The nation of France is not the largest sovereign country in
the world in population or size. In fact, it ranks relatively low
in these key categories.
But it is the second largest nation in an important, yet often
France controls vast areas of the world’s international waters
in virtually all parts of the globe. In fact, it legally controls
millions of square nautical miles in the Atlantic, Pacific Indian
and Antarctic Oceans, as well as in the Caribbean and
Mediterranean Seas. This means that it owns the resources,
including undersea oil, gas and mineral reserves
Until recently, this did not seem that valuable. But new
technologies now enable drilling and mining in deep waters ---
and such nations as the U.S. in the Gulf of Mexico, Great
Britain in the North Sea, and Israel in the western
Mediterranean have reaped the bonanza of billions of dollars
from their offshore operations. Newer technologies for even
deeper and more complicated undersea mining are now
presumably being developed.
Like virtually all the great colonial powers in the 16th, 17th,
18th and 19th centuries, France had to give up its many land
colonies in North and South America, Africa and Asia in the
20th century. But while Great Britain, Portugal, Germany,
Italy, Belgium and the Dutch surrendered virtually all of their
"confiscated" territories, and gave them independence, the
French transformed some of its larger island colonies into
full-fledged departments (equivalent of U.S states) with full
French citizenship and voting representation in the French
Its shrewdest diplomatic gambit, however, was to hold on to
and claim several tiny (and sometimes uninhabited) islands
scattered in remote areas of the world’s oceans. With the
global agreement (not yet signed by all nations) known as the
Law Of The Sea, nations which owned small islands could
claim an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) for 200 nautical
miles offshore in all directions.
One colorful example, Clipperton Island (actually an atoll)
located about 700 miles west of Acapulco, Mexico in the
Pacific Ocean, demonstrates what a secret asset it might be
Clipperton Island (also known as Island of Desire) has only
about two square miles of land ringing a lagoon, is
uninhabited with almost no vegetation and little animal life
other than crabs and birds. It has a dark history --- it is
named after an 18th century English pirate who landed
there; was discovered by the French in 1711; and in 1906 was
occupied by Mexican settlers who, after being abandoned
during the Mexican civil war suffered one of the more
gruesome and depraved experiences of that era before its
few survivors were rescued.
It has no known resources, no tourist facilities, and is located
in the middle of nowhere, far from any shipping or air routes.
But Clipperton Island has one very big asset.
It entitles France to control the economic resources for
approximately 185,000 square miles around the atoll.
Until now, that did not mean very much. But it could mean a
great deal in the future when undersea resources can be
By the way, I said that France was the second largest nation
in area of international waters sovereignty. The largest?
Surprise! The United States of America.
For more than a century, the U.S. received trusteeship or
ownership of numerous islands in the Pacific Ocean, as well
as in the Caribbean and Bering Sea, not to mention Hawaii and
the rights off its three coasts and Alaska --- and in the
Arctic and Antarctic.
Apparently, its small islands are mostly a secret, too.
Copyright (c) 2018 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.
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