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International Law

An everyday exception

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It might not be evident at first sight, but we are, in fact, living in the most peaceful era of human history. The battles of decolonization and the two world wars having come to an end already decades ago, the world has entered an unprecedented age of geopolitical stability.

Recent terrorist strikes and counter attacks cause indeed significant human suffering, the number of fatalities caused is nevertheless incomparable to previous carnages. This positive development is in part the result of the encroachment of law into international relations, which is supposed to favor peace and concord through the proliferation and respect of treaties between nations. Legal conferences set up by organizations with universal affiliations, permanent international courts and  arbitration  forums  formalize and tighten  relationships  between  countries.  The underlying rules’ interdependency favors cooperation and dialogue over escalation.

While these tremendous efforts have been put forward to keep statespersons from mobilizing troops, experts have also proposed to expand the general trend of peacetime regulation to times of armed conflict by introducing a unique legal framework to be respected in the now less likely event of a military altercation. This is how in the beginning of the twentieth century, the development and codification of the Hague Regulations and the Geneva Conventions, substantial parts of what is nowadays known as the Laws of War, brought humanity right to the battlefield. The new legal principles, which were followed by several additional protocols, aim to apply to all forms of warfare and to all types of weapons, those of the past, the present and also those of the future. Furthermore, they do not only deal with standards of certain categories of bullets and projectiles as well as with chemical weapons, but also with the lot of the wounded in the field and at sea, the status of prisoners of war and the protection of civilians and victims.

On the one hand, perfidious combat methods and the use of outstandingly cruel weapons were banned, and civilians were put under particular protection. These changes were largely welcomed because ordnance at the time lacked precision, and fights were marked by paramount brutality on whose constraint everyone agreed upon in their own interest. Moreover, armed conflicts at the time took place mainly between countries – and not within – and were therefore well regulable: once the desired gain of territory was recorded, the war came to an end. On the other hand, the warring parties maintained their license to kill so to speak, an instrument which was explained by the very nature of armed conflicts and had already been part of customs between combatants, the goal of an armed conflict was and is to beat the adversary after all. This explicit permission to kill under certain circumstances is admittedly still today unheard-of in other legal fields, but its formal codification allowed the ratification of the Laws of War by all countries on this planet and their recognition by numerous non-State actors.

It needs to be borne in mind that the precious legal architecture thus established is one of the few fields of law where the long lasting efforts of diplomatic conferences and negotiations led to an international consensus, also between powers that had no friendly relations so far, that had been at war with each other in the past or that were going to be so in the future. It might not only have been the conviction to make a small step towards “doing the right thing” from a humanistic perspective which pushed delegations from States with at the time obviously opposing interests such as Americans, Hungarians, Russians and Japanese to adopt such universal principles. Establishing rules on how to treat the adverse party’s civilians and combatants was also perceived as a reasonable price to pay for the protection which the own population could inevitably expect to benefit from during the following armed conflicts. From the start, the initiators’ idea was never to limit the military clout of the warrying parties, but rather to prevent unnecessary suffering in an already hostile environment.

Despite juridification and humanization of combat methods, war has nonetheless remained an affair of death and cruelty. An armed conflict has continued to be been viewed as a case of extremes, and the application of the Laws of War has been strictly limited to actual times of war. Through the simultaneous consolidation of other fields of law, such as the broadening of procedural law, the extension of civil rights and the individualization of protection norms, the gap between our peacetime guaranties and the ruthlessness of wartime has steadily been deepened. Also for this reason, suspension of our protected civil lives has been only tolerated as a strict exception, which was geographically, temporally and personally limited: this means that while regular soldiers in uniform performed the necessary evil on the battlefield, the rest of the population fled or held its breath and remained passive observers, while ever vulnerable to collateral damages such as death or injury. Subsequently, life continued in peace for both sides with one side inevitably submitting to a new form of sovereignty.

The post- 9/11 “War on Terror” catalyzed by the Bush-Administration and its Western allies twisted this centuries-old exegesis of war-regulating treaties. At stake is not any more the scaling up of territorial claims, but rather the repression of insurgents, economic supremacy and exertion of cultural and geopolitical influence. While international terrorism apparently seeks to threaten us arbitrarily and infinitely, the net reaction seems to be the authorization of occidental armed forces to respond on a permanent basis. Thus, not the times of war but the times of peace would have become the exception, if any. A clear transition from peace to war and the other way around would not exist anymore.

