Would the United Nations Stop an Asteroid?

Scientists reported this week that on April 13, 2036, an asteroid has a 1 in 45,000 chance of hitting Earth. The good news: No Tax Day, 2036. The bad news: An entire city or region could bite the dust.

"We need a set of general principles to deal with this issue," explains former astronaut Rusty Schweickart. To that end, scientists are calling on the United Nations to take action. The Association of Space Engineers will present a plan to the UN in 2009 involving the construction of a "Gravity Tractor," which would alter the course of potentially threatening asteroids.

You can just imagine what the UN member states will have to say about this idea.

IRAN: "Space is a decadent Western lie. It does not exist. Asteroids are no more real than the Zionist Entity. It is possible, however, that the 12th imam is riding this so-called space rock. In that case, we can only hope that he steers it into a large building in a major American city."

CHINA: "Such use of space simply escalates the global arms race. Who is to say that America will not construct such a ‘Gravity Tractor’ in an attempt to nullify our missile capabilities? Of course, we were never thinking of using such missiles anyway, but it’s the principle of the thing!"

VENEZUELA: "This is a plot by the Bush administration to escape culpability for America’s part in the global warming crisis. Satan W. Bush is deflecting attention from the fact that America is heating Earth up like a giant microwave. Bush is hoping that the asteroid hits Venezuela, ending the global warming crisis by blotting out the sun."

NORTH KOREA: "Kim Jong Il is the Lode Star of the 21st Century, the Master of the Computer Who Surprised the World, Power Incarnate with Endless Creativity, Guardian Deity of the Planet. Fear not, Earthlings! Kim Jong Il will save us yet. By the way, will saving Earth get Kim Jong Il a headline? He’d really like one."

SAUDI ARABIA: "This all stems from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We will be proposing a seven-point plan designed to create a Palestinian state."

MEXICO: "All we ask is that the prospective inhabitants of this asteroid be allowed free emergency medical care in the United States."

FRANCE: "There is nothing to worry about. When the asteroid shows up, we will provide token resistance before allowing it to roll down the Champs-Elysees. Wait, are you saying that this thing could hit the Louvre?"

CUBA: "This asteroid represents the impending victory of international communism. The exploitation of the bourgeoisie has created an underclass that will rise up in the aftermath of this glorious strike against capitalist society."

RUSSIA: "Is there any way we can sell pieces of this rock? Anybody?"

SWITZERLAND: "We will do everything in our power to prevent this asteroid from hitting Earth. Unless that means doing something. In that case, we’d prefer to stay out of it."

On September 21, 1987, President Ronald Reagan spoke before the United Nations. "Perhaps we need some outside, universal threat to make us recognize this common bond," he said. "I occasionally think how quickly our differences worldwide would vanish if we were facing an alien threat from outside this world. And yet, I ask you, is not an alien force already among us? What could be more alien to the universal aspirations of our peoples than war and the threat of war?"

It was a nice sentiment, but Reagan was mistaken. The UN would not be able to get together over something as simple and universal as the threat of an asteroid striking our planet. They would quarrel and babble; they might send a slightly perturbed radio message to the asteroid. And, in the end, the asteroid would nail us.

What hope, then, for the UN actually coming together to mitigate the threat of war by hemming in aggressive and hostile countries like Iran and Syria? The probability that one of the two nations will foment major acts of terrorism is far higher than 1 in 45,000. Yet the UN will do nothing.

The good news: We have 29 more years before we have to worry about the asteroid. The bad news: We don’t have anywhere near that kind of time with our earthly foes.