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Why the World is Not Becoming Multipolar




In Russia, the concept of multipolarity is usually associated with Yevgeny Primakov. Indeed, the former Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation marked the start of the transition to multipolarity as a key trend in contemporary international life back in 1996[1]. During his visit to New Delhi as Prime Minister in late 1998, Primakov proposed a plan of trilateral cooperation between Russia, China, and India (RIC) as a practical mechanism for promoting global multipolarity. Sergey Lavrov has also stressed Primakov’s outstanding role in developing the concept of a multipolar world.

Western international relations experts will hardly agree to give priority to the Russian scholar and politician. As a rule, they trace the emergence of the concept of multipolarity to the mid-1970s. The roots of multipolarity are found in the rapid rise of the economies of Western Europe and Japan, in the United States’ defeat in Vietnam, in the energy crisis of 1973–1974, and in other trends of global politics that do not fit into the rigid framework of the bipolar world. The establishment in 1973 of the Trilateral Commission intended to encourage and improve relations between North America, Western Europe, and Eastern Asia also reflected the idea that multipolarity was coming into being, if not already fact[2].

Chinese historians, in turn, can claim their own version of multipolarity (duojihua) that emerged in the early 1990s and can be traced to the theoretical works of Mao Zedong. In China, the world was expected to transition from unipolar to multipolar via a “hybrid” global political structure that combines elements of both the past and future world systems.[3]

Regardless of how we date the birth of multipolarity as a concept and whom we hail as its pioneer, the concept clearly is not a recent invention, but an intellectual product of the 20th century. It would seem that over the decades that have passed since it was proposed, multipolarity should have evolved from a hypothesis into a full-fledged theory. As regards political practice, intuition suggests that, over the course of several decades, the multipolar world should have finally taken shape as a new global political system with relevant norms, institutions, and procedures.

Yet something clearly went wrong. The world is not behaving as the founders had predicted.

Elusive Multipolarity

In October 2016, twenty years after Yevgeny Primakov’ policy article was published in the journal International Affairs, President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin gave a speech at the Annual Meeting of the Valdai Discussion Club in Sochi, during which he commented, “I certainly hope that… the world really will become more multipolar, and that the views of all actors in the international community will be taken into account.” Six months prior to that, Putin noted the role of the United States in international relations: “America is a great power, today perhaps the only superpower. We accept this.” That is, even though a multipolar world is the desirable world system, presently it is too early to say that the “unipolar moment” has been completely overcome.

Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation Sergey Lavrov, following the general logic and even the style of Yevgeny Primakov’s narrative of 20 years ago, also spoke about the start of a transition to multipolarity and the completion of the process in some indefinite future: “… A change of eras is always a lengthy process. It will continue for a long time.” As an additional complication, Lavrov emphasized the staunch resistance of the proponents of the old world order: “There are active attempts to hinder the process primarily on the part of those who used to dominate the world, who wish to preserve their domination in new conditions as well, and, generally speaking, to enshrine their domination forever.”

This logic is hard to dispute. Yet some questions remain.

First, the historical experience of the previous centuries offers no examples of an old world gradually transforming into a new one over time. The changes in the world order that took place in 1815, 1919, and 1945 were not evolutionary, but imposed by revolutionary (forcible) means and stemmed from large-scale armed conflicts that had preceded them. The new world order was always built by the victors in their own interests. Of course, we may suppose that humanity has become wiser and more humane over the last 100–200 years, though not everyone would agree. Yet even if that is true, surely all attempts to “gradually” transition to a multipolar world would be the same as trying to alleviate the pain of a beloved pet dog by cutting off its tail piece by piece.

Second, if we take as given that the transition to a multipolar world will become an extended process spread over, say, five decades (1995–2045), this leads to the depressing conclusion that humanity will remain in the “grey area” between the old and new world orders until the middle of the 21st century. This “grey area” is clearly not a particularly comfortable or safe place. It is easy to predict that it will lack clear rules of the game, understandable and generally recognized principles of the functioning of the international system, and numerous conflicts between the emerging “poles.” The system may even split into individual fragments and its “poles” will become self-isolated in their regional or continental subsystems. Can we afford several decades in the “grey zone” without subjecting humanity to extreme risks?

Third, do we even have sufficient grounds to say that the world is moving towards multipolarity, even if this movement is slow, inconsistent, and sporadic? Could we, for instance, conclude that today, the European Union is closer to being a full-fledged and independent global “pole” than it was ten years ago? Can we assert that, over the last decade, Africa, the Middle East, or Latin America have made significant progress towards the status of a collective “pole”? Is it possible to say that as the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) expanded, the group increased its capability to act on a consolidated stance on the international stage? If we are not yet prepared to give an unequivocal “yes” to all these questions, then we do not have the right to say that the world is steadily moving towards multipolarity.

Over the years, multipolarity has become like a distant horizon that keeps receding as we move towards it. Could we not, therefore, apply Eduard Bernstein’s famous saying that “the movement is everything, the final goal is nothing” to multipolarity? That is, could we perceive multipolarity not as a full-fledged alternative to the existing world order, but as a mechanism for correcting the weakest and most vulnerable elements of this order?

