Major world powers are very insecure about their ability to control the outer space. We sometimes hear in the news that one is threatening the other with shooting down its satellite for espionage. But, can they do that? Also, are there are any laws or rules that nations have to follow in the outer space? What actually prevents nations from going to a limited war in the outer space region?
Well, the truth is that there is no actual treaty in place to stop any country from blowing up another country’s satellite. The only treaty globally accepted and ratified was the Outer Space Treaty that was initially signed between UK, USA and USSR back in 1967. While the treaty forbids the use of outer space for weapons of mass destruction in any form, it is silent on the use of conventional weapons.
Taking advantage of this loophole, conventional weapons were gladly developed by the USSR, USA and later China to take down any satellite they believe to be hostile in nature. The treaty does mention that the satellite in orbit is the responsibility of the nation that put it there. Therefore, the nation will also be responsible for its use in any espionage related activities, nations have inferred from it. This practically gives a reason to shoot down any rival satellites for spying but so far there haven’t been widely distributed use of these anti-satellite missiles despite their constant development and research.
So far, China, Russia and Israel are said to have developed such weapons and have displayed their effectiveness by blowing up one or more of their own useless satellites.
So far common sense has prevailed and countries haven’t attacked each other in outer space. However there is a need for global agreement on not to use the outer space for any kind of weapons, but that will be tricky to discuss.