Maritime Border Disputes in the Eastern Mediterranean: The Race between Military Tensions and Peaceful Negotiations
Written by Christy- Belle Geha, Intern at the Issam Fares Institute’s communications office.
The Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs (IFI) at the American University of Beirut (AUB) organized a webinar titled “Maritime Border Disputes in the Eastern Mediterranean: The Race between Military Tensions and Peaceful Negotiations” on Wednesday, October 28, 2020.
The discussion hosted Roudi Baroudi, energy consultant and CEO of Energy & Environment Holding in Doha, Naomi Burke, legal officer at the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, and Charles Ellinas, CEO of e-CNHC (E-C Cyprus Natural Hydrocarbons Company Ltd). Marc Ayoub, researcher at IFI’s Energy Policy and Security Program moderated the talk.
Charles Ellinas tackled the different economic aspects of maritime border disputes on exploration activities. He touched on the impact of COVID-19, the pandemic that has stopped drilling for gas in the East Mediterranean (East Med) but has also affected gas development in general. “Natural gas is the excuse, not the driving factor,” he noted. “Resolutions can only happen through discussion and negotiations” he said.
He added that resumption of drilling may be delayed until 2022 or after, and that East Med gas is expensive to produce due to depth in reservoirs and in water. He also reminded that the International Energy Agency (IEA) warned that “higher cost development projects (...) look increasingly difficult to justify, including in the East Med,” especially that it’s difficult to secure sales in global gas markets because these markets, as well as liquefied natural gas (LNG) markets, are now oversupplied. Since Europe does not need East Med gas, the future of this gas is in local and regional energy markets, considering that demand on LNG will develop over 20 years, but prices will be low from now till 2030 so exporting to markets will be tough.
Talking about the East Med maritime dispute escalation, Ellinas gave the example of the confrontation between Greece and Turkey that has reached dangerous levels but recently calmed down thanks to German meditation. However, said Ellinas, Turkey sent its drilling rig back to the disputed area on October 12, thwarting discussions, which leaves Turkey’s aim unclear. In fact, Turkey may be diverting domestic public opinion, thinks Ellinas, but this is worsening the economy.
He asked: “Is this meaningless if gas exports are not commercially viable?”. “Are the two countries ‘fighting windmills’? The time has come to find a way to bring the two countries away from the brink of confrontation, back to negotiation.”
In addition, Ellinas talked about the worldwide oil and gas crisis, highlighting that the first half of 2020 showed massive losses, and budget cuts by many international bodies. “Restructuring and consolidation is taking place, and recovery may take 2 to 3 years,” he stressed. “The IOCs are going for large projects, easy to develop, with high returns. Where this is not the case, they are looking into divesting assets. However, the East Med does not fit into this.”
He added that the energy future of East Med countries should rest on maximizing the development of renewables and exploiting gas resources regionally, and this requires resolution of regional problems, stressing that the EU could become a catalyst to achieve this goal. “We seem to be talking a lot about gas and we believe that we’re all going to become rich because of it, but this will cause lots of dispute,” he expressed.
Roudi Baroudi explained that he started conducting a study in 2017, targeting eight Eastern Mediterranean countries. He showed exclusive maps that clearly show the East-Med regions’ 12 maritime boundaries, only 2 of which are delineated via bilateral treaties (Cyprus-Egypt and Cyprus-Israel), leaving the remaining 10 unresolved/problematic. He particularly focused on how rocks and islets can sometimes not affect the direction of borders, by mentioning three compelling cases during which the International Court of Justice did not give weight to rocks and islets: Bangladesh–Myanmar border, Honduras-Nicaragua border, and Libya-Tunisia border.
“We should avoid war and disseminate knowledge that any negotiations should be based on a goodwill basis, according to science and law” he said. “Turkey and Greece, for instance, have to face their common enemy, which is their past of 1923 and 1948.” Baroudi noted that Lebanon could not have given weight for the small islands that it has, and that the Lebanese borders move North rather than South. Baroudi mentioned that “the most important thing is to kick-start from the Land Terminus Point (LTP) in Ras Al Nakoura which was not well-identified earlier neither by Lebanon nor by Israel. Once LTP is set, an equidistant line could run to connect with the Trijunction point between Lebanon, Cyprus and Israel. “The Lebanese Army has precise coordinates that can make Lebanon earn much more than what [Frederic] Hoff had suggested [with his ‘blue line’], and we should support the negotiating team in order to safeguard Lebanon’s rights” he added.
Naomi Burke congratulated Baroudi on his report that she described as having a “legal, technical, and political input.” She spoke about the legal effect of maritime boundary agreements during her intervention.
Negotiations, according to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), rule States that they should base their agreement on the international law She also explained that the delimitation of maritime boundaries by international courts and tribunals, is possible through two entities: The permanent international bodies that are the International Court of Justice in The Hague and the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea in Hamburg, as well as ad hoc international bodies that are created to hear a specific dispute.
“A bilateral boundary agreement cannot have a legal effect on the entitlements of a third State,” she said. “If two States come to an agreement on the split of their maritime zones, then the agreement works.”
Check out Charles Ellinas' presentation here.
Check out Naomi Burke's presentation here.
Watch the full session here.