Jessica West is at Project Ploughshares, following the developing technology and international norms that will make space war possible.
outer space, satellite, space, treaty, system, military, lasers, war, weapon, people, interference, rules, states, capability, protected, thought, jamming, objects, satellite signals, dazzle
Metta Spencer, Jessica West
In this conversation between Metta Spencer and Jessica West, they discuss the weaponization of outer space and the limitations of the Outer Space Treaty. Jessica West, a research scholar at Project Ploughshares, provides insights into the current state of space militarization and the concerns associated with it.
The Outer Space Treaty, established in the 1960s, is a crucial agreement that governs the use of outer space. While it prohibits the placement of weapons of mass destruction in space, such as nuclear weapons, it is silent on conventional weapons and the use of force in space. This has created a gap in the treaty that needs to be addressed as technology advances and more states gain access to space.
Jessica explains that several countries have developed the capability to use modified anti-ballistic missile systems to target and destroy satellites in orbit. China, in 2007, demonstrated this capability by destroying one of its own satellites. The United States and India have also conducted similar demonstrations. These actions fall under the category of conventional force and are not considered the use of weapons of mass destruction.
The conversation then shifts to the role of lasers in space warfare. While lasers can be used as weapons in space, they are not classified as weapons of mass destruction. Low-power lasers can be employed to interfere with the functioning of satellites by dazzling or blinding their sensors. However, there are currently no specific rules or laws against this type of activity in space.
The increased interest in space warfare and the militarization of space is a cause for concern. Space was traditionally viewed as a peaceful domain, but there has been a shift towards considering outer space as a potential battlefield. With limited restrictions and an understanding of the consequences of various activities in space, the risks of escalation and the potential for misunderstandings between states are significant.
Jessica highlights the regular occurrence of electronic warfare in space, where satellite signals are disrupted through jamming or spoofing. This is not unique to space and is also employed in other domains. Commercial satellites are particularly vulnerable to signal jamming, while more secure military communication satellites have better protection. North Korea and Iran commonly use state-sponsored jamming of satellite signals.
Metta Spencer and Jessica West, focus on the development of cyber warfare capabilities and the role of the newly established Space Force in the United States. Jessica West explains that cyber warfare is a central aspect of military preparations worldwide, and cyber warriors have been integrated into the Space Force. However, she clarifies that a war would not be entirely cyber and emphasizes the interconnectedness between electronic, cyber, and physical impacts.
The discussion then turns to the Space Force and its purpose. Metta asks about the need for protection and the potential adversaries. Jessica explains that the primary focus is on securing satellite systems and ensuring their functionality during conflicts. She mentions China and Russia as the main perceived threats. The offensive role of the Space Force is not explicitly defined, but the acquisition of a satellite jammer indicates offensive capabilities. The discussion frames the situation as a great-power competition in space.
Metta raises questions about defensive and offensive weapons in the context of electronic warfare. Jessica explains that defensive measures involve detecting interference and responding to it, while offensive actions involve jamming or disrupting the opponent’s satellite systems.
Moving on to the need for peaceful orientations and risk reduction, Jessica highlights the importance of creating norms of behaviour in outer space. She mentions ongoing efforts led by the United Kingdom to establish rules that promote responsible conduct and prevent escalatory behaviour. This leads to a discussion about the role of commercial enterprises in shaping best practices and norms in space.
The conversation touches on existing regulations and initiatives outside formal treaties. Jessica mentions the long-term sustainability goals developed by the United Nations, which establish standards for behavior regarding debris production and environmental protection. She also explains the existence of other treaties related to outer space, such as the Rescue Agreement for Astronauts.
Metta expresses surprise and interest in these existing frameworks and initiatives. Jessica emphasizes the need for continued collaboration and cooperation among stakeholders to improve the security situation in space and prevent its weaponization. She acknowledges the divide between states advocating for a binding treaty on arms control and those focusing on non-binding norms and transparency.
