India calls for laws to ensure open access to space for all nations

United Nations, Oct 13 (IANS) As a space-faring nation, India has called for strengthening international laws to protect open access for all countries to space.

“India supports strengthening the international legal regime to protect and preserve access to space for all and to prevent without exception the weaponisation of outer space,” D.B.Venkatesh Varma, India’s permament representative to the Conference on Disarmament, told a General Assembly Committee on disarmament issues.

“As a major space-faring nation, India has vital developmental and security interest in space,” he said.

Stressing India’s interest in ensuring that international treaties do not monopolise the power of a few nations, he said: “Discussions on a draft International Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities should be inclusive, covering all space-faring nations to ensure a product of universal acceptance adopted by consensus and through a process anchored in the UN.”

In a broad-ranging speech laying out India’s position on disarmament issues, Varma reiterated the crux of India’s nuclear policy: “As a responsible nuclear power, India’s nuclear doctrine continues to stress a policy of credible minimum deterrence with a posture of no-first use and a non-use against non-nuclear states. We remain committed to maintaining a unilateral and voluntary moratorium on nuclear explosive testing.”

He said that increasing the restraints on use of nuclear weapons is “not only an essential first step, it is also necessary in the current complex international environment”.

Varma said that complete elimination of nuclear weapons can be achieved through “a step by step process” that is global and non-discriminatory. “All states possessing nuclear weapons can make a contribution by engaging in a meaningful dialogue to build trust and confidence by reducing the salience of nuclear weapons in international affairs and security doctrine,” he said.

US Assistant Secretary for Arms Control Frank Rose said that a “full-spectrum” pragmatic approach was necessary to reach the goal of a nuclear weapon-free world, to which Washington was committed.

He criticised proposals for outright ban on nuclear weapons, which could not succeed because they failed to recognise the need to develop the necesary verification capabilities and build the security conditions. Instead, he said, it risked creating a very unstable security environment where misperceptions or miscalculations could escalate crises and even lead to the possible use of a nuclear weapon.

Rose said that nuclear deterrence and disarmament were complementary because both aimed at preventing the use of nuclear weapons. Deterrence sought to constrain threats as countries worked to reduce nuclear weapons and shore-up efforts to prevent further proliferation, he added.

Varma raised the threat of terrorists getting access to weapons of mass destruction and said the international community should continue to exercise utmost vigilance.

The Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) and the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) were examples of “global non-discriminatory treaties for the complete elimination” of the weapons of mass destruction of those types, he said.

“India has completed its obligations on stokpile destruction under the CWC,” he said, adding timely destruction by other state parties of the remaining stockpiles is critical for upholding the convention’s credibility and integrity.

Varma noted the India contribution to the efforts by the UN and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles.

On the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), which India has not signed, Varma said New Delhi was continuing to review it “from the perspective of our defence, security and foreign policy interests”.

India’s main concern over the ATT centres on what New Delhi considers its weakness in dealing with terrorists and non-state actors, and unilateral powers it could confer on arms exporters.

Speaking at last week’s committee session, Wang Qun, the director-general of China’s Arms Control Department, brought up cybersecurity, the next frontier in international confrontations, and suggested adoption of an international code of conduct on cyberspace that calls for peaceful resolution of disputes in this area and it was used for only peace and security activities.

Stretching it a step further, he said the code should also ensure that nations should not interfere in the internal affairs of others.

If there were no international rules governing cyberspace or outer space, the world “incurred risks of the law of the jungle”, Wang said.

(Arul Louis can be reached at arul.l@ians.in)

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