Small island nations have been one of history’s consistent political losers. Precisely because they are so small, they lack the power to resist domination by larger powers.
After seizing the Marshall Islands from Japan during World War II, the United States proceeded to use the the islands as a site for over 100 atmospheric nuclear tests. Decades of litigation resulted in only paltry compensation for the disposessed islanders.
The British expelled thousands of Chagos islanders from their homeland in the 1960s to make way for a military base and recently refused them the right to return to their tiny island in the Indian Ocean. The grounds? It would be too expensive to relocate them.
Nowadays, it is through pollution and global warming that world powers most threaten small island nations. If current trends hold, many inhabited islands will be submerged completely due to rising sea levels. Assuming large states are unwilling to reverse this trend by implementing drastic pollution controls, we have to ask: Will they compensate islanders for eliminating their territories altogether, and how?
[S]catter his people of about 100,000 through the nations of the world as rising sea levels swallow up their native island.
Risse justifies this solution by invoking the 17th-century ideas of Hugo Grotius, who argued that the Earth should be viewed as owned collectively by humanity. If we take this view, states are obligated to accept immigrants whose ownership rights have been infringed upon because their home territories no longer exist. This raises the further question: Are states that contribute more to global warming more obligated to accept the resulting refugees?
This is all abstract, normative philosophy that rests on a contestable assumption; Risse theorizes about about what governments should think and do rather than what they in reality do think and do. But these issues might end up in court. Such philosophical arguments would then play an important role in determining the fate of the many islanders soon-to-be made homeless by global warming.
Photo: TORSTEN BLACKWOOD/AFP/Getty Images, Wikipedia
Blake Hounshell is managing editor at Foreign Policy, having formerly been Web editor. Hounshell oversees ForeignPolicy.com and has commissioned and edited numerous cover stories for the print magazine, including National Magazine Award finalist "Why Do They Hate Us?" by Mona Eltahawy. He also edits The Cable, FP's first foray into daily original reporting, and was editor of Colum Lynch's Turtle Bay, which in 2011 won a National Magazine award for best reporting in a digital format.
Blake joined Foreign Policy in 2006 after living in Cairo, where he studied Arabic, missed his Steelers finally win one for the thumb, and worked for the Ibn Khaldun Center for Development Studies. Blake was a 2011 finalist for the Livingston Awards prize for young journalists for his reporting on the Arab uprisings, and his Twitter feed was named one of Time magazine's "140 Best Twitter Feeds of 2011." Under his leadership, in 2008, Passport, FP's flagship blog, won Media Industry Newsletter's "Best of the Web" award in the blog category. Along with Elizabeth Dickinson, he edited Southern Tiger: Chile's Fight for a Democratic and Prosperous Future, the memoirs of former Chilean president Ricardo Lagos, published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2012.
A graduate of Yale University, Blake speaks mangled Arabic and French, is an avid runner, and lives in Washington with his wife, musician Sandy Choi, and their toddler, David. Follow him on Twitter @blakehounshell.| Passport |
Joshua Keating is associate editor at Foreign Policy and the editor of the Passport blog. He has worked as a researcher, editorial assistant, and deputy Web editor since joining the FP staff in 2007. In addition to being featured in Foreign Policy, his writing has been published by the Washington Post, Newsweek International, Radio Prague, the Center for Defense Information, and Romania's Adevarul newspaper. He has appeared as a commentator on CNN International, C-Span, ABC News, Al Jazeera, NPR, BBC radio, and others. A native of Brooklyn, New York, he studied comparative politics at Oberlin College.| Passport |