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Friday, June 09, 2006

China, Russia warn against deploying space weapons

GENEVA (Reuters) - China and Russia on Thursday warned that space-based weapons would pose a threat as great as weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and called for global negotiations to prevent their deployment.

Diplomats said the appeals from the two powers were mainly targeted at the United States, expected by some to leave open the option of putting weaponry in orbit when it issues a new national space policy soon.

The United Nations Conference on Disarmament (CD) is focussing talks this month on prospects for launching negotiations on prevention of arms race in outer space.

The United States and Britain are virtually alone among the forum's 65 member states, at which China and Russia spoke, in opposing the start of the negotiations.

"A world free of outer space weapons is no less important than a world free of the weapons of mass destruction," China's ambassador Cheng Jingye told the CD.

"The development of outer space weapons keeps progressing quietly and relevant military doctrine is taking shape," he said, without directly naming the George W. Bush administration.

Space technologies were like a "two-edged sword", similar to nuclear and cloning technologies which can either help mankind or cause severe harm if misused or uncontrolled, according to the Chinese envoy.

Valery Loshchinin, Russia's ambassador, echoed the warning, telling the forum that weaponisation of outer space was akin to the "emergence of a new type of weapon of mass destruction".

"If there are no weapons in outer space, no room for the use of force, then there will be no arms race there. We must nip it in the bud," he declared.


The White House is this month due to issue a new space policy, the first overhaul in a decade. Some U.S. experts have said it would underscore the Pentagon's determination to protect its existing space assets and maintain dominance of outer space.

Among other countries at the CD session backing the call for talks were Canada, Germany, India, Indonesia (on behalf of the Group of 21 non-aligned countries), North Korea, South Korea, and South Africa.

The U.S. delegation did not speak in the three-hour debate.

Britain recognised growing concerns by some states but said it saw no international consensus on the need for a new pact.

A 1967 U.N. treaty bans weapons of mass destruction from space, but some experts believe the United States would not shy from withdrawing from the pact, just as it withdrew from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty so that it could begin deploying a missile defence shield.

China's envoy Cheng said existing international treaties on outer space, including the 1967 and ABM pacts, left gaps.

"Some focus on the WMD only, some are limited to a certain celestial body or area in outer space and lack universality, and some have even been scrapped," he said.

A new international legal instrument was "obviously needed," and conditions were ripe for launching negotiations, he added.

The Geneva forum has been unable to conduct any substantive work since August 1998 when it held brief negotiations on banning production of nuclear bomb-making fissile material.

Most countries agree that this should be the next step in global arms control, but developing countries demand parallel talks on total nuclear disarmament.

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