The final session of the Open-Ended Working Group on Reducing Space Threats (OEWG) met from August 28 until September 1, 2023, with the goal of adopting a final report and recommendations by consensus, here interpreted as unanimity. To reach this goal, private, informal discussions were held behind closed doors for most of the session; nonstate representatives and cameras were excluded. Still, consensus was not achieved.
In an unprecedented development, the OEWG was unable to adopt either a substantive report or even the most basic procedural description of the meetings. Instead, the Chair provided a summary of the discussion in the form of a working paper.
Blame for the lack of a substantive outcome was cast in two directions. The United States pointed to “redlines” imposed by some states, which made compromise on a final report impossible. Russia blamed the foundational concept of “responsible behaviour,” which it deemed fatally flawed.
Nonetheless, most states viewed the course of the discussions as a success – expanding the scope of threats and mitigation measures under consideration; improving understanding of how states perceive threats; nurturing a convergence of views on numerous topics that reached unanimity on the applicability of international law to outer space; and also nurturing an unprecedented level of cross-regional cooperation.
Despite the absence of a final report, a growing chorus of voices has been calling for a renewal of the discussion.