Trump’s Space Force Breaks International Law

Remember when Trump announced a few months ago that he was setting up a space force to protect America from attack from that direction? He was immediately criticised because such a force would break the current international treaties governing the exploration and use of space. Mitchell R. Sharpe discusses these treaties in his book Satellites and Probes: The Development of Unmanned Spaceflight (London: Aldus Books 1970).

Sharpe writes

As the tempo of space exploration increases and more nations become involved through international agreements, it is obvious that problems in international law will ultimately arise. In this field, the UN took an early interest and is now the principal organization for studying and proposing space law. After manned space flight began in 1961, the General Assembly laid down some brief principles of a space code. On December 13, 1963, these were expanded; and an international treaty based upon them was signed in Washington, Moscow, and London on January 27, 1967. In brief, the treaty states that space exploration is available to all nations equally and that there will be no use of space for military purposes. Other international agreement provide that there will be no annexation of other planets by Earth powers and that astronauts are to be returned to their own nations in case they land by accident in other countries.

Pp. 30-1 (my emphasis).

The book notes that international relations in space have been strained, but nevertheless is optimistic about future cooperation between countries in the High Frontier.

The road to harmonious international cooperation in space research and exploration is not a smooth one. It has been strewn with obstacles of mutual suspicion, and distrust through conflicting political ideologies, outright chauvinism, cumbersome coordinating organizations, periodic temperature changes in the Cold War. However, the progression has been steadily forward despite these momentary checks…

As the second decade of the Space Age dawned, Man was beginning to realize the space, in its infinity, precludes all petty approaches to its exploration and eventual exploitation. International cooperation in both seemed an imperative for the ensuing decade, and the signs of a growing effort toward this were encouraging. (p. 31).

By the time of the publication of Michael Freeman’s Space Traveller’s Handbook (London: Hamlyn 1979), international relations had become much colder and the prospects for cooperation much less optimistic. The joint American-Soviet space mission of 1975, which saw astronauts from the two nations link up in orbit and exchange greetings was then four years in the past. The new Cold War that would dominate the global situation until the Gorbachev era and the fall of Communism was just beginning. The Space Traveller’s Handbook is a fictionalized treatment of rocketry and space exploration using the framework of a history book from 2061. The section on space law makes it plain that international legislation concerning space is extremely fragile and expects it to be broken. This is laid out in the section’s final two paragraphs.

International law is no law.

The most unsatisfactory aspect of the whole legal question in space is that the effectiveness of international legislation depends entirely on the good will of nations. Not all nations are signatory to all treaties, some elements of international space law are plainly at odds with the national law of some countries. and in the final analysis a nation can simply ignore the findings of the International Court of Space.

Basically, international law, on Earth as well as in space, is a conflict of law, the confrontation of two nations, each with its own set of internal laws. Legislation must be by treaty, and legal disputes tend to follow diplomatic channels in the first instance. The setting up of the International Court of Space by the ISA was an attempt to regulate disputes, but its only means of enforcing its judgements is to present its recommendations to the ISA. Essentially, the only punishment is sanction, [such as was applied to Rhodesia after UDI]. This is only effective if a sufficient number of nations agree to undertake it. Even criminal cases against individuals must in the end be referred to national courts. (p. 49).

The ISA and the International Court of Space, or at least the latter, are fictitious, and part of the book’s future history. It’s interesting, though, that the book predicted it would be set up ten years ago in 2010. I am not aware that any institution like it actually has.

Trump’s projected space force clearly is in breach of international law, and it seems to bear out Freeman’s prediction that it would eventually prove to be toothless. However, he hasn’t set it up just yet, and it remains to be seen whether it will actually become reality. If it does, I fear it will lead to a disastrous arms race in outer space, a race that may well bring us once again to the brink of nuclear armageddon as the Earth-based arms race did far too many times in the past.

For humanity’s sake, let us follow the vision of the late, great comedian Bill Hicks. Hicks used to end his show by stating that if the world spent what it does on armaments instead on peaceful projects, we could explore and colonize space and feed our world.

No one need starve, and we could go forth in peace forever.

Meanwhile, Trump’s announcement has provided yet more subject matter for the satirists. Netflix is launching a new comedy series, Space Force. Here’s the trailer from YouTube.

I think The Office mentioned in the title credits must be the American version of the show, rather than the British original made infamous by Ricky Gervaise. It stars Steve Carell and Lisa Kudrow, who older readers may remember as Phoebe in the ’90s comedy series, Friends.


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7 Responses to “Trump’s Space Force Breaks International Law”

  1. Joanna Woolston Says:

    Hi Beastie news from America gets even worse, it’s been reported that Putin has put a bounty on the head of any and all US soldiers serving in Afghanistan. I found this out by a man called Glenn Kirshner, he is an ex JAG and a prosecutor his boss was Robert Mueller. He seems like a nice guy, he is disgusted with and by Trump.

  2. Joanna Woolston Says:

    How I wish there was a way to drop trump on mars and leave It and its whole family there, then forget about colonizing that planet!!! Oh and the rest of the top Republicans they won’t be. Missed either, at least this planet can then be saved with help from Greta Thunberg!!!

    • beastrabban Says:

      Actually, I’d like to see Mars colonized, but definitely not with Trump and his vile family. On the other hand, if we did drop him there, we’d have to nuke the place from orbit as, to quote the line from ‘Aliens’, it would be the only way to be sure.
      And to anyone reading this, no, I’m not advocating any attacks on Trump or any form of terrorism. Even on Mars.

      • Joanna Woolston Says:

        I know beastie neither am I!!
        I am hopefully getting some help, have you ever heard of ‘psychomotor retardation” it might be what I am suffering with, It is when you need to to do a task but you can’t, because you mentally can’t get your body to move no matter how much you want it to, (i think thats what it means) please tell me if I am wrong :0) I have been offered therapy and I am grabbing it with both hands!!!

      • beastrabban Says:

        It’s not something I’ve ever heard of and sounds really unpleasant. But certainly go for the therapy! If you are suffering from it, I hope you get all the help you need and that it works.

  3. Joanna Woolston Says:

    Update to US troops being hunted by the Taliban, British troops are apparently also being targeted, the news was broken by Washington Post apparently?

    • beastrabban Says:

      Thanks for the info about US and British troops in Afghanistan – I hadn’t heard any of this. I don’t doubt they’re being targeted by the Taliban for a single moment. I’m not sure about Putin putting a price on their heads, though. If he has, it would be extremely stupid as arming Islamists always backfires. When we armed them against the Russians during the Cold War, the Russian ambassador told the Americans that once they had finished with them, the Mujahiddeen, as they were then called, would come for the Americans. And this happened with 9/11.

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