Space Diplomacy

Space Diplomacy Part 1: Why Do We Need Diplomatic Relationships in Space?

Guest blogger Dr. Lee Carroll (AKA EL Whitehorse)

Britannica defines diplomacy as:

diplomacy: “the established method of influencing the decisions and behavior of foreign governments and peoples through dialoguenegotiation, and other measures short of war or violence.”

In this blog series on space diplomacy, we’ll explore how the topic is treated in science fiction. Speculative fiction, after all, allows us to speculate—what might happen when humans meet alien species? Obviously, we’ll want to avoid mutual destruction and hopefully enhance both cultures. Therefore, the more negotiating skills we bring to the table, the better the expected outcome may be.

In this first part of the series, we’ll look at the historical context of diplomatic relationships on planet Earth and the emerging guidelines for outer space as put forth by the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs. We’ll also introduce excerpts from Battlefield Earth, where the human protagonist is thrust into the role of welcoming envoys from around the galaxy.

When Is Diplomacy Warranted?

That’s an easy one: when you hope to bargain in order to strengthen the organization you represent. Britannica states, “To this end, diplomatic activity endeavors to maximize a group’s advantages without the risk and expense of using force and preferably without causing resentment.”

Diplomacy embraces the art of persuasive communication. Or, put another way, when there may be a clash of intentions, and you wish to emerge with the most gain and the least loss for all parties. Britannica continues, “When diplomacy fails, war may ensue; however, diplomacy is useful even during war. It conducts the passages from protest to menace, dialogue to negotiation, ultimatum to reprisal, and war to peace and reconciliation with other states.”

Specifically, to the point of diplomacy as used in outer space, the Hague Journal of Diplomacy has this to say:

“Diplomacy matters to outcomes in international relations, and space is another realm in which it occurs. At no time has it been more necessary to take up the challenge of better understanding diplomacy’s scope and limits than in the unfolding realities of what some are calling a new space race. On the one hand, these realities promise prosperity and progress for humanity as never before. The global space economy is now estimated to be nearly USD$450 billion in size and is projected to grow to over USD$1 trillion by the 2040s.

“Reusable rocketry, mega-constellations, off-world habitats, service spacecraft and autonomous robotics, among others, are technologies that hold promise for the exploration of space and for tackling the economic and digital divides around us. On the other hand, the dual-use nature of some of these same space technologies calls peaceful prospects in outer space into serious question. These dangers are amplified in a world that has seemingly returned to great power competition, in which national rivalries are extending to outer space.”

Historical Context of Diplomatic Relationships

The history of diplomacy is a complex and multifaceted story that spans thousands of years. Diplomacy has evolved alongside the development of human societies and the need for organized communication and interaction between different political entities. Here’s a brief overview of the history of diplomacy:

  • Ancient Civilizations (3000 BCE [Before Common Era, or what used to be called BC]–500 CE [Common/Current Era, or AD]): The roots of diplomacy can be traced back to ancient civilizations such as Mesopotamia, Egypt, China, and the Indus Valley. These early societies engaged in diplomatic activities, including negotiating treaties, alliances, and trade agreements.
  • Greek City-States (8th–4th centuries BCE): The city-states of ancient Greece, such as Athens and Sparta, practiced diplomacy through alliances and treaties. Greek diplomats, known as “proxenoi,” represented the interests of their city-states in foreign territories.
  • Roman Empire (509 BCE–476 CE): Rome expanded the concept of diplomacy by establishing legations and using ambassadors. The Roman Empire used diplomacy to control its vast territories and negotiate with neighboring states.
  • Byzantine Empire (330–1453 CE): The Byzantine Empire continued the Roman tradition of diplomacy, employing ambassadors and establishing diplomatic missions. Byzantine diplomacy was instrumental in maintaining relations with both Eastern and Western powers.
  • Medieval Europe (5th–15th centuries): During the Middle Ages, European feudal societies engaged in diplomatic activities, often involving alliances, marriages, and treaties. The Catholic Church played a significant role in diplomatic affairs, mediating conflicts and negotiating peace.
  • Renaissance and Early Modern Period (14th–18th centuries): The Renaissance saw a revival of interest in classical learning and a transformation in diplomatic practices. Permanent embassies became more common, and the Peace of Westphalia in 1648 marked a crucial turning point in establishing the modern state system and the principles of national sovereignty.
  • 18th and 19th Centuries: The emergence of the modern nation-state further shaped diplomatic practices. The Congress of Vienna in 1814–1815 aimed to restore stability to Europe after the Napoleonic Wars and set the stage for the balance of power diplomacy that characterized much of the 19th century.
  • 20th Century: The 20th century witnessed significant changes in diplomacy, with the development of international organizations such as the League of Nations (1920) and later the United Nations (1945). The increased complexity of global relations, the impact of two World Wars, and the Cold War rivalry influenced diplomatic strategies.
  • Contemporary Diplomacy (Post-Cold War Era to Present): Diplomacy in the contemporary era involves a wide range of issues, including economic relations, human rights, climate change, and regional conflicts. Multilateral diplomacy, facilitated through international organizations, is crucial in addressing global challenges.

