Monochrome: The Lake Sea. Story of the Caspian Sea.

Date: Aug 2018

The Caspian Summit saw the five states hemming in the world's largest enclosed body of water agree on its external borders, but not on the underlying issue of seabed demarcation. 

Caspian Sea has always been at the centre of geopolitical interests. Here is interesting article from Stratfor itself and Chatham House article including the Azeri-Turkmen feud over the Serdar-Kapaz oil field.

What's the issue with Caspian Sea? As a matter of fact, a basin this big can style itself a sea, but lacking a direct passage to the ocean, it fails to qualify as one as a matter of law. And this is where a study in linguistics becomes a study in geopolitics. 

Assigning the Caspian Sea a legal status would automatically redraft its borders: where a sea would entitle a coastal state to 12 miles in territorial waters and an overall 200 miles in exclusive economic zone, a lake would be divvied up by hydrographers right in the middle. 

The 20 years of negotiations have settled that:

  1. Each country may lay claim to 15 sovereign miles off-shore and to an additional 10 miles of fishing area (about 40 kilometres in total).
  2. Cross-border pipelines and cables can only be installed if the state they range over gives its consent;
  3. All naval exercises must be agreed with the coastal state playing host to such manoeuvres. In fact, the military section takes up most of the agreement;
  4. The wording on the seabed remains deliberately vague. Where the treaty says its status is subject to the ‘general principles of law’, it means that the contesting states will have to negotiate.

Discussions on the main question, though, — a sea or not a sea? — have run aground. Perhaps, with an accord on delicate issues proven possible, this is just a loose end that needs no tying. 

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