Friday, April 02, 2004

EEZs and Navassa

In his latest round of general posting, Geitner Simmons notes a dispute between Canada and Denmark over a piddly litte island (details here). There are no details as to why this is important; perhaps the Danish and Canadian foreign ministries are simply bored. One possible reason for why Hans Island may matter is the exclusive economic zone (EEZ). The EEZ was created as part of the 1982 U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, Article 5. As the Wall Street Journal editorial page recently noted, riposte by Sen. Lugar here, the U.S. is not a signatory to the 1982 UNCLOS, primarily because of its provisions relating to extraction of materials from the deep seabed (briefly, it's who owns the materials: the world community, or the extractors, with the sides being predictable. at this point in time, it's a moot issue because of cost, but there's no guarantee it won't be in the future). The U.S. does, however, choose to obey some of the provisions of UNCLOS as customary international law, including the 12-mile territorial sea and the 200-mile EEZ. Back to the EEZ, as ably explained and demonstrated by Portuguese government site, it serves as a 200 mile zone where all economic exploration and exploitation rights reside in the possessor country, though it does not include other rights, most notably exclusion. Of those economic rights, the most important is probably fishing, and it's easy to see why 125,000 square miles of fishing rights could be mighty important. That brings us to tonight's tiny speck of land, Navassa.

For those of you poor, deprived souls who've never heard of Navassa, here's the Factbook page. It's a small Caribbean island 70 miles off the coast of Jamaica. First landed on by Westerners by some of Columbus's sailors, it was a pirate hangout during the 17th century, but was without a state claim until a U.S. sea captain landed on it during the 1850's and found it rich with guano. Under the Guano Act, the U.S. claimed possession of the island, and licensed phosphate extractiion rights. The day of phosphate mining eventually passed, but the U.S. Coast Guard placed a lighthouse on it, as it's the first chunk of land you come to in that direction after passing through the Panama Canal (if I get around to it, I may clean up and post an email I wrote on the U.S. and its Panama Canal protection strategy). The lighthouse was torn down in 1996, and the island is now under the Department of Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service. Navassa has also been claimed by every Haitian constitution except that written by the U.S. Marine Corps and also by this guy. According to a story told in class by Prof. Pirtle, the Haitian military has at least once in the past attempted to militarily wrest control of Navassa from the U.S. As told in Pirtle's inimitable style, the Haitians neared Navassa, only to find that the island was occuped by a detachment of United States Marines. Unwilling to provoke a confrontation, the Haitians retreated short of invasion, forced to be content with merely cartographic aggression, to use Nehru's classic phrase. Anyway, here's a links page, a page with pictures, the USGS page, and the Wikipedia page.

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