Ensuring Asia’s Maritime Security

By John Hamre

U.S. lookout stands watch in the South China Sea. Source: Source: U.S. Pacific Fleet’s flickr photostream, U.S. Government Work.

U.S. lookout stands watch in the South China Sea. Source: Source: U.S. Pacific Fleet’s flickr photostream, U.S. Government Work.

As President Obama travels on a crucial trip to the region for the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum, East Asia Summit, and G-20 meeting, the United States and all of the countries in the region are faced with myriad challenges to peace and security in the maritime Pacific. The president’s trip will likely include much talk of safety and stability in the East and South China Seas, underscoring just how prominent these potential flashpoints have become in recent years. Heightened tensions between Japan and China in the East China Sea, competition between China, Vietnam, Taiwan, and the Philippines in the South China Sea, and an increasing emphasis on the strategic importance of the Indian Ocean, all serve as reminders that 21st century policymakers may face some of their most stubborn challenges in Asia’s waterways.

Maritime Asia hosts some of the world’s most important shipping lanes and more than half of global commercial shipping passes through the South China Sea alone. In 2013, developing East Asian economies contributed around forty percent of global GDP growth. Asia is expected to account for half of world GDP by 2050. But maritime competition threatens this dynamic and deeply interdependent region. Competing territorial claims and disagreements over maritime boundaries raise the risk that an isolated incident could lead to war. The United States has long made known its interest in freedom of navigation, but in recent years, U.S. leaders have rightly grown worried about security in the Indo-Pacific littoral. Maritime geography makes it difficult to monitor events at sea as they occur, and there are few reliable sources to turn to for balanced information on these developments.

At CSIS, our team of Asia scholars has been at the forefront of independently tracking maritime security developments in the diplomatic, military, economic, and legal spheres. Specifically, there are two efforts that I think give us real analytical leverage on these pressing policy challenges. Building on the work of our ground-breaking GIS-based presentation on the South China Sea in High Resolution, a new, unique CSIS project will provide a forum to enhance cooperation and diplomacy in maritime Asia.

On November 12 at our annual Global Security Forum the Asia Program will debut the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI). The heart of the AMTI is a comprehensive website, featuring regular updates on maritime security-related events, original commentary from top experts, interactive maps, historical information, and curated research resources including documents, data, and visuals. AMTI will serve as a central source of information, analysis, and policy exchange on maritime security issues in Asia. The project aims to provide an unbiased view of the evolving maritime security situation in the region and will not privilege or endorse the views of any particular claimant. I encourage you to consult this terrific new resource when it goes live on November 12. You can find the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative at amti.csis.org and follow the project on Twitter @AsiaMTI.

Dr. John J. Hamre is CSIS President and CEO, Pritzker Chair, and Director, Brzezinski Institute on Geostrategy.

John Hamre

John Hamre

Dr. John J. Hamre is president and CEO, Pritzker Chair, and director, Brzezinski Institute on Geostrategy at CSIS. Before joining CSIS, he served as the 26th U.S. deputy secretary of defense.

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