Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law

First Page



In the continuing law of the sea negotiations, strong support has developed among a majority of states for the extension of territorial seas to twelve miles. In the absence of other provisions, codification of this extension in a new law of the sea treaty will cause over 100 straits, including many of the most heavily traveled and strategically important, to be overlapped by the territorial sea. Because this will alter the pattern of international legal norms that has preserved freedom of navigation and overflight between ocean areas, considerable controversy has ensued over the question of what legal regime should govern the control and regulation of air and sea movement in these straits. This article focuses on the communications issues raised by the proposed extension of the territorial sea to twelve miles and suggests the contours of a legal regime for straits that will resolve the current legal controversies and provide continuity in the law governing international communications through and over the oceans.

The roots of the current straits controversy lie in a series of complex changes that have occurred within the last 25 years. The growth of world trade, the increased demand for petroleum, the evolution of shipping technology, and the heightened awareness of the need to protect the marine environment are some of the forces that have led to debate over the selection of a legal regime to govern air and sea communications through straits. The most immediate impetus for resolution of the straits dispute, however, has been the growing movement for change in the law of the sea. Therefore, an analysis of the dispute and the solution proposed by this article should be viewed against the background of the traditional and evolving legal patterns that form the bases of the dispute.