Academic journal article Contemporary Southeast Asia

Solving the "Wicked Problems" of Maritime Security: Are Regional Forums Up to the Task?

Academic journal article Contemporary Southeast Asia

Solving the "Wicked Problems" of Maritime Security: Are Regional Forums Up to the Task?

Article excerpt

"Wicked Problems"

Wicked problems are an important concept in public policy. (1) They are pressing and highly complex issues for policy formulation that involve many causal factors and high levels of disagreement about the nature of a problem and the best way to handle it. The term "wicked" is not used to denote something evil, but asa mathematician might use to describe a problem that is highly resistant to resolution. Wicked problems involve fundamental differences between stakeholders, who typically have deeply held convictions about the correctness of their own position. Effective solutions invariably require stakeholders to change their mindsets and behaviour. Climate change is probably the most notorious wicked problem both for international organizations and national governments.

The maritime security environment of the Asia Pacific is awash with wicked problems. These include different interpretations of the Law of the Sea, providing good order in regional seas, conflicting maritime claims and managing the risks of greater naval activity in the region. These wicked problems may be distinguished from "tame" security problems in the maritime environment, such as piracy, humanitarian assistance and the threat of maritime terrorism. Tame problems are not necessarily simple: they can still be complex but the problem can be clearly defined and solutions identified and worked through.

There have been several developments in the region recently that provide grounds for optimism that regional forums may be more prepared to address the wicked problems of maritime security. In the past, forums such as the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) and the Shangri-La Dialogue have generally restricted their dialogue on maritime security issues to tame problems. This paper reviews the wicked problems of maritime security and assesses the prospects of their being successfully addressed by regional forums.

Defining Maritime Security

A basic wicked problem is that regional countries are not in agreement on a definition of maritime security. Some include non-traditional security threats within their definition, but others are uncomfortable with including environmental threats and illegal fishing. Traditional maritime security threats, involving defence against military threats and the protection of national interests and sovereignty at sea, also have problems with regard to how far regional forums can go with sharing threat perceptions, and promoting measures of preventive diplomacy and confidence-building. These are normally considered national matters and outside the scope of multilateral security forums.

Much depends on the geographical circumstances and maritime interests of individual countries. The two large archipelagic countries, Indonesia and the Philippines, have extensive areas of maritime jurisdiction and prefer a broad definition of maritime security that takes into account their concerns for marine environmental protection and illegal fishing. Japan has long had a comprehensive view of national security that recognizes its critical vulnerability to the disruption of imports of energy and other strategic commodities. (2) China also seems to lean towards a broader definition of maritime security with its concept of a "harmonious ocean" that includes enhancing China's maritime security "not only in terms of naval strength but also security responses, such as environmental protection and disaster relief". (3)

On the other hand, countries that have relatively small maritime zones and are also distant water fishing nations--such as Thailand and South Korea--are uncomfortable with including Illegal, Unreported or Unregulated (IUU) fishing within the scope of maritime security. Singapore similarly prefers a narrow definition of maritime security due to its very small area of maritime jurisdiction and extensive shipping interests. (4) A broader definition to include marine environmental threats might lead to additional regulation of international shipping that would not be in Singapore's national interest. …

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