Sikhs And Justice: An International Humanitarian Law Approach To The Study Of Operation Bluestar
6th of June 1984 is considered as the darkest day in the history of the Sikhs all around the world. This was the day when the Indian Army stormed the Golden Temple, the holy shrine of the Sikhs to drive out Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale and his armed men who had taken refuge in the Temple complex since 1982. Bhindranwale had started a movement to attain justice for Sikhs who were being discriminated on various grounds. The Indian Government saw this as a secessionist movement, which is why Bhindranwale and his group were considered as a threat to the nation. This paper endeavours to study the Operation Blue Star from the international humanitarian law perspective by establishing it as a non-international armed conflict. It is divided into five parts. The first part deals with the history and the background to the operation and also highlights the reason why the Indian Army attacked Golden Temple; the second part then throws light upon the definition and the types of the armed conflict in the international humanitarian law and also ingredients of a non-international armed conflict; the third part tests the incident of operation against the ingredients of a non-international armed conflict; the fourth part discusses the nature of State’s response which is considered in excess in terms of human rights and humanitarian law obligations. These four parts are then followed by a conclusion.
Sikhism is a religion founded by Guru Nanak Dev Ji in the year 1469 in Punjab, a state being shared by both India and Pakistan. Sikhs, the followers of Sikhism played a major role in the Indian Freedom Movement but did not receive much appreciation even though they were promised jobs and a better livelihood in the post-Independence era. The newly framed Indian Constitution’s Article 25 identifies Sikhs as Hindus, which aggrieved the Sikhs even more leading to a lot of resentment against the Indian state. In the 1950s, the linguistic groups across India sought statehood that led to the formation of a State Re-organisation Commission in 1953. The government of India was apprehensive of carving out a Punjabi speaking state as that would also lead to dividing the state on religious lines between Hindus and Sikhs. The hindi newspapers from Jalandhar urged the hindus to exhort hindi as their mother tongue which is why the demand for a separate Punjabi Suba (State) was defeated. The Akali Dal, a political party formed during the Gurudwara Reform Movement in the 1920s, continued their agitation for the creation of a separate Punjabi Suba and it was finally agreed to in 1966. Thus areas in the South of Punjab that spoke the Haryanvi dialect of the hindi language formed a new state of Haryana, the Pahari speaking areas were merged with Himachal Pradesh and the remaining Punjabi speaking area retained the name Punjab with Chandigarh as a Union Territory and as Punjab and Haryana’s common capital.
This linguistic reorganization of the states created a lot of problems. Many of the Punjabi speaking areas were given to the State of Haryana, Chandigarh was made a Union Territory and the joint capital of the States of Punjab and Haryana and the Centre took control over the waters of the rivers of Ravi, Beas and Sutlej and made arbitrary allocation. The Centre even took control over various power and irrigation projects. After the reorganization of the state, Akali Dal gained the majority in the Punjab Assembly elections in 1967 but Punjab saw an unstable government for five long years owing to defection. Later on in 1972 after the Bangladesh’s Liberation War Congress emerged victorious at both the Centre as well as in Punjab. Nevertheless in 1973 the working group of the Akali Dal came with a resolution, which was adopted at Anandpur Sahib and came to be known as Anandpur Sahib Resolution. It advocated for the federal structure in which the Central Government should actualize the federal concept of India by granting autonomy to the provincial government in all the areas except defence, currency and foreign relations. It was in 1982 that Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, leader of Damdami Taksal-a Sikh religious organization joined hands with the Akali Dal in order to implement the Anandpur Resolution. Bhindranwale as he was fondly called grew popular amongst the Sikh population of Punjab but notorious with the government. He was even arrested for the murder of Lala Jagat Narain, editor of a popular Hindi daily newspaper who had campaigned against Punjabi being adopted as a medium of instruction in Hindu schools and even urged the hindus to accept Hindi as their mother tongue and reject Punjabi in order to defeat the Anandpur Sahib resolution. However, Bhindranwale was released without being charge sheeted due to lack of evidence. Meanwhile the law and order situation deteriorated in Punjab and there were a number of confrontations between the police, Babbar Khalsa and Dal Khalsa’s army. Later on sometime in 1982, Bhindranwale was invited by Harchand Singh Longowal to take refuge in