Russia sparks nuclear arms race fear as it vetoes outer space ban

Russia has raised fears it may plan a dangerous nuclear arms race in outer space just months after it reportedly obtained anti-satellite weapons.

The country’s ambassador to the United Nations, Vassily Nebenzia, vetoed on April 24 a resolution sponsored by the US and Japan aimed at reinforcing the principles stated in the 1967 Outer Space Treaty agreed by Moscow and Washington.

That deal, also signed by dozens of other nations, banned the stationing of weapons of mass destruction (WDMs) in outer space as well as barring military activities on celestial bodies.

The resolution on which the 15-strong Security Council voted on Wednesday also called on all nations to prevent the development or deployment of nuclear arms in space, urged all countries carrying out activities in exploring and using outer space to comply with international law and the UN Charter and called on agreeing to the need to verify compliance.

The draft also stated that countries that had ratified the 1967 treaty have to comply with their obligations not to put in orbit around the Earth “any objects” with weapons of mass destruction, or install them “on celestial bodies, or station such weapons in outer space”.

Russia was the only country vetoing the resolution, while China abstained.

Commenting on Moscow’s decision, US ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield said after the vote: “Today’s veto begs the question: Why? Why, if you are following the rules, would you not support a resolution that reaffirms them? What could you possibly be hiding.” She added: “It’s baffling. And it’s a shame.”

Ms Thomas-Greenfield was referring to Vladimir Putin‘s previous remarks on Moscow having no intention to deploy nuclear weapons in space and claiming it has only developed space capabilities similar to those of the US.

This, however, seemingly clashes with US reports – denied by Moscow – on Russia developing anti-satellite weapons, not yet operational.

US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said on Wednesday “the United States assesses that Russia is developing a new satellite carrying a nuclear device”. If Putin had no intention of deploying nuclear weapons in space, he added, “Russia would not have vetoed this resolution”.

Prior to the vote, the US ambassador to the UN warned nuclear explosions in space could destroy “thousands of satellites operated by countries and companies around the world — and wipe out the vital communications, scientific, meteorological, agricultural, commercial, and national security services we all depend on”.

Russia and China proposed an amendment to the main draft, calling on all countries, especially those with major space capabilities, “to prevent for all time the placement of weapons in outer space, and the threat of use of force in outer spaces”.

The US opposed this amendment, which prompted Mr Nebenzia to say: “We want a ban on the placement of weapons of any kind in outer space, not just WMDs. But you don’t want that. And let me ask you that very same question. Why?”

The Russian ambassador also described the US-proposed resolution as a “dirty spectacle” cherry-picking WDMs from all other weapons that should be banned.

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