An Analysis of Indonesia's Territorial Water's Claim: A Case Study

Date of Award


Degree Type

Major Paper

Degree Name

Master of Arts in Marine Affairs


Traditionally, there has been a narrow band of ocean contiguous to a states land mass known as the Territorial Sea over which the state has complete sovereignty. After Grotius published a brief treatise entitled Mare Liberum in 1609 in which he outlined the concept of freedom of the seas, customary international law came to recognize three miles as the breadth of the territorial sea. At the 1958 Geneva Conferences on the Law of the Sea the Convention on the Territorial Sea and the Contiguous Zone was signed. It failed, however, to specify the breadth of the territorial sea and was extremely ambiguous in establishing a method for determining baselines. As a result, states have made numerous claims based on varying circumstances, the most important of which are the geographic characteristics, its economic dependence upon the sea, the need for military security and its political motivations. Indonesia has made a special claim to territorial seas called the "archipelago theory" of delimitation of territorial waters. it advocates drawing straight baselines around the outermost islands thus forming a perimeter, the areas inside of which are claimed as internal seas over which Indonesia claims sovereignty. Justification for such a claim was based on geographic circumstances, historic rights, economic dependence upon the sea, and the need for military security. In analyzing these various factors one can easily appreciate Indonesia's reasons for the claim based upon her unique position. On the other hand, limiting use of the large expanses of ocean involved would seriously restrict world intercourse. Based on existing international law there appears to be no legal basis for such an extensive claim as that made by Indonesia. Given prior precedent and evidences of the law, however, there does appear to be legal justification for enclosing certain groups of islands as a unit. Principles for the delimitation of territorial seas which take into consideration historical, geographical, political, economic and military factors appear to offer up the best approach to the problem. The varying circumstances of the many states tend to mitigate against a uniform and universal rule as a practical solution.

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