Monday, April 6, 2015

Chapter 7: Challenges and Complexities of MarSec Cooperation at Sea

By Timothy A. Martin (copyright 2011) 


A consequence of the changing emphasis of security at sea in the post-Cold War and post-11 September 2001 (9/11) eras is that states built confidence through regional interdependencies, and made decisions about partnerships with peer states. Through a method of compare and contrast, dissimilarities and parallels of maritime law enforcement cooperation in the Caribbean and Southeast Asian regions, exposed decisions by actors regarding whys and wherefores of oceans governance. This thesis validated that, in the post-Cold War era, states have cooperated to provide law enforcement at sea when proposed agreements have had an underlying coherent, formal and consensus-built legal framework supporting mechanisms that are specifically created by and for one regional system of states.

Each of the two regions had specifically dissimilar security at sea matters, albeit with similar characteristics and therefore, usefully in terms of this study, related solutions. On the one hand, the perception that foreign powers exert influence that contests internationally accepted rights of sovereign states is misleading. As a powerful hegemonic state, the United States engaged with less powerful regional actors. States who were able to face this engagement appeared to conclude, based on their later cooperation, that benefits from increased security capabilities at sea incorporated a cost-benefit balance; that is, national interests of all actors benefited through a willingness to agree to cooperate. Southeast Asian actors therefore weighed the cost and threat of maritime crime (piracy against shipping) against the cost to the integrity of national interests if they took action, or if they did nothing. Within the jurisdiction of a littoral state, maintaining stable regional relations has been less critical than the provision of security for all maritime users. Official acceptance that incidents of piracy had increased meant that the Southeast Asian littoral states admitted to a failure to provide security and control crime within their own jurisdictions. While crime is the responsibility of the territorial state, to suggest an inability of a state to manage crime occurring in proximity to its territories, or within its areas of responsibility challenges the leadership of the state institutions charged with upholding law. International demands for improvements to law enforcement suggest government-level inadequacies and might also be perceived as a challenge to the sovereignty of the state.


The end of the Cold War and, triggered by events in the United States in 2001, the war on terrorism has been the catalyst for a security evolution. As the meaning of security altered, variations in the way that security cooperation between states developed articulated a certain discursive discord between Cold War and post-Cold War era patterns of actor behaviour. This thesis sought to answer several questions using a methodological approach of comparative analysis of predominantly qualitative sources. Case studies of Caribbean and Southeast Asia providing a ‘lens’ or perspective from which to view the other; this is the small ‘n’ analysis of a limited number of cases referred to in the methodology section (Chapter Three) but sufficient for the purposes of making a useful comparison of one aspect of security cooperation between states. Several factors aside from securitisation variances, such as actor proclivities, also influenced changes in the way that states cooperated on security issues. These were specific to the nature of security threats, actor sensitivities, and defiance to extraneous stimuli; states consequently appropriated regional paths to consolidate local collaboration. Analysis of influence of external actors also revealed consistencies and dissimilarities that were useful variables. There are clearly many variables in a study of maritime security cooperation between actors in dissimilar geo-graphical spaces that have diverse cultural-political pasts and these represent the Piracy at sea, drug trafficking, and violence at sea are significant, non-traditional security, maritime threats because to some extent, the style of threats at sea has been an ingredient in influencing security cooperation. Sovereignty concerns, external power encroachments, media bias, unlike definitions of what a security threat is; all present as variables. Threat and response are two sides of the same coin; states in Caribbean and Southeast Asia circumstances avoided certain outcomes but adopted others. Mutable attitudes of states toward the concept of security cooperation, together with evolving use by the United States of international law to legally underwrite security cooperation at sea, safeguards the confidence of states in participatory behaviour. On the other hand, the fluctuating focus of the United States from global to regional strategic imperatives, and a evidence that less powerful actors will engage with these strategies, establishes regional order relationships as favouring the presence of the hegemonic actor. Consequently, the United States and the focus on non-traditional maritime security threats situate hegemonic interests as a common theme of regional security cooperation.

Interrogating factors that ‘push’ states to cooperate, and determining what factors ‘pull’ them apart, and whether these prove/disprove the hypothesis, encompass the fundamental problems for the research. Considering the data from previous chapters for instance, what was significant about the 9/11 terrorist attacks and their aftermath that pushed states away from cooperation with the United States, whereas prior to 9/11, bilateral agreement making indicated Caribbean states had not. Existing international laws and their application to the development of cooperative mechanisms in both the Caribbean and in Southeast Asia form a legitimising framework for cooperation. However, after 9/11 this ‘rule of law’ tender was insufficient guarantee that states in Southeast Asia would join rather than reject the style of mechanisms for security at sea that a powerful hegemony was proposing. The United Nations and International Maritime Organisation (IMO) had previously developed conventions on issues of illicit drug control, suppression of terrorism, and law of the sea, yet these were premised on community interests aligning with state and international interests. With the prior imprimatur of the international community, these conventions provided a measure of community consolidation that formed legal frameworks for the six-part bilateral maritime agreements in the Caribbean. Coordinated programs of patrolling, surveillance and information gathering seen in Southeast Asia signalled a dissimilar emphasis imparted on security at sea, to the Caribbean model.

