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The Code of Conduct in Space -Sahil Arora & Sanjay Kumar There are approximately 60 nations that operate

satellites in the outer space. The Department of Defense tracks roughly 22,000 objects in orbit, of which 1,100 are active satellites1. Apart from these there are hundreds of thousands of additional objects in the space which are capable of damaging satellites in orbit. Such a situation for a code of conduct which would govern the space traffic as well as debris mitigation in outer space. It is in the best interests of states to follow such a code as it would label them as responsible states and more importantly keep the outer space usable for mankind. An International Code of Conduct, if adopted, would establish guidelines for responsible behavior to reduce the hazards of debris-generating events and increase the transparency of operations in space to avoid the danger of collisions. According to Stimson, a Code is designed to prevent interference with another nations space objects, the harmful use of lasers against space objects, and to prevent activities, experiments, or tests that result in the deliberate generation of persistent space debris. The Code also promotes information exchanges, consultation, and sound traffic management practices in space2. In 2008, the EU published a draft Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities which was revised in September 2010. The initial deadline to adopt and universalize the code was 2012 but this deadline has been set aside due to the reservations raised by a number of non-EU countries3. The code calls on member states to establish policies and procedures to minimize the possibility of accidents or any form of harmful interference with other States right to the peaceful exploration and use of outer space4. It is based on three principles: Freedom of access to space

US Department of State, Bureau www.state.gov/documents/organization/181208.pdf


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Available online at: http://www.stimson.org/research-pages/code-of-conduct-key-questions/.

Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan, The Space Code of Conduct Debate, A View from Delhi, Available online at: http://www.au.af.mil/au/ssq/2012/spring/rajagopalan.pdf
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Draft Code of Conduct for outer space http://register.consilium.europa.eu/pdf/en/08/st16/st16560.en08.pdf

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for peaceful purposes, Preservation of the security and integrity of space objects in orbit and Due consideration for the legitimate defense interests of states. In the drafting of the EU code, other space faring nations were not consulted, this has proved to be a bane for the code as countries tend to view with suspicion the documents which are not drafted by them. In February 2011, thirty-seven US Republicans noted that they were deeply concerned about the code because inadequate Obama administration briefings led to the mistaken belief that it could constrain missile defenses or antisatellite weapons5. However, on February 17th, 2012 Hilary Clinton formally endorsed the code on behalf of the US6. In addition to US, Canada Australia, Japan and India have also endorsed the Code. The US has clearly mentioned that it would not support any code which does not have an exception for national security. While other developing states such as India have apprehensions regarding the intent of such a code. It has to be kept in mind that the space orbits have been populated by the western countries which are now pushing for a regulation on the space traffic. This puts the countries which entered the race late, at a disadvantageous position. Such efforts put into the code would have been more worthwhile had the EU worked in conjunction with other space-faring nations in creating these rules rather than attempting this unilaterally7. The Code of Conduct is voluntary and its provisions are non-binding it does not have any formal enforcement mechanisms. Proponents believe this quality strengthens the case for its acceptance. There are no enforcement or verification provisions which mean that a country may choose to ignore the rules which do not suit its interests, it cannot be compelled to do so, even if it has agreed to the rules, a country may choose to break them without any consequences. Such a non-voluntary instrument cannot be the governing text but it definitely serves as a good starting point. Negotiations will require time and patience, however given the exponential rate at which the threat from space debris is increasing it could soon lead to a domain unsafe for human use. There is an
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Agnieszka Lukaszczyk, International Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities vis a vis Other Space Security Initiatives, Air and Space Law Institute, Leiden University, Available online at: http://www.swfound.org/media/61715/icoc_leiden_al.pdf
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Press statement by Hillary Rodham Clinton, http://www.state.gov/secretary/rm/2012/01/180969.htm


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Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan, The Space Code of Conduct Debate, A View from Delhi, Available online at: http://www.au.af.mil/au/ssq/2012/spring/rajagopalan.pdf

urgent need to establish such a code to establish a standard of behavior that would allow mankind to keep receiving benefits form the space. It could also lay the groundwork for later binding legal agreements. The code in its current form offers no insight into the nature of the guidelines for traffic management or how to avoid debris mitigation, much less debris mediation. The Code will simply affirm that such things are important. Such efforts would be better used in multilateral dialogues that address the space traffic management regime or the debris mitigation program. Terms stated in the code are general and vague which are bound to give rise more uncertainty due to the varied interpretations. A code needs to be devised where the specific issues are addressed by the experts in the government and non-government organizations. The EU code may be considered a good starting point. Though not legally binding, an international code would be the most significant normative step that captures the interests of almost all spacefaring countries while shaping and promoting sustainable outer space conduct. The need of the hour is to build consensus within the international community and with private space actors on the issues of greatest concern focusing first on the details. Creating a large political base will go a long way in ensuring the longevity of the space code instrument even though it may become an all-pervasive document including issues from space debris, to arms races in space, to equitable space order. Obviously space traffic management is at the core of the entire issue. Countries could mull over new initiatives along the lines of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).