The Case for International Surveillance and Verification


Chapter II - The Need


If you were to look at the Earth from outer space, it would appear as a beautiful blue-green sphere, a planet endowed with an abundance of natural resources. The planet might appear peaceful and harmonious as well as beautiful. But upon further investigation, our planet would turn out to be riddled with problems. Of the five billion inhabitants on the earth, one out of four endures hunger. One adult in three is illiterate. There is only one physician for every 1,030 people in the world but one soldier for every 43 (Sivard, 1985). You would observe several nations warring against each other. You would find that large amounts of the world's resources (about three trillion dollars) were spent to acquire weapons of mass destruction, nuclear weapons.

Perhaps what would appear as the ultimate absurdity is that the megatonnage of these arsenals is sufficient to kill 58 billion people, that is, enough to kill each inhabitant twelve times over. The seemingly peaceful world turns out to be a hostage to the 50,000 or more nuclear weapons in existence. The large majority of them (97 percent) are held by two nations, the superpowers. Each year new weapons are added to these arsenals. Their destructive power increases, and they are kept ready to do their terrible task at a moment's notice.

Looking around in space, you might be relieved to observe that there were no weapons in orbit around the earth. At least, this "common heritage of mankind" is free of weapons. Perhaps, you might think, at least some sanity prevails among human beings. You would, however, be dismayed to learn that preparations were being made to begin the weaponization of space.

You might also observe some man-made satellites orbiting around the earth. About three hundred of them are active, communicating radio messages or dropping capsules to the earth. Again, the vast majority of the satellites serve the military interests of the two superpowers. To a visitor from outer space it would seem like unnecessary duplication. The satellites of one superpower are used to "spy" on the other. They are used to observe planes, ships, automobiles and even individuals on the earth. The wealth of information revealed by these satellites is seen by only a very few people in each government.

Given the problems of the earth and the threat of an arms race in space, one might ask if any attempts are being made to solve them. Perhaps one would do best to look down onto the banks of the East River in New York, and point to the international organization which brings together virtually all the nations of the world, the United Nations. Formed after the Second World War had left much of the world in ruins, this body is entrusted with the sacred task of maintaining international peace and security. It is the focal point of efforts to correct the balance between the world's armaments and the world's poor.

At least humanity is trying.


Arms control and disarmament agreements, though few in number, are among the important accomplishments of mankind. They have not stopped the arms race, but they do significantly alter its nature and they do offer some hope. Central to the success of an arms control and disarmament treaty, is the degree of compliance it gains. Compliance must be verified. There is an on going debate, about how effective the means of verification currently used are. Are they good enough? This question will be analysed later in the next chapter.

In order to demonstrate the consequences of insufficient monitoring and verification, one need only look at the origins of the current arms race. This examination shows that secrecy between nations is damaging to all nations and it also shows the utility of satellite reconnaissance. With this history in mind, it will be possible to look at how a peace-keeping satellite might serve the international community by providing monitoring and verification under international control.


The Arms Race That Never Was

In 1956 the world was free of Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs). In 1957, the Soviet Union boasted the first operational ICBM. They seemed at the time to have taken a big lead in the missile race, but five years later the United States was to possess an overwhelming arsenal: over 600 missiles compared to only 14 for the USSR (Klass, 1971).

The initial build-up of American ICBMs occurred during the tenure of the Eisenhower administration. But President Eisenhower was not one to encourage the production of missiles. In a speech to the American Society of Newspaper Editors on April 16, 1953, he said:

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.

Then why the massive American missile program? The Americans were caught by surprise in 1957 when the Soviet Union successfully launched and orbited of the first man made satellite, Sputnik. As one James Killan (Stares, 1985) put it: "Sputnik I created a crisis of confidence that swept the country like a windblown forest fire. Overnight there developed a widespread fear that the country lay at the mercy of the Russian military machine." To heighten U.S. fears, Soviet Chairman Nikita Khrushchev began "saber rattling" and boasting about "hundreds of missiles" coming off the production line (Klass, 1971). The American military had no certain means or proving or disproving this. The observations of the U-2 overflights were not complete and there were disputes between the Pentagon and the CIA about the actual number of Soviet ICBMs. The Pentagon announced that by 1961 the Soviet Union could have as many as 600 ICBMs. Eisenhower was wary of such estimates. In his final State of the Union Address on January 12, 1961, he said: "the `bomber gap' of several years ago was always a fiction and the `missile gap' shows every sign of being the same."

Eisenhower's sense proved to be right. When the reconnaissance satellite systems came on-line in 1961, the number of Soviet missiles was brought down. The final number, agreed upon by both the CIA and the Pentagon was only fourteen missiles! America had, in fact, been suffering from was an intelligence gap, and reconnaissance satellites went a long way to closing it.

President Kennedy came into office before the new revelations about Soviet ICBM numbers were made. At the time he learnt about it, Khrushchev was using his "great lead" to political advantage. Khrushchev had set a deadline of December 31, 1961 for the signing of a "German Peace Treaty." The trick was for Kennedy to let him know that the "cat was out of the bag". Apparently (Klass, 1971) he did so in a private conversation with Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko while the Minister was visiting the U.S.A.. Eleven days later in Moscow, Khrushchev withdrew his peace treaty deadline because, as he said, the Western powers were now "displaying a certain understanding of the situation."

