In the current conflict in Ukraine there has been some speculation that Russia may try to knock out or disable satellites used in support of the Ukrainian army.

Notably, large civilian constellations providing secure communications such as the Starlink system have been seen in the actual usage of ground troops.

Is there any possibility that striking such systems may be legal under international law during a military conflict?

In other words, is there any prohibition on doing so similar to the prohibitions of attacking ambulances, falsely surrendering, etc...

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    Yes. Communication infrastructure used by the military is fair game. Oct 27, 2022 at 11:15
  • @GregoryCurrie So you think that anyone can destroy russian satellites because they are part of the communication structure of the russian miltary. Interesting notion. One that, however, still requires quoation of the relavent international conventions/laws stating this. Oct 27, 2022 at 15:21
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    @MarkJohnson It would be incredibly difficult for me to destroy a Russian satellite, if that is what you are asking. Oct 27, 2022 at 15:34
  • @GregoryCurrie No, it is not. What I am asking for is the adding of the legal basis for your 'Yes, Communication infrastructure used by the military is fair game.' comment in the context of this question. (this is a law forum) Oct 27, 2022 at 18:04

1 Answer 1


When unmanned objects, such as satellites, are used for military purposes, do they become valid military targets according to international law?

No, the Outer Space Treaty, which represents the basic legal framework of international space law has no provision for this.

One main provision that is not allowed is:

Article IV

  • States shall not place nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction in orbit or on celestial bodies or station them in outer space in any other manner;

The treaty does not explicidly prohibit the placement of conventional weapons in orbit.

The use of satellites, whether they are used for taking images or secure communications, is not restricted by the Outer Space Treaty.

Article VIII
A State Party to the Treaty on whose registry an object launched into outer space is carried shall retain jurisdiction and control over such object, and over any personnel thereof, while in outer space or on a celestial body.

The destroyment by Party A of a satellite belonging to Party C simply because these services were made available to Party B would have the same legal effect as when Party C destroyed a Fighter Jet, belonging to Party A, that is firing a missile into the territory of Party B.

The Outer Space Treaty was opened for signature in the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union on 27 January 1967, and entered into force on 10 October 1967. As of February 2022, 112 countries are parties to the treaty, while another 23 have signed the treaty but have not completed ratification.

Russia (ratification as the Soviet Union), the United States, the United Kingdom, most of the European Union countries, Australia, India have ratified the treaty. China accessed it after the ratification process was compleated.


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    Is the Outer space treaty applicable to military conflict in a wartime situation? From what I understand the Geneva conventions are one of the the few instruments ratified that are mandatory for the conduct of any and all state parties in a war.
    – M. Y. Zuo
    Oct 27, 2022 at 16:15
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    So, you are essentially saying that satellites can't be military targets as the Space Treaty says nothing that they can. But why do you assume that what's not expressly allowed is prohibited?
    – Greendrake
    Oct 27, 2022 at 21:00
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    @Greendrake Since any object launched into outer space remains within the jurisdiction and control (Article VIII) of the state that lauched it, the destruction of that object would be a violation of Article 2 (4) of the United Nations Charter: All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations. Oct 27, 2022 at 22:27
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    Well, that UN Charter article essentially prohibits wars in the first place. It is not a piece of international law about what is right and what is wrong in ongoing wars.
    – Greendrake
    Oct 27, 2022 at 23:21
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    @Greendrake Article 51 does set out when a war is justified: United Nations Charter: Nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defence if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations, ... Who is acting in self-defence or attacking will be the first thing that the International Court of Justice will determine. Oct 28, 2022 at 4:31

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