How governments respond to the changed maritime battlespace

The advent of global-level terrorism, most vividly exemplified by the attacks of 11 September 2001, has altered the international security landscape in such a way as to necessitate significant changes in the way governments approach security. Due to the amorphous, unpredictable, and asymmetric nature of terrorism,1 countries that feel particularly threatened have rewritten existing plans, or have initiated new national security strategies, to cope with threats that are not adequately addressed by outdated Cold War-oriented policies.

National security is achieved through a sovereign government's action that "deals with threats that have the potential to undermine security of the state or society".2 It "represents the preservation of the nation's people, resources, and culture".3 The conceptual sphere of national security rests between - and is strongly linked to - personal security and international security.

When one investigates the overlap between national security and international security, certain serious threats emerge. These include terrorism; illegal immigration; disease transmission; environmental disasters; cyber-crime; and transnational organised crime. "National power is translated into national security when it addresses successfully the challenges facing the country across the various security sectors."4 The subsets or sectors of national security that it can be said to deal with these issues are aviation security, maritime security, border security and cyber-security.

Maritime security

A nation cannot be secure without possessing the ability to protect its maritime interests, its coasts and its maritime approaches. Therefore the focus lies on how countries approach the security of their shipping; ports; internal and territorial waters; offshore facilities; international waters; and national interests in foreign ports.

In a world that presents so many different concerns and potential threats to a nation's security, one must ask why maritime security matters; why is it necessary? Many people are unaware of the magnitude and importance of activity that takes place on the world's oceans and in its ports. More than 50 per cent of the world's population lives within 80 km of the sea - that percentage is estimated to rise to 75 per cent in 25 years.5 Approximately 93,000 merchant ships, transporting more than 5.7 billion tons of cargo, are received annually at the world's 8,200 ports.6 Due to the efficiencies of containerised shipping in an intermodal global transportation system, 99 per cent of the volume and 85 per cent of the value of all intercontinental trade flows across the seas.7 The oceans are "the great highways upon which much of the world's business depends and the sea remains a key means of communication between states as well as between communities".8

While trade and communication are very important, other key maritime interests include the exploitation of natural resources; passenger transport; scientific research; and recreation. Together, these interests can account for a significant portion of many national economies - in fact, many countries' prosperity is dependent on the maritime economy.

The global economy furnishes numerous examples. The trade in bulk commodities (such as coal, iron ore, grain and crude oil) between producers and consumer countries, who are generally located thousands of miles from each other, depends strongly on shipping. From a different perspective, Norway and the UK, with their exploitation of North Sea oil, are net energy producers. In the case of Norway, this source of wealth allowed it the flexibility that it needed to remain separate from the EU - an important national decision.9 Suffice it to say that maritime activities are vital for the economic livelihood of many countries.

Even though maritime activity is so important to the global economy (and in turn to certain national economies), it is vulnerable to modern threats - criminal, terrorist or otherwise. "This vulnerability is not at all surprising considering how open and fluid sea trade has become over the last 20 years."10

Due to the dramatic success of container shipping, which fuels the efficiency of the global intermodal transportation system, governments and private corporations have concentrated on economic progress and freedom of navigation to enhance intercontinental trade flows. The advent of 'hub-and-spoke networks' in the container industry, combined with 'just-in-time supply chains', has led to the increased strategic importance of hub ports and geographical choke-points.11 These key points of convergence are few in number and account for an increasingly constricted seaborne flow of trade.

The implication of this constriction is decreased flexibility or potential breakdown in the event of a natural or man-made perturbation. It is clear that unless these strategic points are well-managed and protected, they represent serious vulnerabilities in the global economy.

Individual countries have also identified vulnerability gaps in their maritime systems. In general, countries have not made themselves aware of the global maritime traffic flow and struggle to track individual vessels as they approach their home coastlines. The level of national ability to form a complete picture of maritime traffic, either globally or in even in one's own sovereign waters, is inadequate - unlike the clarity of the air traffic picture.

The capability of government departments to share information and collaborate with other departments, civilian agencies and other countries' organisations has also been found wanting. The Cold War-era propensity to maintain a tightly compartmentalised flow of information in organisational stovepipes has hampered national ability to integrate intelligence- and information-sharing efforts, particularly between law enforcement groups and intelligence agencies.12 Due to the focus on economic progress, the physical security of ports, ships, offshore facilities and other maritime interests has been afforded a low priority.

Clearly, severe economic repercussions would result from a major terrorist attack on the maritime systems of any prosperous trading country. It is therefore probable that these countries would be sensitive to security threats in the maritime sector and would develop policies to protect what economic strengths they possessed.

Many Western governments have begun to respond to this complex threat. Its complexity and leaderless, protean nature forces governments to look at new ways in which to use their security machinery. The Cold War-era balance between security and civil liberties, which "combines organisational distinctions with constitutional protections with restraints on official discretion", will no longer always suffice in its present form.13 Strategic terrorism compels a rethinking of this balance, which is causing governments to re-evaluate how they interact with other governments and is prompting government departments to rethink how they relate to each other and the citizenry.

Consequently, the government functions that evolved in most countries during the Cold War years - organisational stovepipes that focused on compartmentalised areas of government interest - are undergoing a process of re-evaluation.

Governments have traditionally utilised four major functional areas relating to national security: law enforcement; intelligence; infrastructure protection; and defence. The departments who share responsibility for these functional areas each have legislated mandates that bestow a certain specific authority to carry out their tasks. In this way, law enforcement agencies were able very easily to work independently from security intelligence agencies; the military was able to concentrate on external threats and rarely met with departments with domestic concerns; and infrastructure protection or health officials could work in isolation ensuring that their specific tasks were successfully achieved.

