In the fictional 2003 book The Next Continent (p. 241-252), set in 2030, the Moon Treaty is used in the UN International Court of Justice to put a commercial project at the south pole of the moon on hold. The project was being conducted by a Japanese company, and while Japan never signed the Moon Treaty, it is argued (in the fictional plot line) that customary international law applies to the situation. Supposedly, the Moon Treaty bans use of the moon's resources for commercial purposes. The majority of their tourist-oriented moon palace is made of lunar ice, so in-situ resource use is unavoidable. In this case, the plaintiff is the US government, whose competing NASA moon base is scientific and not for profit.

Legally, how realistic is this? The author seems to have done his research. I want to know if these arguments are legally sound, legally weak, or laughable.

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    $\begingroup$ Related question Can you buy land on the moon? $\endgroup$ – James Jenkins Mar 19 '14 at 14:48
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    $\begingroup$ @AlanSE The problem with the UN is that they have no real power. Whatever an UN court says doesn't matter in an international dispute. What matters in international politics is which countries are willing to take sides in a dispute and how far they are willing to go to defend their side. International law is made by diplomats, not judges and lawyers. $\endgroup$ – Philipp Mar 19 '14 at 16:25
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    $\begingroup$ This question appears to be off-topic because it is about international law and politics, not about space exploration. $\endgroup$ – Philipp Mar 19 '14 at 16:32
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    $\begingroup$ Space law is important to space exploration. $\endgroup$ – David Hammen Mar 19 '14 at 16:35
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    $\begingroup$ @Philipp Space law is on topic here, as you will see if you peruse the law tag. $\endgroup$ – called2voyage Mar 19 '14 at 18:29

There exists a Moon Treaty, but this is only signed and ratified by 16 countries, none of them capable of space travel. India is a signatory, and now has its own space program, but has not ratified it. Even though treaties exist, the UN has no overruling power over independent nations, thus making the actual relevance of the treaty disputable.

The Moon Treaty does not strictly ban commercial use of Lunar resources, but it is insufficient to actually provide a good framework if the issue turns up. When Lunar resource harvesting is becoming a reality, it must be replaced with a more solid international agreement.

Together with many other fields of space law, there are a lot of ambiguity and untested cases related to the Moon treaty. It may not be possible to determine if the treaty would hold in the case of a dispute, being hugely dependent on international politics.


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