Death from above ? : the weaponization of space and the threat to international humanitarian law
Robert David Onley
Host item entries:
Journal of air law and commerce, Vol. 78, issue 4, fall 2013, p. 739-765
While the widespread use of drones in combat today has justifiably led to extensive legal analyses in the early part of the twenty-first century, the broader ongoing weaponization of outer space - as seen through the proliferation of anti-satellite weapons technology and space-based bombers - has not garnered the same legal scrutiny. But as modern civilizations have become entirely dependent on satellite technology for the peaceful functioning of the global digital economy, the new found military capability to rapidly destroy a nation’s satellite communication system represents a lethal and legal unknown that must be critically assessed. Through an examination of existing international laws on space weapons and a comparison with the laws relating to weapons of mass destruction, the need for a comprehensive global ban on anti-satellite and other low-earth orbit weapons platforms becomes evident and necessary for the preservation of the international humanitarian legal order. This paper focuses on anti-satellite weapons, in particular, and argues that such weapons should be treated like WMD’s in order for the international legal system to deter the militarization of the nation state’s final frontier: outer space. In the same manner that the utility of nuclear and chemical weapons was circumscribed by universal bans on their use, so too must anti-satellite and space-based weapons platforms, as will be argued herein.