Re: SPACE: Property Claims and Sea Launching

GBurch1 (
Wed, 4 Mar 1998 13:28:38 EST

In a message dated 98-03-01 11:52:02 EST, Michael Lorrey wrote:

> The reason why I think developing sea based enclaves now is a good idea is
> that it
> is an excellent and low cost test bed/training center for long term
> habitation/colonization in space. For example the figures I believe that
> John
> Clark contributed of supertanker costs indicates that these are relatively
> cheap.
> A couple tens of millions for a whole supertanker? wow.

Actually, I think John was saying that he thought it might cost ten times the
approximately $100 million figure I supplied to make a supertanker liveable.
I don't know if it would be that much, but the all-in cost of acquiring and
converting a very large tanker would surely be more than $200 million and
probably at least $300 million. To my subjective sense of economic
proportion, this seems like such a high threshold of investment that the
benefits offered by such an extra-national enclave would have to be VERY great
in comparison to continuing a business within the confines of existing
national territories.

> > As to "claiming" things off Earth, the only certain legal regime at this
> time
> > is the UN Outer Space Treaty [snip]

> However, since the US never signed or ratified this treaty, then any
> operations
> originating from the US are not bound by this treaty. This includes any
> launches
> originating from ANY U.S. posession, like the Marianas Islands, Puerto
> etc.
> Even if you launch from another site, if you 'reflag' once you get into
> space,
> then you are sitting happy.

A few points here. Unlike the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, the U.S.
has formally ratified the UNOST. This isn't surprising, since the U.S. is one
of the three sponsoring or "repository" countries for that treaty. The U.S.
signed the treaty on January 27, 1967, the very first day it was opened for
signature. ( However, note that the
U.S. accepts UNCLOS as the codification of "customary international law" on
all but one point (the "common heritage of mankind" provisions relating to
seabed resources beyond the 200-mile EEZ limit). UNOST doesn't contain the
"common heritage" idea.

The reference to "flagging" of spacecraft raises some interesting points.
UNOST clearly calls for the concept of nationality of spacecraft and surface
outposts, and I assume that states will simply adopt the maritime conventions
and customs of "flagging" as the number of spacecraft continue to proliferate.
Thus, while UNOST seems to have blocked the exportation of sovereign
territoriality off Earth, the way is already clear for exportation of existing
national legal regimes.

"De-flagging" an existing spacecraft would be perceived as an act of rebellion
against the whole concept of sovereign-based law and even token acts of this
kind would likely be treated with hostility by the major space-faring powers,
as they would fear the establishment of a precedent. Accordingly, I would
counsel that anyone planning such an act be fairly certain of their own
physical self-sufficiency off earth before making themselves a test case.

> In any event, its not like the UN has any space
> capability of its own. How can you enforce a law when you have no means of
> enforcement? As recent events indicate, enforcement of UN 'laws' only
> when
> the US indicates a willingness to bomb somebody. Since its not in the US's
> interest to enforce this particular treaty, then I doubt very much that it
> has any
> hope of ever gaining any teeth.

International law is certainly peculiar (but of great interest to extropians),
since it is law without an over-arching sovereign for enforcement. The basic
concept in international law is the idea of conventions or "customs" that
define standards of national conduct, which all nations are free to enforce,
so long as they themselves observe the customary international law. UN
resolutions and the like are simply treated as very specific expressions of
international convention, since the existing theory of sovereignty can't abide
any sort of "international government".

The idea behind the UNOST's prohibition of national territoriality off earth
was based on the model of the Antarctica Treaty of some years before:
Avoidance of an arms race or some form of colonialism in new territory. So
long as the U.S. remains preeminent in space exploration, it seems to me to
have little "national interest" in changing this agreement.

Greg Burch <>----<>
Attorney ::: Director, Extropy Institute ::: Wilderness Guide -or-
"Good ideas are not adopted automatically. They must
be driven into practice with courageous impatience."
-- Admiral Hyman G. Rickover