“The Concert of Europe” 200 Years On

Adherents of multipolarity like to cite the “Concert of Europe,” the Vienna System of international relations established in Europe in the early 19th century after the Napoleonic wars. This system was truly multipolar; it did indeed help preserve peace in Europe for a long time. Historians debate the precise date at which the system collapsed: 1853 (the start of the Crimean War), 1871 (the Franco-Prussian War) or 1914 (the First World War). In any case, after 1815, the 19th century was relatively peaceful for Europe, particularly when compared to the disastrous 20th century.

Could the “Concert of Europe” be repeated 200 years later, this time in the global, rather than the European, context?

Let us start with the fact that the members of the “Concert of Europe,” despite being very different states, were still comparable in power and influence militarily, politically, and economically. The cosmopolitan European elites remained largely homogeneous (European monarchies in the 19th century were essentially one extended family), spoke the same language (French), professed the same faith (Christianity), and were in general part of the same cultural tradition (the European Enlightenment). Of even greater importance is the fact that the members of the “Concert of Europe” did not have radical, irreconcilable differences in their views on the desirable future of European politics, at least until the rapid rise of Prussia and the subsequent unification of Germany.

Today, the situation is drastically different. The potential members of a unipolar system have fundamentally different political weight. The United States has a greater weight in today’s international system than the British Empire had in European politics in the 19th century. The global elite is heterogeneous, and there are profound differences in their cultural archetypes and basic values. In the 19th century, the differences between the members of the “concert” pertained to specific issues in European politics, to the “manual tuning” of the complicated European mechanism. In the 21st century, the differences between the great powers pertain to the very foundations of the world order, the basic principles of international law, and even more important questions such as justice, legitimacy, and the “great meanings” of history.

On the other hand, the Concert of Europe was so successful largely due to its flexibility. Great European powers could afford the luxury of promptly changing the configuration of unions, coalitions, and alliances to maintain the overall balance of the system. For instance, France was one of Russia’s main adversaries in the Crimean War. Just a year later, after the Treaty of Paris was signed in 1856, Russia and France embarked upon a phase of active rapprochement, which resulted in Russia’s final break with Austria and Austria’s defeat in its 1859 conflict with France.

Could we imagine such flexibility today? Could we suppose that over the course of two or three years, Russia would be capable of swapping its current partnership with China for an alliance with the United States? Or that the European Union, as it faces increasing pressure from the United States, would re-orient itself towards strategic cooperation with Moscow? Such scenarios look improbable at best and absurd at worst. Alas, the leaders of great powers today do not have the flexibility that is absolutely necessary to maintain a stable multipolar world order.

At the end of our short historical sketch, we can ask another curious question. Why did the 1814–1815 Congress of Vienna result in a stable European order, while the 1919 Treaty of Versailles became meaningless 15 years after it was signed? How is it possible that the members of the anti-France coalition were capable of magnanimity towards their former enemy, while members of the anti-German coalition were not? Was it because George Clemenceau, David Lloyd George, and Woodrow Wilson were more stupid or bloodthirsty than Alexander I, Klemens von Metternich, and Charles Maurice de Talleyrand?

Of course not. It is just that the Concert of Europe was created by autocratic monarchs, while the Treaty of Versailles was designed by leaders of western democracies. The latter were far more dependent on national public sentiment than their predecessors were a century earlier. And the public sentiments of nations that had experienced four years of suffering, unprecedented privations, and losses demanded that the Germans be punished in the harshest and most uncompromising manner. And this is what the victors ultimately did, thus planting the seeds of the global carnage that was to come.

Clearly, over the last hundred years, politicians have grown even more dependent on the smallest fluctuations in public opinion. Unfortunately, the chances of seeing new examples of Alexander’s magnanimity and Metternich’s insight today are slim. To paraphrase Pushkin, we can say that “political populism and multipolarity are two things incompatible.”

The “Gangsters” and “Molls” of the Multipolar World

A famous cliché in international relations (attributed to a variety of authors, from Otto von Bismarck to Stanley Kubrick) states that on the global stage, large states act as gangsters and small states act as molls. The concept of a multipolar world is geared towards the “gangsters” and ignores the “molls.” Not every state and not even every coalition of states has the right to claim the status of a “pole” in the international system.

The adherents of multipolarity believe that most contemporary states are simply incapable of independently ensuring their own security and economic growth, not to mention making a significant contribution to shaping the new world order[4]. Thus, in both the current and future multipolar world, only a handful of countries have “true sovereignty,” while others sacrifice this sovereignty in the name of security, prosperity, or even plain survival.[5]

At the time of the Concert of Europe, the “gangsters” could successfully control the “molls” who depended on them, and the number of “molls” was relatively small. Two centuries later, the situation has changed drastically. Today, there are about 200 states that are members of the UN, and then there are unrecognized states and non-state actors. Therefore, the majority of members of international relations in the new multipolar world has been assigned the unenviable role of extras or observers.

Even if we ignore the moral and ethical deficiency of such a world order, there are grave doubts that such a project is feasible, especially given mounting problems in current military, political, and economic unions and the sharp rise of nationalism that affects both great powers and small and medium-sized countries.

The adherents of multipolarity probably think that the “poles” of the new world order will form naturally, that the “molls” will rush into the arms of neighbouring “gangsters” out of love rather than by coercion. That is, they will be driven by geographic proximity, economic expediency, common history, cultural similarities, etc. Unfortunately, historical experience would suggest the contrary. French-speaking Flanders has for centuries fended off the obtrusive patronage of Paris; Portugal has for an equally long time striven to distance itself from the geographically and culturally close Spain; and for some reason, Vietnam has failed to appreciate the advantages of belonging to China’s “pole.” It would be best to not even recall the state of relations between Russia and once “brotherly” Ukraine.

