76. Action Memorandum From the Director of the Bureau of Politico-Military Affairs (Spiers) to the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs (Porter)1 2

Registration of Space Objects

Following your approval of the proposal to introduce a new US draft Space Registration Convention early in the March 26–April 20 session of the UN Outer Space Legal Subcommittee (LSC), action officers in PM, IO, L and USUN have informed interested governments of our intentions and sought support for the US draft. In particular, we have taken pains to be open and forthright with the Canadians and French since their draft Registration Convention (which contains provisions unacceptable to the USG) is currently before the LSC.

We have also instructed USNATO and our Embassies in NATO capitals to make a pitch. This tactic was adopted as a means to alert the political-military officials in NATO capitals to the military/intelligence implications of the Space Registration Convention and to generate support by NATO allies both in and outside the LSC for the US draft. That this gap needed to be bridged became apparent after our first encounter with the Canadians. Follow-up consultations with the Canadians have insured that the military/intelligence officials in the Canadian Government, who share our concerns re the extensive reporting requirements in the Canadian-French draft and who understand how such requirements might jeopardize US military space interests, are aware of our proposal and will make an input in the Canadian policy making process.

There is a very good chance that the same lack of internal interchange we discovered in Canada exists in the case of France. To date the Registration Convention issue appears to have been handled primarily by the lawyers in the French Foreign Ministry, with the concurrence of the Service des Pactes. If we are to obtain a sympathetic, or perhaps even favorable response to the US draft from the French, we should seek support from the French Defense Ministry which may some day face the same security issues now confronting us.

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Recently, the French Minister of Defense, M. Debre, said that future French defense interests will require a military reconnaissance satellite capability. Possibly the Defense Ministry would share many of the same defense-related concerns that the USG has with regard to the Canadian-French draft Registration Convention, and might be persuaded that the US draft is more in tune with overall, long-term French national security interests than the present Canadian-French proposal.


That you call in the French Ambassador, M. Kosciusko-Morizet, immediately after the US tables its draft Registration Convention on March 27, and ask him (along the lines of the attached talking points) to make sure that M. Debre and other senior French officials concerned with broad national security considerations are aware of the problems posed by the current Canadian-French draft Registration Convention to military space programs in general. You should, on the basis of these points, solicit French support for the US draft (which, incidentally, borrows heavily from the Canadian-French text).

Approve _____________
Disapprove ___________

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Tab A

Suggested Talking Points for Meeting with French Ambassador, M. Kosciusko-Morizet on Space Registration Convention

After welcoming amenities, it is recommended that you make the following points to Ambassador Kosciusko-Morizet:

  • —The UN Outer Space Legal Subcommittee, which is currently in session in New York, once again has space registration as a priority item on its agenda>.
  • —A combined Canadian-French draft Space Registration Convention is before the Legal Subcommittee.
  • —The Government of France is >well aware that certain provisions in the Canadian-French text are unacceptable to the USG.
  • —The USG is principally concerned with some of the detailed reporting requirements contained in the Canadian-French text which could seriously compromise certain US military space activities.
  • —The technical and highly classified nature of certain US military space activities make it extremely difficult for the USG to debate its case in an open, international forum such as the Legal Subcommittee.
  • —This inability to articulate its case fully makes it difficult if not impossible for the USG to delete the unacceptable provisions of the Canadian-French text through negotiations in the Legal Subcommittee. Thus, the USG decided it could best protect its vital military space interests by introducing a revised draft Registration Convention at the opening of the Legal Subcommittee.
  • —A Space Registration Convention as such would not benefit the USG substantially. However, the USG acknowledges the legitimate concern of many other countries less experienced in the space field who desire some legal mechanism to link to the launching state and to identify space objects which have caused damage or injury. Indeed, the USG believes that the one justifiable purpose of a Registration Convention is to fill the gap in the present legal framework, thus facilitating the processing of claims under the Space Liability Convention.
  • —The USG is not prepared to accept a Registration Convention with a broader scope, and, in particular, is opposed to using a Registration Convention as a mechanism to extend international control in outer space.
  • —Recently M. Debre has stated in press interviews on a number of occasions that future French defense interests will require a reconnaissance satellite capability. Thus, the France Defense Ministry may find that it shares many of the same defense-related concerns that the USG has with regard to the Canadian-French draft Registration Convention. Indeed, M. Debre and his defense colleagues might find the US draft more in tune with overall, long-term French national security interests than the present Canadian-French proposal.
  • —The US draft Registration Convention borrows heavily from the Canadian-French text. The USG is not interested in identifying its draft as a unilateral, US initiative. Given the extensive French effort to produce a Space Registration Convention, the USG would particularly welcome French support for and, if possible, co-sponsorship of the revised US draft.