The Western governments’ legal advisors know that the exceptional Laws of War have not been developed for their worldwide and permanent application and that their use cannot fulfill our expectations in a satisfying manner. However, since more, longer and wider-spread military action is considered to be a facile panacea, we are submerged by fear-spreading slogans which make us feel surrounded by threats and which make us overlook how our and others’ civil rights are jettisoned. This, in times where we are less likely to die of unnatural causes than ever before; in times where our well-equipped police forces and sharp witted intelligence services do their best job in history. The only goal seems to be securing discretionary Western use of weapons, even at the costs of international agreements that have been toughly negotiated throughout decades on the basis of reciprocity. While the West refers on the one side to its impressive human rights achievements and does not miss an opportunity to impose sanctions on States which lag behind in this regard, it forgets its humanistic progress when dealing with its enemies– enemies that admittedly might hold little regard or concern for humanism themselves.

In this context, targeted killings of terror suspects are presented as a modern and precise method of war that is to be taken advantage of wherever and whenever deemed useful. Yet, this contradicts the temporary and geographic limits of the Laws of War which we created ourselves and which our soldiers rely on, and it also sets us back to times where it used to be some monarch who disposed of his subjects’ and adversaries’ lives and deaths at his sole discretion and without any rule of law whatsoever. Our war against terror does not only make quick work of its enemies, it terrorizes entire areas, even in countries with which the Occident is not officially at war, such as Somalia or Yemen. Drone strikes, which are often used to carry out targeted killings and which do not expose the own military forces to noteworthy dangers, have dramatically increased during the past years. The civilian population in the Middle East and Southwestern Asia, which is unable to flee from our attacks, perceives them as arbitrary. Reports about the increasing number of civilian victims and misrouted operations neither escape the enemy fighters nor the local populations, whereby the latter was otherwise mostly receptive to Western concerns.

For instance, the local Muslim population’s support for the Islamic State corresponds to a vanishingly low  single-digit  percentage  making  the  analysts  of  a  Pew  poll  come  to  the conclusion that “Muslim publics share concerns about extremist groups.” Another survey shows that the rise of the Islamic State is even the number one concern in young Muslims’ lives. Instead of taking advantage of these unexpectedly shared values, we do not fight our enemies hand in hand with the locally affected population. Pew suggests that only about 3-5% of the Arab population approve US drone strikes compared to more than 60% of the Americans. A report published by Stanford and New York Universities says that Pakistani civilians feel “terrorized” by US drone attacks. Terrorized by the land of the free? And yet, the American citizens seem to be in denial: Less than 3 out of 10 consider themselves very concerned that US strikes could lead to retaliation from extremist groups or that they could damage America’s reputation around the world. Just after 9/11, only 7% of the Muslim population told Gallup that they considered the Twin Tower attacks to be justified, an image which changed drastically after the US “War on Terror” was initiated: already in spring 2003, Pew reported that 71% of Pakistanis and 83% of Jordanians viewed the United States “very unfavorably”.

At the same time, even the Taliban established a code of conduct for its fighters stipulating that “[t]he utmost effort should be made to avoid civilian casualties”, whereas one of their former commanders publicly condemned attacks against Afghan civilians and government officials. No other than Osama bin Laden used to underline the need to protect civilians when fighting the adversary armed forces, an opinion that was confirmed by his secret letters which were seized by the US during the Abbottabad raid.

“It is a hard fact that US strikes have resulted in civilian casualties,” former US President Barack Obama admitted, “These deaths will haunt us”, he said – before continuing to order more drone strikes than any of his predecessors. His successor Donald Trump so far even outpaced him with respect to the number of drone strikes he ordered, the first targeted killing attack under his command was carried out in Yemen at the very day of his inauguration. Ultimately, with so much occidental schizophrenia, the last bit of sympathy for us is dissipating. Who would like fight alongside with the Western world or even make peace with it if its rules are applied whenever deemed convenient for our purposes only? With rulers who pretend to wipe out terrorism by pushing a button and without taking into account the fears of about one billion Muslims living in the affected areas?