If the “molls” are forced to turn to the “gangsters” for protection, they clearly prefer “gangsters” from a remote neighbourhood rather than from their own street. Generally speaking, such preferences are sometimes somewhat logical. And if this is the case, then “poles” can only be formed “voluntarily under duress,” as the Russian saying goes – and in the 21st century, such foundations have dubious stability.

One gets the impression that the Russian discourse about the impending multipolar world confuses the notions of legal equality (“equal rights”) and actual equality (identity as the ultimate equality). States cannot actually be equal to each other: their size, resources, and capabilities, as well as their economic, military, and political potential, differ too greatly. Yet the apparent inequality of states does not necessarily mean that they should also have different basic rights. There is the principle of all citizens being equal before the law regardless of the differences in social status, property, education, and talents.

Old Bipolarity Billed as New Multipolarity

The differences in the current situation compared to that of the early 19th century are too obvious to attempt to restore the “classical” multipolarity. It would seem that, in one way or another, the adherents of multipolarity also realize this. If we take a closer, more careful look at the discourse in Russia today describing the “new” multipolarity of the 21st century, the magnificent multipolar façade often disguises the same steel-and-concrete bipolar structure of global politics, reflecting the Soviet mentality that has not been entirely overcome.

The “new bipolarity” manifests in all kinds of ways. Consider, for instance, the “East–West” dichotomy, a confrontation between “maritime” and “continental” powers, a clash between the “liberal” and “conservative” worlds, or even the opposition between the United States and the rest of the world. Whatever its external manifestation, the essence remains the same, like in the old Soviet joke about a worker from a factory manufacturing prams who complains, “Whenever I try to assemble a pram, I end up with a Kalashnikov.”

We cannot say with absolute certainty that the world will never go back to the bipolarity of the 20th century. In any case, the possible bipolarity that could result from the impending U.S.–China confrontation is more realistic than going back to the multipolarity of the 19th century. Nevertheless, attempts to combine elements of multipolarity and bipolarity in a single structure is a doomed enterprise. These two approaches to global politics are too different in their basic paradigms. Multipolarity and bipolarity are two radically different worldviews.

Classical multipolarity cannot have any rigid divisions between those who are right and those who are wrong, between friend and foe, between black and white. Foes may prove to be friends, those in the right and those in the wrong may swap places, and there is an entire range of shades of grey in the spectrum between black and white. A bipolar picture, on the contrary, always tends to be Manichean, when friends are always in the right and foes are invariably in the wrong. Friends are forgiven whatever they do, and foes are never forgiven. The notion of the collective West that is popular in Russia is also a vestige of the Soviet mentality. In no way does this fit in with the declared “multipolar” picture of the world, but it is very convenient for constructing the opposing notion of a “collective non-West.”

Familiar stereotypes of the Soviet mentality stubbornly bring us back to bipolar logic and deprive us of the opportunity to take advantage of managing a complex multipolar construction even in those instances when such opportunities present themselves. Of course, there are exceptions to this rule. Russian policies in the Middle East are one such exception, as it is the Donald Trump administration that has been caught in the trap of a bipolar worldview there, while Russia, having taken the preferred position of regional referee, has thus far succeeded in manoeuvring among the various regional players. Russia has been less successful in the Russia–China–India triangle that Yevgeny Primakov had once promoted as the foundation of a multipolar world: the equilateral Russia–China–India triangle is slowly but steadily evolving towards a military alliance between Russia and China.

Overcoming the remnants of bipolar logic is a necessary but insufficient condition for a successful foreign policy. It would seem that the successful use of multipolar approaches promises tactical successes at best. Strategic victories are possible if multipolarity is abandoned in favour of multilateralism.

Searching for a Balance in Open Systems

If we agree with the principle of states having equal rights in the international system, we should abandon the fundamentals of multipolarity. Directly or indirectly, multipolarity assumes that in the future world there will always be states or groups of states with special rights. That is, the privileges of force will be enshrined, just like the victors of World War II enshrined their privileges when establishing the UN system in 1945. However, the experience of 1945 cannot be repeated in 2018: today’s great powers have neither the authority nor the legitimacy nor the unanimity of the countries that had made the decisive contribution to victory in the bloodiest war in human history.

For the international system of the future to be stable and durable, there should be no radical differences between the victors and the vanquished, between “regular” and “privileged” members. Otherwise, any change in the global balance of power (and such changes will occur with increasing speed) will necessitate adjustments to the system, and we will thus go through crises over and over again.

How can we talk about consolidating the privilege of power in the new multipolar structure if this power is diffusing at breakneck pace before our very eyes? In the time of the Congress of Vienna, power was hierarchical and had a limited number of parameters. Today, traditional rigid hierarchies of power are rapidly losing the significance they once enjoyed, not because old components of national power no longer work, but because multiple new components are emerging in parallel.

For instance, South Korea cannot be considered a great power in the traditional sense, because it cannot ensure its own security without help from others. However, if we look at the wearable electronics sector, South Korea is more than a great power; in fact, it is one of two “super powers.” South Korea’s Samsung is the only company in the world that successfully competes with U.S. company Apple in the global smartphone market. From the point of view of the country’s global brand, its flagship Samsung Galaxy S9+ carries more weight than Russia’s flagship S-500 Prometey missile system.

