The Wave of the Future; the Future of the Waves

Laissez faire and the struggle for the oceans


Left on the planet Earth are only two unsettled frontiers: the oceans and the subterrain. In the last decade, man has developed technology capable of beginning commercial exploitation of the former on a vast scale. Recent years have seen the first moves in a struggle for control of the seas that may be of great future strategic importance to libertarians. Pirate radio stations beam their music and commentary at an idea-starved European populace (and the British state brings them down): oil drilling rigs off American coasts multiply (but only with the permission of the state): giant tankers travel freely nearly anywhere in the world (yet sometimes they split apart, releasing their noxious contents): the fishing industry soars (but South American government seize foreign vessels for violating "territorial" waters): developers proffer plans by the dozen for floating cities, airports, and resorts (but expect or demand that the government finance the projects). Clearly a struggle is shaping up. But what will be its nature, who its participants, and of what importance to libertarians? This month, Los Angeles based contributing editor Robert Poole provides some preliminary answers to these questions. —Ed.

On a dreary day in November, 1967, a small bespectacled man mounted the rostrum of the General Assembly Political Committee at the United Nations Building. For three long hours he addressed the delegates. In a tone of moral outrage, he warned his listeners that the day was fast approaching when some men would develop the technological competence to extract great resources from the seas:

"Current international law encourages the appropriation of [the ocean floor] by those who have the technical competence to exploit it…"1

"The process has already started and will lead to a competitive scramble for sovereign rights over the land underlying the world's seas and oceans…" "The consequences will be very grave…sharply increasing world tensions, caused also by the intolerable injustice that would reserve the resources for the exclusive benefit of less than a handful of nations…

After continuing in this vein for the bulk of his talk, the speaker proposed the appointment of a group to draft a U.N. resolution providing that "the net benefits of the exploitation of the seabed's resources would go primarily to the development of the poor countries."2

The speaker was Dr. Arvid Pardo, U.N. delegate from Malta, one of the world's smallest (122 sq. mi., 329,000 people) nations, self-governing since 1961, independent since 1964, a U.N. member since 1965.

How was Pardo's proposals received by those peopling the General Assembly Political Committee that day? by the press? by oceanographic industry? scientists? And what are the alternatives to those standardly proposed for ocean exploitation and development?

The Wealth of the Oceans

The oceans cover 71% of the earth's surface; the Pacific alone measures 64 million square miles, more than the total land area of all the continents combined. As the world's population inexorably increases, and the land becomes ever more crowded, its food-producing capabilities increasingly strained, and its mineral resources reduced towards depletion, it is reasonable that man will look toward the sea as a new frontier to use and conquer.

And well he might, for the sea, despite its bland appearance, is incomparably rich in oil, minerals, and sources of food. Offshore oil wells already produce one-fifth of the world's oil and gas; by 1980 they are expected to produce one-third of the total. Since 1946 U.S. companies have drilled over 10,000 wells off the coasts of the U.S. alone, and have invested over $13 billion in offshore exploration and development. Offshore drilling is proceeding in 27 other countries and surveys are underway in 50 others.3

The oceans act as a huge storage tank for minerals washed from the land by rivers and streams. Each cubic mile of the 350 million cubic miles of seawater contains 165 million tons of solid material—including all major industrial metals. At present, only sodium chloride (table salt), magnesium ($70 million worth annually) and bromine (70% of the world's supply) are being produced commercially in large amounts.

Sulfur occurs in "salt domes" located on the sea floor, and can be mined by the simple technique of piping a stream of superheated water into the dome. The heated water melts the sulfur, which is then forced up by compressed air. Current U.S. offshore production is worth $37 million annually, but the serious worldwide sulfur shortage is likely to lead to a large-scale expansion of offshore production.

On the sea floor, at depths of 1000 feet or more, lie numerous ellipsoids of metal, from one to three inches long. Because they generally consist of from 20 to 40% manganese, they are known as manganese nodules. Other components of the nodules include iron, cobalt, nickel and copper. Since manganese, used primarily in steel production, is not found in the U.S., there is a great deal of interest in mining the nodules, particularly those found relatively close to the coast.

