United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space
|Formation||12 December 1959|
|United Nations General Assembly|
The United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS) is a United Nations committee whose main task is to review and foster international cooperation in the peaceful uses of outer space, as well as to consider legal issues arising from the exploration of outer space.
The Committee currently has 95 members who meet annually in Vienna, Austria at the Vienna International Centre in June. Additionally, the Scientific and Technical Subcommittee tends to meet in February, while the Legal Subcommittee usually meets in April.
The UN's interest in the peaceful uses of outer space was first expressed in 1957, soon after the launching of the first Sputnik. Its main concern was that space should be used for peaceful purposes and that the benefits from space activities be shared by all nations. Thus, on 13 December 1958, the General Assembly created an ad hoc Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space composed of 18 members who were tasked with reporting to the Assembly about the activities and resources of the UN, its specialized agencies and other international bodies relating to the peaceful uses of outer space.
The next year, on 12 December 1959, the ad hoc Committee was established as a permanent body by the General Assembly with its membership being further increased to 24. It retained the same mission of its predecessor - to review international cooperation in the peaceful uses of outer space.
As the subsequent Space Race between the United States and the Soviet Union heightened, the international community quickly became concerned that space could be used for military purposes. As a result of disagreements between the US and the USSR, the Committee did not meet again until March 1962 after the General Assembly compelled it to via Resolution 1721 (XVI). The Committee's two Subcommittees also met in May and June to discuss scientific, technical and legal questions. These subcommittees were in unanimity with respect to various scientific and technical questions while failing to come to an agreement on legal questions.
Resolution 1721 also further cemented the Committee's role in preserving space for peaceful purposes. It stated that international law and the UN Charter applied in outer space and directed the Committee to study and report on legal problems arising from space exploration. It directed all states to inform the Committee of all launches into space for the UN's public registry. It directed the Committee to keep close contact with governmental and non-governmental organizations concerned with space matters, as well as to act as an exchange of information relating to space activities. Finally, it directed the Committee to review reports of the World Meteorological Organization and the International Telecommunication Union in regard to outer space activities relating to weather research and analysis and telecommunication and to submit its comments and recommendations on these reports to the Economic and Social Council and the General Assembly. Thus the Committee aimed to prevent space from becoming a new frontier for conflict. This gave the Committee the unique position of acting as a platform for maintaining outer space for peaceful purposes at the international level.
The United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) has acted as the secretariat to the Committee since its creation in 1958. It also provides secretariat services to the Committee's subcommittees. All documents related to the Committee and its subcommittees are published by UNOOSA.
Treaties and agreements
- "Outer Space Treaty" - The Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies
- "Rescue Agreement" - The Agreement on the Rescue of Astronauts, the Return of Astronauts and the Return of Objects Launched into Outer Space
- "Liability Convention" - The Convention on International Liability for Damage Caused by Space Objects
- "Registration Convention" - The Convention on Registration of Objects Launched into Outer Space
- "Moon Treaty" - The Agreement Governing the Activities of States on the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies
COPUOS also keeps track of the following other international agreements relating to activities in outer space:
- Treaty Banning Nuclear Weapon Tests in the Atmosphere, in Outer Space, and Under Water (NTB)
- Convention Relating to the Distribution of Programme–Carrying Signals Transmitted by Satellite (BRS)
- Agreement relating to the International Telecommunications Satellite Organization (ITSO)
- Agreement on the establishment of the International System and Organization of Space Communications (INTERSPUTNIK)
- Convention for the establishment of a European Space Agency (ESA)
- Agreement of the Arab Corporation for Space Communications (ARABSAT)
- Agreement on Cooperation in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space for Peaceful Purposes (INTERCOSMOS)
- Convention on the International Mobile Satellite Organization (IMSO)
- Convention establishing the European Telecommunications Satellite Organization (EUTELSAT)
- Convention for the establishment of a European Organization for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites (EUMETSAT)
- International Telecommunication Constitution and Convention (ITU)
Concerns about ratification and enforcement
Both the former USSR and the USA engaged in an "arms race" including weapons systems functional in low-orbit altitudes; US President Ronald Reagan termed it "star wars"; this raised serious concerns. Space-based nuclear weapons tests are explicitly banned, however, several nation-states with the capacity for satellite launch are not members of the NPT, and have had a poor record on disclosure of weapons, particularly of concern is tendency toward nuclear ambiguity, and how such policy may affect the current treaty. In 2017, with the reports of "Sonic attacks" on US staff of diplomatic missions in Cuba, the ban on space-based weapons systems is again on the radar.
