UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

International order in the oceans : territoriality, security and the political construction of jurisdiction over resources at sea Baker, James Stephen


The desire for territory has been a frequent cause of conflict. Latterly, a territorial integrity norm has emerged, rendering conquest illegitimate and contributing to peace. Studies of this development have not examined the politics of maritime space, despite the construction of a territorial-like order at sea last century. The oceans are materially, legally and politically distinct to land, making the extrapolation of a norm of territorial integrity to the oceans problematic. Nevertheless, this thesis concludes that the history of, and standards relating to land have conditioned the practices of states at sea. In particular, it has been assumed that the forceful acquisition of offshore zones and resources belonging to other states would breach an important international standard. I demonstrate this through a study of the changing practices of states towards marine space and by analysing the perspectives of decision-makers as they constructed the contemporary maritime property rights order. In contrast to the past, today states almost exclusively do not seek to expand beyond those offshore areas to which they are entitled. Concerns about the possibility for territorial conflict to take place at sea drove the creation of the present-day marine property rights order. In doing so, states took for granted the illegitimacy of conquest within ocean space. As they created the present-day maritime regime, states agreed that each coastal state would be allocated exclusive rights to maritime resources proximate to their coasts in a spatially fair manner. Both the illegitimacy of conquest and the legitimacy of this maritime order are necessary – and mutually reinforcing – conditions for its stability. Case studies of maritime disputes in the Arctic Ocean and South China Sea suggest states mostly make boundary claims based on the vocabulary of international law. Despite popular concerns, neither China nor Russia can be understood to have breached the prohibition on conquest. However, concern about their intentions has led to serious politicization of their perceived claims, suggesting the international community would react robustly to cases of forceful maritime expansionism. Though a norm proscribing conquest cannot assure the absence of conflict over offshore resources, it should dampen it.

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