Non-material measures of a state’s power are gaining ever greater importance. A country’s reputation, its “credit history” – which is so easy to undermine yet so hard to restore – is becoming progressively more valuable. Stalin’s famous phrase about the Pope (“The Pope? How many divisions does he have?”) looks more like political antiquity than political cynicism.

If the notion of a state’s power is becoming more equivocal and takes into account an increasing number of parameters, then we inevitably face the problem of determining the new balance of power in global politics. Determining a multipolar balance of power is in general an extremely difficult enterprise even when the number of parameters used is rigidly set. For instance, what is a stable multipolar nuclear balance? What is multilateral nuclear containment? When the number of power parameters tends to infinity, the task of building a stable multipolar balance becomes impossible to solve. Attempting to balance an open system with a permanently growing number of independent variables is the same as attempting to transform a living cell into a dead crystal.

Multilateralism Instead of Multipolarity

A stable system of global politics assumes it will not be entirely fair to more powerful players, as it limits the interests of those players in favour of weaker players and the stability of the system as a whole. Any federative state redistributes resources from prosperous regions to depressive ones: prosperous regions are forced to pay more to preserve the integrity and stability of the federation. Or consider, for instance, that traffic rules in cities are far more restrictive to cutting-edge Lamborghini supercars. Lamborghini drivers are forced to sacrifice most of their “automotive sovereignty” to ensure safety and order on the road.

The future of the world order (if we are talking about order and not a game without rules or a “war of all against all”) should be sought in multilateralism instead of multipolarity. The two terms sound similar, but they differ in meaning. Multipolarity involves building a new world order on the basis of power, while multilateralism is based on interests. Multipolarity consolidates the privileges of leaders, while multilateralism creates additional opportunities for underachievers. A multipolar world is built from blocs that balance each other, while a multilateral world is built from complementary regimes. A multipolar world develops by periodically adjusting the balance of power, while a multilateral world develops by accumulating elements of mutual dependency and creating new levels of integration.

Unlike the multipolar world model, the multilateral model cannot rely on past experience, and in that respect it might appear idealistic and virtually unfeasible. However, individual elements of the model have already been tried in the practice of international relations. For instance, the principles of multilateralism — placing the interests of small and medium-sized countries in primary focus, prioritizing the common regulatory legal balance over the situational interests of the participants in the system — formed the basis for the construction of the European Union. Even though the European Union is not in great shape today and individual parts of this complex machine are clearly malfunctioning, hardly anyone would deny that it remains the most successful integration project implemented in the modern world.

For those who do not like the experience of European integration, it is worth looking for sprouts of new multilateralism elsewhere. Examples include the BRICS+ project and the “Community of Common Destiny.” Both initiatives attempt to avoid the over-complication, exclusivity, and rigidity of the European project by offering potential participants more diverse cooperation options. However, should these projects be successful, they will not bring the world any closer to “classical” multipolarity; on the contrary, they will take the world farther away from it.

The international community will have to somehow restore the regulatory framework of global politics that has been gravely undermined over recent decades, search for complex balances of interests at the regional and global levels, and build flexible regimes that regulate individual dimensions of global communication. Powerful states will have to make major concessions so that multilateral arrangements will be attractive for weak actors. A clean break will have to be made with the centuries-old relics of outdated mentalities, dubious historical analogies, and attractive yet meaningless geopolitical constructions.

The world of the future will be far more complex and contradictory than we thought it would be just 20 years ago. It will have a place for a multitude of diverse participants in global politics interacting in various formats. Multipolarity should go down in history as a justified intellectual and political reaction to the arrogance, haughtiness, and various excesses of the hapless builders of a unipolar world — nothing more and nothing less. With the twilight of the unipolar world, its opposite – multipolarity – will inevitably face its twilight as well.

First published in our partner RIAC

  • [1] Primakov E. M. International Relations on the Eve of the 21st Century: Problems and Prospects. International Affairs. 1996 (10), pp. 3–13.
  • [2] Curiously, at the turn of the century, the idea of multipolarity gained such traction in both the United States and Europe that Assistant to President George W. Bush for National Security Affairs Condoleezza Rice found it necessary to publish a lengthy article with detailed criticism of multipolarity as a concept of rivalry and potential conflicts, a concept that distracts humanity from tackling common constructive objectives. See:
  • [3] Seventh Foreign Minister of the People’s Republic of China Qian Qichen stated that the world is still in a transitionary phase, and that the new model had not yet been completely shaped. However, an outline of international relations with one superpower and several great powers locked in relations of mutual dependency and strife has already emerged. This is the starting point of the system’s evolution to multipolarity. See Suisheng Zhao. Beijing’s Perceptions of the International System and Foreign Policy Adjustment after the Tiananmen Incident. / Suisheng Zhao (ed.), Chinese Foreign Policy. Pragmatism and Strategic Behavior. New York: East Gate Book, 2004, p. 142.
  • [4] Dugin A. G. Theory of a Multipolar World. Moscow, 2013, pp. 16–19.
  • [5] President Vladimir Putin quite eloquently expounded this view of the world in his speech at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum on June 2, 2017, “To reiterate, there are not so many countries that have sovereignty. Russia treasures its sovereignty, but not as a toy. We need sovereignty to protect our interests and to ensure our own development. India has sovereignty… However, there are not so many countries like India in the world. That is true. We should simply bear this in mind. India is one such country and so is China. I will not enumerate them all: There are other countries, too, but not many.”
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International Law

Legal framework of the Caspian Sea and the interests of Iran

Javad Heirannia



Authors: Javad Heirannia and Omid Shokri Kalehsar*

In international law, the concept of power is inevitably alongside with the principles of the law.

