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Last Updated: Tuesday, 12 February 2008, 13:08 GMT
Russia proposes space arms treaty
China's UN representative in Geneva, Li Baodong, and Sergei Lavrov
Mr Lavrov warned of a "chain reaction"
Russia and China have proposed a new international treaty to ban the use of weapons in outer space.

At a disarmament conference in Geneva, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said world security would suffer if an arms race in space was not stopped.

The draft treaty would prohibit the deployment of weapons in space and the use or threat of force against satellites or other craft, he said.

The United States has long opposed being bound by such an agreement.

Correspondents say tensions have increased in recent years over US plans for a new generation of missile shields.

In particular, Moscow is opposed to the country's plans to build part of its new system in Poland and the Czech Republic.

'New spiral'

Mr Lavrov told the 65-nation Conference on Disarmament that a new arms race was possible if weapons were deployed by one state, meaning the US.

Computer-generated image of a weather satellite [photo credit: EUMETSAT® 2007]
China destroyed one of its own ageing weather satellites
"Weapons deployment in space by one state will inevitably result in a chain reaction," he said.

"This, in turn, is fraught with a new spiral in the arms race both in space and on Earth."

The Russian foreign minister also warned the US against complacency over its technological lead, making a comparison with the nuclear arms race after World War II.

"Let us not forget that the nuclear arms race was started with a view to preserving a monopoly of this type of weapon," Lavrov said.

"But this monopoly was to last only four years."

BBC diplomatic correspondent Jonathan Marcus says Moscow and Beijing want a new treaty partly in an attempt to hold the moral high ground in the arms control debate, and also to curb the militarisation of the heavens in which the US is seen as having a significant lead.

Most to lose

The 1967 Outer Space Treaty bans the stationing of weapons of mass destruction in space.

But now the Russians and the Chinese want to go further. A Chinese weapons test in January 2007 placed the militarisation of space firmly back on the agenda.

China launched a missile which destroyed one of its own ageing weather satellites, highlighting the vulnerability of satellites to attack.

Both the Americans and the Russians had pursued such capabilities during the Cold War.

But our correspondent says satellites today are essential for all major military operations, so on the face of things it is the Americans who have the most to lose from an unconstrained race in anti-satellite weaponry.

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