Weapons of Mass Destruction in Outer Space


Weapons of Mass Destruction in Outer Space



The space race began in the 1960s, when outer space became a new area for exploration, military conquest, and competition. The superpowers began to be interested in the possibilities of placing weapons in outer space. Against this background, the United Nations General Assembly adopted resolution 1962 (XVIII) of 1963 in which the General Assembly declared that in the exploration and use of outer space, states should be guided by the following principle: “The exploration and use of outer space shall be carried on for the benefit and in the interest of all mankind and outer space and celestial bodies cannot be the subject for national sovereignty claims.” The resolution was adopted unanimously. The resolution does not define the delimitation between outer space and the limit of the Earth’s atmosphere, and it has still not been possible to reach international agreement on a precise definition of the limit between states’ airspace and outer space. The most common delimitation of outer space is the limit of space beyond 100 kilometres above the Earth’s surface.


The first attempt at an international regulation of exploration and exploitation of outer space is the 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), which is the basic treaty on outer space. The treaty was adopted by General Assembly resolution 2222 (XXI) in 1966, opened for signature in January 1967, and entered into force in October 1967. One hundred and four states, including the five nuclear-weapon states, have ratified the treaty.

In Articles 1 and 2, the Outer Space Treaty repeats the contents of the above UN resolution by stating that “the exploration and use of outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, shall be carried out for the benefit and in the interests of all countries, . . . and shall be the province of all mankind,” and that “there shall be freedom of scientific investigation in outer space . . . Outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation or by any other means.” Article 4 contains the substance of the arms control provisions, restricting activities in two ways: first, by containing an obligation “not to place in orbit around the Earth any objects carrying nuclear weapons or any other kind of weapons of mass destruction, install such weapons on celestial bodies, or station such weapons in outer space in any other manner,” and second, by limiting the use by all states parties of the moon and other celestial bodies exclusively for peaceful purposes and expressly prohibiting the establishment of military bases, installations, and fortifications, the testing of any type of weapons, and the conduct of military maneuvers. The use of military personnel for scientific research or for any other peaceful purposes is not prohibited, nor is the use of any equipment or facility necessary for peaceful exploration of the moon and other celestial bodies.

The treaty does not define what is meant by weapons of mass destruction, but it was the understanding during the treaty negotiations that WMD