Maritime Security Challenges – Explained, Pointwise


The issue of Maritime Security is being discussed at the global level. India recently hosted the UNSC summit on maritime security. The meeting was chaired by India, as it holds the council’s membership for the month of August.

A cautious discussion and deliberation took place in the meeting over concerning issues like piracy, terrorism, smuggling, etc. The countries understood and acknowledged the importance of joint collaboration for strengthening maritime security and ensuring a rule-based order. Later on, the UNSC adopted a 5 point agenda proposed by the Indian PM for tackling maritime security.    

About Maritime Security:

Currently, there is no common definition of maritime security in international relations. Nonetheless, the term includes issues in the maritime domain comprising national security, marine environment, economic development, and human securityBesides the world’s oceans, it also deals with regional seas, territorial waters, rivers, and ports.

Maritime Security Issues
  1. Piracy: There is a persistent threat of pirate attacks on ships, especially around the Somali coast. This jeopardizes trade and commerce.
  2. Terrorism: International waters are used by terrorists to execute their operations. For instance, the 2008 Mumbai Attacks occurred due to a maritime security lapse. 
  3. Illegal Migration: International Oceans are a better way to enter into another country’s territory than taking the land/air route. Thus, a higher degree of illegal migration happens through maritime waters.
  4. Transnational organized crimes: The waters are also used for transnational organized crimes that inflict significant harm on the global economy and jeopardize the security of the state.
    • This includes illicit trafficking in narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances, trafficking in persons, illicit trafficking in firearms, etc.   
  5. Environmental catastrophes: The rising pollution level and climate change have enhanced the frequencies of cyclones, floods, etc. catastrophes across the world. 
Why is India focusing on Maritime Security?
  • International Trade: The country’s major portion of imports and exports is carried on through maritime waters. Thus securing sea lanes of communication is imperative for economic growth. 
  • Huge coastline: India has over 7000 km of coastline which enhances its vulnerability to maritime threats as testified by the 2008 Mumbai attacks.
  • Chinese Assertion: China is increasing its influence in the Indian Ocean region, which may threaten India’s regional interest. Further, it may deter India with its naval might to coerce it on other issues.
    • For instance, in August 2020, during the Eastern Ladakh class, China sent the Yuan Wang class research vessel into the Indian Ocean.
  • Blue Economy: It consists of economic activities dependent on marine resources, comprising 4.1% of India’s economy. The sector has immense future potential, but its development is possible only in a secure marine environment.
  • Technological Advancement: A greater focus on maritime security is also desired due to its rapidly evolving nature. For instance, an Israeli ship was attacked recently by a drone in the north Arabian Sea, killing two crew members. 
Mechanisms available against maritime challenges:
  • UNCLOS:  It is known as the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea or the Law of the Sea Treaty. It defines the rights and responsibilities of nations towards the use of the world’s oceans.
    • It enshrines the notion that all problems of ocean space are closely interrelated and need to be addressed as a whole.
  • SAGAR: Indian PM put forward the SAGAR (Security and Growth for all in the Region) vision in 2015. It aims to deepen economic and security cooperation with its maritime neighbors and assist in building their maritime security capabilities.
  • IPOI: SAGAR’s vision was further elaborated through the Indo-Pacific Oceans’ Initiative (IPOI). The initiative focused on seven pillars of maritime security – 
    • Maritime Ecology, Maritime Resources, Capacity Building, and Resource Sharing, 
    • Disaster Risk Reduction and Management, Science, Technology and Academic Cooperation and Trade Connectivity and Maritime Transport.
  • QUAD: It is a strategic dialogue between India, USA, Japan, and Australia. The objective is to ensure and support a “free, open, and prosperous” Indo-Pacific region.
  • Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia (CGPCS): It is an international governance mechanism established in New York on January 14, 2009. It aims to facilitate the discussion and coordination of actions among states and organizations to suppress Somali piracy.
Issues in tackling maritime challenges:
  1. Non-obedience: Strong nations are often seen disregarding International Law. For instance, China disobeyed the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA’s) award over the South China Sea dispute. The ruling dismissed Beijing’s claims on the entire area in the nine-dashed line in the South China Sea. 
  2. Most of the Maritime region is part of the High Seas: This peculiarity enhances the vulnerability as no individual country can exercise sole jurisdiction on high seas. It is a global common and hence many countries refrain from investing their resources for augmenting the security framework of the high seas.
  3. Lacking Universal Character: The most fundamental treaties concerning maritime security don’t possess a universal character. For instance, the US has only signed UNCLOS but not ratified it, thus generating scope for violation.
  4. No Consensus on Definition: Decades have been passed since the adoption of UNCLOS. However, nations have failed to build a consensus over a uniform definition of maritime security.
  5. Geopolitical Interests supersede Security Concerns: Another issue impeding maritime security is the notion of giving primacy to Geopolitical Interests. For instance, Russia’s Geopolitical interests induce it to overlook China’s violation of UNCLOS in the South China Sea region.  
  • The recently adopted 5 point agenda on maritime security by the UNSC should be implemented in letter and spirit. This includes:
    • Free maritime trade without barriers to establishing legitimate trade; 
    • Settlement of maritime disputes should be peaceful and on the basis of international law only; 
    • Responsible maritime connectivity should be encouraged; 
    • Need to collectively combat maritime threats posed by non-state actors and natural calamities; 
    • Preserve the maritime environment and maritime resources.
  • Efforts should be made for building consensus on the creation of a maritime security body in the UNSC, as proposed by the Russian President.
  • Further, all the countries must become part of Global treaties like UNCLOS in order to foster better cooperation and coordination on maritime security. This would also help in agreeing to a common definition of maritime security. 

Countries must realize that seas are our shared heritage and sea routes are the lifeline of international trade. They should collaborate with each other in the spirit of the UN charter, which involves respecting sovereignty, non-intervention in internal affairs, and settling disputes through dialogue.

Source: Times of India , Indian Express 

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