From a post to DAVIDWEBER.NET forums on 12/14/2011

The "Twelve Hour Limit"

TheMonster wrote:

    Thanks for the clarification. One other point has arisen:

runsforcelery wrote:

    The SEM has a legal right, under its existing treaties with Beowulf, to defend the wormhole nexus which is outside Beowulf territorial space. The SEM does not have a legal right to maintain armed forces in Solarian sovereign space.

    What, exactly isthe limit of Beowulf territorial space?

    You have referred to a star nation's limit of sovereignty as being 12 light hours from the star, called it "12 light hours across" (6 LH from the star), each of which puts most wormhole termini withinthe limit, as it appears that most termini are 4 or 5 LH from the nearest star.

    One theory we've kicked around is that the 12/6 LH limit isn't actual sovereignty per se, but an internationally-recognized "threat zone" in which any vessel that does not identify itself may be presumed to have hostile intent (be preparing to attack, commit piracy; or be running slaves or other contraband), justifying a response that would otherwise be seen as inappropriate.

    More recently you've used "12 light minutes" but have not defined whence that distance is measured. It can hardly be from the star, as 12 LM is less than the hyper limit of all but a few red dwarfs and red giants.

    Even if we measure the 12 LM from the hyper limit, that wouldn't grant the Sol system government sovereignty over its entire asteroid belt, much less the gas giants, etc. And we know from canon that Elizabeth granted the Earldom of Harrington some rights in the Unicorn Belt. She could scarcely do that if Manticoran sovereignty didn't extend that far.

    Is it a typo, supposed to be 120 LM (aka 2 LH)? Can you explain how this new "12 LM" limit is measured, and how it jibes with everything else we know?


    I realize there's been some confusion on this topic. Partly, it's my fault because I "knew" what I was doing and didn't write it down in the tech bible, which left me without a hard-and-fast reference and led me to misuse the terms myself on occasion. More of it though results from the fact that there are two limits which have different functions/applications.

    One is the 12-hour limit — that is, a sphere six light hours [radius, -Ed.], centered on the star. This is the volume in which a star system claims sovereignty: any natural resources, habitats, wormholes, etc., within that sphere legally "belong" to the system in question. There is a caveat to this, in that various admiralty courts have held that to exercise that claim, the star system in question must hold "a tangible, genuine police power" throughout the volume. That is, if your star nation isn't capable of at least patrolling the volume (LACs will do for this purpose), then you have no recourse in interstellar court against someone else who exploits a resource or establishes a habitat in that region. You can issue all the injunctions you want domestically, but you cannot file charges in the courts of the star nation to which the violator belongs or in any of the recognized interstellar courts (actually arbitration panels more than anything else) unless you can demonstrate that you have the power to police/patrol the volume yourself. Once you acquire that power, your claim to anything within that volume becomes paramount. Within this sphere, actually attacking or damaging citizens or facilities, or pillaging natural resources (poaching in an asteroid belt, whatever) becomes a criminal act (if it's a private violator) or an act of war (if it's another star nation), but the right of free navigation extends to all parties so long as they refrain from any criminal act or act of war. The municipal law of the claiming star nation governs actions there, crimes are to be tried in the courts of the claiming star nation, etc., but simply passage through the region is a common right of all starships. This can be thought of as the equivalent of our current notion of Exclusive Economic Zones applied to star systems.

    The other is the 12-minute limit — that is a sphere defined as extending 12 light-minutes beyond the star's hyper limit (or up to around 35-40 light-minutes from the primary. This is the zone in which freedom of passage is not a common right. Warships of another star nation, for example, may not cross the 12-minute limit without identifying themselves and requesting right of passage (the SLN frequently ignores this provision, by the way). All commercial/private ships become subject to inspection, traffic laws, commercial law, taxes, etc. Critical industrial facilities, population centers, etc., are normally located within the 12-minute limit for reasons of military security, and "crossing the limit" without identifying one's self is a violation of international law for a merchant vessel and an act of war by a warship. This may be thought of as the 12-mile limit recognized by the 1982 UN Convention on Law of the Sea, again applied to star systems.

    Most wormholes lie between 5 and 8 light-hours from the primary with which they are associated. There are "outliers" which are nearer or farther away, of course, but that's the "zone" in which most are located. Clearly, this straddles the 12-hour limit, which was established long before there were wormholes to worry about. Wormholes beyond the 12-hour limit may be legally claimed by anyone, but the "home court" advantage usually means they end up belonging to the star systems associated with them. Wormholes within the 12-hour limit come under the provisions of the limit. Technically, the MWJ lies outside the limit, which is one reason it's as heavily fortified and picketed as it is. The SEM "owns" the MWJ, even though it is outside the limit, and has the firepower to make its ownership stick. The right of freedom of passage does not apply to wormhole junctions, which is yet another source of friction between the SEM and SL. The Sollies have been arguing for the last seventy years or so that freedom of passage ought to be applied to wormholes; the Manties have held to the original interpretation that it does not. The Sollies find this particularly irritating because a handful of independent star nations with single-terminus wormholes have (a) adopted the traditional interpretation and (b) been in a position (often with Manty assistance) to stand up to Solly demands. (This is what's going on in Zunker's case, for example.) The Solarian position in this regard is not helped by the fact that the League is perfectly prepared to deny free passage through wormholes it controls. In addition, under the traditional (Manty supported) interpretation, there is a 3-LM limit around wormholes in which freedom of passage does not apply. In other words, the same terms and conditions of the 12-LM limit apply within 3 LM of a junction/wormhole terminus.

    The SEM has also claimed/negotiated/acquired ownership of all the known termini of the MWJ except Beowulf. For those within the 12-hour limit (like Gregor) they have negotiated a deal with the locals which relieves said locals of the burden of defending the terminus while giving them the advantages of using it. (The fact that Manticore "owns" the central nexus means that the individual termini would be useless without an understanding with Manticore, and the Manties have been smart enough to be generous in the terms of the deals they are willing to negotiate.) Beowulf "owns" the Beowulf terminus, but Manticore has received certain extra-territorial rights, including that of self-defense. The Beowulf terminus is staffed by Beowulfans and normally protected by the Beowulf SDF, but Manticore has the specific right, guaranteed by treaty, to defend the terminus (and the application of the 3-LM limit) with its units when that seems necessary in its judgment. Obviously they would normally do so only in consultation with Beowulf, but technically they can make that decision unilaterally. This represents a special case for Manticore and it reflects two main considerations. (1) The SKM (and now SEM) has always had a close, cordial "special relationship" with Beowulf and has taken pains to nurture it. (2) Because the SEM has a treaty with Beowulf as a unit of the SL, the treaty has standing under Solarian League Law under the local autonomy provisions of the SL Constitution. That is, legally, had the Solly admiral in ART fired on Alice Truman while Truman was defending the terminus, the SLN would have been in violation of its own fundamental law. This was a subtext of the debate between the Solarian and Beowulfan admirals prior to Truman's entering the conversation. It is also something the Mandarins have chosen to ignore and which (if necessary) they will deny applies because of the League's position that freedom of passage does apply to wormholes… so long as they belong to someone else. [G]

    Hope this helps clarify things.