The production of political space in the early modern colonial Atlantic
The sea is a political space. It is bounded and contested. While it cannot be reduced to land, it is no different in this regard. Traditionally the sea has been constructed as an open, natural space but this is a political construction. I demonstrate the sea as political space by looking at shifting constructions of ‘the line’ as a boundary in the Northern Atlantic from the fifteenth to the eighteenth centuries. It was originally drawn in the fifteenth century to demarcate where the Spanish and Portuguese could explore. By the mid-sixteenth century it was the Tropic of Cancer and Spain claimed all south of it. This was contested by the French and English. The Spanish would hire privateers to attack ‘illegal’ ships below ‘the line’, while the French and English would hire privateers for retaliation and to attack Spanish Gold Ships. There was ‘no peace beyond the line’. By the late seventeenth century, the political economy of the region shifted from extraction to trade, and sea raiders who were once privateers were made into pirates. To deal with the ‘golden age of piracy’, England abolished the idea of ‘no peace beyond the line’ and pushed it south to the equator where it was no longer politically meaningful. The result was something akin to the ‘open sea’ that we see today. What this case shows is that the sea was a bounded, contested, and dynamic space, and that understanding political space means we need to understand the sea.
When the European polities started looking overseas in earnest in the late fifteenth century, the Iberian powers were able to secure papal sanction for a global duopoly. The Treaty of Tordesillas gave Spain and Portugal exclusive rights to half of the world each. A century later, both the duopoly and the religious order of Europe had been upended. A key practice in this upending was that of privateering. Privateering played a crucial part both in the survival of Protestantism in Europe and in the spread of the European-dominated state system, accounting for how polities beyond the Iberian ones went overseas and how they came to settle around the world. Understanding privateering opens up the door to making sense of the challenge posed by the sea to different European polities, how they managed to overcome the obstacles posed by the sea, and how the sea became a political fibre, structuring the reach of their political authority. By challenging traditional dichotomies of public and private, sea and land, state and empire, trade and war, engaging with privateering is a clear-cut example of a rethinking of international relations with the sea. We approach the topic in four steps. Starting with a brief overview of what privateering consisted of and how it was practised and regulated, we then discuss the continental context of confessional divides and how they impacted the policies of Protestant states. The main part of the chapter is concerned with the three cases of protestant privateering: Huguenot, English and Dutch.
This volume covers important ground in bringing the sea back into International Relations scholarship in a way that militates against a land/sea binary. In this concluding chapter we explore how this can productively be taken further through a lens of International Terraqueous Relations, which not only understands land and sea as connected, but also sees their interconnections as the condition of possibility -materially and symbolically – of the international itself. Specifically, we call for three dimensions to be further explored. First, we argue that the study of the sea has been connected, explicitly or implicitly, to a Western thalassodicy, a portrayal of the sea by which the West, and especially an Anglo-American West, rationalises and legitimises its moral, political, and military power over others, and raise the question of how to move beyond it. Second, while most analysis of the sea focus on realities pertaining to states, we draw attention to the need to explore the everydayness of international terraqueous relations. From racialised groups to the study of the ship as a space, it is essential to draw connections between the everyday processes and the emergence, reproduction and transformation of international processes. Finally, we argue that engaging with international terraqueous relations requires designing analytically precise tools recognising the differences, as well as the similarities, between different terraqueous spaces such as oceans, seas and lakes. Doing so, we think, offers a vantage point from which to examine how social imaginaries, practices and ecosystems interact.
Navigational technologies and the experience of the modern mariner
Jessica K. Simonds
This chapter contributes to existing literature on the sea by rendering dangerous maritime spatialities as productive and dynamic in how they are lived, worked and navigated. The place of the sea in modern International Relations can no longer be dismissed as a void between terrestrial land but instead should be considered a vibrant, evolving and busy series of political spaces, places and territories. As an essential reconceptualisation of insecurity at sea, this chapter considers the fluidity and volume of the sea against the mobility and agency of seafarers aboard the merchant vessels that bring us 90 per cent of everything. The first part of the chapter addresses the sea as a place represented in epistemological tools such as maps, practical guides and instruments that localise specific feelings of anxiety and unease to designated maritime territories. The second part of the chapter unpacks the first-hand experiences of seafarers as they have transited the aptly named High Risk Area and drawn on navigational tools to deter and manoeuvre in the face of modern-day Somali-based piracy. These examinations reveal that the binary of safety and insecurity that navigational tools produce at sea underpin spaces, places and territories at sea as temporary, made and unmade through the navigational practices of the seafarer and the tools they are given and shape.
Historical International Relations and the environment
What would historical International Relations (IR) look like without a sharp distinction between the history of the ‘natural’ and the ‘social’? How would our histories of the core categories of disciplinary IR, such as power, sovereignty, or territory, change? This chapter explores these questions by focusing on the role of fish in international relations, in two different ways. The first section takes a broad global historical perspective, making the case that fish have played a strong role in influencing the direction of maritime empires’ development. In contrast to many accounts in which maritime empire or sea power is largely dependent on land-based phenomena, for example through trade with terrestrial societies, control of the sea has in many cases historically been sought after in pursuit of the sea’s own contents. The second section makes a more specific argument about the place of fish in the global history of territoriality, examining scientific debates about overfishing, from the late nineteenth century onwards. Overfishing was initially shown by the philosopher of science Thomas Huxley to be impossible, but this conclusion was overturned by later scientists, leading states to reverse a longstanding international legal principle and claim exclusive fishing areas. The current territorialisation of the ocean, then, is to a significant degree an outcome of human interactions with fish.
