Europe has over 100.000 km of coastline along the Atlantic Ocean and the North and Baltic Seas, the Mediterranean and the Black Seas. Europe’s EEZs cover more than 14 million km², including their overseas territories. MSs’ overseas departments and territories also give Europe a footprint in all the oceans of the world.
Development of international trade, financial transfers and foreign direct investment increasingly connect the world‘s economy using different types of transportation through the seas, airspace, space and cyberspace, which are also considered as Global Commons. Therefore any threat against the Global Commons by state or non-state actors may affect the global economy and, by the way, European prosperity.
About 90% of Europe’s trade with the rest of the world and 41% of its internal trade are seaborne. The first and the fourth largest merchant fleets in the world are European, from Greece and Germany. The three leading liner companies are European. With more than 400 million sea passengers a year travelling through European ports, passenger ships and ferry services are an essential element in the life of all EU citizens, not only those living in the numerous European islands, and they have an important effect on bilateral trade.
The EU’s maritime regions account for some 40% of its GDP and population. The growing vulnerability of coastal areas and the increasingly crowded coastal waters, the key role of the oceans in the climate system and the continuous deterioration of the marine environment, both from illegal and legal exploitation, all call for a more determined focus on our oceans and seas. Fishing is also an important activity in the EU, and, in order to preserve halieutic resources for the future, strict regulations have been implemented in EU waters and protected zones have been created. Agreements have been signed with foreign countries for European fishermen through ACP Fish programme. The growing field of energy from the sea, which involves major EU companies, seabed and biotechnology resources will also need protection. Summing up, the EU must also take into account the fact that maritime resources will contribute more and more to the future economy.
The vast sea areas around the EU, as well as the more remote zones around their overseas territories, or where Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) operations might be conducted, are potentially a common field of action for a number of EU players.
Europe’s future is therefore inextricably linked with the sea, but this vital truth has so far attracted limited public attention, despite the growing number of important EU projects now addressing the most significant aspects of the maritime environment.
Vulnerabilities and risks
EU MS’s interests at sea face the same vulnerabilities and risks. The variety of sources of insecurity ranges from insurgent conflict, terrorism, and political instability to illicit trafficking and piracy.
Piracy and armed robbery at sea remain top maritime security concerns. In 2011, the area affected by Somali piracy was enormous, approximately 2.5 million square miles, with pirates’ use of mother ships enabling Piracy Attack Groups to stage vessel hijackings at great distances from the coast. While piracy has earned the greatest share of headlines in terms of security threats, other security issues abound. Trafficking of illicit narcotics, weapons, and people will likely continue in the medium- to long term. Maritime terrorism also poses a potentially serious danger, as shown by the Tamil Tigers (LTTE) in Sri Lanka. Although there have been only four seaborne terrorist attacks over the past decade, extremist groups affiliated with Al-Qaeda have expressed a continuing interest in closing down strategic maritime chokepoints, such as the Bab al-Mandeb. The Abdullah Azzam Brigades (AAB) have demonstrated the capability to attack shipping in the Persian Gulf.
Disputes about the EEZ in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea, recent attempts by some states to impose their sovereignty on large maritime areas as a « fait accompli » – like China in the South China Sea or, recently, Russia for an extension to 350 NM of its EEZ in the Arctic – undermine and weaken the UNCLOS.
The EU cannot turn a blind eye to these multiple threats. Taken together, the myriad security threats exceed the capacity of states to manage such challenges in an effective way.
Even an international naval presence has had great difficulty in securing the sea off Somalia. In 2011, 176 vessels were attacked, 25 hijacked, while 8 vessels remained captive awaiting release and payment of ransom, 497 seafarers were held captive and 10 seafarers died. In 2013, the number of attacks was reduced to 7 with no vessels hijacked and, in 2014 only 2 failed attacks have been reported to date. The reasons for this success, is the combination of strong involvement by the main Navies together with the IMO and the ship-owners, and a comprehensive approach. For the first time the European, US, Russian, Canadian, Pakistan, Indian, Saudi Arabian, Japanese, Chinese and Australian navies were operating alongside each other with flexible coordination. For the first time also, security at sea was coordinated with state capacity building ashore through EU missions like EUCAP Nestor and the EUMT.
