Archive for December, 2012

U.S. PRESIDENT SIGNS EXTENSION OF OVERSEAS SURVEILLANCE LAW

December 31, 2012

Fox News on December 30, 2012, published an AP report on President Barack Obama has signing into law a five-year extension of the U.S. government’s authority to monitor the overseas activity of suspected foreign spies and terrorists. Excerpts below:

The warrantless intercept program would have expired at the end of 2012 without the president’s approval. The renewal bill won final passage in the Senate on December 28.

Known as the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the law allows the government to monitor overseas phone calls and emails without obtaining a court order for each intercept.

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UNSUNG HERO OF REFORM IN RUSSIA

December 30, 2012

The Wall Street Journal on December 10,2012, published a review by Edward Lucas of a new book by Russian politician and intellectual Yegor Gaidar, who in Russia: A Long View (MIT, 543 pages, $39.95) attempts to explain why free enterprise is so successful and Marxist economy such a catastrophe. Excerpts below:

Gaidar was for two decades one of the most important intellectual forces in Russia. As deputy prime minister he launched the country’s sprint to a market economy in November 1991, amid the ruins of the Soviet system. Personally austere and intellectually rigorous, he despised the corruption and cronyism that took root in Russia in the 1990s. But he was still more disillusioned by the authoritarian course plotted by Vladimir Putin after he became president in 2000. Gaidar died in 2009, at age 53.

Russia: A Long View synthesizes this remarkable man’s thinking about economics, history and politics…It is an uncompromising tombstone of a book, first published in Russia in 2005 but only posthumously in English, in an exemplary translation by Antonina W. Bouis.

Gaidar updated the book after the world economic crisis broke in 2008 and edited it slightly for a foreign audience…Despite its Russo-centric title, Anders Åslund, the Swedish economist, describes “Russia: A Long View,” in the book’s foreword, as one of the best single-volume economic histories of the world ever written.

It opens with a survey of Marxist analysis of economic growth.

…he blasts the Marxist simplicities that surrounded much Soviet-era thinking about economic development—in particular the Marxian assumption that economies conform to “the iron laws of history.” Far from obeying iron laws, Gaidar says, modern economies find themselves subject to “an incomplete, continuing process of dynamic transformations without precedent in world history.”

Having established his theoretical framework, Gaidar turns to the root causes of Russia’s backwardness. He places special emphasis on the eclipse of the self-governing medieval republic of Novgorod in northern Russia, a polity akin, he says, to Italy’s then-thriving city-states. When Novgorod was subjugated by Moscow in the 15th century, becoming part of Russia’s vast feudal apparatus, it lost its self-governance, and Russia became separated “culturally, religiously, politically and ideologically from the center of innovation that Western Europe was rapidly becoming.”

Russia came to perceive Western Europe “as something alien and foreign.” The effect was “the narrowing of cultural exchange and more suspicion and isolationism.”

…Gaidar is echoing a point that has been ably made at greater length by the historian Alexander Etkind of Cambridge University. The natural abundance of Russia—furs and forests in the past, mineral resources later—encourages rulers to loot their country by “internal colonization” rather than to develop it.

In the years before the Russian Revolution, Gaidar argues, the country was beginning to shed the burden of its past, with urbanization and fast economic growth narrowing the gap with Europe. But communist economics brought a sharply different course, marked by the state ownership of property, the bureaucratic allocation of resources, forced industrialization, militarism and ruthless political repression.

The economic growth that followed the revolution was fitful and unsustainable, Gaidar notes, recapitulating a theme of his earlier book, “Collapse of an Empire” (published in English in 2007). In “Russia: A Long View,” he turns quickly to the months after the Soviet collapse, citing the graphic memorandums about impending famine and social breakdown that piled up on his desk in November 1991….

Soviet money wasn’t real money, just as Soviet output wasn’t real production. The economy created goods and services that nobody wanted via processes that destroyed value rather than creating it. Ending phony incentives to produce was bound to send recorded output crashing down. Reform was necessary because the Soviet leadership had bequeathed a crisis that threatened the country’s very existence.

