Ruwantissa Abeyratne

Dr. Abeyratne teaches aerospace law at McGill University. Among the numerous books he has published are Air Navigation Law (2012) and Aviation Safety Law and Regulation (to be published in 2023). He is a former Senior Legal Counsel at the International Civil Aviation Organization.

Artemis and The Hunt for The Moon

7 mins read

Artemis smiled. “You have done well, my lieutenant. You have made me proud, and all those Hunters who perished in my service will never be forgotten. They will achieve Elysium, I am sure.“…Rick Riordan

Artemis, daughter of Zeus and Leto, is known in Greek mythology as the goddess of the hunt: of wilderness; and wildlife. Artemis is also the goddess of the Moon.

As the lore goes, Artemis was a virgin who only loved her hunting partner Orion.

Artemis is also the name of the gigantic rocket 37 stories in height named by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) that will be launched on 29 August 2022 on it way to the Moon.  The rocket was presumably so named also because Artemis was the twin sister of Apollo. There is a distinct link between the twins in astronautical terms as the first Moon Program was named Apollo which started in 1961 by NASA culminating in two men walking on the Moon in 1969. 

The Artemis Programme will be carried out with the advanced Space Launch System (SLS) rockets and will be in three stages: Artemis 1 will be a test flight of the SLS rocket with the Orion spacecraft with no crew; Artemis 2 will fly SLS and Orion with a crew past the Moon, then circle it and return to Earth. This trip will be the farthest any human has gone into space; Artemis 3 will send a crew with the first woman and the next man to land on the Moon.

The broad aim and objective of the Artemis Program is to learn more about the Moon, the Sun and Earth and be a steppingstone for ultimate travel to Mars.  Within this broad goal is the search for water on the Moon with a view to using it and ultimately breaking down the components of water – Hydrogen and Oxygen – and using Hydrogen to power rockets and spacecraft for distant galactic travel. Other objectives are: to study the Moon to discover its mysteries; learn how to live and work on the surface of another celestial body where astronauts are just three days from home; and test the technologies that is needed to carry out missions to Mars with astronauts, which could involve a roundtrip of three years.

The Artemis Programme involves 12 countries including the United States and more are expected to join.  It has its genesis in the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 which sets out the fundamental principle –  “the freedom principle”  – that all countries have equal rights to explore outer space without any prejudices in accordance with international law. All countries have equal rights to transparency, interoperability, emergency assistance, the release of scientific data, the use of space resources, and the management of orbital debris. Under this broad legal and regulatory astronautical umbrella, the Artemis Accords were originally signed on October 13, 2020, by the United States, Australia, Canada, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, the United Arab Emirates, and the United Kingdom. These Accords have further opened opportunities of space diplomacy and international cooperation that were made possible by the International Space Station (ISS) Intergovernmental Agreement signed in 1998.

The United States and China have, in their policies, recognized the preeminent principle – that space exploration should be for the benefit of all humankind.  This is a good starting point. 

For over 20 years the ISS has been a beacon of outer space, bestowing much benefit to humanity through the space agencies of the United States, Russia, Japan, Canada, and the participating countries of the European Space Agency. It has been reported that the work of the ISS is coming to an end and that NASA intends to keep operating the International Space Station until the end of 2030 after which the ISS would be crashed into a remote part of the Pacific Ocean known as Point Nemo.

To get some perspective on why space exploration is a multi billion-dollar expense which seemingly bears no immediate benefit to humanity, one has to go back in history.  In 2004, in the United States, NASA released its Vision for Space Exploration. The Vision moves towards its fundamental goal – which is to advance U.S. scientific, security, and economic interests through a robust space exploration program. To achieve this goal, the United States intends to: implement a sustained and affordable human and robotic program to explore the solar system and beyond; extend human presence across the solar system, starting with a human return to the Moon by the year 2020, in preparation for human exploration of Mars and other destinations; develop the innovative technologies, knowledge, and infrastructures both to explore and to support decisions about the destinations for human exploration; and promote international and commercial participation in exploration to further U.S. scientific, security, and economic interests.  The vision prompted NASA to engage, between 2004 and 2007, with other space agencies in informal discussions on modalities, goals, possibilities, competencies and timeline for space exploration in the future. 

This vision is not unique to the United States.  The European Space Agency has its Aurora space exploration programme. China, India, Japan and Russia have ambitious national projects to explore the Moon or Mars, while future national missions are being discussed in Canada, Germany, Italy, Republic of Korea and the United Kingdom.

