Why I’m Not Quaking In My Boots: Part II

I specifically mentioned in Part I of this post that I’d be discussing the illegitimate options (ie illegal options) that China could take if it wanted to “take over the moon” or at least prevent others from visiting there. The basic point I think you’ll quickly see is that none of these simplistic and ameteurish ideas are even remotely workable, realistic, or rational. In other words, I’m still not quaking in my boots.

UN Fig-Leaf Approach
After claiming that my previous post (which I already stated was only going to discuss above-board and legal ways that China could try to claim the Moon) shows that I’m ignorant about military tactics, Mark provides this rather bizarre little scenario:

Allow me to present a scenario. The United States follows the suggestions of Jon, Rand, and others and stops the NASA return to the Moon. About 2020 the Chinese land a manned expedition and declares that they will now, under the authority of the UN, serve as stewards of the moon and its resources to make certain that certain entities do not “exploit them” and deny them to the peoples of the world, the common heritage of whom they are.

The Chinese build up a small base at the lunar south pole. However, let us say that a plucky alt.space firm decides to ignore the Chinese announcement and, having solved the problem of manned space flight to the Moon, lands a ship at the lunar north pole.

The Chinese tell the alt.spacers to get themselves away from the Moon as they have not filled out the proper paperwork (which is long, complicated, and impossible for anyone the Chinese do not want on the Moon to comply with.) Fail to leave and a ground to ground missile will take your space vehicle out. Then you will die.

Sensation on Earth. A protest is filed at the UN. China, Russia, and France veto the protest in the Security Council.

The plucky alt.spacers have to pack up and leave. China owns the Moon defacto, though not dejure.

The problem Mark is overlooking is that there’s no legitimate way China can do this without violating the very treaty that he claims they would be upholding.

Now that I’ve actually read a bit of the OST (test available here), I think my case is even firmer that such a move by China would be blatantly illegal under the OST. Here are a few relevant quotes from the treaty (which China has ratified):

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.

This means that any nation trying to restrict the access of any other nation to outer space or celestial bodies such as the Moon would be in blatant violation of this treaty.

Outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means.

A Chinese-only military base on the Moon used to prevent other nations from being able to freely use and explore the Moon would be illegal under this treaty. Now, if they allowed the US, Europe, and other UN peacekeeper nations to also use that base, they might be able to get away with having it there, but do you really think that a base that has US, Canadian, British, and other western peacekeepers there is really going to allow them to use aggressive military force against unarmed civilians?

The Moon and other celestial bodies shall be used by all States Parties to the Treaty exclusively for peaceful purposes. The establishment of military bases, installations and fortifications, the testing of any type of weapons and the conduct of military maneuvers on celestial bodies shall be forbidden.


Anyhow, it’s quite obvious that Mark’s scenario would be blatantly illegal under the very treaty it is trying to protect.

“But so what?” Mark will probably say. “Isn’t China an “Evil Communist Dictatorship” (TM)? “Are you really naive enough to trust a dictator”? “Haven’t you learned anything from [insert favorite false-historical-analogy here]?!?”

Blatantly Illegal Force
So, realizing that there is no legitimate and legal way China can block others from using the Moon, let’s talk about if they try to do so by main force. So, somehow China manages to miraculously create a huge base on the Lunar South Pole with a bunch of missles, both ground-to-ground and anti-spacecraft, before NASA or any private entity can get there (cause those Evil Com-yoo-nists are so much smarter, competent, and wise than us poor helpless Capitalists, dontyaknow). Plucky alt.spacer company Harriman Industries with it’s reusable translunar tugs and landers shows up in orbit around the Moon. Chinese officer contacts them and gives some BS about how China is enforcing the OST to prevent any Evil Capitalist Running-Dogs from exploiting and raping our Precious Bodily Fl….erm….Nearest Celestial Neighbor.

What is the poor alt.spacer to do? Doesn’t China hold all the cards on the Moon?

No. Not by a long shot.

In such a situation, I imagine that Harriman Industries would contact the Chinese government, with something along the following lines:

From: Harriman Industries, Inc.
To: Chinese Embassy

To whom it may concern,
We are delighted to hear that you have taken on such an honorable and noble task as enforcing Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, Including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies. What a noble document indeed! We at Harriman Industries understand the importance of guaranteeing space to the free use of all nations, and the importance of non-interference with the property of other nations. In recent years nations such as your own, that of the United States, and others have put literally billions of dollars into satellites and other economically valuable entities in space. Without the concept of non-interference, what would the world be like?

You have such lovely satellites, it sure would be tragic if something were to happen to them…

Anyhow, we will be landing at the coordinates given to the UN under auspices of the treaty, and will be setting up a base to aid in the exploration and utilization of local resources. We look forward to peaceful cooperation in the future with you and your nation.

