96. Telegram 2488 From the Mission to the United Nations to the Department of State1 2


  • UN Outer Space Committee (OSC) 1974 Session: UN Delegation Appraisal
Summary. 1974 OSC session proved contentious on several issues (largely procedural), with Committee’s consensus approach emerging slightly frayed but in one piece. US policy interests upheld. Less overall activism shown on remote sensing than expected; projected organization and financial studies on possible international data systems approved. Differences over further work on satellite direct broadcasting problems produced procedural impasse with possible implications for 1974 UNGA. USSR allowed registration convention to move forward to UNGA ahead of moon treaty but insisted on continued high priority for completing latter. Pressures built for expanded financial support for UN space applications program and for convening second UN conference on outer space. Despite protracted efforts USSR failed to get OSC’s Legal Sub-committee 1975 venue shifted from New York to Geneva.
Details. UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space held its 17th session in New York July 1–12. As anticipated, Committee was largely preoccupied with procedural matters although some of these had substantive implications and on certain issues debate went directly to substance. Following is US del’s appraisal of results of OSC session, keyed to specific topics.
Registration convention. As reported USUN 2351 Notal, Committee endorsed for final UNGA approval draft text of convention on registration of objects launched into outer space agreed upon in Outer Space Legal Sub-committee (LS), with deletion of preambular reference to (unfinished) moon treaty. USSR in effect released RegCon from asserted procedural linkage with moon treaty on condition latter would continue to receive top priority in LS. Comment: We would not anticipate any further problems in gaining UNGA approval of RegCon at fall 1974 session, and consider US interests well served by outcome in OSC.
Moon treaty. USSR, doubtless in part for face-saving purposes, insisted on effort to discuss unresolved moon treaty issues within OSC. India quickly raised objection that they and other dels were uninstructed and inappropriately staffed for this purpose. Nevertheless, meeting was held (reported USUN 2354 Notal) with predictable lack of results. Several dels publicly tied progress on knotty question of provisions on exploitation of lunar resources to satisfactory resolution of assertedly analogous issue relating to deep seabeds at Law of the Sea Conference. US Rep in general debate noted our understanding of tacit agreement to expand treaty scope to cover all bodies of solar system (except of course Earth).
Direct broadcasting by satellites. (DBS).
This proved most controversial topic of OSC session. Substantive differences underlay vigorous procedural dispute over question of reconvening DBS Working Group prior to 1975 LS session to assist LS in further work on draft DBS principles. USSR adamantly opposed such move which was favored by majority of OSC members led by Sweden, India, and Austria. Per instruction, US took neutral attitude but maintained that if decision taken to reconvene WG, agenda must be broad enough to accommodate discussion of technical and economic as well as political-legal matters, in keeping with WG’s interdisciplinary makeup and terms of reference. Sovs repeatedly expressed aversion to “interdisciplinary concept”; they obviously consider that WG’s last two sessions have hindered rapid movement toward legal restraints on international use of DBS, which remains their primary objective. Argentina supported reconvening WG but exclusively to consider legal issues.
Somewhat surprisingly, several proponents of reconvening WG were willing to join with USSR in bizarre proposal to convene joint session of (a) Ad Hoc Drafting Group which had prepared political-legal section of DBS WG’s report at March 1974 session, and (b) LS’s Ad Hoc Working Group III which had drafted five general principles (none completely agreed) at LS May 1975 session. US del and others challenged utility and propriety of such a move, noting inter alia its bizarre institutional character. (We observed privately that effect would be to add one of two weeks to time available in 1975 for drafting DBS principles.) US with some support made counter suggestion on ad referendum basis that DBSWG could be convened for week immediately prior to 1975 LS session to provide interdisciplinary input to LS deliberations on DBS; USSR remained intransigent. In final effort to salvage some element of WG activity in 1975, India on last day of session proposed convening “joint drafting group” of LS and WG before LS session but USSR would not agree, and US and France said they could not agree without further instructions for which there was no time.
Upshot was that OSC report simply listed various proposals for future work on DBS associated with WG, and noted that committee could not agree on any of them. Sovs rather spitefully also insisted that OSC report state committee had considered DBS WG’s report “and was unable to come to definite conclusions on matters arising from it.” (This is inaccurate on its face, since OSC report immediately proceeds to state several conclusions based on WG report, in one instance citing specific paragraph.) Comment: It is quite possible that Swedes and others could mount effort in UNGA to reconvene DBS WG. We estimate they would easily have votes. If such move eventuates, del recommends US continue to insist on adequately broad agenda and maintenance of genuinely interdisciplinary approach. Offer to furnish progress report on ATS–6 would be appropriate and helpful in this connection.
Argentina tabled draft DBS convention, in words of Argentine rep seeking to complement work done by other dels in DBSWG and OSLS. Argentine draft was not discussed in committee but appended to list of documents before it.
Remote sensing.
Contrary to some earlier indications, there was no major swing toward accelerated action on legal rules concerning remote sensing. Majority of dels appeared to agree with point made strongly by US and Sweden among others that organizational, technical, and financial aspects of RS must be taken into account in any consideration of possible political-legal principles.
