Academic journal article Naval War College Review

The Growing Prospects for Maritime Security Cooperation in Southeast Asia

Academic journal article Naval War College Review

The Growing Prospects for Maritime Security Cooperation in Southeast Asia

Article excerpt

The sea dominates Southeast Asia, covering roughly 80 percent of its area. The region's islands and peninsulas, wedged between the Pacific and Indian oceans, border major arteries of communication and commerce. Thus the economic and political affairs of Southeast Asia have been dominated by the sea. In the premodern period, ports such as Svirijaya and Malacca established empires based upon sea power in area waters. In succeeding centuries European warships and their heavy guns were the keys to colonization. Today more than half of the world's annual merchant tonnage traverses Southeast Asian waters; its oceans and seas yield vast revenues in such industries as fishing, hydrocarbon extraction, and tourism. In fact, more than 60 percent of Southeast Asians today live in or rely economically on the maritime zones. However, the sea is also the source of a variety of dangers that not only menace the prosperity of local populations but directly threaten the security of states. Those dangers include territorial disputes, nonstate political violence, transnational crime, and environmental degradation. Maritime security, accordingly, is at the forefront of Southeast Asian political concerns.

Successful response to maritime security threats requires international cooperation, because those threats are primarily transnational. As Singapore's deputy prime minister has eloquently explained, "individual state action is not enough. The oceans are indivisible and maritime security threats do not respect boundaries." Southeast Asian cooperation is currently inadequate in terms of the maritime threat; however, structural, economic, and normative factors are leading to greater cooperation. In the last four years there have been notable steps forward, and the factors responsible for them should soon produce greater cooperation.

This article discusses the threats to maritime security in Southeast Asia, describes the factors tending toward strengthened maritime security cooperation, and argues that networks of bilateral relationships may be more fruitful than purely multilateral arrangements. The first section, a historical overview of maritime cooperation in Southeast Asia from the end of the Cold War through December 2004, is followed by a survey of contemporary maritime security threats. The article then discusses five significant factors that now favor improved maritime cooperation. It concludes with the various forms that future cooperation might take and speculation as to which are mostly likely in light of evolving state interests and constraints.

It is necessary first to limit the scope of analysis. Warfare is unlikely to break out among members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Accordingly, the focus here is on cooperation to counter extraregional and transnational threats, rather than to prevent interstate conflict. In that context, the concern is not simply cooperation but operationalized security cooperation. Cooperation, in its broad sense, occurs when states, in order to realize their own goals, modify policies to meet preferences of other states. "Operationalized" security cooperation is a specific type and degree of cooperation in which policies addressing common threats can be carried out by midlevel officials of the states involved without immediate or direct supervision from strategic-level authorities. Consultation and information sharing between security ministries are examples of "cooperation," whereas the data assessment and intelligence briefing by combined teams of analysts would involve operationalized cooperation. In the maritime environment, international staff consultations exemplify cooperation. A highly orchestrated and closely supervised combined search-and-rescue exercise would be considered very thinly operationalized at best. Complex naval exercises and regularly scheduled combined law enforcement patrols are more substantial examples of operationalized cooperation.


In 1991, Southeast Asia was regarded as a relatively stable region in which the maturity of ASEAN had made significant contributions to management of disputes between member states. …

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