Is Seasteading the High Seas a Legal Possibility? Filling the Gaps in International Sovereignty Law and the Law of the Seas

By Fateh, Ryan H. | Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law, May 2013 | Go to article overview

Is Seasteading the High Seas a Legal Possibility? Filling the Gaps in International Sovereignty Law and the Law of the Seas


Fateh, Ryan H., Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law


ABSTRACT

Seasteading--homesteading of the modern era--is a desire to develop above-water settlements in international waters known as seasteads. Once a fleeting dream, seasteading has entered the realm of possibility with the technological advancements and financial contributions of The Seasteading Institute (TSI). TSI's ultimate goal is ambitious: to establish permanent seasteads as sovereign states recognized by the United States and eventually by other members of the United Nations. Because international law promulgated by the United Nations addresses only state actors and TSI is a nonstate actor, this Note argues that international law does not prohibit the seastead communities from merely existing in international waters before they pursue their ambitions for international recognition. Whether a community is recognized as a sovereignty depends in large part on sociopolitical decisions of current nations. As such, the laws governing state sovereignty are secondary to the public policies of various nations. Considering historical practice and what guidance international law does provide, this Note concludes that the United States will recognize seasteads as envisioned by TSI in their ultimate state.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

I.   INTRODUCTION
II.  THE SEASTEADING INSTITUTE (TSI) AND THE
     CONCEPT OF SEASTEADING
     A. Seasteading as a Historical Concept,
        Giving Birth to TSI
     B. Motivations and Goals of TSI Seasteading
        1. Goal 1: Experimenting with New
           Forms of Government
        2. Goal 2: Gaining Recognition as an
           Independent Nation by the International
           Community
III. ARTIFICIAL ISLANDS IN INTERNATIONAL WATERS
     CREATED BY NONSTATE ACTORS
     A. The Law of the Seas
        1. International Treaty Law
           i.  The Territorial Sea, the Contiguous
               Zone, and the Exclusive Economic
               Zone
           ii. International Waters
        2. Cases of Artificial Islands
        3. Analysis
IV.  SELF-DETERMINATION AND SOVEREIGNTY
     A. The United Nations and Self-Determination
     B. The Right of Self-Determination and
        Secession
     C. Sovereignty
     D. Analysis
V.   RECOGNITION BY THE UNITED STATES AND THE
     UNITED NATIONS
     A. The United States and Recognition of Kosovo
     B. The International Court of Justice's
        Commitment to Recognizing Kosovo
     C. Analysis
VI.  CONCLUSION

I. INTRODUCTION

The United Nations champions the notions of self-determination and sovereignty: the international organization operates with "respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples." (1) Since the inception of the United Nations, communities on multiple occasions have asserted their right to self-determination primarily by emerging as sovereign, independent states. (2) Even as recently as 2011, groups of people have declared their independence (3) and have succeeded in becoming members of the United Nations. (4) The League of Nations determined that having a defined territory is an essential element of a sovereign nation. (5) Because land is a finite resource, sovereignty has traditionally and typically manifested itself in secession from an already existing country. (6)

The Seasteading Institute (TSI) and its members, (7) in recognizing that land is limited, (8) believe that they have no other option but to explore the final frontier: the international waters. (9) With founder and entrepreneur Patri Friedman at its helm, TSI plans to build seasteads--structures that operate analogously to artificial islands-in international waters, with the eventual hope that the United Nations recognize them as independent sovereignties. (10) TSI defines its communities as floating cities that will "allow the next generation of pioneers to peacefully test new ideas for government." (11) In the wake of PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel's continuous and generous financial contributions, TSI's envisioned dream of international recognition is approaching a viable reality. …

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