In this connection, there was widespread support for OSC approval of projected organizational/financial studies on possible international mechanisms for handling remote sensing data. USSR fought against including study, (even as specified) on preliminary basis, on possible international operation of space segment; question of OSC approval of such study was put over until next year. Brazil initially took very obstructive line that it would not agree to committee’s approval of study project because of lack of significant progress on legal front. However, evident keen interest in studies on part of many developing countries apparently swayed Brazilians to concur in project with insertion in report that “some delegations, while not objecting to... studies, stressed the view that they should not prejudice or preclude the consideration of any legal framework to regulate remote sensing activities. These delegations reaffirmed their conviction that setting up... legal framework for remote sensing should... precede any organizational arrangement...”. US del put in balancing sentence: “Other delegations stressed that in view of the inter-relationships between organizational and legal aspects of remote sensing from space, consideration of these aspects should proceed concurrently.”
Net result of committee’s deliberations is that (assuming UNGA approval) organizational/financial studies will be undertaken with scientific and technical subcommittee (STSC) first OSC body to review and appraise them; LS will continue its work on legal aspects, including inter alia USSR-French draft principles and Brazilian draft treaty. Comment: We would like to draw attention, in this connection to need for prompt consideration of desirability of an appropriate statement of US principles for LS session in 1975. End comment. Brazilians possibly hinted that they can accept USSR-French proposal as initial step by stating that both documents have considerable in common.
USDel sought successfully to remove exclusive focus on remote sensing of resources from terms of reference for LS; thus previous agenda item “matters relating to the activities carried out through remote sensing satellite surveys of earth resources” became simply “the legal implications of remote sensing of the Earth from space.” “From space” was also substituted for “by satellites” in references to remote sensing throughout report to meet contention that other devices might be used for space remote sensing. In addition, US supported helpful proposal that Committee recommend closer STSC cooperation with UN Environment Program with view to exploring more thoroughly UN role in promoting cooperation in monitoring human environment through remote sensing.
Regarding procedures for future work on remote sensing, clearly preponderant view was against reconvening working group on remote sensing WGRS) in 1975 and assigning this work to STSC delegations. This probably was based as much on desire to avoid proliferation of separate meetings of OSC subsidiaries as on doubts regarding prospective utility of another WG session (although USSR, consistent with its antipathy to multi-disciplinary approach, expressed such doubts). In any case, members generally concluded that STSC could deal adequately with next phase of considering organizational, technical and financial aspects of remote sensing. On legal side, there was no indication of effort to bypass LS and take up question of remote sensing principles in 1974 UNGA.
Legal Sub-committee priorities. As noted, USSR took strong stand in favor of top priority for moon treaty. Certain dels (e.g. Brazil and Sweden) maintained that in light of impasse on resources issue and objectively greater importance of ERS and DBS to most countries, moon treaty should be relegated to secondary priority behind other two items. In probably predictable outcome, parallel to that in LS, OSC decided to treat all three items as having equal and “high” priority. Definition/delimitation of outer space remains on LS agenda for consideration “as time permits”. Comment: This is probably best result possible on priorities question from US standpoint.
UN space applications program.
Controversy arose over effort, spearheaded by India and vigorously abetted by Austria, to put OSC on record expressly in support of restoring funding of UN expert’s 1975 Space Applications Program to $113,000 level recommended by expert rather than $87,000 agreed by STSC. USSR and US opposed this effort with US managing to keep lower profile. Compromise language in OSC report, while endorsing expert’s program as he had recommended it, stipulates “having due regard to” STSC consideration of question as reflected in para 29 of its report. This understood to leave final decision on 1975 funding (appropriately) to ACABQ and UNGA’S 5th Committee.
Committee also approved in depth STSC review of entire UN space applications program at Subcommittee’s 1975 session, an undertaking UNDel strongly supported. We noted that circumstances under which program set up several years ago may no longer be same, and endorsed circulation of new questionnaire on developing countries’ perceived needs for assistance in practical applications of space technology, to assist STSC in its appraisal. Questionnaire, developed primarily by able and sophisticated Indian rep, was eventually approved by OSC after some foot dragging by Sovs who were evidently concerned that it would point up their relatively low level of assistance to others in space applications field. Questionnaire also will contain unhelpful solicitation of members’ views on funding levels and mechanisms for applications program. USSR very much wanted this omitted, but we regarded political cost too high to warrant opposing mere inquiry as to whether individual countries had any opinions on matter (even though answers are largely foreordained).
Question of future UN outer space conference.
Discussion revealed that majority of OSC members favor convening such conference in principle, although numerous uncertainties exist regarding its terms of reference, agenda and timing. Italy and Austria were particularly vocal proponents, virtually supporting conference for conferences’ sake. (We understood both Austria and Japan would be interested in hosting space conference if its takes place.) Both US and USSR said they needed more justification for holding conference on any basis if they were to modify present reserved position on question. OSC report leaves further consideration of matter to STSC, making use of SYG survey of UN members’ attitudes on question.
Comment. In view of broad support now manifest for some kind of space conference, USDel suggests question be taken up with degree of priority by interested USG quarters. In particular, if it should be deemed desirable to try to fold space applications into agenda of possible conference on advanced technology and development rather than mounting separate space conference, US should make appropriate proposal at earliest opportunity, in any case not later than April 1975 STSC session.
STSC future work.
OSC approved STSC’s recommended priorities for Sub-committee’s 1975 work program, i.e. (1) remote sensing (including SYG’s organizational/financial studies); (2) review of UN Space Applications Program; (3) possible UN space applications conference; (4) review of STSC’s future role and work.

