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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