In a hypothetical scenario that Russia, China or USA decide to "occupy" the Moon, they can not legally do that now due to having signed the Outer Space Treaty.

Can one of the signing countries exit the treaty?

If so, what are the practical consequences for that country? Is there some sort of penalty/collateral etc... (aside from "goodwill"/"trust levels")?

Please note that the generic game theoretic "Nobody will trust that country to enter treaties in the future" and "Everyone else will exit the treaty and space arms race will commense, possibly followed by space war" are both plausible but not what I consider "practical" for the purposes of this answer.

  • Would it be sufficient to show that the treaty does not itself establish punitive measures that go into effect when a country withdraws?
    – Publius
    Commented Feb 18, 2014 at 4:28
  • @Avi - not sure. It'd be a great start, definitely
    – user4012
    Commented Feb 18, 2014 at 17:11
  • 1
    @Chad - if you read the last paragraph of the question, game theoretical consequences are NOT in scope.
    – user4012
    Commented Feb 19, 2014 at 0:03
  • @DVK It seems to me as though chad answered your question. If I understand your question correctly, the answer he seems to have given is "There is no penalty for doing so." Commented Feb 19, 2014 at 23:28
  • @SamIam - mostly so. The only thing that can be added is whether there's something in Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties that can override this specific treaty's rules (I assume not but not sure).
    – user4012
    Commented Feb 20, 2014 at 11:54

1 Answer 1


From the text of the treaty

Article XVI

Any State Party to the Treaty may give notice of its withdrawal from the Treaty one year after its entry into force by written notification to the Depositary Governments. Such withdrawal shall take effect one year from the date of receipt of this notification.

So any nation can withdraw at any time. There is no penalty for doing so. But, any action by a lone nation that would violate this treaty by a former signatory, is likely to be seen as a hostile action. It could and probably would lead to war. The Carnegie Group did a write up of China where it strongly infers that China is blurring the line between compliance and violation of the treaty. This Document from the EU Crisis Management office details its strategy for the involvement of NATO should any party violate the terms of treaty in space.

  • There is no one document that says everything all nations can or might do. You have to look at history and analyse what they have done in the past, assess their current capabilities and stated agendas, and project what the likely response is. Commented Feb 19, 2014 at 14:49
  • Sounds a little like a provision in the peace treaty which the U.S. and Canada entered into almost 200 years ago. Given that provision, is there any particular reason to expect China or other signatories to renege on the treaty rather than simply provide notice when convenient?
    – supercat
    Commented Mar 5, 2014 at 0:30
  • 2
    @supercat - Well the hope is that they would not renege. However the longer the project to weaponize space can be done in secret with out the other powers learning about it the greater the advantage the weapon will provide. Especially assuming that the other powers have not also reneged and developed and deployed their own versions. If I were forced to place a bet my bet would be that US and Russia already have them deployed and China is close... Commented Mar 5, 2014 at 14:43

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