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US, Russia set for a showdown at UN over nuclear weapons in space

Published 04/23/2024, 06:12 PM
Updated 04/23/2024, 06:16 PM
© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: The sun shines behind the United Nations Secretariat Building at the United Nations Headquarters, in New York City, New York, U.S., June 18, 2021. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly/File Photo
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By Michelle Nichols and Joey Roulette

UNITED NATIONS/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States and Russia are set to face off over nuclear weapons in space on Wednesday at the United Nations Security Council, which is due to vote on a U.S.-drafted resolution calling on countries to prevent an arms race in outer space.

Russia is expected to block the draft resolution, said some diplomats. The U.S. move comes after it accused Moscow of developing an anti-satellite nuclear weapon to put in space, an allegation that Russia's defense minister has flatly denied.

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield and Japan's U.N. Ambassador Yamazaki Kazuyuki said in a joint statement on Friday that they have been negotiating with Security Council members on the draft text for six weeks.

The text affirms the obligation of states to comply with the Outer Space Treaty and calls on countries "to contribute actively to the objective of the peaceful use of outer space and of the prevention of an arms race in outer space."

The 1967 Outer Space Treaty bars signatories – including Russia and the United States – from placing "in orbit around the Earth any objects carrying nuclear weapons or any other kinds of weapons of mass destruction."

Russia and China are planning to first put an amendment to a vote in the council. The amendment echoes a 2008 proposal by the pair for a treaty banning "any weapons in outer space" and threats "or use of force against outer space objects."

'UNBALANCED, HARMFUL'

The amendment is not expected to be adopted, said diplomats. The amendment and the draft resolution each require at least nine votes in favor and no vetoes by Russia, China, the United States, Britain or France to be adopted.

"Without our amendment, based on the General Assembly resolution adopted in December 2023, the text tabled by the U.S. will be unbalanced, harmful and politicized," deputy Russian U.N. Ambassador Dmitry Polyanskiy told Reuters, adding that it would also undermine the Outer Space Treaty legal regime.

Polyanskiy said "all questions relating to this sphere should be considered by the full membership of States Parties to this Treaty and not by the U.N. Security Council members only."

U.S. intelligence officials, according to three people familiar with their findings, believe the Russian capability to be a space-based nuclear bomb whose electromagnetic radiation if detonated would disable vast networks of satellites.

White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby (NYSE:KEX) has said Russia has not yet deployed such a weapon.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said in February that Russia was against the deployment of nuclear weapons in space.

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: The sun shines behind the United Nations Secretariat Building at the United Nations Headquarters, in New York City, New York, U.S., June 18, 2021. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly/File Photo

Governments have increasingly viewed satellites in Earth’s orbit as crucial assets that enable an array of military capabilities on Earth, with space-based communications and satellite-connected drones in the war in Ukraine serving as recent examples of the outsized role of space in modern warfare.

Russia invaded neighboring Ukraine in February 2022.

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