One hundred fifty years ago, the Battle of Solferino in Italy brought infinite suffering to the involved soldiers, suffering which triggered the creation of the Laws of War. It was one step towards more humanity as well as a sign of progress towards the rule of law and domestication of the military. Powerful countries with technologically advanced military forces that insist on the alleged permanent permission of the use of violence that such rules contain do not leave the impression that they are partners in good faith, in particular when it comes to conflicts where insurgents and civilians are difficult to distinguish from one another. Our weapons must be internationally connected intelligence services as well as first class equipped police forces – trumps which no terror network in this world has at its disposal. Our enemies must be extradited to our courts. After all, it was possible to condemn the mass murderers of the Nazis during a fair trial in Nuremberg. The merciless laws of armed conflict were developed for exceptional and timely limited periods during which the basic rights in times of peace, such as the right to life and physical integrity, almost disappear. The gap between our precious values and our military’s cold and indiscriminate calculation toward terrorists and innocent civilians does not honor our free and democratic society. It damages the credibility of the Occident and makes our world less safe.

International Law

Will COPUOS five-year mission produce a new “international governance instrument” for outer space resources?

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Introduction

During its 2022 session, the Legal Subcommittee (LSC) of the United Nation’s Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS) created a Working Group on the Legal Aspects of Space Resource Activity and gave it a five-year mandate to gather information, study the current legal framework, and “assess the benefits of further development of a framework for such activities, including by way of additional international governance instruments.” (emphasis added). A survey was sent to the LSC’s member states and official observers, with a response due by December 30.

Fifteen member states and five non-governmental official observers responded to the surveys. The responses were recently posted online by the United Nations Office on Outer Space Activities (UNOOSA), the parent body of COPUOS. This article will look at eight of them: three from states representing the range of international opinion, and all five of the observers, who represent part of “civil society”.

The Working Group Mandate: Address Unresolved Space Resource Issues

COPUOS-LSC gave its Working Group the following mandate (emphasis added):

The Working Group shall:

(a) Collect relevant information concerning activities in the exploration, exploitation and utilization of space resources, including with respect to scientific and technological developments and current practices, taking into account their innovative and evolving nature;

(b) Study the existing legal framework for such activities, in particular the Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies, and other applicable United Nations treaties, also taking into account other relevant instruments, as appropriate;

(c) Assess the benefits of further development of a framework for such activities, includingby way of additional international governance instruments;

(d) Develop a set of initial recommended principles for such activities, taking into account the need to ensure that they are carried out in accordance with international law and in a safe, sustainable, rational and peaceful manner, for the consideration of and consensus agreement by the Committee, followed by possible adoption by the General Assembly as a dedicated resolution or other action;

(e) Identify areas for further work of the Committee and recommend next steps, which may include the development of potential rules and/or norms, for activities in the exploration, exploitation and utilization of space resources, including with respect to related activities and benefit sharing.

The establishment of the Working Group and its mandate is significant. It represents a consensus acknowledgement that the Outer Space Treaty (OST) does not adequately address space resource activity and how the benefits of outer space are to be shared. It is also the first time since the 1970’s that member states of COPUOS have been willing to consider a new “international governance instrument” beyond non-binding principles and recommendations (e.g., the COPUOS long-term sustainability guidelines of 2019).

The Working Group has a five-year work plan. During initial setup in 2022, it was instructed to gather information from the members of the LSC to help establish the scope of its work. To that end, a survey was distributed to all member states and official observers, inviting a response to the following topics (emphasis added):

– The type of space resources that fall within the mandate and scope of the Working Group.

– The type of activities that fall within the mandate and scope of the Working Group.

– The type of information to be collected by the Working Group in accordance with its mandate.

– The views of States members regarding the existing legal framework for space resource activities.

– The current practices and challenges in the implementation of the existing legal framework for such activities.

– The benefits and challenges to the development of a framework for such activities.

– The relevant factors for the development of a set of initial recommended principles for such activities.

– The format, agenda, topics and other details of the dedicated conference (currently) scheduled for 2024.

Any other background or information paper, or any other views, that States members may wish to share.

Responses of Representative States: Luxembourg, Russia, and Australia

Luxembourg is a member of the European Space Agency and one of the first signers of the Artemis Accords. It is the second country (after the United States) to pass a national law authorizing its own nationals (including corporations headquartered there) to remove and take ownership of outer space resources. A sample from its response:

Luxembourg considers that the Artemis Accords, as well as the Building Blocks of the Hague Working Group, constitute a valuable contribution to the discussions in international fora, especially the UN COPUOS.