The Cuban missile crisis was another opportunity for Kennedy to use photoreconnaissance, except this time, in the form of aerial flights over Cuba. It is not clear if satellite reconnaissance was used to observe Cuba. Most of satellite resources were being used to observe the U.S.S.R. and the U-2 was cheaper and perhaps more effective in identifying the Cuban targets. The Cuban missile crisis was to be a second embarrassment for Khrushchev.

One can only speculate about what would have happened if American reconnaissance satellites had been available in the mid-1950s. Khrushchev's bluff would have been exposed earlier? Had the correct number of ICBMs - fourteen instead of the estimated 600 - been known in 1959, Eisenhower or Kennedy could have dealt with the alleged missile gap earlier. It is even possible that the now infamous arms race in nuclear missiles would not have begun. Lyndon Johnson was a strong advocate of the arms build up while serving as a Senator in 1960. In 1967, speaking to a small group of educators and government officials, the President emphasized the benefits of the satellite reconnaissance system (Klass, 1971):

We've spent $35-40 billion on the space program. And if nothing had come out of it except the knowledge we've gained from space photography, it would have been worth ten times the whole program cost. Because, tonight, we know how many missiles the enemy has. And, it turns out, our guesses were way off. We were doing things we didn't need to do. We were building things we didn't need to build. We were harboring fears we didn't need to harbor.

The Arms Race Continues

In 1961, the Soviets had "some cause for apprehension" (Burns, 1972), given the overwhelming American superiority in ICBM's, and bombers. The Americans now had a destructive arsenal greater than any other ever assembled on earth. This was to be the beginning of an arms race which was to assume a degree unprecedented in history.

Eisenhower saw this at the end of his tenure as President, and recognized that he had been an unwilling participant in the arms race as it was gathering momentum. In his Farewell Radio and Television address on January 17, 1961, he expressed his concern about a new development in American society: the military-industrial complex.

This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence - economic, political, even spiritual - is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government... In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.

And indeed it did persist. The U.S. and Soviet military continued to test and develop new systems. An action-reaction cycle was developed which continues today. A list of the major weapons developments is presented in table 2.1. The first country to develop the given weapons system, and the year in which the system became operational, is listed in the left column. Once one side developed a new weapon it became imperative for the other to do so. A similar table illustrates another action-reaction cycle. Table 2.2 shows the list of imaginary gaps mostly perceived by the U.S.A. and then realized for the U.S.S.R. The table is simplified somewhat, but it does make the point.

Table 2.1. Playing Catch Up: The Logic of the Arms Race between the United States (US) and the Soviet Union (SU).


Weapon Developed


US 1945

atomic bomb

SU 1949

US 1948

intercontinental bomber

SU 1955

US 1952

thermonuclear device

SU 1953

SU 1957

intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM)

US 1958

US 1960

submarine launched ballistic missile (SLBM)

SU 1968

US 1966

multiple warhead (MRV)

SU 1968

SU 1968

anti-ballistic missile

US 1972

US 1970

multiple independently targeted warhead (MIRV)

SU 1957

US 1982

long-range cruise missile

SU 198?

Source: Adapted from Sivard (1985).


Table 2.2. The "Gaps" Declared by the U.S. Government: Prediction (Fiction) and Reality.


Name of Gap




"Bomber Gap"

600-700 long-range bombers by 1960

190 bombers, US always led by at least 300.


"Missile Gap"

600 missiles by 1961

less than 20 missiles in 1961


"ABM Gap"

10,000 interceptors in a nationwide ABM system

64 interceptors and a defense against bombers rather than missiles


"Hard Target-Kill Gap"

SS-19 judged accurate enough to destroy all US land-based missiles

S-19 found to be less accurate by a more than one-third


"Spending Gap"

unrestrained growth in military spending and danger to ICBMs; window of vulnerability in US defences

CIA re-assessment Soviet procurement leveled off 1977-81 and increase in overall spending was half of earlier projections

Source: Sivard, 1985.

These tables bring home two main ideas: too much secrecy is not good for any nation and too many "worst-case" projections are not conducive to arms control. More openness and patience is required. Cooperation will help the development of both these qualities.

Successful Treaties

There have been a few successes in the area of arms control. There are several treaties which have been signed and to a large extent been respected. Treaties may fall into two categories: bilateral and multilateral. Treaties in the first category have drawn the most public attention, especially the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT) and the Anti-ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty. Other bilateral treaties which have been signed are the Threshold Test Ban Treaty (TTBT) of 1974 and the Peaceful Nuclear Explosions Treaty (PNE) of 1974. All of these bilateral treaties involved the two superpowers. The question of verification was of central importance in the negotiation of these treaties.

Yet the majority of treaties are of the multilateral kind. They tend to be more restrictive than bilateral treaties; many of them ban totally the use of certain types of weapons or weapons systems. Some of the agreements, however, only apply to specific regions of the world. A list of multilateral arms control treaties is presented in table 2.3.