Besides oil and minerals, the oceans are a valuable source of food. At present approximately 55 million metric tons of fish—about $8 billion worth—are caught each year.4 Over half of this total is turned into meal and used as animal feed. All countries possessing a shoreline participate in ocean fishing, but about 75% of the total is harvested by 14 countries, each of which produces over a million tons per year. The growth rate of fishing yields continues to be greater than the growth rate of human population, one of the few foods for which this is the case. In view of the huge area of the sea, compared with diminishing amounts of arable land, fishing is likely to become a growth industry in the decades ahead.

Current Ocean Technology

While the U.S. government has been spending billions of the taxpayer's dollars on a crash program to explore outer space, private businessmen, both here and abroad, have quietly been spending millions of their own developing new technology for exploiting the oceans. Within the last decade, a number of substantial breakthroughs have been made—in transport, exploration, and production methods—which themselves are only a foretaste of what is to come.

In ocean transport, the sixties have been the decade of the supership—container ships and tankers with as much as ten times the capacity of the ships of the fifties. The economics of these vessels are such that it is cheaper to haul Middle-East oil around the tip of Africa via supertanker than it is to send it by conventional tanker through the Suez Canal. Along with the supership has come the development of vastly more accurate navigation systems. Such devices as self-contained inertial navigators (as on jet airliners), hyperbolic radio navigation systems (such as LORAN and OMEGA), and orbiting satellite position-sensing have made it possible for a ship in mid-ocean to know its position to within 0.1 mile or less (an improvement of more than 10 times over earlier methods). Thus, it is increasingly possible to think in terms of well-defined regularly travelled sea "highways."

Progress in undersea exploration has been even more spectacular. Within the last ten years a new type of undersea vehicle has been created—the "manned submersible." This is a vehicle designed specifically for undersea exploration, self-propelled and self-sufficient, in some cases with underwater hatches and various "manipulators" (remote-controlled arms and/or tools) for working on the sea floor. A few of these vessels have been Navy research craft, but for the most part they have been designed, built and operated by industrial firms. Some of the better- known ones are North American's "Beaver" (2 men, 1000′ capability), Westinghouse's "Diving Saucer" (2 men, 1000′) and "Deep Star" series (3 men, varying depths to 20,000′), Lockheed's "Deep Quest" (4 men, 6000′), and Reynolds Metals' "Aluminaut" (6 men, 15,000′).5 These vehicles are being used for research into all aspects of undersea operations—vehicle design, human performance underwater, mining and mineral prospecting, biological data-gathering, etc. These projects and the Navy's Tektite and Sealab experiments will provide man with a vast new capability for living and working under the sea.

The third major area of underseas technological progress is in production methods, the single greatest advance being in deep water drilling ability. Although offshore drilling has rapidly expanded in the past decade, platforms have been in relatively shallow water, firmly founded on seabed. Recently, though, drilling companies have developed floating platforms, from which they can drill in deep water, despite buffeting from wind and water. One semi-submersible variety makes use of water ballasted tanks to sink the lower structure sufficiently beneath the turbulent surface to render it isolated from wind and wave motions. Another technique, typified by the Scripps Institute of Oceanography's "Glomar Challenger" ship, uses specially modified drilling ships. To keep this sort of ship motionless over a drilling site, it is equipped with fore-aft and port-starboard thrusters, sonar position-sensors, and a central computer which monitors the ship's position via the sensors and sends correction signals to the thrusters. To date, the Glomar Challenger has successfully drilled in waters up to 17,000 feet deep.6 This means that the distinction between the continental shelves and the deep ocean is no longer meaningful, as far as oil drilling is concerned. Whereas the continental-shelves comprise about 10% of the sea floor, fully 98% of the sea floor is less than 20,000 feet deep, and is therefore potentially available for oil drilling.