In 2009, the United States Human Spaceflight Plans Committee (more popularly called the Augustine Committee, named after Norman R. Augustine, Chairman) in its report recognized that space exploration has become a global enterprise and that in the face of a burgeoning commercial space industry which could be encouraged to engage in space exploration, costs incurred by the government could be vastly reduced in the implementation of its space programme. The Committee also opined that the United States could lead a bold new international effort in the human exploration of space with the involvement of international partners.

The current vision of the leadership in the United States on space exploration, was articulated by President Obama on 15 April 2010, – that eventually there would be a manned mission on Mars.  President Obama did not give  a time line for this occurrence. This is in contrast to the declaration of President Kennedy in 1961 when he said about the moon missions: “I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to Earth”.

Space exploration has always been, and will be driven by the need for political and technological one-upmanship and, as astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson in the March/April 2012 issue of Foreign Affairs said: “If the United States commits to the goal of reaching Mars, it will almost certainly do so in reaction to the progress of other nations – as was the case with NASA, the Apollo programme, and the project that became the International Space Station.   For the past decade, I have joked with colleagues that the United States would land astronauts on Mars in a year or two if only the Chinese would leak a memo that revealed plans to build military bases there”.  De Grasse Tyson went on to say that this joke should not be taken lightly as the Chinese have released an official strategy paper in which they claim that they have a five-year plan to advance their space capabilities which include the launching of space laboratories, manned spaceships and space freighters and engaging in other activities of advanced space exploration.

It is a truism that no individual country or group of countries can regulate outer space, which is governed by a patchwork of international treaties, resolutions of the United Nations and industry standards.  However, international relations and domestic policy drive a nation’s direction towards outer space exploration and reflect individual State interests. The United States, which incontrovertibly is the leader among all spacefaring nations (which include  Brazil, Russia, India and China, France, Japan, the United Kingdom, Israel the European Space Agency, Ukraine and Iran), is responsible for 75 percent of space funding worldwide and owns or operates 40 percent of all active spacecraft in orbit. 

Garold Larson, Alternate Representative to the First Committee of the 64th Session of the United Nations Assembly held on 19 October 2009, succinctly outlined the policy of the United States on space exploration.  The foremost principle outlined by Larson was that the United States will continue to uphold the principles of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, which the United States recognized as providing fundamental guidelines required for the free access to and use of outer space by all nations for peaceful purposes.  He went on to say that the United States will continue to take an active role in identifying and implementing cooperative efforts with established and emerging members of the international spacefaring community to ensure the safety of the space assets of all nations and also expand cooperation with other like-minded spacefaring nations and with the private sector to identify and protect against intentional and unintentional threats to its space capabilities.

The European Union, in 2008, published a draft Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities, which it later revised in September 2010. The fundamental postulate of this code is that member states should establish policies and procedures to minimize the possibility of accidents or any form of harmful interference with other States’ right to the peaceful exploration and use of outer space. The Code applies three basic principles in pursuance of its overall objective:  freedom of access to space for peaceful purposes; preservation of the security and integrity of space objects in orbit; and due consideration for the legitimate defense interests of states.

Here is my take.

There are two fundamental issues. Firstly, space exploration must continue for technology to progress.    Above all it will give humankind a sense of perspective, as to who we are, where we have come from, and where we are headed. Secondly, since space diplomacy is an incipient but rapidly evolving process, the key to international cooperation would lie in relations between the United States and China.  Both countries have, in their policies, recognized the preeminent principle – that space exploration should be for the benefit of all humankind.  This is a good starting point. 

A joint space programme between key players of North America, Europe and Asia could greatly stabilize Asia and very likely forge reconciliation between China and Japan and obviate burgeoning rivalry between China and India. Given the fact that both countries – The United States and China – had adopted (for what it’s worth) what they call a “constructive partnership” in world affairs, the United States could, with the association of a strong Europe and Russia, engage in inclusive discussions with China on collaborative involvement in space exploration.

Let’s All Kill Tchaikovsky

4 mins read

“There is no more Swan Lake…Tchaikovsky is out”.  Olesia Vorotnyk, a Ukrainian ballerina who took up an AK 47 to defend Ukraine

I came across this intriguing story in  The Economist of July 2nd, 2022, of a dancer with Ukraine’s national ballet – 30 years old – and a professional dancer since 2009  who had lost her husband in a conflict east of Ukraine 3 years ago.  When the “new war” began in February she had to do something, and she took up the gun; gave up her ballet and took a position at a checkpoint. The Economist quotes Ms. Vorotnyk as saying: “ There was this great myth of great Russia and its great army…we see the truth: they come here to steal our toilets…I wonder if those Russians read Pushkin”.

