Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wants the world's space-faring nations to play nice up there.
She announced Tuesday that the U.S. would join with the European Union "and other nations" to "develop an International Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities. A Code of Conduct will help maintain the long-term sustainability, safety, stability, and security of space by establishing guidelines for the responsible use of space," she said.
Pentagon Press Secretary George Little seconded the motion. He said in a statement that DoD supports the "concept" of a code; that the EU's code is "a promising basis;" and that a code would "enhance U.S. national security by encouraging responsible space behavior by reducing the risk of mishaps, misperceptions and mistrust."
Why does the world need a new space code? Said Clinton:
The long-term sustainability of our space environment is at serious risk from space debris and irresponsible actors. Ensuring the stability, safety, and security of our space systems is of vital interest to the United States and the global community. These systems allow the free flow of information across platforms that open up our global markets, enhance weather forecasting and environmental monitoring, and enable global navigation and transportation.A cleverly worded statement -- note all that emphasis on the "environment" -- but this is probably not an initiative just to placate Greenpeace. (Does its jurisdiction even extend beyond the atmosphere?) American national security depends on space. The intelligence services need it to spy. The military services need it to communicate, for precise timing and navigation, and many other things. Space debris imperils the satellites that do this critical work, so if diplomats can get other nations to pledge politeness, that's so much more insurance.
Unless the international community addresses these challenges, the environment around our planet will become increasingly hazardous to human spaceflight and satellite systems, which would create damaging consequences for all of us.
But don't worry, Clinton said -- the U.S. is not going to sign onto anything that would tie its hands:
As we begin this work, the United States has made clear to our partners that we will not enter into a code of conduct that in any way constrains our national security-related activities in space or our ability to protect the United States and our allies. We are, however, committed to working together to reverse the troubling trends that are damaging our space environment and to preserve the limitless benefits and promise of space for future generations.It might not stop a military attack on American space, which could turn into a nightmare scenario, but it could at least reduce the risk of peacetime accidents. There was no word Tuesday about whether another of the world's major users of space -- China -- was as enthusiastic about the U.S. government about new rules of the road.