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posted by martyb on Monday July 23 2018, @01:58AM   Printer-friendly
from the ask-Heinlein-who-sold-it dept.

Did the Stars and Stripes on the moon signify the establishment of an American colony?

Most likely, this is the best-known picture of a flag ever taken: Buzz Aldrin standing next to the first U.S. flag planted on the Moon. For those who knew their world history, it also rang some alarm bells. Only less than a century ago, back on Earth, planting a national flag in another part of the world still amounted to claiming that territory for the fatherland. Did the Stars and Stripes on the moon signify the establishment of an American colony?

[...] Still, the simple answer to the question of whether Armstrong and Aldrin by way of their small ceremony did transform the moon, or at least a major part thereof, into U.S. territory turns out to be “no.” They, nor NASA, nor the U.S. government intended the U.S. flag to have that effect.

Most importantly, that answer was enshrined in the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, to which both the United States and the Soviet Union as well as all other space-faring nations, had become a party. Both superpowers agreed that “colonization” on Earth had been responsible for tremendous human suffering and many armed conflicts that had raged over the last centuries. They were determined not to repeat that mistake of the old European colonial powers when it came to decide on the legal status of the moon; at least the possibility of a “land grab” in outer space giving rise to another world war was to be avoided. By that token, the moon became something of a “global commons” legally accessible to all countries—two years prior to the first actual manned moon landing.

So, the U.S. flag was not a manifestation of claiming sovereignty, but of honoring the U.S. taxpayers and engineers who made Armstrong, Aldrin, and third astronaut Michael Collins’ mission possible. The two men carried a plaque that they “came in peace for all mankind,” and of course Neil’s famous words echoed the same sentiment: his “small step for man” was not a “giant leap” for the United States, but “for mankind.” Furthermore, the United States and NASA lived up to their commitment by sharing the moon rocks and other samples of soil from the lunar surface with the rest of the world, whether by giving them away to foreign governments or by allowing scientists from all over the globe to access them for scientific analysis and discussion. In the midst of the Cold War, this even included scientists from the Soviet Union.

Case closed, no need for space lawyers anymore then? No need for me to prepare University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s space law students for further discussions and disputes on the lunar law, right?

[...] The very fundamental prohibition under the Outer Space Treaty to acquire new state territory, by planting a flag or by any other means, failed to address the commercial exploitation of natural resources on the moon and other celestial bodies. This is a major debate currently raging in the international community, with no unequivocally accepted solution in sight yet. Roughly, there are two general interpretations possible.

Countries such as the United States and Luxembourg (as the gateway to the European Union) agree that the moon and asteroids are "global commons," which means that each country allows its private entrepreneurs, as long as duly licensed and in compliance with other relevant rules of space law, to go out there and extract what they can, to try and make money with it. It's a bit like the law of the high seas, which are not under the control of an individual country, but completely open to duly licensed law-abiding fishing operations from any country's citizens and companies. Then, once the fish is in their nets, it is legally theirs to sell.

On the other hand, countries such as Russia and somewhat less explicitly Brazil and Belgium hold that the moon and asteroids belong to humanity as a whole. And therefore the potential benefits from commercial exploitation should somehow accrue for humanity as a whole—or at least should be subjected to a presumably rigorous international regime to guarantee humanity-wide benefits. It’s a bit like the regime originally established for harvesting mineral resources from the deep seabed. Here, an international licensing regime was created as well as an international enterprise, which was to mine those resources and generally share the benefits among all countries.

[...] While ultimately it is up to the community of states to determine whether common agreement can be reached on either of the two positions or maybe somewhere in between, it is of crucial importance that agreement can be reached one way or another. Such activities developing without any law that is generally applicable and accepted would be a worst-case scenario. While not a matter of colonization anymore, it may have all the same harmful results.

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  • (Score: 5, Insightful) by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 23 2018, @05:09AM (3 children)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 23 2018, @05:09AM (#711065)

    Everything is owned by those who can defend their claim to it.

    You may own it until there's a fight, and you lose.

    In old days, the fights were physical, and your stuff was simply taken. Not much different than a cat losing its dinner ( and sometimes its life ) to a more aggressive animal.

    These days, you can be literally stripped clean with a pounding of a judge's gavel.

    In our own little world of the USA, I feel we are led to believe we "own" stuff like our homes or cars, but in order to continue to have it, we have property taxes, licensing, or whatever to pay. Not only that, having property mostly makes me accountable because its something that can be legally taken away should someone else be able to convince a court that I wronged them.

