2005 Inquiry Simulation
Conference on The World's
Oceans: Security, Economics, and Environment
We are looking forward to welcoming you to this critical and timely conference on "The World's Oceans: Security, Economics, and Environment". Below are the questions that we will be discussing during the weekend -- please consider them carefully.
We also request that each delegation prepare a 3-4 minute opening statement addressing what your country or organization hopes to see emerge from these deliberations -- specifically focusing on your goals and what you see as your role in effecting their outcome.
Before the institution of UNCLOS, the oceans were governed largely by the principle of mare liberum, the freedom of the seas. Now, while there may be institutions in place to regulate the oceans, they are still very much characterized by anarchy. They are generally regarded as the last frontier and very little is certain about what happens on or within the oceans. This relative lawlessness provides ideal conditions for terrorist activities. The alleged buildup of an Al Qaeda "navy" is a concern, and many fear that this could be the source of the next significant terrorist attack. Whose responsibility is it to address this problem, and what can you do to reduce the threat of terrorism on the high seas?
The tsunami of December 2005 devastated coastal nations from Asia to Africa, many of which were caught by surprise despite experts' knowledge of the earthquake at sea. If the oceans are, in fact, mankind's "last frontier," how can we increase our knowledge and response capabilities to marine phenomena in order to prevent another disaster on this scale?
Evidence of the difficulty in regulating ocean activities is the volume of people that cross borders illegally by sea. To what degree does human smuggling represent a security threat? To what degree should nations cooperate on all illegal smuggling via the ocean?
Since the departure of the British in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the United States has had a strong military and economic presence in the Persian Gulf. The recent war in Iraq has significantly raised U.S. involvement in the region. Since the Persian Gulf supplies about one third of the world's oil and holds about 57 percent of the world's crude oil reserves, as well as 45 percent of total proven world gas reserves, the increased U.S. presence in the region could heighten conflict among major powers. China, Japan, and the European Union all depend upon access to the Gulf, unimpeded by the U.S. military for a good portion of their oil. With U.S. control of Iraq's oil supply -- the second largest producer -- there is a strong potential for heightened tensions and conflict, not just in the Gulf but in other oil-producing regions.
The United States Department of Energy describes the Strait of Hormuz as "the world's most important chokepoint"-- over 15 million barrels of oil per day pass through it. Its strategic location amidst many of the world's greatest oil producing states, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Iran, makes it very important to the oil and shipping industries. Should such an economically important and heavily trafficked area be internationally regulated and controlled? Should the countries and companies that utilize the Strait collaborate with one another to ensure safety and fairness? Should these types of international policies extend to all of the major chokepoints: Strait of Malacca (Indian Ocean to South China Sea), Bab el Mandeb (mouth of the Red Sea), Suez Canal and Sumed Pipeline (Red Sea to Mediterranean Sea), Bosporus Straits (Mediterranean Sea to Black Sea), and the Panama Canal (Pacific Ocean to Atlantic Ocean)?
Given the instability of the Persian Gulf region, the importance of the region to the global economy, and concerns about the rise in terrorism (e.g. attacks on the U.S. military ship the U.S.S. Cole and on the French tanker the Limburg) from mines to suicide attacks, how should the global community address the threat of terrorism in the waters of the Persian Gulf? Should "flags of convenience" be reconsidered? The committee may want to consult with the Security Committee.
The Spratly Islands, located in the middle of the South China Sea, are claimed all or in part by a number of the surrounding countries: China, Taiwan, Vietnam, Philippines, and Malaysia. The claims revolve mainly around anticipated oil and natural gas deposits, though there no proven reserves. The area is also rich in fisheries. In the past, there have been several limited confrontations over the islands. As worldwide demand for oil increases and with growing populations to feed, how should these islands be divided in a way that avoids conflict? Increased conflict in the area has the potential of affecting major shipping lanes as well as numerous national economies. How might the division of the islands affect signatories to UNCLOS and the call for 200-mile EEZs?
The greatest threat of piracy on the oceans is in the Strait of Malacca. The Strait of Malacca, linking the Indian Ocean and South China Sea and the Pacific Ocean is the shortest sea route between three of the world's most populous countries -- India, China, and Indonesia -- and therefore is considered to be the key choke point in Asia. The narrowest point of this shipping lane is the Phillips Channel in the Singapore Strait, which is only 1.5 miles wide at its narrowest point. More than 50,000 vessels per year transit the Strait of Malacca. With Chinese oil imports from the Middle East increasing steadily, the Strait of Malacca is likely to grow in strategic importance in coming years. The threat of an increase in piracy, therefore, also could have direct security implications.
