In the international maritime community, how many times have you heard: “To meet today’s challenges, nobody can do it alone”? Throughout my naval career, I have been involved in numerous international symposiums aiming to foster a common understanding of maritime security challenges that affect us all. In addition, my Navy has participated in dozens of multilateral naval exercises with the purpose of increasing the interoperability of naval assets to face those challenges.
If we truly believe that global maritime security is a rational common goal for countries that depend on the sea and global sea trade to sustain life or make a living, we also must maintain that a lack of maritime security would have negative global effects that would damage us in one way or another. It stands to reason that if we are all affected in some way by insecurity at sea, then promoting and guaranteeing global maritime security involves some assumption of maritime responsibility on a global scale.
I propose the concept of “Global Maritime Responsibility” (GMR), defined as the obligation that falls to a state as an active and legitimate member of the international system for maintaining the security and free use of the seas for communication, transportation, or feeding populations. Countries that do not depend directly on the sea for their subsistence may assert that their GMR is irrelevant or nonexistent; however, it is difficult to imagine that any country today could legitimately make such a statement. One need only look to the COVID-19 pandemic to see that the idea of “global” is growing closer to “local,” with the world becoming smaller and smaller every day.
A nation’s degree of GMR, however, varies and, in simple terms, is based on two factors:
• The extent of its dependence on the sea for trade or subsistence
• Its capacity to use maritime force to impose order locally, regionally, and/or globally, understanding that the local and regional are part of a larger global system that includes seas with no physical borders and in which problems can have global reach
Every country depends to some extent on maritime lines of communication and subsequently has some responsibility to oversee the safe and free use of the seas according to their capacity to contribute to this immense task. Sometimes, a country’s commitment and the will to be involved is sufficient acknowledgment of its GMR.
Nobody is asking anyone to do the impossible, but three tasks among many come to mind in which nations—regardless of their capacity, geography, or diplomatic constraints—can exercise GMR: maritime peacekeeping operations, anti-piracy operations, and countering illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing. Any one of these would contribute greatly to ensuring the navigational freedom and security of our seas.
By assuming its global maritime responsibility, a country is confirming that being part of the global system entails rights and guarantees that are valid globally and protected by international conventions. It also is affirming the indispensability of navies as a means of expressing the will of the state regarding global policies and associated duties. This is the vital role navies have played for centuries and that in this globalized world is more evident than ever.