Europe is still facing a war within its borders, but the time seems to have come for new naval strategies. After Russian President Vladimir Putin issued a new Maritime Doctrine for the Russian Federation on 31 July, the United Kingdom published a new version of its National Strategy for Maritime Security (NSMS) on 15 August 2022.

The document addresses new and emerging risks that the maritime sector will face over the next five years. It articulates five strategic objectives to be pursued by the Government with associated intentions to protect the UK and its overseas territories and crown dependencies. These comprise protecting the homeland, responding to threats, ensuring prosperity, promoting UK values, and advocating for the security and resilience of the world’s oceans.

In addition to ensuring the free movement of goods and trade, as well as the security of borders, ports and maritime infrastructure, it addresses counter-terrorism, advocacy for the promotion of compliance with the rights and obligations of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), including freedom of navigation. Among other things, London wants to promote sustainable management of the oceans by developing concepts for maritime security and enforcing environmental regulations.

Over 116 pages the document also addresses the other forms of state threats, espionage, sabotage, cyber operations and theft of intellectual property and data; it states: “Increasingly, states are able to conduct single attacks or use a range of threats to affect our security, economy and society”. In addition, a paragraph on the importance of the South China Sea under the heading ‘Freedom of Navigation’ is noteworthy. To ensure that legislation goes hand in hand with the development of autonomous and remotely-operated technologies, a government draft on regulations in future transport is to be presented this year.

The new edition should be read in conjunction with the ‘Integrated Review’ (‘Global Britain in a Competitive Age: The Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy’, March 2021) and with ‘Maritime 2050’ (‘Maritime 2050: Navigating the Future’, January 2019), according to the handout from the issuing Department for Transport. These strategies set out the Government’s overarching approach to national security and international policy. The implementation of the National Strategy for Maritime Security is to be overseen by an inter-ministerial steering group.

The new edition of the United Kingdom’s Maritime Strategy illustrates anew the country’s claim to be a leading trade and maritime power. Yet the future is uncertain, sustainable trade relations with the EU have not yet been established, and London’s influence has weakened. Beyond trade, it will have to be seen how much ‘Global Britain’ the country can actually afford. This leads to the question of what contribution it can make to guaranteeing free maritime traffic worldwide at a time when threatening gestures are in vogue.
Furthermore, implementation of the new strategy will require not only budgets, but also internal changes, as the Dover-Calais voyage chaos in the summer of 2022 or the migration movements across the English Channel show. Despite these difficulties, the tasks set out should still be achievable.