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