Various ore mining ventures are in an earlier stage of development; nonetheless, American companies have committed substantial amounts of money. One of the largest ventures to date, Deepsea Ventures (a subsidiary of Tenneco), has committed $200 million toward a six-year ocean mining research and development effort.7 Already the firm has developed a prototype mining system capable of excavating the sea floor one mile down. Also in development is a rig of three-mile depth capacity. Again, of significance is the imminent accessibility of not just the continental shelves, but virtually the entire sea floor.

Significant developments are being made in food production, as well. In addition to the continued expansion of commercial fisheries, new products are being developed and marketed. One example is the production of sodium alginate from seaweed. Companies like Australia's Alginates operate large harvesting ships to gather kelp, which is processed in factories to produce sodium alginate (used in instant puddings, salad dressings, cake mixes, beer, and other processed foods).8 Another example is the recent commercial development of fish protein concentrate (FPC) in the U.S. FPC is produced by grinding up "trash fish" such as hake and processing it to yield a highly nutritious powdered food supplement containing about 75% protein. Originally developed by the Bureau of Commercial Fisheries, FPC is now being produced commercially by companies such as Alpine Marine Protein Industries.9 One of the company's first contracts was for 11 tons of FPC purchased by one of the organizations aiding Biafra. Given the extremely low cost of FPC (relative to other protein), and the huge need for protein in much of the world, the market for FPC appears to be vast.

The Legal Regime of the Seas

Throughout history international law has considered the seas beyond the jurisdiction of any state. The general rule has been "freedom of the seas", the right of anyone to use the ocean for navigation, trade, and fishing, limited only by the boundaries of each nation's small offshore area (until recently either a three-mile or twelve-mile buffer zone).

A new trend began, however, after WWII. In 1945 President Truman asserted that the U.S. possessed exclusive title to the resources of the continental shelf surrounding the U.S. Although Truman's proclamation excluded any claims to jurisdiction over the water overlying the shelf or any restriction on navigation, the example had been set, nevertheless. In short order, Ecuador, Peru, and Chile made new claims to offshore territory, out to distances of as much as 200 miles. In each case, Truman's declaration was cited as a precedent. In the case of Ecuador and Peru, the jurisdiction included both the water and navigation rights, in an effort to protect their fishing industries. Various American fishing interests have recently urged that the U.S. make a similar declaration to keep European and Russian trawlers out of the New England offshore fishing areas.

This type of bickering led to the 1958 Geneva Conference on the Law of the Sea, attended by delegates of most maritime nations. The conference worked out an agreement on the continental shelf, which defines the shelf as "the seabed and subsoil of the submarine areas adjacent to the coast, but outside the area of the territorial sea, to a depth of 200 meters or, beyond that limit, to where the depth of the superadjacent waters admit of the exploration of the natural resources of the said area."10 The conferees agreed that the seabed so defined is under the exclusive jurisdiction of the adjacent nation's government.

At the time of the Convention, the above definition closely approximated the area commonly meant by the term "continental shelf," since exploitation of resources at depths below 200 meters (665 feet) was considered fairly unlikely. As previous paragraphs have pointed out, however, technology has made major advances in the last decade, to the point where the 1958 wording now implies that the continental shelves are virtually unlimited, extending as far into the deep ocean as a nation's technology will permit. As a result, there is increasing discontent with what now appears to be a very imprecise definition. Consequently, the past several years have seen an extensive round of conferences on the subject, such as 1969's Law of the Sea Institute Annual Summer Conference, the Marine Technological Society meeting in Miami, and the Italian International Regime of the Sea symposium.

In the meantime the U.S. government has not been standing still. The Department of Interior has been busy issuing oil and gas exploration leases outside of the three-mile limit, including some apparently beyond the 200-meter depth limit, thus giving de-facto recognition to the extension of the 1958 definition of the continental, shelf. The most influential instigator of new government programs for the shelf and deep ocean is the National Council on Marine Resources and Engineering, appointed by and reporting to the President. The Council is currently studying a number of possible government programs, including the initiation of state-managed "coastal zone authorities" for policing the inner portion of the shelves, the establishment of "national laboratories" to do marine research, at universities, and the construction of undersea structures such as labs and powerplants on the shelves.11 The federal government thus appears to be firmly committed to extending in fact the authority vis a vis the shelves it was allowed to assume by the 1958 Convention. So far, however, the government has taken no position on the question of redefining the limits of the shelves.

