ISDP Forum: Multilateralism and International law: Maritime Issues in the East and South China Seas

On March 23, the Institute for Security and Development Policy welcomed Professor Hideya Kurata and Associate Professor Norihito Kubota, from the Japanese National Defense Academy, and barrister and PhD researcher Helen Tung, for a conference on multilateralism and international law. The event was held at the Mediterranean museum, and was moderated by Dr. Lars Vargö, Distinguished Fellow at ISDP.

Associate Prof. Norihito Kubota started his presentation by introducing the history of Japan’s security policy, characterized by a slow but incremental contribution to multilateral military operations. During the Cold War, Japan did not have any incentive to increase its involvement, and the debate on how to contribute more actively to international peace started during the Gulf War. Japan became more proactive under the Abe administration and the Legislation on peace and security (2015) allowed Japan to increase its contribution to peacekeeping operations, both within and outside the UN framework.

The Legislation on peace and security (2015) lifted the ban on self-defense forces (SDF) and four cases were introduced for using collective self-defense: 1) defense of U.S. vessels in the high seas; 2) interception of ballistic missiles directed to the U.S.; 3) enlarged rear support overseas; and 4) logistic support for the operations of other countries participating in the same peacekeeping operations.

Prof. Hideya Kurata focused his presentation on the role of Japan with regard to a possible contingency in the Korean peninsula. He started by assessing the evolution of North Korea’s nuclear posture. At the time of its first nuclear test in 2006, North Korea seemed to adopt a “minimum deterrence” strategy, based on unconditional no first use (NFU) and counter-value strike (to the U.S.). However, it has since heightened deterrence against the U.S., developing second-strike capabilities, and has lowered the threshold of military provocations to South Korea. In 2013, North Korea has threatened a “preemptive nuclear strike”, suggesting a shift in strategy to counter-force strike and beyond “minimum deterrence”.

Finally, Ms. Helen Tung presented the role of international law and the law of the sea in dealing with maritime issues in the East and South China Sea. She started by explaining that arbitration is one of the tools that states can employ, which is different from the International Court of Justice in that it is a closed-door and more “private” process. In order to employ this tool, however, both parties should agree to participate. A problem with the China-Philippines maritime dispute case, for instance, is that China did not participate in the hearings and the Chinese perspective was not properly represented.

ISDP thanks Professor Hideya Kurata, Associate Professor Norihito Kubota, PhD researcher Helen Tung and all members of the audience for joining in the discussion.