Sovereignty at sea: States and security in the maritime domain

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


The oceans present a variety of perils to both states and private actors, ranging from smuggling to direct attacks on vessels. Yet, a disconnect exists between states’ maritime power and sovereign fleets due to the emergence of open shipping registries in the 20th century. How have great powers like the United States responded to threats generated by transit of the oceans for legitimate and illicit purposes? The nature of peacetime security threats that states confront at sea has shaped divergent responses. The main maritime powers draw a distinction between threats aimed at states and threats to commerce. Where perceived threats to the state are concerned, great powers have sought to revise understandings of the protections sovereignty provides—specifically, by seeking expanded interdiction rights—to further their own security goals. When maritime powers perceive that international commerce is under threat, they delegate the sovereign protection function both upward to internationally sanctioned maritime coalitions and outward to private security firms. These policies are responses to the security challenges that result from the decoupling of sovereign power and the merchant fleet that followed the emergence of open shipping registries.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)597-630
Number of pages34
JournalSecurity Studies
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 2 2015

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Political Science and International Relations


Dive into the research topics of 'Sovereignty at sea: States and security in the maritime domain'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this