Open Lunar Registry Project Blog Post Series- Blog 4

Norms, particularly transparency, are needed to stabilise competition and promote cooperation on the Moon. However, these are not created in a vacuum but require their own tools and frameworks to develop, champion, and facilitate the adoption of the norm among the intended community of actors.

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Open Lunar Registry Project Blog Post Series- Blog 4
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Building Lunar Security and Cooperation Through an Astropolitcal Lens- how to construct normative behaviours on the moon- enter the registry

Norms, particularly transparency, are needed to stabilise competition (already present in space) and promote cooperation on the Moon. However, these are not created in a vacuum but require their own tools and frameworks to develop, champion, and facilitate the adoption of the norm among the intended community of actors.

Ideally, this supporting tool or framework needs to;

  1. Be politically inoffensive for the state or corporation (at least at the time of advocacy).
  2. Better yet, be in their interest to support, likely through contributing to commercial or political stability and security. 

The International Atomic Energy Authorities' civilian plutonium and reactor database is one such example. State actors voluntarily contribute this data, due to as mentioned previously, it being in their interests to avoid suspicion of nuclear misuse from a security perspective (and so allowing the development of their nuclear energy civilian industries without fear of creating difficulty regarding their international relations). This system is not full-proof, states can misreport, or like China since 2017, change their approach and refuse to provide key data. However, it established a normative expectation among most major nuclear states that even with these issues, it still works and indeed, has made Beijing the topic of pressure due to its abnormal behaviour. 

For the Moon, a similar kind of registry, though one that displays the activities as well as objects of Lunar-interested states would fall into the same category. The level of detail expected might be a stumbling block, but even the most basic information (i.e. a state or business being present in an area, ostensibly conducting a certain activity) creates a mapped landscape for actors to help them feel secure, avoid accidents or misunderstandings, and can be utilised to measure potential “dual-use” activity against. It also is not an administrative or political burden to report. In this way, it meets both of our above framework criteria. 

An example from the Antarctic Treaty System (ATS) is when Beijing’s latest base at Kunluw was officially registered with the ATS as conducting climate change research. Analysts later uncovered from leaked papers that it also is for “resource exploration” (which is banned by the ATS for now). This while not prevented, has been compiled as part of the overall understanding of China’s approach to the Antarctic.  

This from a competition perspective allows actors to police one another, with the consequences appearing in other arenas rather than them deploying greater and more competition-centric resources to the Moon (regardless of if the Lunar political environment has a treaty-based framework or not). This keeps an incredibly costly and hostile environment as free as it can be politically from the excesses of geopolitical spill-over through planting the seed of trust and transparency, which routine utilisation will turn into (among other initiatives) the normative behaviour of expecting transparency regarding Lunar activities.    

Read the next blog in the series.