Russia Vetoes UN Resolution on Outer Space Treaty

May 2024
By Shizuka Kuramitsu

Russia vetoed a UN Security Council resolution that would have affirmed a treaty banning nuclear weapons in outer space, fueling fresh concerns that its government is developing a space-based nuclear anti-satellite capability.

Russia cast its veto April 24 on a resolution proposed by Japan and the United States reiterating support for the principles of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, which prohibits the deployment of “nuclear weapons or any other kinds of weapons of mass destruction” in outer space, whether on celestial bodies or in orbit. 

The vote was 13-1, with China as the sole abstention. Russia is one of five permanent members of the Security Council with veto power, along with China, France, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

The resolution was proposed after the United States in February made public an intelligence finding that Russia is developing an anti-satellite weapon that would violate the Outer Space Treaty, which has been ratified by 115 states, including Russia and the United States. (See ACT, March and April 2024.)

A nuclear detonation in space would create an indiscriminate zone of destruction endangering more than 9,500 military and civilian satellites now in orbit.

Russian Ambassador Vasily Nebenzia justified Moscow’s veto by dismissing the resolution as insufficient and an attempt by Japan, the United States, and their allies to “camouflage their lack of interest in outer space in principle being free from any kinds of weapons.” 

With China, Russia proposed an amendment to the Japanese-U.S. draft that called on all countries, especially those with major space capabilities, to go even further and ban all weapons in space, not just weapons of mass destruction. The vote was 7-7 with one abstention, meaning the amendment failed because it failed to get the minimum nine votes.

Reacting to the Security Council action, U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan reiterated in a statement on April 25 that “the United States assesses that Russia is developing a new satellite carrying a nuclear device.”

“We have heard [Russian] President [Vladimir] Putin say publicly that Russia has no intention of deploying nuclear weapons in space. If that were the case, Russia would not have vetoed this resolution,” he said.

U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield called Wednesday’s vote on the resolution “a real missed opportunity to rebuild much-needed trust in existing arms control obligations” and stressed that “in no way does this vote undermine the obligations Russia, or any other state-party, continues to have under the Outer Space Treaty,” AP and Axios reported.

Thomas-Greenfield accused Russia of undermining global treaties to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons, irresponsibly invoking “dangerous nuclear rhetoric,” walking away from several of its arms control obligations, and refusing to engage “in substantive discussions around arms control or risk reduction,” AP reported.

Chinese Ambassador Fu Cong, explaining his country’s abstention, said that the Japanese-U.S. resolution was “incomplete and unbalanced and does not reflect to the fullest extent common interest and shared call of 193 member states on the issue of outer space security.”