Mankind’s dependence on space-based services has grown exponentially in the last few decades. As early as 1994, the UN noted that “space has become an important factor in the social and economic well-being and development of many States”. Today, a growing number of experts argue that sustaining modern life in an increasingly interconnected world will not be possible without ensuring the sustainable use of outer space. From instant communication and the use of global positioning systems, to weather forecasting and environmental monitoring, space technologies bring us irreplaceable and far-reaching benefits, which must be protected responsibly.
The top down UN GGE process appears dead in the water. International norms and laws for responding to cyber attacks must now be built from the bottom up.
Rules must be binding, violations must be punished, and words must mean something. The UN GGE failed on all three accounts.
In 2004, the United Nations established a Group of Governmental Experts with the aim of strengthening the security of global information and telecommunications systems (UN GGE). To date the UN GGE has held five sessions, which are widely credited for successfully outlining the global cybersecurity agenda and introducing the applicability of international law to state behaviour in cyberspace.
However, during the UN GGE’s fifth session in June 2017, fundamental disagreements emerged between the Group’s 25 members, particularly on the right to self-defence and the applicability of international humanitarian law to cyber conflicts. In the end, the fifth and possibly last session concluded without the release of a consensus report. With no plans to pick up the pieces, the question now is, where do we go from here?
The International Court of Justice (ICJ) has made a name for itself as various governments across the world resort to it to rule on inter-state disagreements. There are certainly valid criticisms about how the ICJ, the chief judicial body of the United Nations, operates, particularly as African governments have accused it of imposing Eurocentric international law. Some of its rulings on controversial cases have even been denounced as ‘step[s] backwards’.
Despite these criticisms, Latin American governments have regularly turned to ICJ rulings on border disputes and other inter-state disagreements. Over the past decades, the Court has ruled on numerous cases between Latin American states and enjoys a positive record so far in this region, given the generally peaceful compliance of Latin American states to the Court’s rulings. Nevertheless, the complexity of one particular case, ‘Obligation to Negotiate Access to the Pacific Ocean’, a historically-charged territorial dispute between Bolivia and Chile, may prove to challenge the credibility of the ICJ in Latin America in the near future.
This article was originally published by the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS) on 18 January 2017.
UN Resolution 2334 condemning Israeli settlements was passed by the Security Council only because the US did not exercise its usual veto. As expected, the resolution was strongly opposed by Israel, which threatened to cut its funding to the United Nations. As we face an uncertain global order, it is crucial that countries work within the international system.
UNITED NATIONS Resolution 2334, and the abstention vote by the United States, was a significant exercise in international diplomacy and its relationship with international law. The resolution condemned Israel’s illegal but expanding settlement project and demanded that Israel “immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the ‘occupied’ Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem.” The resolution was adopted with 14 votes in favour with only the US abstaining.
The passing of the resolution, made possible because of the US’ holding back its usual veto demonstrated that the decision to do the right thing through the international system is not necessarily based on the legality of the issue. While international law is clear on the illegality of settlements, this resolution was only adopted because key actors, such as the US, decided it was time to do the right thing. This allowed the Security Council to produce a fair outcome.
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.