According to the Luxembourg legislator, space resources are now commonly defined as abiotic resources that are in situ in outer space and can be extracted. This notion includes, for example, mineral resources and water, but not orbital positions or frequencies.

Luxembourg ratified the Outer Space Treaty, the Liability Convention and the Registration Convention and is in the process of accessing the Rescue Agreement. Luxembourg has not signed the Moon Agreement. The international space treaties have not yet been tested with regard to the rights over resources found in space. Most of carried missions have taken place for scientific purposes. However, for the sustainability of future deep space exploration, for commercial space projects and space mining to be viable, future explorers and investors will need certainty regarding their rights to the materials they find.

It seems essential that the Working Group, especially when formulating the set of initial recommended principles, is driven by adaptive governance principle and focuses on the most pressing issues. The highest priority is the recognition of individual rights over space resources, mechanisms for avoiding harmful interference and for the establishment of safety zones.

Russia is a fully “spacefaring” country, with the capacity to launch payloads and humans into outer space and send probes to the Moon and planets. It has not signed the Artemis Accords nor passed a national law authorizing private ownership of space resources. From their response:

Space resources include celestial bodies, spaces and territories of celestial bodies, mineral resources, liquids and gases located on them, various types of radiation, orbital-frequency resource, and other objects. . . . Due to the fact that the necessary legal framework for research and study of certain types of space resources, such as solar energy and the orbital frequency resource is available or not required, it is advisable to exclude these types of resources from the scope of the Working Group while referring to them in the classification system.

An important task of the Working Group is also to develop a monitoring mechanism for activities related to the exploration and utilization of space resources, which may include:

– issues of establishing responsibility when implementing the said activities;

– monitoring compliance with established international standards regulating the extraction of space resources, as well as control over the lawfulness of such operations;

– control over the organization of licensing of activities related to the exploration, exploitation and utilization of space resources;

– an algorithm for resolving conflicts and disputes between actors engaged in the extraction and utilization of space resources, an algorithm for international consultations between states;

– a mechanism for informing the international community (including the obligation to inform the UN Secretary-General) of the nature, progress, locations, and results of such activities;

– consideration of the feasibility of establishing a special international body responsible for securing the regime of the utilization of space resources (by analogy with the ITU, the International Seabed Authority).

A space resource, even after its extraction (removal), does not lose its unique natural extraterrestrial origin, unlike a resource mined on Earth. The transformation of space resources, in particular their extraction and, as a result, the acquisition of a natural-anthropogenic nature, does not give rise to ownership of these resources. However, the national legislative initiatives of certain States vest their non-governmental persons, citizens and entities with the right to mine, appropriate, own, transport and sell the mineral resources of celestial bodies, including asteroids. But the national law of any State cannot extend to territories outside its jurisdiction.

Thus, it is necessary for the Working Group to determine a mechanism for prioritizing missions and the number of admissible missions in the light of the physical characteristics of the celestial body and to consider the issues of the avoidance of the depletion of extraterrestrial resources and conservation of the space environment, among other issues.

Australia is unique among the world’s space powers: it has ratified the Moon Agreement and signed the Artemis Accords. Steven Freeland of Australia has been named vice-chair of the Working Group (Andrzej Misztal of Poland is the chair). Here is part of its response as it tries to straddle two worlds:

Australia considers that the type of space resources and activities that fall within the mandate and scope of the Working Group may include:

– Activities contemplated by the five United Nations (UN) treaties on outer space;

– Activities and definitions contemplated by the Hague International Space Resources Governance Working Group on the Building Blocks for the Development of an International Framework on Space Resource Activities, including definitions for the terms ‘space resource’ and ‘space resource activities’;

– Activities contemplated by national agencies, including the Artemis program;

– Activities contemplated through States Members’ policies, including NASA’s Lunar Landing and Operations Policy Analysis and the European Space Agency’s Space Resources Strategy.

Australia is party to the five UN treaties on outer space and is committed to meeting its international obligations. Australia is also committed to contributing to the development of norms that ensure the long-term safety, stability and sustainability of the outer space environment. The activities of States in outer space are also guided by a number of non-binding instruments. Despite not holding the status of law, Australia recognises that these non-binding instruments indicate the intentions of signatory States as to their conduct in outer space.

