Decoding the International Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities

By Sethi, Manpreet | Indian Foreign Affairs Journal, October-December 2012 | Go to article overview

Decoding the International Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities


Sethi, Manpreet, Indian Foreign Affairs Journal


Ajay Lele, ed., Decoding the International Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities (New Delhi: Pentagon Security International, 2012), Pages: 190, Price: Rs. 695.

Man first made his presence in outer space in the early 1960s. Ever since, much has happened in this realm designated as common heritage of mankind that today services a host of civilian and military aspects of our lives. But for two reasons this still remains a "new" frontier of sorts.

First, outer space remained a preserve of the two superpowers for a fairly long time. It is only over the last two or three decades that the presence of many more players has become pronounced. Over sixty actors - state and private commercial entities - are active in space today. There are over 1100 operational satellites. And the entry of private players for cargo transportation (NASA has provided a contract worth $1.6 billion to SpaceX to run twelve cargo missions) as well as for space tourism (as being popularized by Virgin Galactic) is only going to increase. Besides new players, newer technologies are entering the realm of space. For instance, in May 2012 Russia announced that it was developing a sea-based space defence system that will be able to engage targets in low earth orbit. The talk of the US space test-bed and the increasing capabilities of a space-based infrared system to undertake boost phase interception are all pushing the envelope of military uses of space. Thus, the manner of utilization of outer space, the number of actors who are using it and the scope of that use, are all undergoing a rapid change.

The second reason why outer space is referred to as a new frontier is because there is no universally accepted system of governance in place that can effectively regulate the fast proliferating new actors and activities. Space law is underdeveloped and inadequate to meet the rapid advances taking place in technology and numbers of players. As someone has said, "Science soars like an eagle while law drags on like a turtle." In order to fill this gap, the idea of a code of conduct or rules of governance for outer space activities has been doing the rounds over the last four years. A draft Code was first prepared and introduced into the international discourse by the European Union in 2008. It contained a set of voluntary and non-binding best practices to regulate the behaviour of states in outer space and to inject transparency and mutual trust and confidence into their activities. In India, the CoC received hardly any serious attention from the strategic community. While India is not new to the utilization of space, the issue of space security in its many contemporary dimensions is a relatively less studied area

At this juncture, a new book on the subject from the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses is a welcome addition. It is also most timely since the issue of CoC will be under discussion over the next few years and a book such as this can serve as essential reading for all stakeholders.

The editor of the volume has done a great service by bringing together writings of scholars of different backgrounds, expertise and countries. …

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