The latest inter-stellar imagery showcases a number of Earth sized planets throughout the galaxy.

Recently scientists have discovered an Earth-like exo-planet named “Proxima b” orbiting the star “Proxima Centauri” in one of our nearest neighboring solar systems. Proxima b is in the “Goldilocks zone,” similar to Earth’s relative distance from the Sun, which facilitates moderate temperature. This raises the possibility that liquid water could exist on Proxima b’s surface, and water raises the potential for finding life in that planet.

Proxima b is “only” 4.2 light-years or 25 trillion miles away from Earth. In cosmic terms we could hardly hope for a closer habitable, Earth like planet.  Maybe in some not-so-distant future humans will engineer a way to travel there.  But more intriguing is the idea that visitors from an exo-planet someday may come here on Earth.


Prepare For Alien Encounter

Historically, encounters of more advanced civilizations with less technological societies have not gone well.  Hernán Cortés, the Spanish Conquistador toppled the mighty Aztec civilization in today’s Mexico with just a handful of soldiers on horseback. Admiral Lopez’s conquest of the Inca civilization of Chile is also sobering and instructional.

But let’s be optimistic.  It is possible that an alien civilization,  from Proxima b or elsewhere, could make contact and ask for a more mutually enlightened encounter.  If we are lucky, we won’t face the challenges for survival of the Incas or Aztecs brought on by the Conquistadors, but instead will be presented with an opportunity for advancement and knowledge.

Civilizations in the past had to learn the hard way due to little preparation, so it might be a good idea for us to prepare for such interstellar visitors now. It may not be a bad idea to put together a committee, and come up with a checklist with the ultimate goal of developing necessary skill-sets to engage in successful “intergalactic diplomacy”.  Perhaps the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) Institute could organize a conference on this topic?


What would diplomacy be like with an alien civilization?

We would certainly be dazzled by any civilization capable of making the insanely long voyage here.  Faster than light warp speed would certainly seem to be a must.  But why would they make the voyage to Earth? Maybe they will just want a trillion gallons of water and once provided be on their way?  They will likely want some of our trinkets and we humans will surely ask for something in return. Despite all the inherent uncertainties, an interstellar visit could be an opportunity with unimaginable possibilities.

If an alien civilization sends emissaries to Earth,  who among us would greet them on our behalf, if formal arrangements are possible? Of course, politicians come to mind.  Political representatives should be aware of the 70-30 rule, which states that while in the presence of the more “powerful” we should listen 70% of the time and speak only 30%. That is precisely what I was told before my Senate confirmation hearing as a U.S. Ambassador.

Once the politicians get the photo-op and do the welcome, we need some really smart people, who are trained and prepared for handling such an encounter. Astro-Physicists, in this regard, seem to be at the top of the brain pyramid — no offense to Biologists or Computer Scientists.  We need to let the physicists figure out who among them should be the greeter-in-chief. Stephen Hawking?

After the physicists, the military comes to mind. The military is a major player in these scenarios in the movies and no doubt they would want to show off human military capabilities if such an event were to unfold. There is no guarantee though that the visitors will be impressed by our gears.  If the extra-terrestrials manage to come this far they will surely be better equipped and prepared when it comes to self-protection, defense, and offense if they chose.

After the military, NASA must have a role to play. But NASA’s latest astronaut job announcement required that applicants have a science degree.  Hello NASA!  Have you not been watching Star Trek?  Don’t we need someone like Commander Deanna Troi in NASA?  A real Betazoid who can empathize?  If aliens arrive and our scientists are looking at their shoes, how will that go over?  Come on NASA, hire a couple of diplomats!  And as further preparation, we should fully fund NASA for much more robust manned and unmanned missions so we can stay sharp and have more to talk about with our extra-terrestrial friends.  We definitely wouldn’t want to seem like a bunch of amateurs.

After filling the roster with people with serious expertise, we must also include somebody charming.  An entertainer like Beyonce, for example, would be irresistible. A real human “star” might score us a few points and show that we have some redeeming qualities.  An everyday person to represent the public would also be a good idea.

And to communicate and negotiate, once the pleasantries are out of the way, I would recommend someone from the deaf community be on the team.  The deaf community deals with a separate culture everyday.  Sign language is the most expressive language on Earth.  And American sign language is efficient.  English grammar takes time to figure out. The accusative, conditional and genitive case — who has time for that during an intergalactic encounter?

If things get really formal and time allows, the General Secretary of the United Nations is another good candidate to be in the mix of human emissaries, and the UN is a great venue, assuming the visitors’ vehicles can find ample parking in  bustling New York City.  The UN Protocol book may already have this covered.   Of course the visitors have to fit into the General Assembly room too.  Yankee stadium might work if the Yankees have the day off.

What would we ask from the extra-terrestrials? Clean energy?  Some advice on saving Earth’s endangered species?  And of course, inquiring about better means for space travel. These few agenda items should be enough to keep us busy.  World peace would probably be too much to ask.

It is fun to speculate that some Deus Ex Machina will descend from the skies and fix Earth’s climate, reduce nuclear weapons, or simply teach us how to live with one another.  But that will probably be outside their mandate and they may even live by Star Trek’s “Prime Directive” which mandates minimum interference with the host planet. Once the extra-terrestrials depart we will soon realize that the rest of the drama is in our own hands as we continue the never ending show here on Earth.  Which in turn means that the demand for diplomats, global thinkers, and Earth crusaders (the good kind) will not go away;  whether we deal with interplanetary visitors or not.

Live long and prosper. Happy 50th Anniversary to Star Trek!


Thomas Armbruster is a columnist for The GeoStrategists. He is the former U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of the Marshall Islands. In his long career as an American diplomat, Thomas Armbruster served as the Consul General at the U.S. Consulate General in Vladivostok, Russia, Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Tajikistan, Principal Officer at the U.S. Consulate General in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, Political Affairs Officer and Nuclear Affairs Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, Russia; and Vice Consul at the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, Cuba. Prior to joining the Foreign Service, he was a reporter for the CBS affiliate KGMB-TV in Hawaii. Mr. Armbruster holds a B.A. from McDaniel College, an M.A. from St. Mary’s University, and an M.S. from the Naval War College.