Share | Contact Us | NPEC Email Alerts |
Missiles and Missile Defense The Nonproliferation Regime Nuclear Power Economics Nuclear Abolition & The Next Arms Race

Related Regions

Follow @NuclearPolicy to be the first in on NPEC's latest research

More of NPEC’s Work
A chronological listing by resource:

Articles | Working Papers | Interviews | Official Docs & Letters | Op-Eds & Blogs | Press Releases | Presentations | Audio & Video | Testimony & Transcripts
HOME > TOPICS > Missiles and Missile Defense      
A Proposed Agreement on Self-Defense Zones in Space

The complete version of the paper "Self Defense Zones in Space" by Albert Wohlstetter and Brian G. Chow and published in July 1986, contains a draft agreement that would create zones for rival nations' satellites. There is also a summary version available in the form of a Wall Street Journal Op-Ed from 1985 by the same authors: "Arms Control That Could Work," available at

Jan 21, 2010


A space agreement can facilitate, not replace, our unilateral efforts to protect critical satellite missions. The proposed Self-Defense Zone (SDZ) agreement would clarify what are considered menacing configurations of space objects. It would also make clear that the owner of a vital satellite system would take defensive actions when such a configuration seriously threatens a surprise destruction of the system--just as the United States did against Libyan missile boats which came too close to our carriers in the international waters of the Mediterranean. The SDZ agreement would thus encourage effective enforcement and thereby avoid some of the principal difficulties about compliance that trouble the present debate over arms control.

This paper also details the specifics of the agreement including the number, size and location of SDZs, and the maximum number and time of allowable transits through the other side's zones. Two key design features are i) that many of these SDZs are not attached to specific satellites but are regions in space which are fixed with respect to the earth, and ii) that SDZs are to protect critical satellite missions instead of every satellite which serves these missions. The first feature makes it much easier to adjust the orbits of one's satellites for treaty compliance, to recognize dangerous incursions, and to coordinate future satellite placements. The second feature allows for a few transits through SDZs by the other side's satellites. Even the destruction of some satellites resulting from these transits would not interrupt the mission performance of a system with built-in redundancy. The allowance of transits would permit much larger and more useful SDZs without significantly interfering with routine satellite operations.

The Nonproliferation Policy Education Center (NPEC), is a 501 (c)3 nonpartisan, nonprofit, educational organization
founded in 1994 to promote a better understanding of strategic weapons proliferation issues. NPEC educates policymakers, journalists,
and university professors about proliferation threats and possible new policies and measures to meet them.
1601 North Kent Street | Suite 802 | Arlington, VA 22209 | phone: 571-970-3187 |