SWF Publishes Summary Report from Scenario Workshop on Exploring Self-Defense in Space

Thursday, October 29, 2015

The topic of self-defense in space has recently become an important issue in the broader international discussion of space security and sustainability.  Some countries have argued that current space security and sustainability initiatives cannot move forward until self-defense has been successfully defined by the international community, while there are others who would prefer it remain undefined. Still others argue that there can be no self-defense in space because it violates the principle of peaceful purposes.

On September 9, 2015, Secure World Foundation (SWF) and the George Washington University’s Space Policy Institute (SPI), convened a workshop in Washington, D.C., to bring together experts from academia, international organizations, non-governmental organizations, and the public sector to consider and discuss three hypothetical scenarios on self-defense and conflict in outer space.

The participants walked through each scenario and then had a moderated discussion of the various issues and challenges. The issues covered by the scenarios included deliberate interference with satellites, legal and policy options for responding to interference, military payloads hosted on commercial satellites, pre-emptive self-defense, targeting, cross-domain proportionality, intentional creation of space debris and damage to third parties, liability, and hybrid warfare.

The participants concluded that much more analysis needed to be done to understand all the legal, political, and operational nuances of the issue of self-defense in space. They concluded that there was generally a lack of clarity and consensus on the meaning of existing principles in international space law, the lack of existing legal and political mechanisms for resolving situations without use of force, the overall inexperience of the military space world in dealing with jus ad bellum and jus in bello, and the lack of expertise and capacity to grapple with these issues within the international community. Some felt that the experience highlighted the importance of international discussions on norms of behavior and perhaps even new legal agreements, although most cautioned that much more work would be required to increase understanding and build consensus before meaningful discussions were possible.

The workshop participants generally agreed that the core challenge is the novelty of the topic of self-defense and armed conflict in the context of the space domain. The major question is whether it will take decades or centuries of conflict in space and cyber to develop similar laws, or if there are lessons that can be drawn from older domains that are applicable to the new that can speed up the process. From the perspective of SWF, the goal of such a process should be similar to that in other domains – reducing the chances of military conflict, and ensuring that conflict does not have an adverse impact on third parties, commercial and civil actors, and the long-term sustainable use of the space domain.

The full report can be downloaded here. For questions for further information, please contact Washington Officer Director Ms. Victoria Samson or Technical Advisor Brian Weeden.


Last updated on August 24, 2017