RUSSIA has stressed its concern about the growing ‘militarisation of space’ by the United States and its allies, and urged that such hostile measures should be counterbalanced.
‘Russia has always opposed and continues to oppose the militarisation of space,’ Russian President Vladimir Putin told a government meeting on military policies just last Thursday. ‘The US political and military leadership openly consider space a war theatre.
‘Developments demand that we pay increased attention to strengthening our orbital group as well as our rocket and space industries.’
President Putin added that in recent years, Russia had considerably upgraded its group of military and dual purpose satellites. Russia’s orbital group is a constellation of more than 150 satellites, most of which are parts of military satellite communication systems; but Moscow also has satellites monitoring the launches of intercontinental ballistic missiles, as well as short-range tactical missiles.
This warning system was ‘significantly enhanced’ and tested successfully during large-scale military drills in October, Putin then stressed – following the NATO military alliance’s recognition of space, under US pressure, as a domain of warfare.
NATO is now planning to recognise space as an official domain of warfare this year, diplomats say, giving in to constant pressure from Washington. And during a summit in Britain’s capital London on the 70th anniversary of NATO’s establishment last Wednesday, its members declared space ‘the fifth operational domain, and committed to ensuring the security of telecommunications infrastructure, including 5G.’
NATO perceives Russia as a ‘threat’. The alliance severed ties with Moscow in 2014 and has since continued to build up a military presence in the Baltic region, on Russia’s western borders.
Meanwhile, US President Donald Trump has taken an increasing interest in space, announcing the establishment of a new Space Force branch of the military last year, despite opposition from the Pentagon. The US claims that both China and Russia have been seeking to militarise space.
In a report earlier this year, the US Defense Intelligence Agency described the two countries as the ‘real threats’ to ‘US capabilities’ in outer space. Analysts say the US exaggerates the space military capabilities of Russia and China as a pretext to accelerate its own plans to prepare for space warfare.
This is while Washington is a member of the Outer Space Treaty, which prohibits the deployment of weapons of mass destruction in space and allows for the use of the moon and other celestial bodies only for purposes that are peaceful.
- Having failed to fulfil their commitments to Iran under a 2015 nuclear deal, the European signatories are now accusing Tehran of possessing ‘nuclear-capable ballistic missiles’, claiming its latest missile activities are ‘inconsistent’ with a UN resolution that endorsed the accord.
In a letter to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres circulated on Wednesday, UN ambassadors from France, the UK and Germany claimed that ‘Iran’s developments of nuclear-capable ballistic missiles’ go against a 2015 UN resolution calling on Tehran not to undertake any activity involving such missiles.
UN Security Council Resolution 2231 endorsed the multilateral nuclear accord, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which was signed in 2015 between Iran and the major world powers – also including the US, Russia, and China.
Tehran has not yet reacted to the European claims, but it has repeatedly said Iran has no nuclear warheads and that none of its missiles have been designed to carry nuclear weapons. Iran also insists that its missile programme is a domestic defence issue, which is not up for talks.
But then US President Donald Trump pulled his country out of the JCPOA in May 2018 and re-imposed harsh sanctions against Iran, calling for a ‘new deal’ that would address Iran’s national missile programme and its anti-terrorism role in the region. The European trio cited Iran’s April 23 flight test of a Shahab-3 medium-range ballistic missile variant ‘equipped with a manoeuvrable re-entry vehicle’.
‘The Shahab-3 booster used in the test is a Missile Technology Control Regime category-1 system and as such is technically capable of delivering a nuclear weapon,’ they claimed.
The letter alleged that Iran’s recent missile activities ‘are the latest in a long series of advances in Iranian ballistic missile technology’ and ‘furthermore, Iran continues its proliferation of ballistic missile technology in the region.’
France, Germany and the UK gave what they claimed to be four examples of ‘Iranian activity inconsistent’ with Resolution 2231. The Iranian foreign minister says the United Nations Security Council Resolution 2231 puts no ban on Iran’s missile programme.
The three countries asked Guterres to inform the Security Council in his next report that Iran’s ballistic missile activity goes against the call in Resolution 2231. Resolution 2231 ‘calls on’ – but does not require – Iran ‘not to undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using such ballistic missile technology’.
Iran has strongly dismissed a report that its missile programme could be up for negotiation with the United States. In fact, the developments came while the future of the Iran deal has been in doubt since May 2018, when the US unilaterally left the deal and re-imposed the anti-Iran economic sanctions it had previously committed itself to lifting.
Back then, the European signatories vowed efforts to compensate for Washington’s withdrawal and shield their business links with Iran from the American sanctions. Those promises, however, were never delivered as Europe gave into America’s pressure, prompting Tehran to resort to Articles 26 and 36 of the JCPOA on its legal rights and suspend parts of its commitments under the supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency (JCPOA).
- The International Criminal Court (ICC) has opened a three-day hearing in The Hague to overturn an April decision scrapping a proposed investigation into US war crimes in Afghanistan.
In April, judges rejected a request by Fatou Bensouda, the court’s prosecutor, to examine atrocities committed by the American military and intelligence agencies as well as Afghan forces and the Taliban in the conflict between 2003 and 2004.
However, after the prosecution’s appeal, the ICC on Wednesday opened a three-day hearing to overturn the April decision, and possibly allow investigation into the war crimes, as demanded by lawyers representing victims of the Afghanistan conflict.
In the three-day hearing, the prosecution is arguing the case before a panel of appeals judges in The Hague. Lawyer Fergal Gaynor called the hearings ‘an historic day for accountability in Afghanistan’. The 82 victims he represented were ‘united’ in wanting an investigation, he said.
‘Whatever their differences, they are united in their wish for the investigation to begin promptly into the crimes committed against them. We are here to challenge a decision that has extinguished all of their rights under the statute and has caused enormous damage to any hopes they have for justice and accountability,’ he noted.
Meanwhile, a personal attorney of President Donald Trump has attempted to block efforts by the ICC to open the investigation into the US war crimes. In response to the ICC’s move, Washington has revoked travel visas for its personnel. Trump has previously denounced the ICC, criticising its ‘broad, unaccountable, prosecutorial powers’.
The preliminary evidence cited by the prosecutors suggest that the US forces in Afghanistan, including employees of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), mentally and physically abused Afghan detainees, which could constitute a war crime.
The war crimes investigation would include scrutinising the actions of US forces who invaded Afghanistan in 2001 following the September 11 attacks on the pretext of overthrowing the Taliban. The conflict, however, resulted in the deaths of over 32,000 civilians, according to the UN.
The ICC, which opened in 2002, has jurisdiction over war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity if they have been committed by nationals of a signatory state or if they took place on the territory of one of its members.
Afghanistan is a member of the ICC; but the United States is not.