Two articles this week on the need for international rules on managing Space caught my attention. Not strictly related to international economic law and policy, the need for multilateral rules on regulating activity in space seems a real challenge.
Activity in Space, whether for strategic, military or commercial purposes has increased manifold. More countries are participating in it including private actors. Though there are treaties that govern activity in outer space, they seem to be inadequate as well as limited in scope. Further, enforcement of rules and a lack of dispute settlement mechanisms are also a source of worry.
Syed Akbaruddin emphasizes on the enormous growth of the outer space industry and the need for a more concerted action on developing international rules. He calls for both domestic and international action.
The proposed involvement of private players and the creation of an autonomous body IN-SPACe (Indian National Space Promotion and Authorisation Centre) under the Department of Space for permitting and regulating activities of the private sector are welcome efforts. However, the space environment that India faces requires us to go beyond meeting technical milestones. We need a space legislation enabling coherence across technical, legal, commercial, diplomatic and defence goals. Our space vision also needs to address global governance, regulatory and arms control issues. As space opens up our space vision needs broadening too.
Molly Quell writes about the challenge of space debris and who has to bear the cost of this reality. She argues that the existing international legal landscape is not equipped to deal with the pressing issue of space debris and its consequences.
Most of what goes into space doesn’t come back. Nations aren’t required to remove their garbage from space and to do so voluntarily would cost a tremendous amount of money. So more than half of those 9,000 satellites remain, some as operational but more as decommissioned junk. As they crash into each other, they create more tiny bits of debris whizzing around the Earth.
The need for deliberating on an international legal framework is real. How will nations react to this need? How will they perceive their offensive and defensive interests? How will commercial players be involved? Will the large majority of economies be bystanders in rule setting? Should there be a binding dispute settlement mechanism like the WTO? As technology and developments in outer space gather steam at a quick pace will the legal landscape be able to cope?Will there be a difference in approach of the major players in what needs to be regulated at what cost? Will there be special and differential responsibility - since a few limited countries have been responsible for the debris?
Kiran Vazhapully has an elaborate discussion on lunar mining and international law in this post in Opinio Juris. He raises the issue of equity and the rights of all stakeholders. The principles apply to outerspace too. There are space-faring nations and there are others.
Now that the US has started proactively pursuing its agenda through Artemis Accords, the future meetings of UNCOPUOS will witness elaborate deliberations on this matter. While fully agreeing with the ‘adaptive governance’ strategy endorsed by the Hague Working Group to draw the details, the development of a broad multilateral framework with clearly formulated objectives is the need of the hour. Democratic discussions at the UN hopefully will prompt States like the US to reposition their ideology, rethink the fundamental premises of negotiation and in turn, realign strategy while deliberating on a legal framework. Above all, in-principle acceptance of an equitable framework as the basis of any multilateral discussion would go a long way in assuaging the concerns of developing nations and temper fears of neocolonialism in the final frontier.
Will outer space and the lunar/Mars environments be the next stage of international tension? Will it lead to a multilateral framework or a "coalition of the willing" approach to international norm setting? Whether it is the WTO or elsewhere, the tensions remain the same. the subject matter changes!