Table 2.3. List of Multilateral Arms Control & Disarmament Treaties (1987).

Year signed

Treaty Name and Major Prohibition

Number of Signatories (1985)

Verification provisions in agreement


Geneva Protocol

(Use of chemical and biological weapons)


No provisions


Antarctic Treaty

(Any measure of a military nature in Antarctica)


Qualified parties may carry out on-site inspections and aerial observation any time, anywhere in Antarctica


Partial Test Ban Treaty

(Nuclear weapons testing in the atmosphere, in outer space and under water)


No provisions


Outer Space Treaty

(Nuclear weapons in outer space. Military use of celestial bodies)


Parties may request to observe flights of space objects and may carry out on-site inspections on the Moon and other celestial bodies on basis of reciprocity


Treaty of Tlatelolco

(Nuclear weapons in Latin America)


Special regional organs created. IAEA safeguards applied to nuclear activities. Special inspections may be carried out by IAEA or by regional organs


Non-Proliferation Treaty

(Wider dissemination of nuclear weapons)


IAEA safeguards applied to non-nuclear-weapons state parties


Sea-Bed Treaty

(Nuclear weapons on ocean floor)


Parties may observe activities on the sea-bed using own means or with the assistance of another party of "through international procedures within the framework of the United Nations"


Biological Weapons Convention

(Production and stockpiling of biological and toxin weapons)


Security Council may initiate an investigation and each state party is obliged to cooperate


ENMOD Convention

(military or hostile use of environmental modification techniques)


Security Council may initiate an investigation and each state party is obliged to cooperate


Agreement on the Moon Other Celestial Bodies

(Any hostile act on, or using, the moon. Placing nuclear weapons on, or in orbit around, the moon)


Any party may carry out on-site inspections on its own or with assistance of another party or through "international procedures within the framework of the United Nations"


Excessively Injurious Weapons Convention

(Uses of certain conventional weapons e.g., mines, booby traps and incendiary weapons against civilians)


No provisions


Treaty of Rarotonga

(Nuclear explosive devices in the South Pacific)


IAEA safeguards applied to parties Consultative Committee may initiate

Sources: Krass, 1985, Department of Disarmament Affairs, 1986.


In the table, NTM refers to "national technical means" of verification, in which satellites play a major role. The on-site inspection provisions may be classified as either selective or unrestricted. The latter case usually applies to the international territories such as the ocean, the Antarctic and outer space. In the case of the Antarctic Treaty, aerial overflights over a camp are permitted. Lists of all the parties to the treaties given in table 2.3 are included as appendices to the United Nations Disarmament Yearbooks.

Verification of Treaties

Effective verification of treaties is both necessary and possible. The very fact that continuous or random observation is made will discourage some nations from breaking agreements. It is said that it was only after the development of advanced reconnaissance satellites, that the superpowers could consider negotiating arms control treaties. Only after the development of the Keyhole-8 (KH-8) satellite did the US gain enough confidence in their verification methods.

It is always good to have several verification methods available, to compare with each other, whenever possible. The Soviets often use their satellites to confirm publicly stated military activity. A mixture of verification methods, including on-site aerial and space observation, is ideal.

Satellite observation can be used to help verify the treaties listed in table 2.3. The Geneva Protocol, for instance, prohibits the use of chemical and biological weapons in warfare. An ISMA could observe a suspected area to report on the special activities and protection measures which are associated with the storage and use of these weapons. Research in the area of satellite monitoring of environmental pollution is being advanced and may further contribute to the verification of the Geneva Protocol. At the present time, ISMA could be used in coordination with other methods to verify compliance with the treaty.

The Antarctic Treaty prohibits the establishment of military bases, military maneuvers and testing of weapons in the Antarctic. These activities could be detectable from space. Even civilian satellites could be used to perform some of the required observations. For example, in 1986, Soviet scientists examining satellite photographs located a missing Soviet arctic research station that had disappeared after a section of the ice shelf containing the station broke away into the Weddell Sea (Shabad, 1987).

The Partial Test Ban Treaty prohibits nuclear testing in the atmosphere, in outer space or underwater. Satellites could aid the verification of this treaty by observing ground activities which are associated with the preparation of these tests and by observing the radiation caused by the tests. The first type of observation could allow for international preventive measures to be used. Civilian weather and other satellites could play a role in the detection of atmospheric and outer space nuclear explosions.

The verification of a Comprehensive Test Ban (CTB), which still has to be negotiated, could require a satellite observation element. If efforts were to be made to construct new test sites to fool seismic detectors, the associated digging activities (which would have to be on a large scale) could be detected by satellite.

The Outer Space Treaty prohibits the placing in orbit of weapons of mass destruction, especially nuclear weapons. As noted in the PAXSAT A studies, satellite-to-satellite observation could be vital to verify compliance. The technical details are discussed elsewhere.

