The Multilateralist

How to behave in space

How to behave in space

Micah Zenko argues that the world needs a code of conduct for behavior in space—and that the United States should take the lead in negotiating one:

No country or group of countries possesses the sovereign authority or responsibility for regulating space. Outer space is instead governed by a patchwork of informal industry standards, unofficial UN guidelines, and bilateral agreements to prevent or mitigate potential satellite collisions and interference from space debris. As the leading country in space—and one that depends greatly on its assured availability—the United States has a core national interest to prevent or minimize the inherent risks of space activities. The United States should work with other spacefaring nations to establish a nonlegally binding international code of conduct for outer space activities. Specifically, the Obama administration should start negotiations building upon, but ultimately replacing, the current draft of the Space Code of Conduct put forth by the European Union (EU).

As Zenko acknowledges, an international code of conduct faces skepticism from both key developing countries—who worry that it would cement Western advantages—and from U.S. conservatives, mostly on sovereignty grounds.