Haris A. Durrani | The Bogotá Declaration: A Global Uprising?

By Haris A. Durrani    


The global quality of uprisings posed an important question in 3/13: The Arab Spring, as it has throughout Uprising[1]. Interlocutors debated the extent to which a conception of uprising, the “Arab Spring,” homogenizes a set of distinct uprisings or else appropriately represents a single uprising that is transnational or perhaps global, when paired with Occupy Wall Street (OWS). To this end, in his Epilogue to 3/13, Bernard Harcourt highlights a “central tension” in the discussion: “the struggle to relate the political economy of local protest and the popular roots of mass mobilization to the broader global dimensions of military intervention, international interference, and imperialism that have ravaged the Middle East.” But I would like to ask: Is there a kind of struggle that does not merely partake in such a global framework, but rather is about the constitution of the framework itself—in other words, an uprising which is inherently global?


In this post, I would like to reflect on this question through the lens of a case study that may at first glance appear a non sequitur: conflicting international orders in the law of outer space. I will engage our dialogues on the “global” quality of uprisings with a reflection on The Bogotá Declaration of 1976. The Declaration was a failed treaty wherein a transnational coalition of postcolonial states resisted the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 (OST) as a legal manifestation of developed states’ dominant global order. As I will discuss, the Declaration may constitute a kind of “legal uprising” with a global character. Perhaps, as we proceed toward 11/13: Hactivism, these reflections on the Declaration can expand and complicate how we think about uprisings and the longue durée in the context of Martin Heidegger’s “technological conditions”[2] and Hannah Arendt’s “earth alienation”[3] amidst Michel Foucault’s modern “epoch of space.”[4]


Arendt on the Authoritative Limits of Space Law


Before reflecting on the Declaration, I would like to situate that discussion in Arendt’s writings on authority and outer space. These writings inform the question of what constitutes a global uprising.


Authority is important to the “globalization” of uprisings that are arguably “local.”[5] For example, some commentators attempt to grant movements an heir of authority by claiming their global reach. For example, Ivan Krastev argues that the OWS and Arab Spring uprisings were part of a broader revolutionary struggle. In turn, Asef Bayat describes this claim as an attempt to “give meaning” to these revolutions’ historical significance without recognizing important differences.[6]


Fundamental questions about authority underlie these contravening claims about the global nature of uprisings: In what contexts is a particular uprising or set of uprisings authoritative, and should that authoritativeness constitute the measure of “true” revolution in the longue durée? Of course, in addressing these questions, Arendt’s articulation of authority as preceding both force and reason/persuasion (perhaps like Talal Asad’s description of “suggestibility” as “something prior” to an intellectual argument[7]) provides a crucial framework.


As it so happens, Arendt thought about space and the globe in the context of her work on authority. In Between Past and Future, only a few pages from the piece we read for 3/13 (“What Is Authority?”), Arendt offers a provocative essay, “The Conquest of Space and the Stature of Man.” She criticizes space activities as exhibiting an unbound progress alienated from worldviews she calls “geocentric” (“earth, and not the universe, is the center and the home of mortal men”) and “anthropomorphic” (“man would count his own factual mortality among the elementary conditions under which his scientific efforts are possible at all”). She argues for the establishment of geocentric and anthropomorphic limits to claims of territoriality and property in space. “[T]he journey into space… is far from being a harmless or unequivocally triumphant enterprise,” she writes. Rather,

[i]t could add to the stature of man inasmuch as man, in distinction from other living things, desires to be at home in a “territory” as large as possible. In that case, he would only take possession of what is his own, although it took him a long time to discover it. These new possessions, like all property, would have to be limited [by a geocentric and anthropomorphic worldview].[8]

Arendt’s conception of authority clearly informs her approach to space. For her, territory and property in space require the limitations of a sense of place[9], rooted in something that precedes spaceflight as an imperial act of force or a consequence of scientific reason.


Arguably, Arendt views a return to these authoritative limitations as a resistance to a kind of spaceflight that is—like her indictment of the mechanization of laborers in the same essay—mindless, an erosion of “the human condition.”


Postcolonial Unrest in Outer Space


Arendt’s speculative ruminations about the authoritative limitations of the laws governing outer space vaguely anticipated fundamental dilemmas in space law today. Just as Arendt worried about the unfettered free use of territory and property in space, several contemporary controversies in space law concern limitations on territoriality and property rights in space. These disagreements tend to fall along fault-lines between global north and south nations, between colonial or imperial states and their former subjects.


