Increasing militarisation of space prompts legal response

Thursday, 23 June 2016

The University of Adelaide is playing a key partnership role in new research to better understand how international law will regulate the increasing military uses of space.

The Adelaide Law School will contribute to the development of a Manual on International Law Applicable to Military Uses of Outer Space, the first such legal manual of its kind.

The three-year project is led by the Centre for Research in Air and Space Law at McGill University in Canada, in partnership with the University of Adelaide's new Research Unit on Military Law and Ethics.

"We're very excited to be involved in this project, which we hope will help to shape the world's thinking about military law and legal ethics in military uses of space for the decades, even centuries to come," says Associate Professor Dale Stephens, CSM, Director of the Research Unit on Military Law and Ethics.

"While conflict in space has been the subject of science fiction for many years now, our world is entering an era in which military conflict in space could become a reality.

"As military operations on Earth have begun to rely heavily on space-based assets, military thinking has begun to imagine how operations could be undertaken to deny adversary access to such assets. However, while weapons systems and military communications rely heavily upon satellites, so do many civilian uses such as the internet and world banking.

"We recognise that potentially devastating consequences could follow for our society if access to outer space were to be interrupted or interfered with through actions undertaken during rising hostilities or outright armed conflict. A detailed investigation of the practical legal issues is well overdue.

"The manual will clarify the fundamental rules applicable to the military use of outer space, in times of peace, as well as in periods of tension and in full-scale armed conflict," Associate Professor Stephens says.

The University of Adelaide has particular expertise in military law and last year ran a highly successful Winter School program on Strategic Space Law.

On this research project, the Adelaide team will work with the McGill Centre for Research in Air and Space Law, headed by project leader Professor Ram Jakhu. Input on the manual will be received from recognised military legal experts and academics from around the world, as well as representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross as well as the Union of Concerned Scientists.

"Our ultimate aim through this project is to contribute to a positive future for humankind, where all space activities are conducted in accordance within a set of widely agreed international rules," Associate Professor Stephens says.

This project is supported by the Erin JC Arsenault Trust Fund at McGill University.


Contact Details

Professor Dale Stephens
Director, Research Unit on Military Law and Ethics
Adelaide Law School
The University of Adelaide
Business: +61 8 8313 5937
Mobile: +61 (0)407 803 534

Mr David Ellis
Deputy Director, Media and Corporate Relations
External Relations
The University of Adelaide
Business: +61 8 8313 5414
Mobile: +61 (0)421 612 762