Could we talk of astronationalism when talking about nationalism in outer space? The Oxford Dictionary defines nationalism as a feeling of love for and pride in your country, a feeling that their country is better than any other and defined nationalistic as having strong feelings of love for and pride in your country so that you think that it is better than any other.
Nationalism, as defined currently, is a quite modern concept. It is an ideology based on the fact that an individual’s loyalty and devotion to the nation-state shall surpass other individual or group interests. Nationalism is an idea that grows into people’s minds in times of conflicts, in times of stress and doubts. When the human being cannot proceed to understand and integrate the future or even what is happening in present days, he will have a tendency to seek refuge from the unknown. And what is something that one knows better than everything else? One’s own culture, language, history. The human being will shut himself away from the doubt. The mind will use this defense mechanism in times of fear and of inability to understand. Recently, in the last few years, nationalism made a big comeback. Far right-wing political parties have seen their popularity grow more and more and no continent escapes the influence of nationalism.
Nationalism is also mainly influenced by the competitive spirit. It is part of the human being mind and spirit to be competitive and wanting to be the first, to be the one who influences the most, to be the leader. Outer space will be no exception to this principle. At the dawn of space exploration, what happened on Earth will probably happen in space. Currently, most of the great powers of our world have a space program, whether it be the United States of America, Europe, China, Russia or Japan. After several years during which space conquest and space exploration was no longer a priority, a few entities have shown clear signs that they have made it now a priority. The United States of America reaffirmed their wish to continue the discovery of our Solar System, President Trump even wanting to skip a return on the Moon first and go directly to Mars. The European Space Agency (ESA) has voted a record budget of fourteen billions euros for the upcoming period with the idea of going to the Moon with the first European astronaut. China has clearly set some very ambitious guidelines towards the conquest of space, wanting to be a space superpower and becoming a leader in this field.
We can already forecast some tensions and objections between these gigantic and powerful entities. As things will progress and that technology will be more and more accessible, more and more nations will have the desire to be part of such an adventure. Therefore the more various and different entities there will be, the higher the risk of tensions or astronationalism. Every nations will want to contribute, every nations will want to see its name and the name of its people engrave in the marble of space conquest. Space exploration and its success is a tough, laborious, complex task that requires both enormous technical skills, intellectual skills as well as financial resources. Successfully completing such a task demonstrates the country’s high level of development. Moreover it will also allow a nation to acquire a more or less important power, something necessary to have control over resources, raw materials which are necessary for the expansion of a country. In the same way that the great powers colonized territories on Earth to extend their power and have always more and more resources, nations will want to do and will, almost certainly, do the same in outer space.
Aware of this concern and the possibility of astronationalism, a few treaties have already been negotiated and signed in order to prevent and avoid any tensions and appropriation by a State of a “land” in space. Thus, in the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, the first article states that “The exploration and use of outer space, including the Moon and other celestial bodies shall be carried out for the benefit and in the interests of all countries, irrespective of their degree of economic or scientific development, and shall be the province of all mankind”.
And again in 1979, the General assembly of the United Nations adopted the Agreement Governing the Activities of States on the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies. In its article III, the Treaty states that the Moon and other celestial bodies should be used exclusively for peaceful purposes and their environments should not be disrupted. However, we can point in these treaties the fact that it allows the exploitation of the Moon and of the celestial bodies. Even if they declared that the appropriation is for mankind in its entirety, it is still appropriation.
In spite of some efforts made by the States, the tendency to protect the Moon, celestial bodies and outer space from privatization fades, and it appears that the opposite situation is about to come true. One clue is the Space Act of 2015: the law passed on May 21, 2015 allows the American industries to “engage in the commercial exploration and exploitation of space resources” which clearly allows U.S. companies to search for, extract and sell the water and metals that they might find of asteroids and planets. The question of resources and raw materials from space can be considered as one of the main core of the conquest of space and “astronationalism”. Roughly we can divide the space conquest into two main parts: the first being the expansion of humanity beyond the Earth and to settle mankind into the Universe, the second one being a support for human life on Earth through medical researches, technologies advancements and raw materials constituting a new resource when ours will be drained.
Nationalism in space or astronationalism is, in my sense, something that should clearly not happen. Humankind, at least I hope for, should learn from the past and continue the international cooperation, as it is seen in the case of the ISS for example, to lead the space exploration. For space conquest, the Earth should be one, should form a single entity. Apart from the more realistic, the more technical considerations which are the questions on tensions between States, we should place this consideration, this idea of the Earth being one, on the level of a philosophical reflection. To meet and explore unknown worlds, humanity must move forward as united. As Sagan explained, we should now move forward and consider ourselves as “We are one planet”.
Cooperation is more than necessary in the next big adventure of mankind. Just as the European Space Agency (ESA) showed it, cooperation can totally work. If European countries with their past history can cooperate together for a greater goal, then an international cooperation could definitively work. It will be a very complex task, probably the most complicated task that has ever existed, but we have the resources to create and elaborate the cooperation. On the contrary of nationalism or astronationalism, this is called internationalism or astrointernationalism, a movement I hope will take the lead in the future years.