Sorry, Wirtland, You’re Not a Sovereign– Try Again In A Couple Centuries or So, Maybe Custom Will Have Changed Enough By Then

A few days ago, I got a comment on my post about Nauru’s recognition of Abkhazia. It linked to the blog for the Sovereign Cybernation of Wirtland:

According to official press release, Wirtland approached the government of Nauru with a formal proposal to transfer a piece of its territory to Wirtland. Nauru, one of world’s smallest island nations situated in the South Pacific, has vast barren terrain left over after several decades of phosphates mining. “Proposal for Monetization of Unused Land by cooperation between Republic of Nauru and Wirtland” is intended to utilize a piece of Nauru’s barren terrain. According to the Proposal, “Republic of Nauru officially assigns a piece of its territory, of any quality and size, to Wirtland. Nauru will have a major stake in future sales of land from this territory, agreed in contract”. In his letter addressed to the President of the Republic of Nauru, Chancellor of Wirtland underlined his hope that “such a plan, if realized, will make a positive effect on the economy of Nauru”.

How intriguing. Looks like someone is trying to implement my “buy a sandbar, become a nation!” idea. And if you’re interested in becoming a part of this burgeoning new developing country, you can of course get your citizenship application here. [PDF]

It’s almost too bad the scheme could never work. But Wirtland does get points both for creativity and for dreaming large.

Still, I’m a bit unclear as to how Wirtland plans exactly to carry out its ambitious national goals, given its limited “citizenship” base and non-existent power of taxation:

Wirtland aims to become economically self-sustaining. Wirtland builds communities, which will offer political and economic benefits, generate employment opportunities, provide new sources of artistic creativity and independent opinion-sharing.

To take Wirtland seriously for a moment, what happens if Nauru agrees to the deal they’re offering? Don’t say it won’t, if anyone will go along with the Wirtland scheme, it’s Nauru — they’ve already made clear their recognition goes to the highest bidder, and Nauru’s state recognition powers are arguably far more valuable than are the bleached and stripped patches of land in question. I’d say it’s extremely unlikely, given Wirtland’s limited financial resources, and the fact that Nauru’s recognition normally comes with a multi-million dollar price tag, but I’ll concede the idea is at least plausible.

So Nauru agrees. Now what? Wirtland has “land”, but not permanent population, no government with control over the territory, no capacity to enter into foreign relations, and (unless they convince Nauru to toss it in to sweeten the deal) no recognition. (Although I’m sure Wirtland would counter by pointing out that that they so can too enter into international relations. See, just check out their press release on the Georgia-Russia conflict! That’s totally a capacity to engage in foreign diplomacy!)

But private entities purchase land all the time, and don’t thereby become “sovereign” under international law due to their ownership. Even if Nauru bizarrely agreed to cede all rights and ability to control the land (which is unlikely), that would not necessarily change Nauru’s status as sovereign over it. Guantanamo Bay, for instance, is rented by and occupied by the United States, but formally, the area is still a part of Cuba’s sovereign territory.

In the event of Nauru ceding land to Wirtland, the most likely result is that the rest of the world simply continues to treat the “Wirtland” territory as Nauruan sovereign soil, and completely fails to acknowledge the existence of any entity calling itself Wirtland. As a practical matter, the issue is probably moot, as it’s not as if anyone else in the world is remotely interested in that particular piece of Nauruan real estate. So there will be no invasions or occupations or other scenarios which might present a legal challenge to the national character of the land, and so no reason for the precise legal status of the phosphate mines to be determined. But under international law, it is about as close to black letter law as you can get that the territory will not be considered Wirtland sovereign soil.

This would be due in part to the fact that Wirtland does not meet any of the other indicia of statehood. But, mostly, it would be due to the fact no other State on earth would give Wirtland recognition. The idea is just too preposterous, too cognitively jarring, for enough people all over the world to simply begin believing in the communal fiction of its statehood — and furthermore, Wirtland is too small to be a potential political benefit or a potential threat to other States, so Wirtland has no hope of short circuiting the normal process of recognition by bullying its way into statehood either.

Not to mention, under the Website Theory of Statehood, the most Serious and Authoritative barometer of statehood ever invented, Wirtland does not really present a strong case for sovereignty. Wirtland’s website only rates somewhere in the middle of the pack. Which sounds all right, until you consider that, as a “cybercountry,” really it should be held to a much higher standard with regards to its online presence than are the rest of the world’s currently unrecognized sovereigns.


11 thoughts on “Sorry, Wirtland, You’re Not a Sovereign– Try Again In A Couple Centuries or So, Maybe Custom Will Have Changed Enough By Then

  1. Let me just briefly answer the question: “So Nauru agrees. Now what?”

    According to our plan, Wirtland’s land will be divided into plots and offered for sale. Major part of profits from such sales (agreed in contract beforehand) will go to budget of Nauru or other partner country. That’s the economic reason for a ‘host country’ to enter into deal with Wirtland. Minor part will go to Wirtland’s budget. As you correctly observed, Wirtland does not have tax basis, as individual citizens do not pay taxes. Therefore income from land sales will help to fill Wirtland’s budget.

    You may ask why somebody would wish to buy Wirtland’s land? Land ownership will bring benefits such as second citizenship, tax-free status, possibility to register offshore business – pretty much the same benefits as offered by many real small nations – but at a much lower price. As you know, far less usable assets such as lunar estates or completely virtual Second Life land find their buyers nowadays. That’s why we believe Wirtland’s offer has good chances to find sufficient demand.

  2. There is no question of Nauru giving Wirtland any space on Nauru. The government has no land to give away. It does not own any land at all.

  3. Pingback: Nauru’s Prohibition on Transfers of Land to Non-Citizens « The View From LL2

  4. Pingback: “Garbage Island” and International Law | The View From LL2

  5. “Sorry, Wirtland, Youre Not a Sovereign- Try Again In A Couple
    Centuries or So, Maybe Custom Will Have Changed Enough By Then | The
    View From LL2” was in fact a remarkable article and thus I personally was
    indeed truly pleased to locate the blog post. Thanks for the post-Matt

  6. “Land ownership will bring benefits such as (…) tax-free status, possibility to register offshore business – pretty much the same benefits as offered by many real small nations – but at a much lower price.”
    Well, if Wirtland wants to become a tax haven it can have for sure that no country will recognize it. If instead of becoming a tax haven it was to become an exemplary and model state, then it might have some chance of recognition.

  7. what a joke! a virtual country!!!!! hahahahahahahahhahahahhahahahahahhahahhahahahahahahahhahahahhahahahahhahahahahhahahahahahahahahhahaahahahahahahahhahahahahahahhahahahahahahahhahahahahahaahahhahahahahahhahahha!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  8. As i read the comments. Its sad. There so many people that are just down right negative to the bone. The in the box thinkers. At least someone thought to do something different while others sit on theres asses and do nothing but criticize other people and their ideas.

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