In December I shall be attending the British International Studies Association’s Astropolitics Workshop in Leicester as a PhD Researcher. My PhD research is focused on the evolution of Hybrid Warfare roughly from the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014 to the full scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022. As part of this I am going to focus on how it has progressed in three key areas; Energy Policy, A.I. and Space.
Energy Policy, A.I. and Space
I have chosen these three areas because I think that these are the policy areas that are going to become acutely important for nation states and empowered actors in the future. I hope that this Workshop will be an opportunity to interact and exchange ideas with experts in the field as well as perhaps open up new fields of research. Recently, I have been reading Tim Marshall’s book The Future of Geography: How Power and Politics in Space will Change Our World. My supervisor and myself noted how Astropolitics, previously something relegated to academia, was now becoming a mainstream interest, this she noted from spotting a copy of the book in a WHSmith in St Pancras Station.
One of the key points of interest that I have noted so far is how Marshall argues that existing global agreements on Space are massively out of date. For example The Moon Treaty, or ‘The Agreement Governing the Activities of States on the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies’ was signed in 1979 and takes no account of the role that private actors now play in space exploration or Astropolitics. The treaty covers countries and outlines a framework for international cooperation, specifically that exploration of the moon should be for the benefit of mankind and open to all states. However, for a start the three big hitters in space exploration are not signed up to this treaty i.e. the United States, Russia and China. Also, someone like Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos with SpaceX and Blue Origin respectively are private actors so presumably are not covered by the provisions of this treaty. Is it then conceivable that Musk could create his own personal fiefdom on the Moon (or Mars for that matter) in a similar way to King Leopold of Belgium did in the Congo, with all the terrible consequences that entailed? The argument is similar with the 1967 Outer Space Treaty or the ‘Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies’.
On first reading its goals seem lofty; a prohibition on nuclear weapons in space, limiting the use of the moon and other celestial bodies for peaceful purposes and that space should be free to explore for all nations and that no state can lay claim to any to any one part of space or celestial body. But again, the focus is on states and nations, not on individuals, and similar to the Antarctic Treaty it is unlikely to be enforced. In theory no state can lay claim to territory in Antarctica, or assert mineral rights, but yet there still exists British Antarctic Territory. But Marshall is being naive if he thinks that at the present time there is any capacity or enthusiasm for a new comprehensive space treaty given that key stakeholders like the United States and China have higher priorities what with the war in Ukraine and now the conflict in Israel/Palestine, not to mention domestic tensions and priorities.
Does then leave Musk and Bezos to act as the potential warlords of Space, or to play God? Starlink, another Musk project, asserts in its user agreement that Mars, for example, is a so called ‘free planet’ and ‘that no Earth-based government has authority or sovereignty over Martian activities’. The last thing that any government wants is a space themed Apocalypse Now/Heart of Darkness with Elon Musk playing the role of Marlon Brando/Walter E. Kurtz in a Martian jungle. And who would play the role of Martin Sheen/Benjamin Willard emerging from the rocky depths of Mars?