Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Pragmatism and precedent? Territorial order and sovereignty-based disputes

Territorial and sovereignty-based disputes remain important sources of violence in international political life and this remains so despite the evolution of the modern international law doctrine around the management and mitigation of these disputes. Indeed, international law is most obviously premised on the respect for states’ territorial integrity and a powerful, perhaps pragmatic impulse for the preservation of order through exclusive state territoriality.

The pragmatism associated with sovereignty norms and the rights of states, such as territorial integrity, conflicts with the principle of national self-determination and cosmopolitan language of human rights obligations. Self-determination has found a place at the core of the international legal doctrine but at a cost; in its international legal guise it is far removed from its original, political ideological guise.

An emerging remedial right of self-determination has been discussed by academics and international lawyers in recent years. The remedial right would afford an expression of external self-determination, and potentially a right of secession, in cases where a minority people was subject to the wholesale abuse of an oppressive regime.

The article argues that the regional geopolitical context of South Asia cannot readily adopt norms that work to undermine territorial sovereignty. Minority groups in India, a polity broadly based upon a notion of social and political plurality, mean that both the suppression of self-determination groups in the region and instances of external self-determination are intolerable. This is not to deny the existence of a precedent in the remedial right to self-determination, but it is to argue that this might be more easily achieved in other regions first.

The piece concludes that territorial borders can only remain a source of violence in international politics despite the weight of international law that has emerged precisely to mitigate territorial conflict. Regional actors' sharing of broader social and political schemas, beyond the confines of the international legal doctrine, might realise the potential for change that is immanent in existing practice and, specifically, the remedial right to self-determination.

Read the full article here.

Monday, 20 September 2010

Norway and Russia settle Barents Sea boundary dispute, but other arctic disputes continue

Efforts to settle decades-old claims to the arctic got a major boost last week when on 16th September Norway and Russia signed the 'Barents Sea Pact', which divided an 175,000sq km section of the Barents Sea between them.

Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed the historical agreement in the Russian city of Murmansk on Wednesday.

The treaty resolves what for several decades remained the most important outstanding issue between Norway and Russia,” Stoltenberg stated. “It sends an important signal to the rest of the world - the Arctic is a peaceful region where any issues that arise are resolved in accordance with international law.”

Much of the Arctic has been disputed between five nations – Russia, Norway, Canada, US and Denmark, for many decades, but as polar ice caps recede, making shipping and oil and gas exploration opportunities more feasible, the importance of delimitation has become increasingly important. It is thought that up to a quarter of the world's untapped oil and gas could lie in the region.

The dispute between Norway and Russia first received attention in 1957, when a short section of their maritime boundary, from the land boundary terminus through the confines of Varangerfjord was designated. This boundary was extended through Varangerfjord in 2007, but disputes continued over the lengthy section extending northwards through the Barents Sea and into the Arctic Ocean.

Norway argued for a median line boundary, while Russia (and previously the Soviet Union) advocated a 'sectorial' approach, which would have extended the boundary north along the 32° 4' 35" E meridian. The boundary agreed last week is a compromise between the two positions, as it sits eastward of a strict median line, but west of the sectorial line. The agreement also includes a provision for a 'special area' that is east of the boundary, but is within 200 nautical miles of the Norwegian mainland where Russia is granted exclusive economic rights.

Norway has used the occasion to encourage the other polar nations to follow their example and resolve disputes in the region. Canadian Foreign Minister, Lawrence Canon visited Russia and Norway last week, but talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov have not brought the two sides closer together.

The Canadian–Russian dispute centres around the Lomonosove Ridge, an underwater mountain range running along the floor of the Arctic Ocean from Siberia to Canada's Ellesmere island. Both countries claim that the underwater mountain range is an extension of their continental shelves. The dispute has been referred to the UN.

Canada has a similarly stalled dispute with Denmark over Hans Island, a small inhabited barren knoll which lies in the middle of the Nares Strait, between Ellesmere Island and Denmark's Greenland Territory.

A 1973 treaty between the two arctic countries plotted 127 points delimiting the border, however the treaty did not connect the dots and the island lies in between two points. The dispute flared up in 2004 and 2005 after government officials from both countries visited the island, but no progress has been made in moving towards settlement.

