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Towards a Theory of Emergent International Conventions: Inducing from the Three-Mile Rule of Territorial Seas
Unformatted Document Text:  measurement, and he proposed setting the limit at three miles as a new rule in 1782: “It would appear reasonable ... that without waiting to see if the territorial sovereign actually erects some fortifications, and what caliber of guns he might mount therein, we should fix, finally, and all along the coast, the distance of three miles”. 101 Although he has been criticized for misjudging the range of contemporary cannons, he was aware that this was an unrealistic range, but he proposed it rather to be on the safe side. Although Galiani clearly intended a three-mile territorial sea as an improvement on cannon range, states soon took it to be established state practice and settled law. Prior to 1793, the newly established United States had three concurrent measures in place. For the purposes of exclusive fishing, they claimed a zone of three leagues; in the peace treaty with Britain following the revolutionary war, they claimed sovereignty over all islands within twenty leagues of the mainland; and in a treaty of peace and friendship with Morocco, they accepted Morocco’s claim to sovereignty within cannon range of her shores. 102 In 1793, however, a French frigate captured a British ship inside Delaware Bay, and when the British protested, the French pressed Secretary of State Jefferson for a definitive statement. The United States was struggling to remain neutral in the conflict, so Jefferson indicated that he would prefer to settle the matter in the future at a conference of relevant powers, but to resolve the matter hastily, he replied that America would claim one league, adding, “This distance can admit of no opposition, as it is recognized by treaties between some of the powers with whom we are connected in commerce and navigation”. 103 He further noted (erroneously) the modesty of this claim, because “...the smallest distance, I believe, claimed by any nation whatever, is the utmost range of a cannon ball, usually stated at one sea league”. Strikingly, this is an instance of a new state with relatively large latitude in its ability to claim a territorial sea, but it claimed three miles, citing both the equivalence to cannon range and its customary status in state practice despite the fact that this was one of the first instances of such state practice, and Galiani had suggested it as a new rule just over twenty years prior. New Convention w/ Dubious Pedigree Seeks Obligatory Status By the end of the 18th century, the three mile rule had both borrowed the sheen of legitimacy lent by the cannonshot rule and had acquired an air of longstanding practice. The fact remains, however, that the use of three miles as the breadth of all-purpose territorial seas was new and not in very broad use, so its spread and the rapid strengthening of its obligatory force as a rule needs to be explained. The first factor contributing to the reinforcement of the rule’s status was its sponsorship by Britain in the 19th century. Britain was the supreme sea power throughout the century, but especially with the development of capital ships in the 1860s. 104 Its status as the predominant naval power is 24 101 Quoted in Swartztrauber, The Three Mile Limit, 55. 102 Wilder, The Three-Mile Territorial Sea, 708-709. 103 Quoted in Crocker, The Extent of the Marginal Sea, 636-637. 104 Stanley Sandler, "The Emergence of the Modern Capital Ship," Technology and Culture, Vol. 11, No. 4 (1970), pp. 576-595. Although the large, mastless capital ships with rotating gun turrets did not appear until the 1860s, the Royal Navy had nearly 100 masted capital ships as early as 1815.

Authors: Kamis, Ben.
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measurement,  and  he  proposed  setting  the  limit  at  three  miles as a  new  rule  in  1782:  “It  would 
appear reasonable  ...  that  without  waiting  to  see  if the  territorial  sovereign  actually erects some 
fortifications, and what caliber of  guns he might mount therein, we should fix, finally, and all along 
the coast, the distance of three miles”.
 Although he has been criticized for misjudging the range 
of contemporary cannons,  he  was aware  that  this  was an  unrealistic  range,  but  he  proposed  it 
rather to be on the safe side.
Although Galiani clearly intended a three-mile territorial sea as an improvement on cannon range, 
states  soon  took  it  to  be  established  state  practice  and  settled  law.  Prior  to  1793,  the  newly 
established United States had  three concurrent measures in place. For the purposes of exclusive 
fishing,  they  claimed  a  zone  of  three  leagues;  in  the  peace  treaty  with  Britain  following  the 
revolutionary war, they claimed sovereignty over all  islands within twenty leagues of the mainland; 
and  in  a  treaty  of  peace  and  friendship  with  Morocco,  they  accepted  Morocco’s  claim  to 
sovereignty within  cannon range of her shores.
 In  1793, however, a  French frigate  captured  a 
British ship inside Delaware Bay, and when the British protested, the French pressed Secretary of 
State Jefferson for a definitive statement. The United States was struggling to remain neutral in the 
conflict,  so  Jefferson  indicated  that  he  would  prefer  to  settle  the  matter  in  the  future  at  a 
conference  of  relevant  powers,  but  to  resolve  the  matter  hastily,  he  replied  that  America  would 
claim one league, adding, “This distance can admit of no opposition, as it is recognized by treaties 
between  some of the  powers with whom  we are  connected  in  commerce and  navigation”.
  He 
further noted (erroneously) the modesty of  this claim, because “...the smallest distance, I  believe, 
claimed by any nation whatever,  is the utmost  range  of a  cannon  ball, usually stated at  one sea 
league”.  Strikingly,  this  is an  instance  of a  new  state  with  relatively large  latitude  in  its ability  to 
claim  a  territorial sea, but it claimed three miles, citing both the equivalence to  cannon  range and 
its customary status in state practice despite the fact that this was one of the first instances of such 
state practice, and Galiani had suggested it as a new rule just over twenty years prior.
New Convention w/ Dubious Pedigree Seeks Obligatory Status
By the end of the 18th century, the three mile rule had both borrowed the sheen of  legitimacy lent 
by  the  cannonshot  rule  and  had  acquired  an  air  of  longstanding  practice.  The  fact  remains, 
however, that the use of three miles as the breadth of all-purpose territorial seas was new  and not 
in very broad use, so its spread and the rapid strengthening of its obligatory force as a rule needs 
to be explained.
The first factor contributing to the reinforcement of the rule’s status was its sponsorship by Britain 
in the 19th century. Britain was the supreme sea power throughout the century, but especially with 
the  development  of capital  ships in  the  1860s.
  Its status as  the  predominant  naval  power  is 
24
101
 Quoted in Swartztrauber, The Three Mile Limit, 55.
102
 Wilder, The Three-Mile Territorial Sea, 708-709.
103
 Quoted in Crocker, The Extent of the Marginal Sea, 636-637.
104
 Stanley Sandler, "The Emergence of the Modern Capital Ship," Technology and Culture, Vol. 11, No. 4 
(1970), pp. 576-595. Although the large, mastless capital ships with rotating gun turrets did not appear until 
the 1860s, the Royal Navy had nearly 100 masted capital ships as early as 1815.


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