Near-Earth object deflection and disaster response
The Association of Space Explorers (ASE), working in conjunction with B612 Foundation members, helped obtain UN oversight of near-Earth object (NEO) tracking and deflection missions through COPUOS along with its Action Team 14 (AT-14) expert group. Several members of B612 and ASE have worked with COPUOS since 2001 to establish international involvement for both impact disaster responses, and on deflection, missions to prevent impact events. As explained by B612 Foundation Chair Emeritus Rusty Schweickart in 2013, "No government in the world today has explicitly assigned the responsibility for planetary protection to any of its agencies".
In October 2013, the UN committee approved several measures to deal with terrestrial asteroid impacts, including the creation of an International Asteroid Warning Network (IAWN) to act as a clearinghouse for shared information on dangerous asteroids and for any future terrestrial impact events that are identified. A UN Space Missions Planning Advisory Group (SMPAG) will also coordinate joint studies of the technologies for deflection missions, and as well provide oversight of actual missions. This is due to deflection missions typically involving a progressive movement of an asteroid's predicted impact point across the surface of the Earth (and also across the territories of uninvolved countries) until the NEO has been deflected either ahead of, or behind the planet at the point their orbits intersect. Schweickart states that an initial framework of international cooperation at the UN is needed to guide the policymakers of its member nations on several important NEO-related aspects.
At about the same time (Oct 2013) of the UN's policy adoption in New York City, Schweickart and four other ASE member, including B612 head Ed Lu and strategic advisers Dumitru Prunariu and Tom Jones, participated at a public forum moderated by Neil deGrasse Tyson not far from the UN's headquarters, urging the global community to adopt further important steps towards planetary defense against the threat of NEO impacts. Their recommendations included:
- UN delegates briefing their home countries' policymakers on the UN's newest roles,
- having each country's government create defined asteroid disaster response plans, assigning fiscal resources to deal with asteroid impacts, and delegating a lead agency to handle its disaster response in order to create clear lines of communication from the IAWN to the affected countries,
- having their governments support the ASE's and B612's efforts to identify "city-killer" NEOs capable of impacting Earth, estimated at about a million, by deploying a space-based asteroid telescope, and
- committing member states to launching an international test deflection mission within 10 years.
The first meetings of IAWN and SMPAG were held in 2014.
The Committee was first established by the General Assembly in its resolution 1348 (XIII) of 13 December 1958 and was originally composed of 18 members. It has grown to include 92 members as of 2019, and is subsequently one of the largest committees of the General Assembly of the United Nations. The evolution of the composition of the Committee is as follows:
- After Czechoslovakia's break up, its seat was taken up by the Czech Republic. Slovakia would later re-join in 2001.
- After the Soviet Union's break up, its seat was taken up by the Russian Federation. Kazakhstan and Ukraine would later re-join in 1994. Azerbaijan would re-join in 2011. Armenia would re-join in 2012. Belarus would re-join in 2013.
- After the United Arab Republic's break up, its seat was taken up by Egypt. Syria would re-join in 1980
- After the Iranian Revolution, Iran's seat was taken up by the Islamic Republic of Iran.
- The German seat was combined after German reunification.
- After Sudan's break up, South Sudan left the Committee.
- Since Yugoslavia's break up, none of its successor states have joined the Committee.
- Upper Volta would later become Burkina Faso.
- After the fall of Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, its seat was taken over by the State of Libya.