More progress has been made on Canada's dispute with the US over the Beaufort Sea. Ministers of the two countries met to discuss the issue in late July, and for the third summer in a row, researchers from both countries worked in the region mapping the sea floor.

A separate, but related concern is the issue of control over the Northwest Passage, which, due to retreating polar ice caps, is increasingly being seen as a shipping shortcut between Asia and Europe. Ottawa says that the Northwest Passage is Canadian sovereign water, but Washington and several other nations regard it as an international passage.

Despite these ongoing disputes, the fact that Norway and Russia were able to find a settlement, which still needs to be ratified by both of their parliaments, means that diplomatic solutions will probably prevail for other disputes in the future.

Sources: IBRU, CTV, Nunatsiaq Online

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Medvedev talks borders in Azerbaijan

Azeri President Aliyev with Russian President Medvedev in 2009

Russian and Azerbeijan took one step closer to resolving their border issues when Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and his Azerbaijani counterpart Ilkham Aliyev signed a border agreement to delimitate part of the land border between the two nations on Medvedev's trip to Baku on 2nd September. The two also signed an agreement on the use of water resources from the trans-border Samur river, and Russian energy giant Gazprom and Azerbaijan's state oil and gas company SOCAR signed a deal to increase supplies of Azerbaijani gas to Russia in 2011-2012.

To welcome the Russian leader, Azerbaijan raised a massive version of its national flag in Baku on 1st September. Baku claimed it was the world's largest flag, with dimensions of 70 meters by 35 meters and weighing in at a massive 350kg.

Aliyev presided over the unveiling of the flag and told the crowd, "Our flag is our pride and our soul… It will fly over Karabakh, Khankendi, and Shusha. And we all should work hard to bring this day closer and we are doing it. Long live Azerbaijan!"

This comment highlights the current tension that exists between Azerbaijan and Armenia over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh enclave, which was a key talking point during Medvedev's visit.

The Nagorno-Karabakh enclave is an Armenian-majority area in southwestern Azerbaijan. The two nations fought a war over the area from 1988 until 1994, which started when the Parliament of the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast voted to secede from Azerbaijan and join Armenia in February 1988. By the time the war ended in 1994, Armeria occupied most of the disputed territory, as well as Azeri territory outside of the enclave, 30, 000 people had died and nearly 1 million refugees had fled, mostly to temporary settlement camps in Azerbaijan.

Violence has continued around the border regions, however, and on 1st September, it was announced that three Armenians and two Azerbaijani soldiers had been killed in clashes near the enclave.

Cesur Sumerinli, the chief editori of the Azerbaijani military-analysis website, recently said that the cease-fire is being violated more frequently, and that the resumption of military operations in the near future was possible.

The original cease-fire was Russian-brokered, and Russia has continued to be involved in mediation efforts since. In June 2010, Aliyev and his Armenian counterpark Serzh Sarkisian met for bilateral talks hosted by Medvedev in St. Petersburg. It appears however, that tension has been increasingly since the June meeting, and skirmishes have been frequent.

As co-chair of the OSCE Minsk Group, together with France and the US, Russia has been at the centre of the international efforts. Russia's involvement, however, is not unproblematic. Medvedev visited Yerevan, Armenia, just weeks before his trip to Baku, where he extended the lease on a military base in Armenia. Amendments to a 1995 bilateral defense treaty signalled an increased Russian presence in Armenia, as it was agreed that the 4,000 Russian troops stationed in Armenia will not only protect Russian interests, but also the security of Armenia. This was interpretted by many as a pledge of Russian support should tensions over the disputed enclave result in full-fledged war, although Medvedev has been clear that he supports resolution through direct talks.

Oil-rich Azerbaijan is also an important neighbour for Russia, and Medvedev called them a 'strategic partner'. Recent rumours of a Russian sale of antiaircraft missiles to Azerbaijan have been denied by the Russians, although military cooperation was discussed during Medvedev's visit, and the sale of four Russian Ka-32 helicopters was announced some time ago.
Sources: RFE/RL, Hurriyet Turkey, Georgian Daily