Experts from 25 countries – including China, Russia and the United States – will meet for 10 days in Geneva starting Monday to try to lay the groundwork for a space peace treaty.
In February, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said international arms control architecture was crumbling, lamenting Washington’s and Moscow’s decision to withdraw from the Cold War treaty on nuclear weapons.
In early March, the space project of US President Donald Trump was presented to the US Congress for approval. This space force will be responsible for protecting US interests in space, which Americans now consider a “battlefield.”
Despite current diplomatic tensions, experts believe, however, that there are grounds for optimism.
“I hope this is not just an illusion, but I see positive initiatives,” said Paul Meyer, former Canada ambassador to disarmament and space security specialist at the Simons Foundation.
In Geneva, the Government-led Group of Governmental Experts will be chaired by the Brazilian ambassador to the United Nations Conference on Disarmament, Guilherme de Aguiar Patriota.
Diplomatic efforts to forge a space treaty have been blocked for more than a decade.
One of the main problems, according to experts, has to do with the spatial vision of China and Russia, while Western countries have focused on “behaviours” or “actions” that should be limited in space.
Patriot told reporters in Geneva earlier this week that at the first meeting in August Russia and China were more open-minded than in the past to new ideas.
Next week, at the second and final meeting, experts will try to agree on a list of “elements” that could form the basis of a treaty, he added.
The Brazilian ambassador noted that one of the factors that motivate states to move forward is the notion of “vulnerability” in space.
Despite the rhetoric of Donald Trump, who prides himself on growing defence budgets, the military understands that overwhelming supremacy is not enough to protect a country’s space assets, experts argue.
“It is very difficult … to defend these assets alone in space,” Jessica West, the leader of the space security index, said in a statement to France-Presse (AFP).
Already a former head of the intelligence services of the Canadian Foreign Office, M. Meyer, told AFP that another factor that could create a diplomatic push is that space “is no longer considered a club of the rich.”
Dozens of states, including developing countries, now have satellites, he said.
Space technology – related to reconnaissance, mapping or navigation – has become an integral part of military and civilian life.
For Meyer, governments now face a question: “How are the interests of the nation best served? … by provoking a new arms race in a climate that is vital to global prosperity or by making efforts to find consensus with some of its potential opponents? “