Correlatives of the common heritage and the present Euro-Mediterranean context

Correlatives of the common heritage and the present Euro-Mediterranean context

Peter Serracino-Inglott
Chairman, Mediterranean Institute/Former Rector
of the University of Malta

‘Global public goods’ is one of the cluster of correlative concepts that arose in the long-term wake of the contribution by Malta to international law just over 40 years ago of the ‘common heritage’ idea.1 The principal aim of this chapter is to raise a question: can resort to the concept of ‘global public goods’ serve to make up in some way for the inapplicability of the ‘common heritage’ concept itself to the Mediterranean, because of this sea’s narrow dimensions?

By way of introduction to this topic, I will only briefly recall that, around 1987, it came about that substitutes for the common heritage concept came to be anxiously sought. The principle that certain resources because of their very nature are not to be appropriated or made subject to national sovereignty but are to be managed on behalf of humankind as common heritage had been accepted; it had been applied not only in ocean space, but also to the moon and other resources. Yet, as the implications of the principle had come to be better understood, its very mention had become scary to a number of states to the point that they refused even to consider its use in any new context whatsoever.

In 1987 the representatives of the Maltese government, newly elected after 17 years of a regime which had put the common heritage on the back burner, sought to revive the concept at the UN in the context of the global warming issue. It soon became clear that declaring climate to be common heritage was unacceptable to some key players among the world leaders. In this quandary, Professor Attard resorted to the first important correlative concept of the ‘common heritage’ and made his distinctive and decisive contribution to the characterization of climate change as a matter of ‘common concern’ to humankind. At first I confess I was among those who thought this declaration was anodyne, until I realized that

1 Cf.: P. Kindleberger, The International Economic Order: Essays in Financial Crises and International Public Goods (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986); I. Kaul et al., Global Public Goods: International Cooperation in the 21st Century (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999); J. Stiglitz, Making Globalization Work (London: Penguin Books, 2006).

the technical, legal understanding of the phrase entailed a highly significant result: the inapplicability of the principle of exclusive national sovereignty with regard to such matters.

I do not intend discussing here this intriguing episode in the history of Maltese intervention in international affairs. My concern as a philosopher is rather with the second of the several correlatives that have since arisen with a family likeness to what one might call the mother concept – that of the ‘common heritage’ of humankind. The concept of ‘global public goods’ came to be promoted, at least as some thought, as a minimalist version of the same thrust of which common heritage was taken to be the maxi-version, or possibly as a more viable strategy to advance the substance of the common heritage idea on a more restricted geographical scale, perhaps regional rather than global.

Thus it already emerges that the two apparently unrelated issues in the title of this essay are really two branches belonging to the same tree. There is a root connection between substituting global public goods for common heritage of humankind and proposing the application on a lesser than universal geographical scale of the principle that certain resources are not to be appropriated. Both are instances of canvassing moderate, not to say diluted, versions of a concept, which, although widely accepted by many, has continued to seem too radical or extremist to others.

Since the great speech in 1967 by which Arvid Pardo launched the common heritage proposal, several great changes have occurred that called perhaps for the conceptual refurbishing that is in fact taking place.

On the one hand, for instance, Pardo in his speech had taken it for granted that there were enormous mineral resources on the ocean bed beyond the limits of national jurisdiction that could be exploited economically and would be hugely profitable. He did not foresee that changes in commodity prices would render that prospect unviable now or in the foreseeable future. Although Pardo’s original intention had been restricted to obtaining the best system of management of ocean space, he had soon after been convinced by others that the application of the common heritage principle to ocean resources would provide a significant contribution to the creation of a new world economic order in which unequal development would be redressed. This expectation has by now at least for the time being faded almost completely.