Standing Alone Appendix: Interstellar Law

27 Oct

Does this make sense?

Appendix: Interstellar Law

Galactic Law, as laid down – at least in part – by the Alphans rests on a somewhat contradictory premise.  On one hand, all races deserve a certain degree of legal rights as well as responsibilities; on the other, it is extremely difficult to keep an interstellar power from putting its own interests first, regardless of the harm they do to any less powerful or outright defenceless race that happens to find itself in the superpower’s path.  Cynics insist the Alphans devised Galactic Law to justify and legitimise their own conquests, as they were once the galaxy’s foremost conquerors.  It is generally agreed the cynics are correct.

The Alphans divided intelligent races into three different subsets.  Galactics are races capable of both defending their homeworlds and exerting their influence outside their borders.  Spacefarers are capable of defending themselves, yet have little influence outside their homeworlds.  Primitives are unable to reach orbit, let alone defend themselves against a spacefaring opponent.  Each subset has different rights and responsibilities, towards both themselves and other intelligent races.  Galactics, for example, have the right and the responsibility to take the primitives in hand, to provide guidance to their clients in exchange for service.  In theory, the superior race is expected to uplift their inferiors.  In practice, this generally means a considerable degree of exploitation, if not outright slavery, for races that are unable to defend themselves.  Very few primitive races have ever broken free from their unwanted patrons.

From a moralistic point of view, this is outrageous and many interstellar races and factions regard de facto enslavement with horror.  From a practical point of view, the only way to keep the more aggressive races from occupying primitive worlds is force and, when the aggressor is too powerful to be easily deterred, the other interstellar powers tend to look away rather than try to do something about it.  Nothing short of blatant defiance of the law (direct or indirect genocide) will provoke a response and, with the Alphans no longer willing to provide any degree of leadership, it is generally believed that even the handful of protections extended to primitive races no longer hold force.

Indeed, the only real check on patron abuse comes from the patrons being legally responsible for their clients.  Primitive races are, legally, children; they cannot be penalised, under the law, for their ignorance and/or stupidity.  If a human were to assassinate a Galactic while Earth was under Alphan rule, the Alphans would be legally responsible for the deed (in the same way a parent would be obliged to repay money a child had stolen).  It isn’t uncommon for rebel groups to try to create incidents that force other interstellar powers to pressure the patron race, regardless of the cost.  If nothing else, it makes life harder for the occupying power and demonstrates they don’t control the primitive homeworld (see below).

Spacefaring races do have title over their own homeworlds (and star systems) and have rights that are generally respected (if nothing else, races that understand technology do tend to be better allies than outright slaves.)  However, they are legally obliged to bend to the will of the local superpower and, if they lose their ability to protect their home system, they run the risk of losing their political influence (see below).  Their positions are rarely pleasant, let alone secure.  They are not allowed, for example, to let their space be used for military operations, but lack the power to prevent it.  Indeed, if their local superpower loses influence, the spacerfarers may find themselves thrown into the hands of another superpower.  It is extremely tricky to navigate such chaos without losing what remains of their former independence.

Both spacefarers and Galactics have, at least in theory, complete internal autonomy.  The Alphans originally tried to impose their legal code on everyone else, but discovered very quickly that their laws were often unsuitable for other races.  As long as a race’s internal affairs don’t impinge upon other powers, it can generally do whatever it wants on its own homeworld or enclaves, up to and including outright genocide.  Most races at least try to be circumspect when dealing with others, regardless of the relative balance of power, but visitors to alien worlds are advised to study both local law and custom before leaving the ship.  A person who commits a crime under local law can be deported and blacklisted, even if they are not legally charged (as the crime isn’t a crime under their native law.)

The owner of a certain volume of space – a star system, for example, or a sector – is the interstellar power that can and does exert control over the volume.  The owner must be able to prevent incursion, from either other interstellar powers or independent forces (pirates); the owner’s own laws and social systems must be dominant, with all others existing at the owner’s sufferance.  For example, the Vultek enclaves within Alphan space may be governed by Vultek law, but Alphan law has primacy whenever multiple races are involved.  The ruling power must be capable, also, of protecting other Galactics making transit through the sector.  Failure to do this effectively means the other powers have the right to take steps to protect their own people, such as providing convoy escorts or even establishing military bases within the sector.  This often provides perfectly legal cover for covert destabilisation operations, mounted in hopes of providing an excuse to send warships into the sector on ‘temporary’ missions that never actually end. 

It should be clear that ‘fairness’ and ‘equality’ are not the driving principles of Galactic Law.  The Alphans themselves would admit as much, pointing both to their own (presumed) superiority as well as the simple fact the races are not equal.  There is little room for moralistic platitudes and, in truth, most races find them annoying.  Galactic Law does not exist as a supranational power structure, binding on all races, but as a framework to migrate conflicts (open and covert) between interstellar powers.  It is ruthlessly practical, with only a few hints of idealism (the prohibition on interstellar genocide, for example); it has few, if any, enforcement mechanisms beyond the superpowers being willing to band together to punish an offender. 

