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Addressing Challenges in the Maritime Commons

On September 26, 2016, NBR’s John M. Shalikashvili Chair in National Security Studies hosted “Addressing Challenges in the Maritime Commons,” a public discussion on the global challenges that navies face in today’s maritime domain. The event highlighted the maritime security situation in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic Oceans as today’s navies adapt to a diverse range of threats.


Event Audio

Addressing Challenges in the Maritime Commons (mp3)

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Admiral Jonathan W. GREENERT (ret.),
former U.S. Chief of Naval Operations


Admiral Tomohisa TAKEI
Chief of Staff, Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force

Admiral Eduardo Bacellar Leal FERREIRA
Commander of the Navy, Brazilian Navy

Vice Admiral Tim BARRETT
Chief of Navy, Royal Australian Navy

Admiral Bill MORAN
Vice Chief of Naval Operations, United States Navy

Following opening remarks by Richard Ellings, president of NBR, Admiral Jonathan Greenert (ret.), the incumbent Shali Chair and former U.S. chief of naval operations, introduced the panelists and set the tone for the discussion to follow. In his remarks, Admiral Greenert highlighted the numerous internal and external challenges facing the countries represented by the panel. In particular, he drew attention to piracy, narcotics, North Korea, China, and territorial disputes, as well as the many internal challenges that navy chiefs face as they try to address “sea blindness” among their political leadership during a time of austere budgets.

The ensuing panel discussion began with remarks by Admiral Tomohisa Takei, chief of staff of the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF). He described the full spectrum of maritime security issues that Japan faces in the Indo-Pacific from piracy and illegal fishing to the militarization of reefs and tense sovereignty disputes. To Admiral Takei, increased maritime security is important to the rules-based order, which has enabled the economic rise of Asia. The international community can never accept a deliberate attempt to unilaterally change the status quo, and no single nation can address the threats to maritime security alone. Admiral Takei pointed to greater cooperation and increased maritime domain awareness as important tools for addressing these challenges.

Admiral Eduardo Bacellar Leal Ferreira, chief of the Brazilian Navy, echoed Admiral Takei’s concerns about maritime security, including piracy and the need for freedom of navigation. He made clear that Brazil is a maritime nation and that the security of the high seas around the world is integral to its prosperity. Admiral Leal Ferreira noted that maritime security in other parts of the world, including the South and East China Seas, has a direct impact on Brazilian security. Because Brazil is so reliant on the maritime commons for its continued economic growth, it will strive to be a factor whenever freedom of the seas is challenged. In order to fulfill its duties and keep the South Atlantic stable and secure, Brazil is developing a blue water navy complete with aircraft carrier and nuclear submarine programs.

Vice Admiral Tim Barrett, chief of the Royal Australian Navy, outlined Australia’s global responsibilities and its plans for meeting them. With 90%–95% of its trade by volume coming over the seas, Australia has a clear interest in upholding the rules of the maritime commons. Vice Admiral Barrett discussed Australia’s 2016 defense white paper and the Royal Australian Navy’s plans for achieving the goals articulated in it. Australia is committed to recapitalizing its fleet of ships, but in order to do so, Vice Admiral Barrett has the great task of determining where and how the fleet will operate, and with which allies. Understanding how to constitute a fleet requires taking a long view with a 30- to 50-year horizon.

Admiral Bill Moran, U.S. vice chief of naval operations, summarized the general challenge that the U.S. Navy faces: the demand for the navy, the complexity of the threats faced, and the pace of technological change have all increased while budgets have not. One way in which the U.S. Navy, and the entire Department of Defense, deals with this challenge is by focusing on fielding new technologies in order to maintain a competitive advantage. What the navy builds today will be what it has to fight with twenty years from now.

The public discussion focused on the issues and challenges with which all of the panelists currently must contend. Each navy chief expressed a willingness to uphold a rules-based order on the seas and to fight piracy and other threats. The panel revealed that all three countries’ navies seek to confront their challenges in similar ways—through enhancing cooperation, building maritime domain awareness, and developing greater capabilities, often in the face of tightening budgets.

Admiral Takei and Admiral Greenert discuss the JMSDF’s approach to dealing with a full spectrum of maritime security issues.

NBR President Richard Ellings introduces the panel of navy chiefs and moderator Admiral Greenert.

Event Background

Today, navies around the world continue to face significant challenges to global maritime security—challenges that are likely to continue into the foreseeable future. Conflicting sovereignty claims in the East and South China Seas continue to be two of the primary security issues in the Asia-Pacific, although the UNCLOS dispute resolution arbitration panel’s findings in July represent an important step forward. The stability of the Asia-Pacific and the protection of some of the world’s busiest trade routes will depend a great deal on the ability of regional powers to manage these disputes and maintain maritime security. Elsewhere—or perhaps everywhere—maritime security is critical to stemming the flow of illegal drug trafficking. Across the world’s littoral regions, persistent environmental degradation creates a greater demand for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief missions—straining the capacity of maritime forces, but also driving greater partnership. Given the predominance of these and other challenges, strengthening security will require enhanced cooperation and the sharing of best practices between navies.

About the Shali Chair

NBR endowed the John M. Shalikashvili Chair in National Security Studies in April 2006 to honor General Shalikashvili for his 39 years of military service to our nation that culminated in his role as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, for his leadership on the NBR Board of Directors, and for his role as Senior Advisor to NBR's Strategic Asia Program. The Chair provides a platform for a distinguished practitioner in the national security field to inform, strengthen, and shape the understanding of U.S. policymakers on critical current and long-term national security issues related to the Asia-Pacific.

Admiral Jonathan Greenert (ret.), former U.S. chief of naval operations and the current holder of NBR’s John M. Shalikashvili Chair in National Security Studies.

Admiral Greenert discusses U.S. maritime and security interests in the Asia-Pacific and provides recommendations on how to maintain regional stability and ensure commitments to allies in an interview with NBR: Declaring Consistent Commitments: U.S. Maritime Policy in the Asia-Pacific.