Academic journal article Indian Foreign Affairs Journal

Fifty Years of the Outer Space Treaty: Tracing the Journey

Academic journal article Indian Foreign Affairs Journal

Fifty Years of the Outer Space Treaty: Tracing the Journey

Article excerpt

Ajey Lele (ed.), Fifty Years of the Outer Space Treaty: Tracing the Journey, (New Delhi, 2017, Pentagon Press), Pages: 232, Price: Rs. 995

The Outer Space Treaty (OST), signed in 1967, completes 50 years of its existence and relevance this year. In an excellently edited volume, "50 Years of the Outer Space Treaty: Tracing the Journey", Ajay Lele has commendably analysed the Outer Space Treaty's evolution, growth, and its continuing relevance in this period. In putting together 15 articles by 15 scholars, Ajay Lele has made a logical arrangement in three sections and takes us through legalities, global outlook, and governance issues. The book starts with a very comprehensive overview by the editor, and he completes it with a crisp conclusion bringing out the essence of the study. The chapters are spread over 200 pages with two appendices of over 11 pages detailing the OST per se.

It is common knowledge that Space age began with the launch of 'Sputnik' by the erstwhile USSR in 1957. What is not commonly discussed is the fact that the Sputnik was launched using an ICBM rocket, which corroborates the fact that entry into Space was driven more by military competitiveness and national prestige than exploration. Concern for regulating activities in Space began to emerge as early as 1952, as Ram Jaku brings out in the introductory chapter, and gathered momentum after 1957 and more so after reckless nuclear testing by the two super powers highlighted the potential of vast damages and its impact on humanity. The OST was signed in 1967 after tenuous and long drawn out discussions. Titled 'Debating Outer Space Treaty', the first section has five chapters devoted to the legal aspects and continued relevance of the OST from international law perspective. Ram Jaku describes the conflict between the idealism in the objective of declaring Space as the province of mankind and the geopolitical realism of deriving the best for national interests. The 1963 Declaration of Legal Principles, adopted by the UN General Assembly, becomes a historic milestone in laying down the foundational principles, unaffected by power politics, for further development of the historic OST. Joan Johson Freese feels that politics of outer space, much like terrestrial geopolitics, cannot wish away competitive nuances driven by self-interest of nation states, and hence, Space is becoming 'congested, contested, and competitive'. While Joan Freese agrees that realism drives the behaviour of nation-states even in Space, she also finds that liberal internationalism and arms control treaties/regimes will temper the behaviour of states. OST, is thus seen as having been effective so far in preventing arms race in Space, and is expected to strengthen the promotion of space as global commons. The reality, however, is different. Nations-states, great powers in particular, prefer choices that serve their interests even at the cost of global commons and humanity. Hence, the two super powers went through nuclear testing in space between 1958 and 1962 to ensure their military objectives were met before adhering to principles of global commons. The 1962 'Starfish Prime', a 1.45 Megaton nuclear test at 600 km in space, was done for military objectives in spite of the knowledge of its likely damage to the environment. The test damaged satellites, created damaging radiation belts, and led to significant damages to ground infrastructure through its EMP Both the super powers completed their tests and objectives before the OST came into force in 1967. China ignored the OST when it tested its ASAT in 2007, creating extensive space debris.

The next two chapters by GS Sachdeva and Ranjana Kaul analyse in detail the legal relevance and limitations of the treaty. Sachdeva appraises the OST in terms of the new jurisprudence, original weaknesses in the treaty, and new challenges in the light of modern technological developments. The first part re-emphasises the oft repeated characteristic of the OST - that is the irrelevance of the geopolitical factors of territoriality and sovereignty in outer space. …

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