U.S. Should Support but Not Yet Sign EU Code of Conduct Say Former Bush Administration Officials

U.S. Should Support but Not Yet Sign EU Code of Conduct Say Former Bush Administration Officials

Three former Bush Administration officials, one of whom stayed on in the Obama Administration to help craft the current National Space Policy (NSP), agreed today that the United States should indicate support for the European Union (EU) Draft Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities, but not officially sign on to it yet. They spoke at a meeting sponsored by the Marshall Institute on Capitol Hill.

Recent stories in the Washington Times, including one this morning, report that the United States is about to sign up to the draft document, which was adopted by the Council of the European Union on September 27, 2010.

Paula DeSutter, former Assistant Secretary of State for Verification, Compliance, and Implementation, Scott Pace, former NASA Associate Administrator for Policy Analysis and Evaluation, and Peter Marquez, former Director of Space Policy at the White House National Security Council under both President George W. Bush and President Obama, support the EU draft as an alternative to a draft treaty China and Russia are promoting through the United Nations Conference on Disarmament (CD).

The EU code of conduct is a set of voluntary guidelines with no enforcement or verification mechanisms. Instead it spells out what constitutes good behavior that space-faring nations should follow. One question was why the United States or any other country should bother signing a document that cannot be enforced. The answer from the speakers involved aphorisms such as “idle minds are the devil’s playground” or “nature abhors a vacuum” to indicate the document’s ability to divert other countries from promoting less welcome approaches. The prime example cited is the Chinese-Russian Draft Treaty on Prevention of the Placement of Weapons in Outer Space, the Threat or Use of Force Against Outer Space Objects (PPWT). DeSutter went so far as to say that the EU code would “undermine” the PPWT and possibly lead to the end of the CD, both positive developments in her view.

All three speakers stopped short of endorsing a formal U.S. adoption of the EU code, noting that the European Union is consulting with many countries and others might insist on changes. They recommend that the United States wait until the end of the process or risk losing its own leverage over the final wording. The draft code was adopted as an internal EU document that is not subject to negotiation with third countries, but it “invites the [EU] High Representative to pursue consultations with third countries” and “All States will be invited to adhere on a voluntary basis to the Code….”

Another question was, if the United States does agree to it, whether it should be sent to the Senate for advice and consent as is required for treaties. DeSutter said that strictly speaking that is a question for lawyers, but in general she thinks it would be a good idea to put it through though those “tests” to see if the country really supports it. Pace and Marquez agreed.

Each of the speakers offered several tweaks in wording, but overall thought the document was solid. DeSutter and Marquez agreed that it was better than anything the United States could have drafted, although Marquez asserted that we already have expressed our own code of conduct in the principles section of the Obama National Space Policy. He finds the overlap between those principles and the EU code of conduct to be quite close, making it fairly straightforward for the United States to agree with the European document.

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