Monday, January 11, 2010

Timing and the response to threats

Last week we took at look at some general threat concerns that would need to be considered in a Direct extraterrestrial First Contact event. This week let’s examine the timing of those threats and possible responses.

1. Military threat

The timing of a military threat would most likely be immediate. It seems unlikely that an extraterrestrial military group would stop to say hello and then start shooting. An alien attack would be the ultimate in surprise. After all, we don’t even believe they exist.

We do have the ability to fire missiles into space. The U.S. military did such to destroy an out of control satellite filled with radioactive material. Could more missiles target Earth orbit? It seems likely, but the question would be how quickly and how effectively. It would probably be too late by the time the alien invaders entered Earth atmosphere. We could certainly stage a stiff resistance in Earth atmosphere. However that resistance would not be very coordinated at first. The intense secrecy between nations regarding military matters would be a negative. Perhaps the only positive would be how alien craft perform in Earth atmosphere. Have they had time to properly develop and test space craft that perform well on Earth?
The long term threat of military attack also needs to be considered. The start of a new relationship, even a quite positive one, does not diminish the need for some form of defense. We would need to be on high military alert during and after First Contact. We would want to join together as nations to examine possible threats and how we might respond.

We can and should be open and responsive to a peaceful extraterrestrial welcome. We should also be upfront about our concerns for safety and the need to have the military on alert. If handled diplomatically this would seem quite practical and not necessarily a hostile response.

2. Subversive threat
In this scenario, alien visitors work outside of the usual power system of international politics. The only way to prevent this is to have a strong United Nations response. If the United Nations is clearly the body that the majority of the world supports in an alien First Contact event, the extraterrestrial visitors would have to actively show they are intent on creating conflict. This threat is most likely in the immediate aftermath of First Contact. However, it will remain as a threat for as long as the relationship lasts. There needs to be tight controls on contact, as assessed and carried out by a strong United Nations.

3. Manipulation threat
This subset of the subversive threat involves aliens using social and psychological techniques to win power on Earth. This is an immediate and a long-term threat. The idea of getting what you want through guile rather than force is quite established in human history. We have no reason to believe it would not be used by an extraterrestrial civilization. Once again the only response to this problem is tight control by the United Nations. Each action by extraterrestrial visitors needs to be evaluated with a critical eye and response needs to be unequivocal and unified.

4. Biological threat

Extraterrestrial craft could bring extraterrestrial microbes. NASA has a protocol in place to deal with the issue in terms of human spacecraft returning from space. They would probably be one of the first federal groups to respond if First Contact occurs in the United States. The key would be getting them to step down what very well may be an aggressive and dramatic response. First Contact needs to be transparent and open for the entire world to view. Some form of space agency response and testing should be expected. It needs to be handled diplomatically. This is primarily an immediate threat, although there would need to be procedures for long term contact, perhaps in a decontamination and testing zone at human controlled extraterrestrial landing sites.

5. Environmental threat
Does the alien craft pose an environmental threat? This would likely be covered as part of the NASA or other space agency response to extraterrestrial First Contact.

6. Social threat
Alien visitors don’t need to do anything to be a threat to our society. Just the mere introduction could have serious implications here on Earth. Religion, government, and culture would all be at risk. This is probably the toughest threat to handle. It could be immediate and it could be long term. A proactive response is nearly impossible given the wide ranging nature of the threat and the many ways it could play out. Transparency and openness would be important in maintaining calm and stability. The first world reaction will be a certain degree of fear. Making First Contact secretive and government controlled will only create more fear and stoke conspiracy theories. It could poison the new relationship for many years and create serious world division. The best chance we have for maintaining social order in the wake of First Contact is to carry out each and every action in full transparency and include the entire human race in the process. This means utilizing the United Nations to the fullest extent.

7. Economic threat

The world economy is influenced by many sources. Some aspects of economic response to First Contact will be tough to control. Stock markets may spiral up or down. Trading and speculation could lead to dramatic rises and falls in world markets. The latest economic meltdown provided a good training run for how world economies can respond to crisis and how they can work together in crisis. New technology and information would be the biggest long term threat. Much like our system of science, the economic system in our world is built on a foundation of knowledge and expectations. New technology and information must be managed carefully to prevent wild market swings and the uprooting of entire segments of the world economy. This will mean a much stronger world economic bodies, working in conjunction with the United Nations.

8. Political threat
Even if alien visitors didn’t interfere in our world politics, First Contact could have a profound impact on how nations behave. Much of this will be out of our hands. Transparency and inclusion are the only real solutions. Every nation has to be part of the process. Potential benefits of extraterrestrial contact need to be shared with all of humanity. Decisions need to be made in a collective and representative body. It will need to start with the United Nations, but that body will have to undergo some major changes to be strong enough to respond to future challenges.

9. Psychological threat
How will humans respond to First Contact? Will religions embrace the idea or will religions create opposition to alien contact? Will people see First Contact as the end of human civilization? Much of this reaction will be determined by the media. If media outlets react in negative terms the audience will probably do the same. This is why public relations is an essential consideration in an extraterrestrial First Contact event. It’s not just a matter of being touchy feely or putting a spin on the situation. It is an active process of considering public reaction at each and every step. Transparency and openness are important. However, people will also want to feel protected. A strong response by the United Nations and a human designed framework for response will be important. The assurance of military and space agencies working in concert will be important. A positive and yet sober response by governmental leaders will be important. If it is clear that there is a strong, structured response to First Contact people will be more likely to remain calm.

10. Scientific threat
Direct First Contact could only be accomplished by a civilization with a higher degree of technology. The science behind that technology and how and when that information might be provided to us comprises a threat. Humans must continue to build knowledge through the scientific process we have established over hundreds of years. The scientific fields will need to create a framework for receiving scientific information from alien visitors. It must be carefully controlled and the consequences examined at each step. The threat to our system of science and technology is primarily long term. The scientific bodies will need to move quickly, though to establish the protocol for handling new information and scientific knowledge. We can’t wait to see what the new relationship might bring. We must work immediately to prepare. Our system of science is the foundation for our future. We cannot let it be harmed or weakened.

Extraterrestrial contact

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