Russia vetoes US-backed UN resolution to ban nuclear weapons in space

Wednesday, April 25, 2024 – Russia has vetoed a United Nations resolution that proposed a ban on the use of nuclear weapons in outer space after US intelligence reported that Moscow is trying to develop a nuclear device capable of destroying satellites.

In February, President Joe Biden confirmed the US has intelligence that Russia is developing a nuclear anti-satellite capability. The weapon could destroy satellites by creating a massive energy wave when detonated.

Russian Ambassador to the UN, Vassily Nebenzia on Wednesday, April 24, described the UN draft as a “dirty spectacle” and a “cynical ploy” prepared by the resolution’s backers, the US and Japan.

Before the vote, senior US officials claimed Russia might be hiding something should it veto the text.

US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield echoed those claims in her speech after the vote on Wednesday.

“And so today’s veto begs the question: Why? Why, if you are following the rules, would you not support a resolution that reaffirms them?” she asked.

“What could you possibly be hiding? It’s baffling. And it’s a shame.”

The US ambassador also condemned China’s abstention, saying Beijing “has shown that it would rather defend Russia as its junior partner than safeguard the global nonproliferation regime.”

The Council voted against resolution amendments tabled by Russia and China.

Thomas-Greenfield said Wednesday’s vote “marks a real missed opportunity to rebuild much-needed trust in existing arms control obligations.”

A US and Japan-drafted resolution had received cross-regional support from more than 60 member states.

It intended to strengthen and uphold the global non-proliferation regime, including in outer space, and reaffirm the shared goal of maintaining outer space for peaceful purposes.

It also called on UN member states not to develop nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction designed to be placed in Earth’s orbit.

Experts say this kind of weapon could have the potential to wipe out mega-constellations of small satellites, like SpaceX’s Starlink, which has been successfully used by Ukraine to counter Russian troops.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said in March that Moscow is ready to use nuclear weapons if there is a threat to the existence of the Russian state but “there has never been such a need.”

He also told officials that space projects, including the setup of a nuclear power unit in space, should be a priority and receive proper financing.

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