And, now the Alphans are leaving the interstellar stage, it is no longer clear who – if anyone – will even make a pretence at upholding interstellar law.

11 Responses to “Standing Alone Appendix: Interstellar Law”

  1. Fred Mora October 27, 2021 at 1:05 pm #

    Typo: “framework to migrate conflicts” should be mitigate.

    This reads nicely and is clear.

    What series is this from?

    • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard October 27, 2021 at 4:34 pm #

      It’s the Second of Chris’ Cast Adrift series.

  2. ruopp October 27, 2021 at 2:40 pm #

    “The Alphans divided intelligent races into three different subsets. Galactics are races capable of both defending their homeworlds and exerting their influence outside their borders. Spacefarers are capable of defending themselves, yet have little influence outside their homeworlds. Primitives are unable to reach orbit, let alone defend themselves against a spacefaring opponent.”

    While the text above is OK in principle, I would subdivide the spacefaring cultures as capable to defend themselves and incapable to defend themselves. An advanced society can be pacifist and have never developed their military and use treaties to assure another civilization defend them in exchange of their technical advances in power production, medical equipment and treatments, etc.

    IMO the following rule is flawed.

    “A person who commits a crime under local law can be deported and blacklisted, even if they are not legally charged (as the crime isn’t a crime under their native law.)”

    And the reason is simple: No sovereign state will tolerate someone breaking the law because in their Planet of origin, country etc. the act is not a crime.

    I don’t see an alien society tolerating a visitor breaking their laws and getting away with deportation only.

    Here, on Earth, today, if you travel to a foreign country and break its law, you’ll be arrested, prosecuted and if found guilty purge a prison sentence. This goes to all countries. Why in an alien civilization would it be different? Even if the perpetrator escape justice and flee the planet, if he returns, he’ll face justice.

    A civilization won’t last long if they create exceptions to foreigners.

    • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard October 27, 2021 at 4:41 pm #

      I suspect that the pacifist society would find itself completely controlled by its protectors.

      As for the “exceptions for foreigners”, I suspect that it exists only for foreigners from an equally powerful (or more powerful) star nation. Even then, only if the other star nation cares what happens to its subjects.

      • ruopp October 27, 2021 at 5:40 pm #

        “I suspect that the pacifist society would find itself completely controlled by its protectors.”

        True, but it depends on what this pacifist society can provide to it’s protectors that can’t be obtained by force. Some people may prefer to die that bend the knee to conquerors and take their knowledge with them to the grave. But this is a complicated matter and in the present case it’s up to Chris to decide if they exists or not in his Universe.

        If you’ve watched Dune (1984) you may remember the race that transported the emperor race and their subjects races across the Galaxy. They were not powerful but even the Emperor couldn’t subjugate them as they were the only one to transport the others from star system to star system.

    • George Phillies October 31, 2021 at 2:16 am #

      Well, no. Laws that condemn things that are malum per se (iirc), such as a law against murder, will be the same everywhere or close enough. Other laws, for example the capital crime of denying that the gostalk dimms the doshes, are reasonably punished by deportation.

      • Stuart the Viking November 4, 2021 at 1:48 pm #

        Not trying to be offensive, but I think it’s a little naive to think that a government is going to “let someone go” – which is how deportation is likely to be be viewed – after doing something as heinous as being from a planet where gostalk dimming denial is allowed. Especially if that someone actively dares to partake in active gostalk dimming denial. DENIAL IS VIOLENCE!!! after all, and Gostalk is LITERALLY HITLER! And even suggesting that someone might deny that dimming the doshes happened, or that the lighting on the doshes was ever anything but perfect makes you a dirty DIMMIST!!!

      • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard November 4, 2021 at 3:21 pm #

        They might if their Nation was a single Star System and the criminal was a citizen of a Great Power. Especially if the government knew that the Great Power was somewhat interested in their Star System. 😈

      • AC Young November 5, 2021 at 8:32 am #

        It is also worth noting how things sometimes work on this planet. Under Diplomatic Immunity clauses in an international treaty, a Diplomat (meaning someone officially registered as such by their government) cannot be tried for any crime they are alleged to have committed in the country they are based in (no matter how heinous) unless their government waives immunity. The most that country can do is deport them. Countries generally accept these restrictions because they are two-way, and also protect their own diplomats from malicious prosecutions.

  3. Clark October 28, 2021 at 3:11 am #

    Those who write the laws will always write them with a bias towards self-interest. What could a primitive world really offer a Galactic society that it didn’t already have? The one commodity that will always be in demand will be “time”.
    Anything that allows you to not do something is effectively giving you time to pursue something else, hopefully something of your choosing.
    But from an altruistic perspective, if someone truly wanted to uplift a primitive world for the sake of uplifting them, that too is still quite an investment; of time, resources, people, etc. The cost of uplifting would be immense. And when a world has nothing really to offer, “service” really is the only value they might have, for even with nothing but service to offer, they are effectively providing the commodity of “time”.

  4. JCE November 2, 2021 at 10:44 am #

    Love it! Although, please, please don´t stop writing the AR series!

    It´s still your best. Enough with the magic.

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