Seasteaders: Mining the Sea, Mining the Future

Biomining the Sea
Seasteads are intended to be entrepot that trade in the capitol of the mind: new ideas, technologies, and management styles both public and private. Scarcity is the mother of invention, and on platforms with no natural resources, innovation and expertise are the only tradable commodity… but that will not be the case for long.

Innovations in the field of biotechnology are leading to the more efficient use of microorganisms to leach minerals straight from the sea as a byproduct of fresh-water production. I discussed biomining as a tool for commanders attempting to use battlefield refuse for 3D printing, but on a larger scale it produces a duel-win scenario for Seasteads looking for a supply of both water and profits to support their sea-borne society. While many nations have claims to the vast mineral wealth of the sea-floor, none lay claim to the water-borne mineral content of the high seas. UNCLOS does state in general terms the wealth of the sea being for all people’s, but such stipulations would be too vague to implement if even the institutions existed to enforce them. The minerals of the sea are an open resource, without claim or contract, to be claimed by seasteaders.

G’Day Shipmate
This brings to mind a society that may look very much like our friends, the Australians. Australia is an innovation hub, most recently producing the first single-atom transistor. This is the primary vision of today’s Seasteaders. Australia is also blessed with with abundant resources. The Australian mining industry is booming supported by the hardy entrepreneurial spirit of prospective miners. There is a hearty internal migration of workers out to isolated mining camps to make their fortune. However, most Seasteads will not be glorified roaming country clubs supported by the existent wealth of their monied passengers; they’ll be commercial experiments. No matter how advanced, they will be constrained and distant places like the FIFO camps of Australia. With sea mining, however, Seasteads can add the mineral wealth of the sea around them to the income from the advances developed onboard.

Glimpses of the Future
Seasteading will lead to a bevy of new technologies driven by self-sustainment and efficiency. From mining the sea to water production to electricity generation and retention to recycling. All these developments inadvertantly make Seasteading a model for future space travel. Although under far friendlier circumstances than a cold, radiation-bombareded death vacuum, the efficiencies found by communities living at sea will no doubt find application to our future missions in space. The same bio-mining procedures for the sea could be used on far-off bodies where it is easier to bring a small culture of microorganisims that can be grown to necessary size, rather than the bulky equipment necessary to process ore. As the conventional modes of business are overturned in an attempt to colonize new portions of our own planet, we will be preparing ourselves to colonize others.

Matt Hipple is a surface warfare officer in the U.S. Navy. The opinions and views expressed in this post are his alone and are presented in his personal capacity. They do not necessarily represent the views of U.S. Department of Defense or the U.S. Navy.

Ice-basing the Arctic

So the trappings of life under the thumb of your home country have finally forced you to the seas. Why not strike out to the pristine, untouched mineral-rich reaches of the Arctic? Climate change in the far north may soon open the long-sought Northwest Passage which will allow ships summer time passage from Europe to Asia a fraction of the travel time. Oil exploration is booming with all the big oil companies vying for their slice of the pie. Increased shipping capacity could mean a black gold mine for your tiny floating kingdom, if you can find a place to put it.

This map shows just how complicated the Arctic seascape really is.  Russia has already planted their flag at the North Pole sealed in a titanium capsule.  They are still working out the particulars on the definition of their continental shelf, which may validate their claim of the pole and a huge swath of the frozen north.  But don’t forget, once clear of Russian claims you still have to contend with Danish, Norwegian, Canadian, U.S. and Icelandic territory.  A sea-based nation could benefit from partnership with any of these nations for security and export potential, assuming any of them would be interested in having a little neighbor to the north. 

An Arctic sea-base would mean a harsh existence for its inhabitants. Long periods of cold and darkness would require advanced climate control. Keeping the whole thing afloat on or amid constantly shifting polar ice and occasional liquid water would require clever flotation systems.  Yet all the expense of setting up this sea-base will be worth it.  Others have made significant investment with seemingly impractical logistical hurdles but still continue to make the far north work, there is such a huge economic incentive to do so.  

Creating a sea based nation in the Arctic could provide a tiny floating country with vast mineral wealth and, if the climate models pan out, an easy way of getting it to market. And as of this writing, the Somali pirate threat to the Arctic is pretty much non-existent, good news for security. 

Who Defeated the Somali Pirates?

Ships from CTF-150, one of the mult-national naval force conducting maritime security operations off the Horn of Africa

The New York Times published a piece last week describing the “sharp” decline in piracy off the coast of Somalia  It cited data provided by the US Navy demonstrating that attacks had significantly fallen off in 2012 compared to 2011 and 2010.  The decline was attributed to industry having implemented better security measures, the large-scale participation by forces from many world navies in counter-piracy operations in the region, and raids conducted to rescue hostages.

Conspicuously absent, however, is any mention of how events ashore may have impacted piracy.  The only mention in the piece as to how actions on land are related to piracy was that “renewed political turmoil” or “further economic collapse” could cause more Somalis to pursue piracy as a livelihood.

In June Matt Hipple made his case in this blog that international naval operations had little or nothing to do with the current decline in piracy.  He argued that the Kenyan invasion of Somalia and continued operations by the multi-national forces of AMISOM, as well as armed private security forces onboard commercial vessels were the decisive factors behind the recent drop in pirate attacks.  Another June piece by the website Somalia Report attributed the decline to internal Somali factors, primarily declining financial support by Somali investors in the pirate gangs, and increased operations of the Puntland Maritime Police Force (PMPF).

