International law of the sea in a globalized world
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Sensible people have long recognized the incongruity of the claim that Christopher Columbus discovered America, already home to perhaps a million souls at the time of his arrival. It is less widely recalled that Columbus did not mean to discover anything. He thought he knew where he was going, and, famously, did not quite realize he had not gotten there. His motives, and that of his royal patrons, were more commercial than scientific. Columbus set out not to uncover new lands but to demonstrate the feasibility of transoceanic travel. It was this achievement, and not his accidental encounter with an unsuspected continent, that proved transformative. Three centuries later, Adam Smith, the evangelist of modern capitalism, would declare the voyages of Columbus and his successors to be the greatest events in the history of the world, a sentiment that has resonated among recent students of what is now called globalization. Although it is not a point of view to be accepted uncritically, the fact remains that the inhabitants of the Americas were descended from Asian migrants who arrived on foot via a since-vanished land bridge across the Bering Strait. When Columbus sailed, neither they nor any other major human population had reached its present position on the globe by transiting the high seas. Afterward, this would begin to change.