This article is part of Conceptualization of “Maritime Security” in Southeast Asia, a series of analyses produced by experts convened by the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies.

ASEAN’s definition of “maritime security”

ASEAN has no official definition for maritime security. This is not particularly surprising since ASEAN’s lexicon generally follows language developments in the international sphere, and there is no generally accepted international definition for maritime security.

The term “maritime security” in ASEAN is often, but not exclusively, associated with transnational crime. Seeking a consensus on the appropriate usage of the term is not a straightforward process because many ASEAN sectoral bodies touch upon issues of maritime security. Most of them are housed under the ASEAN Political-Security Community (APSC) pillar. However, some sectoral bodies under the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) and ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community (ASCC) pillars also hold a shared interest in maritime security, e.g. the ASEAN Ministerial Meeting on Agriculture and Forestry (AMAF) which holds a mandate that includes fisheries. Beyond the ten member states, ASEAN-Plus mechanisms like the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) are also important in the region’s maritime security discourse.

Given that ASEAN is teeming with institutions, if there is any consensus on the definition or usage of the term “maritime security,” it is likely that there will be some divergences between different sectoral bodies because ASEAN generally works in silos. There is an attempt to strengthen coordination links with maritime security being listed as one of ASEAN’s cross-pillar issues, but to what extent it will clarify the meaning of maritime security remains to be seen.[1]

ASEAN’s key documents for defining and understanding maritime security

When addressing maritime security issues, ASEAN appears to take a laundry-list approach. It identifies various maritime threats and promotes regional cooperation to eliminate those threats. It can be implied that ASEAN perceives maritime security as the state of the ocean being free from those threats. Several ASEAN documents are helpful toward understanding maritime security in the context of ASEAN. It should be noted, however, that the documents discussed here are not intended to be an exhaustive list. It certainly does not include the ASEAN documents that are unavailable to the public.

The association between maritime security and transnational crime is found in several ASEAN documents dating back as early as 1997 when the ASEAN Declaration on Transnational Crime was adopted.[2] Although maritime security is not explicitly mentioned, some of the offenses falling under its category of transnational crime—terrorism, piracy, and drug trafficking—can be classified as threats to maritime security.[3] Within its work plan for maritime security, ARF also categorizes these offenses as both maritime security issues and transnational maritime crimes.[4] Additionally, the 2007 ASEAN Convention on Counter Terrorism (ACCT) requires parties to criminalize all offenses in 14 international anti-terrorism conventions,[5] six of which are relevant to the maintenance of maritime security.[6]

Under the core ASEAN structure, the 2003 Declaration of ASEAN Concord II (Bali Concord II) appears to be the first ASEAN instrument that specifically uses the term “maritime security.” It identifies maritime security cooperation as one of the matters of common concern that requires ASEAN to nurture common values.[7] Since 2005, the ASEAN Law Ministers Meeting which contributes to legal harmonization on a regional basis has noted proposals on model law on maritime security.[8]

Under the ASEAN-Plus institutions, however, the first reference to “maritime security” can be found nearly a decade earlier in the 1994 ARF Chairman’s Statement,[9] which suggests that extra ASEAN institutions are generally more progressive. Since 2011, ARF has had a rolling three-year work plan on maritime security.[10] Coincidentally, ASEAN Defence Ministers Meeting (ADMM) only emphasized the importance of maritime security issues in the region in 2011[11] after the ADMM-Plus, which includes eight ASEAN Dialogue Partners, noted maritime security as an area of common interests in its first meeting in 2010.[12]

Since Bali Concord II, maritime security has become a recurring topic in the ASEAN blueprints, which signifies the growing importance of the matter to the region. It is evident in the 2004 Vientiane Action Program,[13] the 2009 APSC Blueprint,[14] and the 2025 APSC Blueprint, which embodies the official institutionalization of maritime security within the Political-Security pillar.[15]

Elements of ASEAN’s approach to maritime security. Environmental protection, mariner safety, fisheries management, resource management (other than fisheries), counter-terrorism, law enforcement, naval operations, deterrence?

The scope of maritime security in ASEAN appears to be broad and encompasses a wide range of issues: environmental protection, maritime safety, fisheries management, counterterrorism, law enforcement, and naval operations. ASEAN’s classification of maritime security threats generally straddles between traditional and non-traditional security. The latter has increasingly received more attention across all pillars and sectors.

The 2025 APSC Blueprint includes some new developments like Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated (IUU) fishing, maritime safety and search and rescue, and marine environment.[16] ARF categorizes piracy and armed robbery against ships, people smuggling, terrorism, money laundering and terrorist financing, illicit drug, and illicit small arms trafficking, maritime cyber-attacks, and human trafficking as maritime security issues and transnational maritime crimes.[17] ARF also identifies other maritime-related challenges such as search and rescue, natural disasters, climate change, and marine environment.[18] The inclusion of issues like search and rescue suggests that the line between safety and security is rather blurred.

