New Undergraduate Thesis on Seasteading Law & Policy

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The following blog post was written by Adrian Petrilli, who recently completed his undergraduate thesis on seasteading legal strategy at The American University of Rome. You can view the extended abstract here, and the entire research paper in PDF format here. The opinions expressed are not expressly those of The Seasteading Insitute, but we value Petrilli’s perspective and contribution and welcome the paper’s positive findings regarding the feasibility of seasteading in the current paradigm.

In today’s world, can a fully sovereign seastead exist? Considering the current legal system and political atmosphere, two questions have to be asked: is it legal, and is it politically plausible? With the Earth almost entirely portioned out to existing nation states or declared res communis via robust international treaties, the most substantial world commons left are the high seas. This, as can be noted, has created a tempting location and scenario for habitation and experimentation with new political systems via floating communities commonly referred to as seasteads. The connected paper takes a look at what current legal and political issues seasteads are likely to encounter when dealing with traditional land based states in their bid to become a country themselves.

Democracy In Dinghies: Fiefdoms By Flotilla: The Proliferation of Political Entities via Seasteads argues that a seastead can exist within today’s legal framework without relying on future evolutions or changes to international law. However, in order for a seastead to gain sovereignty, it would need a creative solution to achieve recognition and join the cliquish international community of states.

The paper analyzes the current international legal and political environment while outlining the possibilities (and hardships) a seastead would face in its quest to become an autonomous ocean community. Some will point out an obvious difficulty with this research as seasteads are only a theoretical endeavor at the moment and therefore there is no concrete example to analyze. However, case studies of artificial island country projects do exist, such as The Republic of Minerva and the well-known Principality of Sealand, among others. These experiments are interesting because of the number of similarities they share with a seasteading project, such as the motivation to gain sovereignty and challenges that come with it, i.e., maritime law compliance, and so on. Of course, seasteading poses distinct challenges to current maritime law and potentially has the capacity to change the international custom of what constitutes a state. For instance, all States currently exist on terra firma (land), not artificial platforms, islands, or vessels; seasteads would thus be the first to buck the trend.

Seasteads and their ability to gain sovereignty is a relevant topic for a number of reasons, most of which are well outlined by the Seasteading Institute. Among these, there is the fact that technological advancement has made previously un-settleable areas feasible. Furthermore, a lack of any area on Earth that can be used to form a new country without infringing on another’s sovereignty also makes the high seas more attractive for such an experiment. Even now, the high seas are being used to find creative solutions to complex problems, such as the Dutch charity Women on Waves, which performs medical procedures (not allowed in the coastal state) for women past the 12-mile exclusion zone.

Democracy In Dinghies: Fiefdoms By Flotilla delves into international law and takes into account the large number of regulations, the regime governing the oceans, norms of political practice regarding the creation of new states, and general societal custom regarding free passage. By analyzing legal documents and case studies of micronation projects (i.e., the Principality of Sealand), customs of global policy pertaining to non-traditional entities’ attempts to gain sovereignty will be made clear.

I look forward to this community’s feedback, suggestions and comments.

3 comments

  1. Jana 9:29 pm

    Just wondering – why would seasteads need to advocate for external sovereignty ?

    Let’s assume (can we?) that a seastead is passively independent – ie exert from any existing nation state – does this imply it needs to institute its own sovereign unit as defined by current world order ?? I would hope the system is larger than that!

    Obviously internal governance is necessary – but again, this to me seems non conclusive towards sovereignty – as per current deinition

    Voluntary participation in a preferred polity organization – that is what seasteading promise means to me (next to killer sunsets everyday :) )

    Just thinking..

  2. Profile photo of Adrian
    Adrian 2:21 pm

    Hi!

    Thanks for the great question! It is perceivable that a seastead could attempt to work outside of international maritime law and simply avoid the system but by doing so it would risk creating an excuse for an existing power to use the law against it (not to mention the economic difficulties). Also even flying a flag of convenience or establishing a free offshore economic zone of some kind, requires a certain level of submission to an already existent state. At least in a contractual/ legal sense.

    As for the wonderful idea of voluntary participation I don’t harbor any doubts that it could exist with a typical sovereign state format so long as the internal political structure of a seastead allows it. Plus, if the Seasteading Institute’s modular ideal is put into practice it would be hard to avoid.

    I hope that helps answering some of the question. I’m happy to answer anymore you may have!

    ~~ Adrian

  3. Klint Ostwald 1:14 pm

    Hello folks,
    I see all this nice-talk and bright future fantasies on the seasteading.org. The legal question is vital – and yes, those floating islands need sovereignity. Because only if the have to achieve the acknowledgement of other nations those “societies” will have a reason to care about acceptance of their government ways. Why? Because there ARE some sort of seasteads already – and yes, they “experiment” with “political systems”: Consider small units of fisheries, that are installed in the open sea in tropical, shallow waters around the western Pacific. Much the same are pearl farms – and the “society” they have established is basically slavery, because the (mostly very young) people brought there, have the work on the pearls as the only source of living and no option whatsoever to leave.
    And the most profitable form of “seasteading” are simple, large constructions for manufacturing of “something” with no labour standards or human rights whatsoever for the people living there. They might be lured there with false promises or simply caught and sold by criminal organizations. Not being part of any nation state would give complete freedom to exploit human beings. The money certainly would find it’s ways. ….
    And the better, brighter version of seasteading MUST have an fixed AREA agreed upon with it’s neighbours – otherwise those seasteading units would come into conflict with existing rights to exploit marine ressources such as fish, wind, sunlight or minerals in the seabed.

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