A basic principle within the social sciences and statistics is that “correlation is not causation.”  Just because the U.S. and other world navies applied military force at sea to combat Somali pirates does not mean that maritime operations caused the piracy decline, particularly when there are so many other independent variables have contributed to piracy, especially those ashore driven by Somalis themselves.  Until this year the only group with real success at stopping piracy over the last decade was the Islamic Courts Union (forerunner to al-Shabab), who stopped it when they controlled southern Somalia for most of 2006.  Piracy came back when the Ethiopians invaded and forced the Islamic Courts Union out of Mogadishu and the pirate strongholds at the end of that year.

It is possible that a debate over who defeated the Somali pirates could mirror the similar debate over the effectiveness of “the Surge” in Iraq.  U.S. Army Colonel Gian Gentile has been one of the most outspoken advocates of questioning the conventional wisdom assuming that the 2007 U.S. troop increase in Iraq and the adoption of the Counter-Insurgency doctrine were what caused violence to fall.  He instead argues that Iraqi-driven variables such as Sunni insurgent groups accepting U.S. money to switch sides and Shia leader Moqtada al-Sadr’s decision to stop attacks were what made the difference.

Both the deployment of ships and other assets by the world’s navies, as well as changed behavior by the maritime industry, have played some role in the drop in pirate attacks.  To assume that those were the decisive factor, however, with no consideration given to what has actually happened in Somalia over the past few years, is shortsighted and ignores the larger reasons for why the phenomenon of Somali piracy started in the first place.

Lieutenant Commander Mark Munson is a Naval Intelligence Officer and currently serves on the OPNAV staff. He has previously served at Naval Special Warfare Group FOUR, the Office of Naval Intelligence and onboard USS ESSEX (LHD 2). The views expressed are solely those of the author and do not reflect the official viewpoints or policies of the Department of Defense or the U.S. Government.

Why the U.S. Should Embrace Seasteading

In search of the pioneer spirit and a Compact of Free Association

Sea-based Nations (SBNs) are only a small manifestation of much larger trends in the post-Westphalian world.  Libertarians, anarcho-capitalists, and panarchists have long discussed different options – from colonizing the sea or space to simply creating non-territorial nations – as alternatives to the current nation-state system.

 

These aspirations found a home amongst Silicon Valley millionaires and billionaires, with Peter Thiel, one of the co-founders of Paypal, at the forefront.  Peter initially built Paypal to be a new, international currency similar to Bitcoin, but was hindered by legislation.  Nonetheless, the aspiration to create non-state options remains – and more importantly, those pursuing such this vision seem to have both the brainpower and the money to bring it to fruition.

 

Hence, operating on the assumption that new states will at some point appear in one shape or another, it’s in the interests of the U.S. to embrace them rather than alienate them.  And, we have a golden opportunity to do so through the seasteading movement.  Even though Peter Thiel & Co are libertarians seeking to escape the grips of the government, they’re also U.S. citizens and affluent, having contributed a great deal to the U.S. economy and its corporate leverage around the world.  As Ian Sundstrom pointed out in his post on the subject, “Who would benefit most from Seasteading?” every ocean-going vessel must fly the flag of an existing nation.  It would be tempting for libertarians to choose a country with basically no law – let’s say Somalia – but if the U.S. Government offers some degree of legislative autonomy in combination with a security pact, that’s likely to be a more tempting option.

 

Experiments of this sort have been continuing in the U.S. for hundreds of years, the best-known example being the Navajo Nation, a semi-autonomous Native Tribal territory occupying parts of Arizona, Utah, and New Mexico.  The Navajo Nation has its own constitution and laws, but the United States still asserts plenary power.  Likewise the U.S. and many small Pacific maritime entities have entered into various forms of Compacts of Free Association, providing near-autonomy and legal and foreign defense in exchange for relatively small set of prescribed laws and limitations on their actions.  Somaliland is another interesting experiment of semi-autonomous semi-anarchism that works, in the regional context, surprisingly well.  To be sure, there are plenty of areas of potential conflict between the U.S. Government and new SBNs in addition to the host of other problems previous CIMSEC bloggers duly pointed out – including security, international competition etc.  However, there are also many benefits.  It’s easy to see the pragmatic possibilities of expansion in the seas for overcrowded nations or those threatened by rising sea levels, as well as the worth of strategic outposts for others.  But the core benefit for America is vastly different in my opinion…

 

Corporations are people…and nation-states too?

America is a pioneering nation, which was built on the virtue of individual entrepreneurs innovating and exploring.  Now these individual have taken that spirit of innovation and seek to apply it to new forms of governance.  As Randy Hencken, the Director of the Seasteading Institute, mentioned in his CIMSEC interview earlier this week, seasteads might provide the ideal opportunity to test new governance models.  The traditional form of the nation-state is slowly losing its momentum due to globalization, which helps humans bypass the controls of and necessities for states, we want to be on the leading edge of what comes next – however the post-Westphalian transition happens.  It may be seasteading, or it may be other forms of governments – and in whatever shape or color they come, they’ll still need to work with, and to a degree rely on, current nation states.  The seasteading movement is in its very early, shaky phase, and now is the ideal time for the U.S. Government to lend it a hand, work to form coherent legislation, and help the movement to influence international conventions.  Just like the pioneers once discovered America, it’s now time to discover other forms of governance.

 

Susanne Tarkowski Tempelhof (CEO, Shabakat Corporation and President, SIC Group) is a Swedish research and communications entrepreneur.  She began a strategic communication company carrying out campaigns for the U.S. Military in Afghanistan, Wise Strategic Communication (WSC), and started a second company in Libya and Egypt, Shabakat Corporation, during the Arab Spring. 

Fostering the Discussion on Securing the Seas.

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