Spinning off of the question "Can humans save crash-landed aliens?", I immediately wondered what the real-world political effect such a landing would cause.

To summarize - Aliens crash-land at the Boston Airport (ie, in the United States) and send off a broad S.O.S. to humans. They are injured, equipment on their ship largely destroyed. There's no hiding the fact that they've landed, and the SOS was picked up by every country in the world with the gear to do so. Everyone knows they're here, and there's no hiding it.

Let's assume we can get them stable - the ones that are unconscious either remain so, or perhaps are placed in a medically induced coma for their improved recovery, but they'll improve. So at the moment, we have no "Rosetta stone" to their tech.

Let's also take torture off the table - the aliens that can speak are cooperative, and while they may not know much about their technology (not their area of expertise - the question specifies that the one that can speak is trained as a linguist, not an engineer) they are willing to share, and can reliably confirm that they are not malicious. There will almost certainly be accusations of torture, or hand-wringing worry that it MIGHT be taking place from other countries, but we'll assume that we're not monsters, and don't.

The potential benefits of being able to reverse-engineer their tech alone could be enough to propel the US to a new level of technology, and is almost certainly something that other countries would either want to prevent, or more likely, just get in on.

How quickly would private corporations get control of such tech? The US would likely ask tech companies to assist, but how easily would they be able to negotiate ownership of any tech they discover?

Would the UN insist on taking over guardianship, or would a simple full transparency of their care, any experimentation on them and/or their ship suffice? Would the US agree to such transparency?

There may be two paths to answer the question:

  • How would the current government respond to such an event?

  • How would a hypothetical...let's go with "not as partisan" government respond?

  • $\begingroup$ I have a problem with any and all assertions that humans are not monsters, demonstrably untrue. $\endgroup$
    – Ash
    Apr 23 '19 at 13:33
  • $\begingroup$ @Ash Noted, and not disputed. $\endgroup$ Apr 23 '19 at 13:34
  • $\begingroup$ The real political issues won't arise on earth. Should the aliens home nation be aware of the crash-landing and care for its citizens the treatment of the aliens wont be an US issue but a "mankind should not piss off a K2 or K3 civilisation" issue. This is very dependent on weather there is Ftl or not, but even without someone will come looking at some point. The aliens aren't at the mercy of the US government, the US gouvernment and mankind are at the mercy of a civilisation with way better tech and vastly more resources. $\endgroup$ Apr 23 '19 at 13:44
  • $\begingroup$ @TheDyingOfLight That kind of depends on the lifespan of the aliens, we could send a crew of immortals anywhere in the universe with modern technology after all. $\endgroup$
    – Ash
    Apr 23 '19 at 13:46
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ This seems like a story-based question. Also, once into the realm of predicting future politics, it seems opinion-based. $\endgroup$
    – user535733
    Apr 23 '19 at 14:33

Let's start with a simple primer in international law;

There isn't any.

Alright, that's not perfectly true, but the important part of the rule of law you need to understand is that it's based on sovereignty, or the right of a ruling government to essentially make any laws it likes within its borders. This makes international law tricky outside of designated locations, like international waters. Even then, what constitutes international waters is subject to convention more than any hard and fast rule that specific countries have to abide by.

So; what's to stop the US from keeping the UN out of such a discovery?

Nothing, really. Same as if the craft crash landed in Seoul, the South Koreans could keep the discoveries to themselves, as could Australia if the craft crash landed in Hobart, or the South Africans could if it landed in Capetown.

In point of fact, the Hobart example is even trickier because Australia (like the US) is a federation, that recognises the sovereignty of its constituent states. That means if Tasmania decided to keep the discoveries to itself and didn't need military intervention to retrieve them, then there's technically no way for the Australian federal government to force Tasmania to share. So if Australia can't force a state to share such knowledge, there's very little the UN can do, especially against the US which is its primary financial contributor.

Every nation that attends the UN does so because its in their interest to do so, and it's not unheard of for nation states who would be disadvantaged by a specific UN resolution to politely ignore that resolution. If the matter is not material to any of the nation states on the UN security council or the offending state has a strong alliance with one of those nation states, then it's almost impossible to prosecute the matter outside of individual states declaring embargoes (or in the worst scenario, war) against the offending states.

It is true to state that all the above is a simplification, but functionally correct. Constitutions do place theoretical limits on the laws that a given nation can pass but even then, unless the international community has a reason to intervene, there's a lot that a ruling parliament can get away with inside its borders.

The discovery you describe is just one example of a compelling reason for a given nation state to keep their discovery to themselves, regardless of the international ire it may generate.

In short, the UN has only slightly more teeth than the League of Nations did, and to quote a famous movie line, the resolutions from the UN are more of a guideline than a rule in any event. The only reason they have any power is because the individual states all agree to be bound by them, and in the case where such power is available locally it's easy to see how a specific nation would simply withdraw from those accords if the risk of being an international pariah was exceeded by the benefits to be drawn from alien tech.

So, shorter still, any government will do their utmost to keep this to themselves and the UN has to know about it in the first instance before they try to do anything, which wouldn't amount to much unless the nation state on the receiving end of the crash landing is one against which the majority of the world is willing to unite.


It is my understanding, and I'm happy to be corrected by someone with first hand knowledge, that most, if not all, aerospace engineering (both the R&D and the component sides) in the US is now done through public/private partnerships or outright outsourced to private sector firms. That being the case the private sector will have any technological outcomes simultaneously with the government but public broadcast of said technologies will certainly take a lot longer.

The UN can try to insist on anything they like but unless they're willing to invade the US with international troops the US can invoke "possession is nine tenths..." with relative impunity.

I doubt any government anywhere in the world is going to agree to real transparency in matters of first contact with a technologically advanced alien civilisation, it's not in their best interests from multiple points of view. If the government is benevolent they won't want the broad dissemination of potential weapons and will want to keep everything under wraps until they know whats what. Equally a purely self serving government will keep things under wraps so they get dibs on the good bits. There's also the possibility of what I think of as "genius moments" pieces of technology that make no sense until some random guy comes along and goes "hey that thing does this thing" based on nothing but a piece of blind inspiration, you don't want to let technology out the door when you don't know what it does in case someone else has that moment and it turns out to be a doomsday device.

TheDyingOfLight has made a pertinent point in the comments, it may be that the biggest repercussions come not from international politics but on the interstellar PR front, how we're perceived to have treated our unintended guests may have serious repercussions for future relations with their civilisation.

  • $\begingroup$ Yeah, right now, any company that works for NASA that invents something, they own it. It's long been wondered how much money NASA would have access to if they owned just a piece of anything invented under their umbrella. $\endgroup$ Apr 23 '19 at 14:13

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