Guru Nanak Niwas, Golden Temple’s guest house. Bhindranwale then even took charge of the Akal Takht, one of the five Takhts of the Sikh religion also known as the seat of temporal justice, thus becoming the Takht’s Jathedar. He then fortified the Temple with heavy machine guns and sophisticated self-loading rifles were brought in. Though Bhindranwale strongly advocated for the Anandpur Sahib Resolution which mostly focused on the Centre-State relations, greater status to Punjabi and the distribution of the waters of the rivers yet it was mostly seen as a secessionist movement by the Central Government. Indira Gandhi then ordered the expulsion of Bhindranwale and his army from the Golden Temple Complex. The Indian National Army took charge of the situation and attacked the Golden Temple with tanks and artillery on the 6th of June 1984. Thousands of pilgrims belonging to the Sikh faith had gathered in and around Golden Temple, to mark the martyrdom day of Guru Arjan Dev Ji, the fifth Guru of the Sikhs and also the founder of the Temple since the 3rd of June and though entry to the Temple was permitted but they were not allowed to exit it. The survivors of the attack are of the view that the Army deliberately chose this day to carry out the operation in order to wipe out as many Sikhs as possible. The unarmed civilians were attacked incessantly. Even the Sikh Reference Library, which is located inside the complex, was attacked and ancient scripts and artefacts were looted by the army and loaded in trucks to be taken to Delhi. The operation was considered extremely disproportionate and not at all necessary, as the number of Bhindrawale’s armed forces was extremely small as compared to the collateral damage. The civilians who survived often call it as a conspiracy to kill Sikhs and finish the faith in one go. Though the official number of casualties is reported as a few hundreds but the actual number soar really high. The operation was seen as an attack to crush the Sikh militants out of the Temple, yet the author in this paper tries to equate it with non-international armed conflict in order to trigger the mechanism of international humanitarian law principles, thus making the Indian State responsible under the international law.
International humanitarian law (IHL) is a branch of international law that governs the conduct of armed conflict. It applies only to a situation of an armed conflict. Therefore, in order to determine whether IHL applies to a situation of violence it is necessary to first asses whether the situation amounts to an ‘armed conflict’. IHL does not provide for a definition of armed conflict. However, it recognizes two types of armed conflicts: international armed conflicts (IAC) opposing two or more states and non-international armed conflict (NIAC) between governmental forces and non-governmental armed groups, or between such groups only, which was established by the Geneva Conventions of 1949.Prior to the Geneva Conventions of 1949, it was thought that civil conflicts were outside the scope of international law. Since the situation of Operation Bluestar under study resembles a NIAC therefore only the ingredients of a NIAC would be discussed. NIAC can be applied through Common article 3 to the Geneva Conventions, customary IHL and Additional Protocol II (AP II) where ratified.
Common Article 3 applies to “armed conflicts not of an international character occurring in the territory of one of the High Contracting Parties“. These include armed conflicts in which one or more non-governmental armed groups are involved. Depending on the situation, hostilities may occur between governmental armed forces and non-governmental armed groups or between such groups only. However, NIAC needs to be distinguished from internal disturbances including isolated and sporadic acts of violence.
AP II on the other hand, applies to armed conflicts “which take place in the territory of aHigh Contracting Party between its armed forces and dissident armed forces or other organized armed groups which, under responsible command, exercise such control over apart of its territory as to enable them to carry out sustained and concerted military operationsand to implement this Protocol”.
This definition is narrower than the notion of NIAC under common Article 3 in two aspects.
Firstly, it introduces a requirement of territorial control, by providing that non-governmental parties must exercise such territorial control “as to enable them to carry out sustained and concerted military operations and to implement this Protocol”.
Secondly, AP II expressly applies only to armed conflicts between State armed forces and dissident armed forces or other organised armed groups. Contrary to common Article 3, the Protocol does not apply to armed conflicts occurring only between non-State armed groups.
In this context, it must be reminded that Additional Protocol II “develops and supplements” common Article 3 “without modifying its existing conditions of application“. This means that this restrictive definition is relevant for the application of Protocol II only, but does not extend to the law of NIAC in general.
