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The year is 2170. Ish. Humans have colonised Mars, but the planet has yet to rival the economic might of other solar system worlds. As of yet, the main colonial power in the sol system is our own little moon: Luna.

Luna has been settled for a good 80 years or so by now. It is governed not by any sovereign state but by a number of megacorporations, who are doing a thriving trade in Lunar resources such as rare-Earth metals. The colonies are high-tech company towns; the laws are company regulations, and the “citizens” are mostly employees. For decades, Earth has depended on Luna and Luna alone for many of the resources that make human society tick.

Until now. All of a sudden, asteroid mining has come along, and now threatens to change all that. Despite its distance, in this future it is actually easier to extract mineral resources from the asteroid belt and import them to earth than rely on Luna for them; especially as Phobos is converted into a skyhook to help boost spacecraft, and orbital habitats are set up in the belt’s richer regions.

The leaders of the lunar megacorps meet to discuss the problem. Asteroid mining is set to render their colonies obsolete; they need a new way to profit off Luna. Their solution? They get in touch with the UN and -ahem- “persuade” them to recognise the Republic of Luna and Cislunar Habitats as nation in its own right, and not (finagle forbid!) a puppet regime with a backbone of corporate “advisors”.

But reality check here: is there any real-world precedence for such a move? And would such a method actually help to alleviate the situation described above, e.g. the megacorps aren’t making money?

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  • $\begingroup$ You seem to have answered your own question. "Why would lunar megacorps install a government?" "Because it makes them more profitable." $\endgroup$
    – Cadence
    Commented Aug 8, 2023 at 10:26
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    $\begingroup$ I’m voting to close this question because questions about the choices of individuals or organizations are forbidden in the help center. Worldbuilding is about creating the rules of your world that are true in any and all stories and circumstances. Storybuilding is about choices, circumstances, actions, and plot. Per the help center, we help build worlds, not tell stories. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Commented Aug 8, 2023 at 14:43
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    $\begingroup$ Not a real answer, but some perspective: Corporations who have won the economic game and are effectively a monopoly don't have the same profit motive. They seek influence in government to stifle competition in any way they can get. They primarily seek to let things stay as they are, because the current conditions gave them their position. They are not competing, they are controlling. They already control the moon, so that is not their main point of action. They would try to sabotage the new developments by making them unsafe, illegal, immoral or otherwise impossible. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 8, 2023 at 15:21
  • $\begingroup$ "thriving trade in Lunar resources such as rare-Earth metals": that's kind of like the Sahara becoming a major global supplier of fresh water. Earth (and likely Mars) have things like monazite sand deposits that are extremely enriched in rare earth elements, the moon has a lower overall abundance and no such concentrated deposits. The best it's got is KREEP basalt with rare earth elements measured in parts per million. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 8, 2023 at 16:25
  • $\begingroup$ Presumably the earth has finished exploiting all easily available resources in the future, and they're tied up in cities and such. $\endgroup$
    – Nepene Nep
    Commented Aug 8, 2023 at 17:20

2 Answers 2

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Make a banana republic

United Fruit Company was famous for using violence, terror, and economic dominance to control multiple countries. Eventually local governments and people started to rebel, and so the USA declared the current government of certain governments communist and overthrew them to make pro business dictatorships so the fruit could keep flowing to the hungry middle classes.

Numerous banana republic nations were around which served to fuel the hunger of the USA, exploiting the locals with brutal violence and oppression.

The moon can do the same- they can form a military with the blessing of earth and them being a government, and form a trade embargo against any cheap metals reaching earth. They can use sympathetic earth colonists to help stage revolts and take over the communist asteroid miners.

In return, they can promise key Earth governments lots of money, cheap metals, and good deals on resources. Earth is presumably worried about the growing influence of the asteroid belts, and can support this plan to suppress them.

The moon wins, the earth wins, the asteroid belts lose.

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  • $\begingroup$ My only issue with this answer is your mention of embargo. Luna can have a seat at the table easy enough, but a true embargo requires a supermajority of the other member nations to agree to refuse trade. The unilateral alternative to prevent asteroid-belt exports getting to Earth is called a blockade, and as Luna, by definition, isn't on Earth, they'd be blockading the ports of countries outside their sovereign territory (and firing on civilian trading ships attempting to dock/land), which is usually considered an act of war. $\endgroup$
    – KeithS
    Commented Aug 9, 2023 at 22:41
  • $\begingroup$ The success or failure of the embargo is obviously story dependent on how many countries they persuade and how the countries feel about it. $\endgroup$
    – Nepene Nep
    Commented Aug 9, 2023 at 22:46
  • $\begingroup$ Which is a point I didn't have room to embellish above. Luna's wealth and influence may sway a few, but an embargo for purely economic reasons rarely works, because at some point it becomes economically preferable for someone to trade with the embargo-ee even if it means cutting ties with all embargo-ers. Nations that Luna can't or won't buy off politically will form their own trade agreements with the asteroid belt, and will benefit from that trade while embargoing nations only hurt themselves. $\endgroup$
    – KeithS
    Commented Aug 9, 2023 at 22:54
  • $\begingroup$ Luna has to find (or invent) grounds for an embargo on some moral or legal standing, i.e. human rights abuses, piracy, or creation/proliferation of banned weapons. Every current UN-embargoed nation is so because they've done or are doing something in direct violation of international law, almost all of those violations falling into one of the above three classes. The allegation doesn't have to be true, per se, Luna just has to "prove" it on the UN Assembly floor, and goodbye Asteroid Belt (no trade means no oxygen, no water, no food) $\endgroup$
    – KeithS
    Commented Aug 9, 2023 at 22:58
  • $\begingroup$ Moral grounds are routinely ignored for the sake of money. The benefit of Luna having a military is they can shoot down ships or harass them, depending on politics, and make it so that the metal isn't cheap or easy to access. This lets them starve out the 'communist' miners and makes their own materials cheaper by comparison. It being an act of war doesn't matter if enough major powers support the Moon, because then the lesser powers need to go to war against everyone. $\endgroup$
    – Nepene Nep
    Commented Aug 9, 2023 at 23:03
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One treaty may make achieving sovereign status a little easier for a Moon colony than for most countries of the world. The Moon Agreement provides, among other things, that any economic exploitation of the Moon's resources should be governed and managed by an internationally-organized "regime".

