Think Tank (4/2023)
Captain Ian Park, Royal Navy
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Contemporary Geopolitical Challenges and International Law
27 Jun 2023

The Centre of Excellence for National Security (CENS) hosted a seminar by Ian Park, a Captain in the UK Royal Navy, and a barrister, on 27 June 2023. Park has served in seven ships and deployed worldwide in support of the Royal Navy’s contribution to defence. He has also been deployed as a legal adviser on operations to Afghanistan and, on many occasions, to the Middle East.

Chaired by Mr Benjamin Ang from CENS, the seminar considered contemporary geopolitical challenges and areas of future tension, and analysed the role of international law in mitigating the effects of war, deterring conflict, and ensuring accountability.

Captain Park’s talk detailed the increasingly precarious global conflict landscape and highlighted the situation in the Asia Pacific as particularly complex. Given this complexity, he noted that many states’ approaches toward China are consequently subject to change and are by no means axiomatic. While providing a summary of the approaches taken by Western powers, Captain Park nevertheless emphasised that nations in the Asia Pacific region are far better placed to act against China’s expansion, as a result of being more exposed to and aware of the nuances of the relationships between their own states and China. He also noted the dangers of Western powers invoking the concept of the rules-based international order, chiefly that it would provide Russia and China with an easy opportunity to highlight what he called “Western hypocrisy”, namely the invasion of Iraq or the Diego Garcia islands dispute.

In its closing segments, the seminar also acknowledged the growing impact of climate change and new technologies, and the ways that these issues are likely to compound existing geopolitical challenges. Noting increasing polarisation between states, Captain Park spoke about the difficulties that states would face in finding common ground and establishing meaningful standards on the above issues in the 21st century.

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