WASHINGTON — The New Zealand government has formally signed on to a U.S.-led ban on the testing of destructive direct-ascent anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons in an effort to build momentum for a global ban on such tests .
In a July 1 speech at the University of Otago, New Zealand Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta announced that the government would join the US statement in April that it would not proceed with such “irresponsible” ASAT tests due to the debris they produce, increasing the risk of collisions with satellites.
“Today I am pleased to announce that Aotearoa New Zealand will join this statement and make the same commitment,” she said, according to an official transcript of her speech. “We will not conduct destructive tests of direct-ascent anti-satellite missiles.”
The decision has no practical effect on New Zealand’s space activities, as the country had neither developed nor proposed to develop direct-ascent ASATs. “We don’t have that capability, nor are we looking to develop it,” she said. “But our commitment is a further expression of our multilateral commitment to setting rules and standards.”
This included, Mahuta noted in his speech, attending the first meeting of a United Nations Open-Ended Working Group (OEWG) on Responsible Spatial Behaviors in Geneva in May. This meeting was the first of four over two years with the aim of developing standards and rules of behavior that could eventually lead to binding agreements.
“We are only at the beginning of this process, but we are convinced that this approach can lead to a pragmatic and constructive outcome,” she said of the OEWG meeting. “It will take time and require continued attention to ensure the rules remain fit for purpose. Eventually, this may mean negotiating a comprehensive legally binding treaty. “
It was at this OEWG meeting that the Canadian government announced that it was joining the ban on ASAT testing in the United States. No other countries have officially joined the ban, but at the meeting, representatives from several countries expressed their support while refraining from formally joining.
“We definitely welcome the commitment of the United States,” Clive Hughes, head of space security and advanced threats at Britain’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, told a panel discussion at the fourth summit. for space sustainability on June 23. of the UN resolution that established the OEWG.
“He needs to be at the forefront of the kind of responsible behaviors that we are trying to persuade through the UN Open-Ended Working Group process,” he said of an ASAT testing ban. .
Jessica Tok, a space policy analyst in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Space Policy, told the panel that the US government’s decision to ban such tests was an attempt to focus on behaviors rather than specific technologies. “Instead of banning the technology, what is the behavior we want to stop?” she says. A destructive direct ascension ASAT test ban was “one of the easiest behaviors we could adopt” before the first OEWG meeting.
She called the ban on ASAT testing a “first step” towards broader norms and rules of behavior, rather than going straight to a binding treaty as some countries have argued. “We have to take that first step, and so for us, banning ASAT missile tests is essentially that first step.”
Another benefit of the testing ban, she added, was verification. “We want something that the international community is able to verify itself,” rather than just trusting the United States or another country, she said, citing growing situational awareness capabilities. space of countries and companies. “It’s much easier to verify that a breach has taken place.”
During the panel, Dan Oltrogge, director of commercial space situational awareness company COMSPOC, discussed the effects of Russia’s November 2021 ASAT test on low Earth orbit operations, including “conjunction squalls” or peaks in the number of close approaches with satellites in the sun -synchronous orbits.
“ASAT testing is an urgent threat to our safety, security and sustainability,” he said, noting the US ban on such testing. “I’m sure the global community would like to see more and more countries take this step.”