Press Release

Briefing by Senior Administration Officials on the President’s National Space Policy Via Teleconference

By SpaceRef Editor
June 29, 2010
Filed under ,

Office of the Spokesman Washington, DC June 28, 2010

OPERATOR: Good afternoon and thank you all for standing by. All participants will be able to listen only until the question-and-answer session of today’s conference call. Today’s call is being recorded. If anyone has any objections, you may disconnect at this time. And now I’ll turn the call over to your first speaker, Mr. Mark Toner. Sir, you may begin.

MR. TONER: Thank you so much. Well, as you know, everyone, earlier today President Obama announced the Administration’s new National Space Policy. And we are joined this afternoon with two senior State Department officials and hopefully someone from the White House in just a bit, and who are going to talk to us about the details of that policy and also be available to answer your questions. Just a reminder, this briefing is on background and, again, attributable to senior Administration officials.

And with that, I’ll hand it over to our first senior official.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Thanks very much, Mark. What I thought I would do is just do a brief overview of the policy. The National Space Policy released earlier today by President Obama is the President’s statement of this Administration’s highest priorities for space and reflects our principles and goals to be used in shaping the conduct of our space programs and activities. This new policy not only provides a foundation for ongoing – for going forward in our exploration and utilization of space, but also commits our government to lead the way in preserving space for the benefit of all nations in future generations.

A key cornerstone of this new National Space Policy is to enhance international cooperation and collaboration in space today as well in the future. The Department of State intends to support this policy’s call for cooperative action in a number of ways by working with our allies, friends, and partners around the world. We will expand our work at the United Nations and with other organizations to address the growing problem of orbital debris and to promote best practices and responsible behavior in space. The United States will also pursue pragmatic transparency and confidence-building measures that will work to mitigate the risk of mishaps, misperceptions, and miscalculations.

This policy also reaffirms the longstanding bipartisan U.S. policy that we will consider – and I repeat that, consider – space-related arms control concepts and proposals that meet rigorous criteria of equitability, effective verifiability, and the enhancement of U.S. and allied national security interests.

We will also work to promote suitable commercial space regulations, international standards that promote fair market competition in the international use of U.S. capabilities such as launch vehicles, commercial remote sensing services and civil services of the Global Positioning System.

Finally, we will pursue enhanced cooperative programs with other space-faring nations in space science, human and robotic space exploration, and in the use of earth-observation satellites to support weather forecasting, environmental monitoring, and sustainable development worldwide.

That’s my brief opening statement, and on that note I’d be happy to answer any questions that you may have.

MR. TONER: Angela, we’re ready to take questions now, if you want to just walk people through.

OPERATOR: Thank you. If you’d like to ask a question, please press *1 on your touchtone phone. You will be prompted to record your first and last names so that you may be announced. In order to withdraw your question, you will press *2. One moment , please, for our first question. It looks like our first question will come from Josh Rogin with Fair End Policy. Your line is open.

QUESTION: Thank you for taking the time to speak with us today. That’s Foreign Policy, by the way. I wanted to ask you to please take us through the consultative process that you went through with foreign governments before and in the run-up and in the – during the development of this policy. Which countries did you really work on this with leading up to the rollout? Which countries are you focusing on in terms of cooperation going forward? Thank you.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Thank you very much, Josh. Let me start with – we began this process last summer as part of Presidential Study Directive No. 3 and that really began things. And what we did is we went to key friends and allies – UK, Japan, Canada, France, and other nations – and asked them for inputs. For example, we told them we were going to review the National Space Policy and we thought – we wanted to ask them early on, “What are the key issues you think we need to be looking at?” And we – a number of countries provided us inputs and we put that in the process, number one.

Number two, throughout the process, we have been talking to our friends and allies about the space policy review.

Third, we have also reached out to other friends and partners. For example, we have consulted with – this morning, we consulted with Russia, China, as well as some emerging space nations like India.

So I think the way we have handled the approach with the international community is very indicative of the result you have seen in the policy. As I said earlier, international cooperation is a key element of the new policy, I would say a cornerstone. And the way we have conducted that – this policy review – is in keeping with that overarching policy.

