The Nature of Space Treaties, Principles, and Declarations on the Use of Space by Military Entities, or for Military Purposes



This study elaborates on the historic as well as currently ongoing changes in the international laws guiding military activities in the outer space. It bases on the arguments and evidences provided by a varied number of scholarly and governmental sources to develop theories, notions and understanding regarding the nature of space treaties, declarations and principles. The study identified various gaps in the existing international laws to guide weaponizing the outer space, simultaneously critically evaluating the causes of failures and subsequent dormancy or discontinuation of particular measures.  


When first proposed during the Cold War, the need to secure the outer space was criticized of being overtly illusory and unreal. Unlike the then context, the idea is accepted readily in the 21st century context as a possibility that presents a serious impact to the security system of different nations around the world. Militarization of the outer space diminishes the efforts of nations to secure their borders on land, water as well as in the air within the Earth’s atmosphere. Only because it was deemed unreal and challenging, did not imply it was not given a serious thought, as noted in Mowthorpe (2004). Initiatives of space programs were taken at an extensive rate by the US and the USSR, along with the space technology pioneers of the Nazi Germany. However, the expense involved in the process of building space weapons forced the then pioneers to limit their innovativeness onto building land missiles, such as the V-2 for the Third Reich. As political shifts paved the way for the success of the US over Nazi Germany, one of their renowned engineers, Wernher von Braun was captured and brought to the US, who was then recruited to build missiles for the US, under the Operation Paperclip. As interesting as it might sound, the conspiracy theorists expanded their imaginations to space fights and advanced weaponries designed by some of the most powerful and richest nations around the world, certainly, including the Soviet Union and the US in their explanations (Bormann & Sheehan, 2009).   

Through years of speculations, programming and failures, the world today has come to a phase where technology expansions to the outer space is no more deemed unworkable. As argued by Handberg (2000), the space age, or the era when space technology has received utmost significance has evolved through three phases, which initiated in the 1950s. The first phase of the evolution can be traced back to have continued from 1957 to the mid-1960s. A significant phase of change can be identified with respect to the introduction of the Sputnik flights, which materialized by the mid-1950s and led to the commencement of the first phase of developing space weaponry. The second phase began after the 1960s in a more diplomatic manner than being shrouded by violent warfare. Debates concerning Antesatellite (ASAT) deployment as well as the general BMD altogether led to the 1972 Antiballistic Missile Treaty. The third phase began by the early 1980s, when debates based on the BMD initiative intensified, which however gradually lost its prominence in the global platform as the dominance of American military overtook the rise of Soviet Union. The earlier occurrences of the Cold War and the Gulf War played a significant role in shaping the reactions of international delegates as well as that of the mass towards space weaponry (Handberg, 2000).  

Over the time, approaches to space weaponry has evolved in a more non-violent form unlike the way it was initiated, grounded on a series of treaties, declarations and principles to ensure that peace is maintained in the outer space by involving different sovereign states in the process. The establishment of the Outer Space Treaty, declaration of the Prevention of An Arms race in Outer Space (PAROS) and the Manual on International Law Applicable to Military Uses of Outer Space (MILAMOS) Project. Although these treaties, practice guidelines, declarations and principles were developed with the sole objective to ensure peace in the outer space, it does possess certain gaps and setbacks, which have fuelled further arguments and fierce debates in the context. Through the further discussion, an emphasis will be laid on elaborating these premises from a critical perspective, to understand modern approaches to militarization of the outer space.

Treaties, Declarations and Principles of Militarizing Outer Space

The Outer Space Treaty of 1967 – An Overview

Formally known as the Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, Including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies, the Outer Space Treaty was implemented in the year 1967 on 27th January (Garber, 2006). The objective through which this treaty was signed was to ensure a peaceful use of the outer space by the signing parties. The treaty was proposed jointly by the US and the Soviet Union in 1966 to the Legal Subcommittee of the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space. The resulting document was only endorsed in December, 1966 by the UN General Assembly, which came into force in the month of October in 1967. The treaty principally focuses on establishing barriers for parties from placing their nuclear weapons or other weaponries capable of mass destruction in the outer space of the Earth’s orbit, such as on the Moon or other space bodies, by restricting the sovereign states from demanding dominion on the Moon or other bodies in the celestial world. The treaty also emphasizes the moral responsibilities and duties of assisting distressed astronauts in the outer space, besides being responsible for their own activities therein and the damage caused to any object that has been launched into the space from their national territory (Encyclopedia Britanica, 2018). 

