Book project

Maritime Constraints: Why Great Powers Don't Rule the Sea

A conventional wisdom holds that great powers dominate the oceans to protect shipping lanes and enforce vital maritime rules and norms such as freedom of navigation. Yet the historical record shows, surprisingly, that maritime powers often build institutions that limit their ability to "rule the waves". For example, Britain restricted naval blockades -- its major strategic weapon against a continental power -- in the 1856 Paris Declaration Respecting Maritime Law, a major laws of naval warfare regime. Britain then accepted naval parity with the United States, its major naval rival, in the 1922 Washington Naval Limitation Treaties. The United States also constrained its naval power, albeit to a lesser degree, when it restricted military operations in coastal waters in the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention, which underpins the modern maritime order. Why do great powers constrain their naval dominance?

This book project makes three contributions to the literature. First, it develops a theory of maritime constraint to explain the problem of order at sea. Second, it explains the evolution of the modern maritime order from the 17th to the 21st century. And third, it draws policy implications for maritime competition today to ensure order at sea.