Near and Far Waters
The Geopolitics of Seapower
Colin Flint



The Geopolitics of Seapower

Command of the sea has frequently passed from one nation to another, and though Great Britain has continued longer in possession of the superiority than perhaps any other nations did, yet all human affairs are subject to great vicissitudes.


What Is Seapower and What Is It Meant to Do?

The opening quote for this chapter is three centuries old. It illustrates that seapower has been a constant part of world politics, that the relative ability of countries to act as seapowers waxes and wanes, and that seapower is a particular type of geopolitics that has been a key cause of global war.2

Seapower is the possession and use of large and effective military and merchant fleets to achieve interests and goals.3 In a virtuous cycle,4 economic wealth can be used to build seapower, and seapower can be used to increase wealth. Four attributes of the sea are vital in this cycle: the sea as a resource; the sea as a means of trade; the sea as a means of information flows; and the sea as a dominion or something that can be controlled.5 To control the sea requires wealth generated from commercial and information flows across the oceans. The wealth created through maritime trade is used to build up the military naval strength that is used to secure trade. Merchant and military naval strength need each other, and strength in one allows for building up strength in the other.6

Perhaps surprisingly, the importance of seapower is a question of what happens onshore. This has been recognized in terms of military strategy: as Sir Julian Corbett observed, “Since men live upon the land and not upon the sea, great issues between nations at war have always been decided—except in the rarest cases—either by what your army can do against your enemy’s territory and national life, or else by fear of what the fleet makes it possible for your army to do.”7 Seapower has been used to project power by transporting and disembarking armies to fight on land.

Seapower is even more important in making favorable onshore economic conditions for powerful countries. In a world in which certain countries have been labeled “failed states,” navies are seen as “defending the system indirectly by what they do from the sea rather than at sea. They are defending the conditions for trade rather than trade itself.”8 This has been the case throughout history.9 To understand why requires thinking about the “system” as a set of global economic relations that are unequal and designed to benefit the powerful to the detriment of the weak.10

Powerful countries have used seapower to create economic, political, and military conditions in weaker countries that have benefited the powerful;11 it is part of the broader foreign policy of a powerful country that connects industrial strategy for the domestic economy with a need to maintain economic relations with weaker countries. An element of seapower is the geopolitical policing of the seas as a means of passage for global commerce.12 Underlying the pattern of global trade is the geography of production and consumption, or the where and how of what is made and sold. It is this economic geography that seapower tries to create and keep steady by controlling the seas to influence what happens ashore.

Technological change over the centuries results in new ways to use force at sea. Further, strategic decisions depend on matters of timing in the geopolitics of the rise and fall of powerful countries. For example, decisions to precipitate a decisive sea battle (such as the Second World War’s Battle of Midway in May 1942 or, over one hundred years earlier, the Battle of Trafalgar in October 1805) or to seek commercial control via blockades (as in the Battle of the Atlantic in the Second World War) were made within the context of global war. Yet though tactics and technologies may change, the broad goal to control the oceans for economic and strategic gain has been a historical constant.13

This book highlights the geography of seapower as an ever-changing struggle to gain control of near waters or far waters. Near waters are those parts of the oceans close to a country’s shoreline. Far waters are those parts of the oceans across the horizon and neighboring the shorelines of other countries. One country’s near waters are another country’s far waters, and vice versa.

Mainstream understandings of geopolitics are inadequate for understanding what drives periods of competition over near and far waters. Geopolitics as the term is commonly used is more precisely classic geopolitics: a way of thinking that became prominent in the late nineteenth century. It is a realist understanding of the world that creates knowledge from a national perspective. It criticizes the actions of other countries while promoting the military actions of one’s own. Classic geopoliticians are advocates for the foreign policy of one country. They are not critical analysts of global processes or history, though they often cloak their agenda-setting work in theory. The subject matter of geopolitics is a poorly defined “national interest” that is primarily about the possession of territory and resources. It advocates for national strength and preparation for war through the construction of a world of “us versus them.” It has been the intellectual justification for competition and war for well over a century.

