The space issue that won't go away
Anyone who still believed that military uses of space would not be a major topic of discussion at the UNISPACE meeting in Vienna last month was in for a quick awakening. The first three speakers - United Nations Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar, Austrian President Rudolph Kirchshalaeger, and Austrian Foreign Minister Willibald Pahr (who served as president of the conference) - all mentioned this issue prominently.Skip to next paragraph
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The two-week conference, sponsored by the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS), was held to assess ways in which the developing countries can derive greater benefits from space technology. Many issues related to this goal were discussed (technology transfer, access to geostationary orbit, remote sensing, etc.), but the issue of the increasing military uses of space, including a potential arms race in space, became the hottest topic there.
Although the controversy over militarization had been anticipated by virtually everyone, the leaders of the United States delegation publicly insisted prior to UNISPACE that militarization would not be a major issue, because it has been assigned to the UN Committee on Disarmament (CD), not to COPUOS, and therefore was not on the UNISPACE agenda. However, in the draft conference report, there were four bracketed paragraphs on militarization that had to be resolved at UNISPACE. They were among 15 paragraphs (dealing with other subjects as well) that were bracketed to indicate they had not been agreed upon earlier.
During the first week of the conference, 67 countries presented opening remarks, and all but four (including the US) mentioned militarization. Mr. Pahr attempted to establish a working group at the start of UNISPACE to deal with the four bracketed paragraphs on militarization. But the US objected to the idea unless all 15 bracketed paragraphs were given to the working group. And the Soviet Union objected because three committees already had been created to work out final language in the draft conference report. Thus the task of resolving this issue fell to the committees.
There was a feeling among other delegations, rightly or wrongly, that the US was trying to stifle debate on militarization of space. They argued that if the discussion were simply allowed to take place, the emotion-filled atmosphere would dissipate.
The first real debate on militarization took place on Monday of the second week, and the US commented at the start that it did not want to hinder debate but did not think agreement would be reached. After more than an hour's discussion, when the chairman of the committee and the other delegations thought agreement had been obtained on the first sentence of the paragraph under consideration, the chief US delegate at that meeting informed the chairman that he did not agree with any of the proposed wording. Later, he added that actually it was the ''concept'' to which he objected, not just the wording, and therefore there was no acceptable language.