The regime [in Russia]must now choose between repression (“tempting but suicidal”) and what he calls “regulated liberalization.” In particular, he argues that Russia needs to restore freedom of speech, open up its process of decision-making, institute an independent judiciary and wage a “war on corruption.”

Taiwan, Spain and Chile, he says, offer examples of how to do it. It would be a task worthy of Gaidar’s own talents, if only he were around to offer them.

Edward Lucas is the author of “Deception,” a new book on Russian espionage, and “The New Cold War: Putin’s Russia and the Threat to the West

THE LESSONS OF BENGHAZI

December 29, 2012

Fox News on December 26, 2012, published comments by U.S. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida on the recent report of the Accountability Review Board investigating the terrorist attack on U.S. facilities in Benghazi. It concisely lays out much that we already knew: this was the premeditated work of terrorists, not a protest about a YouTube video that spun out of control; the attackers employed military tactics and used rocket-propelled grenades and other heavy weapons; they also used simple weapons of opportunity, such as gasoline used to set the fire that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and Sean Smith. Excerpts below:

The report also confirmed that the Libyan government was totally incapable of providing security for U.S. facilities in Benghazi and was barely even in control of much of that city and its environs. The State Department’s naïve reliance on local militias of questionable capacity and uncertain loyalty was, in retrospect, a grave mistake.

That we operated with a skeleton staff in such a precarious environment is clear evidence that we failed to connect the dots. That is a mistake we simply can’t afford to make again – in Libya or anywhere else with an American diplomatic presence. The State Department must adjust the security posture of diplomatic facilities in high-risk regions based on responsible, timely analysis of the best information available. We can no longer expect to rely primarily on host nations to protect American diplomats in all parts of the world.

Conducting U.S. diplomacy abroad is not without risks, and I strongly believe we must continue to represent the interests of the United States in difficult regions. In strategically important but volatile countries like Pakistan – or potentially a post-Assad Syria – it is crucial that the U.S. have an active diplomatic presence. We must be clear-eyed, however, about the dangers our people face in these places and, as the Accountability Review Board notes, we must be able to protect our own people. We can do this by reforming the Bureau of Diplomatic Security to ensure that it is agile, responsive and accountable.

Last month, while on a trip to Peru, Secretary Clinton said she that she took full responsibility for the events in Benghazi. I take her at her word. As the nation’s top diplomat, she should therefore appear before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in both open and classified hearings to discuss the Accountability Review Board’s findings. She should explain why her department failed to adequately secure the U.S. Special Mission Compound in Benghazi …

The lessons of this tragedy can be applied far beyond Libya, with the ultimate goal of protecting our diplomats in challenging environments.

Someday soon, I hope President Bashir al-Assad will no longer rule Syria and that the Syrian people will have a chance to rebuild their country.

Unfortunately, in the same way that America’s delayed engagement in Libya ultimately allowed a security vacuum to be filled and exploited by extremists and militias, the consequences of the Obama administration’s failures in Syria could be even more pronounced and our interests even more threatened.

The current administration unfortunately now has a record of frequently “leading from behind” and standing on the sidelines as America’s enemies exploit our inaction. Hopefully one lesson of Benghazi will be that we need to fundamentally rethink this mistaken approach to foreign policy.

When the 113th Congress convenes in January, it will be crucial that we have a sustained conversation about the policies that led to Benghazi…

Republican Marco Rubio represents Florida in the U.S. Senate. He is a member of the Senate’s Foreign Relations and Intelligence Committees.

‘ONLY TAIWAN’ HOLDS ANY REINS ON CHINA – THE USE OF SOFT POWER

December 28, 2012

The Washington Times on December 26, 2012, reported that a small island in the shadow of a giant neighbor that claims its territory, Taiwan nonetheless holds a key to shaping China’s meteoric rise, Taiwanese officials say. Excerpts below:

Taiwan is “the only force on Earth that may have an impact on the future political development of China,” said Steven S.F. Chen, formerly the island’s envoy to the United States and now an adviser to its president.