The Statute of the International Criminal Court, in its article 8, para. 2 (f), confirms the existence of a definition of a non-international armed conflict not fulfilling the criteria of Protocol II.
Statute of the ICC, art. 8 para. 2 (f): “It applies to armed conflicts that take place in the territory of a State when there is protracted armed conflict between governmental authorities and organized armed groups or between such groups“.
In order to distinguish an armed conflict, in the meaning of common Article 3, from lessserious forms of violence, such as internal disturbances and tensions, riots or acts ofbanditry, the situation must reach a certain threshold of confrontation. It has been generally accepted that the lower threshold found in Article 1(2) of APII, which excludes internal disturbances and tensions from the definition of NIAC, also applies to common Article 3.
Two criteria are usually used in this regard:
First, the hostilities must reach a minimum level of intensity. This may be the case, for example, when the hostilities are of a collective character or when the government is obliged to use military force against the insurgents, instead of mere police forces.
Second, non-governmental groups involved in the conflict must be considered as “parties to the conflict”, meaning that they possess organized armed forces. This means for example that these forces have to be under a certain command structure and have the capacity to sustain military operations.
As per the ICTY Appeals Chamber in Tadic case, an armed conflict involving non-state groups arises only if the violence is protracted and the non-state groups are organized. From the above discussion it can be made out that the following form the ingredients of a NIAC:
Armed conflict between a State and a non-State actor or between these non-State actors
A modicum of organization of any party to the conflict: According to the ICTY Appeals Chamber in Tadic, an armed conflict involving non-State actors must involve ‘organised armed groups’, that have a clear chain of command. Each group involved in an armed conflict need not be clearly differentiated and defined, as there may be a number of loosely related armed groups involved. The ICTY Trial Chamber has further explained the following as ingredients of organization:
The existence of command structure and disciplinary rules;
Control of a determinative territory;
Access to weapons, equipment and military training;
The ability to define military strategy and use military tactics.
Protracted violence: In the Tadic case, the appeals chamber held that for a NIAC to exist there must be ‘protracted armed violence’ which has been authoritatively repeated in article 8(2) of the Rome Statute of the ICC. Yoram dinstein infers that occasional unrest does not amount to NIAC and that there needs to be a series of ‘isolated and sporadic’ internal disturbances for a NIAC to come into existence. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in Juan Carlos Abella v. Argentina concluded that an armed conflict has occurred in Argentina, even though the skirmish lasted for 30 hours in total. But Dinstein does not agree with this decision. However, the IACHR holds that in borderline cases there may be a presumption in favour of the existence of an armed conflict.
Intensity of fighting: This requirement should not be looked at as an alternative to protracted violence. The ICTR Trial Chamber in the Akayesu case had stated that the intensity of hostilities ought to be ascertained ‘on the basis of an objective criteria’. In the aftermath of Tadic, multiple judgments of the ICTY have come up with various indicia in order to assess the intensity of the fighting required in a NIAC. These include: the numbers of casualties, the diffusion of violence over territory; deployment of military units against the insurgents; the types of weapons used; the siege of towns; and the closure of towns.
Application of International Humanitarian Law to The Operation Blue Star
The situation of Punjab was dismissed as a mere law and order situation, which is why the State never became liable under the IHL regime. However, this study aims to analyze the situation in Punjab against the ingredients of the NIAC as many Sikh organizations have had asked for a UN probe in this matter as they regard it as a violation of IHL.
Armed Conflict:The situation in the 1984 attack on Golden Temple involved a confrontation between the Indian Army and the armed men, led by Bhindranwale who had taken refuge inside the Golden Temple Complex. There are documented evidences that show that the attack was conducted in a systematic manner with sophisticated weapons being used by both the sides including anti-rocket launchers, AK-47s etc.
