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.

Saving the World, Ruling the Earth?

China: Where modernity is a mantra, photo: Trey Ratcliff/flickr

China’s rise to the center stage of world affairs has been much faster and more multifaceted than anyone expected.

The Chinese themselves seem to have been taken aback by their new-found might, and although prophesies about China’s future dominance should be taken with a whole spoonful of salt (a lot can still go wrong), a deep confidence is permeating the country. And it seems like the rest of the world is finally taking note.

I wrote a short piece in October 2008 for the Finnish Business and Policy Council (EVA) about what I thought would be the geopolitical ramifications of the financial crisis, in its very early stages at the time. America, as the epicenter of the crisis, was shocked into a state of socio-political and economic self-denial and panic that was given tangible expression in last week’s midterm elections. In many of the individual races the anger and vitriol was directed at the great ‘new’ menace- China. In the meantime a real and perceived shift to the East has taken place. It is only beginning to take shape, but its effects are already being felt.

Australia’s Regional Reach

An Aussie Icon, photo courtesy of: digitalreflections/flickr

Although it has a booming economy and holds a strategic position in the Asia-Pacific, Australia is often overlooked as a regional powerhouse. As geopolitical power shifts East, Australia’s foreign policy posture will become more prominent and the pressures to get policy right will grow. This week the ISN takes a closer look at Australia.

The Special Report contains the following content:

  • An Analysis by Fergus Hanson that examines the strategically important but still weak Australia-Indonesia relationship.
  • A Podcast with Andrew Shearer of the Lowy Institute in Sydney on the challenges and opportunities that Australia faces as China and India rise.
  • Security Watch stories on the recent elections in Australia, as well as the US-Indonesia-Australia triangle and Obama’s postponed visit.
  • Publications, housed in our Digital Library, including a Lowy Institute paper on Australian investment in China and a paper on US-Australian Civilian Nuclear Cooperation by the Congressional Research Service.
  • Primary Resources, including a report on the Northern Territory Emergency Response in Australia.
  • Links to relevant websites, including Australia’s Defence White Paper from 2009.
  • Our IR Directory featuring relevant organizations, including the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat.

ICGS Summer Course

Lake Geneva
A nice place for a break between classes, photo: Kev Allen/flickr

The International Centre for Geopolitical Studies is accepting applications for its 6th annual summer course, 12-17 July in Geneva. Students will be introduced to the basic concepts of geopolitical analysis and attend lectures by held by leading international experts. For more information on the course, including tuition and how to apply, check out the ICGS website.


The ISN Quiz: The Geopolitics of Turkey

Its pipeline power has made it a country to watch. How well do you know Turkey, the subject of this week’s Special Report? Test your knowledge in this week’s ISN Quiz.