Congress: Military Left Out of Space Arms Control Talks

Not consulted on proposed code of conduct, ban on anti-satellite weapons tests

November 13, 2014

The State Department is pursuing space arms control agreements without formal coordination at the Pentagon, and two members of Congress warned yesterday that such an accord would undermine U.S. national security.

Rep. Doug Lamborn (R., Col.) and Sen. David Vitter (R., La.) wrote to Frank A. Rose, deputy assistant secretary of state for space and defense policy on Wednesday, requesting an explanation for what they suggested was space arms control freelancing.

Lamborn said he organized a letter to Rose because of worries the State Department is working on an international space arms agreement that could limit U.S. space capabilities.

"Any proposal for a space code of conduct or an outer space arms control treaty should only be considered by the United States if it clearly improves our national security and does not limit our own freedom of action in space," Lamborn told the Free Beacon in a statement.

"I am particularly concerned by the potential that State Department officials may be proposing agreements without any consideration for the national security implications of their proposals," he added.

Lamborn and Vitter are members of their respective Armed Services subcommittees on strategic forces. Those panels oversee military space and missile defense programs.

"We are deeply concerned by the rising threats of anti-satellite weapons in the hands of states like the People’s Republic of China," the lawmakers stated in the two-page letter. "That said, we believe the administration would do better to focus on real solutions to these threats, as opposed to more feel good measures, like the European Union’s (EU) Code of Conduct for Outer Space activities or other similar measures."

Senior Obama administration officials are set to meet on Thursday and the interagency meeting will include Rose and his boss, Rose Gottemoeller, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security. It is not known if the proposals for an executive agreement on space arms control will be discussed.

A State Department spokesman had no immediate comment.

Rose, in a speech in September, said that because of threats to space "we have no choice but to work with our allies and partners around the world to ensure the long-term sustainability of the space environment."

He also praised the international code of conduct for outer space and a United Nations effort on space transparency.

Rose made no mention of plans for formal agreements on space arms control in the Sept. 25 remarks.

In 2012, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton launched an international space arms control initiative that was opposed by the Pentagon’s Joint Staff.

The military, and the Air Force in particular, have in the past opposed efforts to reach a formal space code of conduct agreement over concerns that both China and Russia are developing space arms. Both countries have sought to use a draft United Nations space arms treaty for what U.S. officials have said is a covert effort to try and limit U.S. military space activities.

China tested anti-satellite missiles in 2007, and in July carried out another test of what U.S. officials said was a DN-1 anti-satellite interceptor. Adm. Cecil Haney, commander of the U.S. Strategic Command, said the July test was a further indication of Chinese efforts to "weaponize space."

The January 2007 test destroyed a weather satellite, creating tens of thousands of debris pieces that continue to threaten both manned and unmanned spacecraft. The July test did not destroy a satellite.

China also recently launched three small satellites, including one with a robotic arm, that U.S. officials said were part of a military program to attack orbiting satellites. The Chinese military also has ground-based lasers and electronic jammers capable of disrupting or damaging satellites.

Russia also is said to be developing space weapons and is known to have lasers that can disrupt or destroy satellite sensors.

The Obama administration is opposed developing space weapons. But the military is preparing to counter what it terms the increasingly "contested" space environment, notably foreign states’ offensive military space weapons that can be used against U.S. communications, navigation, and targeting satellites.

A 2012 assessment by the Joint Staff of the European Union’s code of conduct for space stated that U.S. adherence to the code would hurt the U.S. military space operations in several areas. The unclassified portion of the report did not provide further details.

Lamborn and Vitter, in their letter, voiced worries over what they said was Obama administration policies that have "embraced" a European Union code of conduct for outer space activities.

"We see no advantage to such a code for the United States; according to assessments by the uniformed military, implementation of this code would result in real world operational impacts," they said.

Additionally Lamborn and Vitter voiced worries that space arms control restrictions could pose "a new threat to our ability to protect U.S. outer space capabilities, and, perhaps even to develop our missile defenses."

The congressmen said they had information indicating Rose has proposed to U.S. allies a moratorium on "debris-generating kinetic energy [anti-satellite] testing."

"We are unfamiliar with any such proposal having been coordinated with the Department of Defense or the uniformed military."

The two congressmen then asked Rose a series of questions suggesting that formal arms control negotiating procedures have not been followed.

Specifically, Lamborn and Vitter asked for a copy of the State Department Circular 175 notice for space arms control. The notice is required for all formal negotiations and outlines coordination for all international agreements.

They also asked Rose to explain the goal for an international space accord and to provide details on its potential impact on space and missile defense activities.

"How would such an agreement protect our ability to fully develop our missile defenses, including our test and targets program?" they asked.

Other concerns involve whether a space arms pact would undermine U.S. freedom of action for defense and other activities in space; and to supply a Joint Staff assessment of the impact on military operations of the moratorium on anti-satellite weapons testing.