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Weapons race in outer space would divert resources from development - UN official

Weapons race in outer space would divert resources from development - UN official

Jayantha Dhanapala
A weapons race in outer space would divert valuable resources from economic and social development, a senior United Nations official warned today, urging countries to adhere to an international treaty that guarantees that space exploration be undertaken only for peaceful purposes.

"Efforts to achieve a ban on the weaponization of outer space must continue so as to protect the space assets of all nations in the interests of international peace and security," Jayantha Dhanapala, the Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs, said in his opening remarks to a panel discussion on "The Outer Space Treaty at Thirty Five" held at UN Headquarters in New York.

The current international legal framework for outer space activities is comprised of five treaties, including the 1967 Outer Space Treaty. Among its provisions, the accord bans the orbiting and stationing of nuclear weapons or any other kinds of weapons of mass destruction. It also provides that the Moon and other celestial bodies shall be used exclusively for peaceful purposes, and prohibits the establishment of military bases, installations and fortifications, the testing of any kind of weapon and the conduct of military manoeuvres on celestial bodies.

"The treaties have been successful so far in ensuring that weapon systems with strike capabilities remain de facto, if not de jure, banned from space," Mr. Dhanapala said. "While the regime by itself does not guarantee the prevention of an arms race in outer space, it plays, however, a significant role in achieving that end. Yet, it is obvious that we must proceed beyond this."

Recent developments have increased concerns about the dangers weaponizing space and have led to various proposals to prevent this outcome, the Under-Secretary-General noted. Only the determination and unified will of the international community to strictly enforce the underlying principle of the Outer Space Treaty - that space is to be used "for the benefit and in the interests of all countries" - can prevent such a development, he said.

"Deployment of weapons in space by one country will spur others to follow," Mr. Dhanapala warned. "The resulting arms race would lead to incalculable consequences for development and human security and could very well deprive humanity of all the benefits of the peaceful use and exploration of space."