The Treaty of Tlatelolco establishes a nuclear weapon-free zone in Latin America. The treaty established the Agency for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America (OPANAL) to be charged with the responsibility of ensuring compliance. Satellite data could be of value to OPANAL, as it could be used to detect preparations and the conduct of nuclear tests. OPANAL has the right, given adequate reason, to demand information from any of the contracting parties, and it may also request special inspections "having full and free access to all places and all information which may be deemed necessary." OPANAL can call upon the assistance of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

The Non-proliferation Treaty prohibits the transfer of nuclear weapon technology to non-nuclear weapon States. ISMA could observe the construction of otherwise unknown nuclear reactors or enrichment plants. It could also observe preparatory activities for nuclear testing. The IAEA is responsible to implement the safeguards in each of signatory nations. It is interesting to note that the IAEA came into existence several years before the NPT was signed. It was a natural choice for its additional tasks. The treaty also states that the nuclear weapon states must negotiate "in good faith" arms control and disarmament of nuclear weapons. The non-nuclear weapon states have used this promise as a lever to encourage superpower arms control and disarmament negotiations.

The Sea-Bed Treaty prohibits the use of the sea-bed, the ocean floor and the sub-soil beyond the 12-mile outer limit of territorial waters, for the placement any nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction. At the present time, satellites are not able to detect and describe activities on the ocean floor. A minimal role for ISMA would be to observe surface activity that might be associated with violations of the treaty.

The Biological and Toxic Weapons Convention prohibits the development, production and stockpiling of such agents and requests the destruction of the delivery systems. Surveillance from space could identify training exercises of an army, observe the location of stockpiles and weapons-related equipment. The later could include segregation barriers, railway lines and specially designed tanker wagons.

The Environmental Modification Convention prohibits the employment of environmental modification techniques for military or any other hostile purposes. Satellites can identify changes in cloud conditions, the temperature at different locations on the earth and the chemical composition of the atmosphere. Valuable information on gross environmental changes could be obtained from space.

Satellite surveillance already plays a key role in the verification of several bilateral treaties. The first is the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. Satellites are used to detect and "inspect" radar installations, launchers and interceptor missiles. Electronic intelligence satellites are used to estimate the power of ABM System radars. Satellites could be used to observe activities in outer space related to ABM defences as well (as in the Outer Space Treaty).

The SALT treaties are likewise monitored by satellites, which are referred to as "national technical means" in the agreements. Missile testing is observed by the reception of the telemetry signals by satellites (and other receivers). The construction of missile silos is observed to make sure that the total number lies beneath the agreed limits. The launch, flight paths and impact areas during missile tests are also observed.

There are several treaties presently under negotiation requiring verification measures. They include a Comprehensive Test Ban, a Chemical Weapons Treaty, and an agreement for Mutual and Balanced Force Reduction in Europe. To a greater extent than ever before, the question of verification is being examined and schemes for verification are being incorporated into the draft treaties. The role of third party verification (United Nations or a regional or an international verification organization) is being seriously considered.


An International Role in Verification

There is a case to be made for introducing a third party role into the verification of arms control agreements. Just as in disputes between people, the investigation of an incident is best performed by those not involved in the incident. Without neutral, objective information, the truth cannot be ascertained. Arms control agreements, whether they be bilateral or multilateral, would be strengthened by international support in the area of verification.

In recent years, the United States and the Soviet Union have brought forth long lists of alleged violations of the other. The American complaints were summarized in the President's (January 23) Report on Soviet Non-Compliance (U.S. President, 1984) and in reports of the U.S. Department of Defence (1984). The U.S. accused the Soviet Union of clear violations of the 1925 Geneva Protocol, the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention, the 1975 Helsinki Final Act and two provisions of the 1979 SALT II Treaty. A second group of treaties that fall under the category of probably violations included the ABM treaty, and the Threshold Test Ban Treaty (TTBT).

In Western countries, the evidence appears to support U.S. allegations, while in East bloc countries, the evidence presented would seem to favor Soviet accusations. Within the U.S., however, there are scientists and arms control experts who have denied the validity of the Reagan administration allegations; they report a good pattern of Soviet compliance (Stanford University Centre, 1987). The administration made several changes in its estimates of Soviet capabilities in various areas over the years. For instance, the CIA concluded in 1986 that they had overestimated the yield of Soviet nuclear tests by some 20%. After reevaluation, the Soviet tests appear to be within the range permitted by the TTBT.

Even though the accusations are made, often giving precise counts for the others arsenals, the information upon which these accusations are based is not made public or even made regularly available to allies (Scott, 1986). The superpowers refuse to release the photographic or other data that they use to spot a violation. One of the stated reasons in the U.S., is that the release of such information could reveal information about U.S. reconnaissance capabilities. But no data is released whatsoever, even of the most unsophisticated kind. The results of the investigations may be announced or leaked but not the data itself (as was the case for Soviet SS-16 deployment).

The peace-keeping satellite organization would attempt to provide multilateral, politically unbiased verification. Once the satellite information is processed, the question of violation of a treaty can be addressed followed by appropriate sanctions. The first step is to obtain reliable information, upon which the decisions of the treaty signatories, the treaty compliance organization and world opinion can soundly rest.

Even if the methods of international verification are not perfect, a new element would be introduced which would have a balancing influence in the area of accusations of treaty violation and the maintenance of treaty compliance.

