Tech UPTechnologyCan Donald Trump privatize the Moon? An expert responds

Can Donald Trump privatize the Moon? An expert responds

In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, the world continues to turn and some countries take the opportunity to carry out controversial executive mandates that may go unnoticed by the general public. However, the executive order has been sounded (executive order, in Spain it would be equivalent to a decree law) issued by the United States government in which, the headlines pray, it would be ready to privatize the Moon, the natural satellite of our planet , conquered by humans in 1969.

But what does this executive order actually say? Is it true that Donald Trump intends to privatize the Moon? And, more importantly, can you do it? We have spoken with, possibly, the most relevant Spanish personality in overseas law, Juan Manuel de Faramiñán Gilbert, professor of Public International Law and International Relations at the University of Jaén, holder of the Jean Monnet Institutions and European Union Law Chair, director of the Globalization Observatory of the University of Jaén; and, since July 2019, member of the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in the specialized panel for the arbitration of disputes related to outer space activities.

As with those on Earth, the exploitation of space resources is not exempt from a legal framework. Humanity has a series of international agreements to regulate the use of outer space and the celestial bodies. One of them is the Agreement Governing the Activities of States on the Moon and other Celestial Bodies, better known as the Moon Treaty, which dates from 1979, when it was signed, and which came into force in 1984. The problem is that it would only have been signed and ratified by 17 nations, which does not include the United States.

What has Donald Trump’s executive done in the middle of the pandemic? On April 6, 2020, the White House issued an executive order “on fostering international support for the recovery and use of space resources.” The content of this order directly contravenes the Treaty of the Moon, as Faramiñán explains: “In the Treaty of the Moon, Article 11 provides that the Moon and its resources are the natural heritage of humanity, but the United States says that this They are not affected by it because they have not signed the Moon treaty and they are against it ”.

In the second provision of the executive order recently issued by the United States, the following can be read: “The United States is not a supporter of the Moon Agreement. Furthermore, the United States does not view the Moon Agreement as an effective or necessary instrument to guide nation states with respect to promoting commercial engagement in long-term exploration, scientific discovery, and use of the Moon, Mars or other celestial bodies. Accordingly, the Secretary of State will oppose any attempt by any other state or international organization to treat the Moon Agreement as a reflection or expression of customary international law . “

The full executive order can be read here.

Can Trump be forced to abide by the Moon Treaty?

To answer this question, we first need to understand what customary law is. Faramiñán guides us: “A certain treaty has a certain weight in the international arena when it is repeated repeatedly and, on the other hand, it is accepted that it has binding legal value; that is what is called customary law. Customary law is mandatory, but it contains ambiguities, because it depends on what each state does ”.

“One of the conditions that customary law has is the notion of Opinio juris , that is, the need for the person who repeats this act to be convinced that it is legally binding. But the United States is not, so they cannot be forced to adopt it. It’s a paradox ”, he explains.

What if the United States invades the Moon or claims it for itself?

For extreme cases, there are international law bodies, such as the International Court of Justice; In addition, there is the permanent court of arbitration in The Hague, of which de Faramiñán is a member: “When an international conflict occurs, countries go to the list of arbitrators and consult. But for now nothing can be done because Trump’s executive order is a unilateral act of state. “

The case of Luxembourg

The United States is not the only country that refuses to accept international agreements on the inviolability of extraterrestrial resources. Luxembourg has in force a law in which it is said that space is appropriable , which is absolutely against the Treaty on outer space or Treaty on outer space, signed in 1977, which says that no state will be able to appropriate the resources of celestial bodies (beyond the Moon), such as minerals from asteroids (gold, platinum), or other resources that humanity may find in the future (remember that Titan, one of the main moons of Saturn, is covered from an ocean of liquid natural gas).

Future perspectives

“What Donald Trump has decided to do in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, when everyone is distracted, is terrible,” says Faramiñán. “We are living times of absolute desolation from the ethical point of view ,” he says.

Consideration of a solid legal framework is key to the immediate future of humanity, which will be marked by space exploration and the exploitation of resources such as Mars and the Moon. Space tourism on the Moon and the imminent arrival of humans on Mars are two realities that we are about to contemplate, in addition to other probable findings related to the discovery of simple extraterrestrial life and all kinds of resources of celestial bodies that we can explore.

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