NIAS Europe Monitor

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NIAS Europe Monitor
The Artemis Accords: Three reasons why Europe is not on the same page with the US

  Harini Madhusudan

While the US has been working with France and Germany to cooperate more on Outer Space, the two countries do not seem convinced with the text.

On 4 January, an opinion in Politico discussed the American push to get its allies on board with the Artemis Accords. Though a few European Space Powers signed the Accords, France and Germany have kept away. Space players are increasingly seen testing the ground with their moon missions. It includes operations on celestial bodies, creating self-sustaining outposts, understanding the technological and other requirements of these missions, and eventually applying the research and utilizing the expertise to Mars and beyond. 

While the US has been working with Paris and Berlin to cooperate more on Outer Space, hoping to rope France and Germany into the Accords, the two countries do not seem convinced with the text. This lobbying is seen in the context of the US Space Race with China. Both Russia and China have also raised similar concerns about the accords and have declined to be a formal part of the Artemis Accords. The primary reason is, the Artemis Accords legally seeks to override the principles of the Outer Space Treaty of 1967. Countries like Luxembourg have willingly participated in the Accords for the same reason: to exploit the Lunar resources. 

Artemis Accords: A brief note 
The Trump administration introduced the Artemis Accords in 2020 to take humans back to the Moon and establish a permanent presence on the celestial surface. On 23 January, Israel became the fifteenth country to announce its participation in the Artemis Accords. The US allies have been asked to sign the 18-page document to access NASA's Artemis program that has outlined the course of human activities for the lunar surface in the upcoming decade. The signatories include Italy, the UK, Luxembourg, Australia, Japan, Canada, South Korea, Brazil, Mexico, New Zealand, Poland, United Arab Emirates, Ukraine, and Israel. 

The US sees the Artemis Accords as a gateway to their investments in landing humans and robotic exploration on the lunar surface and eventually on the surface of Mars. The European Space Agency has signed an MoU with NASA. This includes operations and development activities that would aid in launching the Lunar Gateway and the European Crew. Operations beyond the technological cooperation and crew; those taking place on the surface of the Moon, are not covered by the MoU. The ESA would provide a European Service Module to the planned Orion spacecraft used for the Artemis missions to the Moon with propulsion, oxygen, power, and water; with three flight opportunities for European astronauts. While several European countries have signed the Accords, the ESA is in talks with China and Russia for their moon-base project. On the other hand, UAE has signed the accords but is also negotiating to participate in the moon-base project, an option the European countries can choose. 

1. Artemis 2020 vs OST 1967
Though the accords do not constitute any form of international law yet, there are clauses in the accords that override the norms of the Outer Space Treaty. Since the accords are bilaterally signed, they could cause legal issues at a future time. Separately, there is also a fighting perspective among these countries on the need to ally with the US ambitions in Space. The Outer Space Treaty has in-place laws regarding ownership, liability, and sovereignty, which the Artemis Accords aims to flesh out. The text of the accords asks the signatory countries to agree that "extraction of space resources does not inherently constitute national appropriation," which indicates a signal for countries and companies to use them to their advantage. These deviations from the principles of the Outer Space treaty have placed an ethical question on the European countries. Besides space mining, the accords also propose designating "safe zones." These safe zones would give exclusive ownership access to the countries, a stark difference from the OST 1967. 

2. Resource Exploitation 
Countries like France and Germany are staunch believers of the principles of non-appropriation listed in the OST. The Accords seeks to override this principle by allowing themselves to utilize the resources for commercial purposes. This would allow various countries to exploit lunar resources and allow commercial industries to take advantage. Resource exploitation will be a serious legal problem for space-faring countries in the upcoming decades. Ideally, the signatories should have opposed this clause in the Accords, as it does not align with the main theme of what the Accords stands for. 

3. An exclusive role for Europe 
The new government in Germany hopes to introduce a Europe-specific 'space law' that would include common standards for the use of resources. Since Luxembourg, Italy, and Poland have already signed, they would remain engaged with the Accords bilaterally. Additionally, the Europeans are also technologically engaged with the Artemis program; they are building the Orion service module. France is Europe's space powerhouse, and the French space experts have a strong sentiment against the Accords. The US has also promoted the accords outside of the "normal" channels of International Law. In its right, after the restructuring of the ESA in 2019,  the European side could represent their interests through the ESA while upholding the principles of the OST and not simply ally with the US. However, there would remain a divide within Europe, between the countries that have already signed the accords and the ones that await more clarity of the US intentions. In terms of collective participation, technological cooperation between the European Space Agency and NASA would have to continue despite the European stance on the accords. 

One has to see the accords as a business deal to ensure the US interests are upheld in their attempts to drive back to their lunar glory of the 1960s. However, without careful negotiation, the accords would open Pandora's box of legal issues once countries begin to engage with the resources and seek ownership of assets and locations on the Moon. It would also be essential for space-faring countries and the European region to ensure they have a role in the decision-making and not have to play by the rules of the US, in this case. 

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