Maritime domain awareness: Thinking beyond traditional coop | By Naghmana Zafar 

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Maritime domain awareness: Thinking beyond traditional coop


IN 21st century “Cooperation at Sea” has been an emerging strategy to ensure good order at sea.

Trans-boundary threats along with non-traditional challenges have created a complex theatre of war to navies and maritime security agencies; where no single entity has all the necessary resources to deal unilaterally with maritime challenges by itself.

The key to deal with the full range of security issues in the maritime domain lies in strong inter-agency cooperation and greater international collaboration.

Such collaboration significantly relies on accurate and timely information sharing amongst all stakeholders on a multilateral basis.

This is important, not only for implementing the preventive measures but also to cue necessary operational response when required.

In the last two decades, a number of sub- regional cooperative mechanisms have been developed in the Indian Ocean Region.

Presently, multiple agencies like navies, coast guards and others are offering an effective operational response to prevailing maritime challenges.

Although the collaborative approach towards increasing better maritime awareness has brought tangible benefits to the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) but, momentum towards information sharing towards maritime domain awareness could gain little traction.

The maritime environment of the region exhibits complex political issues and gaps that hamper information sharing amongst Indian Ocean littorals.

Long standing history of hostility and conflict, particularly in the case of India and Pakistan and other states, is one of the most crucial issues that act as hindrance towards the maritime security information sharing in the region.

Misperception among states coupled with lack of trust, arm race, increasing geo-economic competition and growing influence of non-regional forces is perhaps the greatest threat to security cooperation at sea.

To improve the situation, the Canadian maritime expert Mr. David Griffiths proposes that “IOR states should seek to transform the nature of relationships from suspicion and posturing to confidence and cooperation at the minimum.”

In other words, there is a need to create an environment that can facilitate, harmonize and amplify the probability of positive security cooperation amongst states. To inculcate clarity and trust among states, a multilateral approach should be followed.

Further, the clinging habits of secrecy and passing on filtered/incomplete information by some states in another obstruction towards development of an inclusive information sharing mechanism.

Sometimes things get classified for the silliest reasons. This is the point where transforming relationships among states becomes so important.

In the present era, alternative means of information are easily/openly available due to technological advancement, so states should focus on the networking instead of filtering information on their own.

Another challenge in improving the mechanism of information sharing is related to maintaining a baseline/equalized capabilities.

Interoperability between countries can be impeded due to a number of reasons such as equipment limitations, lack of technology, training and capacity issues, etc.

In such cases, capacity building is the key to enable all partners to make them able to share on an equal footing.

The information sharing centres operating in the region have contributed to a good extent in maritime security in the IOR.

But, the reality is, truly multinational and inclusive collaborations are few and far between. Membership of regional littorals varies in existing setups.

We need to understand that a weak information sharing mechanism will affect the safety and security of the region as it increases the vulnerability of regional states to transnational maritime crimes.

Therefore, member states of Indian Ocean should adopt a multidimensional approach to bridge the gap in the domain of information sharing and should envisage developing a truly International Information Fusion Centre, having all littoral states as members.

In this regard, it is essential that the approach of IO states must be altered from “need to share” to a “responsibility to share” mode.

The willingness to share does not come automatically, as most states continue to operate on a ‘need to share’ basis.

At regional and bilateral level, the states must work on Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) to eliminate mistrust and other issues.

All-inclusive approach is critical for establishing a maritime information hub, which can act as a platform for various regional/global partners on scope of information sharing.

Working with regional partners will enable the pooling of resources and expertise, allowing for better shared awareness on maritime security.

—The writer is contributing columnist.

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