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Following in the steps of the entrepreneur Elon Musk who created SpaceX (which creates rockets to get to space), an entrepreneur decides to build a space station for visitors.

But instead of just a floating hotel above Earth, the entrepreneur wants it to be under a separate country so that he/she can declare its own laws, taxes, and even space station citizenship.

To make things interesting, the entrepreneur wants this to be as much of a country as possible with its own elected president, court systems, and an army.

Now, international law states that you cannot claim any part of space as your own, but you can claim man made objects. If you could claim man made objects, could you state that the "land" on the space station is its own country?

If you can, how could things like citizenship work? Would other countries even recognize you as a country?

If you can't, could there be any way to impose your own laws on your space station or is this just another entrepreneur's dream like the hyperloop? (I'm kidding)

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    $\begingroup$ This question brings to my mind Sealand. $\endgroup$ – user902383 Aug 24 '15 at 14:38
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    $\begingroup$ en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Principality_of_Sealand $\endgroup$ – Vincent Aug 24 '15 at 14:38
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, it's exactly what I was thinking when coming up with this question. But as far as I'm aware, land on earth and land in space are different concepts and have different international laws governing them. $\endgroup$ – Thatguypat Aug 24 '15 at 14:42
  • $\begingroup$ Making the space station more independent than a sea-station for whatever reasons is fodder for a good story. I suspect law will follow commercialization to orbit, and be the same as any other "international" location. To claim independence, first step might be to get farther away than established LEO commerce. $\endgroup$ – JDługosz Aug 24 '15 at 15:08
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    $\begingroup$ Stick a flag in it... $\endgroup$ – James Aug 24 '15 at 18:30

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You can claim whatever you want.

Calling something a country is a generally pointless designation if it's unrecognized. However, he might have a significantly better chance of getting recognized than a typical seasteader.

Elon has a lot of resources and might be able to rally enough engineers to design and build this space station. If he can then use it as an access point to the rest of the solar system, it will be very valuable to many nations of the Earth.

If he was able to show that his station could be used as a launching point for regular travel to the Moon or Mars (which would be required for settlements there), then he has leverage in asking for the recognition (and therefore possible protection) of the Earth nations.

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    $\begingroup$ This. Creating a nation is all about recognition from other nations. $\endgroup$ – James Aug 24 '15 at 18:59
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    $\begingroup$ Or he can just build his own little army of flying super powered self-controlled robots... oh wait, that's Tony Stark, my bad. $\endgroup$ – David Mulder Aug 24 '15 at 20:43
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    $\begingroup$ @DavidMulder: Amazon, surely? It's a Bezos/Musk showdown! $\endgroup$ – T.J. Crowder Aug 24 '15 at 23:22
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    $\begingroup$ @DavidMulder Fun fact: Robert Downey Junior has referenced Elon Musk as inspiration for his portrayal of Tony Stark. $\endgroup$ – KRyan Aug 25 '15 at 3:33
  • $\begingroup$ Of course, the downside of claiming the station as a separate country is that now you need an army to defend it. If a few countries decide that your space station is valuable enough that they want it for your own, you may find that rather than building up your defenses, it may be cheaper to just pay one of them a bit of tax money. $\endgroup$ – yshavit Aug 26 '15 at 23:36
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There are effectively no laws governing what a country is. That's one of the reasons why wars work. Essentially it's like claiming one of the common items as yours in kindergarten - if you do it right it can work, but it's tricky to do it right, and requires luck as well as skill.

The small issue is getting recognized. Being a habitat which no existing country has a claim to, some countries will want to recognize the new country just so other countries can't easily claim it as their territory.

Like in kindergarden, even if you succeed to claim an item, a classmate might break it out of spite. Almost anyone can destroy the "country" in space at a ridiculously small cost (~ $60'000'000), without fear of repercussion. The recent incident of MH17 over the Ukraine shows that it's easy to dodge the guilt by playing the blame game. So whatever that new country does, it can't risk pissing someone off. A single disgruntled multi millionaire would have the means to take them out. And in all likelihood it wouldn't even be a crime under any jurisdiction, except for the one that didn't survive the attack.