Australia does not consider that Article II of the Outer Space Treaty prohibits ownership of resources extracted or removed from the Moon or other celestial bodies. However, ensuring compliance with Articles I and II of the Outer Space Treaty requires some understanding of the elements of those obligations or ways of satisfying them in the context of space resource activities, and the Working Group may like to give consideration to this issue.

In Australia’s view, the establishment of an international regime governing exploitation of the Moon’s natural resources consistently with Article 11(5) [of the Moon Agreement] would permit and facilitate space resource exploitation in a rational, safe and equitable manner, providing a means by which the exploration and use of outer space can be carried out for the benefit and in the interests of all countries.

Response from Observers (“Civil Society”)

Six Observers responded to the survey. One of those, the European Space Agency, is an inter-governmental organization. The other five are non-profits, part of “civil society” (“any non-profit, voluntary citizens’ group which is organized on a local, national or international level”) that gives voice to stakeholders. Here is a sample of their responses, in alphabetical order:

For All Moonkind is focused almost exclusively on the preservation of historic/cultural landing sites from the early years of lunar exploration. Their position is that any resource agreement must include protection of such sites:

Culture is who we are, where we have been and where we are going. It is what shapes our identity as humans. In short, development cannot be sustainable without culture. Moreover, cultural heritage protection is a mainstay of intergenerational equity. The protection and preservation of human heritage recognizes those who came before us, protects the gains of our civilization and allows future generations to learn from both their processes and results.

As the Working Group considers the legal aspects of space resource activities, it must address the impact those activities will have on cultural heritage and use the universality of heritage to achieve consensus.

Zones could be established to manage, and hopefully prevent, conflict, starting with proposed heritage protection zones. For All Moonkind also suggests that the first Coordination Zones can be implemented immediately, to recognize and protect human heritage on other celestial bodies. We believe that international community will be more willing to reach agreement regarding the protection of a site of universal value, as opposed to the operative site of a State or private company.

The Moon Village Association is an umbrella organization that facilitates the work of many groups and individuals. Its response* highlights sharing the benefits of outer space exploration and development. Although it stopped short of calling for mandatory benefit sharing, it did call for consideration of benefit sharing at every level of decision-making:

It is the sense of this Working Group that benefit sharing as a desirable feature in the context of international and space law, is in the process of maturing into a more consequential working theme, whose consideration should be deemed mandatory at relevant legal and operational levels, in the same vein as all relevant factors reviewed in this recommendation should be considered mandatory.

This said, it is also the sense of this Working Group that no benefit sharing first principles and specific mechanisms may manifest unless access issues have been resolved in close concertation with key operators and strongly invested stakeholders.

Specific mechanisms need to be considered simultaneously to legal and operational clarification, in the context of space resources utilisation, of non-exclusionary forms of priority and property rights intended to enable investment and operations to proceed.

While remaining aware of the fact that without economic sustainability there is neither sustainability nor access to and sharing of benefits, it is nonetheless the sense of this Working Group that, without a broad and inclusive debate on measures to mitigate future inequalities that may result from lack of sufficient consideration of access and benefit sharing issues, it would become considerably more difficult to assert international legitimacy in defining above specific legal and operational mechanisms.

The National Space Society was formed in 1987 by a merger of the National Space Institute with the L-5 Society. It generally supports the private sector and discourages regulation:

Notably, there are four factors most relevant to the development of a set of initial recommended principles: 1) the mitigation of harmful impacts and interference; 2) the need for economic incentives and clarity in benefit-sharing; 3) recognition of resource rights regardless of domestic or international implementation; and 4) the dissemination of data.

First, the mitigation of harmful impacts and interference speaks to the impacts of ISRU [In Situ (in place) Resource Utilization] activities and external interference upon ISRU activities. The protection of international cultural heritage sites in outer space should be paramount regarding ISRU impacts. . . . As humanity transcends into the solar system, the protection of how we progressed is important historically, culturally, and inspirationally.

Second, the current void of governance has contributed to a lack of investment in ISRU because of uncertainty within the legal field and the calls for monetary benefit-sharing. The recommended principles should incentivize investment by clarifying that benefit-sharing ought not to be compulsory monetary benefit-sharing but rather encouragement of enabling and promoting the development of technology, capabilities, and education; particularly in developing countries. Benefit-sharing could also take the form of an international fund to assist in the above-mentioned actions and bolstering the ever-necessary UN SDGs [sustainable development guidelines]. Clarity with the intentions of benefit-sharing is likely to incentivize economic activity to develop ISRU further.