Modicum of Organization: The non-state actors in this conflict i.e. Bhindranwale and his followers were under the command of Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale. There were also other forces some named and some unnamed one of them being, Babbar Khalsa that had joined hands with the Bhindranwale and were indirectly under his control. Bhindranwala’s force had actually fortified the Golden Temple area with sophisticated weapons. General Kuldip Singh Brar who led the Operation Blue Star had pointed out at the foreign assistance received because of the foreign weapons that were seized from the Bhindranwale’s army during the operation.The Khalsa army, as it was mostly referred to, had received their training under the aegis of Major General Shabeg Singh, an Indian army officer noted for his service in training of Mukti Bahini volunteers during the Bangladesh Liberation War. Major General Shabeg Singh taught the army military tactics, that he had acquired during his service with the Indian Army.From this data it can be made out that the Khalsa army satisfied the ingredients of the modicum of organization given out in the Tadic case that have acquired the status of customary international law.
Protracted Violence: The operation was not a single event of violence but rather one of the major events in order to bring the situation in Punjab under control and to drill fear in the minds of the other Sikh outfits that were said to be leading the secessionist movement.
Intensity of Fighting:The operation was one of the very intense operations in the history of the Indian Army. As mentioned above, the official number of casualties is very low, lying somewhere in a few hundreds but eyewitnesses and the survivors’ account tell a different tale altogether. As per the survivors, the pilgrims were being let in the Golden Temple from the 2nd of June 1984 but they were not allowed to leave, which is why the casualties were quite high. Bhindranwale and his army is said to be a few above hundred but the civilians who lost their lives are said to be somewhere above seven thousand. The operation saw a parallel attacks on other gurudwaras in Punjab with the deployment of about 1,00,000 army personnel throughout Punjab. The weapons used on the other hand were highly sophisticated ones. The army even broke the stairs leading to the entrance of the temple to bring in tanks. While Bhindranwale was said to be in possession of foreign weapons including machine guns, anti rocket launchers etc. Most parts of Punjab especially Amritsar were brought under Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC).
From the analysis made above it can be said that the situation in Punjab was surely not just a law and order situation. It resembles heavily with the ingredients of a non-international armed conflict, thus a deeper study needs to be conducted in order to determine the status of the operation blue star. Sikhs for Justice, a private organization based out of United Kingdom had submitted a memorandum to the United Nations Assistant Secretary for Human Rights calling for the setting up of a tribunal to investigate alleged crimes against the members of the Sikh community during the 1984 Operation Blue Star. It reads that it clearly violated the basic humanitarian law provisions for the protection of the civilian population and for the protection of cultural objects and places of worship as set out in the Geneva conventions. The Sikhs have been awaiting justice for the missing members of their families before and even after the operation, destruction of their holy place of worship, the Sikh Reference Library, the killing of the thousands of the civilians who had gathered inside the Golden Temple just to pay obeisance at the Temple and also for the thousands killed during the anti-Sikh pogrom in Delhi and other parts of India after the assassination of the Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi who had ordered the attack at the Golden Temple. Once the Operation is considered a NIAC it would be easy to drag the Indian State to the United Nations and submit her to the jurisdiction of a Tribunal, if it is ever set up.
 KS Duggal, “Sikhs in the Freedom Struggle”, Mainstream Weekly, 19 August, 2008 <https://www.mainstreamweekly.net/article891.html>accessed on 21st May, 2020.
 Ranbir Sandhu, Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale- Life, Mission and Martyrdom, (Sikh Educational and Religious Foundation, 1997).
 Prosecutor v. Dusko Tadic (Appeal Judgment), 15 July 1999, ICTY.
Tadic’s case held that:
…an armed conflict exists wherever there is a resort to armed forces between States or protracted armed violence between governmental authorities and organized armed groups within a State. International humanitarian law applies from the initiation of such armed conflicts and extends beyond the cessation of hostilities until a general conclusion of peace is reached; or, in the case of internal conflicts, a peaceful settlement is achieved. Until that moment, international humanitarian law continues to apply in the whole territory of the warring states or, in the case of internal conflicts, the whole territory under the control of a party, whether or not actual combat takes place there.
General Brar had said this in an interview to the press during the operation.
 This was revealed by General Kuldip Singh Brar in an interview during the operation.
“Operation Blue Star: Sikh rights group seeks UN probe”, The Indian Express, June 7, 2017 <http://indianexpress.com/article/world/operation-blue-star-sikh-rights-group-seeks-un-probe-4693609/> accessed on May 21st, 2020.