This chapter argues that International Relations has overlooked the seas as a changing global space, and encourages adopting a terraqueous understanding of world politics. Invoking materialist conceptions of geography and history, it explores the ordering of oceans, the international relations of lives spent at or close to the sea, and the international implications of warmer, acidified and expanding seas. It looks at maritime trade and labour, piracy and shipping as global phenomena. The chapter considers these broad issues with a historical-sociological lens, and in conversation with reference to both classical and more contemporary theorists of the relationship between land and sea.
For an academic discipline dealing with the global, it is peculiar that International Relations (IR) has limited its gaze to a little less than 30 percent of the globe – the landed part. With sea-level rise, depletion of fish stocks, plastic pollution and piracy making the news repeatedly and constantly, it is obvious that the sea matters in international relations. It should also matter to the discipline studying these relations. In related disciplines, burgeoning literatures have recast the importance of the sea for understanding both the past and the present. Time has come for IR to catch up. This would benefit the discipline, but it would also make contributions to a better understanding of the sea. With its diverse approaches to conflict, cooperation and political co-existence, IR has obvious insights to bring to the study of the sea. In this chapter we discuss how and why IR has engaged (or not) with the sea, we explore what other disciplines can offer IR and we suggest some possibilities for fruitful engagement. We first explore why the sea has been missing from IR and the challenges facing us when trying to theorise the sea. Then we engage with the developing literature in other disciplines from the last two decades, illustrating why an IR-take makes sense, and where there is room to expand on the existing IR literature. The third section puts the focus on politics, circulation and control, before the last section lays out how the different chapters of the book engage with these overarching topics.
In the latter half of the twentieth century, the term ‘common heritage of mankind’ was coined as a promise to the international community, stipulating that all states would benefit equally from the areas that fell within its scope. The regime grew to encompass the deep seabed among other areas that lay beyond the sovereign jurisdiction of any one state. Until recent years, the deep seabed has been left relatively idle due to the complications in accessing and exploiting it. Today, however, technological advances have made deep-sea commercial mining operations possible, while its potential consequences for the marine ecosystems remain understudied. These potential ecological risks have prompted a search for new legal mechanisms for states to seek redress should the deep seabed be unlawfully polluted, appropriated or exploited. Although still a relatively ambiguous concept in international law, obligations erga omnes have emerged in cases where the norm breached would be redundant if no state could claim a legal interest in defending it. This chapter analyses the legal grounds underpinning the presumption that the designation of the deep seabed as the common heritage of mankind gives rise to erga omnes obligations, as technological advancement is making it accessible for exploitation.
The sea and International Relations is a path-breaking collection which opens up the conversation about the sea in International Relations (IR), and probes the value of analysing the sea in IR terms. While the world’s oceans cover more than 70 percent of its surface, the sea has largely vanished as an object of enquiry in IR, being treated either as a corollary of land or as time. Yet, the sea is the quintessential international space, and its importance to global politics has become all the more obvious in recent years. Drawing on interdisciplinary insights from IR, historical sociology, blue humanities and critical ocean studies, The sea and International Relations breaks with this trend of oceanic amnesia, and kickstarts a theoretical, conceptual and empirical discussion about the sea and IR, offering novel takes on the spatiality of world politics by highlighting theoretical puzzles, analysing broad historical perspectives and addressing contemporary challenges. In bringing the sea back into IR, The sea and International Relations reconceptualises the canvas of IR to include the oceans not only as travel time, but as a social, political, economic and military space which affects the workings of world politics. As such, The sea and International Relations is as ambitious as it is timely. Together, the contributions to the volume emphasise the pressing need to think of the world with the sea rather than ignoring it in order to address not only the ecological fate of the globe, but changing forms of international order.
Modern mobilities and ancient thalassocracies in the Mediterranean Sea
Andonea Jon Dickson
Over the past few decades, the Mediterranean Sea has become a complex geography of human migration and its governance. Yet, we remain without a clear language to take seriously this sea as a space shaped by the practices that transpire within it. Rather than treating the Mediterranean as a maritime zone traversed, this chapter examines this sea as a dense political geography in its own right. The chapter focuses on the policies and practices of the European migration governance programme, Eunavfor Med, to demonstrate how the actions that emerge as an effect of this programme are influencing this sea at large. In order to build up a language that considers the importance of these changing practices at sea, the chapter explicates an example of maritime power held by the ancient Greeks. This period is drawn upon both for its Mediterranean orientation, as well as the way it reflects an example of power that is rendered through the sea and the connectivities within it. Through borrowing on this colonial and thalassic example of at-sea connectivity, the chapter highlights this sea as a central political geography, where seafaring is tied in with political ordering, to reveal how contemporary European agendas of migration governance are shaping the Mediterranean.