Monday, July 13, 2009

The Role of the United States

It’s perfectly clear in the movies: The President of the United States is the de facto leader of the world. He’s the one that the aliens must deal with, or in the case of a few flicks, destroy. Another favorite plot line has the U.S. military swooping in with a special unit designed to quarantine and study extraterrestrials. Most of these movies are American made, so the bias is understandable. But it does raise a serious issue: what should be the role of the United States in Direct First Contact with an extraterrestrial civilization?

There is a strong case for the argument that the United States should be the country of Direct First Contact. We lead the world in space exploration and high technology. We have a federal agency, NASA, which has actually considered First Contact issues and responses. NASA has taken up questions as diverse as extraterrestrial contamination, and communication with other life forms. We have other scientists and scientific agencies that might be needed as first responders in a Direct First Contact event, such as the Centers for Disease Control. We have the most advanced military to protect us if any threats develop from extraterrestrial First Contact.

So, why wouldn’t you want to have extraterrestrials make First Contact with the United States government? There are short term and long term implications. Direct First contact would inspire a variety of world reactions, some calm and welcoming, and some alarmed and hostile. There are likely to be pockets of religious and cultural groups that reject any interaction with extraterrestrials. It seems possible that religious fundamentalists may be among those with a harsh reaction to First Contact. It’s important to minimize this by taking world politics out of the mix, as much as is possible. Direct First Contact with the U.S. government instantly makes First Contact a political issue. The groups that have a problem with U.S. policy are likely to have a problem with First Contact. This is especially acute if negotiations are held behind the scenes, under layers of secrecy. What deals have been made? Will the U.S. Government get preferential treatment in the new extraterrestrial relationship? Are the extraterrestrials working to make the U.S. government the lone world power? The secrecy issue goes beyond just international reaction: it would undoubtedly produce a great deal of paranoia here in the United States. All of the conspiracy theories about alien abduction and government cover-ups would suddenly take on a new credibility, even if they are not true at all.

The long term implications are perhaps the most troubling. Favoritism on the part of an extraterrestrial civilization could lead to major problems when it comes to forming a stronger world government. After First Contact a focused and unified world government will be essential. We must have the ability to communicate and negotiate with one voice. Having the United States take the lead role in First Contact would serve to undermine the critical work of strengthening the United Nations. World politics will overwhelm decision making. Distrust will grow throughout the process. Quite simply we will be weaker, as a civilization, if one country takes the lead role in a First Contact scenario. First Contact needs to be a welcome for the entire planet and unencumbered by world politics.

In my proposal for First Contact I suggest that the United States would be the best place for staging a First Contact event. So, is this a contradiction? Not necessarily. I argue that an extraterrestrial civilization should leverage the U.S. broadcast journalism networks to reach a world audience quickly and effectively. No country on Earth has the breadth of broadcast journalism coverage and technology. In addition, the nature of journalistic competition and the right to freedom of speech are two powerful tools for making sure that a big hello actually reaches the rest of the world. There is still, of course, the chance that the U.S. government would take drastic actions to keep such an event under wraps. If the event itself is properly organized the speed and weight of journalistic competition should make it tough for the government to interfere. Essentially, once the cat is out of the bag, so to speak, there will be nothing the government can do to stuff it back in. A quick and dramatic First Contact scenario in the United States would have a great likelihood of success. That can’t be said for other countries, with more limited local news coverage, lesser technology, smaller sharing networks, and the possibility of government censorship of news.

What role should the United States play in First Contact? It seems to me that the United States must be the strong, older brother (notice I didn’t say Big Brother) keeping everything calm and under control in the background. Military forces will need to be on high alert. That doesn’t mean they need to actively swarm a First Contact event. It should be possible for the military to monitor such an event and still allow it to progress on the world stage. NASA and the CDC will need to respond, but only with enough force to ensure that the extraterrestrial visitors don’t pose a health threat. That can also be accomplished in the background, allowing the public events to move forward without interference. If a health threat is found, then of course stronger action would need to be taken. Probably the most important response by the U.S. government would be in leading a United Nations response to the extraterrestrial introduction. The Executive branch can work to make sure the United Nations Security Council meets. That group can help lead the effort to organize a United Nations response.

It is this role, behind the scenes, that will be most critical for the United States in a Direct First Contact scenario. Our leaders need to allow First Contact to be a welcome for the entire planet, and ensure safety for all of humanity through vigilant action in the background. It may not be the role that Hollywood script writers have envisioned, but it is the role that will help humanity best deal with the challenges of First Contact.

First Contact Extraterrestrial Alien Proposal Idea Hello Introduction Space Visitors

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