Regionalism and the international law of the sea

Kopela, Sophia (2010) Regionalism and the international law of the sea. In: 4th Oceanic Conference on International Studies; 30 Jun - 02 Jul 2010, Auckland, New Zealand. (Unpublished)


Due to its comprehensive scope and its nearly universal participation, the Law of the Sea Convention (LOSC) has been characterised as a constitution for the oceans. Multilateralism triumphed when the LOSC was adopted, and new rules of the modern law of the sea were agreed and incorporated in an all-encompassing international instrument. Regionalism was an important and influential power during the negotiations at the Third Conference of the Law of the Sea, where regional demands, through regional interest groups, were successfully put forward. Regionalism remains nowadays an important means for the regulation and management of oceans affairs at the regional level. Moreover, the LOSC itself both leaves room and encourages regional cooperation in specific fields, such as enclosed and semi-enclosed seas, protection of the marine environment, fisheries, marine scientific research and transfer of technology. The degree of regional cooperation and integration varies from flexible structures, such as working groups, to legally binding regional agreements, and highly organised regional institutions. Especially regional organisations, such as the European Union, the Organisation of American States, the Caribbean Community, the Association of South East Asian Nations, are increasingly active in the field of marine affairs. Due to its flexible mechanisms, regionalism has been considered as effectively addressing contemporary political and technological circumstances, such as depletion of marine resources, pollution threats and security concerns. Informal or ‘implicit’ regionalism as it has been called, may also have an impact upon the formation of international law in the form of regional customs established through the coordinated or uncoordinated unilateral practice adopted by the states in a region. The purpose of this paper is to examine the relationship between regionalism and the LOSC in terms of the evolution and development of the law of the sea. The main questions to be addressed are whether contemporary regionalism contributes to the development and evolution of the law of the sea, or whether it undermines the integrity and authority of the LOSC and threatens multilateralism and universalism. In order to answer these questions, regional arrangements in specific fields, especially fisheries and protection and preservation of the marine environment, will be analysed, and their practical value, their compatibility with the LOSC, and their normative impact on the development of the law of the sea will be appraised. In particular, in terms of the normative impact of regionalism, this paper will examine potential fragmentation concerns, especially implications for the relationships among states in the region and third states. Finally, this paper will attempt to answer the question of whether and to what extent regionalism should be encouraged. This paper adopts the position that regionalism poses no real threat for multilateralism and the LOSC. On the contrary, it can be a force for development and renewal and may lead, not only to effective regulation of marine affairs at the regional level, but also, as it has happened in the past, to multilateral and universal regimes, which may develop to reflect new circumstances and accommodate more effectively state interests and concerns.

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