In summary, the conversation covers the development of cyber warfare capabilities, the role of the Space Force, the need for norms and transparency in outer space, and ongoing initiatives and treaties related to space security. The discussion highlights the complexities and challenges involved in ensuring a peaceful and secure space environment while underscoring the need to address the gaps in the current system. The increasing interest in space warfare and the ongoing development of capabilities to engage in electronic warfare highlight the importance of international cooperation and dialogue to mitigate the risks associated with space militarization.
The following transcript has been machine-generated using “otter.ai.” Prior to using information from the transcript, please watch the video to catch any obvious errors.
Metta Spencer 00:00
Hi, I’m Metta Spencer. Today we’re going to outerspace. We’ve been traveling a little bit this week, but I bet you have never been down to space before. And we have a lady who’s going to take us. She’s a regular space journeyer. And she’s a combatant against space wars. So if you ever — I have never seen the film’s Star Wars, so I’m culturally deprived, but I believe it’s about some of the terrible things that might happen if the worlds get into collision. And so we’ve got to worry about not only how to creat create peace on earth, but how to keep force out of the heavens. This is Jessica West. Hello, Jessica. Jessica is a research scholar at Project Ploughshares, which is in Waterloo, Ontario. And it’s kind of a progressive Think Tank funded by churches, I believe, if I’m not mistaken, largely, at least it was originally. And there are a lot of people looking into various aspects of militarization, and weaponry and things of that kind. So Jessica’s specialty these days is outer space. And we’re going to have a good conversation about that, because I had to confess to her that this is not an area that I know a thing about. And I’m woefully ignorant. But she’s going to enlighten me. And the first thing I’ve got to get straightened out is what is this rope ladder in the background. She’s got a wonderful green screen or something that is a visual of what looks like a rope ladder. Where’s this?
Jessica West 00:45
Hi, Metta. Honestly, I’m not sure I’m lucky enough to be able to squat in my husband’s office today. And it’s a painting. So it’s not a green screen hanging on the wall. And it’s it’s pre-COVID. So it’s just by a stroke of luck that this piece of art is so artfully positioned exactly where I set up my computer. So usually we’re at home working, the two of us. And today, we had a chance to sign up and use the office space and give our minds a bit of a break in our spirits — a bit of a break from those same four walls that we’ve been staring at for the last year.
Metta Spencer 02:28
It’s great to meet you, Jessica. We have not become friends until now. So now you’re officially my friend.
Jessica West 02:34
Metta Spencer 02:36
Thank you. Let’s start off by considering what I thought was a pretty good thing. We had a treaty, banning what I thought was the weaponization of space. But you set me right.
Jessica West 02:49
Well, we do have a very good treaty in place. And I think that should be made clear, the Outer Space Treaty is the pillar of governance and space. It sets the broad principles by which states have agreed to access and use outer space. And that includes concepts like peaceful purposes, cooperation, equity, not contaminating the environment. So it’s it’s an excellent treaty. And I think it has stood the test of time. But when it comes to weapons, it’s also a product of its era, which is the 1960s. And it does ban the use or the orbiting or placement of weapons of mass destruction in outer space, notably nuclear weapons, which was a big concern at that time. But it’s otherwise silent on conventional weapons or the use of conventional force in outer space. And that hole has been there from the beginning. And there have been efforts to plug that hole through the Conference on Disarmament for about 40 years now. And instead of plugging it, it’s sort of gotten bigger over time, as technology has accelerated. More states can access space and the capabilities to harm objects in space, spread and become more accessible. So
Metta Spencer 04:13
About two or three sentences ago I began thinking, as you mentioned conventional weapons in space. And I was wondering, Well, what conventional weapons could anybody use in space? Bows and arrows? Landmines? I mean, what is there’s not much you can do, except with high tech weapons, like, you know, nuclear weapons or lasers, and things like that? Are they forbidden?
Jessica West 04:41
No. So all that is forbidden is the use of weapons of mass destruction. So that would include biological, which probably doesn’t have a role to play in outer space given the fact that we’re dealing with technology systems and hardware, but what “conventional force” refers to is non-nuclear now. Biological, non-chemical, so really the kinetic use of force. And you can think of any number of ways in which that could be put to use to destroy an object in orbit.
