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Former IAEA Director-General
An Out of This World Treaty

Arms Control NOW

By ACA Intern Valerie Pacer

In 2011, China will launch a permanent space station. On August 17, China announced that they had finished constructing the first module and it will now undergo testing. When the space station is launched, it will join the International Space Station in orbit. Under international law, states are allowed to use space but international agreements have created some restrictions.

The Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies, or by its shorter/friendlier name the Outer Space Treaty, was opened for membership when the the UN General Assembly passed Resolution 2222 in 1966. There are currently 100 state parties to the Treaty (including China, Russia, and the United States) and 27 additional countries have signed but not ratified.

Under the Treaty, it was agreed that:

  • outer space is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means;
  • states shall not place nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction in orbit or on celestial bodies or station them in outer space in any other manner;
  • the Moon and other celestial bodies shall be used exclusively for peaceful purposes;
  • astronauts shall be regarded as the envoys of mankind; and
  • states shall avoid harmful contamination of space and celestial bodies.

By meeting the requirements of the Treaty, a country, such as China, can launch their own space station.

At the stalled Conference on Disarmament, the future of space arms control agreements continues to be a topic during speeches. In 2008, Russia and China proposed a new treaty that would ban weapons from space. With the new National Space Policy that the Obama administration released on June 28, 2010, the United States has indicated a willingness to consider space arms control treaties that are "equitable, effectively verifiable, and enhance the national security of the United States and its allies."