U.S.-E.U. space agreement triggers sovereignty concerns in space

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The Defense Department will renegotiate a proposed agreement with the European Union for responsible behavior in space, but one legislator at a March 21 hearing of the Senate Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee expressed concerned that the code of conduct is even up for discussion.

"Europeans ceded their sovereignty to Brussels. Really, they don't worry about those things too much, but most Americans do...We need capabilities that are not so important to them," said subcommittee Ranking Member Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.).

Sessions urged Assistant Secretary of Defense for global strategic affairs Madelyn Creedon to be "very cautious" about signing an agreement.

"It's not about limiting capabilities, it's about responsible behavior," said Creedon, in response.

In January, the DoD said it would not adopt a proposed European Union code of conduct for space in its current state, according to Space News.

"It's been clear from the very beginning that we're not going along with the code of conduct," Ellen Tauscher, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, reportedly said at the time. She later added that the code is "too restrictive."

But Creedon told legislators that State and Defense department officials decided in February they would work with the E.U. to revise the non-legally binding agreement to ensure it would not limit the nation's ability to defend itself. In June, European and U.S. officials will have their first meeting in what Creedon said could be a 1- or 2-year negotiation process.  

In trying to dispel Sessions' suggestion that the agreement would seek to prevent a space arms race, Creedon said the code will focus mostly on responsible behavior.

One goal would be to set norms for debris mitigation. Beyond controlling debris, the code would also aim to minimize radio frequency interference in space. A code might also improve the member nations' ability to understand other nations' actions in space.

"So, if someone was going to move a satellite, there would be an understanding of why that satellite was moved. So, part of this is to reduce the risk of not just mishaps, but [of] mistrust, misconduct and misconceptions," said Creedon.

Commander of Air Force Space Command Gen. William Shelton said that he and the Office of the Secretary of Defense are on the same page when it comes to drawing the line between responsible conduct and rules that would restrict future U.S. action in space.

"If somebody were to prescribe distances from satellites, that might be something that's tough to live with," said Shelton.

"If someone were to say 'absolutely zero debris,' that would be a thing that's tough to live with," he added. "So those sorts of things we'd want to watch closely."

For more:
- go to the hearing webpage (prepared testimonies and webcast available)
- read the Space News article

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