The Moon Agreement of 1979: What Relevance to Space Activities?


Years of negotiations in the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space and vigorous drafting and re-drafting of an international treaty to govern the activities of States on the Moon, culminated in an unanimous acceptance of the Moon Agreement (or Moon Treaty) by the UN General Assembly in 1979. The Agreement applies to the Moon and all other celestial bodies within the solar system other than the Earth, including orbits or other trajectories to or around them. It turns over jurisdiction to the international community.

Thus, all activities must be in accordance to international law, notably the UN Charter. The agreement makes a declaration that the Moon should be used for the benefit of all states and all peoples of the international community. It also expresses a desire to prevent the Moon from becoming a source of international conflict. As a follow-on to the Outer Space Treaty, the Moon Agreement was intended to establish a regime similar to the one established for the deep seabed in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

However, after entering into force in 1984, having secured a sufficient number of ratifications, it is unratified by any major space-faring power such as the United States and the Russian Federation, and unsigned by the majority of nations. Therefore, at this point it is of no direct relevance to current space activities. But what of the future ? Improved perspectives will perhaps appear on the horizon when exploratory missions to the Moon and Mars are becoming more realistic. Such missions have, incidentally, been receiving more and more attention among international space law experts in recent years. Conferences have been organized with topics such as: ‘The legal status of property rights on the Moon’, ‘Jurisdiction on space settlements’. The race to the Moon has yet to begin.