International

Russia Vetoes Key UN Resolution Against Nuclear Arms Race In Space Months After 'Oppenheimer Sequel' Caution

The resolution would have called on all countries not to develop or deploy nuclear arms or other weapons of mass destruction in space, as banned under the 1967 international treaty that included the US and Russia, and to agree to the need to verify compliance.

AP
Russian Permanent Representative to the UN Vassily Nebenzia raises his hand to veto the Non-proliferation of nuclear weapons resolution bill during a meeting of U.N. Security Council members, Wednesday, April 24, 2024 at United Nations headquarters. Photo: AP
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A UN resolution sponsored by the United States and Japan calling on all nations to prevent a dangerous nuclear arms race in outer space was on Wednesday vetoed by Russia in a move that was slammed by the US, which said country's veto raises the question of what the Russian government may be hiding.

The vote in the 15-member Security Council was 13 in favour, Russia opposed and China abstaining. Russia dismissed the measure as politicised and said it did not go far enough in banning all types of weapons in space.

At the March council meeting where the US-Japan initiative was launched, UN Secretary-General António Guterres warned that "geopolitical tensions and mistrust have escalated the risk of nuclear warfare to its highest point in decades". He had said the movie "Oppenheimer" about Robert Oppenheimer, who directed the US project during World War II that developed the atomic bomb, "brought the harsh reality of nuclear doomsday to vivid life for millions around the world".

"Humanity cannot survive a sequel to Oppenheimer," the UN chief had said.

What Is The UN Resolution On Outer Space Treaty

The UN Security Council resolution on the Outer Space Treaty put a legally binding obligation that countries should not be putting weapons of mass destruction (WMD), including nuclear weapons, in orbit.

The resolution would have called on all countries not to develop or deploy nuclear arms or other weapons of mass destruction in space, as banned under the 1967 international treaty that included the US and Russia, and to agree to the need to verify compliance.

The defeated draft resolution said "the prevention of an arms race in outer space would avert a grave danger for international peace and security". It would have urged all countries carrying out activities in exploring and using outer space to comply with international law and the UN Charter.

The draft would have affirmed that countries that ratified the 1967 Outer Space Treaty must 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", according to a news agency PTI report.

The treaty, ratified by some 114 countries including the United States and Russia, prohibits the deployment of "nuclear weapons or any other kinds of weapons of mass destruction" in orbit or the stationing of "weapons in outer space in any other manner".

The draft resolution emphasised "the necessity of further measures, including political commitments and legally binding instruments, with appropriate and effective provisions for verification, to prevent an arms race in outer space in all its aspects".

It reiterated that the UN Conference on Disarmament, based in Geneva, has the primary responsibility to negotiate agreements on preventing an arms race in outer space.

Russia 'Hiding' Something?

US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said after the vote that Russian President Vladimir Putin has said Moscow has no intention of deploying nuclear weapons in space, but that the country's veto raises the question of what the government may be hiding.

Thomas-Greenfield's announcement of the resolution on March 18 followed White House confirmation in February that Russia has obtained a "troubling" anti-satellite weapon capability, although such a weapon is not operational yet.

Putin had declared later that Moscow has no intention of deploying nuclear weapons in space, claiming that the country has only developed space capabilities similar to those of the United States.

Russia's UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia told the council before the vote that the resolution was "absurd and politicised". Nebenzia proposed an amendment to the US-Japan draft saying an arms race in outer space should refer to all kinds of weapons -- not just nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction.

The resolution was defeated by a vote of seven countries in favour, seven against and one abstention because it failed to get the minimum nine "yes" votes required for adoption.

US Slams Russia: 'Of Course Not The First Time...'

The United States slammed Russia after its veto of the UN Security Council resolution on the Outer Space Treaty. "As we have noted previously, the United States assesses that Russia is developing a new satellite carrying a nuclear device. We have heard President [Vladimir] 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," US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said in a statement, after Russia vetoed the resolution at the UN headquarters in New York.

"Today, Russia vetoed a UN Security Council resolution, proposed jointly by the United States and Japan, that would have reaffirmed the fundamental obligation of State Parties to the Outer Space Treaty not to place nuclear weapons in orbit around the Earth," Sullivan was quoted as saying in the PTI report.

The resolution also would have called on all member-states not to develop nuclear weapons specifically designed to be placed in orbit, he added.

Sullivan noted that placement by a State Party of a nuclear weapon in orbit would not only violate the Outer Space Treaty, "but would threaten the vital communications, scientific, meteorological, agricultural, commercial and national security services that any and all satellites provide to societies around the globe."

Asserting that this is not the first time Russia has undermined the global non-proliferation regime, US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield told members of the UN Security Council that by vetoing the resolution, the country has abandoned its responsibility.

"Of course, this is not the first time Russia has undermined the global non-proliferation regime. Over the past few years, Russia has irresponsibly invoked dangerous nuclear rhetoric and walked away from several of its arms control obligations. It has remained unwilling to engage in substantive discussions around arms control or risk reduction. And it has defended and even enabled dangerous proliferators," she said.

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