Edited by Joseph Mark S. Munoz
Chapter 2: The global ocean: geopolitics of maritime commerce
The world’s oceans and seas are physically united into one single integrated body of water – “a continuous and unbroken ocean and connecting seas” (Sumida, 1999, p. 42) – comprising roughly seventy percent of the earth. The international history of geopolitics and business – human geography, empire, resource extraction, commerce, transportation, trade, economic competition, political conflict, and war – is in substantial measure a history of mankind’s use of and struggle to dominate the oceans and seas, and their fish stocks, mineral resources, and trade routes. This short chapter highlights several themes in the geopolitics of maritime commerce: the long-standing relationship between naval power, empire, political hegemony, and economic globalization; the relentless competition to harvest the sea’s marine and mineral resources; the expansion of human capabilities and technologies to navigate, explore, harness and exploit the seas and their bounties; and the depletion and destruction of marine ecosystems throughout the globe. I argue (following Alfred Thayer Mahan) that the military and commercial elements of ocean geopolitics are, and have always been, inseparable. “Whoever commands the sea, commands the trade; whosoever commands the trade of the world commands the riches of the world, and consequently the world itself.” This axiom – attributed to Sir Walter Raleigh (colonist, politician, businessman, tobacco farmer, shipping financier, and naval officer, responsible for the defense of Devon and Cornwall against the Spanish Armada) – is no less powerful in the early twenty-first century than it was in the late 1500s.
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