Fancy starting up your own micronation? It’s not enough to just think up a flag and occupy your turf; there’s paperwork to be done. Luckily, Wired UK has a four-point beginner’s guide, as suggested by former UN strategy co-ordinator Carne Ross, to get you started. Step one:
Play by the rules – Meet the criteria outlined in Article 1 of the 1933 Montevideo Convention (which applies to all subjects of international law): a permanent population; defined territory, and control of the territory; the capacity to enter into relations with other states. These are not binding — “You can have a state which is recognised by many other states but does not control its territory, such as Palestine” — but generally it would be hard to operate without them .
Once you’re up and running, drop me a line with any further tips, would you? I’m also available for diplomacy work on a contract basis.
Warren Ellis flagged up a Guardian article about another of my perennial obsessions, the shaky future of nation-states. What happens to a nation-state when the territory it occupies disappears?
Francois Gemenne, of the Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations in Paris, said the likely loss of small island states such as Tuvalu and the Maldives raised profound questions over nationality and territory.
“What would happen if a state was to physically disappear but people want to keep their nationalities? It could continue as a virtual state even though it is a rock under the ocean and its people no longer live on that piece of land.”
Gemenne said there was more at stake than cultural and sentimental attachments to swamped countries. Tuvalu makes millions of pounds each year from the sale of its assigned internet suffix .tv to television companies. As a nation state, the Polynesian island also has a vote on the international stage through the UN.
“As independent nations they receive certain rights and privileges that they will not want to lose. Instead they could become like ghost states,” he said. “This is a pressing issue for small island states, but in the case of physical disappearance there is a void in international law.”
I’d suggest it’s not just climate change that could cause ghost-states – surely the Tibetan government-in-exile is something of a ghost-state, also, and conflicts like the Russian invasion of Georgia could lead to glove-puppet states whose citizens are pretty much disenfranchised by political machinations beyond their control.
As the old saying goes, the map is not the territory – and this will become more true as time goes by. Will corporations offer a more attractive package of rights to ghost-state citizens than other nations? As climate change refugeeism increases (and on the assumption that the consequential increase in immigration and asylum-seeking will tend to make richer nations raise their borders rather than lower them, unless they see immigration as a solution to a greying population), I think it’s safe to assume that they might. [image by mrlins]
The proliferation of pirate micronations (like smaller versions of the Raft from Snow Crash, perhaps, bypassing the need for physical territory by way of mobility and/or the colonisation of interstitial territories, be they land- or ocean-based) seems inevitable.
Opinions differ as to whether seasteading is a plausible libertarian utopia or an unfeasible dream aimed at prising investment out of those whose desire to escape government control isn’t tempered by political realism, or something in between the two.
But one thing’s for sure – it’s an idea that catches people’s imaginations. National Geographic has images of the five winning entries of the Seasteading Institute’s design competition, and all of them have that science fictional *snap* – they look cool, futuristic and (most importantly) plausible, even though they are not intended as actual blueprint designs. This one is titled “Rendering Freedom”, by Brazilian architecture student Anthony Ling:
Leaving political and logistical realism aside for a moment, wouldn’t it be awesome living on that thing? For a month or two, at least… until the first big storm brews up, inundating you with rain for weeks on end and keeping the supply ships from coming near enough to deliver food that isn’t fish…
Sarcasm aside, I expect sea-borne micronations are something of an inevitablity – though I doubt they’ll be luxuriously purpose-built and instigated by successful businessmen like the Seasteading Institute imagines them. I think they’re more likely to form themselves out of groups of nomads and refugees, and to use hardware that’s already available – abandoned oil rigs or tankers, for example, or lashed-up flotillas of smaller vessels floating Sargasso-like in regions with little legitimate traffic. To be honest, I’d not be at all surprised to find there are a few of them already. [via grinding.be; image by Anthony Ling courtesy of Seasteading Institute, ganked from linked NatGeog article and published here under Fair Use terms, contact if take-down required, etc.]
This Wired piece on the Seasteading Institute doesn’t even attempt to conceal its withering contempt for the possibility of success, and pulls out a big list of previous failed experiments in ocean-borne libertarian havens to support its position. You can’t blame them, really – a lot of people have had a lot of crazy ideas about micronations in the past, and they’ve rarely worked out well.
Technologically, there’s no problem with the Seasteading Institute‘s plan; indeed, what sets them aside from the previous attempts is the input of engineers as well as political visionaries, and the current design [see image below, credit Kate Francis, borrowed from linked article] looks eminently practical.
The stumbling block, as the article points out, is political. No nation-state worth its reputation is going to let a cluster of platforms assemble in its offshore waters for the purpose of circumventing legal restrictions, after all.
But then the nation-state is a much shakier concept than it was, and the corporation a much stronger one. And there are a number of countries which don’t have the resources or (in some cases) the will to deal with something like this. Hell, some countries might even actively encourage it; GDP is GDP, after all.
Now factor in projected sea level rises producing a population retraction from many low-lying coastal areas, climate change wrecking land-based agriculture, and the resulting political instability weakening nation-states further still… and maybe the Seasteaders aren’t so much crazy as a little ahead of their time.