Various groups have urged the government to act. Most vocal has been the National Petroleum Council (NPC), proposing that the U.S. government declare sovereignty over not only the shelves but also the adjacent slopes and rises, out to where these slopes meet the "abyssal plains" of the deep ocean floor (i.e., to about 10,000′ depth, in most cases). The NPC states that a narrower claim of jurisdiction "would amount to a giveaway of resources to which the nation is entitled."12 Now it is true, of course, that a nation, being simply a collection of individuals with a common government, is not "entitled" to any natural resources—the only persons entitled are those who first use the resources. Nonetheless, NPC's comment raises the question of alternatives in ocean development, which brings us back to the Malta proposal.

The Altruist Proposals

In ascribing rights to a collective, the Malta proposal makes the same error as does the NPC's. The only difference is that the former asserts that "all nations" (by which it means the poorer nations) are entitled to the resources, rather than just a particular "nation." The Malta proposal would therefore have the U.N. (or a new international agency) assert sovereignty over the deep ocean floor and issue leases to governments or companies that have the ability to extract the resources. In his speech, Dr. Pardo, the Maltese delegate, estimated that the "take" from such leasing would be as high as $5 billion annually by 1975.13 The questions of who would be allowed to extract what, and how much they would have to pay for the privilege, would be decided by a "widely representative but not too numerous body," with enforcement powers.

All this would be easy enough to dismiss as just another futile attempt of the smaller U.N. members to get something at the expense of the larger members…except for the widespread publicity and endorsement being given the proposal within the United States. Right from the beginning there has been a steady stream of articles and editorials favoring the idea, from what one might call the scientific/intellectual complex. The obvious question to ask is why such a response has been forthcoming. What could Dr. Pardo have possibly said that was compelling enough to provoke such near-unanimous support?

Throughout his speech Dr. Pardo very carefully linked commercial development of the sea floor with the arms race. It is true that the capability of living in and utilizing the seabed makes possible both peaceable commercial activities and warlike activities by governments. But the latter is not inextricably linked with the former—there is no reason why mining the ocean floor should lead to doomsday machines being constructed there. Yet Pardo again and again speaks of the two subjects as inseparable:

"Present and clearly foreseeable technology also permits effective exploitation [of the seabed] for military or economic purposes. Some countries may be tempted to achieve near-unbreakable world dominance through predominant control of the seabed…" "The process has already started and will lead to a competitive scramble for sovereign rights over the land underlying the world's seas and oceans, surpassing in magnitude and in its implications last century's colonial scramble in Asia and Africa. The consequences will be very grave: at the very least, a dramatic escalation of the arms race and sharply increasing world tensions, caused also by the intolerable injustice that would reserve the resources for the exclusive benefit of less than a handful of nations."1

His repeated references to the arms race and false analogies with colonialism (colonialism involves the occupation of a country and imposition of a government upon the inhabitants, by force. As there are no inhabitants on the sea floor, the issue cannot arise) could have only one purpose—to produce guilt in the listener. The speaker then provides a convenient way for the listener to expiate this guilt—by paying what amounts to reparations to the "underdeveloped nations" for the "privilege" of extracting minerals from the seabed. One might expect that this sort of psychological con-game had been played so many times before that no one would fall for it again. Not so.

Shortly after Dr. Pardo's speech, Science, the journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, carried a lengthy article discussing Pardo's proposal and the general issues it raised. While not an outright endorsement of the proposal (the article presented "both sides") it accepted Dr. Pardo's premise that the basic question is how the resources are to be "divided up." The article also quoted an interesting statement by President Johnson, who anticipated Pardo's colonialism analogy by five months: "Under no circumstances…must we ever allow the prospects of [the sea's] rich harvest and mineral wealth to create a new form of colonial competition among the maritime nations. We must ensure that the deep seas and the ocean bottom are, and remain, the legacy of all human beings."1