Metta Spencer 05:11
Bombs. Just bombs, or . . .?
Jessica West 05:13
Well, we’ve gone beyond bombs, I think I think dirty bombs are sort of an early experiment that took place. But what what we have now is a number of states have the capability to use a modified anti ballistic missile system and and target a satellite instead of targeting a ballistic missile. And so we have seen demonstrations against –not against foreign objects, but against their own objects. States intercept a satellite using the missile system. China in recent years was the first to sort of kick off what I consider a new era of arms race in outer space in 2008.
Metta Spencer 06:01
They started trying to…?
Jessica West 06:03
Well, they didn’t start anything. But in 2008, China demonstrated that it had the capability to modify its ballistic missile defense system and use it to target a satellite. And so they destroyed one of their own satellites on orbit. The United States followed suit, although in a less destructive demonstration in 2008. And India is the latest to demonstrate this capability in 2019. And so that’s the kinetic use of force – that’s conventional use of force. You’re not exploding a nuclear weapon, but you’re using a weapon system to destroy an object in space. That is legal.
Metta Spencer 06:45
Yeah. And, and you said lasers are legal. I’m still back three sentences where I’m thinking about, you say lasers are not considered weapons of mass destruction. But 20 years ago, I was saying, I don’t think it even makes sense for them to be working on developing ballistic missiles, because they’re getting to the point where they can just shoot each other with lasers and destroy a city or take out somebody’s backyard. We could have a war with just beams and not ballistic missiles. And people laughed at me. I remember they did not take me seriously. But I think a laser could be a weapon of mass destruction. That kind of beams?
Jessica West 07:35
Weapon of mass destruction is a very technical concept. And so that’s why a laser doesn’t fit in. Is it a weapon? Yes, the laser can be used as a weapon, and it can be used to cause harm. And maybe you’re just ahead of your time, there’s certainly been an acceleration and exploring capabilities for laser systems, including for ballistic defense or defense against drones. And that kind of activity. In space, we’ve seen lasers tested –not necessarily to, you know, explode objects on orbit. But lower power lasers can be used to interfere with the functioning of a satellite. So you can use it to dazzle or blind sensors on a satellite that might be taking images, or otherwise hinder its ability to function. And that is a less disastrous use of force in outer space. So that would be something that might be temporary and reversible. But really, your point, which I think is well taken is that no, there are no rules or laws against this kind of activity. And so that’s concerning because it’s easy to escalate tensions in space and to escalate the use of force from minor interference to more significant interference and destruction of objects. And so filling this hole has really been a focus of the International diplomatic and space community for quite a long time now.
Metta Spencer 09:07
Okay, and I one of the Pugwash meetings two or three years ago in Nova Scotia, there was a woman Laura Greco, I think, from the Union of Concerned Scientists, and she had a graphic that showed how satellites travel. Herargument was that, although ballistic missiles are never good enough to really fight a war, because ABMs shooting down missiles with other other missiles, they are not close to making work the whole the whole thing that Reagan was trying to do. But she said they’re they’re very good for taking out satellites. If you want to have a satellite war with a country has satellites that they depend on. And, God knows, we all do now. Everything we do depends on satellites, GPS and so on. Then you could you could use those ABM type weapons against the satellites. Whoa, we’d be in big trouble.
Jessica West 10:37
I we were talking about lasers when I said glow lasers, that dazzle sensors It’s different. What you’re talking about is what I was referring to in terms of those demonstrations that took place in 2007 2008 and 2019. That’s exactly what you described. Laura Grego. She’s excellent at Union of Concerned Scientists. That’s exactly what she was speaking to, was these demonstrations, the ability to use an anti ballistic missile system instead of having it target and hone in on a ballistic missile, which travels very quickly and can in some cases maneuver and be unpredictable, targeting a satellite, which rotates around the earth and a stable and predictable orbit is much easier to do. Except, of course, there’s limitations on height. And some satellites are very far away from Earth, and some of them are much closer to Earth. So they’re not all necessarily in reach. But certainly that technology, what you describe, that use of that ballistic missile defense system against a space object instead of against a missile is is a concern, and it’s been demonstrated to work.
