Friday, 29 October 2010

Border Focus: The Arctic

Seemingly endless expanses of icy tundra, punctuated only by the occasion polar bear: the arctic on first glance doesn't seem worth fighting over. But it has been the centre of a dispute between the five nations that border it for the last sixty years. Russia, Norway, Canada, Denmark and the US all make claims to the arctic waters, and more importantly, what lies beneath them.

It is thought that up to 90 billion barrels of oil and 30 per cent of the world's undiscovered gas resources could lie in the arctic region, and as receding ice caps make accessing this inhospitable region easier, the race to establish ownership has heated up.

Russia and Norway

In 2010, Russia and Norway settled their dispute in the Barents Sea, and the Norway has used the occasion to encourage the other arctic nations to make similar progress. In response to signing the Barents Sea Pact, Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg said "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."

Russia and Norway have been in the process of delimiting their maritime boundary since 1957, when a short section of the maritime boundary, from the land boundary terminus through the confines of Varangerfjord, was designated. The boundary was extended through Varangerfjord in 2007, but it was only in 2010 that the lengthy section through the Barents Sea and into the Arctic Ocean was determined.

Norway had argued for a median line, which would put the boundary exactly equidistant from each country's coast, which Russia (and previously the Soviet Union) advocated extending the boundary north along the 32° 4' 35"E meridian. The boundary agreed last week is a compromise between the two lines.

Russia and Canada

While Russia has solved one of its disputes, its problem with Canada continues. This dispute centres on the Lomonosov Ridge, a 1,200mile underwater mountain range running along the floor of the Arctic Ocean from Siberia to Canada's Ellesmere Island. Russia first laid claim to the ridge in 2001, arguing that as it is part of Siberia's shelf, Russia was entitled to sole rights to the ridge and the nearby seabed. The UN rejected this claim, saying more evidence was needed. Russia is expected to resubmit in 2011-12, with Canada and Denmark expected to offer evidence for their claims to the region in 2013 and 2014 respectively.

Denmark and Canada
Canada also has a stalled dispute with Denmark over Hans Island, a tiny barren knoll in the middle of the Nares Strait, which divides Ellesmere Island and Denmark's Greenland Territory. The maritime boundary in the area was delimited in a 1973 treaty, which plotted 127 points through the strait. The island, however, lies in between two points, and so has remained in dispute. At the heart of the dispute is shipping rights, and it seems that Canada is worried that giving in on Hans Island will compromise its exclusive claims to the Northwest Passage. With the exception of displays of power – visits to the island by prominent politicians, planting of flags, and the holding of army exercises – little has been done to resolve the dispute.

Canada and the US
More progress has been made on Canada's dispute with the US over the Beaufort Sea. High-level discussions have occurred over the summer in 2010, and for the third year in a row, researchers from both countries worked in the region mapping the sea floor. The dispute emerged in the 1970s, over a triangle-shaped 21,500sq km section of the Beaufort Sea close to the Yukon-Alaska shore, but the joint Canada-US seabed surveys in 2008 and 2009 showed each country's claims could extend much farther toward the North Pole than previously imagined.

Canada envisions a boundary that is an extension of the arrow-straight land border between the Yukon and Alaska, whic follows the 141 meridian. The US, by contrast, argues for a line based on 'equidistance'. What is interesting is that while each country's approach would benefit them in the restricted Beaufort Sea area, when the now accessible Outer Beaufort is considered, each of their approaches actually works against them.

Transnational concerns
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.

Meanwhile, the EU recently angered the Arctic Council, a group of arctic nations charged with protecting the environment, when EU Vice-President Diana Wallis said that, in allowing deepwater oil exploration in the region, they were failing to protect the fragile environment.

None of these disputes are likely to result in military conflict, but they have certainly hampered relations in recent years. As nations become increasingly eager to and able to exploit the natural resources in the region, it seem many of them will gradually edge towards resolution.

