Australia takes lead drafting laws of space conflict


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Space and military law experts from Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States have joined forces to take the lead on understanding how Earth-bound laws might be applied in times of armed conflict in outer space.

Legal and policy experts at the University of Adelaide, UNSW Canberra, University of Exeter and University of Nebraska College of Law will draft The Woomera Manual on the International Law of Military Space Operations.

The team hope the Woomera Manual will become the definitive document on military and security law as it applies to space.

The project will be completed in 2020 and will draw on the knowledge of dozens of legal and space operations experts from around the world [with no mention of consulting military experts, in the announcement].

Founding leaders of the Woomera Manual are: Professor Melissa de Zwart and Professor Dale Stephens (Adelaide), Professor Rob McLaughlin (Canberra), Professor Michael Schmitt (Exeter) and Professor Jack Beard (Nebraska).

Professor de Zwart, Dean of the Adelaide Law School, said conflict in outer space was not a case of ‘if’ but ‘when’ – however, the legal regime that governs the use of force and actual armed conflict in outer space was very unclear, which is why the Woomera Manual was needed.

“The few international treaties that deal with outer space provide very little regulation of modern space activities, including both military and commercial uses of space,” she said.

“Therefore, we need to cast our gaze more widely in our approach to determining what laws are applicable in space.”

Professor McLaughlin, Professor of Military and Security Law at UNSW Canberra, said space was a key enabler for communications, surveillance, early warning and navigation systems and was a critical security and conflict domain.

“Such extensive use of space by military forces has produced a growing awareness that space-based assets are becoming particularly vulnerable to adverse actions by potential competitors,” Professor McLaughlin says.

US Secretary of Air Force Heather Wilson declared last year that the US must start to prepare for the possibility of armed conflict in outer space.

President Donald Trump also recently made a call for a dedicated US military space force.

Professor of Public International Law at Exeter Law School Michael Schmitt said the world could no longer afford to ignore the legal implications of the military use of space.

“The four universities who form the founding partnership of the Woomera Manual project are committed to developing an agreed understanding, and then subsequent articulation, of how international law more generally applies to regulate military space activities in a time of rising tension and even outright armed conflict,” he said.

Associate Professor with the University of Nebraska College of Law Jack Beard said the Woomera Manual would be drafted in the full tradition of other manuals that have been developed by legal and policy experts over the last 20 years, including the San Remo Manual on Naval Warfare, the Harvard Manual on Air and Missile Warfare, and the Tallinn Manuals (1.0 and 2.0) dealing with laws applicable to cyber operations and warfare.

“Such manuals have proven to have a significant impact in their respective fields, and we envisage that the Woomera Manual will have the same impact for the military uses of space,” Professor Beard said.

 

Why “Woomera”?

The Woomera Manual is named after the Woomera township in South Australia, which has a long association with both Australian and multi-national military space operations. In 1967, Woomera was the site from which Australia successfully launched its first satellite, becoming only the fourth nation in the world to do so. In Australian Indigenous culture, a “woomera” is a traditional spear-throwing device. The name “woomera” originates from the Dharug language of the Eora people.

 

Composite image by CONTACT

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Brian Hartigan

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