Edit: Thanks to Marc for providing the cost of the weapon.

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    $\begingroup$ USA-193 was shot down for 60 million USD. $\endgroup$ – March Ho Aug 25 '15 at 5:59
  • $\begingroup$ @MarchHo Good find. So they need to worry about eccentric multi millionaires too. $\endgroup$ – Peter Aug 25 '15 at 11:58
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    $\begingroup$ So instead of countries going to war in space, we now have to worry about multimillionaires trying the same game. That escalated quickly... $\endgroup$ – Mast Aug 25 '15 at 19:57
  • $\begingroup$ Spy satellites orbit at a very low altitude. I don't know the details but I'm guessing the missile threat can be effectively combated mainly by moving the station further away (maybe put it in Lunar orbit instead). Obviously that may cause big difficulties of its own, but isn't forbidden by the question. $\endgroup$ – Leushenko Aug 26 '15 at 3:50
  • $\begingroup$ Getting into a low orbit to begin with is the hard part. Once you're there it really doesn't take much extra thrust to go higher (especially once the Moon's gravity starts assisting). If the missile that took down USA-193 wasn't capable of going higher, it wouldn't take much modification to make it go the rest of the way. $\endgroup$ – thanby - reinstate Monica Aug 26 '15 at 6:49
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Yes you can but making such a claim stick is really hard especially in space.

Recognition of a young country only makes sense when it's politically/economically beneficial for a larger, more established country to do so. In essence, being a country means being admitted to a very exclusive club. Either you need to convince enough club members to admit you or find someway to break down the doors and force them to admit you. The former approach is preferable.

Take the ISS. The astronauts there make a claim of statehood. The major space-fairing countries will likely not recognize such claims. Besides, they can just starve the astronauts into submission. Russia won't recognize the ISS as Spaceland unless Putin is feeling especially peevish and just wants to mess with the West (which can happen at any time).

In order to force a space station to be considered its own country, they would have to have a means of defending themselves or creating a credible threat to the planet using any of the methods described in this question. They would also need to be self-sustaining so that earth bound countries can't starve them into submission or withhold required spare parts/fuel.

ISS is very much a colony in space and not a country yet. It will take asteroid mining before a settlement in space can be considered independent enough to claim itself as a country.

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  • $\begingroup$ Countries without an army: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_without_armed_forces and Japan could of been starved to death in WW2. Reliance on another country for military/defense or sustenance is not a metric for "what counts as a country" however if achieved by a space station that COULD provide enough of a reason for existing countries to recognize them but I'm doubtful. $\endgroup$ – Adrian773 Aug 25 '15 at 0:09
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What you describe would face similar problems to Seasteading.

Remember: if you are not subject to any nations laws you also lack their protection.

What do you do if some country or some random businessman decides to send mercenaries to take over your station?

Your "country" might be recognized but then again it might get totally ignored. If you want to be recognized your country needs to be like a country in being able to defend itself and being economically powerful.

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  • $\begingroup$ Trying to take over a space station without destroying it would likely be harder than building a new space station of your own. The best defence would be to release the plans to the space station as open source, and having the team that built the station available to hire by other parties, making it even easier for people to build their own. $\endgroup$ – Scott Aug 24 '15 at 23:44
  • $\begingroup$ @Scott getting on board would be the hard part but your station is going to be economically active so someone could send them disguised as workers or as tourists depending on what kind of people are allowed visit. $\endgroup$ – Murphy Aug 25 '15 at 10:41
  • $\begingroup$ @Scott The cost of the ISS is stated at 150 billion USD by at least one source. Even if the new station is worth only 1.5 billion, you might be able to buy out the permanent staff (~10 people) at 100 million each. Or spend 1-2 million each to find a way to blackmail them. $\endgroup$ – Peter Aug 25 '15 at 12:23
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There is nothing specially needed to be a state.

A state only exists because:

  • It has the military power to enforce its sovereignty.

  • It has allies that will enforce or not oppose its sovereignty.

