Relationships with extraterrestrial
men, presents no basically new problem from the standpoint of
international law; but the possibility of confronting
intelligent beings that do not belong to the human race would
bring up problems whose solution it is difficult to conceive.
In principle, there is no difficulty
in accepting the possibility of coming to an understanding with
them, and of establishing all kinds of relationships. The
difficulty lies in trying to establish the principles on which
these relationships should be based.
In the first place, it would be necessary to establish
communication with them through some language or other, and
afterwards, as a first condition for all intelligence, that they
should have a psychology similar to that of men.
At any rate, international law should make place for a new law
on a different basis, and it might be called “Law Among
Obviously, the idea of revolutionizing
international law to the point where it would be capable of
coping with new situations would compel us to make a change in
its structure, a change so basic that it would no longer be
international law, that is to say, as it is conceived today, but
something altogether different, so that it could no longer bear
the same name.
If these intelligent beings were in possession of a more or less
culture, and a more or less perfect political organization, they
would have an absolute right to be recognized as independent and
sovereign peoples, we would have to come to an agreement with
them to establish the legal regulations upon which future
relationships should be based, and it would be necessary to
accept many of their principles.
Finally, if they should reject all peaceful cooperation and
become an imminent threat to the earth, we would have the right
to legitimate defense, but only insofar as would be necessary to
annul this danger.
Another possibility may exist, that a species of homo sapiens
might have established themselves as an independent nation on
another celestial body in our solar system and evolved
culturally independently from ours. Obviously, this possibility
depends on many circumstances, whose conditions cannot yet be
However, we can make a study of the basis on which
such a thing might have occurred.
In the first place, living conditions on these bodies lets say
the moon, or the planet Mars, would have to be such as to permit
a stable, and to a certain extent, independent life, from an
Much has been speculated about the
possibilities for life existing outside or our atmosphere and
beyond, always hypothetically, and there are those who go so far
as to give formulas for the creation of an artificial atmosphere
on the moon, which undoubtedly have a certain scientific
foundation, and which may one day come to light.
Lets assume that magnesium silicates
on the moon may exist and contain up to 13 per cent water. Using
energy and machines brought to the moon, perhaps from a space
station, the rooks could be broken up, pulverized, and then
backed to drive off the water of crystallization.
This could be
collected and then decomposed into hydrogen and oxygen, using an
electric current or the short wave radiation of the sun. The
oxygen could be used for breathing purposes; the hydrogen might
be used as a fuel.
In any case, if no existence is possible on celestial bodies
except for enterprises for the exploration of their natural
riches, with a continuous interchange of the men who work on
them, unable to establish themselves there indefinitely and be
able to live isolated life, independence will never take place.
Now we come to the problem of determining what to do if the
inhabitants of celestial bodies, or extraterrestrial
biological entities (EBE) desire to settle here.
If they are politically
organized and possess a certain culture similar to our own,
they may be recognized as a independent people. They could
consider what degree of development would be required on
earth for colonizing.
If they consider our culture to
be devoid of political unity, they would have the right to
colonize. Of course, this colonization cannot be conducted
on classic lines.
A superior form of colonizing will have to be conceived,
that could be a kind of tutelage, possibly through the tacit
approval of the United Nations.
But would the United Nations
legally have the right of allowing such tutelage over us in
such a fashion?
Although the United Nations
is an international organization, there is no doubt that
it would have no right of tutelage, since its domain
does not extend beyond relationships between its
members. It would have the right to intervene only if
the relationships or a member nation with a celestial
body affected another member nation with an
extraterrestrial people is beyond the domain of the
United Nations. But if these relationships entailed a
conflict with another member nation, the United Nations
would have the right to intervene.
the United Nations were a
supra-national organization, it would have competency to
deal with all problems related to extraterrestrial
peoples. Of course, even though it is merely an
international organization, it could have this
competence if its member states would be willing to
It is difficult to predict what the
attitude of international law will be with regard to the
occupation by celestial peoples of certain locations on our
planet, but the only thing that can be foreseen is that
there will be a profound change in
We cannot exclude the possibility that a race of
extraterrestrial people more advanced technologically and
economically may take upon itself the right to occupy another
How, then, would this occupation
The idea of exploitation by one
celestial state would be rejected, they may think it would
be advisable to grant it to all others capable of reaching
another celestial body. But this would be to maintain a
situation of privilege for these states.
