Losing the Universe with LOST

by Rand Simberg on June 15, 2012 · 3 comments

in Deregulate to Stimulate, Features, Property Rights, Space

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The Law of the Sea Treaty (LOST) has been languishing in the Senate for decades, but led by Massachusetts senator John Kerry, there is growing (and unfortunately) bipartisan support to finally ratify it. Condi Rice’s State Department favored ratification in the Bush administration, and (soon-to-be-ex) Republican Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana has been one of Kerry’s key allies in the effort. But yesterday, Don Rumsfeld testified that such an act could have dire consequences:

“[Lady Thatcher] said what this treaty proposes is nothing less than the international nationalization of roughly two-thirds of the earth’s surface,” he said. “The major idea underlying the Law of the Sea Treaty is that the richest of the oceans, beyond national boundaries, are the common heritage of mankind. And thus supposedly owned by all people. Actually, it means they’re un-owned.”

Rumsfeld called “an idea of enormous consequence” the fact that “anyone who finds a way to make use of such riches by applying their labor or their technology or their risk-taking are required to pay writ royalties of unknown amounts, potentially billions, possibly even tens of billions over an extended period, an ill-defined period of time, to the new International Seabed Authority for distribution to less developed countries.”

Saying that this principle has “no clear limits,” he mused that it could set a precedent for space exploration, too.

Indeed it could, and a disastrous one for space development and settlement.

A crucial distinction between the Outer Space Treaty, to which the U.S. is a signatory, and does not explicitly outlaw private space property rights, and the Moon Treaty, to which the U.S. has not acceded, is the phrase “common heritage of mankind.” The latter (and LOST) contains it, while the former uses, in Article I, the more innocuous “province of all mankind.”

What’s the difference? “Common heritage” is intrinsically Marxist and redistributionist in nature, whereas “province” simply means that, like “the pursuit of happiness,” it is potentially available to all. LOST was in fact the model for the Moon Treaty, and both had a similar goal — to provide a slush fund for the “regime” established to “regulate” access to resources and ensure their “fair” distribution to poorer nations, and not coincidentally, provide a steady source of revenue for the U.N. independent from any national contribution, as a key step toward establishing it as a world government.

Its supporters won’t tell you that, of course. No, no, the redistribution scheme is just to ensure that poor nations without the fiscal resources or technological wherewithal to mine the sea (or the asteroids) themselves don’t have their resource-based economies wiped out when the prices of the commodities that are the basis of them are depressed by the abundant new supplies. But this ignores the unfortunate fact that most third-world nations that depend on commodity exports tend to be kleptocracies, and that were they better governed, they’d be in a better position to be more technologically advanced themselves (the oil nations of the Middle East are notorious examples). Generous handouts from an undefined international mining “regime” would do nothing to help the people of those nations, and only encourage continued thievery on the part of their unrepresentative governments.

No, actually, all that such socialist do-goodery will do is to ensure that the planet’s seabeds remain untapped. As I pointed out in my space property rights paper:

Seafloor mining beyond countries’ territorial waters is regulated by the International Seabed Authority, set up under the Convention: As of May 2009, it had issued only eight licenses, “all for exploration, not production, all for nodules, not massive-sulphide deposits, and all to governmental or quasi-governmental agencies,” as reported by The Economist in an article titled “The Unplumbed Riches of the Deep.”

As already noted, we have not acceded to the Moon Treaty (nor has any space-faring nation), and the reason that we didn’t do so was exactly because, rather than just the ocean floor of one planet, it effectively outlaws private property rights in all of the universe that isn’t earth (and who doubts that the proponents of such schemes would like to eventually rectify the situation here as well?). The twenty-seven (Republican) senators who oppose ratification of LOST (they need seven more — one third plus one — to ensure prevention) laid out the issue quite starkly:

“We understand that Chairman Kerry has renewed his efforts to pursue Senate ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. We are writing to let you know that we believe this Convention reflects political, economic, and ideological assumptions which are inconsistent with American values and sovereignty,” states the May letter to Reid from the Republicans.

Of course, when you have a Marxist mindset, as unfortunately too many Democrats seem to these days, they seem perfectly consistent with American values (or at least what they want to make American values). But if the nation signs on to a treaty so inimical to the notion of private property for the seabed, it will destroy the very principle of the long-standing American argument against the Moon Treaty, which would simply extend the concept to the rest of the universe, making it inhospitable not only in terms of the physical harshness of the environment, but inhospitable to human freedom itself. If there are elements of LOST that the military truly needs, then we should start negotiating a treaty with them in it, but make it clear that we will not accede to LOST in its current form until the poisonous barb of world federalism and Marxist redistribution has been pulled from it.

Bartosz Malinowski, PL June 16, 2012 at 6:50 am

“poisonous barb of world federalism”

Dear Sir,
what about disputes resolution & arbitration, if there is no arbitration agreement? Or environmental protection in high seas? Which country is going to do it?

How many U.S. companies are exploiting the high seas seabed right now and are actually benefiting from not acceding to LOST?

As I look at the contact data of Nautilus Minerals Inc. (according to Wikipedia “first company of its kind to begin full-scale undersea excavation of mineral deposits”), all their offices are located in countries being party to LOST.

Anyway, communism & real socialism is dead. Any new treaty requiring redistribution of space mining royalty and mandatory technology transfer to me seems rather impossible.

Best regards,
Bartosz Malinowski, PL

chris bradley June 16, 2012 at 7:30 am

As with any Treaty to which someone is a signatory, they will regard it as valid – until it no longer serves their interests to do so, and they no longer regard it as valid!

Humans agree to Treaties, then go to war, or whatever, when they get fed up with them. This would be no different.

So, summary; it is a meaningless Treaty.

Just to prove the point: Imagine some ET comes visiting and shows a document to mankind which states their right to own Planet Earth dating back a million years, and tells us to push off. Would we; a) acquiesce and agree to leave the Planet, b) defend ourselves with various claims, e.g. that we have extant habitation rights, self-determinism is a fundamental right, etc., and ultimately by force of arms?

Well, there y’go!…. you will *always* refute and defend yourself against a Treaty that runs counter to your interests.

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