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.




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

Event Summary

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.

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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. Learn more.