I have every respect for Ms. Vorotnyk ’s rationale and noble intent.  Whether she intended to or not, she was adhering to Article 51 of the United Nations Charter which says inter alia: “nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defence if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations”.

But her mention of Pushkin got me first to think, and then to wonder about war, culture, and national dignity.  Alexander Pushkin, widely acknowledged as the father of Russian literature, posited that there was a compelling need for Russian cultural, economic, and political development to blend harmoniously the thinking of  “Slavophiles” and “Westernizers.” – who followed two schools of thought – the former being anchored on the unique national characteristics of Russia, and the latter being based on the global or Western approach.  Pushkin thought that the two philosophies should be symbiotic and should form one and the same approach by the Russians.

Doubtless, some Russians, particularly those who initiated and carried out the invasion, might consider Pushkin “old hat” in the modern world of ideologues, populism, and autocracy which Gideon Rachman so eloquently elaborates in his book The Age of the Strongman.  Some might even argue that it’s justified to think that Pushkin’s vision is archaic.  What causes me amazement is that even some of us “Westernizers” in the Western world think and act so.  Alarmingly, as a reprisal to the Russian invasion, some have eschewed all forms of Russian culture (particularly music, ballet, drama, and other fields of fine arts) cancelling pre-booked performers by Russian musicians, performers, and conductors in their countries.

Classic FM Digital Radio reported that “All Russian participants have been banned from Dublin Piano Competition, prompting one performer to exclaim “I’m just curious how this will help to stop the war!” In another case, 20-year-old prodigy  Alexander Malofeev had his piano recital at Vancouver Recital Society cancelled.

Prominent figures have lost their jobs because they did not make public statements against the invasion.  Conductor Valery Gergiev, chief conductor of the Munich Philharmonic, was fired for this reason as he refused to issue a statement condemning the invasion and ensuing consequences endured by  Ukraine. Yet another luminary,  Tugan Sokhiev —considered by some as Gergiev’s protege — left his post as music director of the Bolshoi Theater after feeling growing pressure to make a statement.

Thomas Sanderling, the conductor who headed the Novosibirsk Philharmonic Orchestra resigned his position in protest against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.  However, he has been vocal in protesting against a blanket boycott of Russian art and artists, saying he feels it’s unfair to impugn cultural figures who do not speak out against the Russian invasion when requested and that it is unjust to terminate their services ipso facto. Sanderling said: “It is important to have a position, but it can’t be demanded. I think it’s a matter of individual choice. I know that many artists in Russia are disturbed, that they are expected to absolutely take a stand. And I think it’s also part of our European culture to recognize the right of the individual to speak out on an issue or not.”

Asking a civilian and non-actor in a war to make a public statement under pain of termination of his services which is calculated to cause adverse effects to his career and livelihood is an asinine thing to do.  It borders on incoherent buffoonery and counter-intuitive revenge and vindictiveness based on a complete misapprehension of what war is.  The defining quality of intelligence is that it should make a point, and this attitude just doesn’t.  War is a state of armed conflict between different States or different groups within a nation or State. War is not a state of armed conflict between nations – which are the people of a State.  It is indeed regrettable that modern-day warfare targets civilians as well as States as a result of a perceived and purposely contrived misapprehension incapable of differentiating between the State and the Nation.

Such feckless thinking is the philosophical antithesis of democracy and a rules-based international order. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights – adopted for the people of the world –  which commences its Preamble with the words “Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world”, goes on to say in Article 2; “ Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status”.

Furthermore, the Declaration continues, no distinction must be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional, or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty”. While Article 6 of the Declaration gives everyone the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law, Article 23 gives everyone the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.

History records many instances where nations have helped nations in need – a phenomenon that can be seen around the world even at the present time.  One of such moments that stands out in history is reflected in the speech made by J.R. Jayawardene, then Finance Minister of (then) Ceylon at the 1947 signing of the post-war San Francisco Treaty, who refused to accept compensation for harm caused by the Japanese, saying that Ceylon did not intend to accept compensation as the Ceylonese nation believed in the words of the Great  Teacher [Buddha] whose message has ennobled the lives of countless millions in Asia, that hatred ceases not by hatred but by love. He ended the speech by saying “We extend to Japan the hand of friendship and trust that … her people and ours may march together to enjoy the full dignity of human life in peace and prosperity”.

It was clear that Minister Jayawardene had a sage understanding of the distinction between State and Nation. Perhaps we should too.