Red Planet Law: How We'll Share Mars When We Settle

Getting to Mars is one thing, but how will we divvy-up the planet when many different nationalities start claiming it for themselves?

When humans start thinking about settling on Mars, how we will administer the situation?

The Outer Space Treaty specifically prohibits signing nations from making any "sovereign claims" to other bodies in the solar system such as the moon and Mars. The treaty, however, does allow for exploration for the "province of all mankind"; some authors have suggested implementing shared zones on Mars where several countries could work to take the resources they need from the Red Planet.

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A new paper in Space Policy (also available on Arxiv) looks into this situation in more detail. These planetary parks would be established before humans set foot on the Red Planet, and entities exploring Mars would claim a bit of land that they could "reasonably use", the authors say. Any disputes would be reported to an administrative "Mars Secretariat" whose goal is to serve all of the colonies' interests.

"It's based on the Antarctic treaty system, which has a shared use of space for solely science purposes," lead author Sara Bruhns told DNews. Along with her supervisor Jacob Haqq-Misra, a research scientist with the Blue Marble Space Institute of Science, the two also pulled examples such as the ocean "exclusive economic zones" around all countries bounded by oceans. The country has special rights to use those resources within a limit of 200 nautical miles from the coast.

But in some cases, a mutual agreement doesn't work out so well. The authors cite the case of Humane Society International vs. Kyodo Senpaku Kaisha, where Japanese whalers killed minke whales in Australia's Antarctic zone. While Japan argued that they were doing this for scientific purposes, the authors write, Australian courts eventually ruled in Australia's favor.

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The ruling hasn't been fully enforced, but a separate case with the International Court of Justice put a temporary ban on Japanese whaling in Antarctica. "So the problem went away," Haqq-Misra said. This points to the need for a conflict resolution procedure ahead of time for Mars, he added.

Haqq-Misra plans to continue working on the Mars treaty idea and update it as more legislation comes into play. He also hopes to repeat his institution's "young scientist" summer program (that allowed him to do this work with Bruhns) to get more help for future papers.

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