WASHINGTON — Seven nations joined the United States in signing agreements to reinforce and use U.N.-brokered international rules for cooperating on and around the surface of the Moon, NASA announced on Tuesday.
The agreements, known as the Artemis Accords, also would establish procedures for nations to share their plans and discoveries and set up so-called “safe zones” for private businesses to mine or otherwise extract resources from the Moon.
“Artemis will be the broadest and most diverse international human space exploration program in history, and the Artemis Accords are the vehicle that will establish this singular global coalition,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said in a statement.
“With today’s signing,” he added, “we are uniting with our partners to explore the Moon and are establishing vital principles that will create a safe, peaceful and prosperous future in space for all of humanity to enjoy.”
Along with the United States, the signers included Australia, Canada, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, the United Arab Emirates and the United Kingdom.
The agreements, first announced by NASA in May, are designed to carry out the principles of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, one of five United Nations treaties on outer space, according to NASA. The Outer Space Treaty forbids use of nuclear arms and any claims of sovereignty in space.
The other four U.N. treaties are the 1968 Rescue Agreement; 1972 Liability Convention; 1976 Launch Registration Convention; and 1984 Moon Agreement. Outside the United Nations, there also are the 1963 Partial Test Ban Treaty and 1971 Intelsat Agreement.
All of these ban putting weapons of mass destruction — but not other types of weapons — in space.
BREAKING: Today, we are announcing that 8 countries have signed the #Artemis Accords! The Artemis program will be the broadest and most diverse international space exploration coalition in history. And we're just getting started. #IAC2020 More: https://t.co/8WzV1BfJy3 pic.twitter.com/ZNo90qf3on
— Jim Bridenstine (@JimBridenstine) October 13, 2020
Preventing conflict in space
After World War II, the world became so worried Cold War tensions might become a real-life star wars that the U.N. General Assembly set up the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, or COPUOS, to carry out the aims of a December 1959 resolution.
The resolution built on the U.N.’s mission of preventing more wars by recognizing a “common interest of mankind as a whole in furthering the peaceful use of outer space.” Vienna-based COPUOS oversees space exploration for peace, security and development.
But the U.N. General Assembly, which now includes 193 nations, remained concerned for decades that a space arms race could develop over hypersonic rockets or satellite-launched super weapons developed by China, Russia or the United States. Those concerns have led to years of talks over a proposed Prevention of an Arms Race in Space Treaty, or PAROS.
Now, the United States has begun taking its own multilateral approaches towards sharing outer space, ironically at a time when U.S. President Donald Trump is hostile to international cooperation.
“Fundamentally, the Artemis Accords will help to avoid conflict in space and on Earth by strengthening mutual understanding and reducing misperceptions,” said Mike Gold, NASA’s acting associate administrator for international and interagency relations.
But to the Russians, who have cooperated with the Americans through a diplomacy of shared pursuits in space, the U.S.-crafted accords are an unwelcome intrusion. The U.S. and Russian space programs launched the International Space Station in 1998.
In May, after NASA announced the Artemis Accords, Dmitry Rogozin, head of NASA’s counterpart Roscosmos, said Russia would not accept any attempts to privatize the Moon.
“It is illegal, it runs counter to international law,” he was quoted by Russian state news agency Tass as saying.