Piracy in the HoA has demonstrated that the world’s principal navies were able to operate together when common interests are at risk. What has been achieved there provides good lessons for similar action in other places, such as the GoG or the Caribbean if we are able to learn from the HOA example. But have we the confidence to do that in the future?
The maritime world is particularly vulnerable to the application of various pressures, because nations depend on the ships providing Europe’s energy, industry and food needs, which are susceptible to many kinds of disruption, military as well as economic, political et al. Moreover, maritime policy has always been an integral part of foreign policy, because merchant ships and fishermen routinely and lawfully ply their trade in distant waters. This implies that the European External Action Service (EEAS) has to be directly involved in related maritime issues.
A comprehensive approach is therefore inherent in any maritime security strategy. Civilian agencies, whether created solely for navigational safety, or for the wider protection of European citizens under any of the several headings of security, must be organised and prepared to co-ordinate their efforts with those of defence for the ultimate protection of Europe’s way of life and prosperity.
Conversely, the defence community should also be prepared to assist civilian security agencies when the action required is properly under civilian leadership. This EMSS is necessarily based, therefore, upon a comprehensive approach to security, id est., that all means, irrespective of whether they are military, constabulary or civilian owned, can be used in a common effort in defence and support of Europe when it is threatened. Although the prospect of force-on-force interstate conflict has receded, at least between Western states, it can never be completely discounted and thus defence capabilities continue to be required: the primary method of ensuring security is through the availability of forces, both military and constabulary, able to exert credible power capable of deterring potential opponents.
There are challenges, risks and threats that have to be faced and vulnerabilities to be minimized by timely action during rising tension. This is not to imply, however, that the EU should be merely reactive, limiting strategy to initiatives that preserve what Europe has already achieved collectively. The core aspect of any strategy should be the awareness of how important it is to pursue and achieve the primary strategic aim, which is, in the case of EU, not only to safeguard our populations’ welfare, but also to expand the area of stability and development around Europe, and to extend best practice.
So far much has been done under the Integrated Maritime Policy, which is good news, but very little has been done about defence and security at sea. For years, the European Parliament was promoting a European Coast Guard. Apart from the fact that a European Coast Guard Function (as opposed to a unified service) would be more realistic, the only progress in this field has been the creation of a European Coast Guard Function Forum. Apart from Operation Atalanta the few initiatives European Navies have launched, in the last thirty years, look like “much ado about nothing”.
Year after year, the fleets of the European MSs are reducing in terms of platforms and capabilities. 80% of ships are more than 15 years old. In many European countries, the submarines could disappear in the next decade while, at the same time, the Asian countries are building up their own fleets. Will we continue with 25 different types of frigate while the US Navy has only 3? Will we maintain 13 different types of guns for naval artillery with their own no-interoperable ammunition? Would it be possible one day to have a common European fleet of tankers or a European Command for MPA? And I won’t mention helicopters with the 23 versions of the NH90… Are we going to continue in the same way or are we going to get round the table and discuss possible solutions?
The European Defence Agency is carrying on undaunted with the promotion of Pooling and Sharing – and Captain Hillman will continue in a few minutes. The EDA is right and we have to support it.
Globalization is our future and is based on the free flow of resources, goods, capital, information and people. Activities at sea will increase in the future. As a global common, oceans are and will continue to be the bedrock of the politico-economic system.
The freedom and stability of the global commons is one of the most important public goods. But this very freedom is at risk and the use of the maritime domain is increasingly contested. In a globalized world, connectedness is key to providing stability and prosperity. Facing the challenges listed above, Europe has no choice but to seek the best management of our global commons by leading the organisation of global ocean surveillance and security. These are the main reasons why we need a European Maritime Security Strategy.