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Geopolitics and Law at Sea

China is betting on energy under the ‘South China Sea.’ Photo: offshorinjurylawyer/flickr

This week in New York, the state parties to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) are meeting for the 21st time since the convention’s conclusion in 1982. Major items on the agenda are the reports of the ongoing work of the Convention’s three main organs: 1) the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLS), which interprets the Convention and adjudicates disputes 2) the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS), which evaluates geological and oceanographic data, and 3) the International Seabed Authority (ISA), which organizes and controls activities related to the sea floor, which lies beyond national jurisdictions.

Three main items are currently before the Tribunal: a boundary dispute between Bangladesh and Myanmar in the Bay of Bengal (of special relevance to Conoco Phillips); the M/V Louisa case, a dispute arising from Spain’s detention since 2006 of the eponymous research vessel, which was flying the flag of St Vincent and the Grenadines in Spanish coastal waters while conducting scientific surveys of the sea floor; and a request for an advisory opinion from the Tribunal on the status of state parties sponsoring private activities on the sea floors outside national jurisdictions, a case arising from commercial activities proposed by Nauru Ocean Resources Inc. and Tonga Offshore Mining Ltd.

While these are hardly the issues making international headlines – and the above two companies remain unlikely, to say the least, to ever become major global players in natural resources – the Law of the Sea can be a genuine battleground of great power politics. » More

Gorkhaland for Sale

Gorkhaland: compromise or sell out? Photo: Rak’s/flickr

The newly elected Chief Minister of West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee, announced on 7 June that the West Bengal state government has come to an agreement with the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM), the party leading the agitation for a separate Gorkha state since 2007. Gorkhaland was supposed to be carved out of West Bengal in India and encompass the current district of Darjeeling in the Himalayan foothills.

Darjeeling district is culturally distinct from the rest of the state by its primary language (Nepali instead of Bengali) and its character as a melting pot of religions and ethnicities (various indigenous tribes and immigrants from Nepal, Tibet and Bhutan). Now the leaders of the GJM have dropped the demand for a separate state and instead reached an agreement with the West Bengal government to form a new hill council with elected representatives to govern in a semi-autonomous fashion.

It seems that history has just repeated itself. The demand for a separate state of Gorkhaland is not new. In the 1980s, Subhas Ghisingh and his Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) led a violent two-year conflict for a separate Gorkhaland state. In 1988 Ghisingh accepted a political settlement, signing a tripartite agreement with the governments in Kolkata and New Delhi that gave partial autonomy to the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council (DGCH), the governing body for the district of Darjeeling. » More

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This Week in ISN Insights…

It's week 24 on our editorial calendar, Photo: Leo Reynolds, flickr

Coming up this week in our truncated ISN Insights coverage (in light of Monday’s Swiss national holiday):

  • On Tuesday, Simon Saradzhyan of Harvard University’s Belfer Center comments on a historic opportunity for European missile defense in the making.
  • University of St Andrews Professor Gerard DeGroot takes a closer look on Wednesday at mainstreaming gender in UN peace operations.
  • On Thursday, Professor Plamen Pantev of Sofia University addresses the question: Where do the western Balkans stand after the arrest of Ratko Mladic?

And in case you missed any of last week’s articles, you can find them here on: the growing scourge of transnational organized crime; the overblown threat of nuclear weapons; understanding the process from radicalization to terrorism; and a preview of Turkey’s general elections.

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Chile’s Ghosts

salvador allende with a background of flowers

The ex-President’s death remains a mystery, Photo: Oscar Ordenes/flickr

When it comes to natural disasters, Chile has a troubled past. As the plume of ash from volcanoes at Puehue and Cordón Caulle continues to blanket the skies and force people from their homes, rebuilding efforts following last year’s earthquake have only just begun. Fifty years ago Chile was also the site of the most powerful earthquake ever recorded – the gran terremoto, at Valdivia – and initial indications following this latest event suggest that the geological situation may get worse in the future.

But if its history of geological instability were not enough, Chile is also struggling with its political past. On 23 May, in compliance with a court order, the body of former President Salvador Allende was exhumed in order to begin a formal investigation into the disputed circumstances of his violent 1973 demise.

There are many versions of the events. The official story – and the one accepted by Allende’s family – is that the President shot himself (with an AK-47 given to him by none other than Fidel Castro) shortly before rebel forces stormed his office. Another version has it, instead, that he was gunned down in a defiant last stand; yet another, that he was executed by a subordinate after a botched suicide attempt. But the man ultimately responsible (if probably not personally) for Allende’s death is General Augusto Pinochet himself, whose successful coup d’etat then saw him installed first as the head of the governing junta and then as president. » More

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