Putin, Xi, the ICC, and the Demise of Global Judiciary
Authors: Roman Kusaiko and Alexey Ilin*
On March 17, 2023, the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant against Russian president Vladimir Putin. The press release stated that Prosecution’s application was filed on the February 22, 2023, while the existence of the warrants was disclosed on March 17, 2023. This is the first time the ICC releases a warrant against a sitting president. Moreover, it immediately preceded the visit to Moscow by Chinese President Xi Jinping, which took place on March 20-22, 2023. While the warrant is expected to force Russia and its leader into submission, the end result may be the erosion and eventual demise of the universal criminal justice.
The International Criminal Court was established by the Rome Statute (done July 17, 1998, in force July 1, 2002) to prosecute the most serious crimes of international concern, such as genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and the crime of aggression (Rome Statute art. 5). The ICC has three main advantages against its predecessors – the ad hoc tribunals such as the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR). First, it is a permanent court. Second, it is based on an international treaty and not the United Nations Security Council resolution, which gives it more legitimacy. Third, the ICC jurisdiction is not limited to a particular country or case – the Court can prosecute a crime if it was committed either by a national of a State Party, or on a State Party’s territory. Generally, officials of the non-party states cannot be prosecuted, but even this barrier can be overcome if the situation is referred to the Prosecutor by the UN Security Council (Rome Statute art. 13(b)).
France and the UK are the only State Parties to the ICC among those countries that legally possess nuclear weapons (under the 1968 Non-Proliferation Treaty). China, India, Pakistan and North Korea neither signed nor acceded to the Rome Statute while the U.S., Russia, and Israel officially refused to ratify the treaty. The attitude towards the Court reveals a divide in states’ perception of international criminal justice. Countries with extensive military capabilities decided not to delegate any of their judicial power to an external international institution. The rest of the countries delegated their authority to an international judiciary seeking justice in case any major crimes are committed against them.
Since its inception, the Court’s authority has been facing challenges, especially from the U.S. The latter has a long history of complicated relations with the ICC, from open hostility to the recent bipartisan support. Most prominently, the “Hague Invasion Act” grants the U.S. the right to use military force to liberate any U.S. or allied country’s citizen being held by the ICC. The existence of such methods undermines the authority of the Court and also manifests that the U.S. and its allies are “out of judicial range” and thus not accountable before the international community.
The ICC has been repeatedly stumbling in its attempts to investigate the most serious crimes in the areas where the U.S. and their allies conducted their military operations. Between 2014 and 2020, the ICC investigated the war crimes in Iraq (willful killing, torture, and rape) committed by the armed forces of America’s closest ally – the UK. Nevertheless, the investigation was closed in 2020 raising criticism from European institutions, non-government organizations and multiple media sources. Some critics claimed the ICC’s refusal to hold the UK accountable discredited the Court’s authority. Afghanistan has been a State Party to the ICC since 2003, but the Court has not taken any decisive actions in this country until October 2022, when its Pre-Trial Chamber authorized the Prosecution to resume its investigation of war crimes. This move has been first rejected in 2019, and then deferred in 2020. Likewise, the ICC Preliminary Investigation team has been halting the prosecution of war crimes committed in Syria for more than three years despite the ample evidence.
At the same time, reasonable grounds against Vladimir Putin for organizing an unlawful deportation of children were found in less than a month – an unprecedented speed. The disclosure of the ICC warrant on March 17, 2023 suspiciously coincided with the announcement of Xi Jinping’s official visit to Moscow. The announcement was made only on the 17th of March, 2023, with the agenda reported by both Chinese and Russian sources. It is hard to believe in such a coincidence, especially after subsequent remarks by the U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken confirmed that the warrant targeted Chinese leader’s visit. While some media claimed Putin’s days are now numbered, the others were more skeptical referring to the West’s “deafness” for their own atrocities in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The ICC warrant sends several signals to the Russian state, society, and beyond. The first one is to oust Vladimir Putin from the office to improve relations with the West. The second one is for the Russian elites: as long as Putin is in power, their assets will be always under threat of sanctions and even confiscation. The third one is for the other world leaders: leaving Putin alone at the table will not be enough – legal actions should be taken against him. The Russian leader should become a pariah. One may argue, that such a strategy could be partially successful in 2014, but an open Chinese criticism of the warrant demonstrates that it will have serious limitations in 2023.
