Near Earth Objects (NEO) are solar system bodies whose orbit brings them into proximity with Earth. According to the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA), there are over 18,000 NEOs including both insignificantly small objects and objects capable of causing significant damage to life and property on our planet. However, there is not a single approach for dealing with NEOs and no mechanism at the global level designed to respond to a NEO threat. Since state parties to the Outer Space Treaty shall carry on activities in the exploration and use of outer space in accordance with international law, a space mission to deflect an asteroid away from Earth impact raises important legal questions with regard to the international/national decision making during an actual impact threat.
Currently, there are two possible options discussed by the international scientific community – a unilateral mission (in light of the U.S. technological advantages not considered as unrealistic), and an international mission coordinated by an international agency.
However, specific nature of outer space reflected by the principles of international space law (the non-appropriation principle, the concept of outer space as the “province of all mankind”, the principle of cooperation and mutual assistance) does effectively limit states in their use of outer space. Prof. Marchisio argues that the OST in essence sets outer space aside as an extra-jurisdictional territory and no state can exercise any sovereign rights over it.
In this context, a rationale behind the Responsibility to Protect doctrine may be relevant. Particularly important are references to state’s responsibility to protect its population and notion of collective responsibility of states to protect human lives. Thus, the paper seeks to analyse planetary defense in the context of the R2P doctrine.
Given the limited applicability of the R2P concept to particular situations (genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity), a NEO-impact threat is not a “responsibility to protect” case. However, the author is focused on the implications of the R2P for the traditional concept of sovereignty as well as the non-intervention principle. In particular, the author analyses legal implications of key pillars of the R2P doctrine, namely, sovereignty as responsibility and collective responsibility of the international community for planetary defense. In this context, both the R2P doctrine developed by the ICISS and the R2P endorsed by heads of states and governments at the 2005 UN Summit are analysed.