Metta Spencer 11:51
Okay, so we’ve got to do something to beef up the the Space Treaty, I guess, to make it cover the real risks that we’re threatened with today. Right? And what are they? What are your concerns about things that are worrisome as far as space wars of the future go?
Jessica West 12:16
What’s worrisome is that war in space used to be taboo in a way. Space was seen as a peaceful domain. Certainly, there were lots of military satellites in orbit that were used for warfighting functions on Earth, but space itself was relatively free of threats. And what we’ve seen in the last few years is a shift towards considering and conceptualizing outer space itself is the domain of warfare the same as air and earth and the seas. And that is worrying, because as we’ve been talking about, there are really very few restrictions on what that might look like in terms of activities that are permissible, or where the limits of such warfighting might be. And there’s not a lot of understanding about what the repercussions of some activities in space could be. So there, there’s not a history there that can be built upon. If I dazzle a satellite with a laser, how is that interpreted by another state? Is that seen as not very bad, and we’re gonna do tip for debtors that seen as something atrocious, and the response is much greater than I think, so that the patterns of escalation are very unknown. And you might have completely different perceptions of risk by different actors as well. And so I think overall, that policy shift is worrying. And we see it with the creation of the US space force. It’s not a cause of this, but a symptom. And I think we see it with with China and Russia and India and the United Kingdom and France and a lot of countries right now are trying to think about how do we defend ourselves in outer space? How do we make sure these essential systems can be protected? And to do so they’re moving towards more of a military footing in outer space. And so what are the risks? I think there’s a lot we’ve talked about the use of conventional force. So the use of a missile system to intercept a satellite. There is certainly progression evident.
Metta Spencer 14:33
So now you said something the other day when we were first talking about doing this show, that surprised me, because I said something about how in a war, countries might try to interrupt each other’s satellite transmissions. And you said they do that all the time. And I thought, Oh, my God, I didn’t know that. Did you say what I thought you said?
Jessica West 15:03
Yeah. So satellites are essentially data collection and dissemination systems. And their value lies in the data and the information that they send back to Earth. And that is usually sent through use of the radio frequency spectrum. And so that is something that’s not protected or hardened. It’s relatively easy to disrupt the radio frequency spectrum. And so electronic warfare, as you say, the jamming of satellite signals so that they’re temporarily unavailable or the spoofing of satellite signals – I think we’ve seen that with GPS a few times, there’ve been news reports over the years of ships that were going the wrong way or GPS being jammed. That happens, certainly.
Metta Spencer 15:52
You make that sound normal.
Jessica West 15:54
It is normal. And so the question is, how do you stop that from escalating further? Are there certain systems that should be protected? It’s normal, because it’s not unique to space.lectronic warfare is also something that takes place against aircraft and pretty much any kind of weapon system that uses the radio frequency spectrum.
Metta Spencer 16:21
We’re doing things to tamper with other people’s aircraft or interrupting their their radio transmission or something?
Jessica West 16:30
In a war. Yes.
Metta Spencer 16:33
You said we’re doing it now. I thought you said that.
Jessica West 16:38
Yes. So the ability to jam satellite signals is fairly widespread. Some are harder to jam and more protected, like very secure military communication satellites, but other satellites, especially commercial satellites are not. And sometimes there’s state-sponsored jamming of a satellite signal. North Korea and Iran are fairly well known for doing that – for blocking access to satellite signals. They do that often to prevent media broadcasts over their territory. And so this is something that is common. And it’s an off the shelf technology. So a satellite system that’s less well protected. doesn’t have as good encryption,. At a military-to-military level, there’s certainly growin investment in capabilities to engage in electronic warfare and also to protect your systems from such attacks and interference. When it comes to the scale of bad things that can happen in space, it’s certainly something that’s concerning. And there’s a great new report out today called “Defending Against the Dark Arts.”
