David Cameron's unsentimental EU speech

British prime minister David Cameron delivered today his long-awaited speech on his country's relationship with the European Union. He had been scheduled to speak last week but delayed due to the twin crises in Mali and Algeria. The speech's substantive message was known well in advance: Cameron called for a renegotiation of the relationship, to be followed by an eventual referendum on continued British membership.

Even with the punchline broadcast ahead of time, however, the speech was notable for its tone. For a major Western leader, Cameron struck a remarkably unsentimental note on international cooperation. Several times, he described the international realm in almost zero-sum terms:

[T]oday the main, over-riding purpose of the European Union is different: not to win peace, but to secure prosperity.

The challenges come not from within this continent but outside it. From the surging economies in the East and South. Of course a growing world economy benefits us all, but we should be in no doubt that a new global race of nations is underway today. A race for the wealth and jobs of the future....

Competitiveness demands flexibility, choice and openness - or Europe will fetch up in a no-man’s land between the rising economies of Asia and market-driven North America. [emphasis added]

In the midst of this global race for affluence and influence, the prime minister's central question was what Britain gets out of EU membership:

[W]e come to the European Union with a frame of mind that is more practical than emotional.

For us, the European Union is a means to an end – prosperity, stability, the anchor of freedom and democracy both within Europe and beyond her shores - not an end in itself.

We insistently ask: How? Why? To what end?

As Cameron acknowledged, speaking of the European Union as a simple matter of national cost and benefit—rather than as some kind of project in enlightened governance or moral mission—is unusual in European circles. For some audiences that jarring tone, and the prime minister's willingness to explicitly contemplate exit, may overwhelm the second half of the speech. Having insisted that Britain must coldly assess the EU's value, Cameron proceeded to run through several of the arguments for and against continued membership—and concluded that remaining in the EU is resoundingly in the British interest.

The Multilateralist

South China Sea dispute headed to court?

The foreign affairs minister of the Philippines made a potentially significant announcement today:

This afternoon, the Philippines has taken the step of bringing China before an Arbitral Tribunal under Article 287 and Annex VII of the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) in order to achieve a peaceful and durable solution to the dispute over the West Philippine Sea (WPS).

At around one o’clock this afternoon, the Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines H.E. Ma Keqing was summoned to the Department of Foreign Affairs and was handed a Note Verbale by Assistant Secretary Teresa Lazaro. The Note Verbale contains the Notification and Statement of Claim that challenges before the Arbitral Tribunal the validity of China’s nine-dash line claim to almost the entire South China Sea (SCS) including the WPS and to desist from unlawful activities that violate the sovereign rights and jurisdiction of the Philippines under the 1982 UNCLOS.

The Chinese government responded by insisting that the dispute must be resolved by negotiation, not international adjudication:

Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Ma Keqing reiterated Tuesday China's principled position that China has indisputable sovereignty over the islands in the South China Sea and its adjacent waters, after the Philippines announced it had taken the disputes to the United Nations Arbitral Tribunal.

"The Chinese side strongly holds the disputes on South China Sea (SCS) should be settled by parties concerned through negotiations," Ma said in a meeting with Assistant Secretary of the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Theresa Lasaro. The latter submitted the Note Verbale that the Philippines will initiate arbitral proceedings of the South China Sea issue, according to the Chinese Embassy in Manila.

Manila's move toward litigation comes just as Japan has made a conciliatory move in the maritime dispute.