Stephen Hawking suggests that if aliens do exist there are good reasons to avoid contact. “If aliens ever visit us, I think the outcome would be much as when Christopher Columbus first landed in America, which didn’t turn out very well for the Native Americans.” Dan Drezner considers the question:
Hmmm… this is undeniably true, but dare I say that Hawking is being a bit simplistic? Oh, hell, who am I kidding, I'm a blogger. Of course I'll say that Hawking is being simplistic.
Critics might accuse me of being soft in the Theoretical War Against Aliens, embracing the mushy-headed liberalism of Contact over the hard-headed realpolitik of, say, Independence Day. And the risk-averse approach suggested by Hawking is certainly a viable policy option. But let's dig a bit deeper and consider four five thought-provoking questions from an interplanetary security perspective.
1) In space, does anybody understand the security dilemma? In international relations, there is at least full information about who the other actors are and where they are located. Clearly, we lack this kind of information about the known universe.
What Hawking is suggesting, however, is that efforts to collect such information would in and of themselves be dangerous, because they would announce our presence to others. He might be right. But shoiuldn't that risk be weighed against the cost of possessing a less robust early warning system? Isn't it in Earth's interests to enhance its intelligence-gathering activities?
2) Carried to its logical extreme, isn't Hawking making an argument for rapidly exhausting our natural resources? If Hawking is correct, then the sooner we run out of whatever might be valuable to aliens, the less interest we are to them. Of course, this does beg the question of which resources aliens would consider to be valuable. If aliens crave either sea water or bulls**t, then the human race as we know it is seriously screwed.
Stephen Walt on the issue here.