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space (spās) n. 1. space beyond the atmosphere of the earth.

prag·ma·tism (prgm-tzm) n. A way of approaching situations or solving problems that emphasizes practical applications and consequences.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Sovereignty Part 2

The last post on what sovereignty means to an extraterrestrial colony prompted some comments and some references to the history of sovereignty. If you are interested, check out a discussion on sovereignty.

As I have had more time to think on it, perhaps this is a more general question. Certainly it is possible for a lunar colony to remain an outpost of a company or government with temporary residents holding earth bound concerns. But is that practical on Mars? How about further out moons or asteroids? At some point the people of a colony will be so far out and intertwined with their environment that the connection with their Earthly concerns will loosen and break.

I would guess this is true of most colonists who move their lives to a new land. This is especially for the generations born in that new land. So I say that extraterrestrial sovereignty is a foregone conclusion, at least eventually.

“Wait,” you may say. “We have no such problem today. People live in different countries without ever giving up the ties to their homeland.” That is true. We also have one day travel to practically anywhere in the world, telephones, televisions, and the wonderful stream of electrons you are reading this entry called the internet. There is no where on Earth where you have to disconnect from your place of origin to stay alive and prosper.

The distances in space are difficult to imagine. Jupiter and its interesting moon Europa never come closer than 365,000,000 miles to the Earth. Flying in a race car at 200miles/hr would get you there in roughly 222 years. That is far. (note: this is simplified so I don’t have to deal with physics at night-djs) The last mission we sent to Jupiter took six years to get there.

Imagine living on a colony away from your home and it takes six years to get back. Would you go home for Christmas? Maybe not. Would you go home at all? I don’t know about you, but I get restless driving six hours to the beach. I don’t think I could take six years.

Now the visionaries among us will say, but what about Star Trek? With super-duper-warp-hyper-drive-ftl-fairy-dust engines these far out colonies will be a few moments away. Perhaps in eons to come, but initially we will crawl in our clunky and slow spaceships. The world was not settled after we invented airplanes. It was settled on foot and by boat. Even as late as 1492, when Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue, it took three months to cross the Atlantic. During the American Revolution, it still took the English eight weeks to cross the ocean (if the weather was good). That is how colonies have been settled throughout time and there is no reason to believe space will be any different.

So having established that far reaching colonies will be cut off from their place of origin, where are we on the question of sovereignty? From all the comments and historical research I have been given since my first foray into this topic, it seems to me sovereignty means this:

Other countries either believe in is in their best interest to leave you alone or don’t have the resources to do anything about it.

Let’s take the Unite States of America and France as examples. There are, perhaps, many countries who would love to destroy America’s sovereignty. They just don’t have the capability. On the other hand, the US could destroy France relatively easily, but then who would make the wine? (just kidding :)

So given a colony of humans living years away from Earth, whose children only know of Earth through night-time stories, what are the chances anyone on Earth is going to expend the resources to quash their little rebellion. And if they do, the colonists have years to prepare. Call me pessimistic, but it’s hard to keep a supply line 365 million miles long.

My purpose in thinking about this, as always, goes back to the Outer Space Treaty. If a colony declares its independence to the world, are they bound by that treaty? More importantly, can nations on Earth recognize their independence without violating that treaty? I am sure many countries and corporations with no presence on said colony would gladly support there separation. So is a declared sovereign nation, who has never signed the Outer Space Treaty, bound by it or do they have to win a battle with the world first?

So in conclusion, I think as we go further out into space, humans are going to have to deal with multi-world politics. Can we then discuss the solarization of humanity? I can see the bumper stickers now:
Think Solarly, Act Locally


Brian Dunbar said...

Good follow-up.

So given a colony of humans living years away from Earth, whose children only know of Earth through night-time stories

Slight correction; what we'll probably have in that regard is something new in the world.

Travel time might well be measured in months or years. Communication lag will be measured in minutes.

In terms of analogy it's as if George III was able to send email to General Howe. Or if the people in the First Fleet at Botony Bay could watch BBC on their television.