If Ambassador Kosciusko-Morizet asks about the specific provisions in the Canadian-French text which the USG finds unacceptable, it is recommended that you respond:

  • —The USG objects to the provision (Article IV of the Canadian-French draft) on marking of space objects. US objections are based more on economic and technical grounds rather than on security considerations. To mark all space objects (which by definition includes all component parts) with the designated object number is not only impractical from a technical point of view, but would require significant expenditures as well. Such an effort would not be commensurate with the marginal utility in identifying space objects which may have caused damage or injury.
  • —On security grounds, the USG objects to certain provisions contained in Article V of the Canadian-French draft. For example, certain military space activities could be compromised by revealing such things as “physical characteristics” of the satellites (V. 1. (F)) or description, including [Page 5] identifiable features, of components likely to withstand reentry (V. 1. (G)). Also, we would not wish to furnish reentry data on military systems, which present virtually no threat to population areas, but could be compromised if precise information on timing and impact area were in unfriendly hands, (V. 1. (I)). Some of these requirements go far beyond what is necessary to meet the legitimate identification concerns of many states.

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During your meeting with M. Francois de La Gorce (who will be Charge at the time of the meeting), it is recommended that you make the following additional points after covering the points prepared for Ambassador Porter to use with the French Ambassador:

  • —we have received word from the US Mission to the UN that the French representatives have indicated that they did not intend the Canadian-French draft Registration Convention to apply to French military space activity. We find this report astonishing.
  • —the broad body of space law that has been developed over the past decade does not distinguish between civilian and military space activity. No such distinction is made in the Outer Space Treaty, the Astronaut Rescue and Astronaut and Space Object Return Agreement, or the Space Liability Convention. We do not believe such a distinction should be made in a Space Registration Convention either; nor that it is indeed possible given tenor of UN discussion over the years.
  • —indeed, the US and USSR, as well as others, have reported all space launches (i.e. objects which have gone, into earth orbit or beyond) under the voluntary system which had been in operation for the past ten years. The USG would object to the conclusion of a space registration convention which would in effect be a step back from the current practice.
  • —the US draft Registration Convention was specifically designee to take US military space interests into consideration. Since it would seem likely that the French military would be required to observe the provisions of what ever Registration Convention emerges from the UN Legal Subcommittee (assuming of course that the GOF decides to participate in the Convention), we believe it would be useful for the Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to take another look at the US draft with French military space interests specifically in mind.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, Box 2960, SP 16. Secret; Exdis. Drafted by Archelaus R. Turrentine and Holsey G. Handyside (PM/AE); and concurred in by EUR/WE, IO/UNP, L/UNA, IO/UNA, IO, and EUR. In the margin next to the third line in the third paragraph, written in an unknown hand, is “now confirmed.” Written in an unknown hand under the Approve/Disapprove lines is “Due to Ambassador Porter’s departure to San Clemente, demarche made by PM Acting Director Pickering to Fr. Counselor Masset 4/5/73.” Michel Debre’ was French Minister of State for National Defense. Tab B is published in the Department of State Bulletin, May 28, 1973, pp. 712–715. Attached but not published at Tab C is Canadian telegram 4643 from Paris to Ottawa, December 18, 1972. Attached but not published at Tab D is a memorandum from Porter to De Palma and Acting Legal Adviser Charles N. Brower, approving the U.S. negotiating position regarding registration of space objects.
  2. Spiers recommended consultation with French officials to request reconsideration of military and intelligence concerns arising in negotiation of the Space Registration Convention.