Metta Spencer 18:12
Back in the Cold War, the Soviets tried to jam Voice of America newscasts. They didn’t want citizens to know what was going on. But that was before the days of satellites. It’s the same idea now, is that right? They’re just trying to interrupt each other. They’re not trying to damage each other satellites, are they? Because wouldn’t that be an act of war to actually wreck somebody else’s satellite permanently?
Jessica West 18:49
Probably. Yes. Again, these are some of the questions that aren’t very clear. Where is the line between peace, rising hostility and outright warfare? But certainly, if one country destroyed another country’s satellite that would definitely fall into the extreme category of warfare. Jamming? Spoofing? That seems to be more tolerated.
Metta Spencer 19:17
You used the word “dazzled” All these words are completely alien to me. What would dazzling are spoofing or jamming involve? Are they the same thing?
Jessica West 19:30
They’re not. I’ve I’ve had to look through a lot of the jargon. Jamming is when you make a signal not available to be used. So you interrupt the ability of the end user to to make use of the system to access the data. Spoofing is common with GPS. So that’s when you can replace data with other data and so when you have ships going the wrong way, sometimes it’s because the GPS data has been spoofed and they’ve been sent in a different direction. So you’re, you’re interfering with the integrity of the data, not blocking access to it. Dazzling was more related to lasers. And so that would be a lower-power laser that might blind the sensors of a satellite so that it can’t take images, for instance, over a certain territory. That is certainly less common, as far as I know.
Metta Spencer 20:28
Okay, well, when I’ve heard people say that the next war is not going to be — you used the word “kinetic.” I hadn’t heard it, but I can guess what it means: physical things hitting physical things, right? Well, that the next war will be electronic things — like keeping our banks from actually knowing how much money we have, or ruining the record-keeping, the communication system that we depend on with the internet. Now, to what extent would that involve the use of satellites? When we send money, say, from Tokyo to New York, doesn’t it go by satellite? And if somebody tried to interrupt that communication, wouldn’t the banks get confused about where the money went?
Jessica West 21:29
Absolutely. So cyber warfare in space are another vulnerability, especially because satellites stay up there for a long time. And they’re not always up to date in terms of how to how to be protected from satellite, cyber interference. There have been “a day without space” videos that try to convey the extent to which we rely on outer space. So what kind of harm could happen to, not just military users, but to everyday users? Certainly banking, communications, the internet, shipping, all navigation, global navigation, so Air Flight, it’s all running through space. I think what is helpful to keep in mind, though, is it doesn’t run through a single satellite. The idea that the entire world’s banking system would be knocked out through one activity, I think, is a bit of a stretch. You know, there’s resilience in our systems. But these are some of the concerns that people have about protecting airspace and making sure that it doesn’t turn into a war zone, just because it’s not just a military zone. It’s a civilian zone, it’s a commercial zone, the users are global. And all of our critical infrastructures in some way are tied to outer space. And that and the data that it provides, are military.
Metta Spencer 23:02
NSA people who would be responsible — are they working on developing ways of conducting a cyber war in this all-out-war sense? , Like World WarThree being a cyber war?
Jessica West 23:24
Cyber is central to what most militaries around the world are working on and preparing for. And certainly, cyber warriors have been brought into the Space Force as part of this preparation. I don’t think there would be a war that would be entirely cyber. I think what is really critical is that overlap and interlinking, in between the electronic, the cyber, and the hardware and the real life applications on the ground. That’s probably making it worse. There are real life kinetic impacts – physical impacts that happen through the effects of electronic or cyber activities, not just in space but on other systems as well.
Metta Spencer 24:10
You’ve mentioned this Space Force that that Trump created. That’s like a third or fourth branch of the US military. They have the army, the Navy, the Marines, and now Space. Is that right? Or the air?
Jessica West 24:39
I think it’s the six.
Metta Spencer 24:44
Six? What are the others? Oh, never mind. So they’re planning to have these space warriors, which I believe are going to be called “guardians.”
