26 June 2018

Not booking a one-way ticket to Asgardia

There is a long and colourful history of people - in Australia and elsewhere - setting up their own states, or what are purported to be states, gaining headlines and often ending in tears.

In Australia for example we have had the pseudo-state known as the Empire of Atlantium and the self-declared Prince John, Grand Duke of Avram, Marquis of Mathra, Earl of Enoch, Viscount Ulom, Lord Rama, Cardinal Archbishop of the Royal See of the Continent of Australia, Knight of Bountiful Endeavours, Knight of Sword, Knight of Merit (aka John Rudge).

I'm thus unsurprised to see the latest announcement about the Kingdom of Asgardia, a new 'nation' that will supposedly be located in space (possibly with real estate on the Moon rather than merely space stations) and supposedly feature a data haven that's more effective than Sealand.

The ABC has breathlessly reported
A Russian billionaire has held a lavish ceremony at a castle in Austria to declare himself the leader of a new, independent "space nation" called Asgardia. 
The self-funded event was held at the opulent Hofburg palace in Vienna and included a choral performance of the nation's anthem, an official oath, and a video message from Russian cosmonaut Oleg Artemiev on the International Space Station.  ... 
Asgardia is the brainchild of Russian rocket scientist Igor Ashurbeyli. He wants it to be the first fully independent "nation" in space, with its own government, virtual currency, justice system and calendar. ... While functioning as a real nation, Asgardia would also help protect the Earth and keep the peace in space, according to the project's official website. 
"Is it pioneering, futuristic and visionary — or madness? Call it what you will, and time will tell," Dr Ashurbeyli says. 
At the moment, anyone can become a citizen of Asgardia. But Dr Ashurbeyli has said he wants to attract the world's most creative minds, and may eventually bring in a mandatory IQ test for potential Asgardians. 
More than 200,000 people have already signed up via the nation's website, including thousands of Australians, but Dr Ashurbeyli wants to recruit a total population of about 150 million within the next 10 years.
The promo for Asgardia is somewhat confusing; on occasion the Asgardia site refers to it as a "space kingdom" in "low earth orbit".

In my doctoral dissertation I note the glorious history of pseudo-states, which often hold sway over no more than the teenage president or monarch's bedroom. Asgardia alas does not feature Rocket the Raccoon as its national animal but at least was not called the Kingdom of Chlamydia, Empire of Giardia or Space Republic of Delirium. I am reminded of Frank Zappa's comment on the signifiers of nationhood: "You can't be a real country unless you have a beer and an airline. It helps if you have some kind of a football team, or some nuclear weapons, but at the very least you need a beer."

Its pretensions are contrary to the Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies (aka Outer Space Treaty) and Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of States 1933. Tthere is no reason to believe that it will achieve one of the key requirements in international law regarding statehood, ie recognition by existing states of Asgardia's existence, the authority of its passports, the immunity of its head of state - King Igor - and diplomats under the Foreign State Immunities Act 1985 (Cth), Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations 1961, Diplomatic Privileges and Immunities Act 1967 (Cth) and so forth.

Among Australian case law on non-recognition of such fantasy states see ACCC v Purple Harmony Plates Pty Ltd (No 3) [2002] FCA 1487, Commissioner for Fair Trading, Department of Commerce v Hunter [2008] NSWSC 277, Australian Prudential Regulation Authority v Siminton (No 6) [2007] FCA 1608, Casley v Commissioner of Taxation [2007] HCATrans 590 and Deputy Commissioner of Taxation v Casley [2017] WASC 161, Roman and Anor v Commonwealth of Australia and Ors [2004] NTSC 9, Williamson v Hodgson [2010] WASC 95, Maxwell (also known as Harley Robert Williamson) v Bruse [2012] WASC 12 and Avram v Official Trustee in Bankruptcy [2001] FCA 1480.

Hutt is noted here; Roman here.