Next question?

OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Peter Spotts of Christian Science Monitor. Your line is open.

QUESTION: Thank you very much for doing this. I wonder – early on in your comments, you were mentioning things on orbital debris and that sort of thing and best practices. Could you enumerate – I don’t know – give us one or two examples of what you mean by best practices?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Mm-hmm. [Senior Administration Official], did you want to take that one first?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: No, go ahead, [Senior Administration Official One].

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Basically, there are a number – you’ve heard over the past couple of years the need to provide stability in space. So what I’m talking about with regards to things like best practices is things like the EU Code of Conduct in which we focus on transparency and confidence-building measures, number one.

Number two, we also talk about – we also mean space situational awareness. I don’t know if you are aware or not, but for example, the United States, through the U.S. Strategic Command’s Joint Space Operation Center, provides notifications to nations around the world when there’s going to be a close approach between debris as well in satellites, number two.

Number three, we are continuing to work within the Committee for the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space – it’s a UN committee in Vienna – to work on ways to mitigate debris. Because I think fundamentally, that’s an issue that all nations – the U.S., Russia, and China – can all agree is that we don’t want excessive debris in outer space because that’s not good for anyone. For example, I refer to you back in 2009 when you had a collision between the Iridium satellite and a defunct Russian satellite, which created lots of debris. So what we are trying to do is put in a series of confidence-building measures for space situational awareness in other ways so that we have transparency so people know what other people are doing up in the – up in space, because it’s becoming an increasingly congested place and we need to provide some stability.

Does that answer your question?

QUESTION: Yeah, thank you. It sounds like a lot of interlocking cooperative efforts there.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Yeah. I mean, it’s not one size fits all. But I mean, a key element is that it’s space situational awareness. I mean making sure people know what is up there. And when things come close, we give notifications to all countries as a confidence-building measure.

Number two, working through COPUOS, and that is kind of the – one of the key forums, and then some of these other voluntary elements. Specifically, I’d point to one thing that we’re looking at, though the United States hasn’t made a final decision, but we’ve been talking very, very – and consulting very closely with the EU is their proposed Code of Conduct. So it’s a multifaceted, but the whole idea is to bring some stability to the space environment at a time when there are increasing numbers of people, nations, and organizations operating in space. And space is, again, becoming a very crowded place.

QUESTION: Thank you.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: Yeah, and if I could just add to that very good response, there are also under the UN COPUOS discussions, there are debris mitigation guidelines that actually are meant to serve as a code of best practices. And those we’re taking a look at and there will be further discussion of that in the COPUOS talks, as my colleague correctly stated.

QUESTION: Thank you.

OPERATOR: Our next question will come from Mary Beth Sheridan of The Washington Post. Your line is open.

QUESTION: Thanks very much. I’m wondering if you could just describe the major ways in which this policy differs from the policy of the previous administration, or do you see it is as something that’s sort of more continuing in kind of the same lines? Thank you.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Mary Beth, I think the answer to your question is there are parts of both. Let me give you – one of the biggest departures is, I would say, the arms control language. In the 2006 policy, it basically said that the United States would not accept any type of legal limitations on the U.S. freedom of action in space. Okay? What we have done in this policy is we have gone back to the traditional longstanding U.S. policy from the Herbert Walker Bush, Reagan Administration, Clinton Administration that says that we will consider arms control agreements and concepts that are equitable, effectively verifiable, as well as in the interest of the United States and its friends and allies. So that, I would say, if you’re looking for kind of a stark change, stark difference from the 2006 policy, I think that is a stark change.

But I want to emphasize this is not a new approach that the Obama Administration is taking. We’re just going back to the existing bipartisan U.S. policy with regards to space arms control.

On continuity, we will continue cooperation with our friends and allies, but we’re just seeking to expand that and make it more of a keystone. But there’s a lot of continuity with previous policies as well. Again, this is not a revolutionary document, but, I mean, there are some differences. But I would say there’s a lot of continuity if you look at the previous administration’s space activities. But again, the real kind of – one of the big changes, again, is the arms control language. And again, the Bush – the Obama Administration is going back to previously – U.S. policy prior to 2006.

