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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