The US government will make a decision soon on whether to support a proposed “Code of Conduct” for space operations, a State Department official said Wednesday. Speaking at a “Next Steps in U.S. Space Diplomacy” forum at the Stimson Center in Washington, Frank Rose, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Space and Defense Policy, said the administration was considering the “Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities” proposed by the EU two years ago. The code, designed to promote peaceful, safe uses of space, includes provisions requiring nations to establish procedures to avoid collisions and the production of space debris, including refraining from “any intentional action which will or might bring about, directly or indirectly, the damage or destruction of outer space objects.
“We have been working very, very collaboratively with the EU the past two years” on the code of conduct, Rose said. The new national space policy, which endorses the use of “transparency and confidence-building measures to encourage responsible actions in, and the peaceful use of, space”, allows the administration to now consider formally supporting the EU code. Rose said the State Department, and soon an interagency group, will examine whether the US can support the code. “We hope to make a decision very much in the near future.” Rose said later, in response to a question, that while the US hasn’t made a decision on whether to support that document, such a code “is very consistent with the key policies outlined in the president’s new space policy.”
The concept of a code of conduct, if not the EU’s proposed code, was also endorsed at the event by Ambassador Greg Schulte, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Space Policy. “We need to start work on ‘rules of the road'” for space operations, he said, with such rules including not just debris mitigation and collision avoidance but also potentially radiofrequency interference and “discouraging destabilizing behavior in a crisis.” He added this his office is supporting Rose’s group at the State Department in its review of the proposed EU code.
One obstacle to this approach has been an effort by China and Russia to propose instead a treaty banning weapons in space, an accord known by the acronym PPWT, something the US has opposed in part because such a treaty would be unverifiable. Rose said he had discussions with Russian officials earlier this year about their support for a code of conduct, but PPWT remains a stumbling block. “We were very much open this year to cosponsoring a [UN] resolution with Russia” on the subject, “and we came very, very close.” However, “unfortunately, they wanted a reference to their PPWT treaty in the resolution.”