UNCLOS regime sets a good precedent for governance of outer space
The solutions the international community worked out to resolve some of the most contentious issues over ocean governance -- specifically, how to equitably divide up a common shared resource, how to sustainably manage the global commons for the benefit of all, and how to ensure all states have the freedom to navigate a global common -- have potential to serve as the basis for a similar agreement for outer space.
[ Page 584 ]
In addressing the philosophical foundations for the medium of space, Hugo Grotius argued that the philosophical foundation of res communis should be applied to the seas. Grotius' ideas are equally persuasive as applied to the vacuums of outer space. Of the three major property endowment theories, res nullius, res publica and res communis, res communis will most effectively encourage outer space travel because the vacuums of outer space will not be subject to control, but will allow for the free passage of all people. In proposing a comprehensive law system for the corpusjuris spatialis for the medium of outer space, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (hereinafter "Law of the Sea Convention")35 offers the most practicable law system for outer space exploration. Specifically, the Law of the Sea Convention's provisions regarding territorial zones of seas, military use, environmental use, jurisdictional issues, and the general treatment of vessels and their inhabitants, should be incorporated into the corpus juris spatialis with ameliorated changes.
[ Page 603-604 ]
The Law of the Sea Convention offers novel solutions to arising issues concerning outer space exploration. Due to its well-thought out provisions, the Law of the Sea Convention has widely been acceptedand is considered international law.147 The Law of the Sea Convention should be adapted to govern the vacuum of outer space. The Law of the Sea Convention separates different territories of the seas in relation to states' baselines.148 States may exercise certain rights within each territory, allowing increased action in proximity to the state, and decreased action with greater distance from the state. This allows states to exercise their police powers, but encourages freedom of transit on the seas. This system should be applied to outer space because it would recognize sovereign claims and rights, yet encourage outer space activities. The Law of the Sea Convention offers practicable solutions in other highly debatable subjects pertaining to outer space exploration, such as military uses of outer space, environmental uses of outer space, jurisdictional issues, and the treatment of vessels and their inhabits. These issues will be discussed in the proceeding sections.
[ Page 622 ]
The militarization of outer space should depend on the categorical regions of space. In territorial space, states should be allowed to use whatever force is reasonably necessary to ensure their interests. Much like the Coast Guard in the United States, armed patrol vessels may be necessary to protect the state from threats of harm ranging from customs violations to people smuggling. However, presence in territorial waters should not be sufficient to detain those engaged in innocent passage to a space port in orbit or on the celestial body. Vessels will require supplies, repairs, food, fuel and other materials for voyages, necessities which should not be restricted. By allowing open uses of territorial space for innocent passage, vessels will be able to effectively obtain supplies and make repairs. This freedom will also provide pecuniary compensation to those states. In transitory space, vessels should not face constant intrusions of being boarded and searched. Like the high seas, transitory space should allow for the quickest passage of vessels and the most freedoms. By disallowing unprovoked arrests of vessels, more powerful states will not be allowed a virtual monopoly based on their military forces. Likewise, military and government vessels are prohibited from being arrested. These restrictions support the sovereignty of each state over its persons.
[ Page 624-625 ]
The Law of the Sea Convention offers some interesting solutions to these problems. First, it should be noted that the Law of the Sea Convention applies to "living resources" and the environment in which those resources live.240 Many commentators express token tribute, due to the heightened awareness of environmental damage, to environmental standards for space travel and extraterrestrial appropriation.241 This heightened awareness is ill-placed in most of outer space. The problem with assuming that all of outer space should be protected is that there is a lot of inanimate material in outer space. Even more importantly is that inanimate materials may provide solutions to increased populations by supporting the living population. On Earth, environmental protections are necessary to safeguard the long term habitability of this living planet and do as little harm as necessary to other living resources. On celestial bodies that have no life, not even microbial, there are no such incentives for environmental protections because there is nothing to protect. Of course, premature annihilation would defeat the ability to harvest those resources. The Law of Sea Convention attempts to place restrictions on fishery, which allow the maximization of resources over time.242 For example, over-fishing may lead to a short term increase in food production and profit, but substantial depletions will affect the ability of fish to reproduce, thereby causing shortages in the years to come. This method allows for the maximization of resources without affecting the rights of appropriators. This is a better method for the conservation of outer space. Extraterrestrial appropriation, therefore, may occur, but in a way to maximize those resources by not prematurely destroying a nonliving resource. Likewise, in outer space exploration, waste may not poise the same kind of threats as here on Earth.243 Outer space is a vacuum of matter. There are no living organisms in the "ethers" of space. Although there are possibilities thwastes may contaminate future explorers or haphazardly damage other systems of future generations, these concerns must be addressed in the context of outer space's huge amount of space. Under risk assessment analysis, these risks may be so insignificant that wide scale or even significant environmental protections would be unnecessary.
