October 25, 2018

V.P. Pence’s Comments on Nuclear Weapons in Space ‘Troubling and Potentially Dangerous'

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (October 25, 2018)—In an interview Tuesday with The Washington Post, Vice President Mike Pence was asked whether nuclear weapons “should always be banned from space.”

His response was as troubling as it was potentially dangerous, according to a senior scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS).

“The fact that Vice President Pence did not immediately answer ‘absolutely’ when asked if nuclear weapons ‘should always be banned from space’ should set off alarm bells,” said UCS physicist Laura Grego, an expert on space and missile technology. “While he did go on to say that it is ‘in the interest of every nation to continue to ban the use of nuclear weapons in space’ and that ‘at this time’ he sees no need to amend the Outer Space Treaty, he should have left no doubt that the United States will remain in the Outer Space Treaty and the Limited Test Ban Treaty, two international agreements that help protect the world from the nuclear threat.”

Among other things, the Outer Space Treaty bans putting nuclear weapons in orbit, and the Limited Test Ban Treaty prohibits nuclear explosions in space, in the atmosphere and underwater.

Pence also stated that “the first order of business is ensuring that the infrastructure of our satellite technology is protected” and said the United States needs to respond to Russian and Chinese investments in anti-satellite technology with a show of strength.

Both China and Russia appear to be developing anti-satellite technologies, but U.S. anti-satellite capability is “far more developed and capable,” Grego said. “An unconstrained arms race in space is a very dangerous path. The best way to ensure the security of U.S. space assets isn’t building space weapons. The best way to do that is strengthen the resilience of U.S. satellite systems and reduce potential threats by negotiating international limits and norms of behavior. That’s also the best way to stop an arms race in its tracks.”

The United Nations is currently examining legally binding mechanisms to address an arms race in outer space, providing the United States an opportunity to ensure space security.  

“The United States should take the lead in establishing limits and other rules that set the boundaries for good, safe behavior in space. It is in our interest to curb any threats, and it is in the international community’s interest to find a way to keep space safe for peaceful purposes.”

The Union of Concerned Scientists puts rigorous, independent science to work to solve our planet's most pressing problems. Joining with people across the country, we combine technical analysis and effective advocacy to create innovative, practical solutions for a healthy, safe, and sustainable future.