Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Star Laws: Legal Controls on Armed Conflict in Outer Space

Credit: edobric/Adobe

Credit: edobric/Adobe

By Dale Stephens

An undeclared military space race is unfolding yet there is no clear understanding of how international law operates in the field of armed conflict in outer space.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

The idea of space warfare has long dominated movie and television scripts. However, what has been a staple of science fiction is now rapidly becoming an acute reality.

Modern military operations rely heavily on satellites for communications, intelligence gathering, reconnaissance, navigation and targeting. At the same time, space weaponry capabilities are being developed by a number of states. Anti-satellite systems are reaching a stage of developmental maturity and may well be deployed before too long. At present there is an undeclared military space race unfolding, with countries vying for ascendency in this potential theatre of operations.

The idea of warfare in, through or from space is well-accepted within military planning circles. Despite this there is at present no clear understanding of how international law, which applies to regulate armed conflict and to minimise civilian casualties and damage on Earth, operates in the field of armed conflict in outer space.

Modern society relies heavily on space-based assets for modern banking, internet, aviation, commerce, medical, agricultural and other critical civilian activities. An unregulated armed conflict in space threatens these major peacetime civilian activities and represents an unchecked vulnerability to our way of life.

The recent 2016 Australian Defence White paper recognises the...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.