Research Seminar 5 August 2020

Professor Steven Freeland: The Geopolitics of Outer Space and International Law: Square Peg in a Round Hole?

We stand at the forefront of quite remarkable technological developments that have the potential to make this coming decade a turning point as regards humankind’s activities in space. Coupled with this, the challenges associated with the increasing proliferation of space debris raise an imperative for us to alter the current ‘business as usual’ model, in an attempt to address the risk of a ‘tragedy of the commons’ scenario in space. The myriad challenges and opportunities of space call for a more collective and cooperative approach to applying and further developing the international framework to manage (and prioritise) our future activities in space. Despite obvious ‘terrestrial’ tensions and geopolitical differences, the major space faring States generally have very significant common interests in maintaining a stable space environment. The decisions that we take now about whether, and how, to cooperate and reach some form of international understanding on the forthcoming ‘big’ space issues, rather than tending towards viewing space in a binary fashion, will determine how we move forward as a humanity. This lecture will address the role of the international legal framework – complemented by national space law specific to each country’s unique requirements – in emphasizing the common interests of all space faring (and other) States in acting in a manner that supports the safety, security and sustainability of space, rather than reinforcing the multi-polar stances that are seen in the current geopolitical context.