Classic geopolitics is a poor explanatory framework because it focuses on political and military relations. A fuller understanding of geopolitics requires a political economy framework that identifies economic dynamics as the engine for interstate competition. Furthermore, the scope must move beyond the traditional focus on “great powers” and consider a web of global relations that constantly creates a grossly unequal world. Global economic relations connect us, rather than divide us. However, the way countries maneuver within an unequal global economy often requires military strength that extends over the horizon. “National interest” is a matter of global calculations and force projection.

Geopolitics is not about possessing one’s own national territory and resources. Rather, it is extraterritorial in its attempt to control access to others’ resources. Seapower has been, and remains, the means to project force, access resources in other countries’ territories, and secure trade routes. Understanding geopolitics as selfish behavior within a web of global relations suggests that the pursuit of “national interest” is probably going to result in war. Considering the structure within which countries act is a necessary step to considering the type of political change needed to prevent future wars. Otherwise, we will continue with the national mythmaking that makes “our” ambitions and might right, and “their” similar might and ambitions wrong.

The next chapter introduces geopolitics as a mixture of economic, political, and military competition. It requires thinking about what we mean by the geography of geopolitics. Giving serious thought to the “geo-” in geopolitics helps us connect global economic patterns as the underlying reason for global trade and the need for seapower in the competition for near and far waters.14 Recognizing that the economic pattern is based on inequality and competition leads us to understand why the struggle for the control of near and far waters may lead to global war. And history provides us with lessons on how these struggles have played out in the past and may happen again.

The Value of History

History can provide a map to help us understand and make decisions within the current geopolitical situation. That is not to say that the map is perfect or that we are destined to follow similar pathways. But similar historical contexts are likely to provide countries with similar hopes and opportunities, as well as similar fears and limitations.15 Understanding the similarity in historical contexts across centuries provides insight into current geopolitics even though the technologies of commerce and war have changed.

The historical contexts that are particularly useful are those in which a country that has been the dominant power starts to decline and is faced with challenges to its ability to project power.16 In the modern era only three countries provide useful comparisons: the Netherlands in the 1600s; Great Britain from the late 1800s through the Second World War, and the United States from the 1970s to the present. These three countries were the most powerful countries in the world, what we will call hegemonic countries or hegemons. Their economic, political, military, and cultural prowess was not exclusive or unchallenged, but it was large enough for a period of time to dominate global economics and politics.17 These three countries played host to the most advanced economies of the time, and their cities were the locations of the world’s most important and profitable businesses.18 These businesses led the world in innovation. Their societies were the most open and were the venues for the newest thinking about politics. They were the most tolerant countries in the world.19

Despite this tolerance and openness, these countries exported violence across the globe. They were the world’s strongest naval powers. They could wage war across the globe, and their merchant navies dominated world trade.20 The navies of these countries connected parts of the world producing essentials inputs to the industries back home. The navies also made possible the export of the products made at home to customers across the globe. The economic connections required the country to be present within the borders of other countries—especially the weaker ones. This presence used to take the form of different types of colonialism or imperialism. More recently control has taken the form of the creation of client states. It has always involved the use of violence.

The seapower of these countries is best thought of as a historical process, rather than something static. They gained control of their near waters and then projected power into far waters. In other words, they established a presence in the near waters of other countries. This presence was established using force. It went hand in hand with the creation of global trade networks. Violence abroad and economic outposts enabled the cities back home to thrive. This is the lesson from the histories of how and why the Netherlands, Great Britain, and the US established themselves as global and military powers.

