The contemporary practice of maritime blockade can trace its origins to the Dutch Placaat of 1564, under which the Dutch Navy enforced the closure of Spanish ports to maritime traffic, both inbound and outbound. Although originally designed to stop all military reinforcements from reaching an area, in the ensuing 450 years, blockade has developed into a method of warfare whose effects are primarily economic. As a result of the urbanization of much of the world’s population over the past 200 years, many States have become heavily reliant on imported foodstuffs and commodities, most of which moves by sea. When those commodities are cut off, economies can falter, and civilian populations can be forced into starvation. This paper discusses the legal framework of blockade and examines whether contemporary international humanitarian law provides a sufficient framework for the protection of civilians from the effects of this evolving method of naval warfare.
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