Intangible Matter

DOI: 10.20542/0131-2227-2019-63-1-5-17

A. Arbatov (,
Primakov National Research Institute of World Economy and International Relations, Russian Academy of Sciences (IMEMO), 23, Profsoyuznaya Str., Moscow, 117997, Russian Federation


The subject of the prevention of arms race in the outer space is not new, but remains important for strategic stability and international security. The laws of space dynamics and its physical properties harshly limit its use, in particular the introduction of space-based weapon systems. This is exactly the reason why up to now all spacecraft of military or dual purpose are performing only information-command support of armed forces in traditional land, sea and air environments, as well as of ballistic missiles and anti-missiles which transit space as part of their trajectories. Nonetheless, a number of states are developing and testing anti-satellite systems of various basing modes. Hence, in the foreseeable future, the outer space may turn into the environment of arms race and use of force, prone with the growing threat of armed conflicts, their fast escalation to nuclear war, and of the collapse of arms control regimes. In 2008, at the Geneva Conference on Disarmament, Russia and China proposed a joint draft of the “Treaty on the Prevention of the Placement of Weapons in Outer Space, the Threat or Use of Force Against Outer Space Objects”. This draft has been met by the approval of the international community, except for the United States and its allies. Nonetheless, this draft treaty will hardly become a legal agreement, even if the U.S. attitude towards the subject changes in a positive way, since the draft has a number of substantive deficiencies and omissions. Apparently, if space arms control is ever to become a matter of practical negotiations, this would be a long and phased process reminiscent of the strategic arms limitation and reduction (to which space systems are technically closest), rather than a single overwhelming treaty as chemical or biological conventions. Despite all the complexities of the issue, in a better political environment, a first step might be feasible in the form of an agreement on the prohibition on testing anti-satellite systems of any basing mode against real space objects. If such a partial first step were made – it may pave the way to the follow-on treaties with broader and more stringent provisions and intrusive verification, as happened in the history of U.S. – Soviet/Russian strategic arms control after the first SALT 1 agreements of 1972.  


outer space, space arms, anti-satellite systems, spacecraft, satellites, space debris, ballistic missile defense, partially orbital bombardment missiles 


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For citation:
Arbatov A. Intangible Matter. Mirovaya ekonomika i mezhdunarodnye otnosheniya, 2019, vol. 63, No 1, pp. 5-17.

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