Did I answer your question?

QUESTION: Yes, thank you.

OPERATOR: Our next question will come from Tejinder Singh. Your line is open.

QUESTION: Yes, thank you for taking this question. I have just a couple of questions. The first one is, who pays and how much? And during these consultations with others, was this financial angle mentioned? And also, about what percentage of it will be for arms control and what percent for space exploration for humanitarian purposes?

MR. TONER: Mark Toner here. I just wanted to add that our third senior official has joined us, so if he wants to weigh in on any of these answers, feel free as well. I’ll jump off again.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Let me just address the first part of your question. This policy is, I would say, budget neutral. Fundamentally, this is laying out the broad principles. It is not a budget document. So the budget document will be built over the next coming months as the U.S. budget process beings. So again, this is a broad policy of principles.

With – could you kind of repeat your second part of the question with regards to kind of arms control?

QUESTION: The second one was that did you have – during your consultations with others, was this financial angle mentioned? Did you talk to the others anything about financial? And the third one is about the – what – how much of your coverage will be towards arms control and how much it will be towards other angles, which is based on humanitarian –


QUESTION: — human beings.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: On your second – your first question, I would say that money really didn’t come up in the consultations. We really spoke quite a bit about policy issues. Again, this was fundamentally a policy review.

With regards to the breakdown between security and humanitarian, I’d say it’s about equal. I mean, this is a comprehensive approach that addresses both the civil side as well as the security side. I am on the security side. My colleague is on the civil. And, I mean, this has been a full interagency process. We had everybody in the room. We had the civil people, NASA, Department of Commerce, Department of Energy, but we also had the national security side. But we were all in the same room. So again, this is an integrated piece of work that tries to address both sides, because in many ways, things are becoming increasingly interconnected both in kind of the security and the civil, and it’s very, very difficult to make the hard distinctions anymore.

Let me kind of go to my colleagues if they have anything to add on this point.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL THREE: If I could, this is senior official number three along with senior official number four. Just on the budget issue, while the policy is budget neutral, the policy will be used to inform the budget decisions in the next budget cycle and the budget cycles throughout this Administration. So it doesn’t change dollars right now, but it will alter the funding of programs and capabilities to put them in alignment with the President’s new policy.

QUESTION: Just a – hello?


QUESTION: Just a simple follow-up. Anything on the job creation? Because that’s a major issue of the President.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL THREE: We can cover that one here. The jobs issue – there’s not a specific section of policy that says jobs creation, but the important part that this policy does emphasize helping the industrial base and the commercial sector. Obviously, those are comprised of working men and women. And so focusing efforts on that industrial base and making the industrial base strong and competitive and collaborative, we believe will enhance the viability of the market and enhance the viability of the companies, and in turn create jobs.

QUESTION: Thank you.

OPERATOR: We have another question from Mary Beth Sheridan. Your line is open.

QUESTION: Thank you I had a question again about the arms control issue. Are there any potential or proposed arms control agreements dealing with space that are being weighed by the Administration, or is this sort of more of a theoretical change in position?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Mary Beth, that’s an excellent question. I would say let me make a couple of points. I think now that we have the policy, I think it’s important that there will be an interagency process to look at various proposals. The key thing was first getting the policy right. Now, this Administration wanted to make very, very clear, though, is that we were open to arms control and we weren’t reflexively opposed to it. But those arms control proposals need to have very, very strict criteria. They’ve got to be effectively verifiable.

Number two, they have got to be equitable.

And number three, they’ve got to be in the interest of the United States and its allies. So at one point, we wanted to make a very, very clear statement that this Administration had a different approach from the previous administration. That said, I mean, there will be now that we have the policy, there will be an implementation aspect of it in which the State Department and we’ll work with this inner agency colleagues to review proposals. Now, that said, I don’t — I think it’s probably unlikely you will see the United States drop a draft space arms control agreement. I think where you will see us focused in the near term will be on pragmatic transparency in confidence building measures.

QUESTION: So, sorry — so, the U.S. doesn’t seem likely to propose any agreement anytime soon. Is there any other agreement out there —


QUESTION: — that other countries are proposing that we might consider?