In other words, since there is no judiciary reference in the international judiciary conflicts, the law is affected by the concept of power in international system. There are different opinions about the relationship between power and law.

Different legal schools of thought differ in their views towards the relativity of power and rights.

Realists believe that power is the main core of international law and takes the main role in the basic norms and principles of international law and relations. So; law should be in compliant with national interests and accordingly it takes prominence. Contrary to realists, scholars from the Yale University Law School do not accept power as the core of international law and emphasize global social commonalities instead of the traditional notion of power. But in general, we cannot ignore the role of power in creating international rules among governments.

Therefore, due to the importance of power in politics, when we want to determine Caspian Sea legal status, at the same time that we pay attention to previous legal contracts, including the treaties of 1921 and 1940 between Iran, Russia and the former Soviet Union, we have to also consider the political conditions. According to the text of an agreement between the presidents of Iran, Russia, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan, signed on August 5 in Aktau, Kazakhstan, the five countries agreed on issues such as military, security, shipping and economic matters, but delineating seabed and sub-seabed postponed to bilateral agreements between countries. However, the announcement of the signing of an agreement between the government of Iran and the other four countries after nearly three decades of the collapse of the Soviet Union Led to the critical reactions of many Iranians, especially those saying that Iran had enjoyed 50% share of Caspian Sea during the former Soviet Union.

Russo-Persian Treaty of Friendship (1921), Treaty of Commerce and Navigation (1940)

The 1921 treaty is one of the agreements between Iran and Russia on the Caspian Sea. According to the treaty, the Caspian Sea is a common sea between Iran and Russia, both enjoying equal rights of free navigation. According to Article 40 of the treaty, 10 miles were considered as an exclusive fishing zone and the rest was shared between Iran and Russia. Of course, in this treaty, Iran was requested to surrender fishing privilege to Russia to help Russian livelihoods, and the privilege was awarded to them in 1925 for 25 years. But Iran’s Prime Minister, Mohammad Mosaddeq, did not extend the second period of 25 years, although the Soviets continued fishing in all areas and waters of the Caspian, but Iran was usually fishing only in the coastal zone. This continued, and although the fishing privilege for the Russians was not renewed, Russia and Iran both operated at the sea.

Before signing 1921 contract, only the Russians could have military naval forces in the Caspian on the basis of Treaty of Turkmenchay and Treaty of Gulistan, the privilege of which was awarded to Russians by two above-mentioned treaties. In fact, after the oppressive and one-sided Treaty of Turkmenchay and Gulistan between Iran and Tsardom in the first quarter of the nineteenth century, 1921 contract between Iran and the Russian government was the first formal agreement with almost equal status in the Caspian Sea. But the 1940 contract was a little different from the 1921 in which the Russians set to be in a higher position in the contract clinched during Stalin and Iran, the difference of which is totally clear by contrasting them. Parts of the 1940 treaty were on commercial and customs rights between the two countries and other clauses were about the shipping rights of the two sides over the Caspian Sea. The position of Iran in this contract was slightly better than the one in what were signed during the Tsardom of the Russian era.

Dividing the seabed and sub-seabed; ignoring Iran’s viewpoints

After the collapse of the Soviet Union and the founding of the Russian Federation, three other new countries around the Caspian Sea were created from the Soviet heritage, including Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan. Although Iran and Russia at this stage were set for the Caspian Sea to treat a shared one, the Russians took a dual stance in this case. In this regard, Russia from one side stroke a bilateral deal with Kazakhstan in 1988 dividing the northern seabed and its resources and from the other side clinched similar contract with the Republic of Azerbaijan. It led to Iran’s protest maintaining that because both countries enjoy the joint ownership of the Caspian Sea, then any decisions have to be taken jointly in this regard.

According to the joint ownership principle, resources are considered jointly and therefore would have to be divided equally based on an agreement signed by all the Caspian coastal countries. Hence, what the Russians did in dividing Caspian seabed and its resources bilaterally ran contrary to joint ownership principle. In fact, when we consider the Caspian Sea as a common sea, all the resources of this sea are divided equally among all members. Therefore, the Russians’ attempts to conclude bilateral agreements and the division of the continental shelf is contrary to the being common sea of the Caspian.

Under Mohammad Khatami, the then president of Iran, it was proposed that the Caspian Sea be divided equally having 20% share by each coastal country, but four others did not accept the offer, after which Iran declared that it will not allow any interference by other countries in 20% of its adjacent waters So, the Russian vessel left waters of Iran. Since that time, Iran has emphasized its 20% share, but Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan were dissatisfied with this situation, especially in the Alborz field with oil resources, making it a dispute and the disagreement has prolonged so far.

After Kazakhstan’s Aktau agreement on the Caspian Sea, Iran declared to continue governing its 20% share of waters as long as its share with Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan is not determined well.

