Thomas Bowden has an excellent op-ed in today’s Wall Street Journal calling for the recognition of property rights with regard to the ocean floor. Here are the first few paragraphs:
The Law of the Sea Treaty, which awaits a ratification vote in the U.S. Senate, declares most of the earth’s vast ocean floor to be “the common heritage of mankind” and places it under United Nations ownership “for the benefit of mankind as a whole.”
This treaty has been bobbing in the legislative ocean for the past 25 years. After President Ronald Reagan refused to sign it in 1982, repeated attempts at ratification have failed. Last month, however, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted 17–4 to send it to the full Senate, where a two-thirds majority is required to ratify.
What’s at stake are trillions of tons of vital minerals such as manganese, nickel, copper, zinc, gold and silver—enough to supply current needs for thousands of years—spread over vast seabeds constituting 41% of the planet’s area. Senate ratification would signify U.S. agreement that the International Seabed Authority, a U.N. agency based in Jamaica, should own these resources in perpetuity.
Why should we agree to this?
Like any other hard-to-reach resources, these undersea minerals are completely valueless where they now rest. What is it that makes such resources actually valuable? It is the thinking and action of inventors, engineers, explorers and entrepreneurs who devote their mental energy to the task of finding and retrieving them. These undersea pioneers don’t just find wealth, they create wealth—by bringing a portion of nature’s bounty under human control.
Despite the treaty’s allusion to seabeds as the “common heritage of mankind,” mankind as a whole has done exactly nothing to create value in the deep ocean, which is a remote wilderness, virtually unexploited. Under the proposed treaty, however, the ocean mining companies—whose science, exploration, technology, and entrepreneurship are being counted on to gather otherwise inaccessible riches—are treated as mere servants of a world collective.