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Defense & Security Analysis
ISSN: 1475-1798 (Print) 1475-1801 (Online) Journal homepage: http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/cdan20
UNCLOS and maritime security: the
“securitisation” of the South China Sea disputes
To cite this article: Christo Odeyemi (2015) UNCLOS and maritime security: the “securitisation”
of the South China Sea disputes, Defense & Security Analysis, 31:4, 293-302, DOI:
To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14751798.2015.1101186
Published online: 10 Nov 2015.
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UNCLOS and maritime security: the “securitisation”of the South China Sea
Department of Social Inquiry, Victoria University, Melbourne, Australia
This Critical Comment seeks to situate the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea
(UNCLOS) within the context of South China Sea (SCS) dispute. Bearing in mind that
maritime actions of the main disputants –China, Vietnam, and the Philippines –
increasingly “securitise”these long-standing disputes and vice versa, the study examines the
concept of a maritime “regime complex.”Whereas efforts have being made to examine
UNCLOS and indeed the dispute within the framework of a maritime “regime complex,”
the key ﬁnding shows that the increased “securitisation”of the disputes makes it difﬁcult to
envisage effective engagement of UNCLOS as a resolution mechanism. It will also reveal
that China’sﬁrmly established expansionist agenda in the SCS region is indicative of
Beijing’s susceptibility to compromise a diplomatic solution to these long-standing disputes.
These discoveries are structured around the knowledge that the spatial relation of the SCS
critically espouses not only its geo-strategic signiﬁcance in terms of natural resources
endowment, but also the enduring maritime disputes within the region.
Keywords: South China Sea; disputes; maritime security; securitisation; UNCLOS; regime
Due to developments as recent as April 2015, it is hard to locate works that have examined the
relationship between United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), increased
securitisation of the South China Sea (SCS) maritime dispute, and a maritime regime complex.
One of the few exceptions is Robert Kaplan’s recognition that the unique geography of the
SCS region encourages the military fortiﬁcation of areas claimed by the disputants and thus
enhances the prospects for increased aggression.
But Kaplan’s central argument is not robust
enough. This Critical Comment derives from the implicit manner with which he discussed afore-
mentioned relationship. It is notable that codiﬁcation makes UNCLOS one of the most important
international legal tools but at the same time ranks among the least recognised in a growing inter-
partly due to UNCLOS’s inertia in discouraging the disputants from turning
SCS into an armed arena.
The promotion of maritime security occurs within a context of International Law that provides
both opportunities and constraints.
Indeed, UNCLOS has produced mixed effects in respect of
the SCS dispute. On the one hand, UNCLOS provides a uniﬁed legal referent, given that all
the States involved in the dispute are signatories to the Treaty and base their maritime claims
either fully or partially on it. On the other hand, Alison Ba posits that UNCLOS has been
© 2015 Taylor & Francis
Defense & Security Analysis, 2015
Vol. 31, No. 4, 293–302, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14751798.2015.1101186