Future of Maritime Security: Trends, Emerging Threat Vectors and Capability Requirements

Compared to a decade ago, maritime security is now ranked high on the security agenda of a number of countries, international organization and actors. This follows the intensification of conventional and non-conventional threats to the free flow of resources, goods, information, capital and mobility of people within and across the global maritime domain.

The priority of maritime security reflects in the various government and intergovernmental strategies for maritime security already formulated like those of the United Kingdom, United States, Denmark, European Union (EU), African Union (AU) and Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) as well as in multilateral statements and declarations on maritime security by the G7 and United Nations Security Council. Overall, the strategies place the maritime domain in context and highlight why it is strategically important to our everyday lives.

It serves as a transport route, marine resource, living habitat and a place for power and stability projection. Conceived of in this way, the strategies stress that maritime threats are not only real, but also multifaceted and can have catastrophic impacts across several sectors. To detect, prevent or contain the threats therefore, it is important to have a good understanding of what happens at sea in real time, and given the international nature of the sea links and the threats, regional and international cooperative action will be required for optimal response and ensure effective maritime governance. Whilst the main aim of maritime security remains the prevention of incidents and risk mitigation, different trends indicate that the confluence of multi-sectoral and cross-cutting activities in the domain is putting the future of maritime security at risk.

For instance, growing global demand and competition for energy is pushing the limit of exploration, degradation of marine ecosystems and depletion of natural resources like illegal fishing, expansionist maritime ambitions of developed and emerging powers, illegal discharges or accidental marine pollution, increasing pressure on the littorals due to urbanization and demography growth, increasing investments in strategic maritime capabilities, e.g. technology and climate change-already identified as a threat multiplier. These trends are some of the threat vectors to the future of maritime security.

And they bring to fore the need to build the required capability and framework to either prevent or contain the threats. Therefore in addressing today’s and tomorrow’ maritime security threats discussion will centre on exploring a comprehensive approach that entails close public-private interactions and coordination to achieve stability and international order at sea.

Timothy Edmunds

Professor of International Security, Director, Global Security Centre, University of Bristol
Will be leading the discussion on this theme at the conference