CPG’s 8th Annual International Conference on “The Global Commons and the Governance of Unappropriated Spaces”

Conference Description:

The subject of the conference pertains to the increasingly contested global commons, and the corresponding cardinal problem of the governance of unappropriated spaces. No other legal and political issue is comparable in its potential to undermine the rule of law and global order.

The threats to the Contested Global Commons and Unappropriated Spaces have an immediate and severe impact on individual states, regions, international trade, and countless organizations and businesses. It is a central challenge to the political and economic environment across the globe, and if not dealt with properly, it can become a major destabilizing factor.

What are the global commons, and what is the governance of unappropriated spaces? The global commons denote resource domains or areas that lie outside of the sovereign reach of a particular state, but are legally open for use by states, organizations, and individuals worldwide. These are the high seas; air, space, and the atmosphere; outer-space; cyber-space; and the polar (arctic and antarctic) spaces. The problem of access, use and governance of these spaces partly overlaps with the challenge to preserve the common heritage of humankind or to address transboundary risks.

Under the theme of ‘the governance of unappropriated spaces’, the conference therefore addresses the order of the global commons deined by strategic spaces and the transitional space between order and disorder of, and between, nation states. Five major topics will be covered:

  • high seas,
    • air, space/atmosphere,
    • outer-space,
    • cyber-space, and
    • transitional political (ungoverned) spaces

The conference will examine existing treaties, agreements, protocols, and conventions regarding these spaces, then proceed to explore the pressures on, and gaps in, the current frameworks. With ad-hoc, and often very modest, advancements in the form of treaties and protocols and no encompassing solution even in the form of general and respected fundamental principles in sight, the strategic pressure seems to continuously force individual actors to advance their own advantage through instable patterns of conlict and cooperation that ultimately serve hegemonic ends rather than the beneit of mankind.

The stakes, risks, and volatility involved are high, while the issues are often immensely complex but interconnected or similar in nature. All mentioned spaces will be decisive for empire building and contestation between the major powers, yet all can, at the same time, be disrupted either by smaller or medium state and non-state actors. These actors can, for example, involve themselves in violent conlict that directly afects one or more of the characteristic nodal points of the commons as strategic spaces. Further, non-state actors, such as pirates or virulent and extremely violent religion-based organizations can also destabilize the regional order, as most prominently evidenced in Europe, Africa, and Asia.

The technology-enhanced and growing ability to disrupt or intervene in the order of these spaces can have the gravest consequences. These consequences include the potential to directly afect the integrity of the global financial order, the essential infrastructure of a society, or its democratic governance just to name a few.

None of these challenges are necessarily new, even if technology allows these factors an even greater ability to disrupt the established order and the potential for democratic governance. Yet, international law and the international political order have not yet produced any coherent system to govern the global commons and unappropriated spaces. To the contrary, rather than established normative conceptions proving their potential to extend order to the increasingly challenged commons, it seems instead that these challenges support mutations of the concept of international law that run contrary to its original values and visions.

It has been argued that international rule of law is increasingly less inhabited by universal moral values and is dominated by a fragmented bundle of global laws that suit only the strategic purpose for particular actors. There may be periodic cooperation between rival powers to establish some order pertaining to the global commons, but in general there appears to be increasing manipulation or disruptions within and from the global commons. In the same vein, international law and the global political system increasingly appear to have lost their normative compasses on the conceptual level.

At the same time, transitional spaces gape where a lack of an international ordering system leads to the disruption of a nation state´s order. In turn, order is replaced by a state of disorder that often blurs boundaries to neighboring states while being illed by alternative and often destructive orders. These transitional spaces are often governed by actors that are also typical for other state-unappropriated spaces, with the terrorist as the modern pirate as a good example.

Moreover, the larger strategies and dynamics pertaining to the (dis)order of transitional spaces could also display interesting similarities to activities pertaining to the global commons.

Against this background, we would like to explore concepts to accurately perceive the actual state of normative ordering of the global commons and uninhabited spaces from a fundamental theoretical perspective, discuss ongoing trends in the actual formation of order in this particular area – be it based on right or might – and ponder the available legal and political instruments that could be pushed forward to address the challenges the global commons represent directly and indirectly.