But the most pertinent lessons come from how these three countries lost their global dominance. Over time, these countries faced challenges to their economic strength, their military prowess, and the resonance of their political and cultural messages. The causes and consequences of these challenges may be found in the geographic arenas of near and far waters. Other countries, those who had little choice but to accept the presence of the powerful country within their near waters, saw an opportunity to reassert their control. The hegemonic country faced a situation it found unusual—a situation in which its projection of seapower was limited. As this process continued, new seapowers emerged. The far waters that the hegemonic country had operated in quite freely became venues of tension and conflict. The situation worsened to the extent that the hegemonic country’s own near waters became the far waters of other countries.

The Netherlands and Great Britain have both experienced a history in which their ability to project seapower from their near waters to far waters diminished, and their concern had to switch to the protection of their near waters. The move from the projection of power into far waters to protection of near waters in light of the projection of others has, in the past, resulted in global war. These past contexts are worthy of study given the contemporary geopolitics of challenges to the United States in its far waters of the western Pacific, China’s assertion of control of its near waters, and China’s growing presence in far waters. Are we indeed heading back to the future—a future that looks much like past historical contexts that were the precursors to global war?

The Logic of the Book

Many of today’s warnings about the risk of war between the US and China concentrate on islands in the South China Sea.21 Thinking about conflicts over islands as a potential cause of global war is merely looking at the tip of the iceberg. Islands do play an important role in competition between countries because of the strategic value of their location in near/far waters. But to understand why requires looking below the surface to the economic competition and relations that have proven to be the historic driving force leading to global war. Economic competition is based on unequal relations between rich and poor/strong and weak countries. Classic geopolitics has largely ignored economic relations and the role of weaker countries. By drawing attention only to the tip of the iceberg, it has been able to create an “us versus them” view of the world that promotes military responses. Looking under the surface shows that geopolitics is more a matter of “us and them,” and that there are many “thems” rather than a single military foe.

The wealthiest countries in the world try to host the newest, most advanced, and most profitable economic activities.22 Businesses create supply networks to support these industries that connect to the world’s poorer countries to gain access to raw materials and components.23 There is competition over this access as the supply of the inputs is limited and preferential treatment is desired. Countries become involved by providing military and diplomatic resources to establish and protect business arrangements. This involvement requires the projection of naval power from near waters to far waters. Countries may compete for access in the same far waters, and their presence may be challenged by countries who identify these parts of the ocean as their own near waters. Control of islands is a crucial part of the struggle for control over near and far waters.

The countries making the world’s newest and most profitable products have an interest in promoting free trade. This interest also requires access across the world’s oceans and into the near waters of other countries. This becomes another source of competition and potential conflict over access to far/near waters that may involve controlling islands.

The outbreak of global war over islands in near/far waters, driven by economic motives, is best thought of as the culmination of a developing process. As a country becomes more powerful, it tries to control its near waters by excluding the influence of other countries. These other countries may have seen these self-same waters as their far waters. The process of gaining control of near waters involves a combination of diplomacy and force that has often led to war. Once a country has gained control of its near waters, it may try to gain access to far waters/other countries’ near waters. Such projection of power is driven by the need to secure access to key inputs (defined below as the generative sector) and to markets. Over time countries may resist this presence in their near waters and attempt to deny access in what the dominant country has come to see as its far waters. The strategic value of islands is heightened in these moments of conflict over access and access denial, or the projection of seapower and resistance to that projection.

Key Concepts

Making sense of the history of seapower, its connection to economics, and the potential for global war requires understanding a few key concepts.


Seapower is a country’s combined military and merchant navy strength.24 The classic geopolitics view of the world sees a big difference between continental-oriented countries and maritime-oriented countries. In this argument, landpowers are expected to have a large-standing army, and this tends to make authoritarian, rather than democratic, politics more likely. The argument also claims that their economies are more likely to be agricultural and their culture more inward-looking. On the other hand, seapowers look toward trade and industry for their economic success and support navies rather than large armies. The result is more democratic, outward-looking, and open societies.25

This traditional labeling of landpowers and seapowers rings true to some extent but does not help us explain why tensions over parts of the world’s oceans and islands may lead to global war.26 Instead of seeing landpower versus seapower as the persistent geopolitical friction, we need to explore why countries seek to become seapowers and why they come into conflict with other maritime-oriented countries in the process. That requires understanding patterns of global inequality, the geography of rich and poor countries.

