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Tuesday, 13 May 2014

International Space Negotiations for Establishing a Moon Base

One of the elective courses at the ISU was International Space Negotiations. In an effort to broaden my experience, I took the class, looking forward to reliving my model UN days. The first half of the elective involved a simulated conference, negotiating the terms of a Moon Base treaty. The conference took several days, involving long hours and deliberation, but was one of the best assignments at the ISU! Read on for more details and pictures!

While there are many international laws, created by treaties, there are only a few which have been drafted for space. The Outer Space Treaty, from 1967, is the most common and the most applicable one, having been signed, ratified (where the country has officially agreed to be bound by the law) by many countries, including all space-faring nations, those who are capable of sending something into space. The Moon Treaty, from 1979, is the second example, however, it has not been signed or ratified by any of the major space faring nations, notably USA, Russia, China, etc.
The Outer Space Treaty makes the claim that space, and all other celestial bodies are "the common heritage of all mankind", which is both good and bad. It is good because it tries to ensure a protection over outer space which is in line with the idealistic nature most contribute to space endeavours (cough, Star Trek, cough), but it is bad because it forbids anyone from using celestial bodies for their own gains in activities such as mining. Considering most endeavours are only undertaken by people if they can make money on it, there is a serious obstacle to pushing out into space, since scientific return is often much lower and more difficult to recognize/realize.

In terms of who could sign the treaty, arguably any country (or entity recognized as a State, a sovereign area), or international/intergovernmental body (such as the European Union) would qualify.
The simulated conference we had took place between 10 such bodies, namely Brazil, Canada, China, European Union, India, Japan, Nigeria, Russia, United Arab Emirates, and the USA. Most of the students were not representing their own country, however there were a few exceptions. This group consists of all those capable of launching people into space, launching just satellites into space, and/or having expertise with astronaut training. Space developed, and space-developing nations alike.
The treaty making process was incredibly fast, as we were only given 4 days to draft it. I represented the European Union, with two other colleagues, and the entire class spent the first day researching their country/organization, and drafting articles to go into the treaty, just things we wanted to go in.
The next day, the Bureau (two students who were making sure the rules were being followed, and took notes of the entire process), combined the most common elements so that we had a vague but mostly uniform starting point. Participants would then request changes, additions, etc., until everyone was satisfied and the article was adopted through consensus. This process continued right up until we signed the treaty.
In the end, our treaty may have been a lot more vague than any of us were expecting/hoping. Essentially, it agrees that the Participants would form an international managerial committee to outline further rules, procedures, and strategy, and commits the countries to working together to create this Moon Base. Much of the problems encountered through the negotiations came about when Participants were requesting something in particular for themselves. In the spirit of cooperation, we normally rolled this back, leaving the article less specific but agreeable for everyone.
Specifically, the treaty contained elements of:
  • Definition of the base, (mostly modular in design, consisting of an Earth segment, Moon segment, and a transfer segment, all that is needed to support the base)
  • Accordance of the project with international law (which we were successfully able to promote a European Union article which is not law, but this would give it more power, and a better possibility of becoming a law in the future, yay!)
  • Construction of the base (which was neat in the fact that everyone was very open to sharing rights in collaborative efforts, as long as they could choose to work alone and not share rights if they wanted)
  • Access to/use of the base (purely scientific, non-polluting, free access for everyone, a possible common area)
  • Registration/Jurisdiction (highly debated, basically left it as an ISS model, where everyone is subject to the laws of the module that they're in, unless it's a criminal offense, then they are judged based on the laws of their own country. For example, if an American astronaut committed a heinous crime in the Russian module, the astronaut would be judged based on American laws.
    • these points were debated for a long time and eventually decided to stick with the ISS model but make provisions to possibly have further laws made by the international management committee)
  • Management/Governance (highly debated, left vague, many powers going to this international committee which we would have to then form)
  • Intellectual Property (basically everyone gets the rights from their nation or state, collaborative efforts may share through agreements made by them)
  • Financial issues (again, highly debated, kept a little vague) and,
  • Final Provisions (how the treaty could come into effect).
Everyone had an excellent time and really enjoyed taking on the role of the country/Participant they were representing. The event was decently catered, with coffee and pastries in the morning, and pizza during one particularly late night. Some of the best parts of the process involved one or two delegations becoming upset over an article, or proposing something which everyone found unfair. At this point, there would be almost craziness at the table, points of order thrown around (yellow cards asking the Bureau to keep everyone in line), and lots of heated, external negotiations.

On the last day, after negotiating for more time to work, we finally came to a consensus on the treaty, signing it in the Boeing Auditorium in front of flags from several nations, and in view of our friends and colleagues.

And finally, the signing of the treaty!
Overseeing the signing of the treaty

All in good spirits, waiting to sign the treaty

The American delegates showing some national pride
The delegate of Brazil 
Delegates of Canada with a rather sinister smile
The Chinese delegates
The European Union delegates, with my hair flying everywhere 
The Indian delegates
The delegate of Japan
The delegate of Nigeria
The Russian delegates
The delegates for the United Arab Emirates
The American delegates
The International Moon Base Conference Bureau

A copy of the treaty can be found here; it is owned and was created by the ISU MSS14 ISN Elective class and used with their permission.

In the end, it was a great experience. I love the model UN and this was just like it. I enjoyed learning about the strategies of other countries and I enjoyed working out deals at/away from the negotiating table. The treaty may sound like it has a lot of vagueness to it, but in itself it would symbolize a commitment to the Moon Base program, and a commitment to work together in a way most other treaties do not promote. In itself, it would ask these countries to work together, form this committee, and continue working on defining the rules of the Moon Base. Comparing this with the ISS, the Moon Base process would start off a lot more collaboratively.
I hope your found this interesting and informative and I hope to see you here again sometime in the near future.

As always, thanks for reading!

1 comment:

  1. Fantastic article, thanks for sharing all this info! If only the world leaders could take from this example!