Jessica West 24:57
That’s right. That’s right. The Guardians. It is hard to keep a straight face sometimes.
Metta Spencer 25:04
It is, isn’t it? Well, okay, so we’ve got to be protected by these guardians – from whom? And what is the game plan? They’re planning a, a space war between ourselves and some other country? And tell me what they think they’re going to do. What is it that they got to guard us from, these guardians?
Jessica West 25:31
That’s a good question. What are they going to do — that is a different question. The rescue or threat that has been publicly described, is primarily emanating from China and Russia, according to official statements. And the thinking there is that the capabilities to interfere with satellites are accelerating. States are becoming more willing to use them. The primary focus is: how do you make these systems secure so that we can continue to use them and rely on them even during a conflict? The second component is the offensive role. What that looks like is not very clear. But the first weapon to officially be procured by the Space Force is a satellite jammer, which we were talking about earlier, electronic warfare type system. But they painted us, Russia and China primarily, as a great-power competition in space scenario.
Metta Spencer 26:42
Now this jammer would be presented as a defensive weapon?
Jessica West 26:48
No, that would be an offensive,
Metta Spencer 26:50
But what’s a defensive weapon when it comes to this kind of technology?
Jessica West 26:56
When it comes to electronic warfare, and almost any interference with the satellite system, what is really key is being able to detect when your system is being interfered with, and then being able to respond, so to shift to a different system. To change how the system’s working, or to try to block and find the source of that interference. That’s really a defensive approach.
Metta Spencer 27:24
How do they do that?
Jessica West 27:25
Well. I’m not an engineer,
Metta Spencer 27:32
What do you do as Project Ploughshares? I’m your ally, but the kind of ally that doesn’t have a clue what you’re doing. So I’ll give moral support to whatever you want to do. So what is the game plan? What do you see as the need for improving our peaceful orientation, and reducing the risk of violence involving outer space,
Jessica West 28:09
Probably a lot of different steps need to be taken. It is encouraging to see momentum building right now on creating norms of behaviour that would apply to military or security actors in outer space. That has been championed for quite a while — the idea is that you identify, not restrictions on hardware, but the kinds of behaviours that you expect states to engage it in a way that doesn’t create additional tensions or escalatory behaviour in space. One example is keeping distance from another satellite, not getting too close to another satellite. So the idea is more prevention. There’s a lot in space that is dual-use, which is probably term you’re very familiar with.
Metta Spencer 29:15
Where you’re doing both military and legitimate civilian things.
Jessica West 29:21
Yeah, or systems that can do more than one thing. Satellites can maneuver in space, so how do you reassure others of your good intentions? This is being led diplomatically at the United Nations First Committee by the United Kingdom and a lot of states are supporting the initiative to start a conversation about what kind of activities you feel threatened by. Where are you as a military actor in space and what kind of behaviors make you feel reassured and safe? That conversation makes it easier to identify abnormal behavior in space that might be more worrisome. That’s a good first step. And I’ve done a lot of work this past year at Project Ploughshares on that. What are some of the norms that we can build on? What kind of rules are already in place, and how can they be extended? That research also led me to focus more on the need for arms control. We’ve been talking about the disastrous consequences that can happen from warfighting and space. Identifying some hard limits is important. Some that are readily available are already part of the Outer Space Treaty. Part of our normative approach to outer space are things like not contaminating the environment, so not producing a lot of debris that would make a mess with unintended consequences and harm to other actors. That’s something that we think about on earth, and it’s something we should be thinking about on space.
Metta Spencer 31:14
I’ve heard that there’s already so much junk up there that we need a clean-up operation.
Jessica West 31:19
Absolutely. Space Force — send them out to sweep the streets. Maybe instead of an arms race, we need a clean-up race..
Metta Spencer 31:30
That’s good. All right!. What we you’ve called a normal procedure– people jamming each other or interfering with each other’s information systems– I was shocked and horrified. Is there any possibility of banning that kind of thing?