Primary and Subsidiary Countries

It is common sense that some countries are more powerful and wealthy than others. The geopolitics described in this book is one in which more powerful countries project their seapower and, relatedly, attempt to exclude countries from their coastal waters and territory. It is no coincidence that the countries projecting seapower are also the wealthier ones. The more powerful and wealthy countries are defined as primary and the weaker and less wealthy ones as subsidiary.27 The global inequality between primary and subsidiary countries has been a permanent feature of modern world history, is likely to continue, and is the underlying reason for the geopolitics of seapower.28


The most powerful primary country at a given time is called the hegemon or hegemonic country, and its period of dominance is called hegemony.29 Seapower, or more generally the ability to project power across the globe, has been a crucial part of the rise and fall of hegemonic powers.

Generative sector

Primary and subsidiary countries are tied to each other through economic and political connections. These connections are the reason for, and the means of, the projection of seapower. One of the most important set of relations, and the one that has in the past been a cause of war, is known as the generative sector—or the subsidiary countries that are the location of the raw materials essential for highly profitable manufacturing in primary countries.30 Creating the links between the generative sector and primary countries has, in the past, been a source of tension and conflict. More discussion of the concepts of primary and subsidiary countries, hegemony, and the generative sector follows in the next chapter.

Primary countries have competed over the creation of the generative sector by developing and applying seapower. There is a geography to the projection of seapower, and it is the focus of this book.

Near Waters and Far Waters

The geography of seapower boils down to competition over near and far waters. Near waters are those parts of the ocean close to a country’s shoreline that it believes it needs to secure to protect it from invasion or blockade. Far waters are those shorelines across the ocean. Of course, one country’s near waters are another country’s far waters. For example, the Caribbean Sea is a near water for the US and was once a far water for Great Britain. Exerting control over one’s own near waters is a fundamental security concern for a country. Once a country has control of its near waters it may gain the ability to project power across an ocean and create a presence in far waters. These far waters would be another country’s near waters.31 For example, during the Second World War the US secured its Pacific near waters and then projected power into western Pacific far waters, which were the near waters of China and Japan.

In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries countries defined their effective reach from their coastline by the “cannon shot rule”—defined as three or four nautical miles.32 Today, a version of near and far waters exists in international law and is generally adhered to. Near waters are legally defined in Part V of the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) as an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ),33 the area of ocean “beyond and adjacent to the territorial sea” for two hundred nautical miles from the coast. Article 56 of UNCLOS gives coastal states sovereign rights within their EEZ, including the right to explore, exploit, and conserve and manage natural resources, “whether living or non-living,” of the waters, the seabed, and the subsoil, including the production of energy from “water, current and winds.” Countries may also establish “artificial islands, installations and structures” within their EEZ. The EEZ is an economic asset to a country, and such assets, plus the coastline, can be defended and exploited through defensive and extractive structures. Islands have their own EEZ. Hence the value for countries to claim islands, perhaps far from their coastline, as their sovereign territory. For example, the British claim to the Falkland Islands in the South Atlantic is an extension of the country’s sovereignty into another hemisphere.

Those parts of the ocean not within an EEZ are identified in Part VII of UNCLOS as “High Seas.”34 Article 87 of UNCLOS gives coastal and land-locked countries the right to the freedoms of navigation, overflight, the laying of submarine cables and pipelines, fishing, and scientific research in the high seas. Countries have the right to build structures on the high seas, though the practical difficulties are a challenge except in shallow waters. Disputes over which maritime areas count as EEZs and which countries can claim sovereign rights to them have, unsurprisingly, resulted in court cases. The most important recent one was the July 12, 2016, ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague. The Court agreed with the Philippines, who had brought the case, that China had no legitimate claim to the South China Sea because of a history of control. This case was part of the geopolitical tensions over island sovereignty and over China’s construction of islands from existing reefs, discussed in chapter 8. In this instance, the legalities of EEZs and the High Seas were a feature of near-water/far-water geopolitics.

