Maritime Security and the Blue Economy: Understanding the Link

GoG vra-chartBy Dr. Christian Bueger, Cardiff University. If the 21st century is a maritime century, better international cooperation and global ocean governance will be the key. The need for better ocean governance is reflected in two recent political and intellectual discourses which find their expression in the concepts of maritime security and of the blue economy. Both concepts aim at re-thinking the objectives of ocean governance. If maritime security points to the risks and perils of the sea, the blue economy captures its prospects and promises. Maritime security emphasizes the importance of protecting maritime space from diverse threats, such as inter-state disputes, piracy or other forms of transnational crime, but also the necessity to ensure good order at sea. Blue economy, in turn, emphasizes the economic potential of ocean resources, ranging from fishing, resource extraction, to tourism. The blue economy is not only about economic growth, but also about the importance of striking a balance between blue growth, ocean health, and sustainability. If both concepts deal with the oceans, the discussion of maritime security and the blue economy takes place in different circles and concerns other professionals and policy makers. The connection and linkages between the two discourses remains however poorly understood. If this requires substantial further research, a number of principles should be seen as guiding.

Both the blue economy and maritime security are recent conceptual innovations. They are creations of the past decade and they invite us to think about the oceans differently. Negatively defined maritime security is about the absence of a range of threats. This includes inter-state disputes, ocean born crime, ranging from piracy, illegal fishing to the smuggling of people, arms, narcotics and other illicit goods, terrorism, the proliferation of WMDs, threats to freedom of navigation, environmental risks, but also disasters. Maritime security is the invitation to think about the inter-linkages between these threats systematically, and to recognize that maritime security inter-sects with other agendas, to include national security, human security, marine safety, and last but not least the blue economy (see Bueger 2015a). The concept of the blue economy initially referred primarily to the economic sectors of the sea. While this was traditionally resource exploitation and tourism, new technologies increasingly show the vast economic potential of the marine environment. Increasingly the blue is however also associated with the importance of environmental concerns. If we want to exploit the sea, we should do so sustainably and keep a good eye on the health of the oceans. As the Economist Intelligence Unit (2015) has recently highlighted, there is a new wave of the industrialisation of the ocean, which goes together with “a shocking plunge in ocean health” induced by human activities. Neither in the West, nor in the Global South are currently sufficient policy frameworks in place.

How are both agendas interlinked? First of all we know that environmental degradation increase insecurity. The link between illegal fishing and Somali piracy is a powerful reminder in this regard (Bueger 2015b). More generally it is however also a link between the poverty and marginalization of coastal populations which breeds ocean born crime and might lead to their radicalization. Vice versa, we need to acknowledge that blue growth will not be possible without a sufficient degree of maritime security. Ocean resources cannot be exploited if there is a significant threat level. This does not only apply to natural resources. For instance, who wants to honeymoon in piracy-infested waters? If maritime security and the blue economy are inter-twined, then we should not ask, what comes first. It is neither maritime security first, nor blue economy first. Instead we need to embrace the nexus between both concerns. At the heart of the nexus is cooperative ocean governance, or good order at sea.

Ocean governance can be broken down to four sets of activities. This is firstly coordination. One of the characteristics of the sea is that it is complex, it is cross-sectoral, it is often cross-jurisdictional, and trans-boundary. Just think about the multiple sovereignties and jurisdictions that intersect on an average containership. What is required is coordination between the multiple actors involved in national terms, in regional terms, but also in global terms. In short, we require national, regional and global fora in which the strategies, laws and action plans can be aligned. Secondly, we require an understanding of what happens at sea. Maritime domain awareness and information sharing are a key enabler for international cooperation. This gives us a picture about the activities at sea, but also what the challenges that need to be tackled actually are. Innovation in surveillance technology and threat detection systems gives us a good start. But the true challenge here is to build trust and confidence so a culture is built in which everyone actually wants to share. Thirdly, strategy and knowledge, and law, are only relevant in so far as they actually leads to action. Good law will remain meaningless it is not enforced. Given the complexity of maritime challenges this will imply to work towards joint, inter-agency, but also inter-state law enforcement and prosecution. Finally, we need to be aware that the capacity of many states to deliver on ocean governance is weak. Hence capacity building is key. This should not be understood as a knowledge and technology transfer from the West to the South primarily. The rich countries, or international organizations do not necessarily know better. Capacity building is a dialogue and a collective learning process on how challenges can be handled better.

The maritime security and blue economy agendas are two sides of the same coin. Neither should it be the dangers of the sea, nor  its economic prospects guide the discourse on better ocean governance in its own terms. We will need to identify ways how maritime security practitioners and those developing the blue economy can work hand in hand, in order to protect the oceans and the coastal populations highly dependent on them.



Bueger, Christian. 2015. What is Maritime Security?, Marine Policy 53, 159-164, available at

Bueger, Christian. 2015. Learning from Piracy: Future Challenges of Maritime Security Governance, Global Affairs 1(1), 33-42, available at

Economist Intelligence Unit. 2015. The blue economy. Growth, opportunity and a sustainable ocean economy, available at

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