Geostationary orbit: Italian del (we understand under instructions) brought up question of use of geostationary orbit before OSC, but there was no substantive discussion. OSC requested “UN agencies having existing responsibilities or study programs in this area, such as ITU, ICAO, and IMCO,” to provide STSC at its 1975 session with updated background information on subject.

Comment: Formulation in report does not require STSC to discuss matter next year; in any case it would fall below priority items on Sub-committee’s agenda. It seems possible that eventual factual report by STSC could assist in maintaining substantive positions in this area, just as Subcommittee’s 1970 report provided basis for U.S. resistance to compulsory marking provision in registration convention.

Question of 1974 UNGA resolution. Sovs circulated draft text of “omnibus” outer space resolution to be appended to OSC report with recommendation for UNGA adoption. Text contained some prejudicial elements, e.g. on DBS and remote sensing; in addition, its adoption would have required dels to endorse OSC report before latter had been agreed upon. Numerous dels objected to idea as impractical in view of limited time available, suggesting that if consideration of draft res became regular order of committee’s business, OSC session would have to be lengthened. Some argued against presenting non-members of OSC with fait accompli at UNGA. Nevertheless, Sovs succeeded in having self-serving paragraph, reflecting “several dels” praise for “very helpful and constructive idea,” included in Committee report, although, helpfully, Canada added “balancing” language.