However, far waters and near waters are not precise geographic areas or legal terms. They are a matter of the perception of countries. The extent of near waters depends on a country’s ability to secure waters relatively close to its coastline and its perception of threats to that area. The extent of far waters depends on the country’s definition of interests beyond the horizon and its related need to develop an economic and military presence in that region. Since the UNCLOS agreement, a country has a legal term to define its near waters, but a country may have a strategic sense of near waters beyond its EEZ. In turn, though a country may define far-waters interests near the coastline of a country, it must now be conscious of violating the sovereign rights of EEZs.

Near and far waters are fuzzy areas that are defined by the actions and desires of countries, and not by lawyers. Control of near and far waters is a historical process rather than a definitive definition of boundaries. The control of near and far waters is a matter of competition, as rising and existing powers try to reach beyond their near waters and extend into far waters, while wrestling with the concern that another power may be in their near waters. The US grappled with this issue in the late 1800s, and the matter was addressed in the writing of Alfred Thayer Mahan.35 Since the 1980s China has been expanding its naval reach from its coastline to near waters and now into far waters.36

Considering geopolitical competition over near and far waters requires understanding the relations between stronger and weaker countries, hegemony, and the generative sector. Classic geopolitics is not fit for this task. What understanding of geopolitics is? That’s the topic of the next chapter.


1. Cited in Admiral Sir Herbert Richmond, Statesmen and Sea Power (London: Clarendon Press, 1946), 109.

2. George Modelski, Long Cycles in World Politics (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1987).

3. Geoffrey Till, Seapower: A Guide for the Twenty-First Century, 3rd ed. (London: Routledge, 2013), 25.

4. Till, Seapower, 17. The virtuous cycle of power requires a consideration of power. Power can be thought of in a material sense: things and indices such as the size of the navy, the number of aircraft carriers, the size of the economy (and the relative mix of primary, secondary, and tertiary sectors), the size of the population and their level of education, and so on. But material power has an impact only when it is mobilized in relation to other actors. Seapower is all about relational power, with the ability to create unequal terms of trade or the ability to project power into another country’s near waters being just two key examples. For a discussion of material and relational power, see John Allen, Lost Geographies of Power (Oxford: Blackwell, 2003).

5. Till, Seapower, 6.

6. Jeremy Black, Naval Power (London: Red Globe Press, 2009), 1.

7. Sir Julian Corbett, Some Principles of Maritime Strategy, 2nd ed. (London: Longmans, Green, 1911), reprinted with introduction by Eric Grove (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1988), 67, quoted in Till, Seapower, 25. Though Corbett wrote over one hundred years ago, he remains an influential strategist.

8. Till, Seapower, 37, emphasis in original.

9. The work of Alfred Thayer Mahan is discussed later. His writing about seapower reinforces the idea that control of the seas is important for what it allows a country to do in another country’s territory. The penultimate sentence of The Influence of Sea Power upon History, 1660–1783 (London: Sampson, Low, Marston, 1890), 541, says, “In any coming war their [territories’] permanency would depend wholly upon the balance of sea power, upon that empire of the seas concerning which nothing conclusive had been established by the war.” In other words, the oceans were legitimate arenas of contestation for seapowers and were ripe for an increased US presence as the twentieth century was about to begin. Mahan’s conclusion implied that US seapower would enable control of territories both near and far from its shores. Intriguingly, Mahan is not cited in Bruce D. Jones, To Rule the Waves: How Control of the World’s Oceans Shapes the Fate of the Superpowers (New York: Scribner, 2021). However, Jones’s reading of the intersection of contemporary global trade, naval power competition, and global climate change has echoes of Mahan’s political concerns. Jones highlights the duality of US coastal centers based on global trade and “a non-coastal population disconnected from that global enterprise” (305). This division is a contemporary challenge to Mahan’s unity of national character and political will.

