Skip to main content

Artificial Islands and Territory in International Law

Posted by on Saturday, July 6, 2019 in Articles, Vol. 52 No. 3, Volume 52, Volumes.

Author: Dr. Imogen Saunders

PDFArtificial Islands and Territory in International Law



Artificially created islands are a contemporary reality, created and used for military and nonmilitary purposes. Analysis of such islands has largely been limited to their status under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) regime. Their position under general international law, however, remains unclear. In particular, the question of whether artificial islands can constitute sovereign territory remains unanswered. This Article analyzes the concept of territory in international law in the context of artificial islands, and argues that neither the doctrine of territory nor the strictures of UNCLOS prevent artificial islands from constituting territory capable of sovereign appropriation. This is further confirmed by examining state practice relating to artificial islands. The Article argues that artificial islands can be considered territory if they meet certain criteria: albeit territory not generating a territorial sea. Understanding artificial islands as capable of constituting territory allows for a more comprehensive and consistent positioning of such islands in regards to other general international law doctrines. The Article demonstrates this through the application of the doctrine of the unlawful acquisition of territory to artificial islands.

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Leave a Response

ExpressO Top 10 Law Review


The Journal is pleased to announce its 2019-2020 Board of Editors. VJTL Masthead 2019-2020

The Journal is pleased to announce its 2018-2019 Board of Editors. Complete-Masthead-2018-2019

Vanderbilt University Law School Professor Michael A. Newton’s 2016 VJTL Article entitled How the International Criminal Court Threatens Treaty Norms  was cited by the International Criminal Court prosecutor’s November 2017 filing seeking investigation into war crimes in Afghanistan.

May 2018 Issue on the Second Israel Defense Forces International Conference on the Law of Armed Conflict. Read more about the Journal’s May 2018 issue here.

Thank you to everyone who attended the Journal’s 50th Anniversary celebration on October 5, 2017! View photos from the event here and read about the Journal’s history here.

Connect with the Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law on LinkedIn.

The Journal is pleased to listed as the #5 International Law Journal by the 2017 Washington and Lee Law Journal Rankings.

The Journal is very excited about the success of our February 2017 Symposium, “Sovereign Conduct on the Margins of the Law.” Read more about our February 2017 Symposium here

Please join us in congratulating the Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law 2017-2018 Write-On Competition Winners.

Video is available from the Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law’s 2015-2016 SymposiumThis is Not a Drill: Confronting Legal Issues in the Wake of International Disasters. Watch here.