    To me, ownership is just an enforcement mechanism, and those who own are signalling they play the game, and have something to lose should they not behave.

    Whereas "renters" are seen as having no incentive or enforcement mechanism to honor commitments. They can promise and commit to anything, and simply walk out, and what can you do? No handle on 'em. Nothing to go after. Throw 'em in the pokey, and now you've gotta feed 'em too!

    Janis Joplin once sung "Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose.". My area is experiencing a surge in homeless people, many of which are stripped from having a thing, and now live almost like animals. Funny thing is once they start living this way, many seem quite reticent to return to their former lifestyles. They have tents set up, often in the most inappropriate places, and have churches bringing food to them daily, and other trucks bringing in supplies.

    I understand the pain of losing things you had is even greater than the joy you experienced by acquiring it... so dangling "ownership" in front of the average guy is a great way to motivate him to get out of bed early in the morning and spend his day doing what someone else wants him to do, so that he may keep his stuff.

    Gone forever is the day of my ancestors ( American Indian ) where one paid his respects to the Great Spirit instead of the Tax Collector. I see "ownership" as just one of the tools used to organize civilization and to motivate them to help make someone else rich. Compare to the homeless camps, which require resources from the public sector, but build nothing nor provide any services. However the resource bite is quite modest, given food is in such great supply over here in America that most of it goes to waste - the fact some got rerouted to the homeless is so negligible of a drag that I would find it difficult to measure.

    So, like Trump stated above... make all the treaties you want... but its he who has the guns that ultimately makes the decision as to how anything is to be used. And America has the guns. We have enough firepower to blow up the rest of the planet if it comes to that. So obey our wishlists, make our stuff for us, and we will let you live your lives as you see fit.

    Is America unique in this? No. Anybody who has this kind of power - which exists today thanks to modern technologies - can and will use it to maintain that power. Its part of the human condition. Same pecking order that appears to exist in all life. As far as tyrantship goes in this new technological age, my guess is that any political system having a sufficient number of pissed off people will be quite unstable, as the technology exists for both leaders and followers to retaliate should things get too out of line.

    Hardly a day goes by we don't read of all the fighting going on over a populace revolting against their leadership.

    God created all men, and Sam Colt made them equal. []

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  • (Score: 2) by acid andy on Monday July 23 2018, @09:42AM

    by acid andy (1683) on Monday July 23 2018, @09:42AM (#711119) Homepage Journal

    I agree with you about the legal concept of ownership and its associated enforcement mechanisms taking away freedom. As I said in another discussion, it's an approximation of what you truly morally own. If you own a car, does anyone else really have the moral right to impound or crush it?

    True ownership still exists in the absence of human society, as you noted:

    In old days, the fights were physical, and your stuff was simply taken. Not much different than a cat losing its dinner ( and sometimes its life ) to a more aggressive animal.

    I suppose you could say the cat fighting off another animal to protect its dinner is another enforcement mechanism but it's very different from a centralized state holding all the power.

    If a cat has kittens, does a rat have rittens, a bat bittens and a mat mittens?
  • (Score: 4, Interesting) by PiMuNu on Monday July 23 2018, @11:07AM (1 child)

    by PiMuNu (3823) on Monday July 23 2018, @11:07AM (#711159)

    I agree with most of your statements, but

    > ownership is just an enforcement mechanism

    Except that snow is cold and beds are warm. Without ownership, there is no mechanism for supporting and protecting investment in infrastructure (e.g. bricks, insulation, farmland). Without infrastructure life is pretty grim.

    > And America has the guns.

    If America pisses off a sufficiently large number of countries, that won't be the case. EU could probably field a reasonable army if they could gang up. The Putin strategy seems to be to fracture the EU to erode American power base. Maybe turn over the NATO alliance and make it America + Russia vs EU and China. Such turnovers have happened before e.g. 1740 Austria+Britain vs France + Prussia; 1756 Prussia+Britain vs France+Austria was a turn over of a century of French/Austrian foreign policy, reflecting the growth of Britain as a major European power.

    • (Score: 3, Insightful) by VLM on Monday July 23 2018, @08:43PM

      by VLM (445) on Monday July 23 2018, @08:43PM (#711431)

      The Putin strategy seems to be to fracture the EU to erode American power base.

      Joke's on him, Europe is going to be majority Muslim in a generation or two, a second northern "middle east". The locals seem hell-bent on cultural suicide. He can have it.