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– Lord Des Browne
Vice Chairman, Nuclear Threat Initiative
October 20, 2014
Russia Delays UN Space Threats Group


April 2022

Russia has delayed new international efforts to prevent an arms race in outer space after raising numerous procedural objections at the opening session of a UN-led group focused on orbital arms control.

The UN open-ended working group on reducing space threats first met on Feb. 7 in Geneva for a planning session. Its members were due to gather a week later for the formal inaugural session. But diplomats and observers in attendance said Russia raised many procedural concerns, and the opening meeting was postponed, perhaps until May.

The Russian representative said that too little time had passed since the creation of the group on Dec. 24 for diplomats to prepare to engage on the space agenda. He also complained that details about future meetings and the participation of civil society contained in Russia’s version of the working group’s charter differed from what was originally agreed.

Although the delay does not permanently derail efforts to rewrite the laws of war in space, it sets an ominous tone and may signal Moscow’s reluctance to cooperate on hard-hitting questions about its space activities. Earlier in February, Russia told the United Nations its testing of anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons is well within the bounds of international law. Moscow has faced criticism from other UN members and space experts about the country’s Nov. 15 ASAT test that scattered 1,500 pieces of debris into low-earth orbit. (See ACT, December 2021.)

The UN General Assembly First Committee created the working group after the United Kingdom led efforts to prevent an arms race in outer space. (See ACT, December 2021.)—JOHN BEDARD