What was significant about the post-Cold War era that led to Caribbean states, and later, states in Southeast Asia having the confidence to cooperate with the United States on a low-security issue? Whereas the United States could previously command allegiance from states when the primary purpose of security at sea was to support the western strategic alliance, this changed with the end of the Cold War. States have not been bound to the strategic interests of others, in the post-Cold War era, as much as they have to their own national interests, which may not align with the interests of the sole remaining superpower. What the United States does offer is support for the rule of law; this is evident in its reliance on the conventions of the United Nations upon which it based regional bilateral maritime security agreements with Caribbean States.

Implications of this Research

In a regional sense, the multiple, bilateral agreements between maritime states for the provision of security at sea in the Caribbean, and multilateral coordination arrangements in Southeast Asia can equally be termed regional regimes, because the terms of agreements became normalised international law. A maritime security regime exists where an agreed authorization is given, or arrangements are made and agreed to by several littoral states. In an ongoing sense, negotiations have been dynamic, requiring ongoing maintenance through negotiation between signatories and reassessment of the context in which crimes at sea occur and allowing for political responses to security issues that reflect, and are tailored to, the national interests and priorities of participating states.

Low-security maritime threats such as drug smuggling and piracy at sea offer useful ways to illustrate the evolution of maritime security cooperation between states. From the ‘traditional’ strategic defence role of naval forces, maritime law enforcement focuses on low-security issues, such as crime at sea, rather than high security, such as conflict between states.[1] Nevertheless, the role of naval forces since the end of the Cold War, in low-end maritime security blurs this distinction. There are clear associations of violence with low threat security incidents such as smuggling narcotics and piracy at sea, whereas the links between crime and terrorism have been less clear.[2] A blurred distinction since the events 9/11 terrorist attacks situate maritime terrorism somewhere as a low to medium threat with few actual incidents and few agreements on the way that states should coordinate their response to the threat. The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolutions 1373 (2001) and 1456 (2003)[3] reported a close connection between international terrorism and transnational organised crime, illicit drugs, money laundering and illegal arms trafficking. It emphasises the need to enhance coordination of efforts on national, sub regional, regional and international levels in order to strengthen a global response to these serious threats to international security.[4]

Maritime regime building had been demonstrably challenging for practitioners and coming to consensus depends on what advantages, real or perceived that it offers to participating states. Within the Caribbean Sea and Southeast Asia, governments were more willing to be involved in bilateral agreements because there was less chance of having to make compromises. However, multilateral arrangements succeeded in Southeast Asia because participating states coordinated efforts, avoiding having to compromise territorial sovereignty in order increase the overall capacity of maritime patrols. The CRMA arrangement in the Caribbean Sea was an attempt to coordinate the maritime law enforcement capacities of states. Although agreements that only required that states coordinate with other states offer the potential for further dialogue and diplomacy, cross border pursuits also required a high level of trust. Improving the scope of maritime law enforcement operations required first that states were confident that the process of capacity building through law enforcement coordination would be in their best interests. Ensconced within UNCLOS, the IMO preamble, and the United Nations preamble is the ideal of international consensus and cooperation. Participation requires actors to have the capacity to meet agreed practical outcomes of preliminary negotiations. The intent of states and external interlopers is to marry the interests and priorities of the home state to those of the regional or wider international community.

This thesis has demonstrated that where individual states in the Caribbean Sea and in Southeast Asia had previously avoided cooperation for fear of impinging on each other’s sovereignty, in the post-Cold War era, states have acted as partners rather than strategic competitors. Caribbean states’ capacity to provide maritime law enforcement even within their own territorial seas was limited prior to 1996 and improved after this time due to USCG shiprider programs; marine authorities of one state embarked onboard vessels of other partner or states, expediting access and pursuit of suspects. Similarly in Southeast Asia, prior to 2004 states such as Malaysia and Indonesia lacked maritime law enforcement capacity to patrol their own maritime territories, let alone an international shipping route, in the Malacca and Singapore Straits. After 2004, this situation changed as three littoral states, Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia and later Thailand began to coordinate maritime patrols. Other factors included Malaysia’s establishment of its own coast guard, the affect of the tsunami on Northern Sumatra and the political democratic reform occurring in Jakarta.

Changing dynamics of world events provide significant reasons for states to develop and strengthen their maritime security within a framework of cooperation. Maintaining maritime security at a level that satisfies international expectations avoids external involvement beyond the level of diplomacy and indirect assistance. Policy makers in Southeast Asia have determined cooperative strategies that encompass protection of the integrity of the territorial sovereignty of states that kept maritime trade routes open for business, and allayed concerns of powerful external actors. For maritime law enforcers, the imbalance of powers challenges the territorial sovereignty of smaller coastal states.