[ Page 628-629 ]
In order to take a small step for man, the corpus juris spatialis must accommodate rapid privatization of outer space exploration. The Outer Space Treaty fails to accommodate privatization in the postmodern world because it was the product of the Cold War era. It relies on the assumption that outer space activities will be carried on by states; however, multinational corporations are dominating the outer space industry while government presence is diminishing. In order to facilitate this rapid private growth, the vacuums of outer space should be declared as res communis. This will prohibit domination by a super power and increase world participation in outer space travel and exploration. The Law of the Sea Convention offers some practical solutions to outer space exploration. For example, the Law of the Sea Convention creates different categories of the seas and defines the states' rights in each category. Likewise, the corpus juris spatialis should be divided into territorial space, contiguous space, and transitory space. By making these divisions, states would be adequately protected against rogue space vessels, and space travelers would be encouraged to perform appropriation activities and travel in the great expanse. Accordingly, states would be allowed to exercise necessary military force in outer space. The Law of the Sea Convention offers solutions to other issues presenting the corpusjuris spatialis,such as environmental law, jurisdiction, and the treatment of space travelers. These proposals borrowed from the Law of the Sea Convention will be successful in facilitating the rapid growth of the outer space market, while ensuring state interests.
[ Page 625-626 ]
The Law of the Sea Convention is a good model for jurisdictional issues pertaining to outer space travel and exploration. Even in territorial waters, states are precluded from exercising civil jurisdiction on foreign vessels. This assures and encourages transitory passage and freedom on the seas. However, states may exercise criminal jurisdiction for ships not engaged in innocent passage.245 Each vessel is required to sail under the flag of its nationality.246 Jurisdiction of the vessel is determined by the flag of the state.247 Vessels are prohibited from flying more than one flag.248 In cases where there is an incident on a vessel, penal and disciplinary action may only be taken by the flag state.249 These strict standards for jurisdiction encourage the non-interference with vessels. In many ways, vessels are treated as islands unto themselves within the territory of the flag state. Its persons cannot be disturbed, boarded, or arrested in international waters except under very limited circumstances, such as piracy.250 Even in territorial waters, coastal states may only assert jurisdictional authority where harm has incurred.251
These provisions in the Law of the Sea Convention would solve many problems which might arise from outer space exploration. Outer space vessels will require crews who have varying expertise and are from various states. By only allowing one state to be sovereign over that vessel, it avoids the problems associated with anarchy or, in the alternative, judging persons by the laws of their nationality. Additionally, no state can enforce its own laws on foreign vessels in any territory in outer space. This policy ensures that states will not abuse laws in order to bar passage to foreign space vessels or to confiscate their cargos. The Law of the Sea Conventions' requirement that "ships shall sail under the flag . . . "252 would be problematic in outer space for obvious reasons. Flags put other ships on notice of their nationality. This would be important for outer space in cases of malfeasance, wrong doing, negligence, rescue, organization, recognition of pirates, etc. Therefore, states should be required to emit a beacon which announces the sovereignty of the vessel.253
[ Page 49 ]
The good news is we need not start from scratch. There already exists a body of law that can be adapted, perhaps easily, to the needs of outer space. The U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) has provisions for managing the traffic on the surface and the resources on the deep seabed.85 Space, like the sea, has vast amounts of area that is impractical for any one nation to claim.