Mr. Chen and others argue that Taiwan can play such a role through the strategic use of soft power – the cultural leverage that comes with a shared history, language and geography.

Taiwan’s culture and people are steeped in the 2-millennia-old traditions of Confucianism – the guiding philosophy of China’s governing classes through centuries of imperial rule.

(Comment: Confucianism is not the only guiding philosophy of China. There is also a legalist tradition that takes hard power into account).

The principles of Confucianism “are the center of Taiwan’s education system from the third grade,” said Lung Yingtai, Taiwan’s minister of culture and a respected author and intellectual.

“The Germans quote Goethe a lot. We quote Confucius even more,” Ms. Lung said. “You breathe it in every day. There is no place in the world as Confucian as Taiwan.”

Although the philosophy was developed as a guide for the administrators of China’s vast empire, Ms. Lung said, Confucianism and liberal democracy are compatible.

“They merge perfectly,” though with imperfect results, she said in a speech during a visit to Washington in September 2012.
According to Confucius, every official from the lowliest clerk to the emperor should be “kind, upright, courteous, temperate and magnanimous,” Ms. Lung said.

Because it has continued to foster Confucian principles, Taiwan is a center of gravity for the Chinese diaspora, especially on the cultural level, where Taipei’s vigorous book and movie industries often publish works banned on the mainland.

Ms Lung said the overrepresentation of artists from the relatively small Taiwanese and diaspora populations is a result of their freedoms.
“A democratic system with guaranteed freedom of expression has given rise to a creative and culturally vibrant society in Taiwan,” she said.

…personal and cultural exchanges, and growing trade between the two uneasy neighbors, are underpinned by the Economic and Cultural Framework Agreement signed by Beijing and Taipei two years ago, which provides for gradually reducing tariffs and other bilateral trade barriers.

The Economic and Cultural Framework Agreement “is one of the keys to unlock the potential of soft power,” Ms. Lung told The Washington Times after her speech in Washington, noting that there is long way to go in terms of free trade in cultural materials such as movies and books.

SYRIAN GENERAL DEFECTS TO REBELS, SAYS ARMY HAS BECOME ‘GANG FOR KILLING’

December 27, 2012

Fox News on December 26, 2012, published an AP report on the general who heads Syria’s military police defecting and joining the uprising against President Bashar Assad’s regime, one of the highest walkouts by a serving security chief during the country’s 21-month uprising, a pan Arab TV station has reported.

Maj. Gen. Abdul-Aziz Jassem al-Shallal appeared in a video aired on Al Arabiya TV late Tuesday saying he is joining “the people’s revolution.”

Al-Shallal’s defection comes as military pressure builds on the regime…

Dozens of generals have defected since Syria’s crisis began in March 2011. In July, Brig. Gen. Manaf Tlass was the first member of Assad’s inner circle to break ranks and join the opposition.

Al-Shallal is one of the most senior and held a top post at the time that he left. He said in the video that the “army has derailed from its basic mission of protecting the people and it has become a gang for killing and destruction.” He accused the military of “destroying cities and villages and committing massacres against our innocent people who came out to demand freedom.”

Thousands of Syrian soldiers have defected over the past 21 months and many of them are now fighting against government forces. Many have cited attacks on civilians as the reason they switched sides.

Also December 26, activists said rebels were attacking the Wadi Deif military base in the northern province of Idlib. The base, which is near the strategic town of Maaret al-Numan, has been under siege for weeks.

In October, rebels captured Maaret al-Numan, a town on on the highway that links the capital Damascus with Aleppo, Syria’s largest city and a major battleground in the civil war since July.

The attack on Wadi Deif comes a day after rebels captured the town of Harem near the Turkish border. The rebels have captured wide areas and military posts in northern Syria over the past weeks.

In neighboring Lebanon, airport officials in Beirut said Syria’s Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad and Assistant Foreign Minister Ahmad Arnous flew early Wednesday to Moscow.

Their visit to Moscow comes two days after Assad met in Damascus with international envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi. Brahimi, who is scheduled to go to Moscow before the end of the month, said after the talks Monday that the situation was “worrying” and gave no indication of progress toward a negotiated solution for the civil war.

