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Managing the maritime security risks in the Caribbean basin

By Alex Stephenson, Defence IQ

If risk can loosely be defined as a combination of factors including threat, vulnerability and impact then it is time to take strategic notice of the Caribbean region.

An increasingly vicious war on drugs taking place on mainland Central America is gradually pushing criminal activity offshore. Demand for drugs – in particular cocaine – in Europe and North America results in illicit trafficking through the Caribbean region. The fear is that increasing gang violence may spill over from the land into the maritime domain.

The small island nations have limited resources and interest in acting beyond their immediate territorial waters. The solution lies in cooperation among nations and in particular the larger regional players; USA, France, Netherlands and, increasingly, Canada. However, legal obstacles to operating in territorial waters of other nations remain, as do gaps in radar coverage and information sharing. Policing such a large geographic area must be intelligence led and this requires an integrated approach.

At the same time economic growth in Latin America is making the region an increasingly important transhipment hub for goods flowing back and forth to the US and European markets. Disruption of these important sea lanes will have an ever increasing impact on the region and world trade as the volumes of cargo increase in line with economic growth.

The risk has been noted and work continues to shore up security capacity in the region. Obstacles and challenges remain; ratification of the Regional Maritime Agreement by various nations remains elusive meaning that coastguards and navies in pursuit of suspect vessels are unable to cross maritime borders into other nation’s territorial waters. Lack of capacity often means there is not another vessel available to continue the chase on the other side.

Regional cooperation and collective security institutions are almost certainly the answer to the maritime security question in the Caribbean. This would allow the region to maintain individual nation’s sovereignty through collaborative actions rather than having to rely on the United States to police the region. It is certainly in the interests of the US, Europe and others to fund institutional capacity building in the region as up-stream narcotic interdiction is by far the most cost-effective and efficacious way of keeping drugs of their streets.

With the Joint EU-Caribbean strategy 2013-2020 for the region currently being drawn up and many other nations including Australia, Canada, Brazil and China showing an interest in the region this is a key time for regional security cooperation and capacity building.

This post was written ahead of Defence IQ’s Cabsec 2013 conference, taking place in Curaçao from 13 – 14 March 2013. To find out more, view the conference agenda.

What do you think about maritime security efforts in the Caribbean region? Is enough being done? Let us know what you think in the comments section or email us at haveyoursay@defenceiq.com.

One response to “Managing the maritime security risks in the Caribbean basin

  1. Eco Island Life December 6, 2012 at 2:41 pm

    Has there been an increase is issues in the Caribbean basin? I live in Panama and whilst we are pretty far down, we do experience a small number of vessels that seem to originate from beyond our Southern border heading north.

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