Saturday, December 20th, 2014

The Obameter

Seek code of conduct for space-faring nations


"Restore U.S. leadership on space issues by seeking code of conduct for space-faring nations, including a worldwide ban on weapons to interfere with satellites and a ban on testing anti-satellite weapons. Initiating and stating a willingness to participate in a regime protecting access to space will help the United States return to a position of leadership in promoting global stability."


Updates

U.S. seeks international code of conduct for space, but modifies position on weapons ban

During the campaign, Barack Obama promised that as president, he would "restore U.S. leadership on space issues by seeking a code of conduct for space-faring nations, including a worldwide ban on weapons to interfere with satellites and a ban on testing anti-satellite weapons. Initiating and stating a willingness to participate in a regime protecting access to space will help the United States return to a position of leadership in promoting global stability."

The last time we checked on this promise, we called it Stalled, since the administration hadn't done anything concrete to advance it. Now, it has.

On June 28, 2010, the administration released a document titled, "National Space Policy of the United States of America." It says, in part, "All nations have the right to use and explore space, but with this right also comes responsibility. The United States, therefore, calls on all nations to work together to adopt approaches for responsible activity in space to preserve this right for the benefit of future generations. From the outset of humanity"s ascent into space, this Nation declared its commitment to enhance the welfare of humankind by cooperating with others to maintain the freedom of space. The United States hereby renews its pledge of cooperation in the belief that with strengthened international collaboration and reinvigorated U.S. leadership, all nations and peoples—space-faring and space-benefiting—will find their horizons broadened, their knowledge enhanced and their lives greatly improved."

We think this statement amounts to keeping Obama's promise to seek a "code of conduct for space-faring nations," since reading his words carefully, he didn't promise that he'd be able to complete enactment of such a code -- only that he would seek one.

But we're hesitant to call this a full Promise Kept because of the missing second part of the promise -- that the code would include "a worldwide ban on weapons to interfere with satellites and a ban on testing anti-satellite weapons." For whatever reason, the administration stopped short of including those provisions as part of the code it's seeking.

Indeed, while the wording in the report does advocate peaceful uses of space, its language elsewhere is more hawkish than what's in the promise. At one point, the report says that the U.S. "will consider proposals and concepts for arms control measures if they are equitable, effectively verifiable and enhance the national security of the United States and its allies," yet at another point, it asserts that "'peaceful purposes' allows for space to be used for national and homeland security activities."

Specifically, the policy says that the U.S. "will employ a variety of measures to help assure the use of space for all responsible parties, and, consistent with the inherent right of self-defense, deter others from interference and attack, defend our space systems and contribute to the defense of allied space systems, and, if deterrence fails, defeat efforts to attack them." And the policy orders the Defense Secretary to "develop capabilities, plans, and options to deter, defend against, and, if necessary, defeat efforts to interfere with or attack U.S. or allied space systems."

Marcia Smith of the website spacepolicyonline.com said that the president moved away from language that had been "entirely too Pollyannish."

"One can't ban 'space weapons' because one cannot define them," she said. "The president apparently figured that out. And one has to be able to defend one's own critical systems from those who do not abide by whatever code of conduct is developed." Essentially, the new policy is to "try good behavior and deterrence first, but be ready to defend and protect our systems if we must."

But even if this was the smartest thing to do, our policy is not to let Obama off the hook for promises that hadn't been fully thought through. So we'll give the administration credit for sticking to its promise to seek a code of conduct, but downgrade it from a Promise Kept due to the changed policy being undertaken by the administration. Instead, we rate this promise a Compromise.

Sources:

White House, National Space Policy of the United States of America, June 28, 2010

U.S. Human Space Flight Plans Committee, "Seeking a Human Spaceflight Program Worthy of a Great Nation" (final report of the Augustine Commission), October 2009

E-mail interview with Edward Ellegood, space policy analyst at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, July 30, 2010

E-mail interview with Marcia Smith of spacepolicyonline.com, July 30, 2010

Code of conduct for space-faring nations is in holding pattern

During the campaign, Barack Obama promised that as president, he would "restore U.S. leadership on space issues by seeking a code of conduct for space-faring nations, including a worldwide ban on weapons to interfere with satellites and a ban on testing anti-satellite weapons. Initiating and stating a willingness to participate in a regime protecting access to space will help the United States return to a position of leadership in promoting global stability."

The administration hasn't stepped back from this goal, but it also hasn't advanced the ball much, space experts say.

The space-faring code of conduct is expected to be addressed in twin space policy reviews, now under way, by the National Security Council and the Defense Department. Space experts we interviewed, both inside and outside NASA, say they've heard nothing concrete about its prospects for enactment.

We'll keep our ears to the heavens, but for now, we'll rate this promise Stalled.

Sources:

U.S. Human Space Flight Plans Committee, "Seeking a Human Spaceflight Program Worthy of a Great Nation" ( final report of the Augustine Commission), October 2009

E-mail interview with Edward Ellegood, space policy analyst at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Dec. 3, 2009.

E-mail interview with Marcia Smith of spacepolicyonline.com, Dec. 3, 2009.