I’ve read some books with a premise of leaving an increasingly centralized and decadent Earth for the stars before it heads a turn for the extra worse

Part of their premise is Earth Governments declaring the colonies illegal and/or theirs

One of those books had the USA declaring a moon colony theirs, in spite of never founding it themselves, and calling the population “Expats/Traitors”

Implying that the population was only Americans, when it was made up of just guys from almost all the continents in the World. From 1st to 3rd.

Thing is, I am still not sure how that would be legally possible

If people were to illegally leave their country and live far away from most civilizations/nations, would they still be considered citizens let alone have to pay taxes even if they neither buy nor sell or even make use of government services/infrastructure

How would you make a legal argument to actually claim ownership of a place like that? Especially when it never had government input or approval or knowing to begin with

  • $\begingroup$ Please clarify your specific problem or provide additional details to highlight exactly what you need. As it's currently written, it's hard to tell exactly what you're asking. $\endgroup$
    – Community Bot
    Dec 6, 2023 at 4:57
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    $\begingroup$ California and Hawaii and Texas are currently provinces of the USA, are they not? $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Dec 6, 2023 at 6:49
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    $\begingroup$ Voting to close because this very much appears to be a question about a 3rd-party/commercial world, which is off-topic here (questions must be in the context of an imaginary world of your own creation). Even if rewritten to make it sound like it's your own world, asking how it can be legal for an invading nation to claim conquered territory, resources, and people as its own suggests you need to study some history before asking the question here. Per the help center, we don't help tell stories. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Dec 6, 2023 at 7:28
  • $\begingroup$ Perhaps you might do a bit of research: Property rights in space is a good starting point. Remember the bit in the film The Martian where Matt Damon claims Mars? I don't know if it's valid, but again, a starting point for research into the existing regulations. Then you can make your own. $\endgroup$ Dec 6, 2023 at 18:15
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    $\begingroup$ The "legal argument of claiming ownership" seems irrelevant. Sovereign states can claim and do anything they like, limited only by treaties that they wish to observe/ignore and by their internal risk decisions about the exercise of force. $\endgroup$
    – user535733
    Dec 7, 2023 at 11:30

3 Answers 3


So, I'm British - and here's how we did it for Centuries:

Step 1: Show up.
Step 2: Put a Flag up (cue the Eddy Izzard skit about Flags)
Step 3: Unilaterally declare it part of the British Empire.
Step 4: Kill any Natives that disagree
Step 5: ???
Step 6: Profit.

Okay - Colonizing jokes aside, there is a very serious point to be made: Even when it comes to the subject of Law, there is a degree of Might is Right and History is written by the Victors.

And therefore the Legal argument is 'Whatever the winning side can say in order to justify it's victory'

For example - you could argue that it was the US by the majority of citizens being from the US.
You could argue a Moon Colony was de-facto US, due to the US sending (at time of writing) the only manned mission to the Moon.
You could argue that due to having a representative democracy, Common Law system etc. etc. that it was an offshoot of America (although we Brits would like a word about that)
You could argue that the technology that helped found the Moon Colony was a direct result of the work done by JPL/NASA and since that was funded by the American Taxpayer, the Colony belongs to America.
The list goes on and on - but the reality is, Law is backed up by Force and ultimately the winning legal argument is whoever has the biggest guns:

Nuremberg trials of former Nazis and Wehrmacht personnel handed out multiple death sentences for War Crimes. Whereas for the Mai Lai Massacre - only one US soldier was convicted of any crimes and they only had to do 3 years house arrest.

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    $\begingroup$ The law is applied with enemies, interpreted with friends. $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Dec 6, 2023 at 7:17
  • $\begingroup$ "'We need breathing room!'... 'Earth, Hitler, 1938...'" (ST:The Undiscovered Country) I kinda doubt the British started the trend and I know perfectly well they weren't the last to use the pattern. Might makes right. Although betimes here in the U.S. we added the twist of paying a European power as step #1a. Adds that nice touch of legitimacy, dontchaknow. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Dec 6, 2023 at 15:40

A government can put claims on any territory they fancy, no justification needed. Remember that Spain and Portugal claimed all the lands east or west of a certain meridian back in the days, without even being sure that there was any land!