After the meeting, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani stated: “There are still issues in the southern part of the sea between Turkmenistan, Iran and Azerbaijan. We had good agreements with Azerbaijan that are in operation, but some of these issues have not been resolved yet. At the recent Caspian Summit, some serious issues concerning Iran and many other countries were resolved the most important of which was security in the Caspian Sea.


The talks between Iran and Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan on the Caspian Sea have been Unsuccessful. Recently, Russia has announced a new plan with coastal states accepting it with the exception ofIran. According to the Russian plan, 15 miles would be considered as the territorial sea and 10 more miles as the exclusive fishing zone. The surface water would be for shared shipping, but seabed and sub-seabed resources are divided according to the 1998 contract.

In Kazakhstan’s Aktau agreement, Caspian Sea navigation was calculated according to the Convention on the Law of the Sea(1982). According to the Convention, 15 miles considered as coastal waters and 10 miles as the exclusive fishing zone putting the rest as a common area. This means that the sovereign right of Iran in the Caspian will be less than 13%.

Because the Caspian Sea doesn’t have any link to open waters, it is in fact considered as a great lake the rules of which are regulated on the basis of the coastal states multilateral agreements.

Based on Kazakhstan’s Aktau agreement, the baseline of the Caspian Sea has been identified; therefore, it is impossible for Iran to determine its share of the seabed and sub-seabed resources in upcoming negotiations. Also, since the deeper part of the Caspian Sea is located in the southern part, the Iranian side, Iran’s share of internal waters will be much less. In the other words, Iran’s baseline in Caspian Sea will not be so distant from the coast, something that can bring about security consequences for the country.

Sharing seabed and sub-seabed in accordance with bilateral agreements among other countries expect for Iranis detrimental to Tehran. However, when the rule over a sea is deemed as joint ownership, its mineral resources, oil and gas are to be taken into consideration fully and then the achieved interests are divided among 5 countries. According to the Convention on the legal status of the Caspian Sea, the areas beyond the territorial waters and exclusive fishing zone of each country are to be known as a common or joint zone. In this case, the use of seabed resources in the Caspian Sea remains unclear.

This is especially true in the southern part of the Caspian Sea, because the fate of the resources in the northern part of the Caspian Sea is determined in the bi-and-trilateral agreements of Russia, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan. So, the existing disputes are only among Iran with two countries including Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan. As a result, declaring the area beyond the territorial waters and the exclusive fishing zone as a joint ownership means destroying the sovereignty of Iran over the energy field of the Alborz in the Caspian Sea. Based on bilateral agreements signed between Russians with Kazakhstan and then with Azerbaijan and also between Kazakhstan with Turkmenistan in 1998, seabed and sub-seabed resources were divided between themselves, making the share of Iran negligible.

Russia, in fact, by signing the above bilateral contracts violated the joint ownership agreed upon with Iran and the case ended in Tehran’s detriment. Since the presidency of Khatami, Iran has emphasized that it has 20% share in Caspian Sea and announced not to allow others to do any kind of activity in its territorial waters. That’s why the Azerbaijani oil operation in the joint oil field with Iran was stopped. While before Kazakhstan’s Aktau agreement, Iran rejected the joint exploitation with Azerbaijan, Tehran approved 50-50 division of the oil field of Alborz with the country in this convention.

One of the criticisms leveled against Aktau convention is that the determination of the share of each Caspian coastal state in the seabed and sub- seabed and put to future bilateral negotiations.

In other words, the convention only discusses surface water and since the convention has determined the baseline, Iran cannot determine its share in seabed and sub-seabed.

Of course, the Kazakhstan’s Aktau agreement calls for a revision of the previous bilateral agreements between 4other Caspian Sea states, which can be in Iran’s favor. The review not to be based on the length of the beaches, since the contracts of 1921 and 1940 were not based on the length of the coasts, but all the sea was reckoned as common. Therefore, Iran’s share in Seabed and sub- Seabed resources should be more than what is now mentioned in the Aktau convention. Accordingly, if there is a review in the agreement, it can make a revision in Iran’s right and share in the Caspian Sea. While, due to the ordinary practice that making any decision is based on bi-and-multilateral negotiations, bilateral agreements clinched between some coastal countries have led to the violation of Iran’s rights in the Caspian Sea.

“Taking dual role, unfriendly and sensitive-inducing of Russia in the issue as well as sharing method of seabed based on bilateral agreements with new adjacent neighbors is one of the most important reasons Iran encounters a crucial problem in the Caspian Sea whereof”, Mohsen Aminzadeh, former deputy for foreign minister of Iran during the presidency of Mohammad Khatami, believes. In reaction to Russia on dividing the resources of the Caspian sub-seabed without any coordination with Tehran, Iran announced that the final acceptance of the Caspian Sea enjoying joint ownership in the legal regime is conditional to determine the Caspian sub-seabed resources. This is while Iran for the first time formally abandoned the condition at the second meeting of the Caspian Sea in Tehran accepting the joint ownership of everything in the Caspian Sea but the sub-seabed tacitly.

Iran also accepted the crossing of the pipeline and energy transmission through the Caspian Sea in the Aktau agreement. This is while the crossing from Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan could have been done through Iran instead. Consequently, from one hand, Iran lost this opportunity and on the other hand, accepting the crossing of the pipeline through the Caspian Sea will have environmental risks. Regarding security issues, The Kazakhstan’s Aktau agreement says that the Caspian Sea is not a military one, resolving Iran and Russia’s concerns over the presence of NATO in the sea. Of course, the very issue was in the previous treaties, but it was discussed more extensively in the Kazakhstan Convention. So, foreign powers cannot run for any military and naval bases on the Caspian shore and making any threats against other coastal states.