Read the full article, here.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

The Ilemi Triangle Sovereigntyscape (Part One)

The Ilemi Triangle is an area of disputed land in East Africa of approximately 10,000 square kilometres. Kenya (the state with de facto control) and Sudan have been the principal claimants of the territory although Ethiopia has also played a role. Imperial conquest, treaties and mapmaking are central to the contemporary problem although precise delimitation of the three imperial spheres—Ethiopia, the British in Kenya and Uganda, and the joint British-Egyptian administration of Sudan—was not something that took place in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Nonetheless, the intersection of these forces meant that Ilemi became important precisely because of the lack of attention that it received during the colonial boundary-making process of 1914. Ilemi’s sparse settlement, remoteness, lack of infrastructure and variously inhospitable swampy and mountainous landscapes all meant that the area could be treated as relatively insignificant.

But Ilemi, like other areas of south Sudan, is potentially rich in oil. ‘Nevertheless,’ writes Nene Mburu (2003), ‘no explorations have been made in the contested territory partly due to insecurity from the . . . civil war in southern Sudan and partly due to a hands-off attitude by each regional government.’ Ilemi’s value may also be recognised in its dry-season pastures which have been ‘the focus of incessant conflicts among transhumant communities and an enigma to boundary surveyors who previously failed to determine its precise extent and breadth’ (Mburu). This article, the first of two on the Ilemi Triangle will narrate a brief historical account of the Ilemi problem and the trajectory that the future resolution of the dispute may take. The second will consider the Triangle in the context of recent work by in political geography on ‘sovereigntyscapes’, principally by James Sidaway (2003). Indeed, Ilemi might be pointed to as an example of deficiency in African sovereignty itself but, as this work argues, rather than perceive a crisis of sovereignty we might more usefully recognise a crisis of interpretation. In this sense, weak or failed sovereignty in Africa should be considered in light of excess hegemonic, often Western, power rather than through the reproduction of an orthodox discourse on the characteristic deficiency of African sovereignty.

Read the full article here.

Monday, 18 October 2010

Khartoum angered by UN peacekeepers on north-south Sudan border

The Sudanese government has objected to a proposal to move UN peacekeepers to the border areas between north and south Sudan ahead of the Southern Sudan independence referendum, due to be held in January 2011.

Rabie Abdulatti, a senior official with the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) said on Friday 15th October that the UN would need Khartoum's approval to move troops to the region. "I don't think that it would be legal, the UN Security Council cannot deploy more soldiers without the government's approval," Abdulatti told AFP news agency.

The statement came after Alain Le Roy, the UN peacekeeping chief, said troops would be moved to 'hotspots' in the border region within weeks.

Le Roy was speaking in response to a request from Salva Kiir, president of semi-autonous Southern Sudan, who asked for a frontier buffer zone when he met Security Council delegates last week.

About 10,600 troops have been deployed as part of the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS), which was established in 2005, to support the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that ended the two-decade war between the north and the south. January's referendum is part of the peace accord, and the South is widely expected to vote for independence.

Peace, however, has been shaky since 2005, and the running party in the South, the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM), has warned that Khartoum might try to interrupt the referendum, and has said that the NCP has persisted in deploying its forces at the border with the south, in possible preparation for war.

The SPLM welcomed the deployment of UN troops at the border region.


The oil-rich Abyei region, which straddles the north and the south, is due to have its own referendum on 9th January regarding whether to stay in the north, or join what is expected to become the independent south, but last week, officials in Khartoum said the vote would have to be delayed. "It is very clear that right now it is not possible to have the Abyei referendum on 9 Jan 2011," Didiri Mohammad Ahmad, a NCP member told reporters on Thursday 14th October.

"We all agree that this is no longer practical. We agreed that the next talks we will try to look for other alternatives."

The SPLM, however, disagrees. "A delayed vote is unacceptable. The people of Abyei are still holding out for the referendum to be held on January 9," Deng Arop Kuol, a SPLM member told the Reuters news agency. "If the government does not give them that option we can have a self-run referendum."

Issues over who is eligible to vote seems to be the cause for delay, although the SPLM says the north is using this as a delaying strategy. Atem Garang, a senior SPLM leader told Al Jazeera that there was no reason to delay the vote.

"Abyei protocols is very clear, local officials in Abyei itself have to identify who the residents are, and who is eligible to vote," he said.

"Everything is in its place, and there is no justification for a delay."

Sources: Al Jazeera, Press TV, Relief Web

For more information on the Southern Sudan referendum, see the full story here.