Before leaving office, Johnson appointed a committee of leaders from industry, government, and the academic community (headed by former MIT president Julius Stratton), and charged them with developing long-term recommendations for government policy regarding ocean exploitation. The resulting Commission on Marine Science, Engineering and Resources published its findings early in 1969. On the jurisdictional issue, the Stratton Report recommended a watered-down version of the Malta proposal.14 After redefining the continental shelf (to be limited by 50 nautical miles or 200 meters depth, whichever gives the greater area), the Report proposed that national control would be limited strictly to the shelf area. Next, it proposed the establishment of an international authority to "register" all claims beyond the continental shelf. Each claimant would pay the authority for the privilege of registering a claim, and would pay royalties on all of its output. The money would go into an international fund which would be used to aid the underdeveloped countries. Apart from terminology, this is essentially the Malta proposal. The Report urged that the U.S. "seize the opportunity for leadership which the present situation demands" by aggressively working for these proposals.

This theme was also picked up by several of the leading scientific and technological magazines. In the July/August 1969 issue of Technology Review economist David Brooks of the U.S. Bureau of Mines discussed the future of ocean mining and the attendant political problems. In bringing up the Malta proposal Brooks asked the question, "How will rights to exploit deep-sea mineral resources be distributed and who will have claims on the returns from their exploitation?"15 (italics added) Furthermore, he says, the Malta proposal "changed the grounds of the discussion from that of revenue distribution alone to the far more substantive matter of whether the resources of the ocean are perhaps the common heritage of all mankind, to be used so that all nations directly or indirectly profit by them." Brooks answers this question in the affirmative by endorsing the Stratton Report proposals.

The September 1969 issue of Scientific American was devoted exclusively to articles on the ocean. The introductory article for this special issue concluded with a discussion of the ocean resources controversy. Oceanographer Roger Revelle stated that U.S. policy on this matter ought to be based on the principle that the resources of the deep ocean and the seabed "are the common heritage of mankind and shall be used and conserved in the common interest of all men. All countries shall participate in an equitable manner in the benefits gained from these resources."16 One might ask "benefits gained by whose effort and knowledge?" and "equitable by what standard?" but Mr. Revelle evidently believes such questions are irrelevant. In another article in the same issue, oceanographer Warren Wooster endorsed the Malta proposal because it is responsive to "a strong feeling among the disadvantaged nations that the resources of the deep seabed should ultimately benefit those with the greatest needs."17 (italics added).

The New York Times, as befits its position of leadership in the scientific/intellectual complex, has done its best to insure that its readers have the correct view on this subject. Correspondent Sam Pope Brewer, in a story headlined "Fear of Big-Power Monopoly Leads to Move in U.N. to Share Seabed Riches," discussed the "general agreement" at the U.N. that the seabed must be controlled. "The consensus seemed to be…that it was the task of the United Nations to find a means of equitable distribution to the peoples of the world," he reported on November 13, 1969. In a November 24 follow-up story he discussed the background of the seabed controversy, and in so doing made clear his bias. For example, "Delegates from small countries suspect the larger ones of dragging their feet on efforts for a really just settlement."18 And, "The western powers, on the other hand, have to cope with the pressures of their own big industrial interests." (italics added).

Finally, on December 1, 1969, the Times presented this editorial (notable for its stunning originality): "There is growing danger that a race for mineral riches on or below the ocean floor may precipitate a new era of colonial competition…There is also a strong feeling among developing countries that the wealth of the sea floor should be shared and not left entirely to the more advanced nations that are best able to extract these untapped resources."19

On December 16, 1969 the General Assembly adopted (62 to 28) a resolution stating that pending establishment of an international regime for the seabed, states and individuals were "bound to refrain" from all exploitation of the seabed beyond territorial limits. In addition, "no claims to any part of that area or its resources shall be recognized."20 The reaction from American industrialists? Of course: silence.

