We will be discussing the following topics during the committee sessions of DISEC. For more information about the DISEC, please check out the offical page of DISEC. If you have any questions, do not hesitate to e-mail us so we can get you in touch with the chairs!
Topic A: Russia/NATO
Most people are aware of the tensions, which have existed since the Cold War, between the USA, its allies and the NATO; and the Soviet Union. Yet, since the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989 and the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, political relations between the West and the East have been unstable to say the least. Although it has been more than two decades since the Cold War ended, the attitudes from that period have continued to influence political agendas in the Russian Federation and the NATO. Cooperation has been successful in areas such as counter-terrorism, nuclear arms and counter-piracy. However, despite the increase in trade and political engagement since the fall of the Soviet Union, recent events have contributed to an increase of political tension between these two military giants, which have not been seen since the height of the Cold War era.
Events such as the Ukrainian conflict, which has lasted since the spring of 2014, have pushed the Russian-NATO relations to a new low. Several years earlier these relations already suffered due to Russia’s foreign policies with regard to the Caucasus and Kosovo. However, the Russian Federation has expressed its concern about the growing number of NATO allies since the fall of the Soviet Union. They expressed their concern for the fact that a military alliance, which was primarily aimed at deterring the Soviet Union, was still gaining terrain after the end of the Cold War. This was emphasized by the fact that the NATO alliance was gaining terrain closer and closer to the sovereign borders of the Russian Federation (e.g. Poland and Hungary in 1999; Latvia and Estonia in 2004). This has been seen by the Russian Federation as a violation of the agreements made between the West and the East with regard to the unification of Berlin and Germany. On the other hand the West keeps accusing the Russians of disregarding human rights and the increase of their military personnel, logistics and facilities.
Nowadays the hostilities between the NATO and Russia seem to grow constantly, including a proxy war in Syria between the United States and the Russian Federation whom each support an opposing party in the conflict. Other events, which seemed to be major contributors to the rising tensions, are among others the shooting down of a Russian military airplane by the NATO member Turkey and the disputed borders of the North Pole. This can all be illustrated by the doomsday clock, which has been set to 5 minutes to midnight (as close as during the height of the Cold War). The doomsday clock was introduced by scientists in the Cold War as a representation of how close the world was to total annihilation.
However, the geopolitical landscape keeps changing which in turn might significantly influence the escalating tensions between the West and the East. In September both in the United Stated as well as in the Russian Federation elections will be held. Unfortunately at this moment, cooperation and communication based on common grounds seem to be highly unlikely. Yet, in order to prevent military escalation and to bolster stability in the Euro-Atlantic area, current efforts should be focused at steering away from escalation and confrontation, and instead towards a pragmatic working partnership. At the very least a line of communication and healthy debate should be available.
Topic B: The South China Sea
The South China Sea has a size of 3 million square kilometres, is covered with hundreds of reefs, islets and rocks and bordered by some of the world’s most quickly industrializing countries: Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines, Brunei, Taiwan and China.
But why is this part of the Pacific Ocean such a potential flashpoint of regional conflicts?
The South China Sea is not only very rich in valuable resources – big fisheries exist next to assumed oil and gas deposits – but it is also traversed by some of the world’s busiest trading lanes. Therefore, it has huge geopolitical significance and, naturally, the littoral countries pursue their national interests by claiming parts of the water. International law is ambiguous on questions with regard to territorial claim. To the north, the Pratas Island and the submerged Macclesfield Bank are claimed to be national territory by both the Republic of China (Taiwan) and the People’s Republic of China. China and Taiwan have tacitly tolerated each other’s identical claim to practically the entire South China Sea because both base their claim on the same historic grounds. All the Paracel Islands are claimed by Vietnam, Taiwan and China, on historic grounds, although these have been occupied exclusively by China since 1974. China and Vietnam disagree over their maritime boundary in the Gulf of Tonkin.
Further south, the Spratly Islands are spread astride strategic sea lanes and are claimed by China, Taiwan, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Brunei. Of the six, all but Brunei have sought to strengthen their claims by establishing a military presence on at least one of the Spratlys. Although their claims to exclusive economic zones overlap, all six allege that their claims are fully supported under international law and under the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea which entered into force in 1994 and states, for instance in article 3 that ‘every State has the right to establish the breadth of its territorial sea up to a limit not exceeding 12 nautical miles’. Finally, the claims of China, Taiwan and Vietnam overlap portions of Indonesia’s claim in the Natuna area.
There have been several cases of military intimidation and interventions in recent years. Examples for high level of violence are, firstly, China’s use of military force against Vietnamese troops to enforce its claim to the Paracel islands in 1974 or, secondly, a dispute occurred between the Chinese and Vietnamese troops over the occupation of Fiery Cross Reef in 1988 killing seventy-two people.
As already indicated, China and Taiwan claim most of the waters based on a vaguely defined “nine-dash-line” found on Chinese maps from the 1940s.
A UN-backed arbitration court in The Hague ruled in July this year that China has no historic rights to resources in the sea areas falling within the so-called “nine-dash-line”. Furthermore, the artificial islands built up by China in the South China Sea has been found to be unlawfully and causing environmental damage. However, China refuses to accept the ruling, announced penalties for so-labelled “illegal” fishing in the sea and continues its reclamation activities.
Those artificial islands are partly inhabited and partly used as military bases. Many of the other littoral countries rearm their coastal areas, as well. And last but not least, also the United States sends vessels increasingly since approximately a year to the South China Sea.
The increasing tense in this region is an enormous threat to the region’s security. For that reason, it is of highest importance to take action towards disarmament by including each party fairly in the negotiating process.