Since 1999, when the Third United Nations Conference on the Exploration and Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UNISPACE III) was held, the international community has not addressed comprehensively the issue of global space governance.
Meanwhile, numerous developments have occurred in the world in general, and the space sector in particular, that have serious implications for the current and future conduct of space activities by all states. Space lies at the nexus of security, strategic stability and scientific, as well as technological, advancement.
The blurring of civilian and military activities in space
An important aspect of the existing model of global space governance is that it purports to feature a separation between civilian and military space activities. However, the separation and distinguishing features are becoming increasingly blurred, with serious implications. The emergence of a burgeoning private (i.e., non-governmental) space sector and the massive environmental repercussions of space debris are just some of the many issues that have challenged the very foundations of the existing model of global space governance.
Presently, calls are being made within the United Nations Committee for the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS) and other international fora for a UNISPACE IV conference to be held. Although it might take a while for UNISPACE IV to materialize, it is certain is that the international community, both of spacefaring and non-spacefaring nations, will need to formulate a clear idea of what that conference should achieve. In view of the developments that have occurred since UNISPACE III, the issue of global space governance must be a prime candidate for consideration in any such international effort.
What is Global Space Governance?
Clearly, governance is a wide and expansive term that is susceptible to multiple (and sometimes inconsistent) interpretations and possible overlaps. In everyday parlance, governance refers to the manner of governing or regulating, and it covers not only legal frameworks and legal systems, but also incorporates political, economic, sociological, cultural and other relevant aspects. In a sense, governance may be distinguished from government and non-institutionalized legal obligations. Governance in the for-profit private sector may also be distinguished from governance involving international governmental organizations and not-for-profit non-governmental organizations.
Ensuring space exploration is carried out for peaceful purposes
To date, global space governance has primarily been implemented through the establishment and implementation of legal, institutional and regulatory regimes, both at the international and domestic levels. However, with the proliferation of cooperative governance mechanisms that involve non-legally binding commitments increasingly being undertaken by non-governmental entities operating in outer space, it is clear that the international community as a whole needs to review existing mechanisms and consider new governance concepts aimed at ensuring exploration and use of outer space are carried out for peaceful purposes, for the benefit and in the interest of mankind.
Indeed, the phrase “benefit and interest of mankind” must be defined first in whatever context it is used.
The forthcoming Manfred Lachs International Conference on Global Space Governance will provide a neutral setting for the conduct of interdisciplinary deliberations lending themselves to a responsive UNISPACE IV conference addressing issues relating to global space governance.