Historically, such disagreements arose out of national liberation movements and postcolonial unrest in the mid to late twentieth century. This has led to an ongoing history that continues as one of postcolonial struggle. Prominently, due to the unique relationship between equatorial territories and geostationary orbit, such territories are particularly useful for rocket launches. Thus, since the mid twentieth century, global north nations have exploited these territories for this purpose, resulting in various ongoing environmental and labor concerns. For example, only last April, protestors blockaded the European space industry at the Guiana Space Center, formed in the 1960s after French colonization, as Peter Redfield describes in Space in the Tropics.

Protestors at the Guiana Space Center last April. Credit: AP Photo/Pierre-Olivier Ray.


A Global Uprising?


The Bogotá Declaration is an intriguing example of an anti-imperial struggle about outer space that appears more intrinsically global than the revolutions discussed in 3/13. This is by virtue of its attempt to reconstruct state authority in outer space by employing limitations on territory, much as Arendt might have envisioned.


In the Declaration, a coalition of equatorial states (Colombia, Congo, Ecuador, Indonesia, Kenya, Uganda, Zaire, and Brazil) attempted to resist the OST’s non-appropriation principle—which prevents claims of sovereignty in outer space—by asserting that each of their national territories extends to geostationary orbital slots overhead. The Declaration claims these slots as natural resources connected to the equatorial status of the territories below, thus allowing these states to “call on the jus cogens principle that States have absolute control over their natural resources to exercise sovereignty over the geostationary orbit.”[10] Because such orbits were and remain valuable for telecommunications satellites, the postcolonial nations that signed the Declaration were concerned that global north states would occupy these slots before the developing world could achieve the technological and economic means to do so.


Although the Declaration has failed because no spacefaring nation signed it, remnants of this legal uprising continue into the present day. The Constitution of Colombia still contains a provision reiterating the country’s sovereignty over geostationary orbit above Colombian territory.[11] Colombia and the Republic of Congo have signed but not ratified the OST. And, although the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) regulates orbital slots, out of 427 satellites in geostationary orbit, “only a few belong to technologically developing States.”[12]


The Declaration’s global character is distinct from those discussed in 3/13. Although the Arab Spring and OWS uprisings were responses to the neoliberal, capitalist, imperial order that has emerged from the global north, they manifested in practice as struggles resisting particular domestic circumstances, no doubt influenced by those broader grievances and influences. By contrast, the Declaration is a fascinating case in which the struggle is inherently over the constitution of “the global.” Various states did not merely share broad concerns about the global north’s abuses of force and capital, but came together to specifically respond to these concerns in a single, concerted action: a claim about the physical connection between their equatorial territories and geostationary orbital slots above them. Their legal uprising was a reimagining of the fundamental scientific, natural, and legal relationship between space, Earth, and the state.


Restated in Arendtian terms, the Declaration was a claim about fundamental authority rooted in a conception of nature and the globe—the relation between outer space and equatorial territory—at odds with the conception formulated by global north states in the OST. In this conception, the Declaration proclaims, “geostationary orbit is a physical fact linked to the reality of our planet because its existence depends exclusively on its relation to gravitational phenomena generated by the earth.” Perhaps this attempt to limit orbits as extensions of territory on Earth is an attempt to impose Arendt’s “geocentric” limitations onto territoriality in space.


Or, an Uprising Against the Global?


Although the Declaration’s legal uprising is about the global, perhaps it is not necessarily global itself. There is a sense in which the Declaration is not inherently about the global at all but is an attempt to rupture the global as a concept that arose in the global north’s space regime and to ground questions about legal sovereignty back onto national territoriality, rather than de facto power, in domains with ambiguous arrangements of sovereignty like that under the OST’s non-appropriation principle.


Indeed, the Declaration complicates the truly “global” character of international law. It is one of several legal conflicts about space governance that fall along fault lines between how states in the global north and south conceive of limitations on territory that are either “geocentric” (linked to earth) or “anthropocentric” (commonly owned by humankind). Even if the Declaration has no legal effect, its mere existence is one of resistance: It lodges a crack in the legitimacy of dominant regimes that use their purportedly global character to produce the semblance of authority. These fault lines generate alternative internationalisms, or, more bluntly, conflicting international orders: the OST as one interpretation of the space regime shared by many nations and enforced by the global north, against regimes like the Declaration as legal orders shared by alternative coalitions of nations. In fact, discussing the Declaration and the complex history of negotiations over the governance of the deep seabed, Surabhi Ranganathan has gone so far as to argue that a coalition of states can resist dominant international order by forming conflicting treaty regimes.[13]


