Watch the skies! The battle over orbital weapons platforms is heating up

This week at the United Nations saw a series of resolutions under consideration regarding the terms, if any, under which member states will be allowed to lift nuclear and other weapons into orbit.

The circulating proposal by the US and Japan floats a ban on any development or deployment of nuclear weapons (and other weapons of mass destruction) to earth orbit and beyond.

Russia, however, was not satisfied with the resolution and rallied member countries on the U.N. Security Council to shoot it down—not on the grounds that weapons should be allowed in orbit, but on the grounds that the American-Japanese draft language did not go far enough.

The resolution was brought to vote on April 24. Before the vote, Russia and China had proposed the addition of language that would expand the scope of the agreement to prohibit “for all time” the threat of force or the placement of weapons of any kind in outer space, but this language was not adopted. Russia subsequently used its position as one of the key five member states on the Security Council to veto the resolution.

When the US questioned Russia’s motives in working to defeat the resolution, Russia countered with a more radical proposal of its own, which it says would ban both the use of force and the threat of force in outer space “for all time.” It thus includes provisions not just for restricting the deployment of weapons to outer space, but also the use of ground-based weapons against targets in outer space, whether those targets be satellites, space stations, space craft, or any other object outside earth’s atmosphere—presumably including ballistic missiles that reach orbital altitudes.

As of now, the council is at an impasse, with both sides of the issue accusing the other of engaging in maneuvers that will protect their own anti-satellite weapons programs. Further developments are expected.