Here’s how the US can overturn international law

(ORDO NEWS) — NASA is offering partners a document on the Moon – the Artemis Agreement. At first glance, it simply regulates cooperation issues. But if you read more closely, it becomes clear that we are talking about the dominance of the United States and the introduction of changes in international law. Russia has already refused such cooperation.

NASA offers partners an inconspicuous document designed to regulate issues of cooperation on the moon. But the “Artemis Agreement” also contains passages printed in small print, which should be read with special attention.

At first glance, the text of the treaty seems completely harmless and unremarkable, and its provisions seem to be something taken for granted. So, it is assumed that the participants will support astronauts from other countries, if they suddenly find themselves in a dangerous situation in space. The parties also undertake to present to each other transparent plans for the exploration of outer space and share with each other the results of scientific research – for the benefit of humanity, of course.

The Artemis Agreement is a treaty presented by NASA in mid-October. It contains the rules that international partners must adhere to if they want to participate in the American program “Artemis” for the preparation of manned flights to the Moon, Mars, etc. The document has so far been signed by seven states, in particular Italy and Great Britain. Germany is not among them. Until.

Those who disagree with NASA’s proposals cannot participate in the program, although the signature on the agreement is in any case a mere formality. At least that’s what the head of the US space agency Jim Bridenstine (Jim Bridenstine) thinks. “Every responsible space power must be able to adhere to the principles of the agreement,” he said in mid-October at the International Astronautics Congress, the main international conference on space exploration.

A treaty to enslave everyone else?

However, if you read more closely into the Artemis Accords, the impression of it will change. In 13 paragraphs of the document, it is primarily said about the use of the moon, about the dominance of the United States and about amending international law.

“The Artemis Agreement is an attempt by the Americans to quietly legitimize their actions in violation of the Outer Space Treaty,” said Stephan Hobe, director of the Institute for Aerospace, Space and Cyber ​​Law at the University of Cologne.

Now the legal basis for actions in space exploration is precisely the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, ratified by 110 states of the world. It, in particular, provides that states should “without any discrimination” have “free access to all regions of celestial bodies.” In addition, the Moon, according to the document, “is not subject to national appropriation through the declaration of sovereignty.”

The “Artemis Agreement” says something different, and not at the beginning of the document, but only in the 11th paragraph – by the way, the longest of all. And it seems that all the other paragraphs – about transparency, science, rescuing astronauts – are drawn up just for a diversion. Under the inconspicuous title “Conflict Resolution in the Process of Space Activities” is the following: the states parties to the Treaty intend to create security zones, for example, around the lunar base or places where mining will be carried out. This ensures that no conflicts arise between states.

“Companies and countries must be able to reap the benefits of their work, they must use and benefit from space resources,” Bridenstine said at the International Astronautics Congress. But this is where the problems begin. “The security zones will be completely defined areas, and the assignment of such areas is prohibited by the Outer Space Treaty,” said Stefan Hobe. Space law expert Frans von der Dunk of the American University of Nebraska also said at the International Astronautics Congress: “States have the right to plant their flags on the moon, but they have no right to annex areas or reserve them for future settlements.”

Legal custom bypassing current law

So what happens – can we talk about a violation of international law? Optional: “The purpose of this agreement is to create a shared vision through the formulation of principles, laws and practices,” reads the Artemis Agreement. Thus, there is no need to talk about an attempt to create a new law. Strictly speaking, this agreement cannot contradict international law.

“We have international law, and there are also several states that do not like the interpretation of this law. So they propose to adopt some legal norms and hope that sooner or later a legal custom will arise that will be able to bypass the current space law, – explained Hobe. “This is a very tricky move.”

Frans von der Dunk also sees the Artemis Accord as a political rather than a legal problem, as he wrote in an analytical article for the University of Auckland. According to him, the signing of the Artemis Agreement by as many states as possible wishing to take part in the program should show that the American interpretation of the Outer Space Treaty in relation to mining on the Moon is still correct.

Hoba also does not like the very procedure for preparing the agreement: it was not agreed upon by some international body during an extensive discussion, but is being imposed by the Americans on all other countries. “Americans always want to establish the rules of the game, and only then should as many other countries as possible get involved in the work,” explains the legal expert. “And it is also important for them to confront others as soon as possible with fait accompli.”

This is an old game: the more countries sign this or that agreement, the more difficult it will then be to stop the launched mechanism. “It is all the more important for Germany to raise this issue and declare: we cannot vote for such things and we believe that everyone who participates in this is engaged in the emasculation of space law,” Hobe stressed.

However, it is unlikely that Germany will do just that. So far, representatives of the German Center for Aviation and Space (DLR), as well as the Federal Ministry of Economics, in response to our question, refused to formulate a position on the “Artemis Agreement”. The ministry’s written response only says: “In principle, the federal government is interested in expanding the current legal framework at the multilateral level.” A very careful wording.

