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U.S. Problems With the Draft PPWT

by Andrew Taylor

This post is part of the student blogger project from the summer session of Space Security Law.

Andrew Taylor is currently a law student at the University of Mississippi. He is pursuing a certificate in Remote Sensing, Air, and Space Law.

On February 12, 2008 the Foreign Minister of the Russian Federation on behalf of the Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China submitted a draft version of the “Treaty on Prevention of the Placement of Weapons in Outer Space, or the Threat or Use of Force Against Outer Space Objects” (PPWT).1 The main goal of the PPWT is to prohibit placing weapons in space. In response to the draft PPWT the United States issued an analysis of the draft in CD/1847. This blog will look at some of the problems the U.S. has with the draft PPWT and how the PPWT would have to change to address them.

One of the main problems the U.S. states they have with the draft PPWT is there are no mechanisms to prevent anyone from attaining so called “breakout capability.” Having breakout capability means that nations can develop, test, and store prohibited weapons when they want to comply with the treaty. However, when they decide they want to break from the treaty they are ready to go with these types of weapons. This is problematic because it could put nations at a strategic disadvantage if they are not prepared to deal with these weapons. The draft PPWT does nothing to address this issue and it is the main issue the U.S. has with it. While Article II prevents the placement in orbit of any weapons it does not prohibit the research, development, production, and terrestrial storage of space-based weapons.2

Another issue not adequately addressed by the PPWT is terrestrial-based space targeting weapons. Like space-based weapons there are no prohibitions on the research, development, testing, production, storage, or deployment of these terrestrial weapons.3 Examples of terrestrial-based, space targeting weapons would be “direct-ascent ASAT interceptors, ground-based lasers, and jammers.”4

Another main problem the U.S. has with the PPWT is that there is no integral verification process.5 Without this process members would have to constrain themselves from these activities without knowing whether other members are doing the same. Again, this could put members at a strategic disadvantage. While the U.S. states that they support voluntary Transparency and Confidence Building Measures (TCBMs) they also state that such TCBMs are not a substitute for an effective verification regime.6

In order for the draft PPWT to become a treaty the U.S. would consider agreeing to there would have to be significant changes to some parts of it. The PPWT would have to prohibit the research, development, testing, production, or storage of both space-based weapons, and terrestrial-based, space-targeting weapons. The PPWT would also have to incorporate some type of verification process that goes beyond TCBMs. The problem with incorporating these types of clauses is that it would diminish other member’s strategic advantage against the U.S., which would make it less appealing for those members. It is hard to strike a compromise that everyone would agree on. However, even though it may be hard, pursuing a PPWT that works for everyone is something that should be pursued.
1 Conference on Disarmament CD/1847, 26 August 2008, pg. 2,
2 Id. at 4
3 Id.
4 Id.
5 Id. at 6.
6 Id. at 7.