The Libertarian Alternative

The controversy, to this point, has revolved around two "opposing" views. The nationalists, on the one hand, favor an extension of the sovereignty of existing nation-states into the deep seabed, in order to protect and regulate the activities of the companies and/or agencies of those countries. The internationalists, by contrast, favor the expropriation of the deep seabed by an international agency, with much of the proceeds from commercial exploitation going to aid government programs in undeveloped countries.

This is a classic example of the fallacy of false alternatives. As evidenced in the preceding quotes, the issue is invariably presented in terms of "Who should control seabed exploitation and how should the resources be divided up?" rather than asking whether it should be controlled and whether anyone other than the entrepreneur has the right to "divide up" the resources. For in fact there is a third alternative—a libertarian alternative—based firmly on rights, rather than feelings.

Anyone—be it the U.S. government, the U.N., or a group of "underdeveloped nations"—who claims "sovereignty" over any part of the seabed and exacts tribute from the entrepreneurs who are successful in developing it, is purely and simply a thief. No one has the right to grant leases or concessions or drilling rights to that which he does not own, no matter how powerful his armed forces or how needy his constituents. The resources of the seabed are unowned resources, at present nobody's property, and therefore the property of whoever first successfully extracts them.

How would this principle work in practice? Wouldn't there be chaos, piracy, and warfare? No. There is no reason why peaceable development could not come about without government sovereignty over the seabed. First of all, no nation now claims sovereignty over the surface of the oceans—yet all nations freely use the seas for trade and commerce. Would trade be more peaceable if the U.N. extracted tribute from all ships which wanted to use the oceans? The suggestion is absurd, because freedom is so obviously superior to force. "Freedom of the seas" has a long history, violated at times, but generally adhered to, because it is in the long-term interest of all.

The seabed does pose problems not present on the surface, such as the (ultimately) limited amount of area to which claims may be laid. But past human experience provides some guidance. The seabed is a frontier area of unclaimed "land," much as the American west once was. With little formal legal theory and the barest minimum of government available, the early pioneers developed reasonably just concepts for defining ownership of this new frontier land. Several of these are worth examining for applicability to the seabed case.

Mining Claims. Nearly everyone is familiar with the archetypical western prospector, who roamed the unowned property of the frontier, searching for gold or silver. When he found a promising spot, he "staked out a claim" to a piece of land of a size he could work, and registered it with the authorities. If first to register a claim, he became the owner. He could not go out and make wild claims to huge amounts of territory—he established a claim by working the property in question; it became his through use. Objections might be raised to certain details of the way the process was handled in the early west; the important point is the principle involved—that of ownership arising out of original usage of a particular plot of land.

The same principle is equally applicable to the seabed. Modern digital information storage and retrieval systems, plus high-speed global communication systems, and precision navigation and position-fixing systems should make registering claims, preventing "first-user" conflicts, and pinpointing precise locations and boundary definitions eminently feasible. As for fears that "the few" will grab all the resources before "the many" have a chance to develop the technology, it is helpful to remember that the seabed comprises more than twice the land area of all the countries of the world. As long as no one can claim more than he can directly use (i.e., as long as governments cannot assert wild claims of "sovereignty"), it will be a long time before the seabed is all "used up."

Homesteading. The principle involved in frontier homesteading was much the same as that in mining claims. A particular plot of land of a size suitable for farming became the property of the first settlers to live there and actually work the land. The fact that the U.S. government initially "owned" the land is really beside the point; the essential feature is the principle of ownership arising out of usage. The same principle would apply to any sort of habitation or farming of the seabed or continental shelves. The fact that, at first, probably only large companies could afford such ventures has no bearing on the principle involved.

Open Range. Another frontier principle with direct applicability to the ocean is the concept of the open range. For many ranchers, building fences to restrain their herds would have been both expensive and self-defeating, since it would have severely limited the amount of grazing land over which the herds could roam. It was in the interest of all the ranchers to let the cattle herds roam freely over all the open range. In order to keep track of ownership, each rancher devised a unique brand, with which he marked all his cattle. The ranchers respected each others' brands and cooperated to prevent cattle rustling by thieves. The cattle could thus move as required to good grazing land, without loss of ownership identification.

