Issue Brief on “Russian ASAT Test Heralds Hastening Arms Race in Outer Space”

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Russia conducted an Anti-Satellite Test (ASAT) on November 15, 2021. Russia destroyed one of its inactive satellites the KOSMOS-1408 around 500 km above the earth. While this has raised a host of issues like the creation of 1500 pieces of space debris that will keep endangering space activities for years to come. The test was met with a barrage of protests from the US and its allies, statements from Russian officials with condemnations and counter condemnations. The issue warrants deeper analysis. Russia is one of four countries that have conducted ASAT’s over the years. The others are the US, China and India. This comes in the backdrop of an increasing number of ASAT’s over the years and a move towards the weaponisation of outer space. Thus, the issues involved warrant a deeper investigation and raise several political and legal questions on increasing threats and regulation of outer space.

The Russian Foreign Ministry confirmed the test but maintained that the test did not violate the 1967 Outer Space Treaty (OST). The OST bans the stationing of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction in outer space and other celestial bodies but does not prohibit conventional weapons tests. It also claimed that the debris produced did not pose a danger to satellites or International Space Station (ISS). The Russian Defense Minister, Sergei Shoigu, said “We’ve tested a successful forward-looking system. It hit the old satellite.”[1] The Russian Defense Ministry maintained that it is carrying out planned activities on the reinforcement of the national defence capabilities, given the new US space strategy which aims to “establish a comprehensive military supremacy” in space.[2]

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