State Department commended the U.N. Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) for reaching “landmark consensus” during meetings last week in New York.  The State Department explained that the GGE recommended that countries and international organizations “consider and implement a range of measures to enhance the transparency of outer space activities, further international cooperation, consultations, and outreach, and promote international coordination to enhance safety and predictability in the uses of outer space.”  The TCBMs would be implemented on a voluntary basis.

Fifty years ago, in December 1963, the U.N. General Assembly (UNGA) adopted principles that ultimately were codified in the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, which 102 countries had signed and ratified as of January 2013 (another 26 countries have signed it).  Among the principles are that exploration and use of outer space shall be for the benefit of, and in the interests of, all countries.  The State Department said that the GGE consensus “sends a strong signal” that countries “must remain committed to enhance the welfare of humankind by cooperating with others to maintain the long-term sustainability, safety, security, and stability of the space environment.” 

The Obama Administration made TCBMs a centerpiece of its strategy for working with other countries to ensure “space sustainability” — an effort to ensure that space can be utilized in the long-term by improving cooperation and reducing the risks of misunderstanding and miscommunication.   The Secure World Foundation has several fact sheets explaining space sustainability and TCBMs.

Avoiding the creation of space debris is probably the best known example of space sustainability.  Though the term reflects much broader aspirations, the literal explosion of threats to space operations from space debris catalyzed the debate over space sustainability after China’s test of an anti-satellite (ASAT) device against one of its own satellites in 2007 created more than 3,000 pieces of debris and the accidental collision of an operational U.S. Iridium commercial communications satellite and a defunct Russian government satellite in 2009 created even more.

The United States led the effort to establish the 15-member GGE, which was officially created by UNGA Resolution A/RES/65/68 in January 2011.  Russia chaired the group; the other 14 members were  Brazil, Chile, China, France, Italy, Kazakhstan, Nigeria, South Korea, Romania, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Ukraine, United Kingdom, and United States.  It completed its work on July 12, 2013 according to the U.N. and will submit its study to the UNGA at its 68th session this fall. 

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