The Trump administration’s space policy, according to Scott Pace


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Scott Pace, the executive secretary of the National Space Council, outlined at a symposium earlier this week the overall space policy of the Trump administration.

The United States should seek to ensure that its space activities reflect “our values and not just our technologies,” Pace urged. “We should seek to ensure that our space activities reflect those values: democracy, liberty, free enterprise, and respect for domestic and international law in a peaceful international order.”

To influence the development and utilization of space, the United States needs to “create attractive projects and frameworks in which other nations choose to align themselves and their space activities with us, as opposed to others.”

He went on to outline several very general concepts that they are using to shape this policy. He also praised the Outer Space Treaty, and was challenged about this by another symposium participant.

Pace was challenged on the last point by University of Mississippi space law professor emerita Joanne Gabrynowicz. She agreed that the concept that space is the common heritage of all mankind has not been accepted internationally. Pursuant to the Outer Space Treaty, however, it is the “province of all mankind” and that language is based on the principle of res communis, she asserted. Pace held his ground, saying he takes advice from the State Department’s Office of Legal Adviser which has concluded that it is not. Asked later what framework he does use, Pace replied that international law can be created by the pen or by practice and ultimately is whatever sovereign nations decide to do with each other. He added that involving the international private sector is also important because it brings in best practices that can be turned into guidelines.

In other words, Pace is going along with the general Washington culture that is afraid to push for a significant change in the Outer Space Treaty, and is instead saying that property rights can still be established by other agreements within international law and individual national negotiations.

As I have been saying for years, this is bad policy. Without a right to establish sovereignty and borders in space, there will be no mechanism for nations and individuals to function legally, which is only going to cause conflict while discouraging investment and development.

Nonetheless, the position taken by Pace and the general culture in Washington is par for the course. I have very seen few good policy decisions coming out of Washington in the past three decades, especially when it comes to space. This is only another example.

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8 comments

  • Phill O

    Those who do not understand, nit lick; that should be “seen very few” in the last paragraph.

    The problem with international law is that the majority of countries lie on the left and that leads to taking from those who have made good decisions.

  • ken anthony

    It’s time to ignore those that have no jurisdiction and follow the historical precedent.

    Laws are made by people and it doesn’t have to be the people that assume they are in charge.

    Property is owned in two ways. Second is chain of title which is defended by all title holders and pretty much impossible to dispute. First by the initial claim which occurs at possession and starts the chain of title. The big advantage the initial claims will have in space is that the property is considered close to worthless so that few would disputed them and there is enough that a formal and fair distribution method means lots of property owners that could overwhelm any objections.

    This is an issue that should not be left up to the public servants that have no interest in the welfare of the public.

  • Kirk

    > In other words, Pace is going along with the general Washington culture that …

    I misread that as “General Washington” and followed your link and all its links trying to figure out what ol’ George’s philosophy had to do with this. Silly me.

  • Orion314

    There is only two crimes in Amerika, being wrong, being poor….

  • Localfluff

    People in the rest of the world aren’t anywhere near as interested in law as Americans are. The EU makes up millions of regulations but no one cares about them. Not even the very most important ones about government budget deficit and debt limits. Not even the Geneva convention is respected in Europe anymore. Law is just political propaganda. In the Us you seem to have other ideas about what law is and means. My advice is that you should not think about international treaties as law. They are politics. There’s no court that can punish you for breaking a treaty, and no police to enforce such a crime, is there? So you should do what is rational and not abide by some imaginary law that no one else respects.

  • mike shupp

    My suspicion is that what Scott Pace and his crew think future manned space programs should look like is very close to what we see now in Antarctica — no exploitation of resources, no colonies, no new nations, just a sprinkling of scientific bases. By 2100, maybe we’ll see a US lunar base or two, a couple of Chinese bases, a European base, a Japanese-South Korean base, maybe a Moslem base, maybe an African base. And midway through the next century, we might see a multinational Mars expedition.

    In other words, after two centuries of manned space flight, the way humans are spread across the solar system is going to look very much as it was when Scott Pace was a kid in 1950, learning How The World Is And How It Must Always Be.

  • Localfluff

    Exploration of space is what interests me. I don’t care whether people live out there or not, as long as there are research mission, much like with the Antarctic. Obviously some people will try to start colonies, but I think there will be quite some time before it becomes profitable and comfortable to be attractive to more than rare enthusiasts who like to gamble on an adventure (for as long as it is a new thing).

  • Edward

    Localfluff wrote: “The EU makes up millions of regulations but no one cares about them.
    First, as someone noted in a discussion I had with my family last Saturday, don’t you have anarchy when everyone ignores existing laws and rules?

    It may seem like a good idea when said real fast, but anarchy in space is what led to the orbital debris problem that we have faced ever since the Chinese blew up one of their higher-orbit satellites. The orbital debris problem is the major reason why the Earth will not have a space elevator any time soon.

    Second, the United Kingdom seemed to care about Eurolaw (is that a word?) and Euro-overregulation when they voted for Brexit.

    For a new governing body to overregulate so quickly forebodes disaster for that body and for those governed by it.

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