Prof. Frans von der Dunk

speaker Prof. Frans von der Dunk

[The space race is] no longer limited to the United States, Russia, and China.… We are living in a multi-polar world also in outer space, and, of course, that raises a number of important legal issues as well.

Frans von der Dunk is a professor at Nebraska College of Law and an expert in aviation law; international law; European union law; and space, cyber, and telecommunications law. Von der Dunk is also the owner of a consultancy company for space law and policy, Black Holes B.V. and the series editor of "Studies in Space Law." Prior to teaching at Nebraska, he was an Associate Professor and Director of Space Law Research at Leiden University. In 2004, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Award of the International Institute of Space Law of the International Astronautical Federation. He was also awarded the Social Science Award of the International Academy of Astronautics in 2006 and the Social Science Book Award in 2015 for the Handbook of Space Law. Von der Dunk acts as visiting professor on international and national space law and policy, international air law, and public international law at about 50 universities across the world. He has written more than 180 articles and publications, many of which are featured in prestigious publications such as, American Bar Association Journal, Journal of Space Law, Michigan State International Law Review, POLITICO Space, and U.S. News & World Report. Von der Dunk was nominated Member of the European Space Sciences Committee of the European Space Foundation, the first lawyer ever. In 2007, he was appointed by the Association of Space Explorers as the sole lawyer on the Panel on Asteroid Threat Mitigation. He has also served as advisor to the Dutch Government, many foreign governments, The European Commission, the European Space Agency, the United Nations, and many other organizations.

Talks by Prof. Frans von der Dunk

related talk Weaponization of Outer Space
Weaponization of Outer Space

As the US accuses Russia of developing nuclear-armed satellites, what does international law say about weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in outer space? Space law expert, Professor Frans von der Dunk  discusses the weaponization of outer space and the laws that govern weapons beyond the planet. The deployment of weapons of mass destruction in outer space presents not only a significant threat to global security but also a complex challenge to international law, explains Professor von der Dunk, a leading authority on space law at the Nebraska College of Law.

The primary legal framework governing this issue is the Outer Space Treaty of 1967, which was established during the height of the Cold War to ensure that the exploration and use of outer space would be carried out for the benefit of all countries. The treaty expressly prohibits the placement of nuclear weapons or any other types of WMDs in orbit around Earth, on celestial bodies, or in other locations in outer space. This comprehensive ban aims to prevent the outer space from becoming an area of military conflict, von der Dunk notes.

In addition to the Outer Space Treaty, the Partial Test Ban Treaty of 1963 also plays a role by prohibiting nuclear explosions in outer space, further underscoring the global intent to maintain space as a peaceful domain. Despite these legal safeguards, recent developments and accusations suggest that some nations might be exploring technologies that could stretch or violate these boundaries. Historical precedents like the Starfish Prime high-altitude nuclear test by the USA and the accidental crash of the Cosmos 954, a nuclear-powered Soviet satellite, in 1978 highlight the risks and consequences of using nuclear technology in space. 

Professor von der Dunk also highlights the strategic ambiguities and unrestricted areas within the treaties. While the laws clearly ban WMDs, they do not speek to conventional weapons or technologies that could be adapted for military use in outer space. This grey area could lead to future legal and geopolitical challenges as more nations push into earths orbit and beyond. Professor von der Dunk emphasizes that it is crucial that all spacefaring nations work together to enforce these legal norms and consider updates to ensuring that outer space remains a realm for peaceful exploration and cooperation. As space activities intensify, the role of international law becomes ever more critical in safeguarding the final frontier from becoming a battleground.