Law, College of


Date of this Version



Published in JOURNAL OF AIR LAW AND COMMERCE 33 (1967), pp. 419-456; reprinted in SPACE LAW, edited by Francis Lyall and Paul B. Larsen (Ashgate, 2007), pp. 151-188.


An announcement was made on 8 December 1966, that agreement had been achieved among the members of the twenty-eight nation United Nations Outer Space Commitee on the text of a treaty establishing principles governing the activities of states in the exploration and use of outer space, the moon, and other celestial bodies. Approval of the Treaty was recommended unanimously by the Political Committee of the General Assembly on 17 December 1966. Two days later, the Treaty was endorsed by a unanimous vote of the General Assembly. Regardless of the total number of States which may sign and ratify the Treaty, a remarkable endeavor of great significance to international law and politics has reached fruition. Nations often in conflict with one another and adhering to widely divergent political philosophies have agreed on the first Treaty of general applicability governing activity in outer space.
The principles set forth in the Treaty had been advanced previously in the form of General Assembly resolutions, analogous international agreements, domestic legislation, statements by government officials, articles by scholars in the field and other expressions of views. However, agreement on the Treaty was primarily the product of the labors of the twenty-eight member Legal Subcommittee of the United Nations General Assembly's Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space during the Subcommittee's Fifth Session held in Geneva from 12 July to 4 August 1966, and in New York from 12 to 16 September 1966. The few issues requiring resolution subsequent to the conclusion of the Fifth Session were the subject of various bilateral negotiations and other discussions held during the Twenty-First Session of the General Assembly. Agreement was obtained on those issues shortly before the 8 December announcement that agreement on the Treaty as a whole had been reached.
This paper will first consider briefly the expressions of views, international agreements and other events prior to the Fifth Session, which are pertinent to the establishment of principles governing exploration and use of outer space and celestial bodies. The critical events immediately prior to the Fifth Session will be summarized. Considerable attention will then be devoted to the two draft treaties introduced at the outset of the Fifth Session, and the discussions and amendments of those drafts which culminated in the agreed upon text which was announced, in final form, on 8 December 1966.