The South China Sea: Every Nation for Itself
ARMY COMMAND AND GENERAL STAFF COLL FORT LEAVENWORTH KS SCHOOL OF ADVANCED MILITARY STUDIES
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Since the first ASEAN summit in 1976, ASEAN has ended its conferences with a unanimously approved communique. In 2012, the conference failed to reach consensus on the South China Sea dispute. As the United States shifts strategic focus from Europe towards Asia, analyzing why the members of ASEAN cannot adopt a common policy towards territorial claims in the South China Sea informs U.S. operational planners about the complexity of the Asia-Pacific operational environment. To determine why ASEAN failed to reach consensus requires answering four interrelated questions. First, what is the strategic importance of the South China Sea The importance of the South China Sea lies both in its resource potential and its location on a major sea lane. Second, what documents provide jurisdiction over actions inside the South China Sea The assertion of claims in the South China Sea is governed by the provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea treaty and a declaration of principles by ASEAN. Third, what are the claims of the individual nations involved in the dispute The claims advanced by various regional nations rely not only on the treatys provisions but also on self-defined national interests and historical claims. Lastly, what prevents these nations from achieving a common solution This question can only be answered by using international relations theories on the behavior of groups. Mancur Olson and Alan Lamborn have written theories that help to interpret the actions of the individual nations. After application of these theories, it becomes clear that the reason why ASEAN cannot provide a common solution is that no nation involved in the dispute desires one. The only way to reach a consensus is through coercion. Without a compelling force to achieve consensus, each nation will pursue a solution most advantageous to its own claim. Until an entity with the appropriate power forces the involved nations to reach a solution, this dispute will continue.
- Government and Political Science