IRAN IS PLANNING HORMUZ STRAIT NAVAL MANEUVERS

December 26, 2012

Fox News on December 25, 2012, published an AP report on Iran planning naval maneuvers in international waters near strategic Strait of Hormuz, where one-fifth of world oil supply passes the official IRNA news agency said. Excerpts below:

The report quoted Iran’s navy chief, Adm. Habibollah Sayyari, as saying the maneuvers will begin Friday from the Strait of Hormuz to the northern part of Indian Ocean in an area of about 400,000 square miles.

Iran in the past threatened to close the strait over Western sanctions aimed at its suspect nuclear program but has not repeated the threat lately.

Iran will test-fire missiles and deploy vessels and submarines during the six-day war games.

The semi-official Fars news agency reported that navy of the powerful Revolutionary Guards began a limited naval drill Tuesday in central part of the Persian Gulf.

It said the four-day maneuver is meant to test and assess its forces and includes missile firing, the report said.

NEW PENTAGON EFFORT: U.S. ARMY TEAMS GO TO AFRICA

December 25, 2012

A Fox News on December 24, 2012, published an AP report on the U.S. Army sending small teams into as many as 35 African nations early next year, part of an intensifying Pentagon effort to train countries to battle extremists and give the U.S. a ready and trained force to dispatch to Africa if crises requiring the U.S. military emerge. Excerpts below:

The teams will be limited to training and equipping efforts, and will not be permitted to conduct military operations without specific, additional approvals from the secretary of defense.

The sharper focus on Africa by the U.S. comes against a backdrop of widespread insurgent violence across North Africa, and as the African Union and other nations discuss military intervention in northern Mali.

The terror threat from Al Qaeda linked groups in Africa has been growing steadily, particularly with the rise of the extremist Islamist sect Boko Haram in Nigeria. Officials also believe that the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, which killed the ambassador and three other Americans, may have been carried out by those who had ties to Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.

This first-of-its-kind brigade assignment — involving teams from the 2nd Brigade, 1st Infantry Division — will target countries such as Libya, Sudan, Algeria and Niger, where Al Qaeda-linked groups have been active. It also will assist nations like Kenya and Uganda that have been battling al-Shabab militants on the front lines in Somalia.

Gen. Carter Ham, the top U.S. commander in Africa, noted that the brigade has a small drone capability that could be useful in Africa. But he also acknowledged that he would need special permission to tap it for that kind of mission.

Already the U.S. military has plans for nearly 100 different exercises, training programs and other activities across the widely diverse continent. But the new program faces significant cultural and language challenges, as well as nagging questions about how many of the lower-level enlisted members of the brigade, based in Fort Riley, Kan., will participate, since the teams would largely be made up of more senior enlisted troops and officers… the teams could range from just a few people to a company of about 200. In rare cases for certain exercises, it could be a battalion…

To bridge the cultural gaps with the African militaries, the Army is reaching out across the services, the embassies and a network of professional organizations to find troops and experts that are from some of the African countries. The experts can be used during training, and the troops can both advise or travel with the teams as they begin the program.

The Pentagon’s effort in Africa, including the creation of U.S. Africa Command in 2007, has been carefully calibrated, largely due to broad misgivings across the continent that it could spawn American bases or create the perception of an undue U.S. military influence there. As a result, the command has been based in Stuttgart, Germany, rather than on the African continent.

At the same time, many African nations are eager for U.S. training or support, as they work to build their militaries, battle pirates along the coast and shut down drug trafficking, kidnapping and other insurgent activities.

The mission for the 2nd Brigade — known as the “Dagger Brigade” — will begin in the spring and will pave the way for Army brigades to be assigned next to U.S. Pacific Command and then to U.S. European Command over the next year. The brigade is receiving its regular combat training first, and then will move on to the more specific instruction needed for the deployments, such as language skills, cultural information and other data about the African nations.

