Yesterday, a team of intrepid explorers stumbled upon an enormous piece of unsettled, unclaimed land. This land has a variety of climates and is rich in resources. There are currently no inhabitants other than basic flora and fauna. The United Nations is now forced to create a strategy for dividing the land to avoid a colonial free-for-all that would almost certainly result in war.

There are historical examples of this scenario at several points in human history, most notably the discovery of the Americas. History is pretty clear on how turbulent that ended up being. However, I suspect that in a globalized community such as the one we have today, there would be an attempt to diplomatically allocate land to reduce the potential for violence as much as possible.

In the interest of full disclosure, my personal scenario that I’m developing involves the discovery of a new Earth-like planet. To avoid getting bogged down in the specific technological limitations of my world, I’m abstracting this concept out so that answers can hopefully focus more on the diplomatic aspects of generally agreeable, but competitive nations attempting to solve this challenge. Given that I’ve set this question in the modern day, please feel free to use modern nations for examples.

What division strategy could the United Nations adopt to minimize the potential for violence and worldwide conflict?

  • $\begingroup$ Are there current inhabitants, or are we to assume a virgin land with flora and fauna? $\endgroup$
    – Mikey
    Jul 31, 2015 at 15:53
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ Wouldn't Antarctica be a pretty good model here? $\endgroup$ Jul 31, 2015 at 15:57
  • $\begingroup$ @Mikey No current inhabitants. I added a clarification for that to the question. $\endgroup$
    – Avernium
    Jul 31, 2015 at 16:09
  • $\begingroup$ @Doug The diplomatic approach used with Antarctica is interesting, but Antarctica is also one of the harshest places on the planet and primarily useful for research. This new land has a multitude of climates, which would include more temperate climates where people could easily live. I think that may put much more on the line and make a peaceful solution more difficult. $\endgroup$
    – Avernium
    Jul 31, 2015 at 16:12
  • $\begingroup$ @Avernium - The way we divided up the Americas? It wouldn't be pretty. $\endgroup$
    – Wad Cheber
    Aug 10, 2015 at 1:54

2 Answers 2


The good

There is precedent for cooperation in space exploration as well as how 'new continents' are treated here on Earth. The gist is that resources and aesthetics are protected as much as possible on Earth, and that everything done in space is for peaceful purposes.

The bad

Unfortunately neither of the above scenarios is recognized by all countries and peoples on Earth.

The likely

I was first going to scoff that the United Nations would have nothing to do with it, but then realized you're talking about a continent that is 'a little more difficult to get to,' (as in, outer space). In this case the countries with the most access would also be countries who happen to put the most support for the United Nations, with the exception of China and maybe India.

I suspect the demarcation, therefore, since it is a very slow colonization process, will be 'first come first serve.' The tiny colonies on a large planet will likely even break away a bit from their home countries as well: think of a thousand scientists and engineers from, say, India, and how different they might be from the politics of their country?

Speculatively, I think the best precedent would be Antarctica, since you will have people there for science and when colonization occurs, it will likely be corporate cooperative and a public-private-partnership with governments, since it will take years and a lot of money to even get ready to go there; with the blessing of home government and the UN. Transnational corporations do not closely ally themselves with a country.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I like that observation about the settlers having drastically different political opinions than their home country, particularly India. $\endgroup$
    – Avernium
    Jul 31, 2015 at 16:19
  • $\begingroup$ Population pressure on Earth might make it more difficult, but even if you sent a million people a day (!) it wouldn't make a dent when we're around, I'm guessing 10 billion. $\endgroup$
    – Mikey
    Jul 31, 2015 at 16:22
  • $\begingroup$ Antarctica is a poor example, since there are few exploitable resources and little to no means for supporting a permanent population. $\endgroup$
    – March Ho
    Aug 1, 2015 at 0:43
  • $\begingroup$ @MarchHo - we have to extrapolate from Antarctica. While the overfishing, dumping, etc., issuse had to be addressed here on Earth, we can try to apply the same reasoning with over-exploitation of other resources, and contamination, on this new planet. $\endgroup$
    – Mikey
    Aug 1, 2015 at 5:37

I don't think your comparison with a continent produces valid answers for a new world, unless the transportation technology is interesting.

The modern-day society is globalized precisely because global travel and trade are so easy. Click a few orders in a webshop, and raw materials from Africa become goods from China that get delivered in Europe and America. People are almost as mobile. If travel to your new world is that easy, you have to explain why suddenly everybody has access to that technology, you also have to explain why there is only one world.

More likely the technology is at least initially restricted to a few users. Are the government, corporate, or someone else?

How soon would the colonies on the new planet become independent from Earth? As long as they need imports, Earth can regulate them.


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