Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Today's Editorial 05 September 2014

       Earth’s final frontier

Source: By H  Khasnobis: The Statesman
There are two challenges that the sovereign nations have failed to address. One is a nuclear-free world and the other is to reform the composition of the Security Council so that it reflects new geopolitical realities. Without a sincere effort to meet these two challenges, the world will remain unsafe and a handful of strong nations will dictate terms over the multitude of weak nations.

To create a nuclear-free world, the nuclear countries should first disarm and create a “global zero” that will discourage proliferation by other countries. That is not likely to happen in the contemporary world. As regards the Security Council, the rising powers need to be integrated as full partners to address the common challenges and seize opportunities that transcend national frontiers.

There has been an increasing demand for international cooperation in the modern world due to deepening economic interdependence, worsening environment, proliferating security threats and accelerating technological change. Whereas in domestic politics, governance is provided by the actual government with authority to establish and enforce binding rules, governance in international or the transnational sphere is more complex, ambiguous and anarchic because independent sovereign nations do not recognise any higher authority. What we see today in the name of international cooperation is a welter of informal arrangements and piecemeal approaches. In contemporary global governance, the existing institutions have been facing problems in dealing with traditional challenges.

Contemporary global governance can be of great help in responding to the non-traditional challenges.  This relates to the space that no nation controls but all sovereign nations rely on for their security and prosperity. The most important of these “global commons” are the maritime, outer space and cyberspace domains that carry the flow of goods, data, capital, people and ideas on which globalization rests. Many of these “global commons” are now disputed due to overcrowding, cut-throat competition and political ambitions of rival countries. Preserving their openness, stability and resilience will require an agreement between nations and private stakeholders.

A glaring example of the current maritime dispute is the South China Sea. The implications are profoundly economic. Surrounded by dynamic and globalized economies, the sea is a key trade route. Through this sea, more than $ 5 trillion worth of commerce passes every year. The sea lanes are the crucial pathway for oil and other inputs that fuel the energy-hungry but resource-poor industrial economies of East Asia. Most of the oil that China imports is channelled across the South China Sea from the Middle East and Africa. For China, the sea is also the gateway to the Indian Ocean. It is here that China is locked in dangerous sovereignty disputes with Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam over some 1.3 million square miles of ocean, the contested islands, and the exploitation of undersea gas and oil reserves.

China has been drilling for oil in waters that Vietnam regards as inside their EEZ. China insists that their rig has been operating inside its own waters, attached to Paracels islands that have remained under their occupation since 1974. China’s stance on rights over South China Sea raises an important question ~ whether a rising country can disrupt the regional and international order or whether it can, with reasonable adjustments, be accommodated and integrated. Maritime disputes are not confined to South China Sea alone. All rising powers from China to Iran are seeking blue-water capabilities and are investing in military acquisitions that seek to deny other countries access to their regional waters.  Global governance should ensure that freedom of the seas is not jeopardized by the action of some littoral countries. Peaceful resolution of all competing claims will require all stake-holding countries to submit their claims to binding arbitration under the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of Sea (UNCLOS).  Thus far, China has not agreed to submit its claims under the convention for arbitration. The peaceful resolution to competing regional claims on South China Sea will require China and ASEAN to agree on a binding code of conduct addressing matters of territorial jurisdiction.

Global warming has been turning the Arctic Ocean into an emerging epicentre of trade and industry akin to the Mediterranean Sea. Geopolitical and economic competition has intensified.  During the summer of 2012, the portion of the Arctic Ocean covered by ice had shrunk by 3, 50,000 square miles, an area equal to the size of Venezuela.  A study suggests that in just three decades, the Arctic sea-ice has lost half its area and three quarters of its volume. The region’s melting ice and thawing frontier are yielding access to rich natural resources , including nearly a quarter of the world’s estimated undiscovered oil and gas and massive deposits of valuable minerals. During summer, the Arctic sea routes can save thousands of miles between the Pacific Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean. Thus the Arctic may become a central passageway for global maritime transportation, just as it already is for aviation.

While Arctic warming is inevitable, it should not be taken as a licence to recklessly plunder a sensitive environment. All Arctic countries realized the need for cooperation in the interest of sustainable development. In 2008, the five states with Arctic coasts ~ Canada, Denmark, Norway, Russia and the United States ~ signed the Ilulissat Declaration in an effort to settle their overlapping claims in an orderly manner and within the framework of UNCLOS and the Arctic Council. These five states have agreed to use the Convention as a legal basis for settling maritime boundary disputes and enacting safety standards for commercial shipping. UNCLOS also provides a forum for submission of claims to the extended continental shelves. The United States has drafted the Convention and has been following its guidelines without ratifying it in Congress amidst fears that the Convention would place limits on US sovereignty. As an outsider, the United States legally forfeits its claims over vast areas of sovereign space on earth. Experts also believe that by remaining apart, the United States has undermined its professed commitment to a rule-based international order.

The international rules governing the use of outer space have become outdated. As nations and private corporations compete and contest for scarce orbital slots for their satellites, the number of actors operating in space has skyrocketed. Nearly 70 nations and government consortiums regulate civil, commercial and military satellites. Geopolitical competition raises the spectre of an arms race in space. Although the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 has put in place several useful principles, such as a prohibition on sovereignty claims in space, it has certain limitations. The treaty lacks a mechanism to resolve disputes, is silent on space debris, and does not clearly address interference with space assets of other countries. Experts have suggested options ranging from a binding multilateral treaty banning space weapons to a non-binding international code of conduct that would establish broad principles and parameters for responsible behaviour in outer space. Intensive dialogue between the space-faring nations in a spirit of cooperation and consensus should lead to a new regulatory regime that would best ensure stability and sustainable use of earth’s final frontier.

These examples suggest that existing institutions, treaties and conventions can to a considerable extent mitigate non-traditional challenges arising from “global commons”. But they are not enough. The stakeholding countries need to turn to complementary frameworks for collective action, including ad hoc coalitions of the willing, regional and sub-regional institutions and informal codes of contact. The structure for global cooperation may be a heterogeneous mix, but might be useful in terms of good governance.

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