The Institute of Air and Space Law

McGill’s Institute of Air and Space Law (the IASL) was founded in 1951, just as the Cold War “space race” between the United States and the extant Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was beginning. This was a time when the distinction between air space and outer space, including the legal difference between the two, was becoming a matter of greater academic concern. The creation and reformation of many of the laws governing who can use outer space, and how they can use it, date to about this time.

On its website, the IASL boasts that it is the most prestigious institute of its kind in the world; it also says that “for more than a quarter century, the US Air Force has been sending its best and the brightest officers to study Space Law at the IASL.” It appears, however, that the United States Air Force (USAF) doesn’t just send its officers to Montréal without providing specific advice about what areas of law they should research.

In many of the final theses written by McGill IASL graduates, the acknowledgements page will not only thank the Air Force for sending the student to the IASL, but also thank the USAF for providing a research topic. To provide a more specific example, in one 1999 paper, one Robert Ramey sets out to spell out the difference between combat in air and combat in space; his assignment was provided by the Air Force. Mr. Ramey says that while there are no reported cases of armed conflict in outer space, it has been contemplated by spacefaring nations for decades and will be a reality in the future.

The Boeing Company – an American multinational that is most known for manufacturing commercial airplanes, but which also makes air tankers, “smart weapons” such as laser-guided missiles, military transport vehicles, and satellites, among other things – is another institution that occasionally gets a mention in the acknowledgements page of IASL graduates’ final theses, and which has evidently funded research. For example, one Kuan-Wei Chen wrote to clarify how existing environmental law might implicate Boeing if a military organization (probably the USAF, which Boeing identifies as its best customer) used weapons that it had manufactured and sold to certain purposes.

Unlike other McGill initiatives which have warranted their own page on our website, the IASL is not concerned with tangible matters like improving a drone’s capacity to self-navigate, a missile’s capacity to hit a precise target, or a bomb’s capacity to kill efficiently. Instead, it is concerned with law, an abstract field if there ever was one – especially on the international level, where it is routinely ignored. Its existence on McGill campus should be opposed all the same. Law may be a fiction, but it is one in which the powerful speak to one another. The training of military lawyers for the USAF better enables the United States to engage with rival imperialist powers on the diplomatic level, in battles to establish their actions as legitimate in the eyes of “the global citizenry”, and elsewhere.

Aside from this, though, the IASL can be judged by the institutions it associates itself with. Its website says that “graduates of the IASL with space law education held and hold prominent executive positions in various institutions such as the UN, the US White House, the US Air Force, Canadian Air Force, Australian Air Force, French Air Force, the world’s leading law and insurance firms, private commercial enterprises and manufacturers.” In other words, organizations that orchestrate imperialist violence and threaten to push the world into a global conflagration, and private enterprises, like Boeing, that facilitate that same violence and profit enormously from it.


Institute of Air and Space Law –

Boeing Company

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by Bliss Drive Review