According to UNCLOS, "All States have the right to exercise freedom of navigation on the high seas and in the exclusive economic zone, and the rights of innocent passage in the territorial sea, transit passage in straits used for international navigation, and archipelagic sea lanes passage in archipelagic sea lanes." Should this right of innocent passage also pertain to shipments of hazardous materials such as high level nuclear waste through territorial waters and/or Exclusive Economic Zones? Should a coastal state be able to consider that the passage of a vessel carrying hazardous material -- which could have an accident with catastrophic consequences for that state -- as jeopardizing the peace, good order or security of the state?
Ships' flags generally provided information on the nationality of the ships' owners. Ships were re-flagged under another country initially to ensure safe passage or neutrality, such as Kuwaiti tankers in the Persian Gulf. Today, a flag of convenience ship is one that flies the flag of a country other than the country of ownership. Cheap registration fees, low or no taxes, lax safety standards, and the freedom to employ cheap labor are often the motivating factors behind a shipowner's decision to 'flag out'. Increasingly, there has been a move toward flags of convenience or flying the flag of a country with little or no regulations. Ship owners are able to avoid costly repairs and maintenance to make a ship seaworthy under strict regulations by registering in a country of convenience, such as Panama or Liberia. In addition, many of the flagging offices have little or no contact with the countries that they represent, providing another layer of refuge for the actual owner. Fishing boat owners who use a flag of convenience can also ignore their home countries' conservation agreements.
Containers revolutionized the transportation of goods by making the shape and size of cargo uniform. However, containers also provide unregulated access to ports because of the enormous volume of containers being unloaded and loaded daily and the difficulty and cost related to checking containers, which has resulted in an increase of the smuggling of people and weapons among other things. The shipping of weapons and/or hazardous materials is seen as a potential terrorist threat. Currently, less than one percent of containers worldwide are screened despite the U.S. Container Security Initiative. Many are concerned that because container shipping accounts for such a large part of the world economy, any plans to inspect more containers will create a dramatic economic slow-down.
Threats to world-wide shipping have increased over the last three years. These threats are posed by terrorism, piracy and increased instability in many of the major ports that provide necessary supplies such as oil, etc. Along with this increase in danger on the high seas has come insurance costs escalation. Increasing insurance costs can have a number of effects, from hiking the price of goods to elevating the frequency of re-flagging and thereby lowering the safety of the ships and their crews.
Global warming has largely been accepted as occurring, although there is still some disagreement as to the direct causes of the warming. The potential impact of increased warming can have a drastic effect on the oceans, potentially causing an even more drastic effect on land, such as another ice age. The melting of glaciers can change the ocean's temperature and thus change the oceans currents. A change in the ocean's currents can affect temperatures on land. Global warming also has the potential to raise the sea level, affecting coastal areas and low-lying islands. This in turn can affect a variety of human migration, in some cases forcing whole island populations to move. The warming of the oceans can also affect the world's fisheries. Currently the ocean helps the global community by acting as a sink for carbon dioxide, however there are concerns that the ocean could reach a maximum absorption capacity. How might that affect climate change?
In today's world, many companies and transnational corporations have as much money and even, some would argue, as much political clout as individual countries. However, the global system still functions primarily through a network of national governments. The oceans, however, do not conform to the sovereign state system, nor does pollution that affects the oceans. And beyond the 200-mile EEZ, the high seas are open, unclaimed territories. Industry, from the agricultural sector to oil to manufacturing, shares a large responsibility for polluting the oceans, from fertilizer runoff to oil spills to the dumping of toxic waste. Since the problem defies national borders, do national solutions/accountability/penalties work to curb this pollution? What if the standards vary significantly from country to country?
Another major human impact on the ocean is the effect on coastal ecosystems caused by human settlements. Tundi Agardy, the executive director of Sound Seas, writes, Coastal systems are experiencing growing population and exploitation pressures in most parts of the world. Though the thin strip of coastal land at the continental margins and within islands accounts for only five percent of earth's land area, 39 percent of the global population lives in the coastal zone. Seventy-one percent of the world's coastal population lives within 50 kilometers of an estuary, 31 percent live within 50 kilometers of a coral reef system, 45 percent live within 50 kilometers of mangrove wetlands, and 49 percent live within 50 kilometers of seagrass ecosystems. Dependence on coastal zones is increasing around the world, even as costs of rehabilitation and restoration of degraded coastal ecosystems is on the rise. Local communities and industries continue to use coastal resources of all kinds: including fisheries resources; timber, fuelwood and construction materiel; oil, natural gas, strategic minerals, sand and other non-living natural resources; and genetic resources. In addition, people increasingly use ocean space for shipping, security zones, recreation, aquaculture, and habitation. Coastal zones provide far-reaching and diverse job opportunities, and income generation and human well-being are currently higher on the coasts than inland. The ecosystems in these coastal systems are dynamic, and in many cases are now undergoing more rapid change than at any time in their history... These transformations have been physical, as in the dredging of waterways, infilling of wetlands, and construction of ports, resorts, and housing developments, and they have been biological, as has occurred with declines in abundances of marine organisms such as sea turtles, marine mammals, seabirds, fish ... the resulting changes in hydrology have greatly altered coastal dynamics.