The treaty is divided into 17 Articles, distributing its objectives and principles in a systematic as well as comprehensible manner. The Article specifically concerned with the militarization of the outer space is Article IV. The declaration of Article IV is that the states are strictly prohibited from stationing their nuclear weapons on the Earth’s orbit. It also prohibits the stationing of dangerous weapons onto the orbit, which are capable of mass destructions. States are also restricted from stationing these weapons on other celestial bodies as that of the Moon, or anywhere in the outer space by any means possible. This includes setting up of military bases in the outer space, or fortifying, testing as well as installing any form of weaponries in the outer space that is completely prohibited by the treaty, which strictly focuses on the need to perform peaceful activities only in the space by the signing bodies of the declaration. Nonetheless, the treaty allows the military to conduct research operations from the outer space for scientific purposes or with any other peaceful motives besides relaxing its provisions to permit installations of instruments, equipments and other necessary elements to promote the peaceful operations through the Earth’s orbit (Garber, 2006; Dembling & Arons, 1967).  

Critical Reviews

Since its enactment by the UN Assembly, the provisions of the Outer Space Treaty have received critical reviews with regard to their realistic nature and effectiveness in ensuring peace in Earth’s orbit and thereby reducing the possibilities of safety infringement by outer space militaries. The economic and geopolitical context of the later few years since the declaration of the Outer Space Treaty, the world witnessed various pioneering, advanced and complex strategies being taken by the biggest nations of the then era, i.e. the US and the Soviet Union. According to the study conducted by Zedalis & Wade (1978), during the 1960s, both the US and the Soviet Union were engaged in developing anti-satellite weapons. While the US concentrated on the development of advanced non-nuclear weapons, non-explosive by nature and able to be monitored from the Earth to collide with any unwanted satellite in the outer space, Soviet Union rather emphasized a more challenging goal of developing and deploying non-nuclear weapons in the outer space that would be capable of targeting, neutralizing and/or destroying a satellite through a controlled explosion. There were many other experiments being conducted by the two most powerful nations of the era, which not only fuelled the unending series of conspiracy theories but also gave rise to threatening speculations concerned with national safety and global peace (Zedalis & Wade, 1978).             

From a critical perspective to the issue by emphasizing paragraph 1 of Article IV of the Outer Space Treaty, Zedalis & Wade (1978) argued that the treaty lacks in adequately explaining the legality of installing mass destructive weapons in the outer space, owing to the fact that not placing but the actual time spent by the weaponries in the outer space possesses the greatest amount of stress to national security. In addition, it also did not specify the exact categories of weaponries restricted to be placed in the orbit, left alone the duration it spends in the outer space, which may also pose considerable threat to the security mechanisms adopted by nations on the Earth (Zedalis & Wade, 1978). In the similar context, Gorove (1974) asserted that the Outer Space Treaty might be too broad to deliver a precise understanding of the restrictions as well as the objectives underlying its principles. It was argued by Gorove (1974) as a replication of the most feared concerns of the mankind in the era to prevent the ongoing arms race from unfolding within the newly found special environment. As was commented by Gorove (1974, pp. 123), “it is perhaps not surprising to find that the Treaty provisions concerning arms control also reflect some of the general fears, suspicions, antagonisms and rivalries prevailing in world politics.” 

Modern Application and Limitations

The arguments presented in the early literatures emphasizing the Outer Space Treaty and its attempt to regulate the weaponization of the outer space criticized the broadness of the declaration and its inherent gaps, studies conducted since the late 20th and the early 21st centuries focused on unveiling the legal challenges, conflicts and dogmas associated with the provisions. Morgan (1994), for instance, referred to the example of International Maritime Satellite Organization (INMARSAT) communications satellite in fuelling conspiracies of space wars. With the inception of the Gulf War, a new era of outer space diplomacy took shape. Explaining the military significance of a high ground further, Reed & Norris (1980) distinguished the key advantages of weaponizing the outer space for any country. Given that in compliance with the guidelines of the Outer Space Treaty, any equipment to be placed in the Earth’s orbit must be non-nuclear and non-exclusive, besides being incapable of causing mass destructions, theorists idealized a new form of military threat from space shuttles. It became apparent during the Persian Gulf War, as the newly developed space shuttles were equipped with global positioning systems (GPS) that was capable of retrieving crucial information to determine the winning side in warfare (Greenemeier, 2016; Lang, 2016). This pointed towards a revolutionary change in the national approaches to make use of the special environment in the outer space, without actually infringing the Outer Space Treaty.

