The World’s Largest Failed State

The answer isn’t what you’re thinking:

In June, Foreign Policy and the Fund for Peace published the annual Fragile States Index, which analyzed the social, economic, and political stability of countries across the globe. But the list may have left out one particularly unstable region: the ocean. According to former British Foreign Secretary David Miliband, co-chair of the Global Ocean Commission, the 65 percent of the ocean that lies beyond the territorial waters of nations should now be considered “a failed state.”

“Here, beyond the jurisdiction of any government, lie the high seas,” Miliband said in an email, “where governance and policing are effectively non-existent and anarchy rules the waves.” Echoing Miliband, Carl Safina, founding president of the Blue Ocean Institute (now called the Safina Center), an environmental advocacy organization, called the ocean “a pre-state apocalypse. It is like the Wild West in the Space Age.”

The report portrays an ecosystem in crisis.

Fish stocks are being rapidly depleted. Half of the world’s coral reefs have already died, victims of rising water temperatures and ocean acidity. And according to the report: “[U]p to 60% of ocean species could be extinct by 2050 if climate change is not urgently addressed.”

It is not that global standards purportedly meant to protect marine life do not exist. Rather, they are largely toothless. The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which establishes generalized guidelines for the management of marine resources, lacks enforcement mechanisms. Even now, 20 years after the convention was established, the United States and several other countries have not yet ratified the treaty, which means they are not legally bound to its principles. …

In the absence of capacity or will to enforce legal standards, the ocean’s plunder has accelerated. Underage fish are being taken both in and out of season, catches are underreported, no-fish zones are violated, and quotas are routinely ignored. Indiscriminate fishing practices are laying waste to whole fish populations and even underwater ecosystems.