Six resolutions related to outer space adopted at UNGA 78
In December 2023, during its 78th session, the UN General Assembly (UNGA) adopted six separate resolutions related to outer space.
1. Resolution 78/19: Prevention of an arms race in outer space
In this resolution, the UNGA reaffirms that the legal regime applicable to outer space by itself does not guarantee the prevention of an arms race in outer space, and that there is a need to consolidate and reinforce this regime and enhance its effectiveness. It further reiterates that the Conference on Disarmament has the primary role in the negotiation of a multilateral agreement(s) on the prevention of an arms race in outer space, and invites the Conference to establish a working group under its agenda item entitled ‘Prevention of an arms race in outer space’ as soon as possible. The UNGA also urges states that are (interested in) conducting activities in outer space to keep the Conference informed of the progress of bilateral and multilateral negotiations on the matter.
2. Resolution 78/20: Reducing space threats through norms, rules and principles of responsible behaviour
The UNGA notes, among other elements, that possible solutions to outer space security, including norms, rules, and principles of responsible behaviours, can involve a combination of legally binding obligations and political commitments, and that work in both areas can be pursued in a complementary manner. If further reaffirms that states must conduct their activities in the exploration and use of outer space in conformity with international law. The Assembly also decides to convene a new open-ended working group to make recommendations on the prevention of an arms race in outer space through the development of norms, rules and principles of responsible behaviours, including, but not exclusively, in the following areas:
- International damage to and destruction of space systems;
- Threats to the safe operation of space objects;
- Rendezvous operations and proximity operations that could increase the risk of misunderstanding and miscalculation;
- Protecting critical space-based services to civilians as well as services that support humanitarian operations;
- Other activities and measures that could reduce the risk of unintended escalation and conflict.
The group is to hold an organisational session and two substantive sessions in 2025, and two additional substantive sessions in 2026. It is then expected to submit its report to the GA at its 81st session.
3. Resolution 78/21: No first placement of weapons in outer space
The UNGA encourages all states to consider the possibility of upholding a political commitment not to be the first to place weapons in outer space. It also urges an early commencement of substantive work based on the updated draft treaty on the prevention of the placement of weapons and of the threat or use of force against outer space objects – introduced by China and the Russian Federation at the Conference on Disarmament in 2008.
4. Resolution 78/52: Transparency and confidence-building measures in outer space
The UNGA endorses the ‘Recommendations to promote the practical implementation of transparency and confidence-building measures in outer space activities with the goal of preventing an arms race in outer space, in accordance with the recommendations set out in the  report of the Group of Governmental Experts on Transparency and Confidence-Building Measures in Outer Space Activities’ (Recommendations), adopted by consensus by the Disarmament Commission. It further calls on member states and relevant entities and organisations of the UN system to support the implementation of the full range of conclusions and recommendations contained in the report of the Group of Governmental Experts on Transparency and Confidence-Building Measures in Outer Space Activities and in the Recommendations.
5. Resolution 78/72: International cooperation in the peaceful use of outer space
The UNGA urges member states not yet parties to the international treaties governing the uses of outer space to consider ratifying or acceding to the treaties and incorporating them into national legislation. It also highlights the importance of member states paying more attention to the increasing probability of collision of space objects, and calls for the development of improved technology for monitoring space debris and for the compilation and dissemination of data on space debris.
The Assembly emphasises the need to increase the benefits of space technology and its applications and to contribute to an orderly growth of space activities favourable to sustained economic growth and sustainable development of all countries. It further reiterates the need to promote the benefits of space technology and its applications in the major UN conferences and summits for economic, social, and cultural development and related fields. Moreover, the UNGA urges the Inter-Agency Meeting on Outer Space Activities to continue to examine how space science and technology and their applications could contribute to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
6. Resolution 78/238: Further practical measures for the prevent of an arms race in outer space
The UNGA calls on states to take urgent measures to prevent for all time the placement of weapons in outer space and the threat or use of force in outer space (from space against Earth and from Earth against objects in space), and to seek the elaboration of ‘appropriate reliably verifiable legally binding multilateral agreements’. It urges the Conference on Disarmament to agree on and implement a programme of work that includes the immediate commencement of negotiations on an international legally binding instrument on the prevention of an arms race in outer space.
The Assembly also decides to establish a open-ended working group (OEWG)to consider and to make recommendations on substantial elements of an international legally binding instrument on the prevention of an arms race in outer space, including, inter alia, on the prevention of the placement of weapons in outer space, as well as to consider various aspects of the prevention of an arms race in outer space in the context of an international legally binding instrument on the prevention of an arms race in outer space. The OEWG is to hold its organisational session in Geneva in 2024, and eight substantive sessions in 2025, 2026, 2027, and 2028.
The OWEG is to continue building on the work of the Group of Governmental Experts established in 2023 to consider and make recommendations on substantial elements of an international legally binding instrument on the prevention of an arms race in outer space.
If the Conference on Disarmament implements a balanced and comprehensive programme of work that includes the negotiation of an international legally binding instrument on the prevention of an arms race in outer space, the newly established OEWG will conclude its work.