The idea of forming a new country on Earth has been discussed previously:

Can I still form a new country?

and setting up a new colony on the moon has been noted here:

How would today's nations respond to a nationless organization setting a colony on the moon?

The Outer Space Treaty says governments are not allowed to claim territory; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Outer_Space_Treaty. There was an attempt to extend this, in the Moon Treaty, but it wasn't ratified by major spacefaring nations.

Private individuals with deep pockets are now backing space efforts. At some point, they may want to claim territory and set up a sovereign nation. However, as citizens of existing countries, that might be tricky. Also, given the current technological suite, it isn't like they can pack up everything they own, go to the Moon or asteroid, and set up a new country, without going back to Earth for supplies. An attempt by someone to lay claim to anything could be squashed by restricting their launch facilities (by force or legal means), and so the new country wouldn't stand a chance at "standing on their own two feet." This was noted in the answers above.

From a technological perspective, this might be circumvented if space launches were far cheaper and launch facilities were in a nation that didn't care (North Korea?) so long as you were paying cash, but then this just changes the point where you start your blockade/quarantine.

Is there a legal strategy (law of the sea analogies come to mind) where you could fight restrictions on launches from your own country?

The proposed Helios folks in the 'nationless organization' have an unspecified technology (antigravity?) that other nations don't have. If they were to pull a 'Declaration of Independence' and declare themselves a new nation, could they claim self-determination (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Self-determination) which is also a UN principle? Would that override the Outer Space Treaty?

Frankly, if you've got an advanced technology that allows you to set up shop on the Moon and nobody else can get there, this appears to be a situation where "possession is 9/10ths of the law," and the politicians on Earth can complain all they want. It might even get more interesting when they start inviting select people to become citizens.

Legally, how would this be handled? Can these folks apply to be members of the UN?

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ "How would nations respond..." is a very broad question. I would focus on a something more narrow, like "Can a Moon colony get UN membership?" $\endgroup$
    – Alexander
    Dec 18, 2017 at 20:18
  • $\begingroup$ It will override treaties if politicians at the time will decide it does. Military tech may help them to make this decision. You can easily write many books with different outcomes about that, and make conditions and effects whatever you please. $\endgroup$
    – Mołot
    Dec 18, 2017 at 20:19
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    $\begingroup$ Not enough for a real answer but: The ability to form a nation is to say "we are a nation" and when someone says "no you aren't" you can reply "yes, we are" and make it stick. $\endgroup$
    – ShadoCat
    Dec 19, 2017 at 0:15
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    $\begingroup$ It is recommended that you not accept an answer for at least 24 hours as many of our participants are world-wide and human habit is to stop answering questions once they've been accepted. You could miss out on some very insightful answers! $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Dec 19, 2017 at 1:16

1 Answer 1


Legality is an ambiguous notion in international disputes

There is no supreme justice of international disputes.


because in order to have such a thing requires an overarching government

Isnt that the UN?

no, the UN is merely a body of nations who agree to certain conducts. It is merely a place members may go to have their case heard by other nations.

If that's true, dont they have an army?

The UN doesn't really have an army. They extract small membership dues from members that they can use to support military action however the bulk of its military might is donated by generous members primarily but not entirely from its security council.

So if a nation doesn't follow its rules wont they just use their military to destroy them?

Sadly, if that were true, would North Korea exist, would Africa be as chaotic as it is?

The real kicker with the UN is the security council. With China, Russia, and the US currently being the most impactful players (as in taking the most politically motivated actions). Particularly, the big five security members have the "veto power" which enables them to instantly terminate any UN resolution from adoption.

So Why does this matter with space nations?

If you so wanted to be an orbital Hitler and commit acts of genocide in space and declare yourself a nation, you could! The Geneva convention is virtually guidelines rather than real law, with various members being able to get away with playing with it.

The trick is you need to cozy up to a security council members who can veto any resolutions to end you.


This does not prevent any nation or alliance (like NATO) from individually declaring war on you, as that is their sovereign right. If you declared yourself an independent space nation then the country of Estonia can personally invade you, if it so desired to violate international "law" and claim space.

So why does the concept of international "law" exist?

because those UN members want it to. In order to have trade and peace "law" must exist.

Thus the single most determinant factor in international law is economic (and strategic) interest. Whose interests does it help? whose interests does it conflict with?


Legally, how would this be handled? Can these folks apply to be members of the UN?

Sure they could apply, whether they are accepted or not depends entirely on economic/strategic interests of the parties involved.

Take for example, if the nation of Lichtenstein managed to monopolize the asteroid belt harvesting untold riches completely wrecking all security council members economies, and suddenly their space colonies rebel and declare a nation, possibly the security council would unanimously accept them as a member in order to redistribute trade opportunities.


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