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Group decisions on space could show the way to manage common resources suggests new edition of Global Policy

Oversight of near-earth orbit would be best achieved by a forum of all countries with a stake in its use and not only the space-faring nations, suggests a new article on how to manage global common resources. 

Published in a special section of the journal Global Policy, the analysis of global commons considers how to go forward in the management of pooled resources that lie beyond the jurisdiction of any single country. 

In one of the four articles in this special section, authors Joan Johnson-Freese and Brian Weeden assess the options for managing near-Earth orbit – the realm just beyond earth's atmosphere, which is of intense interest for science, communications and military purposes. After more than 60 years of human exploitation, this area is now cluttered with more than 900 satellites (some functioning, some defunct) and other bits of "space junk". . 

Sunrise over earthThis cluttering presents several pressing issues that would be best managed through further international coordination– including how to allocate satellite orbital 'slots' in what is already a congested zone, how to jointly monitor possible satellite collisions and how to stop conflicts breaking out over the control of space assets. 

The authors divide nations into three categories – space-farers, those capable of space travel and those who use the information from satellites (in practice, almost every country) – and argue that all three tiers should participate in a global forum to resolve common issues over near-space. In order to avoid a gridlock on making decision, no single country should have a veto.. The authors acknowledge that setting up such a body will not be easy: "Just as the victors of the Second World War and the nuclear powers refused to submit their national sovereignty to the United Nations without retaining veto power, it will be difficult to establish a forum for space where the existing first-tier space powers cede any of their freedom of action. 

"However, it is difficult to see a path towards the long-term sustainable use of the near-Earth orbit common pooled resource without such a sacrifice."  

Elsewhere in the special issue, Dr John Vogler gives an overview of the field of global commons and identifies four of them – the high seas and deep seabed, Antarctica, outer space and the atmosphere. Klaus Dodds examines the global fall-out which followed the planting of a Russian flag on the floor of the Arctic Ocean and former US Navy Captain J. Ashley Roach explains the practical consideration involved in operating in the Arctic and protecting its environment and indigenous people. 

Global Policy logoGlobal Policy is an innovative and interdisciplinary journal based at LSE and published jointly with Wiley-Blackwell. It bring together academics and practitioners to analyse solutions to crucial global issues.  

The current issue also includes articles on the United Nations and human development, the political economy of ecology and reforms to the IMF. 

The full text is available online at the Global Policy site

6 February 2012