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United Nations: Step into Space

This idea is that the people of the world need to lift their chins from their phones and point them to the skies for a minute - before mankind further imperils itself itself by ignoring the importance of space governance The whole of the below is an unedited article by Marko Filijović and ShahrYar Mahmoud Sharei posted in on May 13, 2024 It is an easy read and is very instructive for anyone interested in an overview of this topic: The space industry has grown at an incredible rate over the past decade. Estimates project the global space economy to be worth $1. 8 trillion by 2035, a substantial increase from $630 billion in 2023. While several factors contribute to this growth, one sector particularly appealing to investors is exploiting space resources, or space mining. Recent discoveries reveal that asteroids hold valuable materials that could induce enormous profits, if utilized. For instance, asteroid Davida, located in the asteroid belt, is rich in valuable resources such as water, nickel, iron, cobalt, nitrogen, ammonia and hydrogen. Its estimated resource value is approximately $27 quintillion. According to a database provided by Asterank, many asteroid belt asteroids, such as Phaethon, Tapio, Heracles, Orchis and Pyotr Pervyj have values exceeding $100 trillion. Some of them, like Ryugu, estimated to be worth around $83 billion, may not hold significant value compared to others but can still yield high profits. In Ryugu’s case, around $30 billion. Nevertheless, arguably the most famous of all is 16 Psyche, a massive asteroid that is particularly intriguing due to its metallic composition. Its estimated worth is $10 quintillion, significantly exceeding the entire Earth’s gross domestic product. While some question the economic feasibility of space mining in the near future, it’s undeniable that the space industry is rapidly evolving. A significant reduction in launch costs by up to 95%, along with a decrease in the price of transporting goods per kilogram into space now makes these endeavors appear more tangible. In this regard, Earth’s natural satellite holds significant importance due to its proximity to our planet and abundant reserves of Helium-3 (3He), which could be used as a powerful energy resource. The Moon is estimated to hold over 1 million tons of this resource, capable of generating energy that could surpass Earth’s fossil fuel reserves tenfold. However, technical challenges remain, such as practical shortcomings in 3He extraction and fusion process adjustment. Existing fusion reactors still need to achieve the high sustainable temperatures necessary for electricity production, while refining the extraction of 3He from the lunar surface is challenging due to its very small concentration in the soil. Among diverging agendas: navigating contemporary lunar ambitions After the moon landing and the end of the Cold War, the space race briefly subsided. However, with modern research revealing that outer space is rich in resources, the aspiration to colonize Earth’s natural satellite has been reignited. China was the first nation to publicly outline its plans for moon exploration, starting with the Chang’e program launched in 2007. In an eight-step process, which includes phases from orbiting the moon to establishing a research base on it by 2036, Beijing has so far managed to complete step five, which involved China’s first lunar sample-return mission and the world’s first to the far side of the moon. The Chang’e 6 mission, planned for 2024, aims to deploy a lander designed specifically to return samples from the lunar south pole, which, according to research, would be the most suitable place for establishing a colony. The Chinese first showed interest in exploiting lunar 3He as early as 2013, suggesting that it could “satisfy human beings’ energy demand for at least 10,000 years.” Russia also announced its lunar plans, dividing it into four phases between 2016 and 2040. The first phase, expected to end in 2025, involves sending four rovers (Luna-25, Luna-26, Luna-27, and Luna-28) to the immediate vicinity of the lunar polar regions. However, the Luna 25 mission, launched on August 10, 2023, failed to successfully land on the moon’s surface due to a botched orbital maneuver. Russia sought partnerships with other countries, considering China as the most favorable candidate for future lunar mining. Well ahead of the failure of its Luna mission, and aware of China’s rapidly advancing and successful moon program, Moscow expressed interest in collaborating with Beijing on several occasions. The cooperation was eventually formalized in March 2021, when the representatives of the two countries officially signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to jointly construct an autonomous lunar permanent research base. Parties emphasized that the project will be open to all interested countries and international partners. Acknowledging the rapid development of the new space race, the United States also devised its own plan for lunar explorations in 2020. Washington proposed a multilateral partnership, known as the Artemis Accords, with an aim to establish the first long-term presence on the moon. Similar to Moscow’s and Beijing’s plans, this program is set to be executed in several stages from 2020 to 2031. So far, 39 nations have joined the initiative. As stated in the document, the Artemis Accords provides a framework for countries to cooperate on activities such as lunar exploration, resource extraction, and scientific research. Entering the vacuum: Gaps and misinterpretations of international law Existing legal frameworks for outer space regarding lunar exploitation, specifically the 1967 Outer Space Treaty (OST) and the 1979 Moon Agreement (MA), designate the moon and its resources as the “common heritage of mankind” and “not subject to national appropriation.” However, it appears that advanced spacefaring nations interpret the matter differently. For instance, the