ANU Law professors co-edit book analysing Law of the Sea from new horizons

Law of the Sea in South East Asia: Environmental, Navigational and Security Challenges
A new book co-edited by ANU College of Law Associate Professor David Letts AM CSM (left) and Professor Donald Rothwell FAAL brings together a holistic picture of contemporary maritime issues affecting South East Asia. Photos: Tom Fearon/ANU

There has been a voluminous amount of literature focusing on the South China Sea in the last decade or so and we certainly touch on it, but we’re also trying to draw back a little bit to put it in the context of South East Asia.

A new book co-edited by Associate Professor David Letts AM CSM and Professor Donald Rothwell FAAL explores the impact, influence and ongoing role of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (LOSC) in South East Asia.

Recently published by Routledge, Law of the Sea in South East Asia: Environmental, Navigational and Security Challenges represents the culmination of a 2017 conference on the LOSC in the Asia Pacific presented by the Centre for Military and Security Law (CMSL) at The Australian National University (ANU) College of Law.

“While putting together the program and speakers, we identified that it would be good to capture presenters’ thoughts in a lasting format,” said Associate Professor Letts.

Contributors to the 15-chapter book include former CMSL co-directors, Professor Rob McLaughlin and Professor Hitoshi Nasu, as well as ANU College of Law senior lecturer Dr Imogen Saunders.

Established in 1982, the LOSC represents one of the most successful examples of multilateral treaty making in the modern era. The convention’s continued utility has been tested in the Asia Pacific, however, with the South China Sea looming as a potential flashpoint.

The book aims to present a “much bigger picture” of the region by bringing together contemporary maritime issues in a single volume, said Professor Rothwell.

“There has been a voluminous amount of literature focusing on the South China Sea in the last decade or so and we certainly touch on it, but we’re also trying to draw back a little bit to put it in the context of South East Asia,” he said.

Chapters examine maritime issues including delimitation of boundaries, security challenges, climate change, navigation regimes, fisheries and more. The book’s broad scope distinguishes it among recent scholarship and ensures it is “not just for legal scholars”, said Associate Professor Letts.

“There hasn’t been a single publication like this one that combines the areas that we’re looking at – the environment, security challenges, navigation regimes – that brings together papers in a format like this,” he said.

“The other issue is that the authorship is primarily Australian, which means there is a greater consideration of events from Australia’s perspective while avoiding being too parochial.”

Professor Rothwell noted this perspective is shaped by Australia’s unique position that allows it to “look on the periphery” at maritime issues in South East Asia.

“To a degree, we’re at arm’s length from some of the really contested issues. Often with these types of publications, it’s very difficult to get authors who are based in ‘country x’ to disassociate themselves from ‘country x’. We’re a bit more dispassionate because of where we sit – we’re not on the other side of the world; we’re right on the edge,” he said.

In compiling the book, both academics took advantage of the relative peace at the ANU College of Law during early January when, on days of 40-plus degrees Celsius, there was respite from renovations.

For Associate Professor Letts, the experience of co-editing his first book was enriched by collaborating with Professor Rothwell.

“I certainly acknowledge and appreciate the guidance Don has provided. I was very pleased to have his assistance throughout the process,” he said.

‘Law of the Sea in South East Asia: Environmental, Navigational and Security Challenges’ is available for purchase in e-book and hardback. See here for more information.

Updated:  10 August 2015/Responsible Officer:  College General Manager, ANU College of Law/Page Contact:  Law Marketing Team