Russia, US clash at UN Security Council meeting over nuclear weapons in space

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Russia on Wednesday vetoed a US-drafted United Nations Security Council resolution that called on countries to prevent an arms race in outer space, a move that prompted the United States to question if Moscow was hiding something.

The vote came after Washington accused Moscow of developing a anti-satellite nuclear weapon to put in space, an allegation that Russia has denied. Russian President Vladimir Putin has said that Moscow was against putting nuclear weapons in space.

“Today’s veto begs the question: Why? Why if you are following the rules would you not support a resolution that reaffirms them? What could you possibly be hiding?” US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield told the council after the vote. “It’s baffling and it’s a shame.”

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Russia’s UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia accused Washington of trying to tarnish Moscow and said Russia would shortly begin negotiations with council members on its own draft resolution aimed at keeping space peaceful.

“We want a ban on the placement of weapons of any kind in outer space, not just (weapons of mass destruction). But you don’t want that ... Let me ask you that very same question: Why?” Nebenzia asked Thomas-Greenfield in the council.

The draft resolution was put to a vote by the US and Japan after nearly six weeks of negotiations. It received 13 votes in favor, while China abstained and Russia cast a veto.

The UN text would have affirmed an obligation to comply with the Outer Space Treaty and called on states “to contribute actively to the objective of the peaceful use of outer space and of the prevention of an arms race in outer space.”

The 1967 Outer Space Treaty bars signatories - including Russia and the United States - from placing “in orbit around the Earth any objects carrying nuclear weapons or any other kinds of weapons of mass destruction.

Talks

Before the council voted on the US draft text, Russia and China had proposed it be amended to include a call on all states “to prevent for all time the placement of weapons in outer space and the threat or use of force in outer space, from space against Earth and from Earth against objects in outer space.”

The council voted on the proposed amendment, but it failed to pass. It received seven votes in favor, seven against and one abstention.

US intelligence officials, according to three people familiar with their findings, believe the Russian capability to be a space-based nuclear bomb whose electromagnetic radiation if detonated would disable vast networks of satellites.

White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby has said Russia has not yet deployed such a weapon.

Governments have increasingly viewed satellites in Earth’s orbit as crucial assets that enable an array of military capabilities on Earth, with space-based communications and satellite-connected drones in the war in Ukraine serving as recent examples of space’s outsized role in modern warfare.

Russia invaded neighboring Ukraine in February 2022.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov said earlier this month that Moscow and Washington were in contact over the non-deployment of nuclear weapons in space, the TASS news agency quoted him as saying.

“We are in contact in that they rejected further discussions of the topic,” said a senior US administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity. “I don’t know if he’s referencing something else, but that has been the level of contact that we’ve had on this topic.”

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