The Caspian Sea Convention represents multilateralism at its best

Author Barbara Jansz-Pawletta considers that arguably the greatest initiative of the Caspian Sea Convention is the establishment of a legal framework for the construction of pipelines in the Caspian Sea. This is a bold statement, considering a treaty that has ended an almost thirty year long period of indetermination regarding the status of the Caspian Sea and its exploitation rights. I might say that it is as bold as accurate. The Caspian Sea Convention is an almost model example of multilateral cooperation in pursue of a successful outcome regarding sustainable development. And within the Convention, nothing is more significative than the provisions on the establishment of pipelines for the transport of fossil fuels. The Convention opens the door for the building of new pipelines on the sea which would allow for the export of resources to the East and West, especially to Europe. This represents an improvement in respect to the previous situation, where the expansion of export capacities was limited due to the absence of agreement over the legal status of the Caspian Sea and shows the dimension of the treaty which aims to bolster the development of the coastal states. Sustainable development relies on balance between development and environmental protection. The possibility of establishing the pipelines is part of the development dimension of the treaty and is counterbalanced by the provision that establishes that the parties must comply with the environmental standards and requirements embodied in the international agreements to which they are parties. This provides a strong backup for environmental considerations, for besides other international agreements to which Caspian Sea coastal states are signatories, previous conventions, such as the Tehran Convention and its subsequent protocols, on environmental regulations in the Caspian Sea exist. I can sense Russia’s hand here, hopefully having understood the fragility of the closed sea masses ecosystems after the monumental disaster of the Aral Sea, almost bygone by now, which places its roots in the soviet era. Therefore, I see the Caspian Sea Convention as an enormous success, for it has managed to align territorial interests, resources exploitation rights, development promotion and environmental protection between five contesting nations. That last achievement is considerable, for in territorial, resources and sea disputes, environmental protection is hardly a priority. It is hard for me not to compare the situation of the Caspian Sea with a similar one in open waters, that is the South China Sea conflict. In that particular instance, it seems that focus was placed on who gets what, but almost never on who protects what and how. Even the tools used to gain leverage in the negotiations failed to consider the environmental sphere. The construction of artificial islands by China may have strong negative externalities over the ecosystem of the region. While stronger geopolitical and geoeconomics considerations are at stake, South China Sea litigants should turn their heads towards the Caspian Sea and see what lessons could be learned and applied to their particular situation, for the Caspian Sea Convention represents multilateralism at its best.