The Encyclopedia is a project of the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights launched on 2 December 2013. The Enyclopedia aims to provide accurate, up-to-date information on weapons, the effects of their use, and their regulation under public international law, in a format that is accessible to non-specialists.+ Find out more
The 1967 Outer Space Treaty, formally known as the Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies, opened for signature in London, England; Moscow, Russia; and Washington D.C. USA, on 27 September 1967. Since that date, 105 countries have ratified the treaty, and another 25 have signed but not yet ratified. Status of International Agreements Relating to Activities in Outer Space as at 1 January 2017, Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, UN Doc A/AC.105/C.2/2017/CRP.7, 23 March 2017. The treaty officially entered into force on 10 October 1967. It is modelled after its somewhat 'predecessor' the 1959 Antarctic Treaty, which prohibited states from participating in any military or weapons-related activity in the Antarctic territory and therefore relegating it to a neutral, peacefully-purposed zone. It was followed by the 1979 Agreement Governing the Activities of States on the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies, otherwise known as the Moon Treaty, which would have required that all technologies and resources developed by nations for the purpose of space exploration be turned over to the international community. The treaty has only been ratified by 16 states, and is largely considered to be a failure because it has not been ratified by any states that have engaged in space exploration thus far or that plan to do so in the future. Therefore, the Outer Space Treaty is still the global standard agreement regarding international space law and peaceful exploration.
Between 1959 and 1962, western developments in rocketry flourished, and the successful launch of the Sputnik in 1957 made space exploration a new reality. In response to these developments, the Western powers began to propose rules and regulations in order to preserve international peace and freedom in outer space, as well as on the moon and other celestial bodies. These proposals, which aimed to outlaw military use and weapons testing in outer space, were part of a greater scheme to reach global nuclear disarmament that also included the 1959 Antarctic Treaty. The United States was a driving force behind these proposals, and on 22 September 1960, President Eisenhower stood in front of the United Nations General Assembly and suggested that the principles of the 1959 Antarctic Treaty be extended to outer space and celestial bodies. The Soviet Union, which was also open to eventual 'general and complete disarmament' at that time, had provisions in their own plans for peaceful use of outer space as well. However, the Soviet Union refused to agree to prohibit military use of outer space unless the United States took other disarmament-related actions, such as closing US foreign bases that contained short and medium range missiles. The United States, along with the other Western powers, refused this offer, and no progress was made on the issue until the signing of the 1963 Partial Test Ban Treaty. Following the signing of the Partial Test Ban Treaty, the Soviet Union recanted its original stipulations, and a UN General Assembly Resolution 1884( XVIII) that called upon all states to abstain from holding or testing weapons of mass destruction in outer space was unanimously adopted on 17 October 1963. Over the next few years, the United States used the momentum of the resolution to propose an even more permanent action in regards to neutrality and peace in outer space. On 16 June 1966, the United States, along with the Soviet Union, each presented drafts of treaties on prohibition of nuclear weapons in outer space. The drafts were merged to form one treaty that covered the moon, outer space, and all other celestial bodies, and the treaty opened for signature in Washington, London, and Moscow, on 27 January 1967.
The Outer Space Treaty has 17 articles highlighting several crucial agreements in order to preserve the liberty of outer space and the celestial bodies within it. Key points of the treaty include the following:
These principles contain the guidelines for international space law and all state parties to the treaty are subject to them. Like other international non-proliferation treaties, this treaty aims to preserve peace in as many zones as possible and keep war out of neutral territories.
Last updated on: 22 July 2017