Flashback:The 10th Annual Roberts Lecture – ‘Our Maritime Security’

On the 22nd January 2014 I attended the 10th Annual Roberts Lecture. Here were my reflections at the time. Please note: CPRS became CTPSR in February 2014.

Last week I had the pleasure of attending the 10th Annual Roberts Lecture hosted by Sheffield University. This year’s lecture was delivered by Sir Charles Montgomery, Director General of the United Kingdom’s Border Force. Its title was ‘Our Maritime Security – Strategic Lessons and Future Prospects’, and it was an excellent introduction to the subject. In this post I wish to summarise some of Sir Charles’ points, whilst highlighting the way in which they connect to both mine and the Centre for Peace and Reconciliation Studies’ (CPRS) work in this area. Indeed I left the lecture content that the importance of maritime security is increasingly being recognised. Please note my summary of the lecture are based on my own notes written at the time and as such they may not capture Sir Charles’ views fully or completely accurately.

Sir Charles began his lecture by laying out a series of statistics to highlight the importance of the maritime domain, specifically to the United Kingdom (UK). The UK has 600 ports which make an estimated £7 billion contribution to GDP annually. By 2017, the value of trade travelling by sea and associated with the UK will be around £650 billion. 90% of the UK’s energy supplies arrive by sea. Whilst the UK’s merchant navy remains the fifth largest globally.  I don’t think you can repeat such statistics enough, the maritime domain really is important, the space through which huge amounts of our food, energy and general goods travel. This prominence explains my own specific interest in port security, as ports have a tripartite role as as nodes in the global supply chain, hubs in the transport network and as border management locations.

Maritime security, or at least one dimension of it – piracy – has gained wider public  awareness in recent years, with the Hollywood effect of films such as Captain Phillips contributing to this process. Sir Charles touched upon the issue of piracy next in his lecture, highlighting what he regarded as unprecedented co-operation between international actors in those efforts to tackle pirate activity around the Horn of Africa. As a former senior officer in the Royal Navy, Sir Charles’ emphasis on the levels of co-operation here carried particular weight.

But where the lecture really excelled was in Sir Charles’ recognition that maritime security is about so much more than piracy. Terrorism, narcotics, illegal fishing were all highlighted. This perspective on maritime security is one that I share and which CPRS embrace in our research and our online MA Maritime Security. Indeed our approach to understanding maritime security can be encapsulated in three words – strategic, holistic and applied. Strategic in the sense that we seek to recognise and discuss the way in which developments associated with the maritime domain shape and are shaped by broader trends in global affairs. Holistic in so far as we lay out the way in which maritime security goes beyond discussions about state naval assets or piracy, however important these topics are. Indeed we are keen to highlight and better understand the nexus between (in)security on land and (in)security at sea. Applied because our work is shaped by own research experiences and through active and sustained engagement with practitioners and populations associated with the maritime domain. There is a place for theoretical and conceptual debates, but they should only be one aspect of efforts to more fully examine maritime security.

After discussing several existing maritime based threats, Sir Charles made the point that the response to this insecurity needs to come from enhanced governance (e.g. the implementation of flag state law) and capacity building. Importantly Sir Charles defined capacity building in broad terms, emphasising key outcomes as helping coastal states to be able to better police their own maritime areas, creating the conditions for successful national, regional and international trade, and allowing states to sustainably exploit their own maritime and sub-sea resources. This point reminded me that when seeking enhanced maritime security, the response has, in my opinion, to be about tackling the root causes of insecurity alongside dealing with the symptoms of that insecurity. To illustrate with the Somalia case, state fragility and poverty for example contribute towards the proliferation of piratical acts, but piracy in return has an impact on economic development and efforts to enhance political stability on land.

It is this recognition of the land/sea interconnection that is, in part, the inspiration behind CPRS’ seminar series which will examine the relationship between maritime insecurity and sustainable development. Kindly sponsored by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and with the support of two principal external partners, The Royal Navy and The Nautical Institute, CPRS will organise six one day seminars during 2014 and 2015 looking in to this relationship. A central part of our efforts here will revolve around discussing the experiences of two principle ‘vulnerable’ populations – coastal communities and seafarers, specifically in regions with considerable development needs – in the face of a series of security challenges associated with the maritime domain. The first seminar in this series is provisionally scheduled to take place at Coventry University in March with further details to follow.

Sir Charles brought his lecture to a close by highlighting what he felt would be three maritime security challenges in the future. The first was the impact of climate change, which amongst other things is opening up what have been inaccessible sea lanes in the High North. Another was the global need for both food and water and the role the maritime plays here. Finally, Sir Charles emphasised the need to recognise the challenges associated with changing trade patterns as Africa and South America begin to play an even larger role in global trade and consider the potential of regional friction. The role played by various rising powers globally, countries such as Brazil, India, South Africa and Turkey, is another area CPRS is focusing on in its activities.

Sir Charles closing thought really struck home to me the importance of the maritime. He emphasised that in a globalised world the sea becomes even more important. Maritime security he argued should be seen as a “basic staple not a discretionary item”. For Sir Charles this importance needs to be emphasised and communicated to a domestic audience in order to demonstrate how insecurity globally can have an impact in the UK. This central argument that maritime security needs to be a staple issue is one I wholeheartedly agree with.

I hope in this post to have given a brief summary of the lecture, whilst highlighting the way in which both mine and CPRS’ research in to maritime security captures a range of the points Sir Charles’ made. Maritime security effects our lives in multiple and varied ways and at all times. Over the coming months, I hope to be able to illustrate this more in this blog.

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