This would be even more true for multilateral arms control and disarmament treaties. It is envisaged that even if the superpowers do not accept international surveillance for their bilateral treaties, they will accept it for multilateral ones. At the present time they both have agreed to some forms of international verification for a chemical weapon treaty and others as well.

The verification provisions should be built into future treaties. Goldblat (1984) writes: "agreements with no provision for verification facilitate unsubstantial charges ... effective mechanisms to clarify suspicions about compliance and to protect parties against ill-considered allegations of violations are indispensable." This is true for all types of treaties, bilateral or multilateral.

One example of a multilateral verification organization is OPANAL, the Agency for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America, established by the Treaty of Tlatelolco (SIPRI, 1972). The agency has its headquarters in Mexico city and has a Secretary General, who is responsible to ensure proper operation of the control system. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), with headquarters in Vienna, is the main source of inspection experts. The General Conference of OPANAL, consisting of all the contracted parties, holds regular sessions every two years.

Other examples of third party verification were the investigations arranged by the United Nations Secretary-General to investigate the use of chemical warfare agents. In 1980, the General Assembly requested the Secretary-General (resolution A/35/144C) to investigate, with a Group of Experts, allegations that chemical weapons had been used in South-East China and Afghanistan. The Group of Experts visited refugee camps in Thailand and Pakistan, but were unable to conclude (A/37/259) one way or the other about the use of chemical weapons.

In 1982, the General Assembly passed an important resolution (res. A/37/98D) requesting the Secretary-General to conduct investigations promptly after any allegations of use of chemical weapons were presented to him. In late 1983, Iran accused Iraq of using chemical weapons. The Secretary-General sent a team of four eminent specialist to Iran on a fact-finding mission, which was to last for six days. In their report (A/39/210), they reached the unanimous conclusion that chemical weapons had been used in the areas they inspected in Iran and they identified the chemical agents. They could not, however, determine the extent to which these agents had been used. Although Iran tried to submit a resolution condemning the use of the weapons reported by the experts, it was never voted upon because Iraq successfully adjourned the debate.

The addition of new international verification procedures may not receive the support the superpowers, but his does not mean they will oppose its operation once formed. As an example, it might be useful to look at the formation of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). It was proposed by the US, but opposed by the USSR. Eventually, however, the USSR has become a staunch supporter of it. The resolutions concerning chemical verification described above were opposed by the USSR. The Soviet Union has agreed to negotiate on-site inspection procedures for a chemical weapons treaty.


A United Nations Role In Verification

Since its creation, the United Nations has been intimately involved with the negotiation of disarmament treaties. Most arms control and disarmament treaties refer positively to the United Nations within the text itself (for a list of eleven treaties with such references see Beesley, 1985). The United Nations is the repository of the instruments of ratification for the three most recent arms control treaties, as shown in table 2.3.

The Conference on Disarmament, held each year in Geneva, remains the world's foremost multilateral disarmament negotiating body. The Disarmament Commission, which holds its meetings one month a year in New York, is looking at the principles of verification, and provisions and techniques to promote the inclusion of adequate verification in arms limitation and disarmament agreements. It also looks at the role of the United Nations and its Member States in the field of verification (U.N. Press Release DC/2045, 1 December 1986).

An international verification program would benefit greatly by incorporation into or coordination with the United Nations. The United Nations would be able to provide as much neutrality as any other international body. Its role and authority in peace-keeping is already recognized. An expansion into the area of verification would be a positive, strengthening measure and is being contemplated by several nations and the Secretary-General.

It is not possible to imagine that the International Court of Justice could amass sufficient evidence to present a verdict on the question of violation of the arms control treaties signed by the superpowers. The means of verification for the ABM and SALT treaties lies solely in their hands. But it is apparent that a respected arbitrator, such as the International Court of Justice, could help resolve the conflicts between them. The Court could be given the means to obtain evidence relating to arms control compliance. A peace-keeping satellite could play a role in this area.


The East-West arms race is not the only menace to international peace and security. Numerous regional conflicts that appear in various parts of the globe also pose a great threat. It is in times of crisis that the use of irrational weapons, such as nuclear weapons, are most likely. They may be used either by those directly involved in the dispute (if they have such weapons) or by nations who fear that their own security would be threatened by a particular outcome from the conflict.

ISMA could play a role in the monitoring and settlement of international conflicts. It could provide valuable information (Secretary-General, 1981) relating to:

  1. the early-warning of attacks through observation of build-up of military and para-military forces;
  2. evidence of border violations;
  3. cease-fire violations;
  4. assistance to United Nations observers and peace-keeping missions;
  5. strengthening of international confidence-building and observation of the use of, or threat to use, force (as prohibited by the United Nations Charter).

The importance of gathering information before and during a potential crisis cannot be over emphasized. This is illustrated by an experience described by the Canadian diplomat Dr. George Ignatieff (Dorn, 1986). At the time of the Six-Day War (1967), Dr. Ignatieff was serving as President of the Security Council. He noted that if had there been an ISMA "we would have avoided the ridiculous position of having to read the New York Times or rushing people by aircraft while the US and the USSR had up-to-date information of the area of hostilities."

