New Policy Brief – ‘Maritime security sector governance and reform’

SafeSeas’ Tim Edmunds and Scott Edwards collaborated with the Geneva Centre for Security Sector Governance (DCAF) on ‘Maritime security sector governance and reform’ (MSSG/R). The policy brief, available here, is a backgrounder document intended to provide a consideration of the challenges and opportunities of security sector reform and governance in the maritime sector.

The maritime domain is of critical importance to global trade, communications, power relations, and environmental sustainability. Yet many states lack the capacity to properly police their maritime territories. Building this capacity is an important aspect of maritime security sector reform.  This is a complex undertaking, involving multiple different agencies, often in close cooperation with other users of the sea and working across different jurisdictions.

The backgrounder considers the following questions:

  • What is maritime security?
  • Why are security sector governance and reform (SSG/R) relevant for maritime security?
  • What roles do security providers and oversight actors play in maritime SSG/R?
  • Why and how to carry out maritime SSR in domestic contexts?
  • How can the achievement of good maritime SSG contribute towards regional and international maritime security?

Several key themes that arise when addressing these questions.

First, the oceans are a complex space. While the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea delineates state jurisdiction over different maritime zones, there remain variegated and sometimes contested legal regimes. These regimes includes both domestic and international law, as well as bi- and multilateral agreements between nation state actors. They establish new responsibilities to protect and steward these spaces.

Second, different organizations, agencies, and actors are implicated in maritime security. Depending on context, these might include navies, coastguards, marine police units, paramilitary forces, border guards, and marine environmental management bodies, among others. Beyond this, however, good SSR/G should also consider coastal communities and other users of the sea who have a stake in maritime security and bring important perspectives on both the nature of maritime insecurities or the impact of maritime security responses. It is important that stakeholders are engaged in the analysis, planning, and implementation of maritime SSR to maximize ‘buy-in’ across the sector. MSSG/R is also a normative process in the sense that it pays attention to issues of civilian control over the security sector, and the rule of law through democratic oversight and scrutiny.

Third, coordination between actors is a key consideration in MSSG/R. Coordination aims to minimise duplication or contradiction in maritime security, and also to overcome resource constraints through the pooling of limited resources and capabilities. Coordination can face considerable obstacles in practice, but there are a number of strategies that states can employ, including: Identifying nodes of common interest; producing maritime security strategies; Maritime Domain Awareness; establishing coordination structures; marine spatial planning; and operational/technical cooperation.

Fourth, maritime SSG/R is context dependent and needs to reflect the diverse circumstances and stakeholder configurations in the countries in which it takes place. ‘One-size-fits-all’ approaches to SSG/R are rarely applicable in the maritime domain.

Fifth, MSSG/R is best understood as a contested and constantly evolving activity rather than a rigidly linear process.