The Potential Human Cost of the Use of Weapons in Outer Space and the Protection Afforded by International Humanitarian Law

Port-au- Prince, Canape Vert district. ICRC initiates restoration of family links to residents living in tents. People are offered satellite phone connection in order to contact family members to inform them that they are safe. © Marko Kokic/ICRC

While space objects have been employed for military purposes since the dawn of the space era, the weaponization of outer space would increase the likelihood of hostilities in outer space, with potentially significant impacts for civilians on earth.

The use of weapons in outer space – be it through kinetic or non-kinetic means, using space- and/or ground-based weapon systems – could have significant impacts on civilians on earth. This is because technology enabled by space systems permeates most aspects of civilian life, making the potential consequences of attacks on space systems a matter of humanitarian concern.

In line with its humanitarian mission and mandate, the International Committee of the Red Cross submits this position paper to the United Nations Secretary-General to contribute its expertise to the discussion on the issues outlined in General Assembly Resolution 75/36.

The paper lays out:

  • the potential human cost of the use of weapons in outer space,
  • the existing limits to such use under international law, notably the Outer Space Treaty, the UN Charter and international humanitarian law, including prohibitions and limitations on the use of certain weapons, means and methods of warfare,
  • conclusions and recommendations that States are invited to consider.

The ICRC recommends that future national and multinational discussions and processes acknowledge:

  • the potentially significant human cost for civilians on earth of the use of weapons in outer space
  • the protection afforded by the IHL rules that restrict belligerents’ choice of means and methods of warfare, including in outer space, on the understanding that acknowledging the applicability of IHL neither legitimizes the weaponization of or hostilities in outer space, nor in any way encourages or justifies the use of force in outer space.

Source : Icrc