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« Wrong Lessons Learned | Main | Crushing Of Dissent »

How Far We've Come

Back before the 2004 election, there were rumors that the Bush administration was considering withdrawal or renegotiation of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, which briefly encouraged me. Alas, the pebble disappeared into the pond with nary a ripple.

Now, apparently the administration is instead pushing the Law Of The Sea Treaty. Andy McCarthy is appropriately appalled:

Our current threat environment, coupled with the abysmal performance of international institutions, cries out for a re-thinking all these multi-lateral commitments. Negroponte and England's claim that we need to ratify LOST in order to demonstrate our commitment to "the rule of law" is absurd. The American people, who do more for the people of the world than any nation in history, have a rule of law; it is known as the Constitution. It allows us to make agreements as needed with nations based on our mutual interests (and it is worth noting that most of the benefits under LOST are already honored under other treaties and international law LOST is unnecessary to them). But we don't need another multi-lateral scheme with yet another ever-bloating international bureaucracy to render the actions of the United States legitimate.

The really disturbing thing about this, to me, is that anyone who considers the arguments for LOST to be worthwhile could just as easily support having the US finally ratifying the abominable 1979 Moon Treaty, which was modeled to a large degree on LOST. It was signed by Jimmy Carter (one more reason to be happy he only had a single term), but fortunately never ratified by the Senate, and while in force, it hasn't been accepted by any spacefaring nation. It would be one thing (bad enough) to turn over development of the seabeds of a single planet to the UN. The consequences of handing over the economic development of the rest of the universe to such a transnational entity should be frightening to anyone who wants to see the cosmos opened to humanity in any significant way.

Once again, one wonders why we bothered to elect Republicans, when they seem to be so quickly captured by the tranzis at Foggy Bottom, and go native.

Posted by Rand Simberg at June 13, 2007 06:16 AM
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Rand, I agree with you about the Law of the Sea Treaty and the Moon Treaty but I do not understand the need to repeal the Outer Space Treaty of 1967.

Wayne White and Berin Szoka have ably demonstrated that the OST does not interfere with private property rights and only interferes with the ability of Terran governments to annex land into their political jurisdiction.

Given the non-interference clauses found in the OST, any base or mining camp set up on the Moon or an asteroid already has the legal right to be free from competitors interfering with its operation. An analogy would be prohibitions on one fishing trawler cutting the nets of another in international waters.

He3 or LOX harvesting can proceed without legal impediment under current law, therefore what do we gain by creating an international controversy on the topic of OST?

Posted by Bill White at June 13, 2007 08:34 AM

I don't think that we need to repeal it, but (among other things) the lack of ability to claim sovereignty makes property rights more problematic than they need be. I of course wouldn't expect Berin to agree, since he's opposed to nationalism in the first place.

Posted by Rand Simberg at June 13, 2007 08:37 AM

And I take the opposite approach to lunar property rights.

If there are no sovereigns on the Moon (per OST) then property cannot originate through the "gift of the sovereign" legal theory which is the current American legal fiction concerning the origins of property rights. In all 50 states, accepted theory holds that our right to own property is extended through and at the discretion of the sovereign even if some of those rights are codified in constitutions.

However, if there is no sovereign jurisdiction, then property rights would arise under natural law theories (think of John Locke and ownership arising from the blending of my labor with un-owned raw materials existing within a wilderness state of nature).

Keeping OST in place, and through the application of natural law theories, Terran business-folk can set up operations and at some future date create their own sovereign power not entangled with current Terran sovereign powers.

I believe it shall be easier to extend 18 century liberal values (Locke, Adam Smith etc. . .) out there IF the US Congress does not acquire jurisdiction over land that exists out there.

Of course, US citizens who travel in space remain subject to US law and jurisdiction, even if the land is not.

Posted by Bill White at June 13, 2007 08:48 AM

PS -- Since I advocate keeping the grubby paws of the US Congress (and our POTUS) off lunar property, I am even more motivated to prevent the extension of United Nations jurisdiction.

Posted by Bill White at June 13, 2007 08:53 AM

well, one of my ideas is that business in space must have sovereign power over it's own inferstructure.
I expect nations of earth to be unable, or unwilling to protect business. on the other hand they could "protect" you out of your property.

Posted by christopher coulter at June 13, 2007 03:41 PM

"Of course, US citizens who travel in space remain subject to US law and jurisdiction, even if the land is not."

Interesting. Maybe this is the real reason why NASA exists as an obstruction to the exploitation of space? Get enough people out there, a number of whom have never set foot in the USA and a larger number who never want to again, and the above becomes ridiculous.

I've said this before: The mission of NASA is to obstruct and delay the exploitation and colonisation of space, by any means necessary and by preference forever, in order to preserve the Imperium. A secondary mission is to preserve the bureaucrats' jobs and Au-plated pensions.

The welfare of Americans and humanity in general comes last.

Posted by Fletcher Christian at June 13, 2007 07:42 PM


These are additional reasons why I do not believe it is in the best interests of either the United States or humanity for Terran soveriegn nations to claim soveriegn jurisdiction over celestial objects.

Private property rights? Absolutely! Those are essential. But sovereign jurisdiction? Nope.

Besides, how mnay sci-fi novels feature plucky space colonists giving the finger to Washington bureaucrats or bureaucrats in Brussels?

Let 'em be free from the beginning, its more effecient.

Posted by Bill White at June 13, 2007 08:38 PM

"Of course, US citizens who travel in space remain subject to US law and jurisdiction, even if the land is not."

That may well be the view of the US state but unless someone is travelling in a US state owned craft, I cannot see any reason for accepting that. Similarly I refuse to accept I am bound by any US laws the moment I step out of the USA (yes, that means I do not pay tax to the IRS on my world wide income, if fact I do not even file returns on it as I live outside the USA though I have a US passport).

I can tolerate the US state having power over US territory but they do not own *ME* if I am not in their territory and the moment I step across the border, I do not accept their jurisdiction (very few nations attempt to impose their law outside their territory).

Posted by Marcus G. at June 14, 2007 06:12 AM

That may well be the view of the US state but unless someone is travelling in a US state owned craft

I would make that "state registered" rather than state-owned, so as to make it consistent with existing conventions about international waters. I think that would be the most rational translation of existing law to outer space.

But that still makes it pretty clear that a U.S. citizen traveling in a spacecraft that bears another nation's flag would have to be subject to that nation's laws while aboard that craft. Or, I suppose (going back to the days when Western sea powers didn't always recognize local law) while under the authority of the captain of that craft.

Especially in light of the fact there isn't yet any local (extraterrestrial) law to recognize.

The OST is and will eventually be regarded as an irrational blip in what should prove to be a perfectly normal continuation of successful practice. I think it will simply be abrogated unilaterally at some point, and ignored thereafter.

Posted by McGehee at June 14, 2007 03:41 PM

If I plant the American flag on my moonbase I can expect a little help should my assets get "nationalized" by some group of Lunar thugs.
The alternative is, what, a mercenary space army? I'd much rather have my nation defend my territory -- err, I mean its territory -- than have to pay for it all myself.
Look what a great job corporations are doing protecting their assets and people from Nigerian kidnappers in rubber boats. Libertarian utopia ho!
Speaking of Nigerian kidnappers, WTF do we need a "Sea Treaty" for when we can't even stop piracy -- of human beings for ransom! -- on the high seas? We need to re-establish order first, then decide on what sorts of treaties we might want. The alternative, signing a meaningless treaty while our people continue to suffer, is too close to the "strongly-worded-letter" U.N. approach to security crises.
Worse still we'll be expected to abide by any treaty we sign while the kidnappers and pirates continue their reign of terror unmolested by any attempts at enforcement. The treaty will be our albatross but will hinder our opponents not in the slightest.

Posted by Laika's Last Woof at June 14, 2007 06:37 PM

I can tolerate the US state having power over US territory but they do not own *ME* if I am not in their territory and the moment I step across the border, I do not accept their jurisdiction (very few nations attempt to impose their law outside their territory).

Tell that to the Internal Revenue Service.

If you are an American citizen you owe tax on ALL income earned anywhere. There are credits for foreign taxes paid but the tax return preparation is fairly complicated.

The long arm of Uncle Sam (via the IRS and other agencies) is very long indeed.

Posted by Bill White at June 14, 2007 08:19 PM

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