Currently, UNCLOS calls for the Common Heritage of Mankind Principle as a means to divide the resources of the oceans outside of EEZs, as well as for an International Seabed Authority to oversee it. Many countries are opposed to UNCLOS specifically because of the Common Heritage principle. Given that the development and further usage of the ocean's resources are going to be in higher demand, what type of international agreements and structures will be needed to ensure that resources are divided fairly while preserving the ocean's environment? What types of international conflicts might occur if there is no one body to ensure equitable and sustainable use of and access to the resources? Will creating an international organization that all industrialized nations are supposed to adhere to create more conflict and simply lead to nations, corporations, and individuals disregarding the rules to seek their own strategic gain?
The 200 mile Exclusive Economic Zone, as part of UNCLOS, is a 200 mile "border" extending from each country's coastline that allows national producers to have access to its resources. Is it possible for countries to monitor this boundary to ensure that it is respected? What authority do countries have to engage other countries that may violate the EEZ boundaries, whether for fishing, oil, natural gas, or other mineral resources? How many countries have the naval ability to protect their interests? How should asymmetry be addressed? What happens in places where the shape of the shoreline causes EEZs to overlap, such as in the South China Sea or in the Caspian Sea? What potential conflicts could this cause in the future and how might the advent of better technology lead to a new "race" between nations set on expanding their reserves of the ocean's resources? How might US unwillingness to sign UNCLOS, in part due to the 200 EEZ, affect the potency of UNCLOS and the EEZ?
Given the expansive areas of the ocean floor and the dwindling amount of oil that might exist on land, will countries attempt to go further into the oceans to secure energy resources? The US Department of Energy believes that more than 200 trillion cubic meters of natural gas may exist on the U.S. continental shelf alone. What are the consequences for the oceans of countries expanding oil and natural gas production? How does the process of obtaining natural gas differ from obtaining oil, and what might that mean for developing countries and the constant economic drive to obtain as much fuel as possible at the lowest cost? How should countries balance the economic and environmental consequences?
An Article in The Economist cites one case study that highlights the problem of the oceans' "open access" in Alaska, where "in the early 1990's anyone could catch sable fish, although the overall total was controlled. As a result, a year's worth of sable fish were usually caught... in under a week." Unfortunately, in most fisheries there exist no standards for control at all, allowing this race for fish to continue unabated every day and every week of the year. How does this affect the interests of private small fishermen, particularly in the face of large corporations that use trawl nets, which bulldoze through the open ocean over thousands of miles and can destroy entire ecosystems in their paths? Government controls have not expelled the overcapacity created by subsidies and open access which keeps fishermen under constant financial pressure. "Scientists think fishermen overfish, and fishermen think scientists overprotect." What is the balance between the two? Which "fisherman" is at the greatest disadvantage? Depletion of fish stocks has also been the source of international disputes, e.g. the Cod Wars between Iceland and Britain. Both sides agreed the stocks were declining but could not agree on the cause or a method of stabilizing the fish population and ultimately ships clashed and international organizations, such as the Nordic Council and NATO were involved.
In response to waning world fish supplies, many nations have recently invested in fish farming. The advent of aquaculture addresses a declining global fish supply by harvesting and domesticating fish species in what is now considered the blue revolution. However, the booming industry of fish farms can have its own negative consequences:
Nonetheless, optimists find promise in a future of sustainable fish farming that may offer a consistency of nutritional supply and lower fish prices on environmentally friendly grounds. What should be the future of aquaculture? Farming fish on the high seas, known as mariculture, may also become possible and widespread in the future, posing additional problems of oversight and accountability.
Migratory fish, such as salmon, swordfish, and tuna, often travel thousands of miles without regard to borders, and their populations depend on an overall sustained biological food chain. According to the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization, "virtually every commercial fish species in every ocean and sea is 'over exploited,' 'fully-exploited,' or 'depleted'" as local fisheries continuously scramble to maintain their own immediate livelihoods. Short-term needs often win over long-term strategies for the health of fish stocks.