The superpowers are known to launch more satellites during a period of crisis (Secretary-General, 1981) and the ground tracks of these satellites often reveal that they travel above "trouble spots" (Jasani, 1982). During the 1974 nuclear explosion in India a U.S. Big Bird reconnaissance was known to fly over that area in India. Another Big Bird flew over South Africa when a nuclear device was tested there in 1977 (Smith, 1985). Similarly, a KH-8 satellite flew over the Polish border in February 1981 where Soviet troops had been marshalled.

The UN ISMA study (Secretary-General) states that with military satellite technology, it is now possible to obtain sufficiently detailed information on military preparations and actual fighting. The developments of the conflict and the aggressive acts can be characterized. Under present-day conditions, it "is difficult for activities of this kind to escape observation by satellite."

Although concealment measures can be taken, they may not prove very effective. Since satellite sensors use a variety of "bands" or light frequencies to observe the earth, more information can be gathered than might be commonly thought possible. For instance, if false grass were to be used to hide a missile site or other underground location, the sensors measuring visible light may be fooled but the infrared sensors would be able to distinguish the difference in heat released by the metal underneath the grass and that from soil. For different objects, there are different signatures. The "finger print" of an object is recognized by analysing the spectrum, or a series of different light frequencies.

Even the fact that satellites are observing the military actions of a country may act as a deterrent. Some concealment measures may prove too costly and so it limits the possibilities for covert action. Satellite observation could be a deterrent to concealment because it may not be fooled by the camouflage, and there is uncertainty about what can be observed. Concealment would be a risk, and often it is very costly.

Aerial surveillance should be considered as complementary to satellite surveillance for conflict monitoring, as noted by the distinguished Canadian scientist Dr. Larry Morley (Dorn, 1986). Airplanes, when they can be used, can be launched usually without delay, and for single or multiple flights, could be considerably less expensive than satellites. It would be possible to use more suitable sensors on the airplane. However, airplanes can be shot down and are more intrusive. The airspace of a nation is legally under its sovereignty, and permission must be granted for the over flights. This may not always be possible. Satellites are not known to carry bombs and therefore cannot be suspect in this regard. Dr. Morley noted that the Canadian expertise in remote sensing was first developed using aircraft, and then using satellites.

Satellite monitoring could promote confidence in nations that themselves have very little surveillance capability. Many non-aligned countries have no way of obtaining information about aggressive acts that may be planned against them. The ISMA could be a security guarantee that would serve as a warning-bell against aggressive actions.

Even the superpowers could gain from added surveillance knowledge. While it is true that one would expect their technology to be superior to that employed in the initial peace-keeping satellites, it is possible that the international system might still discover occasional events, not known to the superpowers. In spite of the sophisticated radar systems employed by the U.S. in the World War II, the U.S. found itself caught off guard by the Japanese aerial attack on its fleet in Pearl Harbor. Another scenario is that if for one reason or another, one superpower satellite system were to be blinded accidentally or intentionally in the first few moments of a planned attack, the international system would be very important. Since the probability of mechanical or software failure increases with increasingly complexity in such electronic detection systems, it might be desirable to have international back-up systems, which run independently from those of the nation States. In this sense, the ISMA serves as a means of reducing the probability of accidental (nuclear) war.

By speculating about certain historical events, one could produce various scenarios to estimate the potential impact that an ISMA can make in the domain of international peace and security. It would be interesting to consider the kind of role an ISMA would have played in the following events: the Cuban missile crisis, the 6 Day War, the Falklands war, the missile gap, the Iran-Iraq war, the alleged development of nuclear weapons by Israel and others (South Africa, for example)? Had there been an international verification organization in the early 1930s, to strictly monitor compliance with existing treaties, using overflights and other surveillance methods, perhaps even World War II could have been avoided. Surveillance is a means of providing knowledge about aggressive actions and this knowledge should be welcomed by those who wish to deter aggressive acts.

Unfortunately, very little analysis appears in the literature on the subject of peace-keeping satellites for crisis and conflict monitoring. It is an area which deserves more attention.

The United Nations and Crisis Monitoring

The United Nations and its predecessor, the League of Nations, have a long history of involvement in the settlement of disputes and the preservation of international security. The foremost objective of the U.N. under its Charter is to "maintain international peace and security."

The United Nations does not maintain its own world event or conflict monitoring stations. To keep track of new developments in the international theatre, the United Nations and most of its member States rely on information supplied by the member States involved and, to a large extent, on the public media. There is one exception, however. The United Nations sponsors observation and peace-keeping forces when they are requested by adjacent countries.

Good examples of monitoring as an element of peace-keeping was provided by the United Nations Emergency Force and the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force. Starting in 1974, they have verified the disengagement agreements reached between Egypt, Israel and Syria. As stated by the Finnish Ambassador in the First Committee, "the successful manner in which they [the two U.N. bodies mentioned above] have carried out verification strengthened confidence between the parties and the durability of the agreements" (A/C.1/41/PV.18). The first U.N. peace-keeping operation, the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO), was an observer mission which has received a great deal of praise.