Much discussion has taken place in recent years about conservation of commercially-valuable marine life. Whales, in particular, are feared to be nearing extinction and even certain food fish (such as tuna, cod, herring and perch) are considered "over-fished" in certain areas. The usual conservationist "answer" is to forcibly impose restrictions on the size of catches or the efficiency of fishing methods. Yet this is essentially a negative, preserve-the-status-quo approach (besides being a violation of rights). Had men taken the same approach with land animals (i.e., "conserving" wild cattle, pigs, and chickens for hunting), the world could support only a fraction of the population it supports today, through animal husbandry. Obviously, the same approach will eventually have to be applied to marine animals.

For large marine animals, such as whales, seals, sea turtles, and tuna, the open range concept can be applied, with the entire ocean substituted for open grazing land. Just as the ranchers found it wise to let their domesticated herds roam free, so might the aquaranchers of the future. Identification of the animals is not impossible: whales could actually be branded, although a better solution for all large marine animals might be to implant microminiature transmitters in the young, permitting the movement of individuals or schools to be monitored continuously. Arthur C. Clarke, in his novel The Deep Range21 suggests that small manned submarines could be used for undersea herding, thus completing the open range analogy.

The aquarancher's return on his investment might be substantially improved if he raises large number of fish in captivity before turning them loose in supervised herds. The number of baby fish reaching maturity is only a minute fraction of the number hatched, due to predators and other hazards. By constructing large undersea net-pens, and using the same mass egg-fertilization and fish culturing techniques used in raising trout and other inland fish, the aquarancher could increase the annual catch by orders of magnitude. Smaller fish could be raised entirely in huge undersea net-pens, again with vastly improved yields.

These few examples are meant as illustrations of the possibilities inherent in a situation where freedom, rather than force, prevails. Realization requires no "sovereignty," hordes of bureaucrats, or volumes of regulations; it requires only that "freedom of the seas" be extended to the seabed, i.e., that all involved in undersea development recognize the rights of all participants on a first-come/first-served basis. Disputes which arose could be referred to the Permanent Court of Arbitration or the International Court of Justice at the Hague, as maritime disputes have been for many years. Defense of various seabed installations could be provided by the navies of each installation's home country (if any), or by the participants themselves. Indeed, one of the more interesting prospects of a free seabed is that new cities—free ports—may be created, independent of and unhampered by any state. Such free cities, either underwater or floating (as Buckminster Fuller has suggested22 ) could provide a vivid demonstration of laissez-faire communities in action. The prospect of such cities coming into existence, outside the statists' grasp, must not be discounted as one of the motivations behind their current drive for control of the oceans.

To libertarians looking for an issue on which to take a stand, control of the seabed offers an unusually good opportunity. In most spheres of human action, the state is already firmly established, with its vast array of rules and regulations, layers of bureaucracy, and well-established penalties for transgressors. With the seabed, however, the state is very late in catching on to what technology is making possible. As the foregoing has pointed out, much of the technology needed for deep-seabed exploitation is already in existence. The rapid establishment of operational drilling, mining, and living installations on and under the sea would confront the statists with a fait accompli which would make any opposing action on their part much harder to pull off. Once a few Union Carbide or Tenneco or U.S. Steel mines were operational, the U.N. (or whatever) would be faced with the dilemma of trying to collect "lease" money after the fact, making the larcenous nature of their action all the more obvious.

But such developments will not come about by themselves; several specific actions are required. First, American companies involved in ocean industry must be convinced of the importance of taking a stand on the issues. At present they are the only ones who stand directly to lose if the U.N. expropriates the seabed (although all men would lose in the long run). They must be convinced of their right to the fruits of their labor, and be willing to stand up for it in the mass media. At the same time it is vital that the U.S. government take an official position opposing any U.N. expropriation (under whatever label). Since the leaders of many foreign governments can think only in statist terms, they already assume that if the U.S. opposes U.N. control, it must favor U.S. control. Thus, the U.S. could score a minor propaganda coup by renouncing all territorial ambitions to the seabed, and at the same time refusing to recognize any governmental expropriation, by the U.N. or otherwise.

