What's In Blue

Posted Fri 17 May 2024

Vote on a Draft Resolution on the Prevention of an Arms Race in Outer Space*

On Monday afternoon (20 May), the Security Council is scheduled to vote on a draft resolution on the prevention of an arms race in outer space (PAROS) and outer space security, which was prepared by Russia. The draft text is open for co-sponsorship by the wider UN membership.


On 24 April, the Security Council voted on a draft resolution on weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) in outer space, which was prepared by Japan and the US and co-sponsored by 65 member states. The draft resolution affirmed the obligations of states parties under the 1967 Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies (Outer Space Treaty) not to place in orbit around the Earth any objects carrying nuclear weapons or any other kinds of WMDs, install such weapons on celestial bodies, or station such weapons in outer space in any other manner. It also called on states not to develop nuclear weapons or any other kind of WMDs specifically designed to be placed in orbit around the Earth.

The Japan-US draft text called on states to refrain from actions contrary to PAROS and emphasised the need for further measures—including political commitments and legally binding instruments, with appropriate and effective provisions for verification—to prevent an arms race in outer space in all its aspects. It urged the exploration and uses of outer space for peaceful purposes in accordance with international law, including the UN Charter.

Council members also voted on an amendment to the draft resolution, which was proposed by China and Russia. This amendment consisted of an operative paragraph calling on all states to take urgent measures to prevent the placement of weapons of any kind in outer space, as well as the threat or use of force in outer space, from space against Earth, and from Earth against objects in outer space. Additionally, it urged member states to seek through negotiations the early elaboration of appropriate, reliably verifiable, legally binding multilateral agreements. (Since 2008, China and Russia have been advocating for negotiations at the Conference on Disarmament on a draft treaty known as the Prevention of the Placement of Weapons in Outer Space and of the Threat or Use of Force against Outer Space Objects.)

The draft amendment failed to be adopted because it did not garner the requisite support. (Absent a veto, a draft resolution or amendment on substantive matters requires nine or more affirmative votes to be adopted.) It received seven votes in favour (Algeria, China, Ecuador, Guyana, Mozambique, Russia, and Sierra Leone), seven votes against (France, Japan, Malta, the Republic of Korea, Slovenia, the UK, and the US), and one abstention (Switzerland). The draft resolution prepared by Japan and the US failed to be adopted owing to a veto cast by Russia. All other members—except China, which abstained—voted in favour of the text.

After the vote, several Council members expressed regret over Russia’s use of the veto, arguing that the proposed resolution was an opportunity to enhance global security by preventing the potential weaponisation of outer space. Some members accused Russia of undermining the global non-proliferation regime. The US specifically criticised Russia for “irresponsibly invoking dangerous nuclear rhetoric and walking away from several of its arms control obligations”, adding that Moscow has “defended and even enabled dangerous proliferators”.

Russia defended its veto by arguing that its goal is to ban the placement of any type of weapons in space, not just WMDs. It accused Western countries of actively engaging in military activities in outer space and declared its intention to propose an alternative draft resolution to the Council. Similarly, China explained its abstention by stating that the issue of WMDs represents “only one aspect of the governance of outer space security”. It further argued that the draft resolution should include additional substantive elements and pointed out that the proposed amendment contained language from a General Assembly resolution on “Further practical measures for the prevention of an arms race in outer space” (A/RES/78/238), which was supported by more than two-thirds of member states.

Most of the five Council members that voted in favour of both the draft resolution and the proposed amendment said that the two initiatives addressed positively different aspects of outer space militarisation. Council members which voted against the amendment but in favour of the draft resolution contended that the draft text adequately outlined the need for legally binding instruments, rendering the amendment unnecessary. Meanwhile, Switzerland, the only Council member to abstain from voting on the proposed amendment, noted that it remains committed to the prohibition of the placement of weapons, including conventional weapons, in space and supports the development of a legally binding instrument to that effect.

On 6 May, the General Assembly held a plenary meeting pursuant to resolution A/RES/76/262 of 26 April 2022, which stipulates that the President of the General Assembly shall convene a formal meeting of the General Assembly within ten working days of a veto being cast by a permanent member of the Security Council. At that meeting, Russia and the US accused each other of actively contributing to the militarisation of outer space.

While several member states highlighted the urgent need to advance negotiations on a legally binding agreement to maintain the peaceful use of outer space and prevent an arms race in outer space, others advocated for focusing on establishing norms, rules, and principles of responsible state behaviour, given the lack of international consensus over the definition of weapons in outer space. (For more information on the substantive divisions on this issue and the negotiations on the Japan-US draft resolution, see our 24 April What’s in Blue story.)

Negotiations on the Draft Resolution in Blue

Russia circulated an initial draft resolution on 30 April and then convened one round of negotiations on the text on 2 May. The penholder circulated a revised draft on 9 May and placed it under silence until the following day (10 May). The silence procedure was subsequently extended until Monday (13 May) at the request of some Council members. On Monday, silence was broken by Japan, after which several other delegations submitted additional comments. That same day, Russia placed a second revised draft in blue without a further silence procedure.

The draft resolution in blue is largely comprised of the draft Security Council resolution co-authored by Japan and the US which was vetoed by Russia on 24 April. It includes, however, the amendment proposed by China and Russia which failed to garner sufficient votes. The draft text also features a new operative paragraph calling on member states to promptly conclude negotiations on an international legally binding agreement or agreements on PAROS in all its aspects, including the prevention of the placement of weapons in outer space. Other additions include a reference to the report of the Ad Hoc Committee on PAROS and to commitments made since 2004 by member states to not be the first to place weapons in outer space.

It appears that the penholder incorporated language proposed by some Council members during the negotiations, but overlooked concerns raised by several others regarding elements that lack the consensus of Council members, particularly the operative paragraph corresponding to the amendment proposed by China and Russia on 24 April.

At the time of writing, it appeared unlikely that the Russian draft Security Council resolution would have the necessary support for adoption, as Council members are expected to take stances similar to those during the 24 April vote on the amendment proposed by China and Russia.


*Post-script: The draft resolution prepared by Russia (S/2024/383) failed to be adopted because it did not garner the requisite support. It received seven votes in favour (Algeria, China, Ecuador, Guyana, Mozambique, Russia, and Sierra Leone), seven votes against (France, Japan, Malta, the Republic of Korea, Slovenia, the UK, and the US), and one abstention (Switzerland). The draft text was co-sponsored by Belarus, China, the Democratic Republic of Korea (DPRK), Nicaragua, and Syria.

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