The General Assembly resolutions under the title "Comprehensive System of International Peace and Security" reaffirm the important role of the United Nations as an indispensable forum for conducting negotiations and for democratizing international relations.

There are several member organizations in the U.N. family, which should be considered when the question of the structure of an international monitoring organization is raised. The World Meteorological organization (WMO), the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the IAEA are all bodies with roles in the monitoring different activities in the world, whether they be natural or man-made.



At the present time, the deployment of weapons in space looms over the horizon. The United States government is sponsoring a multi-billion dollar research project called the Strategic Defence Initiative (SDI), whose goal, as stated by President Reagan (1983), is to "render these nuclear weapons impotent and obsolete." The Star Wars program, as it is popularly called, would involve the development of sophisticated missile-tracking devices, laser guns (Kindle et al., 1985), kinetic energy weapons (Brouwer, 1986), and a software-driven computer system to control unprecedented number of activities (Lamb, 1985; Parnas, 1985). The eventual "layered defence system" would require a large number of satellites to watching for and shoot all enemy missiles. Estimates on the total number of satellites required vary from 90 to 432.

Star Wars would involve a complete battlefield management program in space. The same technology used to destroy missiles will threaten enemy satellites (Tirman, 1986). The SDI program is looking (Luiz de Assis, 1985) at ways to protect American satellites from radioactive explosions, to make them less "visible" to electronic detection systems, and to increase their capacity to change orbits to escape attacks from Earth or space. The plans also call for the development of backup satellites that orbit "in silence", and that can be lowered into orbit to replace destroyed satellites in war.

The technological feasibility is questioned by many members of the scientific community (IEEE, 1986; UCS, 1984), the cost estimates are forbidding (Lall, 1987) and the spin-off for foreign participators may not be great (CCACD, 1985b). Perhaps most important is the question of whether the system actually increases international peace and security. The majority of work in the area concludes that it will not (CCACD, 1985a).

Cooperation in Space

Outer space has opened up a new vista for human endeavor. It is a new frontier which is filled with many secrets and hidden knowledge, including clues to the origins of our own planet and perhaps life itself. Space science is a relatively new area of fascinating investigation and outer space provides man with another domain for human voyage. This "final frontier" captures the imagination of citizens from East and West, North and South alike.

The Outer Space Treaty, signed in 1967, and currently having 84 nation parties, enshrines the noble expression of the international good will for the preservation of peaceful activities in outer space:

The exploration and use of outer space, including the Moon and other celestial bodies, shall be carried out for the benefit and in the interests of all countries, irrespective of their degree of economic or scientific development, and shall be the province of all mankind.

The treaty further states that astronauts are the "envoys of mankind in outer space" and article V requests all State Parties to the Treaty to "render them all possible assistance in the event of an accident, distress, or emergency landing on territory of another State Party or on the high seas." This commitment was reaffirmed and broaden in the Agreement on the Rescue of Astronauts, the Return of Astronauts and the Return of Objects Launched into Outer Space.

There are a number of additional factors which make cooperation in outer space projects even more appealing. The first consideration is one of cost. Outer space projects are very costly. A typical satellite launch costs between a quarter and a half of a billion dollars (though this cost drop quickly over time). By combining the efforts of states in the peaceful exploration of space, there may be significant savings.

A second factor which enhances the value of cooperation is that outer space is a new and "hostile" environment to man. The Outer Space Treaty has provisions for the assistance of astronauts in space. It states that the astronauts of one State Party shall render all possible assistance to the astronauts of other State Parties.

A third factor is related to the fact that certain areas of space near the earth can become congested. The geosynchronous orbit is a good example. This is the special orbit in which most communications satellites are "parked". Each nation must be given a place in the orbit (or on the radio broadcast spectrum), and so there must be agreements about how the orbiting space is divided. Another example is the growing amount of excess debris in space left by spacecraft. This is hazardous to all voyages in space. Satellites, travelling at thousands of kilometers per hour, can be severely damaged in a collision. At present, four-fifths of the 5,000 space objects in orbit is "junk spewed into space with satellite launches - rocket bodies, nose cones, spent fuel containers" (Canby, 1983). Fortunately, the vast majority of material eventually falls towards the earth and disintegrates into the atmosphere.

A fourth factor enhancing cooperation is that it is difficult to conceal activities, military or otherwise, in outer space. For instance, the exact number of objects orbiting the earth at any time are known. At the North American Aerospace Defence Command, there is a catalog of over 14,000 pieces of hardware shot into space since the launch of the Soviet Sputnik satellite in 1957 (Canby, 1983). Also, since the costs of satellite development and launching are so high, the characteristics of each satellite, both its structure and its orbital path, are designed to maximize its efficiency. In short, it is very costly to disguise or camouflage a satellite.

Another reason to support international cooperation in space is that satellites already benefit man in so many ways and are used in many transborder activities (Canby, 1983). Satellites provide one of the major means for intercontinental communication. Signals encoding voice or video information are constantly being sent around the globe in seconds. The weather maps provided by satellites, can and display patterns over one or more continents. The remote sensing capabilities of the Landsat (Bishop, 1976) and other systems have demonstrated their utility to people in over seventy countries.

