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Soviet Union

Objectives in Space

Soviet interest in space, both for peaceful and for military use, has been intense since the 1950s. During talks on limiting the military use of space, Soviet negotiators have tried to block development of defensive and offensive United States space systems. At the same time, the Soviet Union has conducted extensive research in military space-based technologies.


Attempts to limit the military use of space began soon after the Soviet Union rejected President Dwight D. Eisenhower's l958 proposal to prohibit all military activity in space. The rejection was understandable because the Soviet Union had just launched the first artificial earth satellite, Sputnik, and was interested in deploying military reconnaissance satellites. In l963, however, the Soviet Union signed the Limited Test Ban Treaty with the United States and Britain, prohibiting the explosion of nuclear weapons in the atmosphere, and in l967 it became party to the Outer Space Treaty, which banned the deployment of nuclear weapons in earth orbit and on celestial bodies.

In March l977, President Carter, concerned about Soviet resumption of antisatellite tests, called for talks about banning antisatellite (ASAT) weapons. Although the United States pressed for a comprehensive ban on such systems, the Soviet Union was unwilling to dismantle its operational ASAT in view of the heavy and still growing United States dependence on reconnaissance satellites. After three rounds of negotiations, the talks were suspended in December 1979 after the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan.

In international and bilateral forums, the Soviet Union tried to derail advanced space defense plans. In l981, 1983, and 1984, the Soviet Union, anxious to prevent deployment of a United States ballistic missile defense system in space, submitted three separate draft treaties to the United Nations. Each treaty proposed to ban weapons stationed in orbit and intended to strike targets on earth, in the air, and in space. The treaties would have blocked the development of a space-based ABM system and precluded military use of vehicles like the space shuttle. In March l985, bilateral talks on space and space weapons limitations between the United States and the Soviet Union opened in Geneva. In early l989, the Soviet Union had not achieved its principal objective in the talks--to derail the SDI.

Data as of May 1989