10. Peter J. Taylor, “Understanding Global Inequalities: A World-Systems Approach,” Geography 77, no. 1 (1992): 10–21; Immanuel Wallerstein, The Capitalist World-Economy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979), 66–94. The role of trade and its connection to competition over control of the oceans are the focus of Geoffrey F. Gresh, To Rule Eurasia’s Waves: The New Great Power Competition at Sea (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2020).

11. Modelski, Long Cycles.

12. Modelski, Long Cycles; Mahan, Influence of Sea Power, 26.

13. Colin S. Gray, Modern Strategy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), cited in Till, Seapower, 48. Also, the means of navigation have changed dramatically, from hopes of clear skies to enable navigation by the stars to today’s precise satellite navigation systems. Nonetheless, since the rise of Dutch seapower traders and admirals have been able to travel from near to far waters. See Dag Pike, The History of Navigation (Barnsley: Pen and Sword Maritime, 2018). Interestingly, Till’s Seapower does not spend much time on the topic.

14. Colin Flint, “Putting the ‘Geo’ into Geopolitics: A Heuristic Framework and the Example of Australian Foreign Policy,” Geojournal 87, no. 4 (2021): 2580–83.

15. Colin Flint, Geopolitical Constructs: The Mulberry Harbours, World War Two, and the Making of a Militarized Transatlantic (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2016), 33–34; Peter J. Martin and Alex Dennis, “Introduction: The Opposition of Structure and Agency,” in Human Agents and Social Structures, ed. Peter J. Martin and Alex Dennis (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2010), 14.

16. Modelski, Long Cycles.

17. Giovanni Arrighi, “The Three Hegemonies of Historical Capitalism,” Review 13, no. 3 (Summer 1990): 365–408.

18. Peter J. Taylor, Modernities: A Geohistorical Interpretation (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1998), 30–34.

19. The ability to trade across oceans has been a feature of human activity for centuries. See Jerry H. Bentley, “Cross-cultural Interaction and Periodization in World History,” American Historical Review 101, no. 3 (June 1996): 749–70. My approach focuses upon seapower within the social system of the capitalist world-economy. The distinction is important because the emergence of capitalism created a system based upon inequalities between regional societies and economies that is the economic foundation of the ability to, and the need to, project power into far waters; see Immanuel Wallerstein, “The West, Capitalism, and the Modern World-System,” Review 15, no. 4 (Fall 1992): 561–619. An academic debate exists between two prominent scholars regarding the nature of the precapitalist regional subsystems and the role they played in the formation of a capitalist global economy. See Janet Abu-Lughod, Before European Hegemony: The World-System A.D. 1250–1350 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989), and Wallerstein, “West, Capitalism.” For a summary of the debate, see Elson E. Boles, “Assessing the Debate between Abu-Lughod and Wallerstein over Thirteenth-Century Origins of the Modern World-System,” in Routledge Handbook of World-Systems Analysis, ed. Salvatore J. Babones and Christopher Chase-Dunn (Abingdon: Routledge, 2012), 21–29.

