Maritime security: Protecting vital sea lines

  • 17 Aug. 2011 -
  • |
  • Last updated: 17 Aug. 2011 18:04

The world’s seas contain some of its most important communication, commerce and transport routes. Their security is vital to the international community. NATO helps secure and protect its member countries’ maritime resources and international commerce from potential threats. Its surveillance, patrolling and sharing of intelligence all contribute to supporting law enforcement, preventing proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and countering potential terrorist or illegal activities.

The Alliance’s maritime forces can also play an important role in crisis management. They respond to requests ranging from enforcing an arms embargo such as in Libya to providing humanitarian assistance following a natural disaster.

NATO adopted a new Alliance Maritime Strategy in January 2011. This further promotes operational flexibility and emphasises the importance the Alliance places on working with its partners to ensure maritime security.

NATO’s maritime activity contributes to ensuring Alliance security. But its engagement with partners also helps to build regional security and stability, contributes to conflict prevention and facilitates dialogue. These efforts have spurred contact, positive interaction and cooperation with other relevant international maritime actors, such as the United Nations, the European Union and the International Maritime Organization.

“The response [to piracy] has been one of the great examples of international cooperation in modern years,” says Efthimios Mitropoulos, Secretary General of the International Maritime Organization.

Operation Active Endeavour

Under Operation Active Endeavour (OAE), launched following the terrorist attacks in the US on 11 September 2001, OAE ships patrol the Mediterranean and monitor shipping to help detect, deter and protect against terrorist activity. As the Alliance has refined its counter-terrorism role in the intervening years, the operation’s mandate has been regularly reviewed and its remit extended.

NATO has gained unparalleled expertise in the deterrence of maritime terrorist activity in the Mediterranean Sea through its Active Endeavour operation. This expertise is relevant to wider international efforts to combat terrorism.

Counter-piracy operations

Growing piracy in the Gulf of Aden and off the Horn of Africa has undermined international humanitarian efforts in Africa and the safety of one of the world's key maritime routes – the Suez Canal. NATO has been helping to deter and disrupt pirate attacks in the region since 2008, protecting vessels and helping to increase the region's general level of security.

The current operation – Operation Ocean Shield – has a wider remit than previous operations. Not only does it provide maritime security in the region, but it also offers regional countries training to develop their own counter-piracy capacities .

NATO's counter-piracy activities are often carried out in coordination with other organisations, such as the European Union and are in full compliance with relevant UN Security Council Resolutions.