Monday, April 22, 2013

How different countries might respond to Extraterrestrial First Contact

No matter how interconnected we might feel these days on planet Earth, the human civilization is still dominated by the interaction of independent nations. Groups like the United Nations, International Monetary Fund and G-20 may bring us to the table for certain issues. However, decision making for the majority of human endeavors is still done at the national level. This presents some serious challenges for extraterrestrial First Contact.

The primary question is how governments would react. I put the emphasis on governments to make a clear distinction with how people might react. All governments have an agenda. That agenda certainly includes the needs of the people being governed, but the agenda has a practical side as well- the desire for governmental leaders to stay in power.

The chief concerns in a First Contact event would be amplified versions of current concerns: security, economic growth, competition for resources and internal stability. The nature of First Contact certainly would determine which of those concerns rises to the top of the conversation. In a mysterious First Contact event, security would be more important. In a relatively safe, high-information sharing First Contact event, the prime concern could become a quest for information that can lead to technology development.

Underlying all concerns is the characteristics of the nation itself- the type of government, challenges facing the nation, the nature of its people and relationships with other nations.

Here’s a look at how some governments might react to a non-threatening direct First Contact event:


I put the Chinese first for a reason: I believe they are a critical wildcard in the reaction to extraterrestrial contact. I think the response of the United States and the European Union may be fairly predictable, depending, of course, on the circumstances of First Contact. The Chinese, though, are at a critical stage in their history. The authoritarian government is increasingly embracing capitalism, while seeking to maintain control of how that capitalism manifests. This experiment has remarkable issues.  Corruption is a problem at all levels of government. The Chinese middle class has invested heavily in real estate and now the country faces a real estate bubble beyond anything we have seen in the west. Entire cities have been built through speculation and yet those cities have virtually no residents. This, and other factors, including manufacturing changes, has put China in a challenging situation economically. The government is actively pursuing new technology as a means of securing economic opportunities. This could become the driving factor in the Chinese reaction to First Contact, if it is a high-information sharing First Contact.

The Chinese also face major challenges in human information control. The government blocks many internet sources from reaching the Chinese people. This effort to control information could become a big issue in a First Contact event. The quest for information will be enormous. If the government attempts to censor world media reports of First Contact the Chinese public could react harshly. This could continue for some time. Why would the government attempt to do such? Unless the information threatens the government somehow, it would seem unnecessary. Still, Chinese leaders will need to take a leap of faith to allow the Chinese people to take full part in the discovery, wherever it leads. The Chinese people seem rather open to First Contact and in one survey less rigid in their reaction to such an event.

I believe that the Chinese government is likely to embrace First Contact. The biggest problem may be making sure they feel fully included in the world decision making in regards to First Contact response. As a member of the United Nations Security Council they could be among the first to consider the implications of First Contact. The Chinese have an active space program and their scientific community has considered First Contact issues. To what degree Chinese scientists have pondered First Contact is hard to say, given the veil of secrecy over matters of space exploration and science. In a strange interview, a Russian cosmonaut suggested that the Chinese have a protocol for handling First Contact. 


Russian scientists have been considering First Contact issues for many years. While some of this has been, how shall we say, a bit “out there,” consideration of the issue make the Russians important players in any First Contact scenario.  Russian wackiness concerning this issue was not helped by the joking of former Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, who remarked to the media that he has a secret file of aliens living among humans. Most of the UFO conspiracy folks leave off his punch line: that it could all be seen in the movie “Men in Black”.

Deadpan humor aside, the Russians have a long tradition of extraterrestrial considerations. In 1961 astronomer Nikolai Kardashev proposed a scale by which civilizations could be measured by the amount of energy it can produce and utilize. Russian scientists are valued members of the world astronomical associations.

The government is certainly a wild card of sorts. Russia, much like China, seems to be at a cross-road between relative freedom and tight government control. The Russians too have embraced capitalism and will likely be quite interested in how they can benefit from First Contact. And this is a major issue for all countries. Once the initial shock of First Contact wears off, people will begin to consider the possibilities for what a relationship with extraterrestrials could mean for human development and commerce. I’m not saying that we’ll be trading with extraterrestrials, but rather that any information exchange could open up new opportunities for commerce through technology development.

The Russians currently have the most developed space program in the world and that may put them ahead of even the United States in some aspects of First Contact response.


The Indians also have an active space program and a scientific community that has considered First Contact. Moreover, the public, perhaps prompted by a rather imaginative media, already seems to believe First Contact has occurred. A Reuters poll showed that 40 percent of Indians and Chinese surveyed already think that aliens are walking the Earth.

So, perhaps First Contact wouldn’t be a big shock. The country does have a well-developed system of high education. A robust academic community would be extremely important to a nation in the wake of First Contact. The academic community will need to build bridges between what humans know now and new information coming from extraterrestrials. How well a nation interprets and understands extraterrestrial information may well decide how it develops in the future.