The Declaration’s rupturing of the global would match with the history in which the concept of Earth as the “Blue Marble” (alternatively, “World Picture,” “Whole Earth,” “Gaia,” or “Rocketship Earth”) emerged as a “political and cultural object.”[14] There is a significant body of historical, sociological, philosophical, and anthropological scholarship pointing toward Blue Marble as exhibiting a cybernetic, colonial worldview about control over people and nature.[15] Notably, Heidegger and Arendt, against philosophers like Hans Blumenburg or Frank White, viewed the image of Earth from space as alienating.[16] More recently, Sara Pritchard describes “Black Marble”—the image of city lights on Earth at night—as a phenomenon emerging from Blue Marble. She argues that, rather than exposing global economic inequality by displaying the absence of lights in the developing world, Black Marble revives age-old imperialist perspectives of Africa as the “dark continent.”[17] This history is particularly important to our discussion of legal uprisings in space because the Blue Marble concept has blatantly influenced legal conceptions of space as related to a borderless, non-appropriable, or commonly-inhabited globe rather than one defined by national territories.[18]


In this context, the Declaration’s intervention into the OST’s legal prescription of space as a non-appropriable global domain—a regime without borders—appears all the more radical.



[1] 2/13’s discussion of Mao, for instance, was perhaps more so a discussion of “Mao in Europe” than Maoism as a distinctly global uprising, as some interlocutors mentioned. Meanwhile, the participants in 4/14 argued that Black Lives Matter constitutes an uprising which is not only particular to America, but even manifests in different ways depending on regional and local circumstances within the country.

[2] Martin Heidegger, “Der Spiegel Interview,” in The Heidegger Reader (Indiana UP, 2009).

[3] Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition (2013) and “The Conquest of Space and the Stature of Man,” in Between Past and Future, edited by Jerome Kohn, 260–74 (2006).

[4] Michel Foucault, “Des Espace Autres,” translated by Jay Miskowiec, Architecture/Mouvement/Continuite (1984/1967).

[5] Although, as Talal Asad writes in his Introduction to Genealogies of Religion (Johns Hopkins UP, 1993), drawing on Arendt’s work on mobility, the “local” is itself part of a global order. “The West,” Asad writes, “is… more than a mere Hegelian myth.”

[6] Asef Bayat, Revolution Without Revolutionaries: Making Sense of the Arab Spring, Chapter 1, 16-17 (Stanford UP, 2017).

[7] See also: Haris Durrani, “Hal: Delayed Reflections on Jim Jarmusch and Talal Asad,” The New Inquiry (Feb. 2017).

[8] Consider similarities to Foucault’s discussion of “epoch of space” in “Des Espaces Autres.”

[9] See Lisa Messeri, Placing Outer Space (2016).

[10] F.O. Agama, “Effects of the Bogota Declaration on the legal status of geostationary orbit in international space law,” Nnamdi Azikiwe University Journal of International Law and Jurisprudence 8 (1), 24-34 (2017).

[11] Art. 101, cl. 4: “Also part of Colombia is the subsoil, the territorial sea, the contiguous zone, the continental shelf, the exclusive economic zone, the airspace, the segment of the geostationary orbit, the electromagnetic spectrum and the space in which it operates, in accordance with international law or the laws of Colombia in the absence of international regulations.”

[12] Agama 2017.

[13] Surabhi Ranganathan, Strategically Created Treaty Conflicts and the Politics of International Law (2015).

[14] Jordan Bimm, “Rethinking the Overview Effect,” Quest: The History of Spaceflight Quarterly 2:1 (2014)..

[15] Consider Gayatri Spivak’s writings on “planetarity,” or Sheila Jasanoff’s scholarship on Blue Marble.

[16] Benjamin Lazier, “Earthrise; Or, The Globalization of the World Picture,” The American

Historical Review 116:3, 602–30.

[17] Sara Pritchard, “The Trouble with Darkness: NASA’s Suomi Satellite Images of Earth at Night,” Environmental History 22, 312-330 (April 2017).

[18] Jill Stuart, “Unbundling Sovereignty, Territory and the State in Outer Space: Two Approaches,” in Securing Outer Space: International Relations Theory and the Politics of Space, edited by Natalie Bormann and Michael Sheehan, 8–23 (2009). Kathryn Milun, The Political Uncommons: The Cross-Cultural Logic of the Global Commons (2011). Consider also the prevalence of references to the International Geophysical Year during international and domestic legal negotiations and hearings about legal regimes in outer space, the sea, and Antarctica in the late 1950s to 1970s.

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