Document Type


Publication Date

Summer 2018


The world is on the precipice of a new arms race in outer space, as China, Russia, the United States, and others undertake dramatic new initiatives in anti-satellite weaponry. These accelerated competitive efforts at space control are highly destabilizing because developed societies have come to depend so heavily upon satellite services to support the entire civilian economy and the modern military apparatus; any significant threat or disruption in the availability of space assets would be massively, and possibly permanently, disruptive.

International law regarding outer space developed with remarkable rapidity in the early years of the Space Age, but the process of formulating additional treaties and norms for space has broken down over the past several decades; no additional legal instruments have emerged that could cope with today’s rising threats. This Article therefore proposes three initiatives. Although none of them can suffice to solve the emerging problems, they could, perhaps, provide additional diplomacy, reinvigorating the prospects for rapprochement in space. Importantly, each of these three ideas has deep roots in other sectors of arms control, where they have served both to restore a measure of stability and to catalyze even more ambitious agreements in the longer term.

The first proposal is for a declaratory regime of “no first use” of specified space weapons; this would do little to directly alter states’ capabilities for space warfare, but could serve as a “confidence-building measure,” to temper their most provocative rhetoric and practices. The second concept is a “limited test ban,” to interdict the most dangerous debris-creating developmental tests of new space weapons. Third is a suggestion for shared “space situational awareness,” which would create an international apparatus enabling all participants to enjoy the benefits of greater transparency, reducing the possibilities for secret malign or negligent behavior. In each instance, the Article describes the proposal and its variations, assesses its possible contributions to space security, and displays the key precedents from other arms-control successes.

The Article concludes by calling for additional, further-reaching space diplomacy, in the hope that these relatively modest initial measures could provoke more robust subsequent negotiations.

Publication Citation

David A. Koplow, The Fault Is Not in Our Stars: Avoiding an Arms Race in Outer Space, 59 Harv. Int'l L.J. 331 (2018)