On its surface, maritime domain awareness is appealing, but its application carries a destructive potential for freedom of the seas.
Maritime domain awareness poses one of the greatest challenges to the principle of freedom of the seas, a pillar of sea power and globalization. Today a pall of doubt hangs over the principle's future because maritime domain awareness (MDA) helps coastal states detect, regulate, and control offshore shipping. By collecting and sharing international shipping information, nations strengthen their ability to conduct search and rescue and disrupt maritime drug trafficking and other crimes at sea. At the same time, however, the information can be mined for abuse. Coastal states can use awareness systems to unilaterally enforce excessive maritime claims or illegal shipping regulations, such as excessive restrictions on passage rights, bogus environmental laws, or unlawful "security" requirements. Maritime domain awareness capabilities help coastal nations strengthen their control over contested littoral regions, further placing freedom of the seas at risk.