Territorial disputes: The Persian Gulf (Part 6) [Post 166]

Borders and the Persian Gulf

Often borders are matter of controversy. The Persian Gulf is not an exception. In this particular case, there are borders in land and water (for example, the exclusive economic zone often creates tension between many of the claiming parties).

For instance, who has the right to explore that exclusive sea-zone? What happens in the zone in which to or more claiming parties overlap?

The concept of territorial boundaries for the states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (also referred to in this paper as the Gulf states) is a relatively new phenomenon. Until recently, a principal difficulty in conceiving of territorial boundaries, let alone defining them, was the alien nature of boundaries them- selves, the lack of any need for them, and the absence of putative states in most of the Peninsula. 

It was not until well into the twentieth century—and in some cases late in the century—that the nature and the form of today’s seven states became clear. In large part, the dynamics between present states derives from the jostling that took place as the states began to differentiate themselves.

The Persian Gulf Boundaries

The Persian Gulf with an area of approximately 90,000 square miles is underlain in its entirety by continental shelf. The Gulf is virtually an enclosed sea with the only opening being in the east through the Strait of Hormuz.

Eight states border the Persian Gulf: Bahrain, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Potentially, at least 16 continental shelf boundaries will be required in this region.

There are several boundaries (in land and water) created by different methods:

  • Bahrain-Iran
  • Bahrain-Saudi Arabia
  • Iran-Oman
  • Iran-Qatar
  • Iran-Saudi Arabia
  • Qatar-United Arab Emirates (Abu Dhabi)
  • Iran – United Arab Emirates (Dubai)
  • Bahrain-Qatar
  • Iran – Iraq
  • Iran – Kuwait
  • Iran – United Arab Emirates (2 boundaries)
  • Iraq – Kuwait
  • Kuwait-Saudi Arabia
  • Oman-United Arab Emirates
  • Qatar-Saudi Arabia

Negotiated Boundaries

The methods employed by these countries to delimit their offshore boundaries vary. The equidistance method has been used but not without modification due to special circumstances.

In certain circumstances islands have been given special consideration. In some areas they have been completely disregarded, in some situations they have been given partial effect in the delimitation process. Outstanding sovereignty disputes will complicate many of the remaining boundary negotiations.

Sovereignty and Boundaries in the Gulf Link to the complete document
The Persian Gulf: Continental Shelf Boundaries Link to the complete document


This post is based on Jorge Emilio Núñez, Territorial Disputes and State Sovereignty. International Law and Politics (Routledge 2020).Previous published research monograph about territorial disputes and sovereignty by the author, Jorge Emilio Núñez, Sovereignty Conflicts and International Law and Politics: A Distributive Justice Issue London and New York: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2017.


Bahrain, Iran and Saudi Arabia.

Monday 30th November 2020

Dr Jorge Emilio Núñez

Twitter: @DrJorge_World


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s