Throughout all of human history, from tribal chiefdoms in the Indus Valley to Egyptian Pharaohs to the United Nations, political power has been based on certain inalienable truths. However, now some of these truths are beginning to change.
All terrestrial power has been based on a horizontal axis, all frontiers to the left or right, never up. Space travel, and the real possibility of settlement on other planets, has changed a structure that has existed in its current form for at least the last couple of centuries. Space (in the geographical sense) was finite; there was only so much land and so much sea to have power over and modern power structures have been built on that idea.
So how would an extra-terrestrial human colony fit into the established system on human politics?
Take the Mars One project, an ambitious plan to launch a small group of ordinary humans on a one-way trip to set up a colony on Mars within the next couple of decades. This is not like a manned mission by NASA (such as the moon landings), these colonists will live, settle, breed and die on Mars and will quite probably never come back to Earth.
A Martian colony would represent the first organised group of humans to exist completely outside the terrestrial political system. Even closed communities (fundamentalists, anarchists etc.) or pariah states like North Korea exist within the system they pretend to exist apart from. Mars one has thought about how the colonists would organise themselves on the red planet:
“Early on, because the settlement will be very small, it is likely that most decisions will be collective and require unanimity. As the community grows it will become necessary to develop more complex systems for managing conflict and maintaining effective ways to make decisions.”
In a national mission (by NASA for example) the internal power dynamic will normally be more hierarchical and military-based with a Captain or Commander and lower levels beneath them.
However, whatever the colonists choose (or have chosen for them!) no-one has really asked how such as colony would fit into Earth politics especially if it grows to a size of a normal national entity. While the first Mars One colony will only contain 24 people the smallest independent nation on Earth, Vatican City only has 839 for a population.
Technically they could be completely independent from the Earth, having no political impact, owning no land under terrestrial law and taking part in no international (or interplanetary!) relations. However, this seems unlikely as such a massive step forward in human history can not remain detached from the machinations of politicians.
While such a colony may be able to represent itself to transnational entities like the UN if it was agreed that it was a colony rather than a business. However, there is a three to twenty-two minute delay in current communications between Earth and Mars making it highly impractical to attempt to communicate ‘real-time’.
All issues of representation in global affairs is based on recognition. You are only a country if other entities recognise you as such, there is no objective grading system. All you have to do is look at Somaliland, Palestine or the Principality of Sealand to see this issue in current affairs.
The latter actually has a lot of similarities as it involved an ex-pirate radio DJ attempting to set up a nation on a WWII rig in the North Sea off the coast of Suffolk, England. He has been followed by his son, the current regent of Sealand who continues to fight for it’s independence. Even if the Mars colony decided to become independent from the Mars One project and set themselves up as an independent entity there is still no guarantee of recognition especially as there is no clear definition over what they would be representing: the people of the colony, the land the colony uses, the whole planet?
Clearly there are a lot of issues around the permanent movement of humans to space, indeed almost every problem breeds more problems. What is very clear is that the rules and regulations of space-faring humanity do not even begin to cover modern issues.