The (U.K.) Daily Mailreports that the United Nations plans to establish a new diplomatic post: an ambassador to officially greet aliens visiting Earth. The position is being created because, according to the Daily Mail, hundreds of planets have been discovered orbiting other stars.
It's wise to plan for various contingencies, particularly those that are likely or that could have profound consequences. But that raises at least two more questions: What if the alien visitors are hostile? Do we all agree that the United Nations has the moral and political authority to handle this responsibility?
Personally, I don't think the discovery of planets orbiting other stars changes anything. Most scientists have long suspected as much.
I'm not sure what we could do if we were visited by hostile aliens who have mastered interstellar space travel. Though it's just as likely that intelligent aliens would find humans threatening once they really got to know us.
Nor would I trust the United Nations to handle this job. The United Nations is not the world's highest governing body; it was established to foster peace and international cooperation. And let's face it: the UN has done a lousy job. It's well known that the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC), for example, serves mainly to shield the countries that are the worst human rights violators. The UNHRC has passed resolutions regarding the "defamation of religions" that are clearly intended to justify member state laws that curb freedom of speech. I'm also concerned about who gets to select and fill the UN's space ambassador post. For example, Iran was elected to the UN's Commission on the Status of Women; can you imagine anything more obscene?
Before anyone appoints a space ambassador purporting to represent the entire Earth, I suggest that the position needs to be clearly defined. And it has to be defined in a way that precludes the advancement of any particular religious or political agenda.
UPDATE: 2010-09-27 21:56
Stephen Hawking has another take, per the UK Telegraph:
He [Stephen Hawking] said: “I imagine they might exist in massive ships, having used up all the resources from their home planet. The outcome for us would be much as when Christopher Columbus first landed in America, which didn’t turn out very well for the Native Americans.”
So, the aliens could turn out to be environmental imperialists and all around bad beings.