Without doubt there were many regional subsystems of trade prior to the emergence of capitalism in Europe in the mid-1400s. See David Wilkinson, “Power Polarity in the Far Eastern World System, 1025 BC–AD 1850: Narrative and 25-Year Interval Data,” Journal of World-Systems Research 5, no. 3 (1999): 501–617. He lists eighteen “macrosystems” that include a Far Eastern system lasting from 1025 BC to AD 1850 and what he calls the central social system centered on Mesopotamia and Northeast Africa and interacting with societies across Europe and into the Far East. He also highlights the Far Eastern social system that emerged in the Yellow River basin over three thousand years ago and interacted with the Central and Indic systems. The Far Eastern system was destroyed by the projection of Dutch and British seapower into Asian far waters that is discussed in this book. For a slightly different mapping of these systems, see Leonid Grinin and Andrey Korotayev, “The Afroeurasian World-System: Genesis, Transformations, Characteristics,” in Babones and Chase-Dunn, Routledge Handbook, 30–38. They describe an Afroeurasian system emerging in the Fertile Crescent in the tenth to eight millennia BCE. Notably, they point to an Indian Ocean Basin system beginning in the first millennium BCE that was “a prototype of an oceanically connected world-system” (34). The Indian Ocean Basin system included trade in luxury and bulk goods.

These civilizations were the basis for trade and political networks that continued into the capitalist world-economy; see David Wilkinson, “Civilizations as Networks: Trade, War, Diplomacy, and Command-Control,” Complexity 8, no. 1 (September-October 2002): 82–86. The civilizations subsequently took the form of far-water/near-water competition. Networks of bulk goods exchange, political/military interactions, trade in prestige or luxury goods, and information exchange were features of these civilizations, with the network of bulk goods trade having the narrowest geographical scope, and the last two the widest networks; see Thomas D. Hall, “Frontiers, Ethogenesis, and World-Systems: Rethinking the Theories,” in A World-Systems Reader: New Perspectives on Gender, Urbanism, Cultures, Indigenous Peoples, and Ecology, ed. Thomas D. Hall (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2000), 237–70. Interestingly, and as a precursor to the near-/far-water tensions that are the focus of this book, change and competition were most prevalent at the frontiers of these precapitalist social systems (Hall, “Frontiers, Ethogenesis,” 239). In other words, interaction between societies across the globe has been an ever-present form of cooperation and competition between societies, with the Indian Ocean region playing an early and continuous role (Bentley, “Cross-cultural Interaction,” 754).

20. Modelski, Long Cycles.

21. Gregory B. Poling, On Dangerous Ground: America’s Century in the South China Sea (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2022); James C. Hsiung, The South China Sea Disputes and the U.S.-China Contest: International Law and Geopolitics (Hackensack, NJ: World Scientific Press, 2018).

22. Colin Flint and Peter J. Taylor, Political Geography: World-Economy, Nation-State, and Locality, 7th ed. (London: Routledge, 2018), 22–25.

23. Paul S. Ciccantell and Stephen G. Bunker, “The Economic Ascent of China and the Potential for Restructuring the Capitalist World-Economy,” Journal of World-Systems Research 10, no. 3 (Fall 2004): 570–71.

24. Modelski, Long Cycles.

25. Till, Seapower, 21.

26. Saul Bernard Cohen, Geopolitics of the World System (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2003), 34.

27. My use of the labels primary and subsidiary is a simplified use of the terms core and periphery that are foundational within the body of knowledge known as world-systems analysis. These concepts are discussed more fully in chapter 2 and are revisited in chapters 5 and 6. The simplification is to enable accessibility, and the use of primary and subsidiary emphasizes the relationality between the concepts; the wealth of primary/core countries is a function of the poverty of subsidiary/periphery countries. And seapower is essential for establishing and maintaining this connection. For more on world-systems analysis, see Wallerstein, Capitalist World-Economy, Immanuel Wallerstein, World-Systems Analysis: An Introduction (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2004), and summaries and applications in Flint and Taylor, Political Geography, 12–28. I also use the more familiar term country rather than the term state. Though they may seem to be synonymous, the term state is useful in exploring the links between businesses (or economic actors) and government bureaucracy (or political actors), and the relative autonomy of the latter from the former. This is a complex theoretical discussion and not the focus of the book. For a quick introduction, see Flint and Taylor, Political Geography, 150–65.