The division of a celestial body
into zones and the distribution of them among other
celestial states. This would present the problem of
distribution. Moreover, other celestial states would he
deprived of the possibility of owning an area, or if they
were granted one it would involve complicated operations.
giving each celestial state the right to make whatever use
is most convenient to its interests, independently of the
others. This would create a situation of anarchy, as the
strongest one would win out in the end.
A moral entity? The most
feasible solution it seem would be this one, submit an
agreement providing for the peaceful absorption of a
celestial race(s) in such a manner that our culture would
remain intact with guarantees that their presence not be
Actually, we do not believe it
necessary to go that far. It would merely be a matter of
internationalizing celestial peoples and creating an
international treaty instrument preventing exploitation of all
nations belonging to
the United Nations.
Occupation by states here on earth, which has lost all interest
for international law, since there were no more
res nullius territories, is
beginning to regain all its importance in cosmic
Occupation consist in the appropriation by a state of res
Until the last century, occupation was the normal means of
acquiring sovereignty over territories, when explorations made
possible the discovery of new regions, either inhabited or in an
elementary state of civilization.
The imperialist expansion of the states came to an end with the
end of regions capable of being occupied, which have now been
drained from the earth and exist only in interplanetary space
where the celestial states present new problems.
Res nullius is something that belongs to nobody such as
the moon. In international law a celestial body is not subject
to the sovereignty of any state is considered res nullius.
If it could be established that a celestial body within our
solar system such as our moon was, or is occupied by another
celestial race, there could be no claim of res nullius by
any state on earth (if that state should decide in the future to
send explorers to lay claim to it).
It would exist as res
communis that is that all celestial states have the same
rights over it.
And now to the final question of whether the presence of
celestial astroplanes in our atmosphere is a direct
result of our
testing atomic weapons?
The presence of unidentified space craft flying in our
atmosphere (and possibly maintaining orbits about our planet) is
now, however, accepted as defacto by our military.
On every question of whether the United States will continue
testing of fission bombs and develop fusion devices (hydrogen
bombs), or reach an agreement to disarm and the exclusion of
weapons that are too destructive, with the exception of chemical
warfare, on which, by some miracle we cannot explain, an
agreement has been reached, the lamentations of philosophers,
the efforts of politicians, and the conferences of diplomats
have been doomed to failure and have accomplished nothing.
The use of the atomic bomb combined with space vehicles poses a
threat on a scale which makes it absolutely necessary to come to
an agreement in this area.
With the appearance of
unidentified space vehicles
(opinions are sharply divided as to their origin) over the skies
of Europe and the United States has sustained an ineradicably
fear, an anxiety about security, that is driving the great
powers to make an effort to find a solution to the threat.
Military strategists foresee the use of space craft with nuclear
warheads as the ultimate weapon of war. Even the deployment of
artificial satellites for intelligence gathering and target
selection is not far off.
The military importance of space
vehicles, satellites as well as rockets is indisputable, since
they project war from the horizontal plane to the vertical plane
in its fullest sense.
Attack no longer comes from an exclusive
direction, nor from a determined country, but from the sky, with
the practical impossibility of determining who the aggressor is,
how to intercept the attack, or how to effect immediate
reprisals. These problems are compounded further by
How does the air defense radar operator
identify, or more precisely, classify his target?
At present, we can breath a little easier knowing that slow
moving bombers are the mode of delivery of atomic bombs that can
be detected by long-range early warning radar. But what do we do
in, lets say ten years from now?
When artificial satellites and
missiles find their place in space, we must consider the
potential threat that unidentified spacecraft pose. One must
consider the fact that misidentification of these space craft
for a intercontinental missile in a re-entry phase of flight
could lead to accidental nuclear war with horrible consequences.
Lastly, we should consider the possibility that our atmospheric
tests of late could have influenced the arrival of celestial
scrutiny. They could have been, curious or even alarmed by such
activity (and rightly so, for the Russians would make every
effort to observe and record such tests).
In conclusion, it is our professional opinion based on submitted
data that this situation is extremely perilous, and measures
must be taken to rectify a very serious problem are very
Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer
Director of Advanced Studies
Princeton, New Jersey
Professor Albert Einstein
Princeton, New Jersey