Space Law Update – US Won’t Build Death Star, Also Does Not Support Blowing Up Planets

by Kenneth Anderson

Opinio Juris is pleased to note official White House reaction to the petition (via the We the People White House site, an Obama administration initiative promising an official response to citizen petitions garnering 25,000 signatures within 30 days of posting) calling upon the Obama administration to “secure resources and funding, and begin construction of a Death Star by 2016.”

As reported by Entertainment Weekly  (the only truly canonical outlets for this kind of news would have to be EW or Wired, Hollywood or Silicon Valley), here is the official administration response, from Paul Shawcross, Chief of the Science and Space Branch of OMB (we must assume this went through the authoritative interagency clearance process and perhaps one day might even contribute to the opinio juris of the United States for purposes of interstellar law of war on the destruction of planets):

“The Administration shares your desire for job creation and a strong national defense,” begins Shawcross, “but a Death Star isn’t on the horizon.” He cites a Lehigh University study that calculated that a Death Star would cost a deficit-exploding $852,000,000,000,000,000 (that’s $852 quadrillion), notes that “the Administration does not support blowing up planets,” and rightly points out that it would be foolhardy to build a space station “with a fundamental flaw that can be exploited by a one-man starship.”

Shawcross then goes on to tout the many space endeavors, both public and private, that are currently underway. (“Even though the United States doesn’t have anything that can do the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs, we’ve got two spacecraft leaving the Solar System and we’re building a probe that will fly to the exterior layers of the Sun.”) He concludes by encouraging the diligent soul(s) who created the petition to pursue a career in a science, technology, or math-related field, declaring that anyone who does so embraces the power of the Force: “Remember, the Death Star’s power to destroy a planet, or even a whole star system, is insignificant next to the power of the Force.”

I’ve put the full text of the Obama administration response below the fold (and check out the many interesting links at the White House site, which I haven’t included). It is more substantive than one might have anticipated – it discusses private space flight initiatives, the International Space Station and – naturally! – robots.

Update:  Response from the Air Force General Counsel’s Twitter feed (and I recommend both the Twitter feed (@AirForceGC) and blog:

Still smarting from Death Star decision, but must admit weapons review would have been a bear.

Referring to US legal requirements for a review of the legality of all weapons systems, meeting the terms of Article 36 of 1977 Additional Protocol I.

OFFICIAL WHITE HOUSE RESPONSE TO:

Secure resources and funding, and begin construction of a Death Star by 2016.

This Isn’t the Petition Response You’re Looking For

By Paul Shawcross

The Administration shares your desire for job creation and a strong national defense, but a Death Star isn’t on the horizon. Here are a few reasons:

  • The construction of the Death Star has been estimated to cost more than 850,000,000,000,000,000. We’re working hard to reduce the deficit, not expand it.
  • The Administration does not support blowing up planets.
  • Why would we spend countless taxpayer dollars on a Death Star with a fundamental flaw that can be exploited by a one-man starship?

However, look carefully (here’s how) and you’ll notice something already floating in the sky — that’s no Moon, it’s a Space Station! Yes, we already have a giant, football field-sized International Space Station in orbit around the Earth that’s helping us learn how humans can live and thrive in space for long durations. The Space Station has six astronauts — American, Russian, and Canadian — living in it right now, conducting research, learning how to live and work in space over long periods of time, routinely welcoming visiting spacecraft and repairing onboard garbage mashers, etc. We’ve also got two robot science labs — one wielding a laser — roving around Mars, looking at whether life ever existed on the Red Planet.

Keep in mind, space is no longer just government-only. Private American companies, through NASA’s Commercial Crew and Cargo Program Office (C3PO), are ferrying cargo — and soon, crew — to space for NASA, and are pursuing human missions to the Moon this decade.

Even though the United States doesn’t have anything that can do the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs, we’ve got two spacecraft leaving the Solar System and we’re building a probe that will fly to the exterior layers of the Sun. We are discovering hundreds of new planets in other star systems and building a much more powerful successor to the Hubble Space Telescope that will see back to the early days of the universe.

We don’t have a Death Star, but we do have floating robot assistants on the Space Station, a President who knows his way around a light saber and advanced (marshmallow) cannon, and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which is supporting research on building Luke’s arm, floating droids, and quadruped walkers.

We are living in the future! Enjoy it. Or better yet, help build it by pursuing a career in a science, technology, engineering or math-related field. The President has held the first-ever White House science fairs and Astronomy Night on the South Lawn because he knows these domains are critical to our country’s future, and to ensuring the United States continues leading the world in doing big things.

If you do pursue a career in a science, technology, engineering or math-related field, the Force will be with us! Remember, the Death Star’s power to destroy a planet, or even a whole star system, is insignificant next to the power of the Force.

Paul Shawcross is Chief of the Science and Space Branch at the White House Office of Management and Budget.

http://opiniojuris.org/2013/01/12/space-law-update-us-wont-build-death-star-does-not-support-blowing-up-planets/

4 Responses

  1. The art. 36 API issue could have been extremely simplified by having the operational concept for the Death Star state that it would be used only against alien forces; therefore, it would be outside the scope of art. 36 (and, I submit, customary international law) per art. 1 API and Common Article 2 GC I-IV.

  2. Ian:  Clever!  Agree it would be outside customary international law … but would it be outside … customary interstellar law (“CInstL”)?

  3. Ken: No, but then we would need to determine the content of CInstL. Despite being built at least twice, I am unaware of any opinio juris stating that death stars are unlawful. Sure, the Rebels keep destroying the Empire’s death stars, but have they ever claimed that it was unlawful for the Empire to possess one in the first place? And for that matter, can the Rebels even contribute to the formation of CInstL? Perhaps the only relevant ‘State’ practice we have is that of the Empire.

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