Russia, China offer to ban space weapons

February 12, 2008 4:43:41 AM PST
China and Russia challenged the United States at a disarmament debate Tuesday by formally presenting a plan to ban weapons in space -- a proposal that Washington has called a diplomatic ploy by the two nations to gain a military advantage. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told the 65-nation Conference on Disarmament that "weapons deployment in space by one state" -- a reference to the U.S. -- could cause a "new spiral in the arms race both in space and on Earth."

Lavrov's call came with an implied threat, noting that the Soviet Union caught up with the U.S. after World War II by developing its own nuclear weapons.

"Let us not forget that the nuclear arms race was started with a view to preserving a monopoly of this type of weapon," Lavrov said. "But this monopoly was to last only four years."

Washington rejects the plan because it feels it is only directed at U.S. military technology and allows China and Russia to fire ground-based missiles into space or use satellites as weapons of war.

The U.S. also points to China's launch last year of a ballistic missile that destroyed one of its old weather satellites and created thousands of pieces of space debris. The test was widely criticized as a provocative display of China's growing military capability.

The U.S. says it is committed to ensuring the use of space for peaceful purposes, but insists that it will pursue programs to ensure that its satellites and other spacecraft are protected.

The Russian and Chinese proposal has been stymied by the United States since it was first introduced as an idea in 2002, two weeks after the United States withdrew from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.

U.S. President George W. Bush signed an order in October 2006 tacitly asserting the U.S. right to space weapons, and opposing the development of treaties or other measures restricting them.

Russia and China also oppose Washington's development of anti-missile defense systems, which the two nations say could set off a new arms race.