Prior to the Aktau agreement, When Iran had any disagreement over the Caspian Sea, it relied on both historical background and the 1921 treaties with Russia and 1940 treaties with the Soviet Union. Iran has always put emphasis on this historical background making its status one of two historical claimants of the Caspian Sea. Iran ignored these two historical contracts in Aktau convention by giving them up in its text.

Earlier, during the formal declaration of Tehran Summit, being the first joint document of the five leaders, no reference was made to the above-mentioned historical background and contracts.

The President of Kazakhstan formally stated in his speech that the previous treaties over the Caspian Sea have become null and void making it deemed accepted indirectly by Iran’s silence.

The newly independent coastal states are not interested in the historical background of the Caspian Sea, so they are trying to forgo the historical claimants of the two countries -Iran and the Soviet Union. They are more willing to Institutionalize the trends of the five countries instead of the historical background, but this doesn’t justify Iran’s withdrawal from its substantiated claims on the Caspian Sea.

“Iran could at least register its own stance alone concerning the historical background of its claims on the Caspian Sea in Tehran Summit putting emphasis on it. Therefore, it is really unclear why such a negligence was made in spite of the great importance of these backgrounds over Iran’s endless legal disputes over the Caspian Sea.” Mohsen Aminzadeh, former deputy for foreign minister of Iran during the presidency of Mohammad Khatami, believes.

*Omid Shokri Kalehsar, Senior Energy Security Analyst

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International Law

UN Global Compact on Migration: Toward a Resurrection of International Refugee Law

Dr. Nafees Ahmad



International Refugee Law (IRL) stands on a humanitarian platform that is, unfortunately, derisory and insufficient for the contemporary time, but one, which remains a terra incognita despite the frequency and enormity of current refugee crises. The problem of the refugee is today profoundly different. The persecutors are not defeated and defunct regimes.  Instead, persecutors are existing governments, able to insist on the prerogatives of sovereignty while creating or helping to generate refugee crises.  When labeled as persecutors, they react as governments always react. They assert their sovereignty and castigate as politically motivated the human rights claims made against them.  To criticize these governments as persecutors are often the surest route to exacerbating a refugee crisis because it shrinks the opportunity to garner their requisite cooperation. In the face of dramatically and cataclysmically changed social and economic conditions, States felt obliged to abandon the centuries-old practice of permitting the free immigration of persons fleeing dangerous circumstances in their home countries. To limit the number of persons to be classified as refugees while still offering sanctuary to those in greatest need, international legal accords were enacted which imposed conditions requisite to a declaration of refugee status.

The Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and the Regular Migration (GCM) is slated to be unprecedented inter-governmental agreement secured by the United Nations Organization (UNO) addressing all dimensions of international migration. It provides an extraordinary occasion to enhance the Global Governance of International Migration within the Framework of Sovereignty, Safety, and Sustainable Development. In the contemporary international migration patterns, migrants have become a resource to sustainable development. The idea of GCM mooted in April 2017 would be crystallized at the end of 2018 by adopting the GCM at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) sponsored inter-governmental conference on international migration.

GCM Genesis: The New York Declaration

On 19 September 2016, Heads of State and Government congregated to regurgitate at the global level within the UNGA, challenges presented by the international migration and refugees’ flows across the globe. It evolved a political understanding that international migration and refugee issues must have visible priority in the global agenda. Thus, 193 UN nation-states have committed and recognized the necessity for greater cooperation coupled with a holistic and consolidated approach to address the human mobility and adopted the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants (NY-DRM). The NY-DRM envisages the protection, safety, dignity, human rights and fundamental freedoms of all migrants irrespective of their migratory status at all times by supporting nation-states who are receiving, rescuing and hosting large populations of migrants and refugees. It undertakes to integrate migrants with the host communities by addressing the requirements and capabilities of both migrants and host states within the framework of sovereignty, safety, and sustainable development. It requires combating xenophobia, abolishing the racism and eliminating discrimination towards all migrants by developing a state-driven process of non-binding principles and voluntary guidelines regarding the treatment of migrants in vulnerable situations. The NY-DRM stipulates the strengthening the global governance of international migration, including by bringing International Organization of Migration (IOM) into the UN orbit and through the accelerated development of a Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration.

GCM Aims: Agenda For Sustainable Development

The NY-DRM under its Annex II has commenced an inter-governmental process of consultations and parleys culminating in the scheduled adoption of the Global Compact for Migration at an intergovernmental conference on international migration in 2018.The GCM has been contemplated consistent with Target 10.7 of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in which UN Member States pledged to have global cooperation to enable safe, orderly and regular migration as per the mandate enunciated in Annex II of the NY-DRM. The Annex II proposes to address all dimensions of international migration, including the developmental, environmental, human rights-oriented, humanitarian, and other dimensions. It is bound to contribute to global governance and improve coordination on international migration by envisaging a framework for comprehensive international cooperation on human mobility and migrants. The impugned GCM framework would have a range of actionable commitments that might ensure the implementation, follow-up structure, and review among the UN Member States regarding international migration in all its dimensions propelled by the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Further, the Addis Ababa Action Agenda and the Declaration of the 2013 High-Level Dialogue on International Migration and Development would create an informed international community.

