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Development and Settlement of Disputes

The South China Sea: A Challenging Test of the International Order

Author: Harry Krejsa

NASSP Issue Brief Series [electronic resource] / Issue 1, No. 1.2 (2016)

The following are excerpts of the paper:

A central task of the rules-based international order is to address disputes equitably between states without resorting to force or coercion. This task is especially important when disputes involve states with stark power imbalances. In these cases the temptation to pressure and coerce may be especially alluring, as the example of Thucydides’ unfortunate Melians demonstrates. Though with notable exceptions, the age-old dynamics of the strong doing what they wish and the weak accepting what they must appear to be in long-term decline. Outright violent conquest is increasingly rare – and when it does happen – say, Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait or, arguably, Vladimir Putin’s annexation of Crimea – the international community is shocked and frequently driven to action. Though the effectiveness of that action can vary widely, from counter-invasion to sanctions to strongly-worded demurral, norms against might-making-right have made great strides towards broad acceptance and inculcation.


Flexibility Still Requires Force

For these reasons, the strategic and economic environment in the Asia-Pacific, and in the South China Sea in particular, is likely to only grow more fraught and complex in the coming years. While major conflict remains unlikely, damage to the international norms that do the most work to restrain conflict will not be without consequence. The stark power imbalances among actors in and around the South China Sea and brazen Chinese coercion may be breaking the relatively rigid framework of such norms – and demonstrating the requirement of a more nimble and flexible framework – perhaps a more networked one – to supplement if not succeed it. However, any such additional security architecture will depend on a minimally credible defence among its participants, and so capacity building will need to be a crucial part of that design. Japan and Australia will be critical partners to the United States in building regional capacity, but – despite being high-end peers themselves – Tokyo and Canberra will likely need to continue to bolster their own defences. Power imbalances in the South China Sea are simply too stark to ignore, and the process of narrowing those imbalances – however modestly – must begin.

Download the full publication at https://www.unsw.adfa.edu.au [PDF]

Related articles: 

Development and Settlement of the Disputes: https://seasresearch.wordpress.com/category/development-and-settlement-of-disputes/



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