It is interesting to note that both the U.S. and Russia opposed the recent General Assembly resolution calling for a moratorium on seabed exploitation, as did many of the governments of Europe. Thus, those nations whose engineers and industrialists already have the means to exploit the seabed could easily proceed on their own to set up a data bank for registering individual claims to seabed property (on the basis of use), and agree to arbitration of disputes by the International Court. Most significant international agreements (Common Market, NATO, etc.) have been outside the U.N. anyway.

Before the U.S. government can espouse such a policy it will have to be assured of popular support. Thus far, the scientific/intellectual establishment has received the lion's share of the publicity, supporting U.N. expropriation, in one form or another, while the petroleum industry has made a feeble case for further U.S. expropriation. It is time for libertarians to make themselves heard in the mass media, in their professional societies and journals, and to their elected representatives. The stakes are too high to sit idle: the earth's last remaining frontier is about to be expropriated when you, just possibly, could help do something to prevent it.

The statists have had their chance: they have spread their coercive bureaucracies over every square mile of land on earth. The oceans represent man's second chance—perhaps his last—to solve the environmental problems that, unchecked, threaten his extinction. It is time—past time—that men of integrity stood up and said "enough!" Let the statists' anti-life view of man, if it must exist at all, stop at water's edge.

Laissez-faire: hands off the sea.

Robert Poole, formerly an aerospace systems analyst, is now a systems engineer with General Research Corp., Santa Barbara, California. His earlier article, "Fly the Frenzied Skies," appeared in the September 1969 REASON.

The discussion of the analogies between the seabed and the American frontier grew out of conversations with Lynn Kinsky. Her assistance is gratefully acknowledged.


1 "Deep Seabed: 'Who Should Control It?' U.N. Asks," Science, Vol 159, Jan. 5, 1968, p.66.

2 ibid.

3 "The Physical Resources of the Oceans," Edward Wenk, Jr., Scientific American, Vol. 221, No. 3, Sept. 1969, p. 166.

4 "The Food Resources of the Oceans," S.J. Holt, Scientific American, Vol. 221, No. 3, Sept. 1969, p. 178.

5 "Manned Submersibles," L.S. Linderroth, Jr., Mechanical Engineering, June 1968, p. 32.

6 "Technology and the Ocean," William Bascom, Scientific American, Vol 221, No. 3, Sept. 1969, p. 199.

7 "Ocean Firm Launches $100-200 Million Mining Venture," Ocean Industry, March 1969, p. 66.

8 "Harvesting Seaweed Off Australia," Ocean Industry, March 1969, p. 69.

9 "Fish Protein Concentrate Production Is on the Rise," Ocean Industry, January 1969, p. 36

10 "Alternatives for Ocean Policy," Norman J. Padelford, Technology Review, July/August 1969, p. 35.

11 "Council Will Concentrate on 4 Key Areas," Ocean Industry, Oct. 1969, p. 21.

12 "Offshore Boundaries Dispute Heats Up," ibid.

13 New York Times, November 2, 1967.

14 "Who Controls the Deep Sea?" Clyde LaMotte, Ocean Industry, May 1969, p. 78.

15 "Ocean Mining: Political Opportunities and Economic Consequences," David B. Brooks, Technology Review, July/August 1969, p. 23.

16 "The Ocean," Roger Revelle, Scientific American, Vol. 221, No. 3, Sept 1969, p. 54.

17 "The Ocean and Man," Warren S. Wooster, Scientific American, Vol 221, No. 3, Sept. 1969, p. 218.

18 "For Planners at UN, the Ocean is New Frontier," New York Times, Nov 24, 1969.

19 "Regulating the Ocean Floor," Editorial, New York Times, Dec. 1, 1969.

20 "UN Votes to Stop Civil Seabed Uses," New York Times, Dec. 16, 1969.

21 Arthur C. Clarke, The Deep Range, Flarcourt, Brace, 1957.

22 "City of the Future," R. Buckminster Fuller, Playboy, Vol. 15, No. 1, Jan. 1968, p. 166.