Washington International Law Journal


A storm is brewing 100 kilometers above the Pacific Rim. The early 21st century finds the People’s Republic of China in the throes of astronomical economic growth, national development, and military expansion. The United States, meanwhile, is staunchly determined to develop an effective missile defense system and to extend its military capabilities in space as it pursues its global war on terrorism. China sees U.S. military space activities as a threat and, along with Russia, has pushed hard in recent years for a ban on all space weapons. So far, the United States has been unwilling to negotiate on the subject, claiming that the 1967 Outer Space Treaty—which bans weapons of mass destruction in space, but not other weapons—is sufficient. Pursuing space weapons without coming to an understanding with the Chinese does not serve U.S. national security interests. There is a better way. Article IV of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty should be extended in a targeted manner that will alleviate the worst of China’s worries—space-based kinetic kill vehicles and lasers, and ground-based anti-satellite weapons—while at the same time leaving the United States plenty of room to pursue its other military and strategic interests in space. By following the examples set by UNCLOS III and the ABM and SALT treaties, China, Russia, and the United States can amend Article IV in a way that will be acceptable to all sides.

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