Planning for maritime security was no different. Individual fleets of government ships operated under separate mandates; independent surveillance over large ocean spaces has been largely unco-ordinated; and collaboration took place in reaction to specific activities (usually criminal) that were already in progress.

Governments are learning that by taking advantage of certain key cross-government activities, as opposed to functional mandates, they can discover a more appropriate strategic approach to cope with the changed battlespace of the strategic terrorist. By using a number of traits to test predictions (for example, resource allocation; machinery of government; national legislation; policy development; information sharing; intelligence collection; and assessment and warning organisations), governments are able to prioritise their key activities and select the most suitable approaches for their strategic situation.

Responses can be categorised in order to allow shared duties, overlap of cultures and clarity of purpose. A modern national maritime security system is composed of a number of essential activities that can be grouped into four general categories:14

  • Domain awareness: the activity that enables a nation to be aware of, comprehend what is happening and who is present in all areas of maritime responsibility. Domain awareness comprises surveillance and intelligence efforts to build a comprehensible picture of a nation's maritime zones and domestic/international areas of interest. Successful domain awareness leads to national alertness in the right areas at the right time on a continual basis. It therefore tends to be preventive in nature.

  • Safeguarding: the activity that ensures the physical security of maritime infrastructure of ports and vessels, as well as other critical infrastructure in or around areas of maritime responsibility (including offshore platforms). Safeguarding also enhances personnel security by creating an environment that precludes terrorist or criminal activity and prevents potentially threatening persons or devices from entering a country or any part of its maritime system.

  • Responsiveness: the activity that executes the national will to enforce the law or to take military action to prevent imminent threats and to apprehend perpetrators. Responsiveness incorporates the enforcement efforts of all relevant police forces, mandated security agencies and military units (foreign and domestic) to intercept and capture terrorists, criminals, or other threats to national security.

  • Collaboration: an activity that is qualitatively different from the other three in that can be seen as an 'enabler' activity for all parts of maritime security. Collaboration includes the ideas of information-sharing, co-ordination, co-operation and unified action for the resolution of security problems. As such, it tends to be preventive in nature.

    These four activities can be superimposed across all the geographical zones of a country's maritime security responsibility. Governments use the assets they possess in security-oriented departments to carry out these four activities in support of national maritime security. The activities can apply to ships; home ports; foreign ports; offshore platforms; internal waters; international waters; and every part of the maritime environment that belongs or is related to a country. This includes intermodal connections and cyber-linkages as well.

    The sea matters

    Maritime activities are very important to national economies, yet maritime shipping and related infrastructure are vulnerable to attack. The predominant threat of strategic terrorism has been linked to maritime security. In order to adapt to the changed battlespace of strategic terrorism, governments, depending on their individual strategic situation, will have to alter their approaches to security so that traditional stovepipes are broken down and collaborative activity wins through.

    Captain Peter Avis of the Canadian Navy is seconded to the Canadian Privy Council Office as a military adviser on national security


    1 Department of National Defence, Strategic Assessment 2002 (Ottawa: Directorate of Strategic Analysis Policy Planning Division Policy Group, 2002).

    2 Privy Council Office, Securing an open society: Canada's national security policy (Ottawa, Privy Council Office, 2004).

    3 Vice Admiral (rtd) Gary Garnett, representing the Navy League of Canada. From his opening statement for his interview with The Standing Senate Committee on National Security and Defence (Ottawa, 12 May 2003).

    4 Alex Tewes, L Rayner, and K Kavanaugh, A foundation paper on Australia's maritime strategy (Canberra, Australian Government Publishing Service, 2002). A research paper prepared at client request and made available to the Australian Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence, and Trade. 5 Reuven Leopold, 'The next naval revolution,' in Jane's Navy International (January/February 1996).

    6 Department of National Defence, Directorate of Maritime Strategy, 'Maritime Future Security Environment 2004-2025,' in Friends of the Navy Presentations (Ottawa: National Defence Headquarters, 2004).

    7 Navy Element: Command and General Staff College, 'Command of the Seas' (2 June 2004). Available from (Cited 15 September 2004).

    8 Navy League of Canada, 'Canada, An Incomplete Maritime Nation,' in Maritime Affairs (Ottawa: The Navy League of Canada, 2003).

    9 Ibid.

    10 Captain Peter Avis, 'Surveillance and Canadian Maritime Domestic Security,' in Canadian Military Journal (Vol.4, No.1, Spring 2003).

    11 Daniel Coulter, 'Globalization of maritime commerce: the rise of hub ports,' in Globalization and Maritime Power, edited by Sam J. Tangredi (Washington, National Defense University, 2002). Available from books/Books_2002/ Globalization_and_Maritime_Power_ Dec_02/ 08_ch07.htm (Cited 15 September, 2004).

    12 Bruce Berkowitz, 'Spying in the post-September 11 world,' in Hoover Digest (Vol.20, Autumn 2003). Available from digest/034/berkowitz.html (Cited 15 September, 2004).

    13 Gregory Treverton, 'Balancing security and liberty in the war on terror.' Available from http://www.maxwell. Event%20papers/ ISHS/Treverton.pdf (Cited 15 September 2004).

    14 Canadian Department of Transport, Enhancing the security of Canada's marine transportation system (Ottawa, Interdepartmental Marine Security Working Group, 2004).

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