This leads into the third and fourth factors of resource rights and data dissemination. In order for ISRU to further the human experience to outer space, the right to utilization is necessary. Thus, legitimate resource rights provided through legal processes should be recognized regardless of their domestic or international implementation. This would also incentivize economic investment. Lastly, the dissemination of data related to the type and amount of resources discovered and/or extracted should be considered. This is significant because as data becomes available regarding the amount of resources in varying places, it can create clearer methods of governance.

The Open Lunar Foundation is “committed to enabling peaceful, cooperative lunar settlement for the benefit of all life.”

The recovery, exchange and use of natural resources have always been foundational to the development and maintenance of any human society. Yet history also shows that uncoordinated access can create conflict and unfettered development can grow to the detriment of people, places and intentions. As humanity seeks to establish new roots in the vastness of space, the technical, economical and legal ability to make use of available natural resources will thereby play a crucial role in determining our failure or success.

In polycentricity, a shared set of goals and institutions empowers local management by semi-autonomous decision makers. Polycentricity leverages localized synergies and deep system knowledge for high social-ecological and governance congruence. Through subsidiarity and diversity, polycentric governance enables institutional experimentation and exchange in uncertain and complex environments. In a polycentric lunar governance system, the different lunar resource systems can be managed locally and individually while conforming to universal norms and principles such as transparency, sustainability, peace, cooperation, and justice.

Create a Catalog of Scarce Resources: Not all space resources are equally accessible or exist in large quantities. Specific resources or regions may be affected by inherent conditions of scarcity, such as the “peaks of eternal light” at the lunar poles or the “radio quiet zone” on the far side of the Moon. To ensure appropriate management regimes, we recommend developing and updating a living list of resources and regions involving conditions of scarcity. States, operators and other interested stakeholders should involve themselves in this definitional process and publicly commit to recognizing and respecting the list.

Scaffolding Towards Shared Frameworks: Wishing to ensure that emerging lunar regulations truly enable a plurality of societies, parties and activities, while not over-specifying institutional structures based on past approaches, a foundational document could be adopted which focuses on guiding principles and shared agreements rather than specific resource management and coordination approaches. Such a document could emphasize commitment to peace, cooperation and accessibility while protecting the ability for adaptive learning and evolution.

The Space Generation Advisory Council submitted itsE.A.G.L.E. report from May 2021 in lieu of a specific survey response. The particulars of “Effective and Adaptive Governance for a Lunar Ecosystem” are too long to summarize (see list below). In general, it calls for a new international “charter”:

The regulatory tools devised in UNCOPUOS seemingly follow a life span of roughly 20 years. Treaties, principles, and guidelines each characterised two decades of international space diplomacy by providing a reference narrative for the community. After long reflection, we realised that the narrative of the next two decades could be captured by charters. With this term we refer to a legal document enacted to define the essential features and boundaries of a legal framework through the solemn commitment of its signatories. Examples of famous charters used in this sense include the Magna Carta Libertatum, the Charter of the United Nations and the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union.

Suggested Topics for a Lunar Governance Charter

– Fundamental Principles of Space Law

– Guiding Principles for a Lunar Governance Charter

– Inclusiveness

– Interoperability

– Human Life Protection

– Heritage Preservation

– Science / Business Balance

– The Use of Lunar Resources

– Safety Zones

– Liability & Registration

– Minimum Coordination

– Conflict Resolution

At the E.A.G.L.E. Team, we value the ability to unite and converge above everything else. When we set foot to initiate the development of this document, our main goal was to provide a contribution that could simultaneously increase the value of all others by providing them with meaningful opportunities to be expressed. We wanted to inspire global actors and catalyse international discussions on the exploration and use of the Moon. With this purpose in mind, we birthed the idea of a Lunar Governance Charter as a shared narrative that could frame the global debate on lunar governance within pragmatic but also idealistic terms. Structured in the way presented in Section 3, we believe that a Lunar Governance Charter could constitute a useful reference framework for the evolution of adaptive governance.