Exercising those claims means then having some representation in loco to enforce laws: without a physical presence there is not much to be done.

What happens normally is that a government claims a territory and sends a usually small expedition to physically occupy it and announce to the rest of the governments what they have done. Basically a "dibs on X" with fancy clothes.

Renouncing citizenship is a different story: unless the government granting it decides to revoke it, citizenship is not lost by leaving a country, so citizens are still subject to the laws of that country, as long as there is someone capable of enforcing them. And about paying taxes.. if I am not mistaken, US taxes are based on citizenship, not residence. And as the Penguin said, I can face Batman, but not the IRS.

  • $\begingroup$ That apply even to the descendants of people who left the country? It’d be like saying “you never had a birth certificate, you never even had an ID, you never even knew there was a government. But we’re saying you always were one of us.” Kinda bizarre, I can see how a “reunification” would be the only way to “get it back”. $\endgroup$ Dec 6, 2023 at 5:22
  • $\begingroup$ @GreatReset2030HopefullyNot there are two schools: jus sanguinis, where citizenship is acquired from the parents, and jus soli, where the citizenship is given by the place of birth. $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Dec 6, 2023 at 5:37
  • $\begingroup$ I guess that “solves it” then. The claimer can go with either one. “Your grandparents were a Nigerian and Korean who fled their respective countries and decided that instead of the good ‘of US of A’ to come here? Congratulations on attaining US citizenship! You don’t want to be one and your pissed at losing your home and watching your neighbors killed via decompression mid-liberation? Good luck, this dome’s ours, meet your new governer.” Reminds of Empire’s Corps, in-universe, the Empire declared all colonies even undiscovered were theirs and all foreigners traitors $\endgroup$ Dec 6, 2023 at 5:42
  • $\begingroup$ "no justification needed" just a note - historically, there has been some weak form of justification. Maybe that they are helping the people in the territory. Or that it was their right for being stronger. Or divine will. Or other forms of essentially lip-service to justification. The real reason is they could take over a territory and wanted the territory. $\endgroup$
    – VLAZ
    Dec 6, 2023 at 7:08

You are describing Annexation

There have been many examples in history for Governments to claim land - and many methods for doing so.

There would be no difference in terms of a Government claiming land on Earth, to claiming a territory elsewhere (such as a space colony). The term is usually called 'Annexation', where a legal claim is espoused in support of occupation of territory.

As is mostly the case, such claims are not in any legal framework - their only purpose is to elbow and persuade other countries to take action / not take action by providing a reason to get what the government wants. Even if there was a legal framework that may be applicable (which all parties would need to be signatures to) the claim may simply override any previous agreements / treaties / laws as required by the current situation.

Historically, you could look at:

  • Annexing via History. Ie: Claiming a territory was always yours to begin with because in the past (sometimes very, very distant past) the territory was always owned / claimed by that government, and thus any future claim is not legitimate. (example: Russia annexing Crimea)
  • Annexing via Population. Ie: Claiming the people within a territory are actually your people anyway, or are even so just because they speak the same language (example: Nazi Germany annexing Austria in WW2)
  • Annexing via Opinion: Claiming the majority of the population want to join your country - and to oppose this is not what they want. (example: Russia's claim that the Donbas region in Ukraine has local support)
  • Pre-emptive Annexation: Ie: Claiming the territory to prevent an invasion, or a future transgression of your interests. (example: Iraq's claim on Kuwait in 1990)
  • Annexing based on Agreement: Ie: Claiming there was an agreement in negotiations for the territory to be Annexed (example: China annexing Tibet and stating that their government had negotiated and accepted to be occupied)

The legalities of the operation only need to be established in the context of existing treaties and relationships with other nations. In your case, you need to establish if any of these exist (such as a U.N. or equivalent) and if the repercussions are sufficient to prevent annexations (such as economic sanctions, criminal prosecutions or military action).


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