Do We Need a Code of Conduct for Space? Considering Recent Developments in the Effort to Change Behavior in Space

Does the United States need an International Code of Conduct in Space to preserve an advantage or to advance its interests? Does the U.S. need a Code of Conduct to signal to others what it considers acceptable behavior in space? Will a Code of Conduct dissuade international actors from misbehavior? Will an agreement brought to life by the efforts of diplomats offer practical solutions to the problems of greatest interest to space operators? The answer to all of these questions is “No” and because the answers are “No,” the Obama Administration’s curious stance on a Code of Conduct in space is confusing and troubling.

This essay expands on our earlier piece, Rules of the Road in Space: Does a Code of Conduct Improve U.S. Security?,1 to consider recent developments in the debate over the Code of Conduct. Throughout the past year, the Obama Administration has been reviewing a proposed Code of Conduct offered up by the European Union. While never explicitly endorsing the EU Code, Administration officials, in particular the Defense Department, certainly embraced the underlying rationale for a Code, arguing that the socialization of norms of good behavior across space actors would benefit the U.S. In recent weeks, the Administration formally committed the U.S. to the construction of an International Code of Conduct.

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