Seasteading has always captivated the startup societies movement, and is exciting for many political and technological reasons. However, seasteading has two major obstacles: sovereignty and maritime piracy.
Seasteading supporters like to imagine that they would be immune from external politics. They are sadly not. Diplomacy is necessary to prevent a seastead from being strangled in the crib. For example, the first modern seastead, Operation Atlantis, was largely ended by the Haitian government. A floating platform of foreigners complicated an already tenuous diplomatic background in the Caribbean. Consequently, Haiti shut down Operation Atlantis at gun point, claiming that the Atlanteans were pirates. Since the seastead was not a sovereign entity, they had no recourse and the project quickly ended. In the future, sovereignty will continue to be a problem. States treat international politics as a zero sum game and must be given incentives to cooperate.
Moreover, as attacks on the Somali coast have illustrated, piracy remains a problem beyond 17th century swashbuckling. However, piracy is not limited to the African coast. According to Time “Southeast Asia was the location of 41% of the world’s pirate attacks between 1995 and 2013. The West Indian Ocean, which includes Somalia, accounted for just 28%, and the West African coast only 18%.” This is troubling for seasteading, which focuses much of their efforts in the South Pacific. If gone unchecked, piracy may harm seasteading projects in French Polynesia and beyond.
There is a solution for both problems: anti-pirate seasteading. No matter what, seasteads must defend themselves and will likely have an armed force patrolling their waters. Why not go further and use anti-piracy as an exchangeable service, not merely as protective self maintenance? In fact, seastead anti-piracy services already exist. "Floating Armouries", or small seasteads with weapons, became popular after a global increase in pirate attacks. Seasteads could easily be repurposed into floating armories to protect the area. Seasteaders could approach nearby governments and ask for a Letter of Marque (A state license to capture and attack enemy vessels) against local pirates.
As an example, let’s imagine a “Piracy Prevention Services” (PPS). Such an organization would provide their services pro bono, for two reason. One, costs would be low since piracy defense is already a fixed cost for seasteading. Two, free services create local “champions” for your cause within local governments by giving the impression that seasteaders are acting selfless to help nearby communities. A “champion” is a sympathetic member of the elite from the territories with whom a seastead would have diplomatic relations.
Seasteaders can collaborate with these local champions for future lobbying efforts. Having a trusted member of the elite is crucial for negotiation. After an established track record of successfully reducing piracy, seasteaders can use their value as a bargaining chip for sovereignty. In fact, if successful enough, they can even threaten local states with withdrawal. While seemingly innocuous, leaving could be economically disastrous for the region. According to a 2010 study by the One Earth Future Foundation, “piracy drains between $7 billion and $12 billion dollars from the international economy each year”. Regional governments could simply not afford to resume pirate infestation. The only price is seastead sovereignty.
Seasteading is certainly the future and will serve as fertile ground for experimentation in technology and governance. But it must master diplomacy and self defense. Exchanging anti-piracy services for sovereignty is an effective, low cost solution. Once autonomous, the world can finally see the unfurling of potential utopias on the sea.
Co-founded Startup Societies Foundation after being dissatisfied with traditional politics and entrepreneurship. He hopes that startup societies can lead to experimentation and better government. He has a background in nonprofits through work at the Center for the American Experiment, the Koch Network, and being the Operations and Development Manager for the Benjamin Rush Institute. Joe has a history in tech entrepreneurship. He founded Proudsource, a crowdfunding fintech startup that allowed profit sharing investment for small businesses.