Maritime law enforcement is a transferable tool; lessons from one area can be utilised against different types of crime in other areas, especially in the environment of the high seas, where international rules apply. Yet its reception is not automatic acceptance. In a sense, there is a symbiosis where maritime law enforcement cooperation between states is sought; this argument accepts that states remain significant actors when security cooperation occurs but they depend on existing framework instruments of cooperation and consensus, particularly those codes and conventions created under the auspices of the United Nations.

Within Southeast Asia, piracy at sea had been a minor concern for local and external law enforcement since the late 1990s. It appeared to increase after the Asian Financial Crisis of 1997 and later with the attacks in the United States in 2001 (9/11 terrorist attacks). This specific low-security maritime threat influenced the official attitude of some Southeast Asian states in only small ways initially that there could be better ways to manage security at sea, reduce the cost of increasing patrols, but still improve the capacity of authorities to make the necessary changes. The lumbering pace of the state in this matter contrasts with their own maritime officers often finding it possible to speak directly with equivalent maritime law enforcement services in other countries.

Therefore, it is clear that in both regions, significant security events have influenced the response of states to low-security maritime threats. The Caribbean events there occurred in first decade of the post-Cold War era and prior to the events of 9/11 terrorist attack; increasing piracy at sea, and the response by states occurred in Southeast Asian after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Therefore, comparison of events in the two regions indicates that changes of attitudes can precede unusual levels of state-to-state interactions - an important point where the politics of cooperation sometimes seem designed to frustrate practitioner’s efforts. A significant variable between the two main cases was that the type of low-security maritime threat - narcotics smuggling in the Caribbean, and piracy at sea in Southeast Asia - determined which actors were being affected, and therefore, who should be party to cooperation and who should not. Excluding the United States in the narcotics smuggling, law enforcement agreements in the Caribbean would have run counter to that state’s role as initiator of the agreements, and provider of capacity. In Southeast Asia, the role of the United States as initiator, excluded that actor due to associated political risks; whatever capacity it might have brought to the table were subsumed by that risk. In addition, crimes at sea involve violence and take place in international waters or across borders. Consequently, a low threat security issue that armed marine authorities respond. Incidents of narcotics smuggling, and piracy at sea reported in the media usually highlight the spectacular successes of law enforcement operations. Maritime law enforcement’s effectiveness increases when good intelligence and international cooperation supports an operation.[5]

States within the two regions, the Caribbean and Southeast Asia, and upon which this research focuses, have coordinated law enforcement at sea by focussing on order rather strategic concerns. This aligns with the wider interests and priorities of the United States to enforce law beyond its own territories in order to protect its own national interests that include global stability. Seeking assistance in security through participation of regional states is an effective means to achieve this aim. It also allows participating states to feel that they have a say in an issue that has implications for their territorial sovereignty.[6] Smaller states have needed assurance that being a signatory to maritime law enforcement; security agreements will not disadvantage them or threaten sovereignty. In a sense, legality and order assures that sovereignty remains intact and defendable through international courts.

For the United States, its initiatives to get states to cooperate on security issues met with mixed success. While on the one hand the United States promotes the rule of law, on the other, this powerful state has historically prioritised its own strategic interests at the expense of others. This was seen during the Cold War and later, during the ‘war against terror’. In the post-Cold War era though, security is less about global strategic interests than about regional law and order issues. Therefore, states have sought to manage the complexities involved in maritime security cooperation in order to achieve their security goals and meet their national interests. Through seeking legal means such as the Drugs Convention 1988, the SUA, PSI-SIP, the ISPS Code, and to some extent UNCLOS, the United States has sought legal underpinnings to its efforts to get states cooperating. 

[1] ‘High-security’ refers to matters that threaten the state, such as war and defence, and ‘low-security’ in this thesis refers to oceans governance issues, such as criminal activity at sea that is associated with violence. In international relations literature high-politics has referred to security of the state, and low-politics has referred to global political economy - these offer some equivalency with security; Michael Barnett points out, the definitional lines are arguably interrelated –––M. Barnett, ‘High Politics is Low Politics: the Domestic and Systemic Sources of Israeli Security Policy, 1967-1977’, World Politics, vol. 42, no. 4, July 1990, pp. 529-562.
[2] Rebecca Christie, Maritime Security, Lexington Institute, Arlington, Virginia, United States, January 2008, pp. 1-3.
[3] UN, UNSCR 1373, Security Council Unanimously adopts Wide-Ranging Anti-Terrorism Resolution; Calls for Suppressing Financing, Improving International Cooperation, Resolution 1373 (2001) Also Creates Committee to Monitor Implementation, Press Release: SC/7158, 4385th Security Council Meeting (Night), 28 September 2001; UNSCR Resolution 1456, 2003.
[4] T.A. Martin, ‘The Impact of Narco-Trafficking and Interdiction on Shipping’, Strategic Insights, no. 15, Risk Intelligence, November 2008, pp. 8-12.
[5] Martin, ‘ Narco-Trafficking’.
[6] Robert Farley, ‘The Future of U.S. Naval Power’, World Politics Review, article 6399, 14 September 2010.

[Please note that this is an edited version of the complete thesis]

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