SENIOR ADMINSTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I mean, I think there are a number of agreements out there. One, that we — one which we believe is flawed is the Russian-Chinese proposal – they call it the PPWT. We have raised a number of concerns about that proposal. And the – and basically, it’s unverifiable. And the Russians and the Chinese have agreed to that. One of the things that we’re looking at very seriously though is this proposed EU code of conduct. We mentioned that a little bit earlier in the conference – in the conference call. So that’s something that we are looking at. And we have provided – we’ve had a very good dialogue with the EU on that. Though, again, the United States has not made any decisions on whether we will support that or not in the absence of the policy. But now that we have the policy, that will be one of the things that we will evaluate.

QUESTION: Okay. I’m sorry just to conclude. So that includes — that concludes sort of an arms control agreement in space?

SENIOR ADMINSTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: No, no. What it does is it sets up best practices for things like transparency, confidence building measures. I don’t know if my colleagues want to add anything more on that.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: No, I don’t have anything to add.

SENIOR ADMINSTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Yeah, it is not an arms — a legally binding arms control agreement. What it is, again – is, again, set up best practices how responsible space-faring nations would act. And it would be politically binding, not legally binding. That is a confidence in transparency building measure. And I think in the near term that’s where the focus of the Administration’s efforts will be.

OPERATOR: And we have another question from Tejinder Singh. Your line’s open.

QUESTION: I was just wondering, did the President in his comments, which were provided by the White House, did not mention the words, “international corporation.” He actually mentioned, to quote, “It is central to our security and the security of our allies.” So while all officials are pointing to the international corporation, my question is, who are not our allies? Because if you take Iran or — and not into space. So whom will be defined as not our allies and against whom we will be protecting our security and our allies’ security?

SENIOR ADMINSTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Well, let me just take that. Number one, we, the United States, recognize the right of all responsible nations to speak — to participate in peaceful space activities for peaceful purposes. The key, I note, is responsible and not shooting down other people’s satellites, not creating excess debris. So again, this is not just about the United States in our close treaty alliance, but it’s to all responsible space-faring nations. So if you act responsibly we welcome your cooperation.

For countries like Iran and North Korea, I would argue and I would point that their activities in space are governed by United Nation Security Council resolutions.

QUESTION: And you mentioned that you have talked to other nations, and you mentioned that emerging space nations like India.


QUESTION: What exactly you are looking forward to from India and what India can provide?

SENIOR ADMINSTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I think we’re in the early stages right now, but we look very much forward to beginning a dialogue with India and other emerging space nations.

QUESTION: Thank you.

SENIOR ADMINSTRATION OFFICIAL FOUR: This is one of the administration officials – if I could jump in here. I think that there’s been a healthy dialogue with India already, and the goal would be to continue that. So with respect to specific programs or what have you that we might consider, that’s something that we would need to discuss. But I think the idea is to build on the foundation that already exists.

SENIOR ADMINSTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Yeah, I would just reiterate that.

OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Peter Spotts. Your line is open.

QUESTION: Oh, thanks again. This may be getting down into the weeds a little bit, but I wonder where ITAR and perhaps attempts to try and alter it, reform it, whatever, come into play. I realize we’ve put together an international space station with ITAR in place, but at the same time, when I do speak with representatives from other space agencies on the subject of cooperation, that still seems to come up. Sort of what’s the agenda for that if there is one?

SENIOR ADMINSTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Yeah, let me just respond. This policy reflects current policy and law regarding export control. The President’s review of export control policies, which I’m sure you’re aware is under way, is not complete. When the review — when that review is completed, any new result in policies will supersede the guidance on export control found in this space policy.

QUESTION: Thank you.

OPERATOR: Once again, if you’d like to ask a question please press, *1 on your touchtone phone. And it looks as though there are no further questions at this time, sir.

MR. TONER: Very good. Well, thanks so much for our senior administration officials and thanks to all the journalists who could join us this afternoon. Very much appreciate it.

OPERATOR: And this will conclude today’s conference call. You may now disconnect.

SpaceRef staff editor.