Border Focus: Eritrea and Djibouti

What is disputed?

At the centre of the dispute between Eritrea and Djibouti is a tiny strip of land at their border. The greater Horn of Africa region, however, has numerous border disputes.

What is the history of the dispute?

The accepted border is a result of a 1900 boundary agreement between colonial powers France (French Somaliland, now Djibouti) and Italy (Eritrea). They agreed that the international boundary starts at Cape Doumeira (Ras Doumeira) at the Red Sea and runs for 1.5km along the watershed devide of the peninsula. The 1900 protocol also specified that the Doumeira Island (Ile Doumeira), which lies just offshore, would not be assigned sovereignty and would remain demilitarised.

The border at Ras Doumeira was, however, never demarcated. The area itself is a hill, and it was simply agreed that the northern slopes of hill were Italian, the southern slopes, French. Upon independence, Eritrea and Djibouti accepted this arrangement.

The first major post-colonial dispute arose when, in April 1996, a Djibouti official accused Eritrea of shelling Ras Doumeira, and the two countries narrowly avoided going to war.
Problems arose again in 2008, when the Eritreans occupied the hilltop. The circumstances surrounding this event are somewhat disputed. Djiboutian sources report that in January, Eritrea requested to cross the border in order to get sand for a road, but instead occupied the territory, set up fortifications and dug trenches on both sides of the Djiboutian border. Djibouti also claimed that Eritrea had put out new maps showing Ras Doumeira as Eritrean territory.

Eritrean sources, however, note that Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki, met twice with Djiboutian officials, informing them that his country intended to build a demarcation on Ras Doumeira hill. It was not clear why Eritrea wanted to build such a demarcation, but it has been speculated that it might be connected to boundary disputes it has with other neighbours, including Ethiopia, Yemen and Somalia. It might also reflect Eritrea's discomfort with the presence of American and French bases in Djibouti; the main American base, 'Seven Sea' is less than 10km south of the hill.

Both sides fortified the hill and manned it with military personnel, and clashes between the two sides broke out in June 2008. Despite the military might of Eritrea, Djibouti's backing by the majority of the international community, including former colonial master France, meant that it was able to withhold the Eritrean forces. Still, 35 people died in the clashes and dozens of others were wounded.

After Djibouti requested UN intervention, a UN fact-finding mission was sent to the region. It was welcomed by Djibouti, but blocked by Eritrea, who refused to meet with it or with any envoy of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

In January 2009, the UN Security council adopted Resolution 1862, which demanded that Eritrea pulled its forces from the disputed area, and welcomed Djibouti's withdrawal of its forces to its positions before the dispute. A further resolution, 1907, imposed an arms embargo on Eritrea, admonishing the country for its lack of progress on resolving the border dispute with Djibouti, and for arming Somali insurgents such as Al-Shabaab.

Resolution options?

In June 2010, the two countries agreed to a Qatar-led mediation process, a move that was warmly welcomed by the African Union and the UN, although Ethiopia questioned Eritrea's sincerity.

The fact that Eritrea agreed to Qatar's mediation effort is a positive sign that it wants to reintegrate into the world community. Eritrean President Afewerki was instrumental in starting the talks, and 2010 has seen him striking more conciliatory tones towards neighbours.

In September 2010, Isaias welcomed UN special representative for Somalia to Asmara for talks, and voiced his full support for a peaceful solution to Somalia's problems. Eritrea has also tried to forge friendships with Qatar, Iran, Israel and Egypt.

Eritrea is on the brink of a potentially lucrative gold mining boom, and seems to be worried about being isolated. Ethiopia used to use Eritrean ports for Red Sea access, but in recent years has preferred Djibouti. The potential revenues from shipping could be another incentive to improve its global reputation.

For more information on this dispute, including consideration of the regional context, see the full Border Focus, here.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

The Sudanese Referendum: Secession and the Challenges to Peace

The 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) ended the war between the Government of Sudan and the forces that had coalesced around the Sudan People's Liberation Movement. the CPA afforded Southern Sudan the right to an exercise of self-determination and set up the semi-autonomous South Sudan, the entity that, after the referendum scheduled for 9 January 2011, may emerge as the first new independent African state in Africa since 1993.