Throughout history, the methods and instruments of diplomacy have evolved, reflecting changes in technology, communication, and the geopolitical landscape. Today, diplomacy remains a critical tool for Earth to address common challenges and pursue shared interests as we explore beyond the boundaries of inner space.

Where Do We Go From Here?

Looking at how diplomatic relations can propel us into the Space Age, we can turn to Wikipedia for a general historical outline of how the United Nations became the overseer of outer space affairs.

“As the subsequent Space Race between the United States and the Soviet Union heightened, the international community quickly became concerned that space could be used for military purposes. As a result of disagreements between the US and the USSR, the committee did not meet again until March 1962 after the General Assembly compelled it to via Resolution 1721 (XVI).”

“Resolution 1721 also further cemented the committee’s role in preserving space for peaceful purposes. It stated that international law and the UN Charter applied in outer space and directed the committee to study and report on legal problems arising from space exploration. It directed all states to inform the committee of all launches into space for the UN’s public registry.”

“Thus the committee aimed to prevent space from becoming a new frontier for conflict. This gave the committee the unique position of acting as a platform for maintaining outer space for peaceful purposes at the international level.”

“The United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) has acted as the secretariat to the committee since its creation in 1958.”

Are There Guidelines in Place for Space Diplomacy?

Yes! Here is an excerpt from the 2022 United Nations General Assembly Resolution “International Cooperation in the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space:”

“Emphasizing the significant progress in the development of space science and technology and their applications that has enabled humans to explore the universe, and the extraordinary achievements made in space exploration efforts, including deepening the understanding of the planetary system and the Sun and the Earth itself, in the use of space science and technology for the benefit of all humankind and in the development of the international legal regime governing space activities,

“Recognizing, in that regard, the unique platform at the global level for international cooperation in space activities represented by the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space and its Scientific and Technical Subcommittee and Legal Subcommittee and assisted by the Office for Outer Space Affairs of the Secretariat,

“Deeply convinced of the common interest of all humankind in promoting and expanding the exploration and use of outer space, as the province of all humankind, for peaceful purposes and in continuing efforts to extend to all Member States the A/RES/77/121 International cooperation in the peaceful uses of outer space 2/8 22-28485 benefits derived there from, and also of the importance of international cooperation in this field, for which the United Nations should continue to provide a focal point,

“Reaffirming the importance of international cooperation in developing the rule of international law, including the relevant norms of international space law and their important role in international cooperation for the exploration and use of outer space for peaceful purposes, and of the widest possible adherence to international treaties that promote the peaceful uses of outer space in order to meet emerging new challenges, especially for developing countries.”

To date, the United Nations is assertively taking the lead with official documentation in space diplomacy and its various issues, not the least of which includes who will be in control.

In fact, the United Nations has developed 16 international treaties about how somebody may use space. Perhaps more impressively, the treaties date from 1967. They address topics such as exploration and use of the moon, farther celestial bodies, the rescue of astronauts, weapons testing, and telecommunications. The Outer Space Treaty emphasizes that the Moon is to be used for peaceful purposes, and astronauts are to be regarded as the official envoys for humanity in outer space negotiation settings.

Diving deeper, the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) maintains a database entitled National Space Law, detailing such items as launch activities and remote sensing data per country on Earth.

Looking over the various UN treaties and Space Laws already in place, we realize that these considerations will become the topics of debate in future diplomatic relations with space-faring cultures.

Ensuring Positive Diplomatic Relationships in Space

We can thank President Donald J. Trump’s foresight for instituting Space Force, the sixth armed service branch after the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, and Air Force. The Space Review comments:

“The creation of a Space Force will have wide political, diplomatic, environmental, and ethical ramifications.”

“The Space Force and its activities have to pass the litmus test of the Outer Space Treaty. At the outset, nations have the space freedom to explore, use, and access the outer space and its celestial bodies. Pursuant to Article IV of the Treaty, that freedom is not unrestricted, and does not allow nations to place nuclear weapons or weapons of mass destruction in orbit or elsewhere in outer space, nor to establish military bases, test any kind of weapon, or conduct military maneuvers, especially on the Moon and celestial bodies.”

