Trump administration drafting new space agreement to supersede Outer Space Treaty


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The new colonial movement: According to this Reuters article, the Trump administration is presently drafting a new space agreement, which they have dubbed the “Artemis Accords,” that would allow private property ownership in space and thus supersede Outer Space Treaty’s restrictions on sovereignty.

The Artemis Accords, named after the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s new Artemis moon program, propose “safety zones” that would surround future moon bases to prevent damage or interference from rival countries or companies operating in close proximity.

The pact also aims to provide a framework under international law for companies to own the resources they mine, the sources said.

In the coming weeks, U.S. officials plan to formally negotiate the accords with space partners such as Canada, Japan, and European countries, as well as the United Arab Emirates, opening talks with countries the Trump administration sees as having “like-minded” interests in lunar mining.

They at the moment are not including Russia or China in the discussions, since those countries have little interest in promoting private enterprise and ownership in space.

Back in 2017 I proposed in an op-ed for The Federalist that Trump do almost exactly this:

Trump should propose a new Outer Space Treaty, superseding the old, that would let nations plant their flags in space. This new treaty should establish the rules by which individual nations can claim territory and establish their law and sovereignty on other worlds or asteroids.

The American homesteading acts of the 1800s could work as a good guide. Under those laws, if an American citizen staked a claim and maintained and developed it for five years, that claim and an accompanying amount of acreage would then become theirs.

In space, Trump could propose that in order for a nation to make a territorial claim, a nation or its citizens must establish a facility. If they occupy and use it for a minimum of five years, that nation can claim it, plus a reasonable amount of territory around it, and place it under that nation’s sovereignty.

Now consider this quote from the Reuters article:

The safety zones – whose size would vary depending on the operation – would allow for coordination between space actors without technically claiming territory as sovereign, he said. “The idea is if you are going to be coming near someone’s operations, and they’ve declared safety zones around it, then you need to reach out to them in advance, consult and figure out how you can do that safely for everyone.”

In other words, the safety zones would essentially be the claimed property of the colonizers, a completely reasonable position.

It is hard to say at this moment whether the Trump administration will succeed in this tactic, of side-stepping a renegotiation of the Outer Space Treaty by working out a new agreement with other interested players. Canada for example has expressed reservations about the Trump administration’s recent public announcement encouraging private ownership of resources in space.

Regardless, that the administration now appears to be addressing the limitations of the Outer Space Treaty is very heartening news. Let us hope they can make it happen.

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8 comments

  • Shaun

    Bob,

    How does does one get ahold of you for evening pause ideas?

  • David K

    The US is relatively unique in that most resource mining is privately owned. So it may be hard to get other countries on board with the concept.

    On the other hand there might soon be US companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin actually going out and doing things with the help of NASA, while all other countries are just talking and pointing fingers.

    If that happens, other countries will soon come onboard because it is clear who is leading the future.

  • Chris Lopes

    The original space treaty only passed because the use of extraterrestrial resources was then purely theoretical. Once the ability to actually exploit those resources becomes probable, all bets are off. Does anyone here think the Russians or the Chinese would let a little ole treaty stop them from mining the Moon or the Asteroids if there was a big enough profit in it?

  • wayne

    Shaun–
    Go to the “about” tab from the menu—Mr. Z’s email is at the bottom of the text.

  • mike shupp

    One thing I’d like to see: It ought to be possible for inhabitants of reasonably self-sustaining colonies on the moon or elsewhere to declare their independence and have that recognized by earthly nations. Yes, reading THE MOON IS A HARSH MISTRESS was a load of fun, but No, it shouldn’t take a war.

  • NavyNuke

    Independence shouldn’t require x% of self sufficiency. There are many island nations that rely on food imports to produce the majority of their food. Some also rely on fresh water imports. Population size shouldn’t be a requirement either. Musk’s colony on Mars should be self-governing long before it reaches a 1M population. IMO

  • To follow up on what Mike Shupp said…

    Eventually the number of settlers of any given language (or other) type will reach a point where they will feel like they deserve sovereignty. Declaring so would be pretty easy to do and no earthy country is going to spend the resources to militarily stop them. I also think that there would be countries on Earth (especially countries of the same language) that would be fine with it and would recognize them. The OST wouldn’t apply because these new nations are not signatories. At that point the new counties would be fait accomplis.

    However, what borders would be recognized given that this safety zone approach allows for the interlocking of people types? That lack of planning could be the basis for non-recognition and even conflict.

    I would propose a Nortwest Ordinance approach in which logical territorial lines are drawn beforehand (probably multilaterally and not via a treaty) so that settlers can have an idea if which type of country they were moving to. For example, if you move to the territory that a lot of Mormons are moving to, don’t be surprised if you end up in a Mormon country. Same with libertarians, muslims, Portuguese speakers, etc.

    However, there also needs to be an agreement that polar volatiles should be available at market rates to any country on the Moon. Self-driving vehicles would be able to transport volatiles from the pole to equator in about 22 hours so settlements can be supported on all parts of the Moon fairly early on. The Moon needs to be a free market zone for itself.

    DevelopSpace.info/roads
    DevelopSpace.info/countries

  • sippin_bourbon

    To date, “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress” is in my top 10 sci-fi books of all time.
    I love teaching people TANSTAAFL. ( I wish I could get it on my license plate, but vanity plates here are limited to 8 characters.)

    I think we are way ahead of ourselves here, talking about Lunar Independence.

    I really do not see people ever wanting to live there 100% of their lives. Work? Yes. Make money? Sure, Live and die there, not so much.

    I do like the direction this is going tho. I cringe when reading or viewing sci-fi that has the moon as some form of a UN protectorate. That is a good way to stifle innovation.

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