L5 News: AAS Against Lunar Agreement

by Charles Sheffield, President, American Astronautical Society

From L5 News, January 1980

Anyone who believes that private enterprise should play a part in the development of space will be alarmed by the proposed international Agreement now being considered in the United Nations. This Agreement applies to the development of the Moon and all other celestial bodies, including the asteroids.

In effect, the Agreement will limit all off-Earth development to national governments and international organizations. Any resources discovered will be the common property of all nations, and no nation will be able to develop an area of the Moon or other body without giving free access to all other parties to the Agreement.

For countries in which there is no private enterprise, the Agreement will have little impact on their possible methods of off-Earth development. In Russia or China, the space program is by definition a government program. In Japan, the relationship between government and industry is much closer than it is here or in Western Europe. It seems that the big loser from the proposed Agreement will be industry in the United States and Western Europe.

Although the initial period of the Agreement would be ten years, there is little doubt that it would be extended well beyond that, probably for the next fifty to one hundred years. To me, that says that the idea of private industry taking a direct role in space development has been killed for the lifetime of anyone reading these words.

If you believe that private enterprise has a role to play in space development, I suggest that you study this proposed Agreement, and if your conclusion is the same as mine, do what you can to make sure US industry is properly represented when we go to the U N. If you need more information, write to the AAS and we will provide it to you. We will keep you informed through the Newsletter of the progress of the Agreement in the United Nations.

Post Script: I wrote the above AAS Newsletter editorial in mid-August, 1979. It is now the end of November, and I have had the opportunity to read a lot more about the proposed Lunar Agreement — testimony by Leigh Ratiner and by Neil Hosenball, legal analysis by Art Dula, articles both pro and con, and written responses to Congressional questions. I have also requested analysis and comment from the full Board of Directors of the AAS.

The review of the proposed treaty must go on; meanwhile, I have seen nothing to change the view that I expressed in August. The Lunar Agreement, as written, will discourage industry from involvement in space activities. It may be the single worst mistake in United States diplomatic history. Future generations may regard it as a hundred times as important as the Louisiana Purchase, or the acquisition of Alaska — and in this case the US will be the loser, not the gainer.

There has been talk of trade-offs in the United Nations, of benefits that this country will derive in other areas if we sign the Lunar Agreement. Until those vague benefits are spelled out, and weighed against the Treaty’s negative elements, I continue to oppose its signing and will state that opposition in any public forum.