Dagger Brigade commander Col. Jeff Broadwater said the language and culture training will be different than what most soldiers have had in recent years, since they have focused on Pashtun and Farsi, languages used mostly in Afghanistan and Iran. He said he expects the soldiers to learn French, Swahili, Arabic or other languages, as well as the local cultures.

The brigade will be carved up into different teams designed to meet the specific needs of each African nation. As the year goes on, the teams will travel from Fort Riley to those nations — all while trying to avoid any appearance of a large U.S. military footprint.

U.S. SENATOR JAMES INHOFE: BENGHAZI COVER-UP BIGGER THAN WATERGATE, IRAN-CONTRA

December 23, 2012

The Washington Times on December 22, 2012, reported that one day after Senate Republicans held a press conference to question this week’s State Department’s report on the Sept. 11 terrorist attack in Libya that left four Americans dead, Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe said the scandal is bigger than Watergate and Iran-Contra. Excerpts below:

“I have made a study of different cover-ups – the Pentagon Papers, Watergate and Iran-Contra. I’ve never seen anything like it. I think this is probably the greatest cover-up, in my memory anyway,” the Oklahoma Republican said in an interview Saturday night on Fox News.

Mr. Inhofe said that, despite the report and testimony before Congress this week, the Obama administration still has not explained adequately why the mention of al Queda was deleted from the “talking points” given to U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice.

“They don’t talk about this, they don’t talk about who changed this, who was the boss of the cover-up and what was the motive,” Mr. Inhofe said. “We know what the motive was, this was before the election. And Obama had been saying he had done away with al Qaeda. Well, positively this was al Qaeda.”

Four State Department officials were relieved of their duties this week over the report, and the three who were identified held posts at the assistant secretary or deputy assistant secretary level.

NATO SAYS ‘DESPERATE’ SYRIA FIRES MISSILES

December 22, 2012

The Wall Street Journal on December 21, 2012, reported that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization has detected the Syrian military firing missiles, the group’s civilian chief said, but none of the rockets had fallen into Turkey, where the alliance is installing Patriot missile defense batteries.

Anders Fogh Rasmussen, NATO’s secretary-general, said he strongly regretted the launches, which he called “acts of a desperate regime approaching collapse.”

He said the firing of the missiles emphasized the need for effective defenses for Turkey.

NATO foreign ministers this month agreed to deploy six Patriot batteries in Turkey, two each from Germany, the Netherlands and the U.S…Mark Rutte, the Dutch prime minister, said this month he expected the Dutch batteries to be operational by the end of January.

Also December 21 Syrian rebels attacked a base protecting a military industrial compound in the country’s north as antigovernment forces pushed forward in efforts to capture wider areas near the border with Turkey, an activist group said, according to the Associated Press.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said seven rebels were killed in the attack on the air defense base in the town of al-Safira.

The town is home to a complex of military factories and lies just south of Syria’s largest city and commercial hub, Aleppo.

The attacks are part of a push by the rebels who have been capturing army bases in and around Aleppo over the past weeks as they gain wider areas near the border with Turkey.

Syria’s conflict started 21 months ago as an uprising against President Bashar al-Assad, whose family has ruled the country for four decades.

Also Friday, a prominent state-run Syrian TV news anchor told the pan-Arab network Al-Arabiya that he defected after being subjected to several sessions of interrogations by the country’s intelligence services, the AP said.

Ahmad Fakhouri said he and his colleagues used to read the news as it was given to them and “the anchor had no right to change one word.”

Mr. Fakhouri said he quit his job at the TV eight months ago and was able to flee the country with the help of rebels.

“I look forward for the day when Syria will be free and I can return to my country to practice my job,” he said from a secret location outside Syria.

On December 21 fighting continued in the Damascus neighborhoods of Hajar Aswad and Tadamon, just outside Yarmouk, the Observatory said, according to the AP. It had no immediate words on casualties.

Rebels also attacked army positions in the southern suburbs of the capital, including Mleiha and Chebaa, the group said. The areas are close to the Damascus International Airport and have witnessed heavy clashes over the past weeks.

