“Maritime Security” has emerged as a central concept in Southeast Asia’s policy lexicon. However, as is the case in much of the world, the term’s precise meaning is not consistently clear. Which challenges and state activities should be categorized as maritime security and which should be considered elements of another domain is generally ambiguous. This ambiguity can be useful to leaders seeking to build unity of action among government agencies with overlapping maritime policy mandates and to diplomats seeking to rely on euphemistic qualities to support flexible political narratives that minimize the risks associated with security dilemmas.  However such linguistic polysemy only works for so long and introduces risk. Left unclarified, terms will develop assumed meanings. For example, many Southeast Asians regard contemporary American talk about maritime security as a thin veil for something better understood as “Great Power Competition at Sea.” Therefore, even the most benign initiatives are factored into regional calculations aimed at balancing between external powers. Within the region, it is also possible for lexical disconnects to lead to problematic misinterpretations of policy intent and diplomatic signals.

Recognizing that understanding the varied conceptualizations of maritime security is an academic puzzle with real-world practical implications in Southeast Asia, the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies convened a roundtable of experts to take stock of regional maritime security definitions. These specialists surveyed national policy documents and policymaker discourse to assess how maritime security is defined, used, and conceptualized in seven key Southeast Asian coastal states (the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, and Thailand), ASEAN as a multinational institution, and the Quad members (Australia, Japan, India, and the United States). This stocktaking enabled the team to identify and discuss the significance of the convergences and divergences. Noting the transnational nature of discourse, the phrase “Southeast Asian conceptualizations” was adopted as a shorthand.  This does not specifically mean usage by Southeast Asian individuals or the region’s national governments but refers to the security-related discourse taking place in the region.  While the primary goal of the project was to improve communication by providing common reference points, the project also discovered findings of practical policy importance.

Discussions of each country’s conceptualization of maritime security and the implications of the term’s varying definitions across the region will be published as a series of 14 articles available at AMTI. The first nine articles are available now:

Evolving Conceptualizations of Maritime Security in Southeast Asia by John Bradford

The Philippines’ Conceptualizations of Maritime Security by Jay Batongbacal

Vietnam’s Conceptualizations of Maritime Security by Nguyen Nam Duong

Brunei Darussalam’s Conceptualizations of Maritime Security by Asyura Salleh

Malaysia’s Conceptualizations of Maritime Security by Tharishini Krishnan

Indonesia’s Conceptualizations of Maritime Security by Gilang Kembara

Singapore’s Conceptualizations of Maritime Security by YingHui Lee

Thailand’s Conceptualizations of Maritime Security by Somjade Kongrawd

ASEAN Conceptualizations of Maritime Security by Dita Liliansa