The Department of State document, A Strategic Framework for Space Diplomacy, optimistically states, “We must collaborate with allies and partners to increase cooperation, raise awareness, and increase resilience in the space domain. We must promote space safety and security cooperation; pursue bilateral and multilateral exchanges and transparency and confidence-building measures; and encourage responsible behavior by current and future space actors.”

Is There a Method to Diplomacy?

In a nutshell, your weapons include:

  1. Learn and match your partner’s code—dress, speech, etiquette
  2. Learn their manner of deference—honor, tradition, pecking order
  3. Learn and acknowledge their reality—goals, viewpoint

Finally, let’s look at this strategy in action in the science-fiction classic Battlefield Earth. As our blog series progresses, we’ll examine this literary example in greater detail.

Here, the Chinese elders are the ones to inform Jonnie Goodboy Tyler (Battlefield Earth hero) of what diplomacy is and how you deal with it, helping him to realize that the conference table is another form of battle with its own forms of etiquette and control, as itemized in The Art of War by Sun Tzu.

Battlefield Earth book trade paperback

Battlefield Earth, Part XXVI—Chapter 5

The coordinator sighed. He was not sure how Jonnie would take this. “He says you are ‘Lord Jonnie’ and”—he got it all out in a rush—“you can’t go around looking like a barbarian!”

If Jonnie had not been so worried about other things he would have laughed.

The coordinator was relieved that this had not been received as criticism. He continued. “He says he knew there would be a diplomatic conference and that a lot of lords would be arriving and that they would be very uppish and snobbish and fancy. And it’s true enough. I’ve seen them coming in on the platform. Jeweled breathe-masks, glittering cloth, ornaments—one even had a jeweled monocle. Pretty fancy dudes!”

He then swallowed and said the rest in a rush, “And if you go out there and talk to them in hides, they’ll think you’re just a barbarian and won’t listen to you. He says if you look and act,” he swallowed again, “like an uncouth savage, they’ll hold you in contempt.” He stopped, relieved to have gotten through it.

In a hopeful press statement of May 30, 2023, US Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken states, “We are committed to expanding space benefits for all humankind by engaging allies and partners who share our democratic values of openness, transparency, adaptability, and the free flow of ideas and information.”

If all parties at the negotiation table adhere to these same values, we may set the stage for a beneficial presence in outer space.

Dr. Lee Carroll (AKA EL Whitehorse)

Working abroad in 10 countries of Europe, Asia, Africa, North and South America, both as a doctor and teacher, has shown me life through a prism of viewpoints. That experience has enriched my writing to the point where I enjoy showcasing the admiration I feel for varied cultures.

For example, my WOTF Semi-finalist entry is published for Kindle as Death Clearinghouse: The Novelette, featuring Apache ingenuity.

When I’m not writing, I’m yanking swords out of stones around the world.

(Amazon author page:


A Strategic Framework for Space Diplomacy. US Department of State (2022)

Berry, W. Negotiating in the Age of Integrity: A Complete Guide to Negotiating Win/Win in Business and Life (1996)

Blinken, A. United States Leads in Space with Diplomacy. US Department of State (2023)

Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space: 2022. United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (2022)

Cross, M & Pekkanen, S. Introduction. Space Diplomacy: The Final Frontier of Theory and Practice The Hague Journal of Diplomacy. (2023)

Diplomacy. Britannica (accessed 12/2023)

Goel, B. The US Space Force and international law considerations. The Space Review (2020)

International cooperation in the peaceful uses of outer space. Resolution adopted by the General Assembly on 12 December 2022 (2022)

Status of International Agreements relating to activities in outer space as at 1 January 2023. UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (2023)

Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies (introduces ‘Outer Space Treaty’). United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (1967)

Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies (full ‘Outer Space Treaty’)—RESOLUTION ADOPTED BY THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY. United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (1967)

Tzu, S. The Art of War (between 475 and 221 BCE)

United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space. Wikipedia (accessed 12/2023)

Battlefield Earth book by L. Ron Hubbard. Download a chapter book here or listen to an audiobook sample here.

Dear Reader, Would you like to be a space diplomat, dealing with alien species? Please let us know why or why not!

1 reply
  1. NL
    NL says:

    Voilà une prémisse à la conquête spatiale. Quelques règles posées et le ciel est ouvert à de nouvelles aventures. Ça promet !


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