State Territory by Pranav K


One of the features of statehood is that a state should have a territory. In other words, there cannot be a State without a territory. It means that each State should be established within a definite area of the globe by agreed boundaries. The territory over which a State has an exclusive control and jurisdiction is referred to as State Territory. State Territory comprises of Land Territory, National waters, Territorial sea, Air Space over the territory and the subsoil under earth.

(1) Land Territory: State territory consists of land within the boundaries. A boundary is nothing but a line on the surface of the Earth which separates the territory of one State from another, or from unappropriated territory, or from open sea. Boundaries may be of two kinds. Firstly, natural boundaries namely, rivers, rocks or mountains, deserts or forests and Secondly, Artificial Boundaries which are constructed for the purpose of dividing territories. Boundaries may be demarcated either by states concerned or by the international agencies. Demarcation of boundary in 1993 between Iraq and Kuwait by Iraq-Kuwait Boundary Demarcation Commission, set up by the Security Council of the United Nations.

(2) National Waters: National waters are also known as internal waters. It includes waters in its canals, in its rivers together with their mouths, in its ports and harbors and in some gulfs and bays.

(a) Rivers: Rivers may be classified into four categories namely- Firstly, which flows wholly i.e. from its source, within the boundaries of one state. These are called as National Rivers. Secondly, rivers which separate two different states from each other and are known as boundary rivers. Thirdly, those rivers which run successively through two or more states and may be known as plurilateral rivers. Fourthly, the pluri-national rivers which are navigable from the open sea and though belonging to the territories of different states concerned are also named as International Rivers.

(b) Canals: Canals are constructed by States. It also forms a part of the territory of the State. For ex, the Corinth Canal, although it is kept open to vessels generally it is exclusively under the control of Greece. The canals which are constructed so as to effect an international waterway system or an international drainage area they become important to other States as well. Such canals are called as Inter-Oceanic canals. The Suez Canal, Kiel Canal, Panama Canal are such examples of inter-oceanic canals.

(c) Straits: Straits which are not six miles wide are considered as a part of the coastal states. It means that those Straits which are more than six miles wide are known as international straits. However, there is a general agreement that other states have a right to innocent passage. In the Corfu channel case it was held by the International Court of Justice that the right to innocent passage can be exercised without prior authorization of the coastal states.

(d) Bays: Article 10(2) of the Convention of the Law of the Sea,1982 defines bay as a well marked indentation whose penetration is in such proportion to the width of its mouth so as to contain land-locked waters and constitute more than a mere curvature of the coast. Under Article 10 Para 3 indentation means the area lying between the low-water mark around the shore of the indentation and a line joining the low-water marks of its natural entrance points.

(3) Territorial Sea: Territorial sea (formerly known as territorial waters) is the boundary which is not confined only to the waters and land lying within its boundaries. It also extends to a part of the sea which is adjacent to the Coastal state. The waters contained in certain zones are known as ‘marginal zone’ or ‘marginal belt’. Territorial Sea can be defined as that part of the sea which is adjacent to the coast and over which the international law permits the state to exercise sovereignty only to a general right of innocent passage on part of foreign shipping.

(4) Airspace: Airspace has been defined by Polish jurist Prof. Berezowski as the place in which international relations in field of aviation develop in the space directly encircling the earth, filled to a greater or lesser extent with air and bearing the name airspace. A State has sovereignty over the airspace above its territory and territorial waters. However, there are four different theories by writers regarding the Airspace, they are:

  • The First theory was called as ‘free air theory’ meaning airspace is entirely free or open to all the states.
  • The Second theory was that while the lower zone of airspace belonged to the States, the upper zone was free to all states.
  • The Third theory is that airspace to an unlimited height remains entirely within the sovereignty of the subjacent State.
  • The Fourth theory is that a State has sovereignty over the airspace above the territory for the right of innocent passage for all innocent foreign civil aircraft.

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