In addition to the Committee's Member States, a number of international organizations, including both intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations, have observer status with COPUOS and its subcommittees. The following is a list of the Committee's observers, with the year they were granted that status:
The following is the Bureau of the Committee for its 63rd Session. The Session was scheduled to run from 17-26 June 2020 but was cancelled as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Bureau was selected through formal written procedures after consultation with the Secretariat.
|Francis Chizea||Nigeria||First Vice-Chair|
|Nicolás Botero Varón||Colombia||Second Vice-Chair and Rapporteur|
|Natália Archinard||Switzerland||Chair of the Scientific and Technical Subcommittee|
|Setsuko Aoki||Japan||Chair of the Legal Subcommittee|
- Lála, Petr (November–December 1996). "The role of the United Nations in promoting international cooperation in peaceful uses of outer space". Acta Astronautica. 39 (9–12): 647–655. doi:10.1016/S0094-5765(97)00046-5. Retrieved 18 February 2021.
- Manhire, Vanessa, ed. (2019). United Nations Handbook 2019–2020 (PDF) (57th ed.). Wellington: Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade of New Zealand. pp. 58–60. ISSN 0110-1951.
- United Nations General Assembly Session 13 Resolution 1348. Question of the peaceful use of outer space A/RES/1348(XIII) 13 December 1958. Retrieved 18 February 2021.
- United Nations General Assembly Session 14 Resolution 1472. International co-operation in the peaceful uses of outer space A/RES/1472(XIV)) 12 December 1959. Retrieved 18 February 2021.
- Simsarian, James (October 1963). "Outer Space Co-Operation in the United Nations". American Journal of International Law. 57 (4): 854–867. doi:10.2307/2196339. Retrieved 19 February 2021.
- United Nations General Assembly Session 16 Resolution 1721. International co-operation in the peaceful uses of outer space A/RES/1721(XVI) 20 December 1961. Retrieved 19 February 2021.
- "UNOOSA and COPUOS". Permanent Mission of France to the UN and the international organisations in Vienna. Republic of France. 25 March 2020. Retrieved 19 February 2021.
- "COPUOS History". UN Office for Outer Space Affairs. UN. n.d. Retrieved 18 February 2021.
- "History". UN Office for Outer Space Affairs. UN. n.d. Retrieved 19 February 2021.
- "Past Sessions of the Committee and its Subcommittees". UN Office for Outer Space Affairs. UN. n.d. Retrieved 19 February 2021.
- Status of International Agreements relating to activities in outer space as at 1 January 2012
- Astronauts and Cosmonauts Call for Global Cooperation on Asteroid Threat, Earth & Sky website, October 28, 2013. Retrieved August 4, 2014.
- O'Neill, Ian. United Nations to Spearhead Asteroid Deflection Plan, Discovery.com website, October 28, 2013. Retrieved August 4, 2014.
- Aron, Jacob. UN Sets Up Asteroid Peacekeepers to Defend Earth, New Scientist website, October 28, 2013. Retrieved August 4, 2014.
- Netburn, Deborah. UN Aims to Fight Asteroids, Creates a Global Warning Network, Los Angeles Times, October 28, 2013. Retrieved August 4, 2014.
- Chang, Kenneth. More Asteroid Strikes Are Likely, Scientists Say, The New York Times website, November 6, 2013, and in print on November 7, 2013, p. A12 of the New York edition. Retrieved June 26, 2014.
- Building International Infrastructure for Planetary Defense July 2015
- "Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space: Membership Evolution". United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs. United Nations. n.d. Retrieved 15 May 2019.
- "Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space: Observer Organizations". United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs. United Nations. n.d. Retrieved 15 May 2019.
- "COPUOS 2021". United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs. U.N. n.d. Retrieved 14 February 2021.
- United Nations General Assembly Session 75 Supplement 20. Decisions and actions by the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space and its Legal Subcommittee taken by written procedure A/75/20 (2020) Retrieved 14 February 2020.
- International Institute of Space Law
- Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space on the website of the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs, which serves as the secretariat for the COPUOS
- Press Release: Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space Concludes 48th Session in Vienna, from June 20, 2005
- Slideshow about COPUOS and other organizations on the website of the United Nations Basic Space Science Initiative (UNBSSI)