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A new treaty for outer space

GS Paper 3

 Syllabus: Developments in the field of Space


Source: DTE

 Context: The United Nations (UN) has recommended a new treaty for ensuring peace and security as well as preventing an arms race in outer space.


What is outer space?

  • Outer space is the region beyond a planet’s atmosphere. For Earth, it begins about 100 kms (62 miles) above sea level.
  • The line separating the atmosphere and outer space is called the Karman line.



  • The recommendations, which are part of a UN policy brief (‘For All Humanity – The Future of Outer Space Governance’) come ahead of the UN Summit of the Future.
  • At the Summit of the Future, member states will agree on multilateral solutions for a better tomorrow and to strengthen global governance.


The new treaty for outer space: 


  • Over the past decade, fundamental changes have been witnessed in outer space like weaponisation of space, exponential increase in satellite launches, etc.
    • For example, there were 210 new launches in 2013, which increased to 600 (2019), 1,200 (2020) and 2,470 (2022).
    • This increase is fuelled by the active participation of the private sector.
  • Outer space (like asteroids) contains abundant deposits of valuable metals (platinum, nickel, cobalt, etc) and governments are in favour of the exploitation of space resources.
  • Space debris is another issue. More than 130 million smaller than one cm have been recorded.
  • Currently, there is no agreed international framework on space resource exploration, exploitation and utilisation.
  • Conflict could arise if countries do not agree on international principles and could also lead to environmental degradation and cultural loss.
  • Hence, the development of international norms, rules and principles will ensure effective governance, propel innovation and mitigate risks in outer space.


Existing treaties:

  • The Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space: Established in 1959 by the UN to review and enable international cooperation in the peaceful uses of outer space.
  • In 1963, countries agreed to prohibit testing nuclear weapons in outer space.
  • In 1967, the Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies, was agreed upon.
    • It prohibits only weapons of mass destruction in outer space, not ordinary weapons.
  • In 2022, the UN members agreed upon a series of guidelines, frameworks and recommendations on issues such as
    • Mitigation of space debris,
    • Nuclear power source safety,
    • The long-term sustainability of outer space activities and
    • Transparency and confidence-building measures in outer space activities.


Key highlights of the recommended treaty:

  • A combination of binding and non-binding norms to address emerging risks to outer space security, safety and sustainability.
  • It will consider important legal issues, including jurisdiction, control, liability and responsibility for environmental pollution in space for present and future generations.
  • An additional framework to prevent an armed conflict in outer space and the weaponisation of outer space.
  • An effective framework for coordinating space situational awareness, space object manoeuvres and events.
  • An effective framework for sustainable exploration, exploitation and utilisation of the Moon and other celestial bodies for the benefit of all mankind.


Insta Links:

The Defenders- Weaponisation of Space