Conclusion

The responses from member states and observers show a wide spectrum of opinion concerning “additional international governance instruments”. Some do not want any additional rules unless they confirm private property rights and protect space resource activities. Others would require any space resource activity to be approved by an international authority, like the International Seabed Authority in the UN Convention on the Law of the Seas. In between are those who do not want a new authority but do want a new international agreement that will protect essential public policies while providing legal support for private activity. That agreement might be a stand-alone treaty, like the other UN space treaties, or it might be part of the Moon Agreement as an Article 11 resource agreement.

There is also a spectrum concerning what public policies should be protected. Most would agree on protecting heritage sites, but does that include every track mark by every rover? To what extent do we share information and technology? As for protecting activities, how can safety zones or priority rights be structured so that they are not prohibited exclusive claims? In general, how can we maximize sharing the benefits of outer space while still establishing mechanisms that promote economic sustainability?

The next five years may well produce a new international agreement that will guide the nations of Earth as we begin to leave the home world. Without one, we might repeat the mistakes of the Age of Imperialism, when powerful countries battled for control of distant resources, causing centuries of war, suffering, and neglect. Humanity has a chance to start over, and the new COPUOS working group might be the best vehicle for doing so. For this year’s meeting dates and other information about COPUOS and the Legal Subcommittee, click here.

* MVA’s response was primarily written by Suyan Christina Malhadas and the Space Law and Policy Research Group of the Catholic University of Santos, Brazil, with contributions from members of MVA’s Adaptive Governance Working Group, including this author.

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International Law

Shaping a 21st-century world order amounts to a patchwork

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What do Moroccan arms sales to Ukraine, a transnational Russian Iranian transit corridor, and US assistance in developing a Saudi national strategy have in common?

Together with this week’s Russian-Iranian financial messaging agreement and Chinese President Xi Jinping’s December visit to Saudi Arabia, they are smaller and bigger fragments of a 21st-century world order in the making that is likely to be bi-polar and populated by multiple middle powers with significant agency and enhanced hedging capabilities.

So is the competition between rival US and Chinese technologies for which the jury is still out.

For the two likely dominant powers, the United States and China, the building blocks are efforts to line up their ducks in a bipolar world.

For Russia, they involve hanging on to its pre-Ukraine war status, in part by deploying its Wagner Group mercenaries to the Sahel; devising ways to circumvent sanctions; and hoping that time will work in its favour in what was supposed to be a blitzkrieg but has turned into a drawn-out slugging match.

For middle powers, the name of the game is carving out their own space, leveraging their enhanced influence, and seeking advantage where they can.

The result is that weaving the 21st century’s tapestry amounts to a patchwork in which some fragments will have long-term effects while others may not even register as a blip on the radar.

Take, for example, Morocco’s decision to give Ukraine some 20 refurbished Russian-made T-72B battle tanks. The deal made Morocco the first African, if not the first Global South nation, to militarily aid Ukraine.

The move, almost a year into the Ukraine war, is likely to have been motivated by short-term considerations, including Russia’s close ties to Morocco’s arch-rival Algeria and US recognition of Morocco’s claim to the formerly Spanish Western Sahara, rather than long-term 21st-century world order considerations.

Even so, Morocco’s breaking ranks with much of the Global South serves the US goal of sustaining the current world order in which it is the top dog, even if its power diminishes.

It doesn’t fundamentally affect China’s goal of rebalancing power in the existing order to ensure that it is bi- rather than unipolar.

The loser in the deal is Russia, which, like Iran, wants to see a new world order in which the United States is cut down to size.

The tank deal may not be a significant loss for Russia, but it does suggest that horse trading is a critical element in weaving the fabric of a new order.

So is mutual interest.

Like the arms sale, the agreement between Russia and Iran to create a financial messaging system that would allow their banks to transfer funds between one another and evade sanctions that block their access to the global SWIFT system is unlikely to have a major impact on the structure of the new world order.

Russian and Iranian efforts to link Europe with the Indian Ocean, centred on 3,000 kilometres of rail and sea and river shipping, are potentially far more significant.

The transport corridor would help reshape trade and supply networks in a world that seems set to divvy up into rival blocs. Moreover, it could shield Russia and Iran from US and European sanctions as they forge closer economic ties with fast-growing economies in Asia.

Russia and Iran are not just looking at India, which sits at one extreme of the corridor.

They also expect to capitalise on their links to China. All three are members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), and China and Iran are close to becoming members of the Russia-dominated Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) free trade zone.

Of a similar potential impact on a future world order is US assistance in Saudi Arabia’s development of a first-time-ever long-term vision for the kingdom’s national security, an essential building block in Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s effort to modernize his military.

