GENEVA - The United States on Tuesday reasserted its right to develop weapons for use in outer space to protect its military and commercial satellites and ruled out any global negotiations on a new treaty to limit them.
In a speech to the Conference on Disarmament, a senior State Department arms control official insisted that such weapons systems would be purely defensive.
Washington sees no need for negotiations to prevent an arms race in space as a 40-year-old international treaty banning weapons of mass destruction in space remains adequate, he said.
John Mohanco, deputy director of the office of multilateral, nuclear and security affairs, said the United States faced a threat of attacks from the earth or from other countries' spacecraft. He did not name any potential attackers.
"As long as the potential for such attacks remains, our government will continue to consider the possible role that space-related weapons may play in protecting our assets," he told the United Nations-backed forum.
"For our part, the United States does not have any weapons in space, nor do we have plans to build such weapons," he said.
The White House is due to announce a new space policy this month, the first overhaul in a decade. Some U.S. experts have said it will underscore the Pentagon's determination to protect its existing space assets and maintain dominance of outer space.
The United States and Britain are under pressure to agree to global negotiations on space at the 65-member Geneva forum, where they remain virtually alone in opposing them.
Washington argues a treaty banning production of nuclear bomb-making fissile material should be the forum's next goal.
Last week, China and Russia warned that space-based weapons would pose a threat as great as weapons of mass destruction and pointed to gaps in existing international law. The two powers also back fissile talks under a wider agenda including space.
The United States -- which has the "lion's share of assets in outer space" -- remains committed to the peaceful use of space by all nations, according to Mohanco.
"There is no -- repeat, no -- problem in outer space for arms control to solve," he said, citing "unprecedented international cooperation" in civil and commercial space activities, including among former Cold War foes.
A 1967 U.N. treaty bans weapons of mass destruction from space, but some experts believe the United States would not shy away from withdrawing from the pact.
In 2002, it pulled out of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty to begin deploying a missile defense shield.
Mohanco vowed all U.S. activities in the exploration and use of outer space would comply with international law.
But a new pact to ban anti-satellite weapons or other space-related weapon systems would be impossible, given the problems of defining what it covered, because any space object had an inherent "dual-use potential", meaning it could be used for civilian or military purposes, he said.
© Reuters 2006