Jessica West 31:57
I’m not sure that we’re getting very close to a ban. I’ve also heard the argument that allowing some types of interference that are less harmful, is better. In that kind of situation, what would be really helpful would be to have more information-sharing about what is happening to systems. More transparency to make actors aware of the problem. And to make it less discreet, What’s so appealing about electronic warfare is you can do it — not behind closed doors, but it’s not such a public act. It’s easy to do it and hide behind it. It can be hard to identify who’s doing what. I favor better data-sharing and transparency. For example, is there an anomaly with the system or has there been an incident of jamming? I think that would be helpful? I think we’d start commercially, because militaries are often reluctant to share information like this and commercial operators don’t want to acknowledge that their systems have been harmed. But I think bringing more transparency and being more open and sharing data about the type of interference that that operators are experiencing would be a step in the right direction.
Metta Spencer 33:15
Okay, how would you do that? If the military wouldn’t go along with that degree of disclosure, how could you get commercial enterprises to take that much initiative?
Jessica West 33:31
I’m not sure honestly. These kinds of initiatives really have to come out of an operational level. They’re not going to work very well top-down. But what’s really great about space is, we’ve seen the commercial sector take a lot of ownership and starting to lead best practices in outer space and other areas, thinking about rules of behavior that make space safer for everybody without needing a new treaty, or a huge undertaking. Commitments on debris prevention are important. They’re starting to have conversations about you know, what would the rules around debris removal look like? Because that’s something that could be concerning for other other actors. What are the rules around servicing? That’s an exciting new aspect of outer space where we are developing the capability to service and repair a satellite and have it last longer. And what are the rules about that? Though, because you’re approaching another satellite, you’re physically grappling with it. And so I think we’re starting to see more initiatives coming out of a commercial interest, and a need for well being in outer space. I’m hoping that that same kind of conversation can start at a military level and I think that’s really the idea. Yeah, the United Kingdom’s initiative on this is to start the conversation and do a bottom-up approach, rather than top-down, “let’s fix everything at once,” which doesn’t work in a really complex environment.
Metta Spencer 35:16
Okay. You contrasted the initiatives by commercial enterprises to establish rules, you can trust that to the treaty system. So are you suggesting that there are already any regulations that have been adopted, agreed upon or even implicitly assumed by businesses that are not reflected in any treaties or formal documents?
Jessica West 35:50
I’m not sure there’s anything that’s not reflected in a formal document because I documents as I looked at last year, but there are other rules other than the treaty. And one example are the long term sustainability goals. And those were developed through the United Nations committee on Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, developed over about a decade and adopted in 2019. And those set standards of behaviour for for debris production for not contaminating the environment. For publishing policies and national policies for adhering to existing rule, tools, such as the registration convention, which is the way that states disclose the functions and identities of objects that they’ve launched in air space. And so there’s a lot more than the Outer Space Treaty, it’s really the foundation at the heart of everything. And then there’s other things that have been built around it. And I think continuing to build around is really a good approach to security.
Metta Spencer 36:55
You mentioned the sort of a committee or something on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space. Okay, is that autonomous or separate from or is it an aspect of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Weapons of Mass Destruction in Space?
Jessica West 37:14
Great question. It’s not a committee that a lot of people outside the space community are aware of. It is located under the Fourth Committee of the United Nations. That’s where the Treaty on Outer Space was negotiated, as well as the other four treaties, the rest. There’s the Registration convention, there’s the Rescue Agreement for Astronauts. There’s the Moon Treaty.
Metta Spencer 37:44
Really! A treaty on rescuing astronauts!
Jessica West 37:48
So what the other treaties do is they flesh out the those really broad principles of the Outer Space Treaty to say, Okay, well, what does this look like in practice? What do we mean by this? How do we implement the principles? And yeah, one is the rescue and return of astronauts, of personnel, because when you remember back to the dawn of the space age, it was also at the height of the Cold War.