What this means is there is a way of achieving a state by getting political allies and/or by simply brute force.

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  • $\begingroup$ Clear and concise. If you want to be a country you must be prepared and able to defend yourself. $\endgroup$ – superluminary Aug 26 '15 at 19:03
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As others have pointed out, claiming is easy, being recognized is hard.

However, there is an alternative: Being ignored.

I can see a future where this space station claims independence. Nobody recognizes it. Nobody sends ambassadors. But nobody is attacking them either.

Politicians of most nations says "no comment" when asked about them.

As long as they don't annoy somebody with the power to destroy them, this can go on a long time.

At some point, nobody alive remembers a time when there was no space nation. And then, Earth nations start recognizing them.

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The minimum requirement for a state is a judicature made enforceable by military or police.  So, some segment of your population is going to militarize, and the rest are going to either support or non-violently resist them.  This would also imply the ability also to successfully grant amnesty or sanctuary to an immigrant or refugee, (requiring an extradition treaty) or otherwise resist the infraction of another state's law enforcement.  A distinction should be made between a public body made sovereign by geographically or obfuscation, and a true state.  Anarchy, for example, is not simply a 'state of no state'.  Neither could the Caribbean pirate coves of the pre-revolutionary Americas, or some simple, self-organized collective.  A true state is the direct imposition of, or relief from, regulations and rights by force.

You expose the subtly of semantics: how does the corporate charter differ from a state's statute; the executive board a government; the security branch a police force?  Traditionally, the distinction was made by the corporation's reliance on a state's ability to enforce law, however the advent of PMC blurs even this.  De facto, your SpaceX Hotel is already a state, a vassalage of the federal reserve, a subject of the world bank.  To be truly sovereign, de facto à jure, you would need to explain why these semantics become relevant enough to require legal clarification.  Was there a collapse of world markets?  Are the world markets too competitive?  Did a world-spanning conglomerate coerce the world's population into a robot-controlled dub-step party?  A state can enforce its own markets and exchanges, and this would be a likely reason only if there exists a tangible, liquidable intensive to divorce from the current corporate scheme.  And don't ignore the scorn and reprisal of creditors whose investment you've absolved by rebelling, unless you're willing to grant them a position of rank in this bright, new future.

I can see two extreme cases between which this future is possible.  First, if the space hotel proves a bad investment, goes bankrupt, and is abandoned by anybody on earth who would otherwise care about the (organized?) bunch of radical squatters spouting nonsense about sovereignty and self-determination and whatnot.  Unassuming, at first, they produce a vivid art and culture capable of projecting their desires upon future generations, and, thus, earning itself a place of distinction (even if only footnoted) in the history books.  The alternative is a venture so massively successful they dominate the space market and buy out large portions of related industry sectors.  Here, they are likely to encounter resistance from other, competing corporations, irk the ire of regulatory organizations, and conflict with anti-trust and monopoly laws of several countries.  Statehood, than, would be a defense measure, the central corporation would 'evolve' into a government, and all the subsidiaries become separable corporate entities protected within.   This 'evolution' is not a 'revolution', as the sheer infeasibility of space combat validates will without force or threat of reprisal.

Either way, their message to earth would be something like, “We don't need you.  We are free.  Deal with it.”

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As other answers indicated, sovereignty is a question of recognition by other states.

Prior to recognition, under what state's laws does the station operate? That state will claim it as their territory, and will need a significant reason to change position.

States effectively form an exclusive club and need motivation to recognize a new member. Doing so might seem like a tactical convenience - once state might readily recognize a station as a state just to antagonize another.

However, almost all existing states have a territorialist mentality. They therefore fear loss of their own territory due to secession. Such states will therefore think long and hard before setting a precedent.

This is not to say that there are more enlightened states. Witness the democratic approach taken in the UK in the face of a key part of it, Scotland, almost seceding last year.

So such a station needs to provide a strongly positive reason that creation of it as a state is useful to other states before it will be recognized.

On the face of it, such reasons are likely to require trade benefits. This might be physical trade with solar system resources, or less likely as some kind of data haven/broker.