As the merits of outer space to promote access to information, whether within the Earth’s atmosphere or in the Universe, became more prudent to the various national actors, demand and competition to explore new heights increased fiercely, further limiting the applicability of the Outer Space Treaty in the 21st century context. As quoted by Tannenwald (2004, pp. 363-364), “…The legal regime that guides commercial, military, and scientific activities in space is fragmented and increasingly inadequate to meet the challenges posed by the growing number of actors seeking to exploit space.” Furthermore, Tannenwald (2004) presents the idea that militarization has already taken shape within the outer space, even though none of the nations have shown efforts or intentions to place their destruction capable weapons in the Earth’s orbit. Stating precisely, the special environment has gained an immense significance not only to the military but also to the commercial world of the 21st century owing to its ability to channelize information irrespective of geopolitical differences, barriers and difficulties those would have been otherwise prone if focused on the implementation of the conventional methods of information sharing. Arguably thus, militarization of the outer space has gained a new meaning and explanation in the present phenomenon, which demands a more updated and efficient legal approach to peace making (Tannenwald, 2004).

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Stating precisely, Ferreira-Snyman (2014) further noted the immense transformation witnessed in the perspectives of outer space militarization over the past decades, which has become extensively linked to the innovations in space technology as well as space flights by sovereign states. This implies a serious limitation to the Outer Space Treaty, which although restricts the placement of any explosive, nuclear or mass destructible weapons in the orbit but ignores the fact that most of the equipments lifted to the space possess the non-negligible capacity to cause serious devastations and that they can be used for military purposes of not to strike an enemy group. As argued by Ferreira-Snyman (2014) in this regard, the remote sensing techniques used today possess the ability to accumulate meteorological data that can be used in the greater realm of obtaining intelligence coverage in other states. The Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS) or the Global Position Systems (GPS) those have gained immense popularity in the present phenomenon, may be used for commercial and civilian purposes but their adaptability for the purpose of the military to direct bombs or target cruise missiles cannot be ignored. Overall, it inhibits the ability of the Outer Space Treaty to ensure safety, as it fails to exhibit adequate differences between the provisions to guide military and non-military uses of the orbit (Ferreira-Snyman, 2014). 

As these facts and considerations indicate, the decades old Outer Space Treaty has been losing its merits in proving its efficiencies within the practical field imply the lack of alignment between its provisions and the rapid technology changes taking place within the context. It is fundamentally because of this lack of assimilation that legal provisions to demilitarize outer space have been limited by time and applicability in the real world context (Wolter, 2006). Nonetheless, its significance is appreciated even today, as the foundation to develop future premises of global guidelines as well as treaties concerning the high possibilities and risks of outer space weaponization. Considering its relevance thus, debates have been concentrated on the need to amend its key provisions and guidelines, in keeping with the new developments already witnessed in the field and those expected to be witnessed in the near future (Taft, 2017). 

Present and Future Alterations to the Space Treaties, Principles and Declarations Concerning Weaponizing Outer Space

Current Trends and Alterations in Legal Foundations of Weaponizing Outer Space

Outer space has always been considered as an internationalized common area that is beyond the limits and considerations of national jurisdictions practiced within the sovereign states. This notion further extends to the idea that security concerns linked to the use of weapons from the outer space must share the common interests of all the states rather than being categorized to the developments, objectives and visions of an individual country or group. However, studying the century long evolutions in the field of weaponizing or rather, non-weaponizing the outer space, theorists have come to the view that “a complete demilitarization of outer space seems beyond reach” (Wolter, 2006, pp. 3). Under such circumstances, a substantially greater emphasis and significance is bestowed towards the internationally applied legal foundations based on common security concerns. Another crucial trend observed in the present context of military activities conducted or intended to be conducted in the outer space is its transformation from being passive to being more active in its approach (Wolter, 2005). Stating precisely, in the early decades  designing legal foundations solely concerned with demilitarization of the outer space that has been currently on the process of shifting towards controlling militarization of the outer space and hence, is speculated to result in devastating outcomes in the near future. Apparently, the rise of controversies in the domain reflects the concerns over the impacts of legal foundations being applied to control militarization of the outer space (Wolter, 2005).