Sincerely, your friends in the peaceful development of space,

D. Harriman

What Mark completely overlooked in his shallowly-reasoned scenario is that even if China has a toehold on the Moon, it still has most of its valuable economic assets either in orbit around the Earth, or on Earth itself. The very laws that China would have to break in order to use force to prevent others from accessing the Moon are the very laws that China relies on to protect its economic assets in space. Is it really dumb enough to try setting a precidence that allows other nations to interfere with its property at will? At that point, they have to start asking themselves. Is preventing others from accessing the moon really worth losing all of my Earth orbital assets?

Speaking of military tactics and strategy, I wonder if Mark has ever read Sun Tzu:

The highest realization of warfare is to attack the enemy’s plans; next is to attack their alliances; next to attack their army; and the lowest to attack their fortified cities.

For this reason attaining one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the pinnacle of excellence. [Defeating] the enemy’s army without fighting is the true pinnacle of excellence.

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Jonathan Goff

Jonathan Goff

President/CEO at Altius Space Machines
Jonathan Goff is a space technologist, inventor, and serial space entrepreneur who created the Selenian Boondocks blog. Jon was a co-founder of Masten Space Systems, and is the founder and CEO of Altius Space Machines, a space robotics startup in Broomfield, CO. His family includes his wife, Tiffany, and five boys: Jarom (deceased), Jonathan, James, Peter, and Andrew. Jon has a BS in Manufacturing Engineering (1999) and an MS in Mechanical Engineering (2007) from Brigham Young University, and served an LDS proselytizing mission in Olongapo, Philippines from 2000-2002.
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8 Responses to Why I’m Not Quaking In My Boots: Part II

  1. Mark says:

    Jon, nice try, but I think I’ve pretty much nuked this one over on my own blog.

    There is a better solution to the problem. Think about it for a while and if you can’t come up with it, I’ll post it.

  2. Mike Puckett says:

    And as I said in my post earlier on Transterrestrial, it would also be a crying shame if a small Apollo asteroid were to have its course ‘accidently’ altered during mining operations and strike the Chinese mainland as an ‘unintended’ consequence.

    For some reason, I am reminded of the Monty Python sketch where the mob threatens the CO on a local Army base.

  3. Mark says:

    Mike, actually I would be tempted to drop the rock off the coast. A Tsunammi would cause a lot more damage.

    Of course, that would likely be viewed as terrorism on a massive scale and would be responded too accordingly.

  4. Mike Puckett says:

    Mark, you would have to basically break up a big rock and distribute the smaller fragments over the entire county at the same time. Think of pre-notching it thru mining, seperating it as it nears Earth like a stony MIRV and putting a propulsion element on all chunks for maneuverability.

    I would also coat everything with carbon black so it would be optically invisible. Hopefully, it would move so fast and be small enough that by the time is was detected by infrared and radar, it would be near zero hour and too late

    The end result basically equal to a massive nuclear first strike without the nasty fallout issues.

    The Tsunami problem is Tiawan and Japan might not like the colleteral effects too much.

    My idea is basically a single, nation destroying attact with limited coletteral damage to neighboring interests. It would have to be planned and executed in complete secrecy and the executing party would have to be totally independant of any Terran interests which could be targeted for retaliation.

  5. Sigivald says:

    More relevantly, why not just drop the big rock on the Red Menace’s lunar base, instead?

  6. Mike Puckett says:

    Once you eliminate them as a Terrestrial Power, you could take the Lunar Base at leisure. Perhaps taking it intact.

    The important thing would be to smash them so decisively, they would have no retalitory ability of significance remaining. It would have to be a savage, overwhelming set of blows and it would have to have been the result of serious crimes on their part to justify an attack that would basically kill arount 600-900 million people.

  7. Kelly Starks says:

    On a serious note.
    The thread in all of these is that China wouldn’t dare due to the danger of internation backlash. But they routinely do far worse, adn they have never had any serious problem with back lash. Not when they murdered their people, councured and murdered other countrys, not when they refused to stop undervaluing their currency, not when they stole US H-bomb plans, etc.

    It never happens. Instead everyone is tripping overthemselves yo open up more trade with them. Walmart practicle has a China only policy with their supliers!

    So what real would they beleave they need fear if they really wanted to go ahead with it?

    Do you realy think they’ld let D. H. to stand in there way?

  8. Anonymous says:

    Ahem the real fact of the matter is this theory is irrelivent and is pathetic in all circumstances. This is due to the fact of the exploitation of hatred aganist China for this racist response to China’s people. What you say that the chinese will be tempted to do these accusations. And you call yourself an American by distrusting a country that is just growing up from the ashes of japanese warfare in which China is only trying to ressurect from it’s fall. And now what you say you want to crash them while there still rising because that is not the American way. America is a melting pot and it shall rise with the individuals, the reality of different cultures on her land or fall with the revenge and hatred that runs blood thick and blood deep

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