Friday, December 14, 2012

Precedents for selling sovereignty

This is an interesting take on the Honduran charter cities (which I view as just a super-charged gated community or free zone), finding historical precedents in the longstanding and uncontroversial tradition of sales by states of parts of their territorial jurisdiction:
The first point is that international legal precedent affords us an abundance of examples in which states freely exchange sovereignty over territories for money. Most Americans will have heard of the Louisiana and the Alaska Purchases, of course, but there are also less well-known cases: Woodrow Wilson’s purchase of sovereignty over the Danish West Indies in 1917, for instance. Europeans may recall cases closer to home. Here one thinks of Prussia’s purchases of sovereignty over Lauenburg and Jade Bay. Last, but not least, there is Asia, where, among other cases, Britain recently concluded its ninety-nine-year lease for sovereignty over the New Territories and Kowloon extension in Hong Kong.
...The Honduran debate grows still more interesting when one considers its theoretical relevance to today’s highly indebted states. Should people, or rather their elected representatives, be able to treat parts of their state’s territory as assets in transactions?... Statesmen have often answered in the affirmative during the twentieth century; indeed, on occasion they have alienated their own territory as a path towards fiscal salvation ... without the direct majority consent of the people affected by the transfer. Nonetheless, all the transactions have been held to be perfectly valid in international law.
The author gives some more contemporary examples: one scholar has suggested that Greece could reduce its debt by selling jurisdiction over some of its islands; US "Special Operations Command" (I have no idea what that is) recently opined that jurisdiction was “a commodity driven by market-like forces” that will go to the “state, organization, corporation, tribe, gang, etc. that can best meet individual security, economic, and demographic interests.” He forgot to add, at the lowest cost, naturally. He concludes that there is plenty of precedent for states to buy jurisdiction and sovereign rights from the recognized “owners.” He concludes:
Whatever the orientation of Honduras and its court system in the twenty-first century, these precedents attest to the existence of a marketplace open to all. 
Thinking about statehood as a commodity with owners that can auction it off--disturbing, especially because what then are the humans. In particular, what then are the humans in the designated for-sale zone. Spoils of war capitalism?

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