McGill Manual Engagement Seminar with the French Space Command

Prof. Ram Jakhu and Mr. Kuan-Wei (David Chen) pose for a picture with delegates of the French Space Command
Published: 10 May 2023

On 21 April 2023, the Co-Editors of the McGill Manual on International Law Applicable to Military Uses of Outer Space, Professor Ram Jakhu and Professor Steven Freeland, joined by Managing Editor Kuan-Wei Chen, held an engagement seminar with the Space Command of the Ministry of the Armed Forces of France.

Chief Commissioner Anne-Sophie Grand-Jacquot of the French Space Command (Commandement de l’Espace) kindly welcomed the editors of the McGill Manual to the impressive facilities of L’Hexagone Balard, the headquarters of the Ministry of the Armed Forces in Paris. Underlining the importance that France places on the safety and sustainability of outer space, Commissioner Grand-Jacquot recognised and praised the accomplishments and efforts of the Group of Experts that cumulated in the publication of the world’s first manual clarifying the law as it applies to military and strategic uses of outer space.

In attendance in person and online were over twenty military officers and attachés. Over two hours, the McGill Manual Co-Editors and Managing Editor took the time to address a dozen questions French Space Command had submitted beforehand. These questions ranged from seeking clarification on the definition and delimitation of outer space to the notion of “jurisdiction and control” over objects involved in military space activities. Members of the French Space Command were also keenly interested to have clarification on the content of the obligation of due regard, and how the physical and legal nature of outer space affects the exercise of the inherent right to self-defence. These insightful requests for clarification demonstrate the meticulous way that French government and officials have considered the 52 Rules contained in Volume I of the McGill Manual.

These Rules of the McGill Manual are the result of a long and extensive process of deliberation, consultation and review by legal and technical experts around the world. From the launch of the project to draft the McGill Manual, the Government of France has expressed great interest in the progress of the project to draft the McGill Manual. In turn, the project has greatly benefited from the involvement of Major Jérémie Ayadi and Major Mickael Dupenloup, who participated in their personal capacities and, with their astute interventions and input, provided much insight on military operations and perspectives.

Co-Editors Professor Jakhu and Professor Freeland both expressed their appreciation to their continued support and faith in the practical value of the McGill Manual. Underlining that outer space is governed by an established legal framework which guarantees the freedom of exploration and use for all, France’s 2019 Space Defence Strategy aligns greatly with the vision of the McGill Manual. In line with the rationale of the McGill Manual to clarify the law, the French Space Defence Strategy provides that “the free use of space is not absolute [since] it is curtailed by the requirement to respect ‘the interests of all countries’ and by international law”. Further, in March 2023, at the Open-Ended Working Group on Space Threats, the Permanent Representative of France to the Conference on Disarmament reiterated that “France remains committed to preserving a safe space environment and to the compliance with international law, which is fully applicable to space activities”.

Such sentiments greatly validate the urgency and value of the clarification of the lex lata in a shared operational environment that is increasingly congested, competitive and complex, and in which a variety of kinetic and non-kinetic means to interfere with or disrupt the space infrastructure may have lingering implications. Indeed, France had astutely observed that “States and the different actors now face an increase and intensification of mixed strategies, harassment methods and shows of force. These current and recurring threats, …are played out just short of the use of force”.

The engagement seminar with the French Space Command foreshadows the long-awaited publication of Volume II of the McGill Manual. Due to be made available in late 2023, Volume II contains detailed and evidence-based commentaries to the Rules, which relies on primary sources of international law, the travaux préparatoires of the instruments applicable to outer space, statements expressed by States on space activities and jurisprudence of international courts and tribunals, to clarify, for instance, what is meant by the threat or use of force in space. Other important pressing matters of concern to space operators and States that are also clarified in the McGill Manual are the legitimate responses are to internationally wrongful or unfriendly acts involving the use of the space infrastructure, and what the law is with regard to such space-specific operations such as rendezvous and proximity operations (RPOs) and the intentional jamming and spoofing of communications signals.

This unique opportunity to meet and engage with officials from the Ministry and the French Space Command was kindly facilitated by Director of the Foundation pour la recherche stratégique (FRS) Dr. Xavier Pasco, Director of Research of the French National Centre for Scientific Research (Centre national de la recherche scientifique) Dr. Isavelle Sourbes-Verger, and Ms. Florence Gaillard-Sborowsky (FRS). In concluding the seminar, Dr. Pasco praised the McGill Manual as an important “living entity” that reminds States and stakeholders of the firm legal foundations applicable to outer space and to all sorts of space activities and applications that are rapidly developing.

In March 2023, the Co-Editors of the McGill Manual co-hosted a webinar with the African Space Leadership Institute (ASLI) titled the “Governance of Military Space Activities: The McGill Manual”. In June 2023, the German Federal Academy for Security Policy will organise a conference to highlight the contents of the McGill Manual to officials and stakeholders of Germany and European States.

Further engagement and outreach events planned in the coming period will, similar to the seminar held with the French Space Command be instrumental to publicising and [familiarising] socialising States and space stakeholders on the continued relevance of the legal fundamentals of the space governance regime and the rule of law that underpin the continued safe, secure and sustainable exploration and use of outer space by all States.

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