Daredevil #5

We last wrote about Daredevil back in September, when we discussed the story of Austin Cao, a blind translator who overheard some Latverians talking at the investment firm where he worked—and got fired for his trouble.  In Daredevil #5 we learn just what it was the Latverians were up to.

I. Flags of Convenience

What we learn is that Latveria plans to offer flags of convenience to international criminal organizations like HYDRA and A.I.M.  Ordinarily a ship is subject to the laws of the owner’s country, and some countries, such as the United States, even extend their jurisdiction to ships of that country while they’re at sea.  See, e.g., 18 U.S.C. § 7(1).  A flag of convenience allows a ship owner to register the ship with another country, thus placing the ship under that country’s laws.  Ship owners usually select a country with particularly lax laws, such as Liberia or Panama.

So why would Latveria want to get involved?  According to Murdock it makes shipowners legally anonymous and virtually impossible to prosecute in civil and criminal cases.  This is true, but it’s not a complete shield to prosecution, at least for the people onboard the ship.  For example, the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea allows a coastal state to exercise criminal jurisdiction over a foreign ship in its territorial waters “if the consequences of the crime extend to the coastal State.”  The U.S. Coast Guard will also examine ships even before they enter port, if they are judged to be a significant security risk.  Tracing things back to the shipowner may not be possible, however.

But more practically, if Latverian-registered ships are frequently involved in terrorism and Latveria doesn’t seem to be doing anything about it, then Latveria risks being labeled a state sponsor of terrorism and subject to an embargo.  The result would be restrictions on U.S. foreign assistance; a ban on defense exports and sales; certain controls over exports of dual use items (items capable of being used in weapons); and miscellaneous financial and other restrictions.  This is especially significant given the second part of Latveria’s scheme.

II. Latverian Shell Companies

The other part of the scheme is that criminal organizations can incorporate shell companies in Latveria, all organized by the investment company Austin Cao worked for.  This is a reasonable scheme if they wanted to do something mundane like evade taxes, but if Latveria is a state sponsor of terror, then the embargo would make it virtually impossible to move money, equipment, and personnel to and from Latveria from the U.S.

And once the U.S. has embargoed Latveria, it becomes likely that other countries will follow suit, especially given that few countries are particularly friendly with Latveria.

III. Conclusion

The law in this issue was pretty accurate, but we’re not sure the consequences are quite as bad as Murdock makes them out to be.  Still, maybe it is that bad, since Latveria seems to have avoided significant sanctions thus far, despite Dr. Doom’s own direct attacks on U.S. territory and countless attacks against U.S. citizens.

18 Responses to Daredevil #5

  1. Can Latveria flag a ship? Isn’t Latveria typically presented as land-locked? Does flagging a ship require a port?

  2. Land-locked Austria had a navy prior to WW2.

  3. The U.S government in Marvel seems only occasionally capable of actually dealing with crime and terrorism. Considering the crimes Dr. Doom has committed on American soil he should have been targeted for arrest or assassination years ago and I find it hard to believe that NATO continues to tolerate him. Even if the writers didn’t intend to, it seems to me that the U.S federal and state governments in Marvel are actually so weak that people are forced to rely on nonprofit groups to give provide some semblance of security.

    • I have always taken that as intentional. The government is often portrayed (in most continuities) as being weak enough that it essentially can’t handle any kind of supervillian without employing directly or indirectly superheros. While the government does have agents like Captain American and Shield (and Shield is sometimes protrayed as not really be US but rather tied to NATO or something like it) the governments superhero assets are too thin to go around without the intervention of independents.

      • I’d say that continuity governments are weak because of the superheroes. A large number of citizens powerful enough to only follow the law when it suits them, and to handle large-scale threats much better than a government ever could, something that the rest of the population could hardly miss … It can’t be much fun to be the president in a superhero world.

  4. I can’t see the US boycotting Latveria. I suspect Doom knows where the bodies are buried for a significant fraction of Congress. Doom may also be a significant source of hi tech exports to the US, especially during those times the US government is trying to achieve parity with its native superheroes.

  5. I have found it is common for fiction writers to overestimate the power of international institutions. The USA in particular is well known for ignoring ICJ decisions, not paying its dues to the United Nations, etc… Ultimately, laws are effective because they are enforced. Given the United States as the biggest kid on the playground, there is nobody around to force it to abide by international law. There is really nothing stopping the US from seizing a foreign ship or capturing a foreign national abroad. There may be some domestic political issues, but foreign countries could not do much more than send angry letters.

    • The U.S can do that sort of thing, but there are significant reasons why we don’t. Specifically we really don’t want something likely to weaken our own arguments in East Asia and the Arctic or a vast anti-American alliance being formed* . Additionally the U.S does comply with some IO’s (international organizations), take the W.T.O for example**. Of course many IO’s are overly powerful such as Interpol in Lord of War and Lupin III.

      * Despite xenophobic assumptions that it already has.
      ** Though I will admit that is really a political matter and not a legal one, or at least the law does not have the final say in this.

      • I agree. Even without binding international institutions, the US is bound by its own interests and how its actions might cause other states to affect those interests. Given that here we are talking about a small unpopular country with a sketchy leader, I have no doubt that nobody would blink if the US started boarding their ships. If the US went as far as to bomb the country, European leaders would probably make a number of angry speeches and leave it at that. Consider the case of Iraq which many in Europe found unacceptable. And yet, the US faced no consequences. (Well, apart from having an expensive war to pay for that is)

    • There’s nothing really stopping them, except that while the US would probably be able to win a war with Latveria, they might not want to go starting a war… with DOOM!

      After all, Dr. Doom is a powerful sorceror and a technology guy comparable to Reed Richards. He is, in fact, what Kim Jong Il presents himself as (and may think he is). It is reasonable to assume he has some method of massive retaliation in case he suffers unexpected setbacks from the meddling fools of the United States of America. Seen in this light, one advantage of groups like the Avengers and the Fantastic Four is that Doom attempts to kill them or defeat them — not devastate America.

  6. It was easier to sell Latveria’s immunity to American reaction during the Cold War.

  7. Hey James,
    I just stumbled on your site doing a superhero search. I love the take on law and how it gives an opportunity to learn more about the law through superheroes. Keep it up, you are now one of my bookmarks.

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