of alien politics and space laws

If you're hoping for a Galactic Federation of planets with rules and regulations for spacefaring alien species, you're probably going to be let down...
shy alien

Every time you watch sci-fi shows that have been cable mainstays for over a decade, there’s always a galactic government that settles disputes between alien nations like an interstellar United Nations. It’s soothing to think that when we expand so far into space that we’re meeting aliens on a regular basis, there will be a legal framework to help us navigate alien cultures and customs, that the aliens we meet will be much more willing to fight us in a court of law than in a cosmic battlefield and that we don’t need to revert to the same rules of natural selection we’ve been able to bypass on Earth in an unknown environment.

Of course what we like and what we find soothing isn’t necessarily what would really happen. In sci-fi movies, books and TV shows, aliens have the technology to circumvent physical laws and communicate in real time across the vastness of space so they can interact with each other as easily as different nations on Earth do. Because we project ourselves into our conception of an alien civilization, we assume they would do exactly what we would do when placed right next to each other and with the ability to seamlessly communicate. But the rules that shape space and time make this scenario pretty much impossible in reality.

Having a council or union approved by many alien species to govern their galaxies would be a Sisyphean task due to vast distances, cultural differences and levels of technological advancement between intelligent alien species. Communication between advanced, tech savvy empires and less industrialized ones separated by thousands (if not tens of thousands) of light years is likely to break down or end in violent conflicts because the aliens will have very little or nothing in common. The same applies to alien species with vastly different cultures.

If highly scientific species which view the universe in relative terms try to talk to societies raised with ancient dogmas and unquestioning absolutism, it’s much more likely that a heated, if not violent antagonism would end all dialogue rather than actually accomplish anything. How much did centuries of debates with religious extremists on our own planet accomplish? It’s doubtful that similar communication breakdowns between alien species could lead to anything good. We also have to deal with the many problems of having a two way conversation without the technology that can negate relativity. Even simple hellos would take years and years to exchange and that’s not to mention all the decoding that would have to take place.

But we don’t need to go as far as an alien solar system to see how difficult politics in space can be. Our own governments have rules and treaties which try to define to who planets actually belong and prevent us from contaminating other worlds with our germs. However, these agreements are all vague, idealistic documents signed by diplomats. There’s no real oversight or any sort of regulatory body that can take action when one of these agreements is violated. A glaring example of just how ineffective these treaties are is the plan for the Phobos-Grunt mission which could violate the anti-forward contamination agreement. Who’s going to stop them though? It’s not like there’s a desk at the UN with the power to ban a mission launch or a global agency that’s in charge of approving all missions and settling international disputes in space.

If we, a species that lives on one planet and can communicate in real time, can’t come up with a real legal framework for working in space, how difficult would it be for two species separated by trillions and trillions of miles to even say hello, much less agree on anything? One day in the far future, we might find ourselves face to face with an alien creature and we should be aware that the chances of a friendly Galactic Federation or an Interstellar Alliance coming to our aid when there’s a problem, are infinitesimal to none.

# astrobiology // alien civilizations / alien politics / exopolitics

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