Russia vetoes a UN resolution calling for the prevention of a dangerous nuclear arms race in space

UN Security Council
United States Ambassador and Representative to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield addresses members of the U.N. Security Council before voting during a meeting on Non-proliferation of nuclear weapons, Wednesday, April 24, 2024 at United Nations headquarters.
AP Photo/Eduardo Munoz Alvarez

By EDITH M. LEDERER Associated Press

Russia on Wednesday vetoed a U.N. resolution sponsored by the United States and Japan calling on all nations to prevent a dangerous nuclear arms race in outer space, calling it “a dirty spectacle” that cherry picks weapons of mass destruction from all other weapons that should also be banned.

The vote in the 15-member Security Council was 13 in favor, Russia opposed and China abstaining.

The resolution would have called on all countries not to develop or deploy nuclear arms or other weapons of mass destruction in space, as banned under a 1967 international treaty that included the U.S. and Russia, and to agree to the need to verify compliance.

U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said after the vote that Russian President Vladimir Putin has said Moscow has no intention of deploying nuclear weapons in space.

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Linda Thomas-Greenfield, Representative of the United States to the United Nations, speaks during a Security Council meeting, Thursday, Feb. 23, 2023, at United Nations headquarters.AP Photo/John Minchillo

“Today’s veto begs the question: Why? Why, if you are following the rules, would you not support a resolution that reaffirms them? What could you possibly be hiding,” she asked. “It’s baffling. And it’s a shame.”

Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia dismissed the resolution as “absolutely absurd and politicized,” and said it didn’t go far enough in banning all types of weapons in space.

Russia and China proposed an amendment to the U.S.-Japan draft that would call on all countries, especially those with major space capabilities, “to prevent for all time the placement of weapons in outer space, and the threat of use of force in outer spaces.”

The vote was 7 countries in favor, 7 against, and one abstention and the amendment was defeated because it failed to get the minimum 9 “yes” votes required for adoption.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy speaks via remote feed during a meeting of the UN Security Council, Tuesday, April 5, 2022, at United Nations headquarters.AP Photo/John Minchillo

The U.S. opposed the amendment, and after the vote Nebenzia addressed the U.S. ambassador saying: “We want a ban on the placement of weapons of any kind in outer space, not just WMDs (weapons of mass destruction). But you don’t want that. And let me ask you that very same question. Why?”

He said much of the U.S. and Japan’s actions become clear “if we recall that the U.S. and their allies announced some time ago plans to place weapons … in outer space.”

Nebenzia accused the U.S. of blocking a Russian-Chinese proposal since 2008 for a treaty against putting weapons in outer space.

Thomas-Greenfield accused Russia of undermining global treaties to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons, irresponsibly invoking “dangerous nuclear rhetoric,” walking away from several of its arms control obligations, and refusing to engage “in substantive discussions around arms control or risk reduction.”

She called Wednesday’s vote “a real missed opportunity to rebuild much-needed trust in existing arms control obligations.”

Thomas-Greenfield’s announcement of the resolution on March 18 followed White House confirmation in February that Russia has obtained a “troubling” anti-satellite weapon capability, although such a weapon is not operational yet.

Putin declared later that Moscow has no intention of deploying nuclear weapons in space, claiming that the country has only developed space capabilities similar to those of the U.S.

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FILE – Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with servicemen at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, on Tuesday, June 27, 2023. Putin is poised to sweep to another six-year term in the March 15-17 presidential election, relying on his rigid control of Russia established during his 24 years in power — the longest Kremlin tenure since Soviet leader Josef Stalin.Mikhail Tereshchenko, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP, File

Thomas-Greenfield said before the vote that the world is just beginning to understand “the catastrophic ramifications of a nuclear explosion in space.”

It could destroy “thousands of satellites operated by countries and companies around the world — and wipe out the vital communications, scientific, meteorological, agricultural, commercial, and national security services we all depend on,” she said.

The defeated draft resolution said “the prevention of an arms race in outer space would avert a grave danger for international peace and security.” It would have urged all countries carrying out activities in exploring and using outer space to comply with international law and the U.N. Charter.