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The recent clash between Libyan and US warplanes over the Gulf of Sidra may soon fade from memory, but the problem of sovereignty over offshore waters won't.

The United States has recognized the three-mile limit since 1793, but it has not contested the claims of other nations extending to 12 miles offshore. Since the air battle occurred 60 nautical miles from the Libyan coast, the US contends that its planes were flying over international waters when they were attacked. Not so, say the Libyans; they measure their 12-mile limit from a baseline drawn across the gulf's mouth.

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But a 12-mile limit poses potential dangers. A universal 12-mile limit would overlap 121 international straits, thus subjecting ships, including warships, to tolls or other restrictions imposed by the coastal nations.m

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