This "regime" is the foundation of your government. All Luna's corporate leaders have to do is convince the international community to recognize this pre-existing government structure, regulating pretty much every aspect of their operations there (and very likely "captured" by the corporate interests themselves by maneuvering their loyalists/puppets into the leadership roles of the international regime), as being a sovereign government. Instead of a lawless frontier territory, or a colonial possession of an oppressive nation, pleading to be heard as a new voice controlling its own destiny, you have a stable governing entity created by the international community at large and specifically empowered over a defined territory, asking simply to take the last step and be recognized as a fellow partner in the government of humanity. That's a much easier step to argue should be taken, especially as many countries of the world began their existence with their borders drawn in the ashes of a former country or empire by an international coalition (or a colonial master). Creating a country out of a vacuum, whether a power vacuum or a literal one, is nothing new in international politics.

Now, this same treaty also states that the natural resources of the Moon belong to all mankind, which implies limits to the ability of any Moon-mining corporate entity to negotiate any exclusive trade deals. Obviously any NGO that goes there has to see a benefit to the cost, and so should be allowed to profit off whatever they do on the Moon, but as long as this treaty's language is in effect, it would appear that as long as a country can pay the going rate for a share of the bounty, it cannot be refused. This complicates ideas of embargos, trade sanctions or similar moves by Luna; as an extraterrestrial territory it is obligated to make its economic product available to all.

That, in turn, complicates the inter-commercial relationship between Luna's corporate masters and those of the Asteroid Belt colonies. Luna cannot refuse to sell to any nation of earth, and no country or bloc of same can impose trade sanctions on Luna or the Asteroid Belt applicable to countries outside the bloc. The U.S., or Russia, or China or whomever, can refuse to trade with either extraterrestrial entity themselves, but they cannot force other member nations to abstain as well, as that would be in violation of the Moon Agreement. Of course, any of the Big Five (US, UK, France, China and Russia), having unilateral veto power over UN authorization of any sanctions, are basically free to do as they will, and in current world politics they basically do; if the US doesn't want you to do something, you don't do it unless Russia or China tell you "I gotchu fam".

So that's the political road to an embargo; each of the Big Five you get on board brings their own sphere of influence into the agreement. However, you won't get them all on board for purely economic reasons, because economic differences have formed a rift between China, Russia and the rest of the Big Five since the UN's formation. For most purposes, if it's good for any one of the US, China or Russia, at least one other of these three will vote it down. So, even with God's own treasure chest at your disposal, there simply isn't enough largesse you can throw around to get Russia, China and the US to agree on just about anything...

Unless there's some very basic moral issue at play. The three most common violations of international law are human rights abuses (e.g. slavery, genocide), piracy (one of the very few economic points the US, Russia and China can ever agree on is that rogue factions stealing cargo ships in international waters is bad for everyone's business), and proliferation of WMDs (the only thing worse than making chemical, biological or nuclear weapons is using them, typically also falling under the "genocide" label).

Luna's best shot at a truly universal economic embargo of the Asteroid Belt is to convince the UN's member nations that the colonies of the AB are in violation of some fundamental international law, that nobody could ever plausibly argue is justifiable in any situation. It doesn't have to be true, per se, it just has to look that way at the UN, and require action faster than anyone from the AB can arrive on Earth to refute the claims. This is one possible way Luna uses a seat at the big-boy table to preserve its economic interests.

Of course, another way is far simpler, and far more economically beneficial. If you can't beat 'em, buy 'em, before they buy you. Luna, despite being at the precipice of losing its competitive advantage, is the more mature, stable, larger company, meanwhile the Asteroid Belt concerns are more like startups, deeply in debt to their VCs and burning through cash, now only just coming into their promised potential. Luna's oligarchy are the big fish, and between them they should have plenty of wherewithal to simply buy out the Asteroid Belt companies and put all extraterrestrial mining and manufacturing under this conglommo's control.

Luna's governing corporations have a choice; they can be Microsoft buying OpenAI (and God knows how many others along the way), or they can be Blockbuster not buying Netflix. One company invested in the future of its industry by buying a promising startup that already did what they wanted to do. The other saw the same opportunity and scoffed. One's now an international corporation dominating the consumer and corporate computing space. The other's hanging on to one video store in an old logging town in Oregon, watching its startup competition grow to 40 times its own peak size in market cap and becoming a full-fledged production studio giant in its own right.

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