The Scramble For…well…Everything

The Scramble for Africa was a quick proliferation of often conflicting European colonial claims on Africa. While imperialism was initially an indirect process, i.e. ruling or influencing the through locals, it ultimately led to outright annexation and centralized control of foreign lands. As borders hardened and “free territory” quickly disappeared, European empires raced to snatch up what was left. It would seem, at the beginning of the 21st century, the same is playing out as the world’s resources become scarce, or are at least perceived to be scarce. It started in the Arctic and has now moved to all of the world’s oceans.

Oil reserves are running out, gas prices are soaring. France’s government is reacting to the dwindling energy supply much like Russia and Great Britain: the government is laying claim to vast stretches of the world’s oceans. In France’s case, the claims span the globe: from French Guyana in South America to Africa and across the Indian Ocean.

Paris would like to see its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) [...] expanded by almost a million square kilometers. [...]

Like many other states, the French government will be arguing in the next year that its geographic features in many cases extend far beyond the 370 kilometer zone. At most, that could mean an extension of its EEZ to 650 kilometers past the coastline. Right now, France claims more than 11 million square kilometers of the world’s oceans — the second largest in the world, after the United States. May 13, 2009 is the deadline for countries to submit territorial claims to the United Nation’s Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS). A handful of governments have been scrambling to prepare the way for claims down the road by sending out exploration missions and establishing outposts in remote parts of the globe.


Under the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS) at the United Nations, member states have until May 13th to officially submit their claims. The key parts of the treaty involves the various oceanic zones radiating out from sovereign territory. The UN Law of the Seas Treaty establishes several different types of zones: internal waters, territorial waters, Archipelagic waters, Contiguous zone, Exclusive economic zones (EEZs) and Continental shelf. The EEZ, as described above, is defined as follows

Exclusive economic zones (EEZs) – Extend 200 nautical miles from the baseline. Within this area, the coastal nation has sole exploitation rights over all natural resources.

Unlike the high profile Russian attempts to stake a claim to the Arctic, increasing countries’ Exclusive Economic Zones has thusfar remained under the radar. But as claims proliferate and controversy ensues, even friends may clash over faraway islands and seas. Just as the nation-state system has begun to settle and borders have become more stable in many parts of the world, the race to claim every last bit of land, water and ice may undermine that stability, inflame tensions between enemies and divide friends. Oh, and let’s not forget about space.

About Chirol

Sir Ignatius Valentine Chirol (1852 - 1929) was a journalist, prolific author, world historian, and British diplomat. He began his career as a foreign correspondent and later became editor of the London Times. After two decades as a journalist he joined Her Majesty's Foreign Ministry as a diplomat and was subsequently knighted for his distinguished service as a foreign affairs advisor. Additionally, he wrote a dozen books on foreign affairs including The Far Eastern Question (1896), Serbia and the Serbs (1914), The End of the Ottoman Empire (1920) and The Egyptian Problem (1921). He is generally credited with popularizing "Middle East" in reference to the Arabian Peninsula with his book The Middle Eastern Question (1903). "Chirol" is a US citizen and graduate student studying Defense and Strategic Studies and government contractor. As with the historical Chirol, he has traveled to over two dozen countries and lived abroad for many years. Chirol speaks English and German fluently with basic knowledge of manyl of others.
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4 Responses to The Scramble For…well…Everything

  1. Kirk Sowell says:

    Have you read Michael Klare’s book “Resource Wars”? It is a bit dated now, but it was a very insightful book in framing the basic issues around which foreign policy revolves. As I think the ethanol mandate disaster shows, trying to escape one geographical resource problem (most oil in unstable areas) can artificially create a second (slight reduction in oil dependency in exchange for massive food inflation). It is better to have more of the resources to begin with than try to legislative your way out of it.

    I do take issue with the reference to gas prices being linked to oil reserves allegedly dwindling (which is really a tangental fact to your piece) for what it is worth. I don’t have a real certain position on the oil reserve debate, but the primary factors involved in the higher gas prices are (1) dollar depreciation, (2) increase in demand, (3) decrease in supply from Nigeria, Mexico, Venezuela, et al and (4) refining capacity shortages. I don’t think reserves currently have anything to do with it, although they could in the not too distant future.

  2. IJ says:

    I couldn’t find a summary of why the property rules are changing. On the face of it this decision is bound to add to the many existing international disputes.

  3. feeblemind says:

    How will the UN enforce to keep nations from cheating? Sounds like nothing more than an elaborate charade to me.

  4. Mitch H. says:

    The sun never sets on France’s underwater oil and gas claims.