Forget Moon Treaty: Law of the Sea is Better Analog for Lunar Resources

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The Wall Street Journal has an interesting interview with Timothy G. Nelson, an international arbitration lawyer in New York who advises aerospace companies on how to make profits in space.

He says to forget about the Moon Treaty, which only 13 nations have signed, and instead to focus on the Law of the Sea as a model for how lunar resources (such as water and minerals) would be extracted and sold.

In regard to deep-sea exploration, a treaty exists. It was concluded in 1982 and is called the Law of the Sea Convention. One chapter of the Convention applies to the deep sea bed, that is, parts of the sea that extend beyond the continental shelf, beyond where oil exploration is happening, really. A treaty was needed to apply to the sea because it contains large deposits of manganese.

For now, the commodity prices haven’t gone high enough to justify putting a lot of money into deep-sea exploration, but when it does, it will be governed by Part XI of the Law of the Sea Convention. Under the Convention, there has been established an International Seabed Authority based in Jamaica, which has power to license the right to explore for and extract the manganese and collect a fee.

This caused a lot of controversy when it was negotiated. President Reagan was very hostile; his administration said it was an attempt to socialize these resources. The U.S. still hasn’t ratified the treaty, although the Clinton administration negotiated some adjustments to it. I think it’s only a matter of time before the U.S. ratifies it. There’s a feeling that the U.S. will have to once commercial exploitation of the deep sea bed becomes more viable.

It’s a very interesting interview. You can read it here.