September 23, 2011 11:39
How far does South Korea's sovereign airspace extend into space? It may sound a mere matter of curiosity, but a legal opinion could be decisive in determining whether a North Korean intercontinental ballistic missile flying through space over South Korea violates its airspace.
In a report it submitted to Grand National Party lawmaker Kim Jang-soo on Thursday, the Defense Ministry admitted it has "never expressed" its official position on the vertical extent of the country's sovereign airspace.
That is because there is no fixed international standard for determining whether outer space should be included.
The legal subcommittee of the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space has discussed the issue over the past 40 years without coming to a conclusion. One suggestion before it is that the vertical limit of restricted airspace lies 100-110 km above earth, the lowest extent of satellite orbits. Another is that airspace has no defined vertical limit at all. And a third is that it extends only as far as the earth's atmosphere.
The U.S. and Japan hold that activities in outer space could be discouraged and international disputes could occur if the vertical limit is defined, the ministry explained, and the U.K. and the Netherlands are also against the idea.
But France, Germany, Russia, Poland, and Belgium are for 100 km above earth, and Italy for 90 km.
"As there's no clear definition of the vertical limit of sovereign airspace, disputes could arise over whether a North Korean ICBM would violate our airspace if it flies out of the atmosphere and over our sky," Kim warned.
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