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Is Russia developing nuclear arms for mass destruction in space as it vetoes UN resolution?

The Russian Federation vetoed a resolution sponsored by the United States and Japan aimed at keeping weapons out of outer space. The Security Council rejected the draft resolution, introduced by Japan and the United States, by a vote of 13 in favour to one against, with China abstaining.

Edited By: Ajeet Kumar @Ajeet1994 United Nations Updated on: April 25, 2024 8:16 IST
Russian President Vladimir Putin
Image Source : AP Russian President Vladimir Putin

Russia on Wednesday vetoed a UN resolution sponsored by the United States and Japan calling on all nations to prevent a dangerous nuclear arms race in outer space. The vote in the 15-member Security Council was 13 in favour, Russia opposed and China abstaining. Russia dismissed the measure as politicised and said it did not go far enough in banning all types of weapons in space.

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 US and Russia, and to agree to the need to verify compliance.

Putin has said Moscow has no intention of deploying nuclear weapons

US 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, but that the country's veto raises the question of what the government may be hiding.

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 United States. Russia's UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia told the council before the vote that the resolution was "absurd and politicised".

Russia's UN Ambassador says all kinds of arms race should be banned 

Nebenzia proposed an amendment to the US-Japan draft saying an arms race in outer space should refer to all kinds of weapons -- not just nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction. It was defeated by a vote of seven countries in favour, seven against and one abstention because it failed to get the minimum nine "yes" votes required for adoption. 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 UN Charter.

The draft would have affirmed that countries that ratified the 1967 Outer Space Treaty must comply with their obligations not to put in orbit around the Earth "any objects" with weapons of mass destruction, or install them "on celestial bodies, or station such weapons in outer space".

The treaty, ratified by some 114 countries including the United States and Russia, prohibits the deployment of "nuclear weapons or any other kinds of weapons of mass destruction" in orbit or the stationing of "weapons in outer space in any other manner".

Why prevention of a nuclear arms race in space is crucial?

The draft resolution emphasised "the necessity of further measures, including political commitments and legally binding instruments, with appropriate and effective provisions for verification, to prevent an arms race in outer space in all its aspects". It reiterated that the UN Conference on Disarmament, based in Geneva, has the primary responsibility to negotiate agreements on preventing an arms race in outer space.

The 65-nation body has achieved few results and has largely devolved into a venue for countries to voice criticism of others' weapons programmes or defend their own. The draft resolution would have urged the conference "to adopt and implement a balanced and comprehensive programme of work".

At the March council meeting where the US-Japan initiative was launched, UN Secretary-General António Guterres warned that "geopolitical tensions and mistrust have escalated the risk of nuclear warfare to its highest point in decades".

He said the movie "Oppenheimer" about Robert Oppenheimer, who directed the US project during World War II that developed the atomic bomb, "brought the harsh reality of nuclear doomsday to vivid life for millions around the world". "Humanity cannot survive a sequel to Oppenheimer," the UN chief said. 

(With inputs from agency)

Also Read: Russia, China considering putting 'nuclear power plant' on moon from 2033-35: Space agency Roscosmos

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