Washington sparks a space spat at the United Nations

Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists | published December 11, 2018

At the United Nations, outer space used to be a realm of relative peace and cooperation. Every fall, virtually all the world’s nations are represented at the UN General Assembly’s First Committee meeting, which considers matters related to disarmament and international security, including in outer space. There, many space-related resolutions were typically so uncontroversial as to be adopted without a vote. The high level of cooperation allowed for broad international agreement on space policy, and generated some practical recommendations. For example, in 2013, a UN Group of Governmental Experts agreed on a set of “Transparency and Confidence Building Measures” on outer space, which the General Assembly has encouraged member states to implement. Among other things, the measures promote the exchange of information on space policies and activities, risk reduction efforts (like keeping spacecraft far enough apart to avoid collision), and visits to space launch facilities.

The diplomatic atmosphere, however, was dramatically different at this year’s First Committee session in October. The Committee adopted four resolutions dealing with outer space security—and the United States voted “no” on all four. These resolutions are not legally binding, but do set out policy positions and hence can be viewed as statements of political intent. By rejecting all four, Washington signaled, in effect, that whatever the international community sought to do on space concerns, it opposed. This was in stark contrast to previous years, when the United States did join the consensus on Transparency and Confidence Building Measures, and merely abstained on a resolution seeking to prevent an arms race in outer space.

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Global cyber security norms: a proliferation problem?

Abstract:

At the invitation of the ICT4Peace Foundation, Paul Meyer, Senior Advisor of the Foundation, prepared his analysis of the most recent developments at the United Nations and elsewhere regarding the development and promotion of norms of responsible state behaviour in Cyberspace. He analyses the recent process at the UN (UN GGE, Open-ended Working Group), new instruments such as the Paris Call, Digital Peace Initiative, Digital Geneva Convention, and the recent norms proposal by the The Global Commission on the Stability of Cyberspace.

He concludes that the international community’s effort to develop norms of responsible state behaviour in cyberspace is currently facing a crisis that may also be an opportunity. The crisis is the breakdown of what had been a consensus at the United Nations as to how work on such norms should proceed. The failure of a UN expert group to agree on a report last year and the adoption of parallel and competing processes at this year’s General Assembly has cast a shadow on and much uncertainty as to the future direction of inter-governmental discussions.

This situation has however also presented an opportunity for other cyber security stakeholders in the private sector and civil society to highlight their own proposals for norms to govern state conduct. While there may be a risk of norms proliferation down the road, the near-term challenge will be for these stakeholders to find a way to engage states in a process to adopt and implement such norms of responsible state behaviour which they alone can realize.

Continue reading on the ICT4Peace Foundation website: Global Cyber Security Norms.

Should We Subsidize Nuclear Power to Fight Climate Change?

Scientific American | online content (blog) | 3 December 2018

Last month, the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) put out a report entitled The Nuclear Power Dilemma: Declining Profits, Plant Closures, and the Threat of Rising Carbon Emissions that calls for offering subsidies to unprofitable nuclear power plants. Not surprisingly, it has been widely welcomed by nuclear advocates, who interpret the report as essentially saying “yes to nuclear power” in order to reduce carbon emissions.

But that interpretation misses the many important but less prominent insights in the UCS report.

Nuclear power plants are associated with significantly less carbon dioxide emitted per unit of electricity produced when compared to fossil fuel plants, even when including the emissions associated with the fuel chain required to generate nuclear energy. Therefore, the report’s basis for argument—if utilities were to replace “existing nuclear plants with natural gas and coal rather than low-carbon sources,” then it would compromise “our ability to achieve the deep cuts in carbon emissions” (p. 1)—is obvious. Whether nuclear plants would be replaced by fossil fueled plants is questionable.

Read more on the Scientific American website

Canada and space security diplomacy: getting back into the game

Hill Times | 26 November 2018

Despite the rapid expansion in the use of outer space and a disturbing deterioration in relations among major space powers, the Canadian government lacks a clear foreign policy for space security.

There was a time when Canada was known for its activism on space security issues in the international arena. As an early adopter of satellite technology, Canada appreciated the importance of preserving a safe and secure operating environment in outer space. This acknowledged interest was reflected in Canada’s diplomacy. Among the measures that prime minister Pierre Trudeau advocated during his Peace Initiative of 1983- 84 was a ban on high-altitude anti-satellite weapons recognizing the risk that the debris created by such weapons would pose for all space operations (a risk that has only increased significantly in the interim as use of space has grown exponentially with some 1800 satellites currently active).

In tandem with its diplomatic initiative, the Canadian government invested in a major study of the feasibility of utilizing satellites to verify future outer space arms control agreements. This study, known as PAXSAT, concluded that it would be feasible to provide such verification via space-based technology.

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Good News Service #59: November 2018

  1. Norwegian People’s Aid launches the Nuclear Weapons Ban Monitor, 2018
  2. U.S., China, others tentatively agree to multilateral air encounter code
  3. Ploughshares Staff take part in UN-related peace initiatives in Austria, Switzerland and Japan
  4. A Living Light on Climate
  5. Europeans fight deforestation and climate change
  6. Mexico creates largest marine park in North America
  7. Paths to Reconciliation: in Peterborough, Minnesota & Cape Cod
  8. Grandmothers for Everyone: from Maine to South Africa
  9. Clyde River Inuit win historic legal battle to stop seismic blasting in the Arctic
  10. Book Review: The Reconciliation Manifesto (reviewed by Randy)

Download the full issue here (docx)

Visions on the future of cyberspace clash at the UN

First published on OpenCanada, 15 Nov 2018 | A fragile consensus over norms of responsible state behaviour in cyberspace, as Paul Meyer observes, has fallen victim to East–West geopolitical tensions.

If finding common ground on the sensitive issue of state conduct in cyberspace was not already difficult enough, then the results of this fall’s United Nations General Assembly First Committee, which focuses on disarmament and international security, has made it all that more complicated.

After more than a decade of slow but steady progress on identifying norms of responsible state behaviour in cyberspace, the existing consensus has broken down and a bizarre, bifurcated path has been adopted for the future.

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