L5 News: Moon Treaty Update (March 1980)

by Carolyn Henson

From L5 News, March 1980

Moon treaty backers and foes are drawing the battle lines. Within the US Department of State, for example, treaty opponents arguing that “The US has nothing to gain from signing the Moon treaty” [ref. 1] have initiated an interagency review of the lunar agreement. NASA, the Department of Defense, Interior, State and possibly Justice, Treasury and Commerce will participate in this policy debate. They have targeted May 30 to make their decision on whether or not to ask Carter to repudiate the treaty.

In the January issue of Astronautics and Aeronautics, American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) Legal Task Force member Delbert D. Smith responded to charges by treaty opponents. According to Smith, the treaty’s “common heritage” clause would not necessarily impose a UN veto power over space activities and the “equitable sharing” clause should not be construed as requiring mandatory space technology transfer to other nations. In order to assure that the treaty would be interpreted favorably to private industry, Smith proposes that the US Senate express reservations to the Moon treaty [ref. 2].

However, a staffer on the Senate Commerce Committee has warned L-5 Moon Treaty Committee members that the International Court of Law at The Hague does not recognize unilateral reservations or even interpretations of a treaty made during negotiations. “If there’s a question of meaning,” he pointed out, “they look to how that language has been used in other international agreements.”

Rep. John Breaux (D-LA) is worried by exactly this point, warning that “common heritage has already been used to impose a seabed mining moratorium,” [ref. 3] using the 1970 UN Resolution on the Deep Seabeds.

But AIAA Administrator of Public Policy Jerry Grey, at the Annual Meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science January 5, speculated that refusal to sign the Moon treaty would seriously prejudice “US ability to conclude the cooperative agreements which are essential to US participation in potentially lucrative global markets.”

Grey’s position, like that of many other treaty supporters, appears to be that the US has no choice but to accept the treaty, fearing that otherwise the nation would be branded as uncooperative. However, other nations have developed cold feet on the lunar pact. The treaty, passed by the UN General Assembly Dec. 5, has only been signed by Chile (Jan. 3) and France (Jan. 29). Venezuela has informally indicated it will not sign unless the US does so first.

Meanwhile, Congressional opposition to the Treaty continues to grow. January 11 Senator Howard Cannon (D-NV), Chairman of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, announced three studies on the Moon treaty. These studies, being conducted by the Congressional Research Service, the Office of Technology Assessment and a former Moon treaty negotiator, Eileen Galloway, will prepare Cannon’s committee for the hearings he will hold if President Carter appears likely to sign. Meanwhile, five members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Chairman Frank Church (D-ID), Jacob Javits (R-NY), Dick Stone (D-FL), S.I. Hayakawa (R-CA) and Richard Lugar (R-IN) have expressed serious reservations regarding the acceptability of the treaty in the Senate.

Over in the House, James Santini, Chairman of the Mines and Mining Committee, has joined long-time Moon treaty opponent John Breaux, who chairs the subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife Conservation and the Environment, saying, in Jan. 17 letter to the L-5 Washington representative Leigh Ratiner, “I applaud your efforts to protect the interests of the United States and make sure that the ‘common heritage’ clause in the treaty will not be used against U.S. commercial interests in the future.”

To date, no member of Congress has come out in support of the lunar agreement.


1. Dept. of State Action Memorandum, “Why the U.S. Should Not Sign the Moon Treaty” (unclassified), p. 4.

2. Smith, Delbert I). “The Moon Treaty and Private Enterprise,” Astronautics and Aeronautics, January 1980, p. 65.

3. Statement of Hon. John Breaux before the Subcommittee on Space Science and Application, Sept. 6,1979.