PROPERTY RIGHTS IN SPACE PART 2

December 21, 2012

This is Part 2 with excerpts from Rand Simberg’s important article in the journal The New Atlantis (Washington D.C.) in the Fall 2012 issue. It deals with a proposal for legislation (Space Settlement Prize Act). Excerpts below:

The Space Settlement Institute, a New York-based advocacy group,…[proposes] legislation it calls the Space Settlement Prize Act, which, if passed by Congress, would require the U.S. government to recognize and legally support land ownership claims “for any private entity which has, in fact, established a permanently inhabited settlement on the Moon, Mars, or an asteroid, with regular transportation between the settlement and the Earth open to any paying passenger.” The act explicitly defines a “private entity” as “a company, a consortium of companies, and/or one or more individuals that are not controlled by any sovereign state or government.”

This regime would seem to resolve the sticky issue of the Outer Space Treaty’s prohibition of “national appropriation.” For example, a corporation based in Canada could start and inhabit a settlement on the Moon without either the Canadian government or the corporation making an explicit property claim — but the U.S. government could say that it recognizes the corporation as having valid property rights in the lunar land that it settled. Under this you-scratch-my-back-and-I’ll-scratch-yours arrangement, neither the Canadian government nor the U.S. government could be said to be violating the prohibition of national appropriation.

The privately held space settlements envisioned by the proposed Space Settlement Prize Act would not be under the sovereign jurisdiction of any terrestrial nation (although the individual citizens would still be subject to the laws of their own nations). The corporations who own these settlements would be able to pass local laws, and could, in theory, apply for U.N. recognition and become an extraterrestrial nation-state capable of granting citizenship to its residents.

More importantly, this legal regime would offer needed assurance that private property rights could be secured by those who undertake the high costs of space exploration and settlement — but it would set the bar high enough to permit only serious property claims.

The act as currently drafted would permit the first claim on the Moon to be no larger than 600,000 square miles — roughly 4 percent of the total lunar area, or about the area of the state of Alaska. The first claim on Mars could be up to 3.6 million square miles — roughly 6 percent of its area, or about the area of the United States. Each subsequent claim is reduced by 15 percent of the previous, and no entity is allowed multiple concurrent claims on the same body, so as to prevent monopolies. For asteroids or other bodies, claims of up to 600,000 square miles would be allowed, unless the body had total area of less than a million square miles, in which case the entire body could be claimed. Claims staked on the Moon, Mars, or asteroids would have to have a “contiguous, reasonably compact shape.”

Where do the numbers come from? The U.S. General Mining Act of 1872 generally only permits land claims of around twenty acres. And while traditional land claims in the United States were forty acres (or one-sixteenth of a square mile), this was based on what was once considered sufficient size for a farm. So why should such large claims — hundreds of thousands of square miles — be permitted on the Moon, Mars, and asteroids? Because large claims would enable land sales to others in exchange for cash or other items of value. The goal of the proposed legislation is to allow for claims large enough to serve as collateral to raise necessary funds for development.

In the scenario envisioned here, the government would recognize claims and register titles, and claimants could then begin to grant, sell, and trade property deeds. The first claim would be the hardest to raise money for, which is why it would be the largest, and would also have the advantage of being able to select the most apparently promising land. For example, were this law in place today, a company like Shackleton Energy would be able to raise funds by selling its stock, the value of which would be based on the promise of the future value of the claimed lunar land itself. Once it had sent the initial settlers to the Shackleton Crater, it would apply for the title, after which it could actually start selling plots. Many, perhaps even most of the purchasers would do so with no intention of ever going to the Moon, but rather would hold their deeds as speculative investments like any other high-risk, high-reward venture. The act of selling the land would be similar to an initial public offering for the company. Once the company had raised sufficient funds with the land sales, it could afford to invest in the facilities to start to harvest ice and other resources for the manufacture of propellants, air, and other valuable materials. Similarly, asteroids or comets with favorable orbital and compositional characteristics would be the first targets of other space-resource companies, leaving less desirable real estate for the stragglers.