Hugo Grotius, a pioneer of international law, preferred the term res extra commercium in referring to the open ocean. He proposed the “freedom of the seas” doctrine, whereby the ocean is insusceptible of ownership as it cannot be occupied, and no one has the “right to appropriate things which by nature may be used by everybody and are inexhaustible.”86
Being incapable of ownership and available for everyone’s use are the very same concepts expressed in Article I of the Outer Space Treaty that allow freedom of access and exploration and grant freedom of movement throughout. The Law of the Sea Treaty contains the very same concepts and almost the very same words to describe the territories of the deep seabed as are used in the Preamble and Article I of the Outer Space Treaty to describe space. UNCLOS also speaks to the resources of the sea being the common heritage of mankind, requiring “the equitable and efficient utilization of their resources.”87
[T]he area of the seabed and ocean floor and the subsoil thereof, beyond the limits of national jurisdiction, as well as its resources, are the common heritage of mankind, the exploration and exploitation of which shall be carried out for the benefit of mankind as a whole, irrespective of the geographical location of States.88
[ Page 54 ]
UNCLOS, especially after its realpolitik redrafting, gives us an effective framework towards drafting a new Outer Space Treaty. Both treaties contain the concept of a lack of sovereignty and that resources of the deep sea and outer space are considered to be the common heritage of mankind. UNCLOS contains a detailed process by which a State or entity is granted limited access to hard-to-reach resources that can easily be adapted to the needs of outer space. The process that the drafters of UNCLOS underwent to gain global acceptance of the Convention shows us a way towards forming an internationally directed group, such as the ISA, to manage those resources that is perhaps less than entirely idealistic, but can gain the support of most, if not all, of the world’s nations.
When all is said and done, one can hardly consider an agreement that does not acknowledge the contributions of those nations at the forefront of space exploration and give them, or their corresponding corporations, every reassurance that resources garnered from space and returned to Earth can be traded freely in the world market for the benefit of all the nations of the world.
[ Page 137-138 ]
Both China and the United States agree that the EP-3E aircraft and the Impeccable were operating outside China's territorial sea but within China's EEZ.184 Despite the unambiguous language of the UNCLOS treaty, China continues to pursue a strategy of gradually extending its strategic depth or sovereignty in order to support offshore defensive operations.185 China's adherence to this flawed legal interpretation, reinforced by aggressive military action, demonstrates that "through an orchestrated program of scholarly articles and symposia, China is working to shape international opinion in favor of [its preferred] interpretation of the Law of the Sea by shifting scholarly views and national perspectives away from long-accepted norms of freedom of navigation and toward interpretations of increased coastal state sovereign authority."186 By doing so, China is not only distorting the settled law of the sea, but perhaps also preparing to deploy a similar strategy in the space domain.
[ Page 141-142 ]
Reliance on the absence of an explicit airspace-space demarcation ignores historical context by attempting to identify a minimum altitude at which space begins. In fact, there is no controversy that all current satellite orbits transit within the space domain.211 Irrespective of the demarcation argument, Articles I and II of the Outer Space Treaty (OST) expressly refute any conception of vertical sovereignty.212 Article I designates outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, as "the province of all mankind." This language has been universally understood to mean that "all nations have a nonexclusive right to use and explore space.213 Article II further prohibits in space any "national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means." Thus, the OST clearly permits all uses of the space domain short of an appropriation by claim of sovereignty or the like.214
It therefore seems clear that the plain language of the OST prohibits any claim of vertical sovereignty in space. Sovereignty denotes supreme authority within a territory,2l5 "the right to command and correlatively the right to be obeyed," with the term "right" connoting legitimacy.216 Thus, a claim of sovereignty over space, or any portion thereof, seeks, in some measure, to extend a state's territorial sovereignty into the space domain.217 The holder of sovereignty derives its authority for sovereignty from some mutually acknowledged source of legitimacy.218 In space, the OST's explicit prohibition on appropriation removes the essential support for legitimate sovereignty.219
In this sense, the vertical sovereignty argument is akin to the 1976 Bogota Declaration that geostationary orbit was not part of outer space since its nature depends specifically on gravitational phenomena from earth.220 Thus, the Declaration further argued, those portions of geostationary orbit directly above equatorial states are sovereign territory of those states rather than part of outer space.221 The international community rejected this argument222 Likewise, it should reject the vertical sovereignty argument.