Imagery and expectations for international disaster response.

Author:Clark, Nathan E.


This Article examines the development and contributions of the Charter on Cooperation to Achieve the Coordinated Use of Space Facilities in the Event of Natural or Technological Disasters (Charter). As a voluntary mechanism among spacefaring nations and transnational entities, the Charter provides remote sensing data and information for international disaster response efforts. Over the past fifteen years, the Charter members have continued to contribute and cooperate in an effective manner, in spite of increasing legislative and economic controls over the access and distribution of data at the State level. This Article finds that the behaviors of Charter members largely fall outside of traditional, geopolitical rationales over security and commercial interests, and argues that the guiding dynamics of the Charter stem from a historical construct of actions and ideals from actors within scientific and technical communities. Drawing from normative concepts within international relations theory, the Article concludes that the Charter has become a progressive case for the potential influence of non-binding legal frameworks on interstate cooperation.

TABLE OF CONTENTS I. INTRODUCTION II. THE POLICY FIELD III. INTERNATIONAL LEGAL ASPECTS A. The Outer Space Treaty B. The Remote Sensing Principles IV. THE CHARTER V. DISCUSSION VI. CONCLUSION Remote sensing activities shall be carried out for the benefit and in the interests of all countries, irrespective of their degree of economic, social or scientific and technological development, and taking into particular consideration the needs of the developing countries.--Principle II

Remote sensing shall promote the protection of mankind from natural disasters.--Principle XI


    By now, the benefits of satellite remote sensing (1) for disaster management are well known within global relief networks. Among other things, remote sensing data and information are used to direct aid, monitor flooding, and make detailed damage assessments. In the immediate aftermath of a major disaster, the sharing of these data across borders is crucial. However, disjointed policy objectives and the increase of regulatory measures at the state level can obstruct the open exchange of data among global stakeholders. To overcome these obstacles, the Charter on Cooperation to Achieve the Coordinated Use of Space Facilities in the Event of Natural or Technological Disaster (2) has emerged as an international effort, which brings together public and private actors from relevant sectors to provide rapid and effective technical assistance to any state or community immediately affected by large-scale disasters. The Charter's members operate on a voluntary basis and have consistently pooled the necessary space resources together to respond to some 450 plus incidents in over 110 countries. (3) Through a growing network of national space agencies, private entities, and cooperating bodies, the Charter is steadily becoming a compelling model for addressing global issues through cross-sectoral cooperation.

    One of the Charter's greatest achievements has been the ability to navigate many of the political barriers that stifle international aid and remote sensing activities alike. To date, the signatories to the Charter include state agencies from nearly every major geopolitical powerhouse. (4) Their ability to effectively cooperate and willingness to contribute on a non-discriminatory basis is as commendable as it is puzzling, particularly when considering the inherent security implications and commercial interests that accompany remote sensing technologies. This Article, then, attempts to provide a possible explanation for these behaviors. It views the overall activities of the Charter outside of the geostrategic interests of states, and asks the question: why do states sanction these efforts?

    To begin, this Article will provide a general overview of the field. It will argue that historically, many of the policy trends surrounding both space and aid initiatives within Charter member states appear to clash with these states' ongoing and implicit backing of Charter activities. This would suggest that the developments leading up to the Charter have been driven instead by a number of individuals from the scientific and technical communities, which interact within what John Ruggie identifies as the global public domain. (5) Here, the rational interests and subsequent behaviors of the member states are not predefined; rather, they are shaped and reshaped through dialogues, ideas, beliefs, and expectations among state and non-state actors, within and across borders. Building from normative approaches in constructivism, this Article will argue that over time, the expertise and beliefs of these actors have helped shape a number of international and domestic legal principles and policies, which, in turn, have aided in the establishment of the Charter. Lastly, this Article will discuss the influence of these social and legal normative processes on the efforts and achievements of the Charter, and will offer some reflection on the future role of non-binding legal norms.


    In order to understand what dynamics presently guide the actors in this field, this Part divides the policy developments leading up to the phenomena of international, space-derived disaster assistance into two parts. The first will provide a brief overview of the strategic interests of spacefaring nations over the last half century, and the second will draw attention to another set of actors, which emerged in the same period, and whose interests and actions generally escape the rational assumptions within domestic and international politics.

    The road to establishing an International Charter on Space and Major Disasters has been long and rutted with competing interests within and among states. From as early as the Space Race between the United States and the former Soviet Union, concerns over national security, geopolitical mobility, and commercial competitiveness have continued to influence international cooperative efforts for the development and use of space resources. This is particularly true for satellite earth observation technologies originally developed for reconnaissance and weather monitoring purposes. (6) Remote sensing has long since been the double-edged sword of spacefaring nations; the need to monitor the natural environment has been juxtaposed with the state's ability to monitor its neighbors. This duality, along with the commercialization of the industry, has ensured that national policy objectives remain divided. (7)

    At present, the operational and political settings for remote sensing activities vary to some degree across borders. However, most states have embraced public-private partnership (PPP) models, which facilitate domestic needs and buttress global market competitiveness. (8) Advances in technology and new actors in the field have also resulted in domestic regulatory trends prioritizing security concerns and profit maximization over civil services such as environmental monitoring. Within nearly every remote sensing capable state, these interests translate into rigid licensing and monetary controls. (9) In the global disaster context, data policies and intellectual property laws detailing who can access data and for what purposes increasingly insulate these data at the national level. Moreover, the economic value of high-resolution data reduces the incentives for charitable or lower-cost contributions by public and private satellite operators and data distributors. In the case of the Charter, for example, data contributions from commercial operators have little or nothing to do with corporate philanthropy. Rather, these entities receive government subsidies and, through various contractual arrangements, agree (or in some cases are obligated) to provide data. (10) Ultimately, the question has become why give data when you can sell it, especially if it means selling the data back to the state. It is a win-win scenario, but one that does not explain why states would earmark these resources for international disaster relief in the first place.

    However, these developments have been accompanied by a third policy area in remote sensing, which emerged from early environmental monitoring projects and worked to promote broader civil-based objectives. Within the United States and the former Soviet space programs, the ability to observe changes in the weather and environment from space was a major catalyst for advancing satellite technologies. Almost immediately, the management of these applications became a battle of interests. For instance, following the establishment of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in 1958, the scientific and technical staff found themselves lobbying against the Department of Defense (DOD) for control over the design and use of space resources for scientific exploration and civil services. (11) But remote sensing was first and foremost a technical activity, which gave the scientists and engineers designing and operating the systems significant authority over how and what the technology should be used for. These efforts helped set a new global precedent for space agencies, and eventually led to national land monitoring programs such as Landsat (1972) in the United States, SPOT (1986) in France, and the IRS-IA (1988) in India. (12) Although commercial interests would play some part in each of these programs over time, (13) a deeper normative understanding had emerged, providing that these assets should be used for scientific exploration and for the protection of the environment and humankind. Today, these programs and others like them primarily function to provide open access to tasked and archived data from lower resolution satellites for scientific, academic, and recreational purposes.

    Early on, the scientific and technical communities within the...

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