Sovereignty and the Sea: How Indonesia Became an Archipelagic State.

AuthorBernard, Leonardo
PositionBook review

Sovereignty and the Sea: How Indonesia Became an Archipelagic State. By John G. Butcher and R.E Elson. Singapore: NUS Press, 2017. Hardcover: 527pp.

Whenever an international law dispute arises between a developing (or non-Western) country and a Western country, one dogma that occasionally emerges is the claim that international law was created by the West and forced upon developing countries. This is also the case for Law of the Sea disputes, where similar arguments are also made on how the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) was drafted. This is a tired argument and the wonderful book Sovereignty and the Sea, by John G. Butcher and R.E. Elson, shows the fallacy of this argument.

The book provides a detailed account of Indonesia's struggle to be recognized as an "archipelagic state" by the international community. The authors do an excellent job of describing how the people in nineteenth-century Indonesia, as well as the Dutch--who colonized the islands that would later become Indonesia--viewed their authority over the waters surrounding the islands (pp. 34-43). After achieving independence in 1945, the Indonesian government began to debate the question of how to define Indonesia's territory, and whether it should include the seas and waters between the more than 17,000 islands which comprise Southeast Asia's largest country (p. 64). In the 1950s, foreign naval vessels were freely conducting military operations in the waters between the Indonesian islands, and for a young nation that was still struggling to gain international recognition as well as fighting separatist movements, this was of grave concern (pp. 64-65).

This was when Mochtar Kusumaatmadja, a young international law scholar who had recently received his Master of Laws from Yale University, was approached and asked if it was possible to convert the waters between the islands into internal waters (p. 66). Going against his initial reaction, Mochtar agreed to come up with a revolutionary solution, and he did not disappoint. Mochtar's solution was based on the notion that the Indonesian archipelago forms one unit, which allowed him to draw "straight baselines between the outermost points of the outermost islands, thus enveloping all the islands of Indonesia" (p. 70). Controversial as the idea was at the time, Indonesia stuck with it despite strong international opposition which led to the defeat of the archipelago concept at the 1958 Geneva Conference on...

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT