Freedom and the militarisation of the cosmos

Continuing with the militarisation of the cosmos, the principle set out in Article I of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty is a harbinger of different interpretations, especially if it is related to recent technological changes, moreover, it does not seem to have given definition to borders for the time being. Article I of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty enshrines the freedom of exploration and use of outer space (and hence cosmic space), as well as celestial bodies, by all States, freedom of access to all areas of celestial bodies, and the freedom to carry out scientific research in space.

Article I of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty states 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, irrespective of their degree of economic or scientific development, and shall be the province of all mankind. Outer space, including the Moon and other celestial bodies, shall be free for exploration and use by all States without discrimination of any kind, on a basis of equality and in accordance with international law, and there shall be free access to all areas of celestial bodies. There shall be freedom of scientific investigation in outer space, including the Moon and other celestial bodies, and States shall facilitate and encourage international cooperation in such investigation”.

First of all, talking about the militarisation of the cosmos, we must recognise the fact that these activities are often achievable only with a military contribution. In addition, we must come to terms with the initiatives undertaken by private companies of various countries. A significant example of how national military conduct can pose a threat to the cosmos is given by the U.S. 1961 Project West Ford: American aviation on that occasion, thanks to the Missile Defense Alarm System, or MIDAS, satellite, dispersed in outer space about three hundred and sixty million dipoles, with the goal of forming a sort of “protective ring” around the Earth, that would intercept enemy rockets, and military communications. Project West Ford was undoubtedly a clear example of an extremely harmful military space activity, capable of causing large-scale cosmic pollution among other things. This first phase of the project was unsuccessful, and for this reason, a second operation was launched in 1963, which finally succeeded in creating the “protective ring” around planet Earth. The project was considered completely outside the lines of space activities, and for this reason, received the condemnation of several States who feared that the initiative could have been a point of no return in regards to the use of outer space.

In this last regard, the Soviet Union considered the operation as something capable of negatively interfering with direct communications to spacecraft. One of the conclusions reached was concerning the international scientific community, and prior information before such initiatives commenced. Given this framework then, the principle of international law deserves consideration, States are obliged to prevent actions (committed by their entities or in their territory) that could prove to be adverse toward other States. This highlights the complexity of the principle of freedom and use of outer space, which constitutes the primary instrument for progress in this field. But at the same time, the concept of freedom in space law must not have negative consequences on other States. Projects such as the 1961 Project West Ford highlight a fundamental contrast, given that the two contexts (freedom of use and exploration of outer space, and respect for national integrity) are often not compatible. The freedom of use and exploration of outer space cannot be applied as a blanket statement for allowing the creation of military interception systems, which also pose threats of space debris, and the security of other States. For this reason, it is necessary to outline clear boundaries between the two areas, in order to avoid contradictions and alterations therein. Space exploration and the use of the cosmos is recognised by all States, and for this reason, the prohibition of undertaking risky operations represents a valid international duty of erga omnestowards all”. The corollary of this approach is Article IX of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty which declares that individual States are parties unto themselves, and as such, should carry out studies and explorations in outer space, the Moon, and other celestial bodies, taking appropriate measures so as to avoid pollution or changes to the terrestrial environment.

Article IX of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty states that “In the exploration and use of outer space, including the Moon and other celestial bodies, States Parties to the Treaty shall be guided by the principle of cooperation and mutual assistance and shall conduct all their activities in outer space, including the Moon and other celestial bodies, with due regard to the corresponding interests of all other States Parties to the Treaty. States Parties to the Treaty shall pursue studies of outer space, including the Moon and other celestial bodies, and conduct exploration of them so as to avoid their harmful contamination and also adverse changes in the environment of the Earth resulting from the introduction of extraterrestrial matter and, where necessary, shall adopt appropriate measures for this purpose. If a State Party to the Treaty has reason to believe that an activity or experiment planned by it or its nationals in outer space, including the Moon and other celestial bodies, would cause potentially harmful interference with activities of other States Parties in the peaceful exploration and use of outer space, including the Moon and other celestial bodies, it shall undertake appropriate international consultations before proceeding with any such activity or experiment. A State Party to the Treaty which has reason to believe that an activity or experiment planned by another State Party in outer space, including the Moon and other celestial bodies, would cause potentially harmful interference with activities in the peaceful exploration and use of outer space, including the Moon and other celestial bodies, may request consultation concerning the activity or experiment”.

The militarisation of the cosmos involves mainly two types of risk that seem to be interconnected: the first being that of a political nature, concerning relationships between States; and the second dealing principally with the environment (terrestrial and cosmic). In completing this picture, one cannot discount the importance of technological developments, which characterises the most important activities of any State; being fundamental at the international level for varying outcomes, and essential for the completion of military projects. Given the impossibility of clearly addressing all elements indicated (due to the vast number of States and objectives present in the international context), it would seem necessary to clearly identify the limits to the areas of application on the subject.

In addition, Article IX of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty provides that if a Member State has reason to believe that its space activities, or those of its national agencies, may interfere with those of other Member States, in regard to peaceful exploration and use of outer space, the State will have to carry out consultations. Likewise, such consultations may be requested by Member States to the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, concerning the operations carried out by another Member State. It is important to highlight a subtle difference that characterises this rule: preliminary consultations must be carried out by the author State of the activity; other countries may only make a request to that effect. The fear of the above illustration, is that of Article IX of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty not being adequately respected in the case of national activities that, being risky, are essential for the purposes of a State. Article IX of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, therefore, setting the rules for the freedom of use and exploration of outer space, protects the latter from possible militarisation of the cosmos, and represents a standard for scientific and legal developments of the sector. Understanding cosmic space as a new dimension in warfare, results in its gradual annihilation and the annihilation of all scientific pursuits in this regard. That is what can be said concerning the militarisation of the cosmos.