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The Road Not Yet Taken for Defusing Conflicts in Active Debris Removal: A Multilateral Organization

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Document pages: 29 pages

Abstract: The dual-use nature of active debris removal (ADR) and of on-orbit servicing (OOS) technology implies the latent possibility of aggressive interference with foreign entities’ space objects. This can create an atmosphere of escalatory competition in which space actors start or continue to develop offensive or retaliatory space capabilities to protect their space assets. An arms race or conflicts in space could follow, to the detriment of the peaceful uses of outer space for the benefit of all. Apart from the drafting of non-binding rules of conduct, guidelines and transparency measures and the difficulty of negotiating restrictive binding regulations, this paper discusses a third way to help safeguard security and peace in space that has not received adequate attention in literature: a broad intergovernmental organization of a civilian nature tasked with the research, design, and operation of ADR OOS missions. Rather than limiting freedom of action, the organization would offer, in principle, a positive means of peaceful collaboration while reducing the need for unilateral ADR OOS operations. The advantages of this approach are manifold. Through extensive multilateral cooperation many of the legal hurdles surrounding space debris and ADR (e.g. definition, liability, jurisdiction and control) could be surmounted. Moreover, a co-governed, depoliticized, multilateral organization to implement ADR operations, open to all willing and peaceful participants, would promote far-reaching transparency and act as an institutionalized Transparency and Confidence-Building Measure (TCBM). Tensions and misunderstandings could be reduced and the threat of escalation neutralized, while collective experience, institutional learning, and goodwill would be put towards more effective, future international legal instruments on space debris and ADR with global support.

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