Work program of OSC and subsidiaries

LS venue. USSR made persistent, obsessive effort to have 1975 OSLS session scheduled in Geneva, thus putting aside 1971 agreement under which Subcommittee venue alternates between Geneva and New York (it met in Geneva this year). USSR del hounded Secretariat for detailed cost comparison as between New York and Geneva, and abandoned its effort only when Secretariat paper stated flatly that Geneva in 1975 would entail additional cost, since next year’s UN budgetary allocations already made on basis of New York venue. US, supported by number of other dels, stated preference for keeping rotation agreement, which had been reached only after tedious and protracted discussion. We also noted that 1974 UNGA will consider entire UN conference pattern on basis of study by joint inspection unit. This will be factor in further consideration of matter by OSC at its next session.

Comment: Soviet motivation for belaboring this matter somewhat hard to fathom, beyond obvious personal preference of veteran members of their delegation. We speculate that this factor may dovetail with overall USSR effort to move as many UN functions as possible out of New York.

Duration of 1975 STSC session. Dels displayed considerable differences on question. A number maintained that in view of heavy agenda, particularly need to review remote sensing studies, normal 2-week session should be lengthened by an additional week. Others feared this move would lead to inefficient use of available time, some alleging that STSC’s recent past performance would justify only one-week session. End result was agreement on two-week session with request to Secretariat to provide for extra meetings in third week if this proved necessary.
Given limited range of choices not entailing additional financial implications, Committee agreed on following schedule of 1975 meetings, all in New York:
  • Legal Subcommittee 10 February-7 March
  • Scientific and Technical Subcommittee 21 April-2 May
  • Outer Space Committee 9-20 June
Committee expressed hope that in future it could have more scheduling flexibility through planning farther in advance, and asked its subordinate bodies and Secretariat to help in this regard.
Atmospherics and attitudes.
OSC proceedings were marked from time to time by degree of irritation, much of it aroused by repeated picky and insensitive USSR interventions, particularly on LS venue issue. Although Sovs often seemed preoccupied with non-substantive matters, they indicated strong sense of priority for early action on DBS principles (although prestige considerations would not allow them to relegate moon treaty to secondary position). They were consistently negative toward UN Space Applications Program. Sweden provoked especially sharp exchange with USSR by implicitly accusing Sovs of misusing consensus procedure to assert veto prerogative. GDR and Czechoslovakia (later represented by especially able delegate) were most prominent supporters of Soviet positions in Committee debate. Compared to past activism Canadian del was notably inconspicuous, making few interventions outside general debate. They had little to say even on question of reconvening DBS Working Group where they would have been expected to be vocal proponents. (Comment: Canadian DelOff privately told US Deloff that internal debate is in process in Ottawa, with technical people concerned over “legalistic approach” to problems on part of policy makers in external affairs. He thought it might be some time before Canada would be in position to resume assertive role in UN space affairs).
While maintaining US policy positions per instructions, US del was able to keep out of forefront of much of OSC’s contention. Apart from sticking to our guns on OSLS venue, we frontally challenged Sovs only on their weird joint proposal with Swedes and Austrians to convene joint session of two ad hoc drafting groups on DBS (on which they had not consulted with US before tabling). Otherwise our consultations with USSR del were adequate, if perhaps slightly cooler atmospherically than on some other occasions. Strongest support for US positions came from PRG, Japan and, more quietly, UK, with France somewhat surprisingly agreeing with us on more issues than has often been the case. FRG rep told US DelOff privately that FRG wanted to stay as close as possible to US positions especially on DBS and ERS; Japanese DelOff expressed similar intention (“especially since we are wholly dependent on your rockets for launching our space vehicles”).
Except for India, Brazil and to some extent Argentina, Third World countries were relatively inactive. “Group of 77” was not invoked in contrast to OSLS May session. Except for FRG and GDR new members of OSC did not play very prominent role, although Kenyan rep’s relatively few interventions reflected thoughtful awareness of complexity of many problems with which OSC and its subsidiaries are seized, and need to ensure that legal restraints not inhibit availability of beneficial space applications to developing countries.
  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy Files. Confidential. Repeated for information to Bonn, Brasilia, Geneva, Moscow, Nairobi, New Delhi, Ottawa, Paris, Stockholm, Tokyo, and Vienna.
  2. The telegram communicated the U.S. delegation’s appraisal of the 1974 session of the UN Outer Space Committee.