Vladimir Putin will not willingly step down, but the warrant will push his government to build parallel institutions with friendly or non-aligned countries. Russian State Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin proposed to pass an act similar to the “Hague Invasion Act.” In addition, he prompted the Russian government to sign bilateral agreements which will guarantee the denial of the ICC authority. Moreover, the depth of the issues discussed between Putin and Xi suggest that Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) could become an “umbrella” for alternative global institutions, including the judiciary branch. The SCO already hosts regular meetings between the chairs of the Supreme Courts. As more countries are willing to join in, it may become a respected institution of transnational justice. This development, amplified by U.S. unaccountable posture, will bury the once noble idea of global judiciary in The Hague. The ICC will remain what Rwandan President Paul Kagame called it, “the court for Africans and poor countries.”
*Alexey Ilin, Ph.D. candidate at Shanghai Jiaotong University.
Should We Claim We Truly Understand International Politics?
When the guns roar, the muses are silent, an ancient Latin proverb tells us. This aptly describes how convincing our attempts to explain what is happening in international politics are, from the point of view of the existing apparatus of its rational understanding. For those who try to pretend to understand how international relations evolve, the saddest casualty of current events is the practice of interaction between states, which jettisons all the pre-existing notions at our disposal.
This applies to both academic scholars and those who approach the assessment of political reality from a purely intuitive point of view. Any intuition inevitably fits into the framework of our own worldview, which, in turn, has long been systematised in one way or another within the framework of the science of international relations. Namely, it suffers the greatest defeat of all social disciplines at moments when states and leaders base their actions in feelings, purely individual ideas and moral character. Individuals enter the historical arena, making decisions within the framework of a subjective understanding of the world around them, intellectual abilities or corporate interests.
Conceptualisation, at least on an analytical or on an intuitive level, will be possible later – when the dust of battles has somewhat settled, and the theorists will have firm support in the person of the winners, whose interests will become the basis of a new international order. It has always been like this – the science of international relations has consistently followed practice, guided by only one goal – to understand why this or that power, in the end, benefitted the most from the consequences of a general tragedy. In our case, however, this won’t happen, or at least not soon. Until then, any aspirations to understand what is really happening in international politics will end up with rather monotonous judgments, the only difference between which is how open is the attempt to interpret reality in favour of the interests of one of the fighting parties.
Each political scientist becomes a soldier of his country, and the space for relatively impartial analysis disappears – even those who claim to be impartial inevitably finds themselves within the framework of an interpretation that serves the interests of one of the warring parties. The chroniclers would be relatively independent amid modern conditions, however, the facts now are a very relative thing, easily amenable to extremely convincing falsification. Even playing the role of a holy fool is impossible – in conditions where shells whistle overhead, his innocent bleating always turns out to promote the advantages of one of the opponents. Like the light of the sun or the direction of the wind.
In fact, any of our reasoning that purports to reflect an abstract “understanding of reality” becomes like this. The fact is that we still find examples for comparison in the historical experience which are also the most comfortable for one of the parties participating in the current conflict. Regrets about the collapsed world order or globalization are, of course, humanly understandable. However, they first inevitably send us in the direction of searching for ways to restore something like the lost era, and its illusion of relatively evenly distributed prosperity. This, we agree, fully reflects the interests of the Western countries and is somewhat inconsistent with the way Russia, China and most developing countries would like to see the world. Second, even our conceptual apparatus and categories, which technically have the possibility to construct so-called ideal schemes of the future, were formed within the framework of the international order, where for 500 years a rather narrow group of powers occupied the leading positions. Therefore, when speaking of the need to restore order, we are already at risk of becoming defenders of the interests of status quo powers – our categorical apparatus is still practically undeveloped in terms of a different, more just, from our point of view, international order.
It is not surprising that in a situation where thinking about foreign policy and international relations is a more common and ancient profession, fellow intellectuals have overnight turned into mouthpieces of information warfare. It is sad to read the comments of colleagues representing the realist direction of the science of international politics in the United States: the overwhelming majority of their opponents have completely lost the ability to take any critical view of the behaviour of their homeland and its closest allies. In other words, American, and Western in general, political science has clearly defined which side of the front it is fighting on and will be able to return to a more balanced discussion only after the active phase of the confrontation between the powers is over.
