The (new) race to the Moon
Initially symbolic, lunar conquest has acquired a strategic, territorial dimension
Cpt. Béatrice Hainaut
Current lunar conquest efforts differ from those of the Cold War years due to the desire of the actors to establish a permanent lunar presence. These efforts are led mainly by the United States and China, along with private actors. This poses strategic, legal and normative problems.
The United States planted its flag on the Moon on 21st July 1969, the culmination of a contest between two superpowers that left its mark on the 20th century. Few people at the time interpreted this gesture as an act of appropriation of our natural satellite by a State, which was in any case prohibited by the Outer Space Treaty (1967). The conquest of the Moon was more symbolic than strategic or economic.
Nevertheless, the then space powers had an intuition that prevented them from ratifying the Moon Agreement (1979). The latter provides that the Moon and its natural resources constitute the common heritage of mankind and that, as such, an international regime should be established to govern the exploitation of such resources when such exploitation is about to become feasible. Today, this non-ratification takes on its full meaning. There are an increasing number of programs to return to the Moon and settle there for the longer term. This race is taking place against a backdrop of fierce strategic and economic competition between the United States and China. Beyond these two major players, the Moon has become an international issue.