Security of oceans ‘key to stable global economy’

Discussed during second plenary session of the IISS


The security and environmental preservation of seas and oceans are key to a stable global economic future, according to a top UK policymaker.

During the second plenary session of the IISS: Manama Dialogue titled The Gulf and Asia, UK National Security Adviser Sir Stephen Lovegrove called the ocean ‘the connective tissue’ that brings the two regions together.

He went on to emphasise takeaways from the historic UN Climate Change Conference (COP26), which took place earlier this month, calling the environment and security of the oceans two overlapping and very serious challenges.

“A healthy ocean and coastal habitats are essential allies in our fight against climate change, helping us to generate clean electricity and able to store more carbon per unit than terrestrial forests,” he said.

“In addition, more than 700,000 miles of undersea cables carry Internet and telephone traffic around the world, bringing people and businesses together.

“Each year, more than 11 billion tonnes of goods are shipped worldwide, providing countries with the raw materials needed for economic development.

“The framework that protects freedom of the seas and open supply chains are the lifeblood of the world economy.”

The remarks were a stark departure from the typical commentary at the annual security summit, which traditionally focuses on defence and geopolitical threat analyses.

Sir Lovegrove cited examples of the diplomatic incident earlier this year in the Black Sea, where British destroyer HMS Defender undertook a ‘freedom of navigation’ patrol around the disputed Crimea peninsula, sparking the Russian Defence Ministry to respond with warning shots near the ship.

“Such activity undermines the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and threatens our collective security and prosperity,” he added.

He said that the UK will not stand by while ‘the environment is threatened and UNCLOS undermined’.

Sir Lovegrove also asserted that the UK has no interest in impeding the economic growth of China and emphasised the country’s focus on dialogue, conversation and co-operation, while defending its values and interests.

In response to a question about India’s rising place on the global stage, he noted that the UK would make supporting the South Asian country a ‘central plank’ on the UK’s foreign policy going forward.

Meanwhile, IISS director general and chief executive Dr John Chipman highlighted the complex issues and challenges of introducing ‘environmentally-friendly’ defence policies and how militaries can operate in a way that is as climate-efficient as possible, noting the interest of US Defence Secretary General Lloyd Austin in the matter.

“This will affect operational doctrine and a whole series of things that the military needs to consider,” he added.

When looking to the future, Sir Lovegrove emphasised the importance of ‘interoperability with allies’ to augment its own naval capabilities.

He sought to allay fears surrounding the Australia, United Kingdom and United States (AUKUS) security pact signed two months ago, saying that the submarines are only fuelled by nuclear power, but have very similar weaponry to the submarines that were going to be supplied to Australia by France.

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