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What´s So Important About Territorial Disputes in International Relations?

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Courtesy US Army / Flickr

This article was originally published by the Political Violence at a Glance on 21 September 2016.

Recent events demonstrate how difficult territorial disputes are to manage. In July a United Nations tribunal ruled that China’s sovereignty claims over the South China Sea, and its aggressive attempts to enforce them, violate international law. China’s response has been to ignore the Tribunal’s decision and continue its militarization of the Spratly Islands. Neighbors, including Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, and the Philippines, all challenge Chinese authority and reject its nine-dash line, but all also seem fearful of provoking an incident with Chinese forces. The US, while officially neutral when it comes to disputes over ownership of the South China Sea, could be drawn into any conflict that erupts. Not only does the US have an interest in protecting sea lanes that are vital to global commerce, but also its mutual defense treaty with the Philippines commits the US to assist Manila if a confrontation with China arises. 

Territorial disputes, it turns out, are incredibly difficult to manage. Take the case of Kashmir, which appears to be heating up again as well. The killing of Burhan Wani, a leader in the Kashmir insurgency, on July 9, 2016, by Indian security forces has aggravated feelings of mistrust and apprehension. Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, termed the killing “India’s barbarism” and declared the observance of a “black day” in Pakistan on July 19 in protest. India reacted by condemning Pakistan’s meddling in India’s internal affairs. Kashmir has been in dispute for nearly 70 years and the territorial disagreement seems unlikely to be resolved anytime soon. Indeed, India and Pakistan each continue to view the land as inviolable and thus not subject to negotiation. China’s control of approximately 20% of Kashmir further complicates settlement as well.

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Deconstructing the Narrative of Arctic War

The Royal Navy Trafalgar submarine HMS Tireless at the North Pole, courtesy TimWebb/flickr

This article was originally published by the World Policy Institute on 9 March 2016.

In many public debates around the globe, the narrative of ‘”Arctic War” has become the predominant narrative of the future of Arctic security:

Driven by climate change, the Arctic ice cap is melting and large amounts of untapped oil and gas resources as well as lucrative shipping routes are becoming increasingly accessible. As a part of their response, Arctic states are making far reaching territorial claims in order to secure this tremendously rich treasure, and some, especially Russia, are emphasizing their regional ambitions by increasing their military capabilities in the High North. Trapped in an unavoidable arms race, the Arctic states are on a slippery slope toward military confrontation.

While advancing this narrative, supporters too easily apply interest-driven predictions of an uncontrollable arms race in the High North. Interestingly enough, one region seems to be exempted from this trend: the Arctic itself. This either means that the Arctic is “sleepwalking” into “unavoidable military escalation,” blinded by its long history of cooperation, or that it is worth taking a second look at the “narrative” of Arctic War.

Natural Resources, Territorial Claims, and Militarization?

First, what would be the source of a potential Arctic conflict? For many observers this seems to be very clear: economic interest. In 2008, a U.S. Geological Survey considered the Arctic to contain most of the world’s still undeveloped oil and gas. In addition, as the ice melts, lucrative shipping routes, like the Northwest Passage and the Northern Sea Route, are becoming more and more accessible. Since then, nearly every national submission to the extension of the Arctic state’s continental shelf (and thus the right to exploit the resources in the seabed) is considered a “provocative,” sometimes even “offensive” act.

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Why Japan Should Put Boots on the Ground on the Senkaku Islands

Japanese navy sailors at a ship railing. Image: tpsdave/pixabay

This article was originally published by Strife on 25 May 2015.

Halfway between Japan and Taiwan are the the Senkaku Islands. They are claimed by Beijing under the name Diaoyu and by Taipei with the label Diaoyutai. The islands are prime real estate from a strategic perspective. Despite rumblings to the contrary, Tokyo seems to be sticking to her policy not to deploy ground troops on these islands. This is usually portrayed as a goodwill gesture, an olive branch extended to China, showing how Japan is ready to negotiate in good faith and how she does not see a military solution as the only possible outcome of the territorial dispute over the islands between China and Taiwan. This is a view supported by the mainstream media and many observers.

But China is keeping the pressure on the islands, with constant incidents featuring coastguard (and other state) vessels and trawlers entering Japanese territorial waters around them. And there is not much evidence of any attempt by Beijing to negotiate in good faith. This is in contrast to the approach taken by Taipei, which has reached a fisheries agreement with Tokyo, a practical implementation of President Ma’s East China Sea Peace Initiative. » More

Asia’s Middle Eastern Shadow

President Obama During the First U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue in Washington, July 2009. Source: The White House: A Dialogue with China

TEL AVIV – In 2010, then-US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced America’s eastward shift in global strategy. The United States’ “pivot” to the Asia-Pacific region was required not only because of the security threats posed by the rise of China, but also as a consequence of America’s long and costly obsession with the Middle East.

The Middle East has long confronted the US with formidable challenges, which ultimately exceeded America’s imperial capacities and sapped public support. But the real question now is whether America is still able and willing to uphold its global pretensions. After all, Asia is no less a demanding theater than the Middle East. Indeed, dealing with it might require reconciling the pivot to Asia with an ongoing presence in the Middle East, if only because the two regions have much in common. » More

From San Francisco to the South China Sea

Chinese Navy ship arrives in Pearl Harbor, September 2006, courtesy of US Navy/Wikimedia Commons

OSAKA – Territorial and maritime disputes among China, Taiwan, and several Southeast Asian countries are roiling the South China Sea region, with little prospect of resolution anytime soon. But the current uneasy status quo may be tenable, so long as the parties embrace serious confidence-building measures through multilateral forums while maintaining effective deterrence vis-à-vis China and a commitment not to use offensive force.

Naturally, China is eager to exclude interference by extra-regional great powers, particularly the United States, preferring bilateral negotiations with weaker regional claimants that it can more easily dominate. Extra-regional powers, however, cite the United Nations Convention on the Law of Sea – specifically, the freedom of navigation and the right of innocent passage – to justify their involvement.

Given that the South China Sea disputes stem from overlapping claims to “exclusive economic zones,” not open ocean, the UN convention is not entirely relevant. But another international agreement does provide some guidance for settling these disputes: the San Francisco Peace Treaty, which entered into force in 1952 and officially ended World War II in the Asia-Pacific region. » More

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