As with the other countries, India is doing everything it can to have a seat at the international table. They will be an important group to include in First Contact discussions.

European Union

It seems that all we hear these days about the European Union are reports of financial woes. Those woes would be a consideration in the wake of First Contact. The fragile European economy could have serious issues if world markets undergo wild fluctuations after First Contact. While every nation would be impacted by such swings, the Europeans have several nations on the brink of financial collapse. The turmoil has put the Union in jeopardy of disintegrating.

On a more positive note, European Union nations have vibrant and active scientific communities in many fields. The level of expertise would be a valuable resource in the wake of First Contact. The British Royal Society is one of the few world scientific organizations to seriously consider First Contact. France is home to the International Astronomical Union, one of the most visible proponents of First Contact discussion.

Brazil has had an on-again, off-again space program, and many think that with new-found wealth the country may step up efforts. The country represents a new wave of emerging world powers.

Brazilians would be watching developments closely and be concerned about being left out in the cold. South Americans and Africans are likely to react poorly to indications that the major powers are trying to control First Contact response. This is where the United Nations comes into play. It’s the only venue we have for government participation in world matters. Through the UN General Assembly, nations such as Brazil and Egypt can voice concerns and suggest options for First Contact response. This means bringing issues to the General Assembly and not just the UN Security Council.

The United States

In his 1997 inaugural address President Clinton said “America stands alone as the world’s indispensible nation.”

That statement, and the debate over the concept of America being indispensible, has plenty to consider for First Contact. American popular media seems to imply that the United States would be the first stop and the last stop for visiting extraterrestrials. This arrogance is probably not surprising to the rest of the world. American pronouncements of “exceptionalism” have raised hackles for decades.

President Obama has sought to change the national philosophy in foreign policy. The indispensible nation now seems to find value in a more measured leadership role, one that allows other nations room to grow and lead. It’s an important difference in leadership and one that seems ready-made for life After First Contact. In the wake of First Contact, it will be important for the United States to take a leadership role, without dominating the discussion. This won’t be easy, primarily because there will be Americans arguing for complete control of diplomacy and other issues After First Contact. A lot will depend on the style of leadership of the President of the United States. A President that believes in equal world participation will be more likely to work for the inclusion of other nations in the decision-making process. A more nationalist president could be a serious challenge to inclusion. We tend to think of our nation as stable and solid, and it is, compared to many other nations. However, we have a serious fracture developing behind the scenes. It’s hard to pinpoint because it manifests in many different ways: anti-government, pro-gun, religiously conservative and seemingly distressed over national diversity of cultures. What ties these groups together is a fear of big government and a distrust of the United Nations. These separate groups could coalesce into serious opposition to United Nations involvement in First Contact. It could also turn into outright rejection of extraterrestrial diplomacy, an opinion that other minority groups, in nations across the planet, may express after the shock of First Contact wears off. This may provide the biggest challenge of all in the wake of First Contact.

The reaction of the U.S. government is important because of the robust nature of the scientific community in the U.S. and the ties to space exploration lead by NASA. The U.S. is also home to a number of groups that have actively considered First Contact issues, including the SETI Institute.

Extraterrestrials would be advised to carefully consider U.S. involvement in the initial moments of First Contact. The appearance of an American government controlled First Contact could be extremely problematic when it comes to world reaction. The United States may have the media and scientific communities best able to handle First Contact, but that shouldn’t mean that such an event is recognized as American First Contact, versus global First Contact.

The Fringe Nations

Fringe nations fall outside of the normal blocs of power. They may seem like unpredictable provocateurs, but many analysts have pointed to the logic in the seemingly illogical actions. North Korea is a prime example. Once again, they are posturing and threatening. To what end? The same ends they have pursued in the past: using the threat of violence to secure aid in the form of food and goods and using threats to world powers to secure the power of the North Korean leadership. That makes leader Kim Jong Un perfectly logical according to psychoanalyst Heath King. So, might North Korea once again posture and make threats to gain a seat at the table in the wake of extraterrestrial First Contact? It seems logical.

The same could be said of slightly less isolated nations such as Iran and Venezuela. Their hatred of the United States would clearly be an important factor in their reaction to First Contact. As with much of the Arab world, if First Contact is perceived as an American event it seems likely it will provoke a negative reaction from these nations. What does that mean for diplomacy with extraterrestrials? It would be a lot tougher for the UN to focus on alien diplomacy if it is coping with threats coming from fringe nations.

How will humans handle First Contact? That may depend on the thought and consideration put into First Contact by extraterrestrials. One would assume that such visitors would have a well-considered plan for First Contact that would take into account many of these national reactions. This assumes, of course, that aliens give a damn about our reaction. I think, though, if they plan a friendly introduction these would be important considerations. And if aliens hope for a long-term relationship with humans, these considerations and many more would be essential. 

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