Criticism from Russia and China

Russia expressed itself much more clearly. As the head of Roscosmos Dmitry Rogozin said at the International Astronautics Congress, the Artemis program is focused on the interests of the United States, and therefore his country will not participate in the implementation of American plans for the exploration of the Moon. Back in July, Rogozin, known for his penchant for harsh statements, criticized Artemis in an interview with the Russian tabloid newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda: “It only talks about America, and everyone else has to help and pay. To be honest, we are not interested in participating in such a project. ” However, a Twitter post in which he compared the “Artemis Pact” to an invasion was later deleted by Rogozin.

Now Russia wants to go to the moon not with the Americans, but on its own ship, as announced at the International Astronautical Congress. She intends to build her own scientific base – in conjunction with the Chinese, who are also skeptical of Artemis. Recently, a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry said that the rules of conduct in space should be determined by UN bodies, and not by one single country. However, the Celestial Empire in any case would not be able to participate in the American project: the US Congress banned any cooperation with China in the space field.

For about ten years they have been talking about the creation of a space station in lunar orbit. It could even be part of the long-standing Global Exploration Roadmap from 2013. However, then many space engineers and researchers considered it premature to seriously talk about the lunar station. According to experts, the ISS should simply be moved to lunar orbit, but then people could only work there for a few weeks a year, because supplies from Earth would be extremely expensive. Flights to the Moon are still extremely expensive. And this is despite the fact that only on one surface of the Moon significant scientific discoveries are possible – for example, in the field of lunar geology, the construction of planetary settlements or biological experiments under conditions of reduced gravity.

Europe, on the other hand, is America’s coveted partner in Moon exploration plans. The European Space Agency (ESA) has confirmed its plans to build two modules for the future Lunar Gateway orbital station. It will have to be the successor to the ISS, but this is likely to happen only in the late 2020s – much later than the Trump administration’s planned moon landing in 2024.

As for the “Artemis Agreement”, which is indirectly related to the station “Lunar Orbital Platform”, at the moment only three European countries participate in it. This is Luxembourg, which has long been promoting the extraction of resources in space and even issues appropriate licenses – in violation of international law, as Stefan Hobe notes. Italy, which, outside of its ESA membership, regularly entered into agreements with NASA for Italian astronaut flights. And Great Britain, which is pursuing a zigzag course in manned space exploration. In 2012, the British saved Europe’s participation in the ISS with exceptional financial support. As a reward, British astronaut Tim Peak was able to travel to the ISS after a while.

But since then, Peak has stepped aside. Will the Artemis Pact be a second chance? This is where practical problems begin that go far beyond international law and the Outer Space Treaty. What exactly do the American words mean that only those who signed the agreement can participate in the Artemis program? Is it about mining resources, building lunar bases, or flying astronauts too? “An interesting question, but we haven’t gotten this far in our conversations with NASA,” says ESA chief Johann-Dietrich Wörner.

In this regard, Germany points out that it already participates in the Artemis project – at least indirectly. The rocket engine of the Orion lunar spacecraft is a European service module, which is mainly manufactured in Germany. But the problem is comparable to the situation around an engine manufacturer for Formula 1: the engine, although it is incredibly important, but the team and the pilots bring glory.

Alexander Gerst and the promise of Peter Altmeier

In addition, the manufacturer in extremely rare cases makes a decision about who will sit in the car. But this is exactly what Economy Minister Peter Altmaier promised astronaut Alexander Gerst in 2019: “If we can somehow cope with this, then we will send you to the moon,” Altmaier said to Gerst.

Matthias Maurer, another German astronaut, also has high hopes for going to the moon. What if Germany does not sign the Artemis Agreement? We are in favor of “the specific participation of astronauts in the Artemis program,” we briefly responded to a request from the Ministry of Economy, It is important that a common European position be agreed upon first.

Judging by the initiatives of Italy, Luxembourg and Great Britain, it is not. And you shouldn’t expect much help from ESA. “This is a matter for governments,” says ESA CEO Johann-Dietrich Wörner. “Only countries can sign the Artemis Agreement, and ESA is not a country.”

For a German whose contract as ESA chief expires next year, current plans to explore the Moon may still belatedly bring satisfaction. For five years, Werner has championed the Moon Village project, a base on the moon to which every space nation must contribute. At the same time, as the ESA director regularly emphasizes, there should not be a mayor in this “village”.

Now the situation with respect to the “lunar village” looks favorable. But what if the sheriff appears in it instead of the mayor and begins to regulate the issues of claims and keep order? Wörner replies diplomatically: “The Artemis Pact only says that certain boundaries must be respected – boundaries that I had to accept.” It is important that the moon does not belong only to the Americans. But NASA is very smart, bringing in several partners and hoping that others will join later.

Woerner’s colleague Jim Bridenstine has a similar opinion, but is more restrained in formulating it. “Even if a number of countries have signed the agreement today, there is still a lot of space for other partners,” said the head of NASA. It sounded somewhat like a threat, even if it wasn’t intended to be.

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