Setting aside the potential environmental and diplomatic concerns about the Space Settlement Prize Act, what would be the fiscal impact on the United States of passing such legislation? If we were pledging not only to recognize, but also to defend such claims, then it could require an increase in the Pentagon’s space budget (or perhaps that of the U.S. Space Guard that James C. Bennett has proposed in these pages [Winter 2011]) that would be difficult to estimate. But the Space Settlement Prize Act as currently drafted explicitly states that it “makes no pledge of military defense of recognized extraterrestrial properties.” Recognizing and defending property claims might result in costs to our international relations, in terms of diplomatic fallout or trade sanctions. But none of this need necessarily result in dollar costs to the U.S. government.

Another cost would come from the need to survey the land. But this could be done by claimant, and verified by an independent entity, at the cost of the claimant, to prevent fraud. Such a survey is well within the capability of current technology and the means of private players. NASA has just released the first high-resolution topographical map of the entire lunar surface, with a resolution to 100 meters, generated by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter launched in 2009. Technology is advancing rapidly in this area, and the necessary survey would be quite affordable in the context of the overall project.

Of course, in order to maximize the probability of achieving the goals of the proposed legislation, it would be useful to invest in the development of fundamental space technologies — something that NASA has traditionally done very poorly for political reasons. This could mean a refocusing of NASA’s mission, and a concomitant increase in its budget. These technologies might include things like life-support systems, techniques for processing lunar resources, nuclear reactors capable of running in space, advanced propulsion systems, and cryogenic storage. It might also be useful to put into place GPS-like navigation systems around the Moon and Mars, and beacons out in the solar system. But the proposed legislation does not require any of this, nor any other necessary significant costs to the taxpayer.

The backers of the proposed Space Settlement Prize Act argue that the government of one country could recognize a property right on behalf of a private entity from another country without engaging in a prohibited act of national appropriation.

Whether or not this interpretation of the OST holds water remains to be seen, since the precise meaning of the OST’s restrictions remains an open legal issue for American legislatures and courts.

If [the United States] were to withdraw from the treaty to implement this legislation, would other countries counter with their own legislation recognizing different property claims? In an April 2012 post at Wired.com, space-law analysts Berin Szoka and James Dunstan asked what might happen if the United States began to recognize property rights in outer space: “What would stop the Chinese from adopting domestic legislation that went further? What if the first time a Chinese probe lands on the moon, the moon could be claimed by the ‘Great Wall Company,’ owned by the People’s Liberation Army?” Unless we assume that China is plotting lunar domination, it seems reasonable that spacefaring countries like China, Russia, India, and Japan may be willing either to initiate a new treaty or to amend the OST, given the advantages that opening space settlement to private investment and settlement could have for the global (and extra-global) economy.

Finally, it is worth noting that, while the OST arguably does not prevent the recognition of property claims per se, it may prove to be a hindrance to any kind at all of large-scale space activity, not just settlement. In that regard, this is the most troublesome sentence in the entire treaty: “The activities of non-governmental entities in outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, shall require authorization and continuing supervision by the appropriate State Party to the Treaty.”

Consider the implications of the words “continuing supervision,” if taken literally. It could be argued that satisfaction of this requirement would demand that any person operating off the planet would be required to have a government minder with him at all times. Prior approval — for example, a launch license —might not be sufficient, because supervision could be argued to imply not just observation, but physical control. This wording in the treaty could imply that even the remote monitoring of private activity in space, which itself would be a significant hindrance for space settlement, would be insufficient.
With new affordable spaceflight technologies on the horizon, extensive private activity in space will be a serious possibility in the near future. If we wish to see humanity flourish in space, we have to recognize that the Outer Space Treaty is a relic of a different era. Fresh interpretations may not suffice: we may soon have to renegotiate and amend the treaty — or even completely scrap it and start from scratch — if we want not just to protect space as a mere scientific preserve but to open it for settlement as a grand new frontier.

Rand Simberg, an adjunct scholar at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, is an aerospace engineer and a consultant in space commercialization, space tourism, and Internet security. His blog, Transterrestrial Musings, can be found at transterrestrial.