First Major McGill Manual Engagement Event held in Berlin

Published: 29 June 2023

On 21-23 June 2023, the Directorate-General of Legal Affairs of the German Federal Ministry of Defence hosted the Conference on the “McGill Manual on International Law Applicable to Military Uses of Outer Space” (MILAMOS). The three-day event was organised at the Federal Academy for Security Policy (Bundesakademie für Sicherheitspolitik, BAKS), and held at the historic Schönhausen Palace in Berlin, Germany.

Taking part at the Conference were officials and experts from the German Ministry of Defence, as well as from Australia, Belgium, Canada, France, Ireland, Japan, Lithuania, New Zealand, Poland, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The participation of such a diverse group of practitioners and academics from various parts of the world underlines the global interest in the McGill Manual, the world’s first manual clarifying the international law applicable to military uses of outer space during peacetime and time of rising tensions .

In attendance were Co-Editors of the McGill Manual Professor Ram Jakhu and Professor Steven Freeland, Managing Editor Mr. Kuan-Wei Chen and Research Coordinator Mr. Bayar Goswami. They were also joined by Ms. Svenja Berrang, Dr. Rada Popova, Mr. Ulf Häussler and Mr. Jérémie Ayadi, who as MILAMOS experts have over the years volunteered their valuable expertise and time in the consensus-forming and rule-drafting process.

Opening the Conference, Dr. Jan Stöß, Director General for Legal Affairs of the German Ministry of Defence, underlined the value of the McGill Manual in identifying and closing normative gaps in the peaceful exploration and use of outer space. The collective efforts of 100 experts, contributors and practitioners from all over the world serves as a tool to reduce miscalculation and misunderstanding in a shared domain of socio-economic and strategic importance.

Lt. Gen. Kai Rohrschneider, Director General for Forces Policy and Commissioner for Space of the German Ministry of Defence also welcomed the participants, and said that the world is at a Zeitenwende (turning point), a moment when we need to adjust to the realities of the military aggression in Ukraine, and threats to the rule-based international order. In such a climate, conducting military activities within existing legal frameworks, as well as fostering cooperation and dialogue to clarify laws are vital to preventing conflicts in space and to promoting the safe and responsible use of outer space.

In his opening remarks, McGill Manual Project Director and Co-Editor Professor Jakhu expressed his gratitude to the Government of Germany for its unwavering support and confidence in this unique international collaborative effort throughout the years. Since the very beginning of the MILAMOS Project, the Government of Germany has continuously supported the participation of Associate Expert Ms. Berrang and Core Expert Mr. Häussler in the consensus-forming and rule-drafting process. In May 2019, the German Ministry of Defence generously hosted the seventh MILAMOS Workshop in Berlin. It is thus with great humility the experts involved in the drafting of the McGill Manual return to Berlin at the invitation of the German Ministry of Defence with 52 Rules that formed the backbone of engaging discussions at the Conference.

McGill Manual Co-Editor Professor Freeland underlined that the McGill Manual provides a solid basis for important discussions on to ensure the continued safety, stability and sustainability of outer space. Such discussions are vital particularly in a domain in which military and civilian uses are closely intertwined. Professor Freeland also skilfully chaired the sessions and stimulating discussions throughout the three days of the Conference.

Professor Stephan Hobe, Director of the Institute of Air, Space and Cyber Law of the University of Cologne, a Partner Institution of the MILAMOS Project, also gave a welcome address in which he underlined that the current state of the world is a sobering moment for international law. It is hoped that the McGill Manual will further dialogue to prevent escalation and the extension of conflict into outer space that will ultimately have detrimental impact on all space operators and users.

The Conference was composed of four sessions, focused, respectively, on Rights and Obligations of Space Actors, Interference with Space Activities, Use of Force and Possible Reactions, and Liability and Responsibility. Each session was opened with keynote speeches from experts involved in the drafting of McGill Manual and practitioners from the German Space Agency DLR, the German Bundeswehr Space Command, the German Cyber and Information Domain Services Headquarter and the German Aerospace Industries Association (BDLI).

Such a unique set-up allowed the participants to understand the rationale behind and content of relevant rules of the McGill Manual, and allowed operators in the military, space agency and industry to share their valuable insight from practical experiences and challenges that arise from their day-to-day work in the field. Through the Q&A sessions, participants had ample opportunities to exchange perspectives on such pressing matters as what are the red lines that amount to a use of force given that the ways and means to interfere with space objects and the space infrastructure have grown in number and sophistication.

In an increasingly multipolar world, and at a time when the international community is faced with apparent assaults on international law and threats to the global rules-based order, there is even greater need to objectively clarify the law applicable to military space activities during peacetime for underlining the limitations international law places on the threat or use of force in outer space. It is vital that every member of the international community has, at the very least, a common understanding of what the law is, what is permissible, and what is prohibited in order to avoid misunderstanding, miscalculation, and escalation into conflict. Moreover, it is imperative that the international community take steps to enhance the existing global space governance system to address new and emerging challenges on Earth and in outer space. Indeed, both the Government of Germany and participants in the McGill Manual regard “outer space as a global commons to be used for the benefit of all States” and steadfastly share the belief that all efforts must be made to prevent a destructive conflict in space.

"The Institute of Air and Space Law is very proud of the important work done by all concerned in the McGill Manual Project, especially of the great commitment to it shown over the years by our own Professor Ram Jakhu and Mr. Kuan-Wei Chen. Future generations will thank them", commented Professor Donal Hanley, Interim Director of the Institute of Air and Space Law.

The Conference was the first major international engagement event since the publication of Volume I of the McGill Manual in July 2022. Throughout the drafting of the McGill Manual, concerted efforts have been made to engage officials and the general public about the importance of clarifying and cementing the rule of law in outer space. In May 2022, preliminary findings of the McGill Manual were presented to delegates of the Open Ended Working Group on Space Threats. A webinar was held jointly with the African Space Leadership Institute in March 2023, and in April 2023, an engagement event was with the Space Command of the Ministry of the Armed Forces of France. In July, there will be a meeting with officials of the Republic of Korea to present outcomes and exchange views.

The exchanges at such stakeholder engagement events are of importance to ensure that the commentaries to the McGill Manual accurately reflect a variety of perspectives on the state of international law as it applies to space activities, including military space activities, in peacetime as well as time of rising tensions. More engagement events are being planned as the McGill Manual team continue their efforts to socialise governments and space stakeholders on how the continued safe, secure and sustainable exploration and use of outer space must rest on commonly agreed legal principles.

Volume II of the McGill Manual, containing commentaries to the 52 Rules, is being finalised and is scheduled for completion at the end of 2023. The McGill Manual is in the process of being translated into all 6 official languages of the United Nations, and will also be available in Japanese, Korean and Turkish. Such efforts will make the McGill Manual available to a broad cross-section to the international community and the public at large.

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