Saudi Arabia expects to disclose its strategy later this year. It would codify “the kingdom’s strategic vision for national security and regional security,” according to Gen. Michael “Erik” Kurilla, the top commander of US forces in the Middle East, who is advising his Saudi counterparts.

Shaping Saudi strategy as well as military modernization may be the United States’ best bet to imbue at least some of its values and complicate the establishment of similar defense ties with China or Russia. Moreover, it would enhance the kingdom’s ability to absorb and utilize US weapons systems.

“The Saudis, under MBS’s (Mohammed bin Salman’s) leadership, now recognize (their) deficiencies and seem, for the first time, determined to address them in partnership with the United States and to a degree with the United Kingdom,” said political-military analyst and former Pentagon official Bilal Y. Saab.

That will undoubtedly register on the geopolitical chessboard, even if small moves also count for something.

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International Law

Undemocratic United Nations and Global Peace

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War is not the solution to any problem rather war is a problem itself. Many countries believe in diplomacy and peaceful means of problem-solving and conflict resolution. But, unfortunately, many nations still seek solutions of problems and continuity of politics in wars.

If we look at any newspaper, we find too many armed conflicts going on around the globe. To name a few would include a catastrophic war between Russian Federation and Ukraine which has caused tens of thousands of casualties, with millions displaced. Decades-long civil wars and subsequent US-led NATO intervention and withdrawal has brought Afghanistan to the brink of famine and hunger. The whole Middle Eastern region is unstable and striving with civil wars for long. The Arab -Israel conflict and Kashmir Dispute have been there for more than seven decades.

Above-mentioned and many others examples of armed conflicts prove that there is no durable peace in the world. Here one thing that needs to be noted is that conflict is always inevitable among individuals, societies and nations, because the interests of individuals, societies and nations do not always converge. When there is divergence of interests, conflict arises.

What is needed to be done is the resolution of these conflicts. There are two ways to resolve conflicts: one is violent way (use of force) and the other is peaceful way (diplomacy and negotiations). More than seven decades ago, after World War 2, nations realized that war is not solution to any problem and they established United Nations Organization (UNO). Primary objective of UN was and is the maintenance of peace and security in the world.

But, if we look at history, it seems the UN has failed to achieve international peace and security. UN may have had role in preventing the outbreak of another world war, but it could not stop a series of conflicts from Korea, Vietnam to Afghanistan (during Cold War), and from Africa, Middle East to ongoing Russian-Ukraine conflict.

This is a question mark on the credibility of UN, that why the UN despite being guardian of international peace and security cannot stop wars.

UN has six principal organs and many Specialized Agencies and Funds for different tasks.  Among them Security Council is the most powerful Organ and is mandated with enforcing international peace and security. UNSC uses two tools to enforce its decisions, one is applications of sanctions and the other is use of force (intervention).

However the concentration of power in the hands of five permanent states of Security Council, namely the United States, United Kingdom, France, China and Russia have been problematic. These five countries use veto power whenever they perceive any resolution to be against their national interest or against the interests of their allies. Throughout the Cold War, US and USSR had paralyzed UN by vetoing resolutions. Same happened with any other conflict including when US drafted a resolution to stop the war in Ukraine.

So, it is crystal clear that if UN (specifically Security Council) is not reformed, UN can not achieve its primary goal i.e. maintenance of peace and security. UN members and experts have talked about reform in Security Council. Experts have also given suggestions and proposals to make UN more democratic and representative. One of those proposals is abandoning veto and doubling the size of SC members. This can make UN more democratic and representative to some extent. But this is not an easy job. Firstly, because P5 are reluctant to abandon this privileged position (veto power). Secondly, countries hoping for permanent membership are opposed by other countries. For example, many European countries object Germany’s membership. Pakistan objects to India’s membership.

 Experts believe the solutions could be the democratization of UN system (particularly UNSC). This is done by involving General Assembly in the decision making regarding international peace and security. General Assembly is a symbol of democracy, representing almost all the states on the globe. Simple or two-third majority must be mandatory to make any decision regarding international peace and security. This could stop any powerful state to use UN as a tool for its own vested national interest , and the decision of majority will prevail. All the states, big and small, powerful and weak will have equal say in the UN. Otherwise the possibility of wars, violence, genocide and injustice will further increase.

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