Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines address security issues in maritime areas of common concern.

Maritime Security Briefings No. 6

Author: Dr. Math Noortmann, Prof. in Transnational Law and Non-State Actors

The Joint Declaration of the Foreign Ministers and Chiefs of the defence force of Indonesia, Malaysia and Philippines On Immediate Measures to Address Security Issues in the Maritime Areas of Common Concern demonstrates the resolve of the three maritime nations to not only discuss the problem of maritime security, but to actually implement such measures as ‘patrolling’, ‘rendering immediate assistance’, ‘sharing of information’ and ‘facilitate coordination’.

The initiative is timely and necessary in many respects. The seas that connect these states are well known for the threats they pose. “Armed robbery against ships, kidnapping, transnational crimes and terrorism” are the ones mentioned in the Declaration. Illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing is curiously left out of the enumeration of maritime crimes. There are many potential political reasons for leaving this crime out, but there would have been equally good socio-economic reasons to include it in particular as the three states understand the impact of maritime crimes on “economic activities and welfare of peoples in the surrounding areas” in particular the coastal communities, which depend on fishing and are reportedly inclined to turn to other less legal activities when their livelihoods are threatened.

But was is more important than noting what is not in the declaration is: what is in the declaration, and in that respect one cannot avoid to note the phrase “maritime areas of common concern”. The understanding that maritime nations are connected by areas of common concern is a lesson well learned by the leaders of Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines, and should be hailed as a lesson well learned and cited as an example to follow.

We have seen other examples of countries connecting around common maritime areas such as the Baltic Sea treating these areas as a kind of ‘common regional heritage’. This interconnectedness should defy cooperation along the lines of functional delimitation as set out in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). As with piracy, UNCLOS is based on historical preoccupations with territory and delimitation, but did not anticipate the extent of contemporary maritime crimes in the early 1980s. Now states have to come up with alternative forms of cooperation that recognize common problems rather than functional solutions.

The idea of the maritime area as a common concern could also have been understood as signaling a concern for all maritime security stakeholders. The focus on “strengthening mutual cooperation and collaboration among the militaries to address the growing non-traditional security challenges in the region” misses unfortunately the change to enhance inter-agency cooperation. The complexity of transnational maritime crimes and the often promoted holistic approach to countering those crimes, would require the development of a common understanding between various ‘armed’ forces: navy, coast guard, and (fisheries) police.

Marine areas are not only of common concern for states; different non-state actors whether they be fishermen, shipping companies, enforcement agencies or civil society organizations should also start to develop that common concern for their maritime area.

To learn more about CTPSR’s research on the maritime security politics and law , please contact the author

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