There’s-a water in them thar…moondunes?
Well if this isn’t the most interesting exercise in private property rights since the Kelo decision.
I found this amusing story on the Wall Street Journal Law Blog, and my god it actually seems like a legitimate legal issue once you think about it. Tim Nelson is an international arbitration attorney who was interviewed for the article and this quote really piqued my interest:
In simpler terms, it means that the national resources of the moon are socialized. They belong to everyone, so, implicitly, you have to pay a sort of tax or obtain some sort of license from a central body in order to extract them.
What if there is a drive, someday, to go to the moon to colonize or speculate or mine or anything? Is an international entity going to pony up the cash and innovation required to capitalize on this new opportunity? Why the implicit assumption that “mankind” can claim the Moon? Last time I checked, we played golf on the moon first.
But seriously, when it comes to space exploration and travel, yet again the private sector has the potential to provide the most startling innovations compared to the behemoth that is the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Just check this story from 2004: SpaceOne Makes History.
After reading up on International Space Law, I found the two treaties mentioned in the article. First is the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 which so far has the most signatories from around the world, the current number sitting around 100 or so. Regarding property rights and ownership, Article I of the Outer Space Treaty sets out this definition (bold phrases are my addition):
The exploration and use of outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, shall be carried out for the benefit and in the interests of all countries, irrespective of their degree of economic or scientific development, and shall be the province of all mankind.
Outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, shall be free for exploration and use by all States without discrimination of any kind, on a basis of equality and in accordance with international law, and there shall be free access to all areas of celestial bodies.
There shall be freedom of scientific investigation in outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, and States shall facilitate and encourage international co-operation in such investigation.
As you can see, it’s the “for all mankind” issue that concerns me. Nothing is ever held “in common” for very long if it is actually valuable or useful for something. Socializing any resource ends up causing problems and conflict further on down the road, because we humans really love our private property. Tim Nelson from the WSJ interview must have thought about this too, because he warns that “[y]ou have to make it such that private investors could sensibly commit the funds to go ahead and do the exploitation.” Does a socialized system of moon ownership create a strong incentive to solve moon-related exploration problems?
As a side note, how does the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 treaty dovetail with the idea of an orbiting anti-ballistic missile system like “Star Wars”? I know to this day on my RNC member surveys there’s always a question about an orbital missile system, but is it legal? Does it matter?
Leave a comment and let me know what you think.
Have it good,
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