GCM Development: The Rule of Law, Transparency and Inclusion Process

The place of the rule of law in the global governance of international migration has been duly identified as an appropriate lego-institutional response to migratory movements. However, the rule of law required its application and interpretation in the municipal jurisdiction and as well as international courts and tribunals particularly in the context of human rights of migrants and refugees and forcibly displaced persons. Therefore, the rule of law must also be reflected in the reception policies of migrants, refugees, and forcibly displaced persons. The role of international and regional organizations like SAARC in supporting the incorporation the rule of law in municipal legal, administrative and judicial processes in the wake of global migration governance issues. Consequently, the process of consultations and negotiations for developing the GCM is being evolved with elements of openness, transparency, and inclusion. GCM subscribes to the active participation of all the stakeholders in its process such as civil society organizations, NGOs, the private sector, academic institutions, legislative bodies, diaspora communities, and migrant organizations. These elements have been postulated in the Modalities Resolution for GCM inter-governmental parleys.


The GCM is slated to explore the multi-layered dimensions of protection that international human rights law (IHRL), international humanitarian law (IHL), and customary international law (CIL) along with IRL offer to asylum-seekers, refugees, and the forcibly displaced migrants. The ambition of the GCM framework is to guarantee a defined range of protection to all human beings, and thus resurrect the IRL foundation from normative entitlement on the ground of exclusive reliance on national membership to substantive architecture of Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration Governance with a vision of common humanity. The GCM is a comprehensive initiative of international perspective that should not remain formally tied to States rather it must operate as a collective regarding its inception and implementation. The GCM norms must visualize the integration threshold with the empirical world while crystallizing the responsibilities for practical delivery. The GCM should remain predictable that the expectations raised by the normative reach of the IRL are often dashed in the multifaceted and problematic human world of contributory power, politics, and conflict. The mandate of the GCM ought to adumbrate the IHRL, IHL, CIL and IRL context, and allude the laxities and limitations for the resurrection of the IRL for ensuring the protection of refugees and asylum-seekers and to enhance the global governance of international migration.

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International Law

Celebrate United Nation’s Anniversary Today



Human history is full of wars, invasions, disasters, injustice and biases among human beings. However the World War I and II are the major disasters for human kind. But there was always a desire for peace, justice, equality and mutual respect. To achieve such goals, many efforts have been witnessed in the history such as the creation of “International Committee of the Red Cross” and “The Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907”. Following the catastrophic loss of life in the First World War, “the Paris Peace Conference” established the “League of Nations” to maintain harmony between countries. But all efforts were in vain and peace could not be achieved. World War II, was a major catastrophe and number of loss of human life crossed all the records.

United nation was established on 24 October 1945, with its headquarters at New York, USA and further main offices in Nairobi and Geneva and Vienna. It has following six principal organs : the General Assembly (the main deliberative assembly); the Security Council (for deciding certain resolutions for peace and security); the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC; for promoting international economic and social co-operation and development); the Secretariat (for providing studies, information, and facilities needed by the UN); the International Court of Justice (the primary judicial organ); and the UN Trusteeship Council (inactive since 1994). UN System agencies include the World Bank Group, the World Health Organization, the World Food Programme, UNESCO, and UNICEF.

UN charter was drafted very well, it covers almost all possible aspect of human protection and was based on mutual consultation. It was agreed upon and accepted by all major powers of that time.

The UN is led by Secretary-General, which is tenure post and keep on rotation among the member states based on merit and vote. Currently the post is held by Portuguese politician and diplomat António Guterres since 2017.

UN has few success stories and major achievements in its credit like the role of UN in providing Food Aid to famine hit area, looking after the refugees, protection of children, peace keeping among the warring factions & nations, running free & fair elections, re-productive health & population management, war crimes prosecution, fighting AID, and bringing invisible ignored issues in forefront. No doubt, these are big achievements and UN performed very well.

However, there are so many issues not solved yet. UN failed to narrow down the gap between the rich and poor, small and big nations. It failed to stop wars and invasion by strong countries like: Iraq War, Libya War, and Afghanistan and Syrian issues. UN also failed to implement its resolution of Palestine and Kashmir yet. Although Millennium development goals were defined very well, but still not achieved as per scheduled.

With the changes occurred in the 7 decades, the nature of issues and complication of problems has also changed to a large extent. With creation of new knowledge and new technologies, the world has become more complex. The awareness among human kind has enhanced and they are demanding much more. It might be appropriate that the UN may under-go a comprehensive revision and reforms. There may an open debate and news ideas to make UN more effective should be encouraged. Any reforms backed by masses and intellectuals may be welcomed. Especially the five permanent members of the Security Council may under-goes major structural reforms. As it does not represent Africa, the major continent by population as well as resources. Middle East was ignored, it may be compensated by providing a permanent seat in Security Council. European Union is already very well developed and very strong, but enjoying 2 seats in Security Council permanently. I am not biased and may not give any specific suggestion and do not want to offend any country or nation. But, rather recommend to open a debate and try to find the ways and means to strengthen UN and make it so powerful that, no single country or nation dare to violate its Charter. The objective is to make our world more peaceful and protected.

However, we are elder generation and have a moral obligation to hand-over the world to our young generation, where they can live respectfully, peacefully and fearlessly. Let’s celebrate the UN Day with a wish to make UN more powerful and fruitful.

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