Tyrants, Terrorists and Traffickers and the Ungoverned Oceans

SAIS Review, Vol. 36, No. 1, 2016

10 Pages Posted: 28 Jun 2017

See all articles by James Kraska

James Kraska

Stockton Center for International Law, U.S. Naval War College; Harvard University - Harvard Law School; University of California Berkeley School of Law; Council on Foreign Relations (CFR)

Date Written: 2016


The oceans are subject to the regime of the international law of the sea, but lack of compliance with the rules by tyrants, terrorists, and traffickers means that real ocean governance is often elusive. The framework for ocean governance was painstakingly wrought over decades of consensus building and compulsion, and it accords rights and responsibilities to states and their activities at sea. Governance at sea works when flag states properly maintain and regulate ships that fly their flag, coastal states prescribe and enforce laws in their maritime zones, and port states exercise appropriate authority over vessels entering port. When states do not fulfill their obligations, by failing to adhere to international standards for their ships, for example, or when states exceed their authority over foreign vessels, such as asserting jurisdiction over foreign warships near their shores, uncertainty ensues. A stable, predictable order of the oceans gives way to criminal enterprises that operate on the water, and the destabilizing and arbitrary assertion of power by coastal states. The “outlaw sea” is a function of international criminal organizations embedded in or preying on marine industries, or the penchant of some states to commit misfeasance, malfeasance, and nonfeasance at sea. The key to bringing the rule of law and good order at sea is to improve state compliance with the law of the sea across all three dimensions of flag, coastal, and port state duties.

Suggested Citation

Kraska, James, Tyrants, Terrorists and Traffickers and the Ungoverned Oceans (2016). SAIS Review, Vol. 36, No. 1, 2016, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2992818 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2992818

James Kraska (Contact Author)

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