As I hinted in yesterday's blog about the US Navy's experiments in space-time modification, this week's email inbox of articles contained all sorts of articles about science and technology, and this is another story that fits into that category that arrived in my box on Monday. It was shared by T.L. and W.G. (Thank you!) This particular story caused me to remove the original blog story I had composed for today to this week's "honorable mentions" and to talk about his one instead. The article is all about the United Arab Emirates's new "space court," but there's a very interesting and highly suggestive bit of information about that court in the second article that will have huge implications for future space law. Here's the story:
The United Arab Emirates, Dubai, as the story relates, is one of the smaller nations getting involved in the race to commercialize space. As such, it has established a space court to arbitrate disputes between space companies in Dubai.
But there's a catch in the article, and it highlights a looming problem; from the second article:
Dubai announced Monday the creation of a "space court" to settle commercial disputes, as the UAE—which is also sending a probe to Mars—builds its presence in the space sector.advertisement
The tribunal will be based at the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) Courts, an independent British-inspired arbitration centre based on common law.
Space law is governed by international conventions and resolutions, including the UN Outer Space Treaty which entered into force in 1967. Several states have also signed bilateral or multilateral agreements to regulate their space activities. (Boldface emphasis added
It's that reference to common law that intrigues here. There are of course many legal systems at use in the world, each with their underlying philosophies, common law being but one of them; Europe itself, with the exception of Great Britain and Ireland, has a system more influenced by Roman, and even more so, by Napoleonic law. The problem thus far in space law is deciding what sort of system will be involved? As humans eventually push into space and perhaps construct permanent colonies there, will criminal cases, for example, be settled in courts of common law? Or in a more "Napoleonic" system? Or some other system? So far, these types of questions have not emerged and most space law as the articles point out are governed by international treaty.
The creation by the United Arab Emirates of an arbitration court based on common law, however, suggests that the idea of space as a "commons" is already quite widespread, since it it a concept already present in varying degrees in several space treaties, designating celestial bodies as being a "commons", i.e., not territory of any sovereign state, but allowing private corporations to mine and own whatever they may recover from a celestial body. The trend seems to suggest that space will be the province of private jurisdictions, a kind of space version of the French, British, and Dutch East India companies, corporations with immense financial power, private militaries and jurisdictions, that were nonetheless the corporate expression of the imperial ambitions of the countries they represented. The extension of this trend would also seem to imply the extension of salvage law of the high seas to space itself: whoever comes across abandoned ships on the high seas can claim them and their cargoes for salvage.
All this brings me to a high octane speculation and prediction: as nations might increasingly bog down in negotiations of space law, corporations will in fact be driving the process at much faster pace than the nations themselves in which they are incorporated. As they stake out claims, and negotiate contracts for collaborative efforts, it will be inevitable that in any such contractual arrangements that those corporations may conclude, there will be include arbitration provisions to resolve disputes in such-and-such a jurisdiction and under that jurisdiction's laws. Nations as a result will attempt to tailor their space laws to the benefit of certain types of space corporation or activity.
This "East India Company Model of Space Commercialization" also implies something else, something very important and to bear in mind as rich nations like the UAE (or Luxembourg!) get into the space race: nations may negotiate and try to limit the proliferation of weapons in space. But corporations, mining operations, and salvage operations, and so on, will want to protect their very expensive investments, treaties or no treaties.
And as for the eventual criminal case in space, expect the emergence of "corporate courts"...
See you on the flip side....