“No Man. No Problem.”

Fourth in the series of indeterminate length, Recolonizing Detroit

The root cause of the problems Paul Romer encountered in Madagascar was the local population. So how about founding these cities not just in unpopulated areas, but in areas people do not identify with as well? Could this be effective? From the European perspective, that’s what the era of colonization was, but most of us have a more expansive view of ownership now. Today, the only land that doesn’t have recognized claims on is Antarctica (Actually, it’s a bit more complicated on that, but more on that later.), but that location is not likely to attract many people to it. What if instead of land, these cities were built in international waters, or somewhere else unclaimed by any country? What then?

That’s right, we’re talking about micronations.

As you probably know, a micronation is a small self-declared nation that no other country recognizes, or even takes seriously. Many micronations aren’t even taken seriously by their “citizens,” but the more interesting case is when they do. Sometime in the 1970s, the idea of starting a new country for “freedom” has been dream tactic of tax scofflaws and other self described Libertarians. I’m focusing on these Libertarian groups, because they’re the ones that seem to have the more ingenious attempts at nation founding, and purportedly come the closest Romer’s ideas.

If you want to start a country where no one lives, you have three options.

1. Take land from an existing country.
Well that’s the the traditional way of starting a country. Revolution. Secession. Break up. They’ve all worked. You usually need an army, though. Not always, but it often helps.
2. Find land that isn’t claimed by an existing country.
This was much easier back before satellites, but as we’ll see later, it can still be done.
3. Make your own land
Now that’s interesting.

As Romer – and uncountable secessionist groups – have found out, taking land from an existing country is exceedingly difficult. So let’s assume you want to take what looks like the easiest approach, making your own land.

The earliest example I could find (granted it wasn’t a very exhaustive search) of someone trying to form their own country on man-made territory was the short lived Republic of Rose “Island”. Like Monster Island, Rose Island wasn’t actually an island at all, but rather a pylon supported platform built by founder Giorgio Rosa in the Adriatic Sea. It featured a post office, a restaurant, bar, and nightclub. The Italian government saw the “island” as little more than a tax dodging scheme, seized it, then sank it.

Sealand is arguably the most successful micronation. Like Rose “Island” it too is an ocean platform. In Sealand’s case, it’s a decommissioned World War II defense platform. Sealand’s founder is a former pirate radio DJ named “Paddy” Roy Bates. He claims that Sealand is an independent because the platform was located in international waters when the British Army abandoned it, and so he claimed it as salvage. By styling himself as a prince, he hoped to avoid any trumped up claims of treason, while simultaneously preventing the British government from moving against him, because under some very old British law, a prince may defend his castle and realm.

This all very interesting, but not nearly as interesting as the other parts of Sealand’s illustrious history. We have the short lived data haven HavenCo, the counterfeit Sealand passports and money, and of course the biggest WTF in Sealand’s short history: the armed coup. All this, and “Paddy” Roy Bates is still there on his platform, left pretty much alone by the British authorities. Why?

Let me quote from a June 5, 2000 BBC article:

A spokesman for the Home Office said it had no reason to recognise Sealand as a nation. “We’ve no reason to believe that anyone else recognises it either,” he added.

But John Gibson, an expert on sea law and sovereignty at Cardiff University, said the legitimacy of Sealand’s claim depends on whether it was recognised as a nation before 1987.

He said because Sealand was man-made there was little chance that it would be recognised as a nation. “I don’t think structures of that kind count as territory,” he said.

So it just isn’t worth the effort? Really? Probably. Even, “sovereign citizens” are left alone the US government pretty much leaves them alone until they start filing false liens and threatening people with guns.

While Sealand has no official recognition (albeit a very dubious unofficial recognition from Germany), does it matter? Sort of. By being relatively inaccessible Sealand has mitigated the biggest threat to its existence, the British government coming in and exerting control. However, as soon as unpaid taxes crosses some threshold, I suspect that Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs officials will board boats and collect. Until then, Prince Roy can pretty much do what he pleases, which apparently isn’t much. This lack of success is what really seems to keep the British government at bay. Prince Roy doesn’t so much treat Sealand as a country, as much as hobby. Why do I say this? Sealand’s post office.

Ever since I got into a rather tense discussion with a Chinese lab mate about don’t-call-a-country-or-you’ll-start-a-war, and the sheer absurdity of the hoops countries and organizations jump through with regards to the Republic of Taiwan, I’ve had a rather simple litmus test of whether a region was a country or not. If a region has a post office, then it’s a country. If not, then it’s not.

So how does Sealand rate? Well, Sealand has its own stamps, but even the official address of “Bureau of Internal Affairs” is a UK address.

Bureau of Internal Affairs
5, The Row
(c/o Sealand Post Bag, IP11 9SZ, UK)

(Got to love how “Prince Roy” instituted postal codes for the principality.) Given the UK address, I wouldn’t be surprised if official correspondence has both stamps on it. Even the the official store uses British pounds, not Sealandic dollars. Sealand isn’t even pulling an Ecuador and simply using pounds. It’s a tacit admission that the Sealandic dollar is worthless. Simply pegging the Sealandic dollar to the the British pound 1:1 and printing the prices in Sealandic dollars and providing a currency conversion process would have been better.

The other big problem with Sealand, is that no one living under the supposed government’s rule beyond the government itself. Even YFZ Ranch and Jonestown had subjects. Living in your own delusion is one thing. Getting someone else to live in it is the real test.

So what does Sealand and Ross Island tell us about the viability of creating your own country on artificial territory? Well, not much. If you live by yourself and away from society, then you might get left alone. Stop paying taxes, and you’ll eventually have problems.