The use of the existing theoretical apparatus for assessing the international reality resembles a funny anachronism, no matter which of the theories we turn to. The reason is that they are also the product, first and foremost, of a specific and geographically localised historical experience, and only secondly of attempts to subordinate social activity to some ideal schemes based on our ideas about universal morality. Powers representing such a variety of political civilizations have now entered a world arena that one cannot rely on, including a systematic understanding of the nature of relations between them. All existing theories were created in a very simple world, where it was always easy to understand the basis of the position of a state within the framework of social relations of its kind.
Each of the nation-specific ways of interpretation cannot claim to be more than a systematisation of worldviews inherent in an individual, rather unique, culture. It is, of course, useful to create, for example, a Russian theory of international relations amid such conditions. First, it will somewhat reduce our dependence on Western concepts, which is extremely good in itself. Second, moving along this path will allow one to understand yourself a little more. This is especially important for Russia, since awareness of self-worth for our political culture is much more important than external recognition. However, in terms of being able to understand international politics in general, we still will not get very far – we will just become the authors of another original view.
Finally, practically all powers whose capabilities are sufficient to pose a potential threat to life on the planet, do not now even have a relatively formed idea of their own ideal future. The Americans are trying to pretend that the return of hegemony over the world will solve their internal development problems. However, this approach causes concern in principle, since moving forward while looking behind you is liable to lead to a fall. Russia is also in search of a state where it can feel self-worth, and the conflict with the West is, in addition to eliminating military-political imbalances, the basis for a better understanding of itself, outlining the image of the future in conditions where it is no longer possible to continue life in the old way. Of all the great powers, only China confidently says that it knows what future it is aiming for. But here, too, we have reason to think that the Celestial Empire is only approaching the need to provide answers to questions about a suitable position for it in world politics and economics.
The position of Europe is dramatic. It is aware of its rapidly declining strength and is increasingly choosing the lesser of two geostrategic evils, from the point of view of the modern European elite. Such behaviour poses a challenge to diplomats, since the choice of the European elite consists of a conscious rejection of international agency of their countries. Under such conditions, not only our ability to discuss international politics seriously in an academic audience freezes, this politics is itself entering a peculiar and very static mode of operation. In fact, it only seems to us that now history is developing rapidly – in fact, it has stopped, and its millstones continue to idle, grinding tens of thousands of human lives.
From our partner RIAC
The New High Seas Treaty: Takeaways and answering the hard questions
On 04 March, Rena Lee, President of the UN Intergovernmental Conference on Marine Biological Diversity of Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction (BBNJ), announced that “the ship has reached the shore,” referring to the last compromise and successfully negotiated to stumble block of this historic treaty, which marked the apogee of over two decades of negotiations to protect the ample internationally ungoverned space of the ocean. The last time the countries came together to gather political will during geopolitical tensions to protect biodiversity was on 01 December 1959 during the cold war to declare Antarctica a place for peace and science.
The draft agreement of the ‘The New High Seas Treaty’ emphasises the need to address the planet’s largest unregulated biosphere for the sustainable use of resources and biodiversity protection. It covers the expansive portion of the ocean beyond national boundaries and will provide a legal framework for designating vast marine protected areas (MPAs) to protect against marine life degradation and sharing of resources. It is necessary to identify, monitor and regulate vulnerable areas to address the commitment of protecting 30 Percent by 2030 endorsed by COP 15 in the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework in December 2022. Exit options and other unique provisions for the Arctic or China Sea and other geopolitically tense areas are also mentioned to avoid disagreements and conflicts within the agreement.
The stumbling block of this treaty was how to appropriately share marine genetic resources (MGR) and wealth, which separated the Global South and North. Due to their potential for application in pharmaceuticals and cosmetics, MGR, which are made up of the genetic material of bacteria, corals, krill, seaweed, and deep-sea marine sponges, are gaining more scientific and commercial interest.
The agreement is legally binding and establishes a new global authority for the high seas, complete with an executive body called “COP,” a secretariat, and a scientific council. It is based on certain principles and approaches like the polluter-pays principle, the principle of the common heritage of humankind, the freedom of marine scientific research, and other freedoms of the high seas.
