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It may be out of this world, but space – and our exploration of it – is increasingly enshrined in international politics. Ever since the space race, the concept of international political tensions reaching beyond even our own atmosphere has become tangible, and with the recent New Zealand rocket launch it is clear that our final frontier is going to become populated by the interests of an increasing number of states and entities.

The filtered version of the photograph taken off Niel on the moon
Moon Walking. Source: wikipedia.org

Much as we would all love for humankind’s conduct in space to be a peaceful affair of discovery and wonder, if our species’ track record is anything to go by, the likelihood of space-based conflict is all too distinct.

To this end, a collaborative team of lawyers, scientists, academics and government representatives – including a team from the University of Exeter’s Law School, working alongside McGill University and the University of Adelaide – have embarked upon the creation of MILAMOS.

MILAMOS – the far more exciting acronym for the Manual on International Law Applicable to Military Uses of Outer Space – seeks to “describe for states how existing international law substantively limits the use of force [in space], as well as address the legality of lesser, yet still hostile, activities by states in outer space that fall short of the use of force”.In effect, the Manual will advise the legality of hostile actions in space, aiming to protect infrastructure in space (such as key satellite networks) and build confidence for extra-terrestrial inter-state interactions, which should in turn minimise aggression.

MILAMOS is inspired by the success and continuing utility of such projects as the Tallinn Manual (advising cyberwarfare), for which Exeter’s MILAMOS representative Prof. Michael N. Schmitt was also a contributor.

the MILAMOS project should aid our continued cooperative progress towards infinity, and beyond.

Whilst the upper echelons of MILAMOS’ organisational structure is predominantly populated by representatives from Western institutions, the full list of contributing experts designates this an international effort, with representatives from institutions including Tel Aviv University, Intersputnik, Keoi University, and Xi’an Jiaotong University.Key sponsors include the Canadian government and India’s Institute for Defence Studies and Analysis.

Although necessarily focusing on acts of aggression, the intent of MILAMOS is to maintain peace and security where possible. Speaking to the Guardian, Dr Kubo Mačák (also representing Exeter at MILAMOS, as a ‘Core Expert’ on International Humanitarian Law) outlined the fact that current space laws and international treaties ‘focus almost exclusively on peaceful uses of outer space’.

For less peaceful matters, the international community is broadly unprepared from a legal perspective. Topics covered by MILAMOS will include everything from the management of debris to the legal minutiae of firing orbital weaponry at terrestrial targets.

A fancy looking gavel in front of the planet, looking distinctly legal.
Law in Space. Source: Flickr

Since its inauguration, the MILAMOS board has so far met in Adelaide, this past February, for the first of nine projected workshops. This first workshop served primarily to define key areas and lay out important groundwork, distinguishing which areas of current international law prove applicable to outer space use and considering what constitutes an act of aggression in space.

Further discussion included how best to go about involving state bodies after the Manual’s drafting. The official summary provided by MILAMOS stresses that the contributing experts act not as representatives of any respective state but in a personal and professional capacity.

In an ideal world, we would never have to use MILAMOS in anger. However, the fact that it exists should at least go some way towards encouraging restraint and thoughtfulness in the way states act in outer space.

As our immediate area of space becomes increasingly busy and is further relied upon for our infrastructure, the more cynical amongst us cannot help, despite our elation at the prospect of further exploration, but to echo those immortal words: “I have a bad feeling about this”.

The conscientious drafting of MILAMOS should enable us to rest a little easier, in the knowledge that we are at least beginning to rationalise our use of and interactions within space.

In an ideal world, we would never have to use MILAMOS in anger.

In the words of JFK, “There is no strife, no prejudice, no national conflict in space as yet. Its hazards are hostile to us all. Its conquest deserves the best of mankind, and its opportunity for peaceful cooperation may never come again.” Space exploration may just be the next great leap for mankind, and the MILAMOS project should aid our continued cooperative progress towards infinity, and beyond.

Read more from Graham by clicking below or read more about space stuff with this piece on Mars or this piece on a different solar system!

 

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