Metta Spencer 38:12
I’m boggled by the notion of actually rescuing an astronaut. It sounds like Apollo 10, or something where…
Jessica West 38:24
Yeah, so when that when the capsules land? If they were to land in another territory, you’re not going to keep the astronaut; you’re going to return the astronaut to the country of origin, not not holding astronauts hostage, and really the special role that they have played as ambassadors for peace in outer space.
Metta Spencer 38:46
It’s neat to know that there is such a thing, I had no notion that we’ve already worked out all these fields in advance,
Jessica West 38:52
So many things to left to work out.
Metta Spencer 38:57
Well, good luck. You’re boldly going where no one has gone before.
Jessica West 39:08
Well, there’s a great community. And I think that’s what’s really important. You mentioned Laura Grego. And there’s a lot of other really terrific people who work on this on the Canadian side Paul Meyer, longstanding Canadian Ambassador who continues to do excellent work on this file. I think we’re really blessed to have a wonderful community of people who work together cooperatively to try to improve the security situation in space and prevent it from turning into a domain of warfighting.
Metta Spencer 39:37
The Russians are the main ones to doing Outer Space besides the US. How how much cooperation is there between Russians working on these issues and Canadians that you’ve just mentioned, for example?
Jessica West 39:56
in terms of approach at the state level, there’s been a divide. I told you there’s momentum building to hammer out these rules of behavior, which is a non-binding non-treaty approach to security. And on the flip side, since 2008, I believe Russia and China have jointly proposed a formal treaty that would prevent the weaponization of Outer Space. And so those two approaches have kind of been conflicted.
Metta Spencer 40:30
How so? Tell me the conflict.
Jessica West 40:33
The conflict is between states that want to see a legally binding treaty on arms control in outer space, and states that don’t see that functioning well. They don’t feel served by that approach and prefer to focus on behaviors in outer space, for a number of reasons that that get reiterated every year.
Metta Spencer 40:58
What side are you on?
Jessica West 41:01
On this? Well, as I explained earlier, I think the rules is a really good place to start. I do think there are limits to rules of behavior. And I think, trying to identify what the restrictions on warfare and space should be, where the limits should be, for the protection of civilians for the protection of the environment is important. I think we kind of need both approaches. And I think a lot of states feel that way as well. But they want to start with norms and transparency and confidence-building and then move on from there. There’s not a lot of trust in outer space right now, as in many other issues, there’s not a lot of transparency about what some states are doing from a military perspective. There’s a lot of accusations taking place. And I think being able to step back and bring transparency and some basic rules and etiquette to how we behave in outer space is a really good place to start.
Metta Spencer 42:04
Wonderful. Well, you’re on the side of the angels.
Jessica West 42:08
I hope so.
Metta Spencer 42:10
I’m sure they appreciate having their domain protected for them.
Jessica West 42:16
Metta, you should go back and watch Star Wars. It’sa great series. My children, we watched it as part of our pandemic survival toolkit, when we first went into lockdown last March. My daughter was born on May the fourth and so that is usually called Star Wars Day because they say “May the fourth be with you!” She knows her Star Wars canon inside and out. They’re the ones that got me to watch it. I hadn’t really watched it before either. I promise you that what we’re talking about today looks nothing like that.
Metta Spencer 42:58
I was in Paris the summer when Star Wars came out and I remember seeing lines of people trying to get into theatres. But you know I, my French wasn’t up to it and I don’t think it was they were showing it in English. I don’t recall.
Jessica West 43:14
But there’s about nine movies so it does feel daunting to try to jump into it nap.
Metta Spencer 43:20
Okay, but the lingo is everywhere. You hear about Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker. I know the names of all the people. I just don’t know who they are. It’s been fun. Jessica, thank you very much and all good wishes for what you’re doing. My good regards to the friends at Ploughshares because you’re fine people.
Jessica West 43:48
They are and I really miss seeing them every day at the office. I can’t wait until we’re all together again.
Metta Spencer 43:56
Thanks so much. You take care. Bye.
We produce several one-hour-long Zoom conversations each week about various aspects of six issues we address. You can watch them live and send a question to the speakers or watch the edited version later here or on our Youtube channel.