Thursday, August 16, 2012

Outer Space, International Internet Regulations, and Invading North Koreans

Since I may never get around to writing the full commentary several pieces I recently read deserve, I want to at least make sure I share some of them here before they gather too much dust:

1. There have been a steady stream of stories about China's various disputed claims to islands near or not so near its undisputed borders. This combined with America's recent success of landing a large rover on Mars had me pondering a related question: Does China have plans to make any territorial claims if it places people or a piece of equipment on the Moon or Mars even though no other countries have made any such claims (at least not yet)?

I am happy to see that someone has given this question deeper analysis. Based on what he wrote in Foreign Policy, it appears that John Hickman woud agree that I am not crazy for pondering such an issue:
You might be asking: Why on God's green Earth would Beijing want to colonize the moon? The crazy thing is that, if one analyzes China's interests and the relevant international law, the Chinese moon scenario seems not only plausible but smart.
And even though there is an international treaty protecting objects such as the Moon and Mars from territorial claims, it has a rather large loophole:
Would a Chinese moon claim even be legal? At the moment, no, but international law would provide only the flimsiest of barriers. Although the 1967 space treaty asserts common ownership of the entire universe beyond Earth's atmosphere, it also permits signatory states to withdraw from its terms with only a year's notice. And there's no law governing whether you can fly a rocket to the moon and land a ship there.
Read the article for more about why China may have some hopes for expansion much farther away than any currently disputed islands.

2. Outer space is not the only place where there may be changes in international agreements. The same holds true for the Internet. Rebecca MacKinnon in Foreign Policy points out that a variety of interests are at stake in making changes to the institutions which play important international roles in regulating the Internet:
China, Russia, and many developing countries have complained for nearly two decades that the new, nongovernmental multistakeholder institutions are dominated by Americans and Western Europeans who manipulate outcomes to serve their own commercial and geopolitical advantage. These critiques converge with the interests of former and current state-owned phone companies wanting to restore revenues of yore before email and Skype wiped out the need for most international phone calls.
Read MacKinnon's article for an overview of how some countries may have reasonable gripes and how nothing less than the Internet's current openness is at stake.

3. A soon-to-be-released remake of the movie Red Dawn will include a major plot change -- North Korea, not Russia, will be invading the U.S. Max Fisher in The Atlantic details several factual mistakes in the movie. Needless to say (I hope), the idea of North Korea invading the U.S. requires a great deal of imagination. In fact, so much is required that Fisher suspects some viewers will replace North Korea with China in their minds. But even though China is far more powerful than North Korea, Fisher explains why the U.S. still has little to fear:
China has no incentive to attack America, its most important trade partner and thus the central pillar in the economic growth strategy around which its entire polity is organized, and every incentive not to. Even if China did want to attack, its military isn't nearly strong enough. And even if it were strong enough, some analysts say it is too riddled with internal problems.
Read Fisher's article in full for more details about why the U.S. is unlikely to be seeing thousands of red parachutes any time soon -- whether they may be made in mainland China or on Mars.


  1. Isn't the idea that the Earth collectively owns the entire universe a bit aggressive? I wonder how The Greys feel about this.

    I'm looking forward to Max Fisher's dissection of the "Total Recall" remake: Earth is unlikely to have the wherewithal to set up an extensive Mars colony by 2084. The corruption in the governance of the Mars colony is vastly overstated. And three-breasted women don't exist. (Believe me, I've looked.)

    1. Well, the treaty only apply to those who signed it, and I don't think it claims that the Earth collectively "owns" the universe. But I could imagine this might ruffle any feathers aliens may have: "Outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, shall be free for exploration and use by all States without discrimination of any kind, on a basis of equality and in accordance with international law, and there shall be free access to all areas of celestial bodies."

      2084... Maybe they will decide Titan is a better place for a colony. After all, you could take a swim there.

  2. I don't know about Titan, but I do know that Mars ain't the kind of place to raise your kids. And there's no one there to raise them, if you did.