Russia vetoes U.N. resolution on nuclear weapons in space

Tyler Mitchell By Tyler Mitchell Jun10,2024

WASHINGTON — Russia, as expected, vetoed April 24 a United Nations Security Council resolution crafted in response to reports that the country was developing a nuclear anti-satellite weapon.

Russia cast the only vote against the draft resolution that reaffirmed provisions in the Outer Space Treaty prohibiting the placement of nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction in space. Thirteen other members of the Security Council voted in favor of the resolution while China abstained. As a permanent member of the Security Council, though, Russia’s vote acted as a veto preventing adoption of the resolution.

Japan and the United States drafted the Security Council resolution, which they billed as the first devoted to outer space issues. The resolution directed members to uphold Article 4 of the Outer Space Treaty, which forbids countries from placing nuclear weapons in orbit or on celestial bodies. It also called on countries not to develop nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction specifically designed to be placed in orbit.

The resolution, which had 63 other nations as co-sponsors, was prompted by reports in February that the U.S. had obtained intelligence showing Russia was developing a nuclear ASAT device of some kind that could damage or destroy a large fraction of satellites in low Earth orbit and jeopardize the safety of astronauts. U.S. officials have stated that Russia has not yet deployed such a device, and the Russian government has denied it is working on any such weapon.

In remarks before the vote, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, U.S. ambassador to the U.N., emphasized the potential damage that such a device could do to satellites and the services they provide. “With such grave consequences for the long-term sustainability of outer space and Sustainable Development Goals,” she said, “there should be no doubt: placing a nuclear weapon into orbit would be unprecedented, unacceptable and deeply dangerous.”

“Therefore, the resolution before us today should not be controversial,” she added.

Russia’s ambassador to the U.N., Vasily Nebenzya, dismissed the resolution as an “unscrupulous play” by the United States and Japan. “Trying to depict Russia as a player with no interest in preventing an arms race in space (PAROS) who fails to observe the relevant obligations under international treaties is completely absurd,” he said during the Security Council debate on the resolution.

Russia and China proposed an amendment to the resolution that sought to prevent the placement of weapons of any kind in space. The two countries have for years promoted a treaty that would ban placing weapons of any kind in space, an approach the United States and many other Western nations have opposed because of questions of scope — it would not include ground-based ASATs — and verification. The amendment was rejected with seven nations voting in favor of it, seven opposed, and Switzerland abstaining.

After Russia vetoed the resolution, Thomas-Greenfield harshly criticized Russia for blocking it. “President Putin himself has said publicly that Russia has no intention of deploying nuclear weapons in space,” she said. “And so 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? It’s baffling. And it’s a shame.”

“Regrettably, one permanent member decided to silence the critical message we wanted to send to the present and future people of the world: outer space must remain a domain of peace, free of weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons,” Kazuyuki Yamazaki, Japan’s ambassador to the U.N., said after the vote.

The White House also criticized Russia’s veto of the resolution. “As we have noted previously, the United States assesses that Russia is developing a new satellite carrying a nuclear device,” National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said in a statement. “We have heard President Putin say publicly that Russia has no intention of deploying nuclear weapons in space. If that were the case, Russia would not have vetoed this resolution.”

Nebenzya argued after the vote that the Security Council was not the appropriate forum for discussing space security issues. “The discussion of space security issues and the decisions taken should be comprehensive, involve all U.N. members and focus on eliminating the threat of an arms race in outer space and the emergence of armed conflicts there,” he said.

Other U.N. fora, though, have struggled to make progress on space security. An Open-Ended Working Group on Reducing Space Threats, established by a U.N. General Assembly resolution, met four times in 2022 and 2023 to discuss development of norms and rules of responsible space behavior, but failed to produce a final consensus report primarily because of opposition by Russia. The Conference on Disarmament has also failed to make any progress on space or other topics in recent years.

In a joint statement after the vote, the United States and Japan said they were “incredibly disappointed” in the outcome. “Today’s vote marks a real missed opportunity to rebuild much-needed trust in existing arms control obligations. Now begins the work of righting that wrong.” The statement did not elaborate on any future plans.

Tyler Mitchell

By Tyler Mitchell

Tyler is a renowned journalist with years of experience covering a wide range of topics including politics, entertainment, and technology. His insightful analysis and compelling storytelling have made him a trusted source for breaking news and expert commentary.

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4 thoughts on “Russia vetoes U.N. resolution on nuclear weapons in space”
  1. It’s concerning that Russia vetoed the U.N. resolution on nuclear weapons in space. The international community must come together to prevent the militarization of space and ensure safety for all. This veto highlights the urgent need for diplomatic solutions to address such critical issues.

  2. It is concerning that Russia vetoed the U.N. resolution on nuclear weapons in space. It is crucial for international security that we uphold treaties prohibiting the placement of such destructive weapons in orbit. This move raises serious questions about Russia’s intentions and commitment to peaceful cooperation in outer space.

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