Peoples (2010) correspondingly noted that policy measures adopted with the purpose of securitization of the outer space, by means of its demilitarization, have been vexed by its failure to consider the distinguished elements of ‘militarization’ and that of ‘weaponization’. When concerning the guidelines of arms control in the larger premises of the global realm, different radical visions can be observed to have a strong impact on the designing and the implementation efficacies of the legal frameworks. Even though the distinction is argued as crucial for consideration in the development of a more mature and flexible legal premises to control militarization of the outer space, it does not guarantee the excellence to capture the versatilities of space security concerns, as observable in the present phenomenon. To be noted in this regard, Peoples (2010) illustrates various evidences elaborating the rapidly growing rate of dependence of the mankind on technology superiority, whether concerning the field of communication or environmental monitoring and media representation. These developments have increased the significance of space technologies in manifold, making these technology advancements a primary need for the existence of the modern human civilization. It has simultaneously also increased emphasis of the leading sovereign nations to securitize the outer space, posing serious conflicts of interests with regard to arms control provisions already practiced in the global sphere. For instance, with accelerated consideration to view outer space securitization from the security lens, broader civilian practices and applications may be hindered with increased pressure from the dynamic countermeasures and threats long been associated with military securitization (Peoples, 2010).   

Arguments by Kuplic (2014) further offers a moral view to the issue concerning conflicts trends witnessed in the process of securitization by emphasizing the increasing polarization in the geopolitical setting of the modern world. According to Kuplic (2014), although critically assessed and equivocally agreed that equal rights and interests are shared by all sovereign states, not every individual nation is capable of extending their reach to the special environment to ensure their national security from outer space weaponization. Therefore, control of securitization measures and space technologies is  retained by a few selected nations, capable of affording the huge expenses involved with the development and implementation of these technologically advanced protocols to the Earth’s orbit. This particular trend has been argued by Kuplic (2014, p. 1162) to act against the fundamental tenet of the Outer Space Treaty, which emphasizes that “…Weapons in outer space serve as an advantage to the few, which violates one of the most basic principles in the Outer Space Treaty: that outer space is the province of all mankind”. Kuplic (2014) further argued that polarization in the ability of nations to participate in the outer space securitization practices accelerates the sense of differentiation, inequality, crisis and distrust within the sovereign states, due to the inequalities persistent in the distribution of pouter space security within the global realm (Kuplic, 2014). 

Nonetheless, the recent trends depict limited or insignificant importance to measures essential for the development of a more equally distributed control of states over the securitization policies implemented in the context of outer space, mandating amendments to the practiced treaties, negotiations and disciplines. Based on these observations and through fierce debates within the global realm, measures have recently begun to be discussed in view of amending the past treaties, especially the Outer Space Treaty as one of the most prominent provisions adapted for the securitization of the Earth’s orbit. While most of these treaties have been a recent venture towards a more efficient and effective format of securitizing outer space, many treaties signed on the basis of a bilateral and/or a multilateral structure have failed to accomplish the expected outcomes. A few classic and recent examples of these improvements can be identified in terms of the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, Proposed Prevention of an Arms Race in Space (Paros) Treaty, The Manual on International Law Applicable to Military Uses of Outer Space (MILAMOS) Project, and the Proposed Multilateral Treaty on Common Security in Outer Space (CSO).    

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Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty 

The Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty was signed by the US and the Soviet Union in the year 1972 as a bilateral treaty to jointly commission demilitarization efforts in the Outer Space. The treaty was principally aimed at preventing the US and the USSR from deploying defenses to prevent strategic ballistic missiles through a countrywide security program. The treaty therefore permitted the establishment of two distinct ground based defense sites with a maximum limit to accommodate 100 missile interceptors at the highest for each. The underlying consideration to this establishment was that if one site needed to engage into protecting the capital of the respective nation, the other could be used for the security of intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) fields owned by both the countries. Soon after its establishment, the two states sufficed almost half of their allowed limit of missile interceptors in alignment with their national interests, concerns and requirements. An insight to the conditions of the ABM treaty elaborates that both the countries were not allowed to practice missile defenses against their possible threats of strategic ballistic missiles covering the entire nation. It also prohibited the establishment of a base to uphold national security from ballistic missile attacks besides restricting the nations from developing, testing and/or deploying weapons including the advantages of different ABM systems, such as those based on the sea, space or air and land. While emphasizing  limiting the militarization efforts of the two nations on various grounds, inclusive of the outer space, the treaty failed to yield the expected outcomes or the conveniences aimed through its provisions (Arms Control Association, 2003).