The above is very much short to medium term thinking.

In the long term, a de facto state might arise given changed circumstances on Earth. Suppose the station operations under laws of a country which subsequently ceases to exist. Suppose further that the station is able to then continue to operate and thrive for many subsequent years and is sufficiently strong as to be able to protect not just itself but its extra-station operations. Eventually it may be in a position to successfully declare sovereignty.

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This is tangentially related to your question and I haven't seen it mentioned yet: the Outer Space Treaty. Most nations on Earth are signatories to it, and among other things it forbids nations from claiming territory on celestial bodies.

Of course it doesn't prevent people from proclaiming new nations in space, but I thought you might find it interesting nonetheless. Among other things it also forbids nations from placing weapons of mass destruction in orbit around Earth, or on the Moon.

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Highly unlikely due to fear of precedent

So, Elon Musk goes and creates a giant self sustainable space station/floating colony, lets call it "Musk-otopia". Musk-otopia comes with an adequately sized population and a star fleet that rivals most medium sized countries.

The countries on earth that aren't threatened by this space power wouldn't want to recognize Musck-otopia for fear of setting a precedent that doesn't really scale overly that well. What are the requirements for becoming your own country? Is it based on number of people with citizenship (what about dual-citizenship?)? Number of space cruisers? Amount of food production?

If they recognized Musk-otopia then before you know it, every man and his rocket will own a "space station" for the purposes of tax evasion and whatever else they couldn't achieve on earth.

Solution: Dependent State

If Musk-otopia becomes a country that is dependent on and subservient to a super power for everything except for some basic administration and political tasks (think USA's 51st state). From there Musk-otopia has to wait until the world develops more so people can get it into their head that Musk-otopians are a rather strange but nice people who make our vacations there a pleasurable experience. Through the change in perception and building of their own culture they can slowly start gaining more and more administrative and political independence as they have nothing in common with their land-based fellow states. This must continue until one day through either diplomatic or militarist means they can achieve proper independence.

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  • $\begingroup$ The issue with that is that the people in charge of the other nations usually is (or receives orders from) the same people that benefits most for both legal and illegal tax evasion. Why do you think tiny or small nations like Bahamas or Switzerland are allowed to become tax havens? Due to respect to international law, or due to the fact that the people that can stop those practices with just a few laws have no interest in doing so? $\endgroup$ – SJuan76 Aug 25 '15 at 12:33
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Absolutely!

All it takes to be your own country is the ability to prevent other people from stopping you from being your own country. This of course may mean a military capability to dissuade potential invaders. But it can also involve economic, cultural, and political clout as well.

On a space station, if it wasn't self sufficient, it'd need trading partners on Earth. So if the nations of Earth stuck together and boycotted the new nation, it would be starved out quickly enough. On the other hand, the population of Earth might want to consider an important lesson from science fiction... never anger people in a higher orbit. Is trying to prevent the independence of a space station worth losing a couple cities over?

This assumes other nations would even care. If the station was privately built, no one may object to what goes on in the station. They may be more than happy to not be responsible for the expensive venture.

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  • $\begingroup$ Careful...no WMD's in space! en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Outer_Space_Treaty $\endgroup$ – James Aug 24 '15 at 18:34
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    $\begingroup$ @James As a new sovereign nation, they are not part of the treaty. $\endgroup$ – GrandmasterB Aug 24 '15 at 18:48
  • $\begingroup$ @GrandmasterB True, but to be recognized as a sovereign state, you would probably want to sign a bunch of treaties. Unless you're the US of course... en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… $\endgroup$ – Thatguypat Aug 24 '15 at 18:55
  • $\begingroup$ @GrandmasterB yeah but if they start doing it the rest of the world will turn their nation into many teeny tiny bits of nation. $\endgroup$ – James Aug 24 '15 at 18:56
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    $\begingroup$ @GrandmasterB I guess my point is, nations won't allow that kind of military power to make it to space without blasting it to teeny tiny bits. $\endgroup$ – James Aug 24 '15 at 19:19

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