Book Review – ‘Sovereignty and the Sea: How Indonesia became an archipelagic state’ by James Goldrick

By James Goldrick, published December 2020


This is a very good book. It is a detailed study by two Australian historians of the development of Indonesia’s archipelagic regime concept, from the days of its inception to its formal acceptance into international law as part of the Third United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea 1982, UNCLOS III. The regime was a simple idea in outline – that Indonesia and other archipelagic states constituted a sovereign unity of both land and all the water that lay within boundaries stretching between the outermost islands of the archipelago concerned. But it involved closing off vast areas of water which had hitherto been high sea, free to the mariners of all nations for passage and fishing, in a way that was wholly out of keeping with the existing law of the sea. It was, in short, revolutionary.

Perhaps because the authors are historians and so clearly understand their craft – as well as possessing a deep grounding in the history of maritime affairs (Butcher) and of Indonesia (Elson) – the book is much more engaging than many legal texts, while it successfully fuses the law with the host of other factors at play.

Highly recommended, not only to historians of the law of the sea and of modern South-East Asia, but to those who seek to understand just what lies behind the current maritime order …

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Filed under: Indian Ocean | Twentieth Century
Subjects include: Miscellaneous | Strategy & Diplomacy

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