Who owns the moon? A Roma lawyer answers
Edwin E. ‘Buzz’ Aldrin Jr. poses for a photograph next to the American flag on the moon during the Apollo 11 mission on July 20, 1969. Neil A. Armstrong / NASA / AP PhotoMost likely this is the most famous photo of a flag ever taken: Buzz Aldrin which stands next to the first American flag planted on the Moon. For those who knew world history, some alarm bells also rang. Just less than a century ago, back on earth, it planted a national flag in another part of the world, and still claimed to be claiming this territory for the fatherland. Did the stars and stripes on the moon mean the creation of an American colony? When people first hear that I am a lawyer who practices and teaches something called “world law”
;, the question they often ask, often with a big smile or a twinkle in their eye, is: “So tell me, who owns the moon?” To claim that new national territories had obviously been very much a European habit, applied to non-European parts of the world. Especially the Portuguese, the Spanish, the Dutch, the French and the English created huge colonial empires. But while their stance was very Euro-centric, the legal notion that planting a flag was an act of establishing sovereignty quickly became established and accepted worldwide as part of the law of nations. Obviously, the astronauts had more important things than thinking about the legal significance and consequences of the planted flag, but fortunately the matter was taken care of before the mission. Since the beginning of space travel, the United States knew that the sight of an American flag on the moon would cause major political problems for many people around the world. Any suggestion that the moon could legally be part of the United States’ backwater could lead to such concerns and possibly lead to international disputes that are detrimental to both the US space program and US interests as a whole. By 1969, decolonization may have destroyed any notion that non-European parts of the world, even though they were populated, were not civilized and thus rightly subject to European sovereignty – however, not a single person lived on the moon; even life itself was absent. Yet it turns out that the simple answer to the question of Armstrong and Aldrin through their small ceremony turned the moon, or at least a large part of it, into US territory was “no”. They or NASA or the US government intended that the US flag should have that effect. NASA’s first space agreement Lunar Sample Return Container with the moon Earth exhibited in a vault at NASA’s Johnson Space Center. OptoMechEngineer, CC BY-SA Most importantly, the answer was enshrined in the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, of which both the United States and the Soviet Union, as well as all other space nations, had become a party. Both superpowers agreed that “colonization” of the earth had been responsible for enormous human suffering and many armed conflicts that had raged in recent centuries. They were determined not to repeat the mistake of the old European colonial powers when it came to deciding on the legal status of the moon; at the very least, the possibility of a “land grab” in space leading to another world war should be avoided. In this way, the moon became something of a “global commons” that was legally available to all countries – two years before the first actual manned lunar landing. Businessman Rajzeev V. Baagree, who bought five acres of land on the moon for 1,400 rupees (equivalent to the United States in 2005) per acre, stands next to evidence, at home in Hyderabad, India. It turned out that he was cheated. Mustafa Quraishi / AP Photo So the American flag was not a manifestation of asserting sovereignty, but to honor the American taxpayers and engineers who made the mission of Armstrong, Aldrin and the third astronaut Michael Collins possible. The two men carried a plaque that they “brought peace to all mankind,” and of course Neil’s famous words gave the same mood: his “small step for man” was not a “giant leap” for the United States, but for humanity. Furthermore, the United States and NASA lived up to their commitment by sharing the moonstones and other soil samples from the moon’s surface with the rest of the world, either by giving them away to foreign governments or by allowing scientists from around the world. to access them for scientific analysis and discussion. In the midst of the Cold War, this even included scientists from the Soviet Union. Case closed, no need for space lawyers anymore then? No need to prepare the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s space law students for further discussions and disputes about the law of the moon, right? No Roma lawyers needed? Not so fast. While the legal status of the Moon as a “global commons” available to all countries on peaceful missions met no significant resistance or challenge, the outer space treaty left further details uneasy. Contrary to the very optimistic assumptions made at the time, humanity has so far not returned to the moon since 1972, which makes the moon’s land rights largely theoretical. This 1964 file from the World’s Fair in Queens, New York shows a view of a lunar colony in the Futurama 2 trip put together by General Motors. AP Photo That is, until a few years ago when several new plans were hatched to return to the moon. In addition, at least two US companies, Planetary Resources and Deep Space Industries, which have serious financial support, have started targeting asteroids to extract their mineral resources. Geek note: Under the aforementioned Outer Space Treaty, the moon and other celestial bodies such as asteroids, legally speaking, belong in the same basket. None of them can become the “territory” of some sovereign state. The very basic prohibition under the Outer Space Treaty on acquiring new state territory, by planting a flag or in any other way, failed to cope with the commercial exploitation of natural resources on the moon and other celestial bodies. This is a major debate that is currently raging in the international community, with no unequivocally accepted solution in sight yet. Roughly speaking, two general interpretations are possible. So you want to mine an asteroid? Countries such as the United States and Luxembourg (as the gateway to the EU) agree that the moon and asteroids are “global commons”, meaning that each country allows its private contractors, as long as it is licensed and in accordance with other relevant rules of space law, to go out there and get what they can, to try to make money with it. It is a bit like the law of the open sea, which is not under the control of a single country, but completely open to duly licensed law-abiding fishing operation from the citizens and companies of any country. So when the fish are in their nets, it is legal for them to sell. OSIRIS-REx will travel to a near-Earth asteroid called Bennu and bring a small sample back to Earth for study. The mission was launched on September 8, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. As planned, the spacecraft will reach Bennu in 2018 and return a sample to Earth in 2023. NASA / Goddard Space Flight Center / ASSOCIATED PRESS On the other hand, countries like Russia and somewhat less explicitly Brazil and Belgium keep the moon and asteroids. belongs to humanity as a whole. And therefore, the potential benefits of commercial exploitation should somehow be achieved for humanity as a whole – or at least should be subject to a presumably strict international regime to guarantee benefits for all of humanity. It is a bit like the regime was originally established to harvest mineral resources from the seabed. An international licensing regime was established here as well as an international company that would extract these resources and generally share the benefits among all countries. While in my view it would certainly make more sense, both legally and practically, the legal battle is by no means over. Meanwhile, interest in the moon has also been renewed – at least China, India and Japan have serious plans to return there, raising their stakes even higher. Therefore, at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, we need to teach our students about these issues for many years to come. Although it is ultimately up to the community of states to decide whether joint agreement can be reached in one of the two positions or perhaps somewhere in between, it is crucial that agreement can be reached in one way or another. Such activities that are developed without any law that is in force and accepted will be a worst case scenario. Although it is no longer a matter of colonization, it can have the same harmful results. This article is published by The Conversation, an ideal news site dedicated to sharing ideas from academic experts. Read more: If the earth falls, will interstellar spaceflight be our salvation? Breaking the moon for rocket fuel to get us to the MarsNy telescope will scan the sky for asteroids on a collision course with Earth Frans von der Dunk has a consulting firm that deals with questions about space travel and politics.