NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


August 29, 2008

Piracy and maritime terrorism are on the rise.  Between 2000 and 2006, the incidence of piracy rose 68 percent compared to the previous six years, and there was a modest, yet, discernible spike in high-profile terrorist attacks and plots at sea, says the RAND Corporation.

These trends are the result of a range of phenomena, including a surge in commercial maritime traffic and a decline of coastal and port-side security (due to financial instability or government corruption).  However, maritime surveillance has proved challenging even for the United States because of the technical difficulties associated with inspecting incoming cargo and the need to balance sea- and land-based security requirements, says RAND.

In response, RAND examined the nature of piracy and maritime terrorism to assess their overall relevance to U.S. security.  The study resulted in the following conclusions:

  • Non-state violence at sea is a significant threat.
  • The United States has taken limited steps to enhance maritime security.
  • Broader measures are needed to meet current and future threats.

In fact, the United States can make at least four policy-level contributions to better safeguard the world's oceans, says RAND:

  • Expand the post-9/11 maritime security regime.
  • Inform maritime security collaboration by conducting regular, focused threat assessments.
  • Help redefine the mandates of multilateral security arrangements to allow them a greater role in countering maritime threats.
  • Encourage the commercial maritime industry to make greater use of enabling communication and defensive technologies and accept more transparency in its corporate structures.

Furthermore, U.S. funds and support could be usefully directed at boosting the coastal monitoring and interdiction capabilities of states in areas of strategic importance, augmenting port security management and sponsoring research into cost-effective initiative for better securing ships and oceanic freight, says RAND.

Source: Peter Chalk, "The Maritime Dimension of International Security: Terrorism, Piracy, and Challenges for the United States," RAND Corporation, Summer 2008.

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