Over time, since its establishment in 1972, the treaty became subject to the rising frequencies of political conflicts between the two nations leading to the final withdrawal of the US in 2002. With the US leaving the bilateral treaty, it was called as defunct. The conflicts gradually became concentrated on the success potentials, effectiveness and the need for ABM treaty in December 2001, with the then US President Mr. George W. Bush refuting any further need to continue with the declaration. A crucial point of consideration in this regard was that the US had been of the perception that the treaty restricted its overall ability to secure the entire nation from possible terrorist threats rather than increasing or leveraging its securitization through the sea routes, land, air or through the outer space (Arms Control Association, 2003). Observably, in sight of the September 11, 2001 attacks, the Bush administration was facing immense pressure to securitize the entire nation from terrorism threats whether internal or international (Listner, 2005). From a critical perspective, the failure of the space technologies to identify and notify the threat to the administration to the Pentagon served a severe blow to the ABM treaty, which was prior to the crisis believed to address the security concerns of the nations by a substantial extent. As the occurrence was sufficient to bluntly exhibit the gap of the treaty signed by the US and the USSR, the Bush administration proposed certain changes to its provisions and guidelines, which were rejected by Moscow. This led to the treaty be called as defunct in the year 2002 (Arms Control Association, 2003).

The immense degree of political impression observed in the policy considerations and provisions developed in view of the ABM treaty between the US and the USSR raises further questions to the integrity, transparency and morality in the securitization policies for outer space militarization efforts adopted in the 21st century context. The backdrop of treaty indicates that political factors have been playing a crucial role since the establishment of its principles by the then US administration in association with Moscow. In the 1970s, the international relationship between the US and the USSR had been experiencing steep and frequent alterations, leading to a high degree of instability along with a dampened sense of trust between the two sovereign states. The situation worsened through the next decades as it remained vulnerable and highly unstable. Later in the 1980s, under the suspicion of an imminent nuclear missile attack if situations did not improve, yet to be President Ronald Reagan’s administration became critical of the provisions signed in the ABM treaty with Moscow. His 1979 visit to the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) presented that even though the space communication and monitoring technologies were developed at the base, it failed to provide any security from Soviet missiles if fired on the US’ national periphery. In addition, the increasing costs to innovate, upgrade and manage the base functions was augmenting budgetary pressure on the economy, reflecting the irrefutable disadvantages of the treaty to the national security system (Yoo, 2001). 

To be noted in this regard, irrespective of its severe lack of transparency and hindering policy measures concerning national securitization, both the nations participated in the bilateral talks being motivated by the underlying objective to overtake each other in the race of developing outer space military technologies, rather specifically on the missile defenses used by the two nations. The conflicts became apparent with the initiation of Reagan administration, as the US began to push Moscow to negotiate significant reductions in the USSR’s offensive nuclear forces, albeit the US continued with its Strategic Defense Initiative (Weitz, 2010). Besides, speculations that the USSR might have been practicing undercover or covert operations to build anti-ballistic missiles in different bases increased volatility of the treaty to a substantial extent (Bradley, 2001). Apparently, the imbedded aspects of politically conflicting interests shared by the signing parties were a key reason to the ultimate failure of the treaty to assure adequate national security, build trust among the members and offer the expected diplomatic outcomes. The lesson obtained from the failure of ABM treaty however assisted in the better exploration of further needs and requisites of similar declaration to ensure success.    

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Prevention of an Arms Race in Space (PAROS) Treaty

The background of the Proposed Prevention of an Arms Race in Space (PAROS) Treaty can be traced back to the establishment of the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS) in Resolution 1472 (XIV) in 1959 by the UN General Assembly (NTI, 2017). The committee has been responsible to identify areas in need for improvement to preserve the highest degree of cooperation among global partners to maintain peace in the outer space, besides devising programs, encouraging research and addressing legal problems arising amid sovereign states in purview of their roles when assuring demilitarization of the outer space (NTI, 2017). The 1960s and 70s, since the formation of this committee, the world witnessed the rise of a series of treaties and declarations, such as the Partial Test Ban Treaty (the Treaty Banning Nuclear Weapon Tests in the Atmosphere, in Outer Space and Under Water  of the 1963), the Outer Space Treaty, the Liability Convention (the Convention on International Liability for Damage Caused by Space Objects of 1972), the Launch Registration Convention (the Convention on the Registration of Objects Launched into Outer Space of 1975) and the Moon Agreement (the Agreement Governing the Activities of States on the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies of 1979) among others (NTI, 2017). 

