Georgia Law Professor Durkee presents space law paper at British Columbia

Georgia Law Professor Melissa J. Durkee recently presented her scholarship at the University of British Columbia Allard School of Law as part of the school’s faculty colloquium series.

Durkee, who is a J. Alton Hosch Associate Professor of Law, researches new forms of global governance, particularly interactions between government and business actors that affect the content and success of international legal rules. Her paper, “Interstitial Space Law,” explores these topics in the context of space. Here’s the abstract:

Private space companies have begun to stake massive investments on the prospect of deriving commercial value from objects in outer space. The multinational asteroid-mining company Planetary Resources recently explained to a U.S. Senate Subcommittee that it will “conduct a historic and unprecedented mission to. . . . prospect several near-Earth asteroids.” Amazon’s Blue Origin just launched a collaboration with German space companies to start a “permanent presence on the moon.” Elon Musk’s SpaceX intends to “focus all its engineering talent on building its Mars rocket.” Yet it is unclear whether these companies have a legal right to appropriate outer space materials for private commercial use. The controlling international law is a cluster of 1960s-era treaties, designed for the realities of cold war space exploration. The centerpiece of the early treaties, the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, clearly specifies that materials cannot be appropriated for national use, but the treaty is silent on private commercial use. Exploiting the opportunity this silence affords, private companies have begun to advance their own interpretation of the treaty in addresses to lawmakers, press releases, and corporate disclosures. They have also acted as though their interpretation were law, pressing forward with plans to commercialize space, and seemingly content to gamble on the possibility that international law will develop in their favor. The paper argues that this practice merits our attention as one of the diverse ways private companies take roles in international lawmaking. Here, private companies are working on two levels. First, they are shaping the development of international customary law by exploiting the failure of nation-states to shut down their activities. Second, they are creating a body of practice that would constitute the building blocks for customary international lawmaking, if the private companies were governmental actors, raising the possibility of a private common law for space.

 

Emerging security challenges require norm development, State lawyer says

IMG_5540At first blush, today’s security challenges may seem familiar. Yet they are new – emerging, in U.S. State Department parlance – because of the novel ways in which those challenges present themselves.

So explained Mallory Stewart (near right), Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Emerging Security Challenges & Defense Policy, during her fascinating talk Monday at Tillar House, the Washington, D.C. headquarters of the American Society of International Law. We at Georgia Law’s Dean Rusk International Law Center were honored to join ASIL’s Nonproliferation, Arms Control & Disarmament Interest Group in cosponsoring Stewart’s talk, “Common Challenges to Diverse Security Threats.” (For the event video, see here.)

Stewart’s talk followed introductions by Kathleen A. Doty, Interest Group Co-Chair and our Center’s Associate Director for Global Practice Preparation, as well as opening remarks by yours truly (above, at right) respecting Dean Rusk’s arms control legacy.

Stewart pointed to technological change, in outer space and elsewhere, as one of the emerging challenges. Within this category was what is essentially garbage; that is, the debris left in outer space by state actors and, increasingly, nonstate/commercial actors, whose celestial flotsam and jetsam continue to orbit and present hazards to active satellites, space stations, and the like.

Another challenge is dual-use technology. Items as seemingly innocent as chlorine – a chemical essential to everyday cleaning – can become a security threat when deployed as a weapon, as is alleged to have happened during the ongoing conflict in Syria.

Yet another is ubiquity, the reality that technologies, such as cyber capabilities, are, literally, everywhere, and thus not easy to contain.

Containment – regulation – thus is difficult both to design and to effectuate. With regard to dual-use technologies, for instance, Stewart posed questions of intent: How, exactly, does one define and identify the moment that an innocent item is transformed into a weapon? What about attribution – in areas like cyberwarfare, how can the perpetrator be identified? How can attacks waged with such weapons be prohibited in advance?

Stewart gave due respect to the 20th C. arms control treaties that form the core portfolio of State’s Bureau of Arms Control, Verification & Compliance, where she practices. Nevertheless, stressing global interdependence, she stressed the need for more nimble forms of international lawmaking. To be precise, she looked to mechanisms of soft law, such as codes of conduct, as ways that states and other essential actors might develop norms for responsible behavior in the short term. In the longer term, if the internalization and implementation of such norms should prove successful, eventually legally binding treaties may result.

(Part 2 of a 2-part series; Part 1 is here.)