In addition, an approach for maintaining and restoring ecosystem integrity, including the carbon cycling functions that support the ocean’s role in climate while also increasing ecosystems’ resilience, is practiced. Signatories are also tasked with conducting environmental impact assessments before exploitation, exchanging marine technology with other littoral states, and monitoring the space for other threats.
What are the High Seas and the threats present on them?
States currently govern up to only 200 nautical miles of seas from their coasts, delineated by the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). But beyond the nautical boundaries are the high seas, which only one percent are protected. States have access to freedoms, including the right to overfly, navigate, and install underwater cables. The high seas cannot be the subject of any claims to sovereignty. Once expressed as desolate, it is now considered a treasury of rich biodiversity and marine resources. However, they are being exploited by technological advances enabling them to deplete fisheries and seabed minerals. Deep-sea ecosystems may change or be destroyed by machine-aided excavation and gauging of the ocean bottom. As a result, there will be a loss of species in addition to fragmentation or loss of the structure and functionality of the ecosystem.
Increasing cargo ship transportation and their Bilge Dumping practices also threaten the open ocean. Bilgewater, which gathers in the bottom of a ship, is a mixture of fluids from the engine room and other potentially harmful materials like lubricants, cleaning agents, and metals like lead and arsenic. It is expensive to process this oily effluent, whether by treating it to eliminate contaminants or by discharging it at the port. Some ships simply dump it into the ocean with portable pumps, which can be a significant hazard to marine life, to save operational expenses.
Another threat in the high seas is the Great garbage patch, which carries and culminates tonnes of plastic debris released through river exits. They are carried and formed by ocean currents and “gyres.” There are five gyres in the ocean. One in the Indian Ocean, two in the Atlantic Ocean, and two in the Pacific Ocean. Garbage patches of differing sizes are located in each gyre. Cleaning up these garbage heaps and systematically disposing of them is a heinous task.
In addition, Climate change is heating the oceans, which may result in a mass extinction of marine life like the Permian Extinction experienced 250 million years ago, which extinguished 90 percent of marine species. The oceans have mitigated the worst of climate change by absorbing 90 percent of the heat caused by global warming and providing us with 50 percent of the oxygen.
What are the existing treaties on High Seas, and what are their issues?
About 20 international organisations oversee human activity in the high seas in accordance with UNCLOS, although their authority is constrained. In the shipping industry, for instance, the International Maritime Organization is in charge of safety and pollution control, whereas regional fisheries management organisations are in charge of particular fish populations. Yet, a lot of marine species migrate and regularly switch between various environments into the wild ocean which are unprotected from human activities.
The International Seabed Treaty is less concerned with conserving the environment and more interested in advancing the ultimate extraction of valuable mineral accretions from the seabed. Exploratory mining licences have never been denied. The contracting entity does environmental impact assessments; they are not independently verified and investigated. The ISA dismisses the worries of environmental groups like Greenpeace about defending the seabed from similar mining in the future or from the several very detrimental environmental side effects that would be involved.
What does the treaty pose to International Security?
First, an increased presence of private players. The implementation process of the treaty will see an increased presence of private maritime players as the agreement does not apply to the Navy warships. However, they are expected to behave reasonably with the agreement. Ocean conservation is currently led by non-governmental organisations funded by philanthropists, bureaucrats, and governments.
Second, increased monitoring and surveillance. To assess environmental impacts, monitor and traffic control ships, and provide constant surveillance over an expansive area will require advanced remote sensing and imaging technologies. There will be a need for marine spatial analysis and planning to track human activities and the ecosystem. New marine technologies must be exchanged between the developing and developed states to explore the deep ocean and seabed’s for research and exploitation. Increased monitoring will be a critical challenge for the littoral states to move their submarines in stealth and secrecy.
Third, potential for new marine resource-induced conflict. Though the agreement states that the marine samples and genetic coding will be shared, it does not mention who can further exploit the resources and with whom it shares. Does it share with the states involved in the exploration or those proximate to the resource.? Here, Global North faces the question of the free-riding problem and whom to free-ride its services.
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