Almost all these treaties focused on the restrictions and preventions of militarization of the outer space with their concentration fixed on weapons capable or mass destructions. Hence, these treaties failed to take into consideration the different aspects and risks associated with other forms of weapons that can be installed and used from the outer space. The gap was very prominently and promptly identified by the member states, fuelling arguments that the treaties proposed as well as those already into implementation, lacked adequacy to ensure peaceful use of the outer space (NTI, 2017). The resulting conflicts among the member states further contributed to the demise of most of these treaties, while weakening others. The only prudently applied treaty until date was the Outer Space Treaty. Nonetheless, to address these conflicts and the negotiations between the states, a Special Session on Disarmament was organized by the UN General Assembly to prevent the competing states from participating in the outer space arms race in alliance to the Outer Space Treaty through the mandates and declarations presented in the Conference on Disarmament (CD) and thus formed the Prevention of an Arms Race in Space (PAROS) Treaty (NTI, 2017). 

The progress was never ending in the statutes, treaties and principles developed by the COPUOS, in view of the continuous negotiations taking place amid different economies around the world owing to the gaps present within the measures taken. It was thus that in 1985, an ad hoc committee was formed with the responsibility to identify, evaluate and list issues in relevant to the objectives of PAROS, which extended to offering legal protections to the satellites revolving on the Earth’s orbit, monitor nuclear power systems located in the outer space as well as implement crucial measures for confidence and trust building among the sovereign states (NTI, 2017). However, as the Vienna Convention policies mandated the agreement of all states in a multilateral negotiation, such as that of PAROS, the repeated disagreement of the US with the regulations of PAROS has led to its deadlock situation. Since the 1994 especially, measures in PAROS were refused by the US, which the experts view as a geopolitical disinterest of the nation owing to its already placed large missile defense program as well as space weaponry technology advancements (NTI, 2017). 

In addition to the US, China in 1995 insisted the CD to link its Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT) to the provisions of PAROS and therefore, leading to a conflict between China and the US, making the negotiations come to a standstill. Since then, the UN General Assembly has been implementing new resolutions to materialize the objectives of the PAROS treaty by encouraging every state to agree to the negotiations. For instance, the 2006 resolution emphasized the participation of each member state to depict their views and concerns over transparency and confidence-building measures (TCBMs). While in opposition to the negotiations in PAROS, the US focused on the need to develop soft laws through the code of conduct norms in alliance with its National Space Policy of 2006. As these soft laws are non-legally binding agreements, allowing states to voluntarily commit compliance without the hazards of long negotiations, it began to gain prominence among the member states. It also often refers to the provisions of the Hague Code of Conduct against Ballistic Missile Proliferation (HCOC). In 2007, the EU also drafted its own code of conduct emphasizing the arms control measures in the outer space, based on the principles of “adhering to and implementing existing commitments, both binding and non-binding; preventing space from becoming an area of conflict; respecting the role of space for general security; and refraining from utilizing space objects harmfully against other space objects” among others (Rathgeber, Remuss & Schrogl, 2009). 

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The Manual on International Law Applicable to Military Uses of Outer Space (MILAMOS) Project

Through the past decades, international laws concerned with the use of outer space for military purposes have evolved as highly fragmented and distorted, raising confusions, conflicts and lack of confidence among state and non-state actors at the global realm. With the core objective to develop a manual to be widely accepted for its clearer description of the rules and provisions applicable to the militarization of the outer space, the Manual on International Law Applicable to Military Uses of Outer Space (MILAMOS) Project was launched in the year 2016 (McGill, 2018). The project was initiated as a team work by the experts from the University of Adelaide, the University of Exeter and McGill University. In its approach, the project is monitored by the active involvement of a specialized team (Stephens, & de Zwart, 2017). The project concentrated on the involvement of both member states and non-state members in the process to ensure greater applicability of the manual (McGill, 2018). The mission of the project has been concentrated on the development of a manual covering the details for the span of three years consistently. The manual is expected to articulate the currently existing international laws binding the militarization of outer space in an objective-oriented manner. In doing so, the manual is expected to focus on identifying hostilities or similar risks in the approaches taken by the states or non-states posing threats to weaponization of the outer space. If successful, the manual is likely to assist the state as well as the non-state actors to develop a clearer understanding of the existing and applicable international laws concerning militarization of the outer space, and therefore, contribute to their enhanced confidence level to encourage their participation in the negotiation processes. The vision based on which the project was implemented had a futuristic view, “where all space activities are conducted in accordance with the international rules-based global order” (McGill, 2018). Simultaneously, emphasis was laid by the manual to reduce the possibilities of disruptions, and preferably, actively participating in the sustainable use of the outer space for peaceful purposes (McGill, 2018). 