In all likelihood, the people of South Sudan will vote for independence in January. This outcome will itself not be without problems and yet there is still the potential that the referendum could be delayed or otherwise disrupted. This carries the very real potential for the expiry of the CPA and, with it, the compromising of the basis that exists for the interaction and dialogue between the North and South.

Menas Borders' article considers the problems that attend the issue of South Sudan's potential secession and it can be read here.

Territorial integrity in the archives: the contingency of territorial geopolitics?

The territorial integrity principle enjoys a central position in the international legal doctrine. It articulates a guarantee of states' exclusive territoriality, orients the modern international system around state sovereignty and seeks to derive order from territorial fixity. In this system territorial borders may only be changed by the consent of the states concerned and, moreover, a 'classical' view of borders has been superseded through the adoption of territorial integrity as the norms of international society have been globalised.

But there is nothing essential or timelessly 'true' about the territorial integrity principle even if it is often depicted in those terms. Its current centrality to international order is dependent on a 'good fit' with a particular geopolitical vision. While its roots can certainly be discerned much earlier, it was after 1945 and within the context of an American-sponsored geopolitical order, that territorial integrity became a structuring principle. This marked a stage in a process that had not been uncontested. In this article, consideration of archival material allows for the illustration of the way in which one of the US' closest partners, the UK, considered organising collective security around a guarantee of territorial integrity to be undesirable. While it is impossible to say how an alternative vision would have structured international affairs in the post-World War II world, it is still intriguing to consider the motivations of the UK government in resisting the implementation of a guarantee that became so central to the preservation of order in the post-1945 world.

Read the full article here.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Southern Sudan referendum timetable announced

The south is expected to vote for independence

Sudanese officials have announced a timetable for Southern Sudan's independence referendum. The vote is due to take place on 9th January, 2011, but the absence of a timetable outlining the run-up to the vote led to fears that the referendum would have to be postponed, which could spark renewed violence.

Deputy Chairman of the Southern Sudan Referendum Commission Chan Reec Madut said on Tuesday 5th October that voter registration will start on 14th November and end on 4th December, with parties allowed to start campaigning on 7th December.

Despite the tight timing this schedule provides, Reec was confident about the prospects. "I am still optimistic that if we are all registered, everybody has his or her card, and then we can be sure that this exercise is going to happen no matter what," Reec told reporters in the southern capital Juba. He added that only 'unseen reasons' could cause the vote to be delayed.

Despite this announcement, Southern Sudan President Salva Kiir told UN Security Council delegates, who are visiting the region, that the south may have to organise its own referendum if the north disrupted the vote. The south has repeatedly accused the north of trying to delay the ballot to keep control of the region's oil, a charge Khartoum denies.

The poll will take place across Sudan, but only southerners will be eligible to vote. The southern Sudanese diaspora will also be able to vote in eight other countries, assisted by the intergovernmental International Organisation for Migration (IOM). The vote will take place in Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia, Egypt, Australia, Canada, the US and the UK.

Voter registration material is bring printed in South Africa, and ballot papers will also be printed outside Sudan with security devices fitted to prevent fraud.

The referendum was part of a 2005 peace deal to end two decades of conflict between the north and oil-rich south, in which some 1.5 million people died and millions more were displaced.

Preparations, however, for a separate referendum in the Abyei region, which straddles north and south Sudan, are making less headway. UN-mediated talks are being held in Ethiopia to try to resolve disputes over voter eligibiliy and the physical demarcation of the state's border. The Abyei referendum is also due to be held on 9th January, and people of the region will choose whether to join the north or the south.

The announcement by Reec came as 15 members of the UN Security Council visited the region to make sure the referendums go ahead on time and in a fair and peaceful manner. The delegation will also be travelling to Darfur, where there has been renewed violence after the breakdown of a ceasefire between the government and one of the main rebel groups, the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM).

The delegation almost cancelled their trip because council members worried that they would have to meet Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir and shake his hand, but the trip went ahead after it was agreed that a meeting would not happen. Al-Bashir has been indicted for alleged war crimes in Darfur by the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Sources: BBC News, Reuters, AfricaNews
For more information on the situation in South Sudan, please see the original story here.