U.S. proposal includes a contentious interpretation of the OST, stating that “the extraction of space resources does not inherently constitute national appropriation under Article II of the Outer Space Treaty.” Furthermore, despite China and Russia both advocating for the installation of a lunar station as a base for 3He utilization, they were quick to comment on the U.S.’s stance. Beijing claimed that the Accords should not be viewed as an extension of the OST, but rather as an attempt to establish norms outside existing international regulatory frameworks, while Moscow argued that this represents an attempt to monopolize outer space and take over other planets, which defies the principle of international cooperation. It’s also interesting to note that none of these three nations, which are permanent members of the Security Council of the U.N., ratified the MA, which would have regulated space mining under a multilateral regime. These kinds of arguments have led some to assert that the current space governance framework, established under the U.N.’s architecture has become outdated, prompting organizations like the European Union to intervene. Politico reports that the E.U.’s newest draft aims to establish an E.U. Space Label, encouraging entities to use orbit more responsibly. According to E.U. representatives, space companies wishing to do business with the bloc must abide by the rules. They added that the draft was shaping up to create one single market in space. However, even if this act addresses current issues concerning lunar resource exploitation, it remains uncertain whether China or Russia will comply, given the current geopolitical circumstances and the fact that Beijing has submitted its own proposal to the U.N. Moreover, considering the existing lack of a clear global regulatory framework for space property, exploitation and ownership rights, individual nations like the U.S., Japan, Luxembourg and the United Arab Emirates have established their own unique space legislation and policies, which increases the risk of inconsistent and conflicting regulations. Given the U.N.’s current inability to conclusively resolve these issues, experts believe that the evolving situation could escalate geopolitical tensions among key spacefaring nations. To prevent this, the U.N. could mediate a new global legal framework. However, doing so would necessitate a revision of the U.N. Charter. This would enable the dissolution of the Security Council (SC) and the creation of a U.N. Parliament, thereby fostering a more democratic U.N. and returning the original concept of “we the peoples” to prominence. Granting jurisdictional authority to the U.N. Parliament would also foster a more equitable legislative process, leading to a new and sustainable global OST. The legal mechanism to achieve this already exists within the U.N. Charter itself. Reintroducing Article 109: a pathway to U.N. 2.0 and a new Global Outer Space Treaty Article 109, also referred to as the San Francisco Promise, clearly states that “A General Conference of the Members of the UN for the purpose of reviewing the present Charter may be held at a date and place to be fixed by a two-thirds vote of the members of the General Assembly (GA) and by a vote of any nine members of the SC… If such a conference has not been held before the tenth annual session of the GA following the coming into force of the present Charter, the proposal to call such a conference shall be placed on the agenda of that session of the GA, and the conference shall be held if so decided by a majority vote of the members of the GA and by a vote of any seven members of the SC.” It was not until 1967 that the General Assembly passed a resolution postponing the review conference indefinitely, without officially cancelling the Review process altogether. This effectively left the member states in a state of noncompliance, as they had failed to uphold their charter-mandated obligation to periodically review and potentially revise the U.N.’s founding document. Given the current dynamism and rapid evolution of outer space activities, as well as the ongoing legal discrepancies and ambiguities surrounding this domain, India — another prominent spacefaring nation with its own lunar ambitions — could take the lead in proposing an international conference to address these critical issues. India’s representatives at the U.N. have already expressed dissatisfaction with the U.N. Charter, underscoring the need for a comprehensive review and potential updates to the international regulatory framework. In 2023, they stated that the charter has failed in handling multiple crises the world is facing, calling it “anachronistic.” According to the constitutional history of the U.N., India, most Latin American countries and several other states in 1945 were strongly opposed to the SC’s preeminent role and supremacy in international law. These nations were actively seeking substantial changes to the U.N. Charter as soon as World War II had concluded. The spirit and text of Article 109 provides a critical opportunity for the U.N. to reinvent and restructure itself in order to better address the rapidly evolving global challenges of the post-war era, such as the pressing issues of nuclear disarmament and the emerging need for comprehensive global governance frameworks to manage the exploration and utilization of outer space. Marko Filijović, PhD in Security Studies, is a specialist in Outer Space security, geopolitics and resources, and a Research Fellow at the Center for UN Constitutional Research (CUNCR) in Brussels. Marko also serves on the editorial boards of the International Law Research journal in Toronto, Canada, and the Journal of Political Science and International Relations, based in New York. ShahrYar Mahmoud Sharei, PhD in International Law, is a principal in the U.N. Charter and global governance. He is currently the Executive Director of the Center for UN Constitutional Research (CUNCR) in Brussels.
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