Although the project does not mention its link to the provisions of the Outer Space Treaty, the concerns raised and considerations taken apparently indicate towards its close replication of the standards and principles advocated at the backdrop. Critical views to the application of the MILAMOS project emphasized the increasing complexities of the modern geopolitical society, wherein the state actors as well as non-state actors are observed to race for their global power retention. As the outer space environment is believed to offer military as well as technology superiority, which was often denoted as the two pillars of the modern geopolitical system, race among these entities to the militarization of the outer space has evolved as a major concern. It is this concern based on which the MILAMOS project has been developed with the belief that space infrastructure is immensely valuable in the current phenomenon than it was ever given credit for in the past (McGill, 2018). Critically emphasizing the features embedded into the project, it can be argued that the MILAMOS project is an enhanced and a rather softer version of the PAROS treaty, which allows the state and non-state actors to remain updated about the international laws binding them from militarizing the outer space besides identifying the gaps as well as development needs to the principles and provisions already into existence in the context. 

Proposed Multilateral Treaty on Common Security in Outer Space (CSO) and Others

Standing on the similar concerns as those shared by the provisions of the MILAMOS, Wolter (2006) suggested the formation of a Multilateral Treaty on Common Security in Outer Space (CSO) in his book titled Common Security in Outer Space and International Law. The CSO framework was suggested by Wolter (2006) in order to increase cooperation amid the different states around the world. The basic principles of the treaty, as proposed, are supposed to entail the needs for increased transparency as well as building confidence among the member states. Based on an in-depth understanding of the current scenario of outer space militarization, the CSO treaty is also proposed to focus on configuring the defensive forces at the global platform, valuing disarmament and non-proliferation at the same time. In addition to these areas of considerations, the treaty is also noted to emphasize protection needs for the member stated from the possibilities of unauthorized or accidental attacks using missiles. In doing so, significant focus needs to be rendered to the dangers of non-compliance to the non-proliferation regimes existing in the global context of outer space weaponry, as per the suggestions of Wolter (2006). 

Complementing the Outer Space Treaty in addition, the proposed CSO provisions are expected to take into consideration the prohibition policies to restrict active military participation from the outer space to conduct destructive effects whether on Earth or in its orbit. Wolter (2006) further advocates the need to discontinue with the currently implemented ASAT systems, which has been criticized over the past decades for its limited advantages against the continuous conflicts that its principles have been fuelling at the global scale. Arguably, it stresses on one of the most crucial gaps identified in the Outer Space Treaty, which implied its limitations to satisfy the needs for protection to civil space objects from the military controlled space equipments. In the modern scenario, with an accelerated use of the space environment for non-destructive passive military practices have also emerged as a common phenomenon, which has remained unaddressed in the Outer Space Treaty and therefore, is recommended as an addition to the principle considerations for the proposed CSO treaty. Wolter (2006) also concentrated on the extensive need for developing comprehensive and transparent implementation guidelines to ensure effectiveness of the CSO treaty or similar other measures to maintain the highest possible extent of transparency in the activities conducted by an International Satellite Monitoring Agency, assuming these bodies to be in charge of monitoring and verifying the compliance levels of each state as well as non state actors in the context of outer space militarization. From a futuristic perspective, Wolter (2006) also denoted the need for the development of relevant and all-inclusive legal standards with the objective to ensure the peaceful use of the outer space environment by keeping a track of technology advancements witnessed in the process.

As soon as the proposal was put forward by Wolter (2006), the possibilities of such a treaty grabbed the attention of experts from both the literally and the political fields. According to Tziouras (2008), the withdrawal of the US from its ABM treaty with the Soviet Union might have played a crucial role in widening scope for individualistic measures adopted by the states sharing the same objectives of demilitarizing the outer space from the possibilities of active destructive weaponry. Having experienced many ups and downs in its formation years, the outer space international laws are today argued to be one of the most challengingly versatile contexts of global participation. Although the previously implemented laws were principally formed based on the notion concerned with the security interests of all states irrespective of their ranks in the international geopolitical and economic dimensions when emphasizing weaponizing the outer space, it has been lacking adequate coordination and cooperation amid the state and non-state actors (Tziouras, 2008). The gradually increasing dormancy of the Outer Space Treaty in the global paradigm presents a classic example of the phenomenon. It was on the basis of this gap identified in the past measures adopted to secure outer space for only peaceful purposes, Wolter (2006) had proposed the CSO treaty. Following the footsteps of Wolter (2006), various other theorists can forth with ideas of redefining efficiencies in the international laws guiding military as well as non-military activities in the outer space. For example, the suggested Space National-Security Legal Matrix by Bourbonniere (2005) focuses on vital alternations in the space treaties emphasizing the same paradoxes as identified by Wolter (2006), strengthening arguments that previously implemented policies, guidelines and principles are in dire need for amendments in the modern context.            