Kids growing up won't have stories of Old Earth at night, they'll see it on TV. They'll talk to kids on Earth the way you and I are now.

I have no idea what kind of civilization these conditions will bring. Yet ...

I dislike bringing up SF in debate - even good SF. People in on the gag get it; mundanes think you're a nerdier version of the comic book guy from 'The Simpsons'. Still, I must. This is from Part 2 of Charlie Stross' 'Accelerando'

The queen nods. "Leaving aside the mention of God, I agree – I can't sell it (justice). But I can sell participation in a just system. And this new frontier really is a lot smaller than anyone expected, isn't it? Our bodies may take months to travel between worlds, but our disputes and arguments take seconds or minutes. As long as everybody agrees to abide by my arbitration, physical enforcement can wait until they're close enough to touch. And everybody does agree that my legal framework is easier to comply with, better adjusted to trans-Jovian space, than any earthbound one." A note of steel creeps into her voice, challenging: Her halo brightens, tickling a reactive glow from the walls of the throne room.

The queen in question is thirteen year old Amber Macx who claimed an object in orbit around Jupitor, declared herself Queen and got into the business of dispute arbitration. Accelerando has some flaws but it's an interesting read.

David said...

If the nations of Earth decided they wanted to prevent a colony from becoming sovereign, there'd be no need for military means to quash the rebellion.

Not only would putting the insurgents down not involve leaving Earth, it would involve not leaving Earth. As you say, a supply line that long is tough to maintain, and I don't know if there will ever reach a point where colonists on another body in our solar system would want to do without anything at all coming from the mother planet. A complete embargo from Earth would be a tough thing to deal with.

Dan Schrimpsher said...

Yes, an imbargo would make life hard on the colonists. But provided you don't have a united Earth, colonists could rely on countries or groups looking to make a profit off the embargo by being the only importer & exporter with the colony.

So the war over sovereignty may be fought on the Earth rather than at the colony. Interesting...

Joe Latrell said...

sovereignty is only a matter of perspective. From the point of the colonists who declare independence, they are sovereign, even if only for the breif duration of a war. To the mother country, they are rebels to be quashed. To everyone else they are scourge or freedom fighters depending on the politcal leanings of the viewer.

Earlier you questioned if the southern states were sovereign or not. The answer is yes and no. The declared independence, created a framework of a country, created currency and began trade - so yes they were in their minds. The fact that the US didn't see it that way, is strictly a different perspective. A war was fought and depending on who you ask, won or lost. It's all relative.

For a Space colony, there will be a time that it delcares independence and becomes sovereign. This is human nature - it will happen. Only if it has the strength and courage to sustain its sovereignty until others see the benefits of its self-rule will it become a country.

Brian Dunbar said...

I don't know if there will ever reach a point where colonists on another body in our solar system would want to do without anything at all coming from the mother planet.

There have been cultures and societies willing to settle down and eat leather rather than knuckle under to an embargo or blockade. The Confederacy 1861 - 1865 was one such.

Also see the Anglo-Celt migration over the Appalachias after 1750. Those people headed West right out of civilization; they left the 18th century behind. For decades everything they had was made by their own hand, with the exception of firearms. Deprivation by our standards yet .. hundreds of thousands went.

As well embargo or blockade is a justification for war - see Japan in 1941. People will go to amazing lengths and do without when they feel their cause is right.

You might want to trod lightly when your opposition sits on top of a gravity well. People living in the Belt under an embargo would be poor in everything but rocks. And they'll have experience moving them around.

But no - embargo is doomed as a tool of warfare, or will be soon. Within your working lifetime you'll see fabrication machines that can produce anything given the raw materials.

This tech might be restricted by legal means - think downloading mp3 files from dubious servers in Prague - or by social pressure; how do you explain the new Ford Thunderbird in the driveway? There will be little incentive for those forms of control up yonder. Not when you can smuggle the plans for a new widget in an email or video text. Would your embargo include broadcast? How would you enforce that?

No - an embargo simply won't work once the first fabrication machine is perfected.

David said...