The table 2.4 lists some of the various international programs which highlight the desirability of cooperation in outer space.

Table 2.4. A List of Some Cooperative International Projects relating to Outer Space.




Participating Nations


Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS)

Technical and Legal

53 nations

1959 -




1962 -



109 nations

1964 -


Resource management

US-18 other nations

1972 -


Agricultural estimates

UN agency (120 nations)

1970s -






Search and Rescue


1976 -


Commercial Ventures

France, Belgium, Sweden

1986 -




1987 -

 Sources: Jasani, 1978; World Book Encyclopedia, 1972.


Peaceful Uses of Satellite Remote Sensing

Outer space naturally lends itself to international remote sensing activities. Satellites can travel near the outer reaches of the atmosphere, only 150 km above the earth's surface, at a distance equivalent to about 2 % (one-fiftieth) the radius of the earth. Satellites travel at speeds of tens of thousands of kilometers per hour, allowing many of them to circle the earth in only an hour and a half. Thus in one orbit the satellite can observe many countries. Given the rotation rate of the earth, it is possible to calculate an orbital path which will bring the satellite over all nations of the world in approximately 18 days. At the height of 150 km it is also possible to observe the atmosphere and the earth in a unique way.

The first picture ever made of the earth was transmitted from the U.S. Explorer-6 satellite in 1959 (Buckingham, 1986). It has been said that once man could see his planet from outer space his psyche was changed. The first weather satellite, TIROS-1, was launched in April, 1960, and began immediately transmitting useful meteorological data acquired through its two TV cameras (each of resolution of 1 km). Successive Tiros satellites, bigger and better, have maintained a vigil over the earth's and "no tropical storm has formed anywhere on earth undetected" (Canby, 1983).

Satellite remote sensing has been used to spot hurricanes, and in this way has saved thousands of lives in the U.S.A. alone. Remote sensing satellites are used to monitor and hence manage natural disasters, tidal waves, volcanic eruptions, drought and famine. Although it is not the central task of the peace-keeping satellite as proposed here, it would be natural for the satellite to provide information along these lines as well for verification of treaties as monitoring crisis situations.

The United Nations and Outer Space

The United Nations and its specialized agencies constitute the primary forum for international discussion on the uses of outer space. These activities are described in a U.N. publication (United Nations, 1986). The Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS), established in 1959, meets annually to review and promote international cooperation in the peaceful uses of outer space and to look at both the technical and the legal aspects associated with space exploration. At the end of 1986, there were 53 members nations in the committee. The Legal-Sub Committee was a forum for preliminary consideration of five treaties: the Outer Space Treaty (1967), the Agreement on the Rescue of Astronauts, the Return of Astronauts and the Return of Objects Launched into Outer Space (1968), the Convention on International Liability for Damage Caused by Space Objects (1972), the Convention on Registration of Objects Launched into Outer Space (1976) and the Principle Relating to Remote Sensing of the Earth from Outer Space (1986). The Scientific and Technical Sub-committee considers the exchange of technical information, and the promotion of international programs. The COPUOS has held two world conferences, UNISPACE1 and UNISPACE2.

Other U.N. sections which deal with outer space include the Outer Space Affairs division of the Secretariat, the Department of Technical Co-operation for Development, the Centre for Science and technology for Development, the U.N. Environment Program and the U.N. Development Program. The Specialized Agencies which deal with the peaceful uses of outer space include the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), UNESCO, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), the World Health Organization (WHO), the International Telecommunications union (ITU), the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the International Maritime Organization (IMO).

At the request of the COPUOS, the FAO established a Remote Sensing Centre in 1980. The Centre acts as the focal point for U.N. activities in remote sensing as applied to renewable resources, such as agriculture, fisheries and forestry. The Centre, located at FAO headquarters in Rome, has a sizable technical support facility, which includes a geographic database of satellite imagery from Landsat, a station for real-time reception of data from meteorological satellites and a modest satellite image interpretation program. It is possible that, if the resolution of civilian satellite imagery increases, the Centre will be able to detect events of importance to international peace and security.

The U.N. also keeps a Space Registry in accordance with the "Convention on Objects Launched into outer Space." Each nations must supply the Secretary-General with information regarding the objects launched by them (discussed in greater detail later).

Thus, the United Nations is already heavily involved with the uses of outer space. The extension of these activities to include projects which are designed to enhance international peace and security would therefore seem quite natural for an organization such as the U.N.. Outer space, like the U.N., offers man both hope for the future and a means of enhancing international peace and security in the present.

The view experienced by astronauts and captured on film of the Earth rising above the Moon's horizon is symbolic. Man lives on a beautiful planet, a world that could be a haven of peace and unity. In 1963, the U.N. General Assembly expressed the belief that "the exploration and use of outer space should be carried on for the betterment of mankind and for the benefit of States irrespective of their degree of economic or scientific development." The immediate present may be our "window of opportunity" for the promotion of space for peace. As the technology races forward, mankind is faced with a choice: to use space to enhance international security or to enhance the destructive power of modern weapons.