28. Taylor, “Understanding Global Inequalities.”

29. Arrighi, “Three Hegemonies”; Flint and Taylor, Political Geography, 53–61.

30. Ciccantell and Bunker, “Economic Ascent of China.”

31. Though this book is not written from the perspective of international relations theory, the process of a country moving from near waters to far waters can be seen as a progression of a state’s strategy from the basic realist tenet of security or survival (Hans J. Morgenthau, Politics among Nations: The Struggle for Power and Peace [New York: Knopf, 1948]; Robert O. Keohane, “Theory of World Politics: Structural Realism and Beyond,” in Political Science: State of the Discipline, edited by A. W. Finifter [Washington, DC: American Political Science Association, 1983], 503–40; Stephen M. Walt, “The Renaissance of Security Studies,” International Studies Quarterly 35, no. 2 [June 1991]: 211–39) to power through prestige (Robert Gilpin, War and Change in World Politics [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981]). The projection of power through alliances may also be interpreted through the lens of realism; see Glenn H. Snyder, Alliance Politics (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1997). Moments of competition over near and far waters may be an expression of the transfer of hegemonic power; see A. F. K. Organski and Jacek Kugler, The War Ledger (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980).

32. H. S. K. Kent, “The Historical Origins of the Three-Mile Limit,” American Journal of International Law 48, no. 4 (October 1954): 537–53.

33. For the full text of the relevant part of the Convention, see UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, Part V: Exclusive Economic Zone, accessed April 9, 2023,

34. For the full text of the relevant part of the Convention, see UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, Part VII, High Seas, accessed April 9, 2023,

35. The seminal text is Mahan, Influence of Sea Power. Mahan wrote at the turn of the nineteenth century, but his work is still cited today (for example, see Office of the Historian, US Department of State, “Mahan’s The Influence of Sea Power upon History: Securing International Markets in the 1890s,” accessed April 11, 2023, Mahan’s writing is commonly used to advance US foreign policy from a realist perspective; see Greg Russell, “Alfred Thayer Mahan and American Geopolitics: The Conservatism and Realism of an Imperialist,” Geopolitics 11, no. 1 (2006): 119–40. As is the case with many historical geopoliticians, contemporary usage of their writings often skips over the complexity of what they actually said and distills it into a commonsense essence that is mobilized for the purposes of contemporary policy arguments (for a discussion of the complexity of Mahan’s writing, see Jon Sumida, “Alfred Thayer Mahan, Geopolitician,” Journal of Strategic Studies 22, nos. 2–3 [1999]: 39–62, and Jon (Tetsuro) Sumida, Inventing Grand Strategy and Teaching Command: The Classic Works of Alfred Thayer Mahan Reconsidered [Washington, DC: Woodrow Wilson Center Press; Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997]). The realist reading of Admiral James Stavridis, Sea Power: The History and Geopolitics of the World’s Oceans (New York: Penguin, 2017) acknowledges Mahan’s consideration of economics/commerce (and his imperialist perspective!) but still focuses on the geographic features—though “updated” (309–21)—and the difference between land and seapower (314).

36. Mahan’s writing has been adopted by the Chinese foreign policy community to advocate for the construction of a blue-water navy; see James R. Holmes and Toshi Yoshihara, “The Influence of Mahan upon China’s Maritime Strategy,” Comparative Strategy 24, no. 1 (2005): 23–51; James R. Holmes, “China’s Way of Naval War: Mahan’s Logic, Mao’s Grammar,” Comparative Strategy 28, no. 3 (2009): 217–43. For analysis of the change in policy, see Nan Li, “The Evolution of China’s Naval Strategy and Capabilities: From ‘Near Coast’ and ‘Near Seas’ to ‘Far Seas,’Asian Security 5, no. 2 (2009): 144–69; Srikanth Kondapalli, “China’s Naval Strategy,” Strategic Analysis 23, no. 12 (2000): 2037–56. And for an updated and realist perspective, see Michael A. McDevitt, China as a Twenty First Century Naval Power: Theory, Practice, and Implications (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2020).