Say we somehow developed light speed travel (All our other technology is not affected by this breakthrough) and found a nearby planet with intelligent life on it. These aliens:

  1. Look different than us, but we can breathe and live normally on their planet.
  2. Have extremely advanced technology (We know that) and could probably demolish us in battle (We don't know that)
  3. We can communicate with them through a translation machine
  4. They don't know of our existence but they know of the existence of other alien life.

The US is calling the shots, and this is a top secret project, so it is being controlled by the very high US government.

What would we do? Would we attack, try to make peace, or something else? Why?

If you need any extra info just leave a comment.


closed as primarily opinion-based by Philipp, ArtOfCode, Vincent, Ghanima, JDługosz Jun 1 '15 at 6:19

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • $\begingroup$ This depends a whole lot on who is calling the shots in humanity at this time. The US? EU? Russia? China? Vastly differing answers for each. It also depends on what the aliens do. $\endgroup$ – user5083 May 31 '15 at 14:21
  • $\begingroup$ I updated my answer. $\endgroup$ – user10041 May 31 '15 at 14:27
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ The historical response by humans when discovering new civilizations was 1. colonize 2. enslave 3. exterminate to almost extinction 4. feel guilty about it 5. let live but exploit economically. $\endgroup$ – Philipp May 31 '15 at 14:45
  • $\begingroup$ @Philipp but we've come a long way (...always the optimist), just maybe not all the way. $\endgroup$ – Mikey May 31 '15 at 17:54
  • $\begingroup$ How can 3 and 4 exist at the same time. $\endgroup$ – JDługosz May 31 '15 at 20:29

Considering your clarified question, I'm going to address the main points of what the likely US response to this situation would be in a world with a similar political situation as we currently have.

Keep it secret - yes, it seems like a cliche, but it is that way for a reason, and this specific situation gives more reason than ever to keep the contact secret. Since it was the government that discovered this, releasing the information would lend credibility to other conspiracy theories much more so than if contact was made openly. Many would assume stories like Area 51's crash were true all along. Further, there is little benefit to telling others, since this contact could be strategically useful.

Maintain peaceful relations - despite what many think, I very much doubt the initial response would be to attempt to attack. There isn't much benefit and much risk to antagonizing them. I would point to a situation like North Korea, where there is proven and serious threat, yet the risk is too high to do anything about it. We have not even invaded Iran, where the risk is substantially lower. Attacking another planet would be incredibly costly, difficult, dangerous, and offer little in short-term reward. Aliens with weapons we don't understand would be North Korea to the nth power. No country on Earth would attempt to attack.

Try to get information - the main goal in this context would be to get their technology, both to even the odds with the aliens themselves, and to improve the US' standing on Earth. Without knowing more about these aliens I cannot say what this part of the response might entail, but it is easy to imagine the US government would do almost anything to get the aliens' technology. Think of what we have already done for technology boosts: unethical experiments, letting Nazis off the hook...

Try to use aliens against Earthly enemies - wouldn't it be nice if Marvin the Martian just zapped Putin into not existing anymore? Maybe Kim Jong Un? If the aliens could be motivated to take the US side in Earthly politics, they would certainly be pushed towards it by the US.

This would be the short-term response. In the long-term, the government would have to recognize the existence of aliens, and the amount of technology/intervention could make that sooner or later.

From that point, what would happen depends more on the aliens than on Humans. If the aliens are peaceful themselves, some sort of trade seems likely, and Earth might end up part of whatever power they are a part of. It depends greatly on the size of the technology gap.

If they're warlike... this whole question might not be valid, since if they attack first, there isn't much room to respond.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I know this is inappropriate use of the comment section, but I laughed out loud at the typo: Jim Jong Un. Thank you for that. $\endgroup$ – Mikey May 31 '15 at 18:14
  • $\begingroup$ @Mikey Aaa! That is not the first time I have said that. I blame my keyboard layout. Corrected. $\endgroup$ – user5083 May 31 '15 at 18:17
  • $\begingroup$ don't get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoyed it, and not in criticism: I may start saying the name that way. $\endgroup$ – Mikey May 31 '15 at 18:23
  • $\begingroup$ Wouldn't it be nice if Marvin the Martian just zapped Putin into not existing anymore? Maybe, but beware of unintended consequences. For example, by any objective standard, Saddam Hussein was a monster and a war criminal who deserved to be taken out. It wasn't until we actually did so, though, that we found out he was also the only thing holding a volatile region together and preventing it from collapsing into... well... exactly the mess that Iraq has collapsed into since. Aliens or no aliens, do we really want to see a similar scenario play out in a nuclear state? $\endgroup$ – Mason Wheeler Jun 23 '15 at 17:59

Acknowledgement and Engagement, with Self Interest

I'm always an optimist, so I'm taking this tact, don't roll your eyes.

Limitations - Classified information is typically limited to a very small group of people. Hopefully, this information is limited to the Executive Branch of the US Government, with the addition of specialists and experts instead of crazies in Congress who throw snowballs to dispute climate change. This hopefully ensures a rational, and moderate approach to the situation (hey, I said I was an optimist).

Competition - No matter who is the responsible State or Meta-national corporation on Earth, they will attempt to ensure their superiority in the situation if it benefits them. In this case the United States is well-equipped to try to keep this information well-separated from other countries.

Mitigation - In this situation, there should be a well-assembled team to prepare "what-if" scenarios that would threaten the United States in any way (even via externalities). This could include, "what if they are aggressive".

Outreach - There would be an opportunity to not only contact the aliens, but to establish some kind of diplomatic relationship: "Hey, don't hurt us and we won't bother you".

Trade - The one thing humans and Americans are good at is trying to find the right edge to trade, barter, buy, or sell. The US will scramble to find something that the aliens want, but cannot get themselves or don't want to. Who knows, maybe they like sea-shells, but can't be a$$ed to collect them themselves (okay that was a throwaway example, but you know what I mean).

Espionage - No doubt a decision will be made to gather information discreetly, and likely this will end only in embarrassing the country.


While I agree that generally the US (or any other government, for that matter) might be working to extract the maximum benefits from contact and mitigate any downside, there will also be a small group looking at the ultimate measure of mitigation: what to do if they are hostile?

Somewhere on the far side of the Moon or a convenient Near Earth Object (NEO) will be a team who's sole job is to study the aliens and determine what sort of countermeasures can be created if they have hostile intent.

Since in the opening you suggest the Earth has some sort of near lightspeed transportation, the fairly obvious answer already exists: attach the engine system to a projectile and be ready to fire a relativistic missile at the aliens. At .99*c*, the missile would crack open the crust and expose the mantle, pretty much sterilizing the planet (and probably angering the space based civilization in that solar system). If the US government were paranoid enough, they would be building a fleet of these missiles, and each missile would have a bus fill of multi megaton nuclear weapons to go after space stations, asteroids and any other installation that might exist. Just to be sure, a few relativistic missiles would be programmed to strike their Sun, to bathe the system in sterilizing radiation.

This would work very well, since the detection of the incoming missiles would be a fraction of a second before they actually arrived. There is effectively no defense against this sort of thing. The only thing that would restrain the US or any other government is the knowledge that they would never know if the aliens had already launched their own strike or counterstrike. A Solar System wide "Dead Hand" system would be needed to launch a retaliatory strike if such an attack were to happen.