Evolution in ASEAN’s usage of the term “maritime security”

ASEAN’s first involvement in maritime security discourse was likely through the establishment of ARF in 1994,[19] but an explicit reference to maritime security in the main ASEAN institutions had yet to occur until 2003. There are likely two major turning points here. Firstly, there were growing concerns about piracy when the ASEAN Plan of Action to Combat Transnational Crime was adopted in 2002.[20] The ARF took a notable step by issuing a statement affirming the necessity for regional cooperation against piracy.[21] During the inaugural meeting of the ARF Inter-Sessional Meeting on Maritime Security in 2009, concerns over piracy threats were further highlighted.[22] Around this period, some ASEAN states also joined the Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia (ReCAAP).[23]

The second inflection point was the emergence of IUU fishing, as a top policy priority of many ASEAN member states, especially after some received so-called “yellow cards” from the European Union. IUU fishing issues have generated a lot of discussions in the region that resulted in numerous action plans and guidelines under the aegis of AMAF. It has now become apparent that there is an increased effort to frame IUU fishing under maritime security narratives by creating linkages between IUU fishing, transnational organized crimes, and food insecurity.[24]

What additional context is necessary to understand maritime security in ASEAN?

A significant feature of ASEAN is its tri-pillared approach. Additionally, ASEAN has also concluded various partnerships with external partners, which led to the creation of ASEAN-Plus mechanisms comprising different groups of states. In this multilayered architecture, ASEAN positions itself at the center to exercise influence in the regional processes.[25]

[1] ASEAN-Indonesia National Secretariat (Setnas ASEAN), “ASEAN Cross-Pillar Issues: Indicative List,” (2017),

[2] 1997 ASEAN Declaration on Transnational Crime,, Preamble, paras. 2 – 3.

[3] United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), “Oceans and Law of the Sea: Report of the Secretary-General,” 63rd Session, A/63/63, 10 March 2008,, paras. 54 – 113.

[4] ASEAN Regional Forum Work Plan for Maritime Security (2018-2020), [ARF Work Plan for Maritime Security (2018-2020)], p. 8.

[5] 2007 ASEAN Convention on Counter Terrorism,, Arts. II(1) and IX.

[6] These conventions are 1) the 1979 International Convention Against the Taking of Hostages; 2) the 1988 Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts Against the Safety of Maritime Navigation; 3) the 1988 Protocol for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts Against the Safety of Fixed Platforms Located on the Continental Shelf; 4) the 1999 International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism; 5) the 2005 Protocol to the Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts Against the Safety of Maritime Navigation; and 6) the 2005 Protocol to the 1988 Protocol for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts Against the Safety of Fixed Platforms Located on the Continental Shelf.

[7] 2003 Declaration of ASEAN Concord II (Bali Concord II),

[8] Joint Communique of the 6th ASEAN Law Ministers Meeting (ALAWMM) Hanoi, Viet Nam, 19 – 20 September 2005,, para. 9.

[9] Chairman’s Statement, The First Meeting of the ASEAN Regional Forum,, para. 7.

[10] Chairman’s Statement, 18th ASEAN Regional Forum,, para. 41.

[11] Joint Declaration of the ASEAN Defence Ministers on Strengthening Defence Cooperation of ASEAN in the Global Community to Face New Challenges,, para. 12.

[12] Chairman’s Statement of the First ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting – Plus “ADMM-Plus: Strategic Cooperation for Peace, Stability, and Development in the Region,”’s%20Statement%20of%20the%201st%20ADMM-Plus,%20Ha%20Noi,%2012%20Oct%202012.pdf; ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting-Plus (ADMM-Plus): Modalities and Procedures,

[13] 2004 Vientiane Action Programme (2004-2010),, para. 1.3-vii and Annex at

[14] Roadmap for ASEAN Community: APSC Blueprint (2009-2015), [APSC Blueprint (2009-2015)], para. A.2.5.

[15] 2015 Kuala Lumpur Declaration on ASEAN 2025: Forging Ahead Together – ASEAN Political-Security Community Blueprint 2025,, para. 9.B.6.

[16] 2015 Kuala Lumpur Declaration on ASEAN 2025: Forging Ahead Together – ASEAN Political-Security Community Blueprint 2025,, paras. – vii and ix.

[17] ARF Work Plan for Maritime Security (2018-2020), p. 8.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Chairman’s Statement, The First Meeting of the ASEAN Regional Forum,, para. 7.

[20] 2002 ASEAN Plan of Action to Combat Transnational Crime,

[21] 2003 ARF Statement on Cooperation Against Piracy and Other Threats to Security,

[22] Chairman’s Statement, 16th ASEAN Regional Forum,, para. 27.

[23] Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia,

[24] ARF Work Plan for Maritime Security (2018-2020), p. 8.

[25] Mely Caballero-Anthony, “Understanding ASEAN’s Centrality: Bases and Prospects in an Evolving Regional Architecture,” The Pacific Review 27, No. 4 (2014): 577.

About Dita Liliansa

Dita Liliansa is currently a Research Associate at the Centre for International Law (CIL), National University of Singapore. She obtained her law degrees from the University of Indonesia and the University of Washington as a Fulbright scholar. She previously worked as an academic in Indonesia, and has provided expertise to government agencies, international organizations, and private entities. In 2018, she was awarded special recognition as the Best Oralist of IFLOS Moot Court Competition at the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS). Most recently, her article on “The Necessity of Indonesia’s Measures to Sink Vessels for IUU Fishing in the Exclusive Economic Zone” won the Second Prize of the 2021 Asian Society of International Law (AsianSIL) Junior Scholar Award. Her current research focuses on the protection of marine environment in Southeast Asia, in which she investigates the extent to which ASEAN promotes the implementation of international laws related to the protection of marine environment. In addition to research, she is involved in teaching university students and training government officials as well as participates in international and regional intergovernmental meetings as an observer.