Monday, February 15, 2010

Nationality Without Territory

Scientists at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory have glad tidings for current and former residents of the Marshall Islands:

Through Laboratory soil cleanup methods, residents of Bikini, Enjebi and Rongelap Islands - where nuclear tests were conducted on the atolls and in the ocean surrounding them in the 1950s - could have lower radioactive levels than the average background dose for residents in the United States and Europe.
Good to know. Now, all they'll have to worry about is rising sea levels:
According to the vast majority of scientific investigations, warming waters and the melting of polar and high-elevation ice worldwide will steadily raise sea levels. This will likely drive people off islands first by spoiling the fresh groundwater, which will kill most land plants and leave no potable water for humans and their livestock.

Low-lying island states like Kiribati, Tuvalu, the Marshall Islands and the Maldives are the most prominent nations threatened in this way.
The latter article makes a fascinating point:
There are few legal precedents for how these nations can exist without dry land....

"The biggest challenge is to preserve their nationality without a territory," said Lilian Yamamoto of Kanagawa University in Japan. "It is unlikely that they can still have a state without it."
Over the last couple of centuries, the Marshall Islands "belonged" to Spain, which sold them to Germany, which lost them to Japan, which lost them to the United States, which used them as a proving ground for nuclear weapons. They were finally granted sovereignty in 1986, a year after the epochal Villach Conference on the “Assessment of the Role of Carbon Dioxide and of Other Greenhouse Gases in Climate Variations and Associated Impacts," which concluded that “as a result of the increasing greenhouse gases it is now believed that in the first half of the next century (21st century) a rise of global mean temperature could occur which is greater than in any man’s history.” Out of the frying pan and into the fire, as the saying is.

Should one's "nation" remain in the UN even after its territory sinks beneath the waves? Can you conceivably enforce sovereignty over a cultural territory, or a genetic one, or a mental one (as per Elgaland-Vargaland)? What should the status of such territories be under international law? Can one immigrate or emigrate? Could some sort of minimally occupied floating platform anchored over the submerged islands satisfy the legal demand for territory? Or would territory simply be redefined in terms of global position, regardless of the habitability of the space designated? After all, states routinely claim rights to airspace, so perhaps the Marshall Islands could define that as their territory: Cuius est solum, eius est usque ad caelum et ad inferos!

The notion that one can form a new nation without territory has some politically uncomfortable implications, so it's hard to imagine that idea catching on. More plausibly, a new "homeland" could be granted to the displaced population. But that, of course, begs the question of how many people will ultimately be displaced, and what kind of land will be available to them, and what sort of life can be lived on it (i.e., what sort of cultural continuity would the Republic of the Marshall Islands have if it were relocated to, say, the Arctic?).

These strike me as extremely complicated issues, so it's just as well that the recent snowstorms revealed AGW as a hoax.

1 comment:

chris said...

Guess you've never seen Waterworld. Gills are cool.