Open Access Journal

ISSN: 2183-2463

Article | Open Access

The Territorialization of the Global Commons: Evidence From Ocean Governance

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Abstract:  The international system of states displays an inherent drive to territorialize the global commons. But territorialization is not a continuous process—it occurs in episodes. In this article, I use one case from ocean governance, the expansion of territory into near-shore areas of the seas, to advance a twofold argument about the nature of these episodes. First, I argue that the root causes of this drive to territorialize “empty space” are located in global politics, norms, and economics. Second, a territorializing episode occurs when there are impelling economic incentives, and when great powers are unable or unwilling to oppose territorialization. However, this can lead to different outcomes: sovereign territories, functional territories, or internationalized territories. Oceanic space has seen a series of these territorializing episodes since the end of the Second World War and functional territorialization has become more prevalent over time.

Keywords:  global commons; governance; ocean; territory



© Daniel Lambach. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (, which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.