International humanitarian law – the rules applicable to conflicts between states – stipulates that no attack on civilians or civilian infrastructure is allowed. This is also important in space. “You can’t target civilian objects. You can only target military targets, and then you have to determine what those targets are. A hospital or a school is always protected, but a bridge or a communications center can sometimes be military and sometimes civilian,” he said. Cassandra Steele, an expert in space law and space security at the Australian National University in Canberra and a speaker at the conference, said the idea of ​​”proportionality” that prohibits attacks on objects that are primarily used for civilian use and have little military advantage should also apply to space.

This presents a tricky debate for space diplomats, Azcárate Ortega said, given the abundance of “dual-use” technologies. “Dual-use” refers to things like GPS and Earth-imaging satellites, which have many everyday uses, but military customers can also take advantage of them. (She distinguishes these devices from “dual-use” devices, such as robotic arms used to repair spacecraft or remove derelict ships from orbit, which can be repurposed as weapons against adversary satellites.) In this regard There’s plenty of room for more regulation The area includes rules that focus on transparency, such as notifying others when new satellite services or debris collection technologies are used, West said.

The Russian conflict in Ukraine has already had an impact in space, casting a shadow over the meeting. Earlier this year, Russian officials pushed to postpone a meeting scheduled for February, when Russia conducted an anti-satellite test in November that nearly ripped through the International Space Station and rallied as they rallied along Ukraine. Troop period border. The Ukraine war also offers a glimpse into how commercial satellites are involved in the war, and how satellite signals can be jammed or spoofed.

For the past few years, Russian and Chinese diplomats have sought to advance a treaty that would prevent the placement of weapons in space. But they have made little progress on this front. The U.S. blocked the effort, offering no alternatives. While destructive weapons haven’t been launched into space, China and Russia’s concerns about U.S. weapons in orbit are not unfounded: Some U.S. policymakers, led by Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, have called for development in space and deploy missiles.

Steele said the U.S. was not a leader in space arms control — until Harris recently announced that the country would refrain from conducting anti-satellite missile tests. While some delegations, including China and Russia, would prefer to see a legally binding treaty, a voluntary declaration that most governments would agree to could establish a norm that could later lead to a more formal agreement.

On the very first day of the Geneva conference, representatives of many countries from Mexico, Austria, Pakistan, Nigeria and Sri Lanka expressed the need for peace in space. Considering how important space safety is to everyone, the fact that delegations from countries that don’t have many spacecraft are actively involved is not surprising. Steer said millions of people around the world rely on satellites for navigation, communications, broadband and finance. These spacecraft are vulnerable to collisions with thousands of known large pieces of debris that have clogged commonly used orbits, plus millions of untraceable smaller pieces. A conflict that begins or extends into space, especially one involving the United States, Russia or China, is sure to worsen the situation.

The rest of the week’s talks include presentations by Steer, Azcárate Ortega and others on land-based laws that can serve as a guide for negotiators to move from discussion to advice. If all goes well, delegates will reach a consensus document by the end of the week, which could be the starting point for the September meeting.

While the UN process is slow and potentially political, Azcarrat Ortega is optimistic. “After years of nothing really happening, or people talking but no concrete advice, this seems to be moving forward,” she said. “All parties in the geopolitical space came to the table. I didn’t expect everyone to agree from the start, but it was very encouraging.”