Ah, but the trick there is the "given the raw materials" bit. If you're willing to settle for things that can be made with what you have, which could be sizeable, then that works. If you need other materials, though, alchemy is still a ways off. Foodstuffs, for example, could be a factor.

How successful an embargo would be depends on how many space powers there are on Earth at the time. Dan mentions other groups could defeat an embargo, but that would require there being groups willing to defy the motherland involved that have the interplanetary large-mass cargo ability.

Following up on Brian's last remark, another interesting X factor would be how many equivalents of DSN there are at the time. In addition to a physical goods embargo, an information embargo could be potentially very compelling. Sending information into space may not be that tough, the issue, though, when you're talking about things like fabrication files or movies or software, is high-speed lossless communication.

Sam Dinkin said...

Honoring the Outer Space Treaty is a moot question. A microstate would not have the resources to be totally independent (as pointed out already), the military might to enforce outrageous claims, or the banking might to go without Earth commerce.

Dan Schrimpsher said...

Sam, as much as I respect you, I am not sure I understand your point. Who said anything about a microstate? There could be millions of people living on a colony by the time this becomes an issue.

I don't believe any nation anywhere can survive in complete isolation for long, even on Earth. But because of the natural law of competition, I think some countries would "run the blockade" and provide commerce to the colonists.

When this becomes an issue, it seems logical to assume there would be multiple countries with the capability to trade with the colonists, a few of whom would be at odds with the "mother country." So I don't believe an independent state in space would have to be totally independent, even in a time of war.

Sam Dinkin said...

We don't have even a million people in Alaska yet and it was colonized by Russia in the 18th century (and before that by the Inuit and others). I predict independence will come well before a million people. An economy on the Moon would have a substantial tourism GDP at 10,000 tourists a year if they are paying millions each, the GDP will be tens of billions. How many would be needed to serve those 10,000? If there are only 1000 at any one time, you might need only a few hundred. The Moon will have the economy of a major country well before it has the population of a major country. Mars and the asteroids may be trickier economically, but those are much further by car so again, they are very likely to declare independence well before they hit a million people. So I stick by microstate. Less than one one thousandth of the people in China, India, Pakistan or the US. Gaza strip has 1.3 million people. The Loonies may have the money, but they won't have the industry, the research expertise, the education system to take on a terrestrial power on matters of solar system security at least at first. They will be a major economic power. Kind of like Taiwan or Hong Kong, but way way higher per capita GDP and way way smaller population.

leo myshkin said...

it could be like harry turtledove's in the balance series. earth could send a scout ship to assess the colonists weaponry that would take hundreds of years to complete the mission. in the meantime the colonists could develop better weapons and make things interesting for the returning earth fleet.

Anton Traversa said...

All interesting perspectives, but given the nature of current technology, I think many of you are underestimating the role the gulf of the void will play in protecting these colonies from outright subjugation. The distance and isolation would serve to give the colony, though likely small, an indordinate defensive advantage in the event of armed conflict. They could make approach and descent very, very difficult for incoming craft.

Concerning the supply lines thing, I think an interesting comparison is Israel - a country borne out of the desert who became global leaders in innovative irrigation and agricultural techniques despite having a tiny population. What else is its economy known for producing? High-tech gadgets. The laws of scarcity and demand have turned Israel from a backwater hell into a first-rate military and economy power, despite its small economy and regional issues. Similar, though not identical, comparisons can be made elsewhere. In all likelihood, the greatest advances in hydroponics horticulture would be made by scientists working to feed themselves out in the black instead of by people down here who, after work, can pick up groceries 10 minutes down the street.

Brian Dunbar said...

The Loonies may have the money, but they won't have the industry, the research expertise, the education system to take on a terrestrial power on matters of solar system security at least at first.

As a broad sketch that sounds like the Republic of Texas. Less than 50,000 Anglos, no industry, plantation economy, a wealthy declining nation to the south (hobbled by internal political strife).

Ed said...

I have tied this together with Jeff Foust's review of Virgiliu Pop's book in last week's Space Review.