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A Guardian of Universal Interest or Increasingly Out of Its Depth?

The International Seabed Authority Turns 25

In: International Organizations Law Review
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In contemporary debates on the authority of global institutions, there is an important yet often overlooked organisational curiosity: namely, the International Seabed Authority (‘ISA’). The ISA reflects a highpoint in international communitarian governance. Premised around traditional notions of access, control and allocation of deep seabed resources, its mandate is both invariably spatial-temporal, and yet also limited and functional. Its purpose is to govern the extraction of seabed mineral resources for the collective benefit of the international community. To achieve that ambition, however, a highly complex and bureaucratic regulatory structure has been established. In this paper we aim to consider this tension in the mandate of the ISA, particularly insofar as it manifests in aspects of its institutional design and functioning in practice. Recognising these dynamics not only helps one better understand governance of the deep seabed, but also broadly demonstrates the innate tensions in granting institutional control over common spaces.

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