The Seasteading Institute is very excited to announce O. Shane Balloun* as the newest addition to our Law & Policy Board of Advisors. Balloun was an early contributor to the Institute’s mission, authoring a critical piece of seasteading legal research titled, The True Obstacle to the Autonomy of Seasteads: American Law Enforcement Jurisdiction over Homesteads on the High Seas. Perhaps the most comprehensive treatment of the subject even in its original form, the paper has now been substantially updated for publication in the University of San Francisco Maritime Law Journal [download the updated PDF here]. The revised article includes a section on legal precedents for autonomous offshore activity under both US admiralty and international maritime law, and an expanded analysis of the main threats of interference with regard to various sea zones, seastead configurations (i.e., ship or fixed platform), and other legal definitions.
The paper begins with a background on early history of micronations and seastead-like activities, recounting several dramatic episodes filled with smugglers, risk-takers, idealists, corrupt diplomats, entrepreneurs, and helicopter assault teams. From these episodes seasteaders can learn a great deal about how (and how not) to obtain autonomy on the ocean. Past experiences set the stage for the study of current rules. We later learn, for example, that the United States has “plenary powers,” or total control, over its territorial waters, and has exercised substantial jurisdiction when maritime activity is considered a potential threat, broadly defined, to its interests. Even in extraterritorial jurisdictions, beyond the 200 nautical mile-wide Exclusive Economic Zone, it appears that US legislation, court decisions, and diplomatic sway allow the government to interfere with vessels when there is any suspicion regarding their conduct.
Although these obstacles suggest that legal interference may be as great a challenge to newfound autonomy as the physical engineering constraints, Balloun concludes with valuable advice and offers hope to the seasteading movement. Seasteads employing an incremental, non-confrontational strategy still have room to free themselves from the yoke of powerful coastal states. Such a strategy might include building a close relationship to the nation under whose flag the seastead is registered, avoiding unlawful activity like drug use and/or production, and nurturing positive public relations with citizens on land. No obstacle is insurmountable, Balloun shows, as long as seasteads are willing to proceed pragmatically and fully informed.
The True Obstacle to the Autonomy of Seasteads is full of knowledge and insight, but our legal research agenda is far from finished. Another recent paper, authored by Robert Mongole, used Balloun’s research and guidance to determine effective legal practice for handling specific threats of litigation coming from the United States. We can think of no better way to welcome Balloun to the team than soliciting your feedback in the comments section on proposals for future directions of research.