The United States is committing to refrain from direct-ascent anti-satellite (ASAT) missile testing in an effort to set an international norm for responsible behavior in space. Vice President Kamala Harris announced the commitment on Monday during a visit to Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

This policy comes after Russia tested an ASAT weapon against one of its own defunct satellites in November, creating thousands of pieces of orbital debris. China conducted a similar test in 2007.

“These tests, to be sure, are reckless, and they are irresponsible.  These tests also put in danger so much of what we do in space. When China and Russia destroyed their respective satellites, it generated thousands of pieces of debris — debris that will now orbit our Earth for years, if not decades,” Harris said.

The vice president spoke about all that is enabled by space capabilities that are threatened by debris — weather forecasts, GPS directions, broadcast television, wind turbines, climate data, and military communications.

While space is becoming an increasingly militarized domain, the Biden administration said that “conflict or confrontation in outer space is not inevitable,” and the U.S. will work to uphold a rules-based international order for space.

Harris said she has met with leaders from countries including Singapore, France, Bahrain, and India and there is strong international interest to develop these norms.

“Whether a nation is spacefaring or not, we believe this [policy] will benefit everyone, just as space benefits everyone, Harris said. “In the days and months ahead, we will work with other nations to establish this as a new international norm for responsible behavior in space. And there is a direct connection between such a norm and the daily life of the American people.”

Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks toured Vandenberg with Harris, and spoke about the threat that ASAT weapons developed by China and Russia pose against the U.S.

“Our use of space is under threat. China and Russia continue to develop, test, and proliferate sophisticated anti-satellite weapons to hold U.S. and allied space assets at risk; assets that help preserve safety and stability for countries around the globe,” Hicks said.

Hicks also highlighted the president’s fiscal year 2023 budget request, which looks to invest $27.6 billion dollars in the Defense Department’s space capabilities. This will fund two more GPS satellites, the development of secure satellite communications, and the Defense Department’s transition to a new missile warning and missile tracking system.

Secure World Foundation, a private foundation that promotes space sustainability, said this has been an implicit U.S. policy since 2008 and Monday’s announcement makes it official. Secure World Foundation cites that 16 destructive ASAT tests have taken place so far, resulting in more than 6,300 pieces of debris.

“With this policy, the U.S. is demonstrating leadership at the international level,” Secure World Foundation said in a statement. “By adopting this policy unilaterally, the U.S. is signaling that it sees this behavior as being so irresponsible that it is unwilling to engage in it.”

Deputy Secretary of Commerce Don Graves applauded the policy as well. The Department of Commerce operates a network of environmental satellites through National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and these satellites provide environmental information on weather forecasting and natural disasters.

“This new commitment announced by the vice president helps protect U.S. interests in space, including our space-based environmental monitoring platforms. Meaningfully reducing ASAT testing and debris generation advances U.S. national security interests and protects long-term U.S. interests in space exploration, space science, and space-enabled economic development.”

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson called for other countries to follow U.S. leadership and issue similar policies.

“There is no doubt that human spaceflight and the future of the space environment are incompatible with destructive direct-ascent ASAT missile tests,” Nelson said. “Vice President Harris and the Biden Administration’s leadership to address these threats and reduce risk is an important step forward to foster a safe, sustainable space environment – now and into the future. I encourage the world to join us in making this important commitment.”

This article was originally published in our sister publication Via Satellite.