170210-N-FB082-004 NEWPORT, R.I. (Feb. 10, 2017) Dale Stephens, director, Adelaide Research Unit on Military Law and Ethics at the University of Adelaide in South Australia and head of the SA/NT Navy Legal Panel, explains the interplay between International Humanitarian Law and the Outer Space Legal Regime during a workshop titled, “International Legal Implications of Military Space Operations”. The two-day workshop was designed to help legal experts better understand international legal implications of military space operations. (U.S. Navy photo by Daniel L. Kuester/released)


NEWPORT, R.I. – Forward-looking experts are gazing skyward in preparation of examining military and legal issues being created as countries explore the security domain of outer space.

A recent conference, “International Legal Implications of Military Space Operations,” brought together experts in law, policy and academics from around the world to discuss this emerging legal topic.

The conference was sponsored by Stockton Center for the Study of International Law at U.S. Naval War College (NWC) Newport, Rhode Island; Harvard Law School Program on International Law and Armed Conflict, Cambridge, Mass.; and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) Regional Delegation for the United States and Canada.

“The organizing members of the conference all agreed that the outer space domain is of growing concern and interest,” said Army Maj. Chad Highfill, Stockton Center professor and organizer of the event. “Governments and corporations increasingly rely on space-based technologies to support many aspects of daily life. Military operations increasingly depend on space-based assets. In light of these trajectories, it is more vital than ever to examine international legal implications of military space operations. The workshop sought to analyze a select array of enduring and emergent legal issues in this area.”

One of the presenters at the workshop, Dale Stephens, director of the Adelaide Research Unit on Military Law at the University of Adelaide, Australia, found the conference an opportunity to help shape the future discussions on the topic.

“This conference establishes the key questions and the fault lines in the area,” said Stephens. “You get a sense of where people’s concerns are. I’m very happy there was a lot of thoughtful consideration of how you apply an analysis of the issues.”

Highfill said the need for discussions is important when exploring this newly emerging topic.

“While the presentations at the conference were certainly outstanding,” he said, “it’s the discussions they engender that are of the most value in examining the issues raised during this workshop. We work hard to create an environment that encourages timely, relevant, and interesting discussion of the topics.”

Covering this emerging topic requires participation from many areas. Highfill worked to include as many voices as possible.

“This workshop brought together a rich mix of experts in international law pertaining to armed conflict, in space law, and in relevant technologies, with eight foreign participants from seven countries -- United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, Estonia, Switzerland, Slovakia, and Germany,” said Highfill.

In this field of law, there are many legal approaches to issues, and Stephens was eager to discuss opinions from everyone, especially those with whom he disagrees.

“I want to have my ideas challenged by others to just be assured in my mind whether I’m on the right track or not,” he said.

Only through an open exchange of ideas can legal matters gain clarity, said Stephens.

“A conference like this enables a more innovative way of thinking in an out-of-the box sort of way.”

As space becomes more commonplace, legal issues will need to be solved, and this conference helped inform those discussions.

“The proliferation of space-based assets and their vital role in supporting both modern life and military operations compels an examination of the international legal implications of military space operations,” added Highfill. “This workshop brought together a mix of experts for the purpose of exploring a consensus on the governing legal precepts to guide some of most fundamental issues arising in conflict in this domain.”

The papers produced from this workshop will be published in the Stockton Center’s journal “International Law Studies.”

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