How beneficial are the ocean currents

Seas and oceans

Aletta Mondré

To person

is professor of political science with a focus on international marine policy at the Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel. She is currently researching the architecture of ocean governance and the regulation of deep-sea mining. [email protected]

Annegret Kuhn

To person

holds a doctorate in political science and teaches and researches at the Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel with a focus on international marine policy and the governance of natural resources. [email protected]

While mankind restricted itself most of the time to establishing rule over solid land masses, efforts to gain control over marine areas have increased over the past few decades. For some states, the surrounding sea resembles a border area that separates their territory from others. In the past, however, the oceans, as central connecting routes, made political empires such as the Roman Empire in antiquity and the colonial empires from the early modern period possible in the first place. Centralized rulers' associations did not necessarily form along important maritime trade routes, but the regular exchange resulted in common cultural areas, such as in Southeast Asia, and politically important networks such as the Hanseatic League. The oceans themselves are also political spaces. They are both a natural connection and a demarcation - not only between land masses, but also between political communities that make diverse and competing claims on them, but each have their own sets of rules.

The question arises as to which actors claim to be able to make binding decisions about the numerous human activities in the ocean - and how their different interests can be moderated. In this article we offer an overview of the complex architecture of international ocean governance. Under ocean governance we include all rules, laws, institutions and political measures that affect the world's oceans. The extraordinarily high complexity of ocean governance results from the tensions between diverse usage claims and efforts to protect the sea and its inhabitants, the different ranges of regulatory provisions and the plurality of regulatory authors.

In addition, there are two fundamentally different regulatory approaches: On the one hand, coastal states make exclusive claims on the sea zones surrounding them; on the other hand, states regulate many uses of the oceans both individually and collectively. These two fundamentally different organizational logics exist in parallel: on the one hand, the claim to sole decision-making authority over delimited marine areas, i.e. one spatial Order logic; on the other hand, the possibility of agreeing authorizations for certain activities internationally, i.e. one sectoral Order logic.

So it is one thing to claim exclusive rights in a spatially precisely defined zone, such as the right to fish. In principle, states enjoy sole rights of disposal in their territorial sea (up to twelve nautical miles from their own coast). In the subsequent Exclusive Economic Zone (200 nautical miles from their own coast), the respective states also have many rights of use and due diligence obligations, while the use of the sea beyond these areas - in the high seas - is free to all states. Another thing, however, are sectoral agreements that only regulate a certain area of ​​use. An example of this are the intergovernmental agreements under which neighboring states agree fishing quotas for individual fish species in jointly fished marine areas. These agreements do not in principle regulate fishing, but only the permissible catch of the species in question. Spatial and sectoral principles of order apply in large ocean areas at the same time.

In addition, there are other regulatory authors above and below the national level: for example authorities such as the fisheries authorities of the federal states or intergovernmental organizations such as the European Union. As a result, a large number of provisions from different regulatory authors apply simultaneously in very many marine areas, whose objectives overlap in the best case and contradict one another in the worst case. At the same time, however, there are also gaps, so that not all current uses are adequately regulated. In particular, there is a lack of effective coordination between the existing institutions and the specification of general principles. For example, the precautionary principle, which calls for the careful use of natural resources and the avoidance of environmental hazards, is the guiding principle of international environmental policy - but it is highly controversial which specific actions are (in) compatible with this principle.

The architecture of ocean governance thus includes regulators on several levels: local actors such as municipalities, territorial states, regional associations such as the Arctic Council, in which the five Arctic countries, other interested states and non-state actors cooperate, as well as intergovernmental organizations such as food - and the United Nations Agricultural Organization (FAO). Civil society actors also operate at the same level. Some non-governmental organizations are primarily committed to local issues, while others are active worldwide. Of course, this group includes not only environmental activists, but also interest groups from the maritime industry.