Russia's Concerning Behavior in Space

Aug 17, 2018

“Outer space is a frontier that inspires us and unites us more than anything else,” declared Assistant Secretary for Arms Control, Verification and Compliance Dr. Yleem Poblete. “And as we continue to push further into our own solar system, new businesses and entire enterprises will be built to seize the infinite possibilities before us.”

However, there are growing concerns about the possibility of intentional acts of aggression in space, warned Dr. Poblete.

The United States has raised concerns for many years that Russia is pursuing the development and deployment of anti-satellite weapons. As recently as February 2017, a Russian Air Force Squadron Commander stated that Russia is developing new missiles with the express intent of destroying satellites. Furthermore, we have read statements from the Russian Ministry of Defense that it is working on creating “a mobile attack anti-satellite system.”

The Russian Ministry of Defense recently announced that its Space Troops have received a mobile laser system that Vladimir Putin announced to the world on March 1, 2018. Mr. Putin has alluded to space weapons being more “acceptable in the political and military respect.”

This behavior continues despite Russia stating many times that it places a high priority on the promotion of the draft “Treaty on the Prevention of the Placement of Weapons in Outer Space, the Threat or Use of Force against Outer Space Objects,” or PPWT.

The problem with such a treaty, said Dr. Poblete, is that it's difficult to determine an object's true purpose simply by observing it on orbit.

Yleem D.S. Poblete, Assistant Secretary of State for Arms Control, Verification and Compliance. (File)
Yleem D.S. Poblete, Assistant Secretary of State for Arms Control, Verification and Compliance. (File)

At this time, there are no means of differentiating many objects' behaviors from that of a weapon, making outer space arms control measures like those in the proposed PPWT unverifiable.

In short, said Assistant Secretary Poblete, the proposed PPWT does not reduce the potential for conflict from extending into outer space or prevent destabilizing activities.Indeed, Russia may be engaging in the very behavior it purports to seek to prohibit.

“We must take concrete steps to strengthen the safety, stability, and sustainability of space,” declared Dr. Poblete. “The draft PPWT is not the right mechanism for accomplishing that.It is a flawed document, proposed by a country [Russia] that has routinely violated its international commitments.”

The United States looks forward to continuing to engage with other responsible nations in order to strengthen the safety, the stability, and the sustainability of outer space activities.