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Based on the critical assessment of the features and underlying philosophies of international laws regulating the use of outer space for military purposes, whether active or passive by nature, it can be observed that how space technologies have improved to an advanced level and it has  substantially enhanced significance of the outer space to the 21st century modern civilization. Undoubtedly, there are irrefutable significances of the outer space to military conducts being the highest ground over the enemies and providing immense power to strike heavily armed for mass destruction. It is owing to this particular advantage that outer space has gained immense strategic significance within the geopolitical system of the global realm. It is also because of this advantage that economies often perceive that any particular nation gaining an upper hand on the militarization policies of outer space is certain to be able to retain the greater amount of global power. Consequently, the fierce race to explore the outer space began among some of the world’s richest and most powerful economies in terms of their military capabilities. 

Notably, the historic involvement of the US and the Soviet Union has been remarkable and strongly influential to the global perspectives regarding outer space militarization. The establishment of legal frameworks, statutes as well as guidelines, through the provisions of international laws to restrain economies from placing their weapons in the outer space as well as enhance security compliances was a crucial step forward to control any unethical exploration of the field that would have jeopardized international security demands. The formation of the Outer Space Treaty was a significant chapter in the development of the provisions quite certainly, along with other measures which contributed to its efforts in controlling weaponries in the outer space. However, in the wake of the Cold War and Second World War III, the global economies were already experiencing a lack of trust and confidence on each other that undermined the much needed cooperation amid all states to ensure success of these treaties. It was a key reason for the failure of the ABM Treaty signed by the US and the USSR with concerns over the expanding nature of space technology inventions promoted by each of these economies. 

As space technologies have evolved to become one of the most significant aspects of the global order along with the growing desire of the sovereign states to gain autonomy in taking decisions concerning space matters, compliance rate of these treaties has gradually began to dissolve in lack of adequate transformations. The growing interests of the literary experts in understanding the gaps and suggesting mediating strategies have also been noteworthy in this context, as the international laws, treaties and principles concerning weaponization of the outer space are becoming increasingly fragmented, complex and outdated. Conclusively thus, the nature of space treaties, principles and declarations can be asserted as lacking a particular structure and formal layout to satisfy the interests of all states equivocally. It can hence be suggested that new measures should be considered with respect to the interests of the state as well as non-state actors based on the lessons obtained through the failures of the past measures adopted in the context. 


Modern approaches to national security is no more limited to the borders and other conventional means of violent threat mitigation but relies mostly on information technology, diplomatic convergences as well as retention of the global power. Interventions from the international organizations further increase complexities in the already complicated scenario to control weaponizing the outer space. In addition, various segregations have become apparent within the context with divergences observed within military activities, involving both passive and active tactics. These techniques are no longer limited to the use of weapons but extend to the incorporation of significant information in the process of decision making and securitizing the national periphery. On the contrary to the rapid and immense transformations witnessed in the military activities, the international legal treaties aimed at controlling the expansion of military activities to the outer space have been slow paced as well as lacking adequate transformation to match the scale of the technology dependence as observed in the 21st century today. While most of these treaties, declarations and principles have been obsolete with time, the Outer Space Treaty has stood the test of time to a certain extent. Nonetheless, the upcoming challenges, as anticipated in the geopolitical as well as in the literary fields, indicate the possible dormancy of this treaty as well, if measures are note taken to amend its outdated provisions in a more updated manner. Considerable lack of confidence and trust among the different state and non-state actors contribute to the gravity of the situation, as the world witnesses an unending race of the economies to retain global power through outer space exploration and to seek individual sovereignty in taking decisions regarding their space technologies. Future steps must therefore not only focus on prohibiting militarization of outer space but also work towards increasing coordination among the state and non-state actors for future success.  

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