What will determine the laws, governing institutions, and international relations of communities floating in international waters – seasteads?  To judge from the residential cruise liners already sailing the high seas, seasteaders would enjoy a fair amount of self-determination in choosing the rules by and the institutions they live under. Because seasteads lack sovereignty, however, they would, like other vessels on the high seas, have to fly the flag of some terrestrial nation state. With that flag would come limits – limits that might chafe freedom-loving seasteaders. Relief from this plight, and greater independence in matters of law and government, might come to seasteaders through the advent of special jurisdictions and special flag registries, now in the planning. Carried to their logical conclusion, these trends might eventually result in associations of seasteaders that have standing equal to that of nation states in international relations, thus giving seasteaders the prospect of full sovereignty in determining their own laws and forms of government.


The Author

Professor Tom W. Bell earned his J.D. from the University of Chicago in 1993, then practiced law in Silicon Valley and Washington, D.C. before serving as a policy director at the Cato Institute. In 1998, he joined the faculty of Chapman University, Fowler School of Law, where he teaches all of the first-year common law courses and electives in high-tech and intellectual property law. Bell’s books include “Intellectual Privilege: Copyright, Common Law, and the Common Good” (Mercatus Center, 2014) and “Your Next Government? From Nation States to Stateless Association” (Cambridge University Press, 2017). Through Archimediate LLC, Bell advises companies developing special economic zones on the design, installation, and support of legal systems. Visit www.tomwbell.com to learn more about his work.



Tom W. Bell (2017): Law, Governance, and International Relations of Seasteads, in: Victor Tiberius (Ed.) (2017): Seasteads. Opportunities and Challenges for Small New Societies, Zurich (vdf), pp. 159-170.