By Mohid Iftikhar
According to the Oxford Institute for Energy studies by 2018; Australia would become world’s largest liquefied natural gas exporter (LNG). It is of cardinal importance to understand Australia’s global significance both towards strategic direction and growth through its LNG exports. In an article by the Submarine Institute of Australia; “Future Long Range Submarine Force Vital…” Australian LNG trade will climb more than $60 billion by 2020. Hence, in connection it is essential to analyze maritime security dimensions for Australia’s LNG exports. According to Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade; “Japan has been the largest export destination for Australia’s LNG over the last decade. In 2013, Japan was the destination for 92.4 per cent of Australia’s LNG exports by value, and 80.7 per cent by volume. Other major markets include China (4.2 per cent by value), the Republic of Korea (3.0 per cent) and Taiwan (0.4 per cent).”
The Asia-Pacific region holds great value to the Australian LNG, as it is a market with long term demands. In context of trade, global LNG industry faces competition with Qatar, Malaysia, Indonesia, and the U.S, but Australia has marked its position. Examined by Oxford Institute for Energy studies in their paper “The Future of Australian LNG Exports….” Australia aims at establishing its international position in the energy market and particularly towards the Asia-Pacific. Geopolitics of the Asia-Pacific has progressed, multidimensional forces promoting global and regional development including security ambitions. In relation, the Chinese initiative of the Silk Road and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Route aim to connect Africa, Europe and Asia, and poses numerous questions in the field international relations and development. Chinese enterprise predicts greater demand of LNG in the region, according to the Asia Times there will be over 900 projects involving 60 countries in the New Silk Road Economic Corridor. Simultaneously, the existing conflicts in the South China and East China Seas are a potential source of maritime security predicament; asking if conflict is evitable amongst states?
Internationally, LNG will also help Australia’s goal to establish itself as a more active participant in the Asia-Pacific region, as outlined in the government’s 2012 white paper “Australia in the Asian Century.” Perhaps, Australia does have a concrete direction of international growth through LNG exports, at the same time maritime security remains equally essential. On the same course, the Australian Defense white paper from May 2009, “Defending Australia in the Asia-Pacific century: Force 2030”, does signify importance of maritime security and a self-dependent defense strategy in the oceans.
Maritime security challenges are interlinked through adverse economic breakdown for LNG exports that fall under threats of terrorism and piracy. Possibly, terrorism remains a vital concern as LNG cargo can be targeted as floating bombs, the statement is supported as quoted in the book “Organizational and psychological aspects of terrorism” by the Centre of Excellence Defence Against Terrorism, “There is a concern amongst many maritime terrorist experts that a terrorist group could use a hijacked LNG tanker as a floating bomb. The amount of LNG held in a large tanker could generate an explosion of a similar size to a small nuclear bomb.” . Religious radicalization in the Middle East and terrorism in South Asia and Southeast Asia are both critical towards safety of Australian LNG shipments to their destinations. While transnational concerns have a firm relationship between maritime commerce and security, concurrently the 21st century has evolved geo-political concerns. The increasing power projections and geo-strategic goals in the Asia-Pacific are strongly connected to international maritime security. The wider hypothesis can be “Effect of Geopolitics in the Asia-Pacific towards Maritime Security.” The relationship between geopolitical dynamics and transnational crimes in the seas has shaped a new picture; while an important question is; would the latter capitalize on the stance?
U.S ambitions in the Indian and Pacific Ocean are towards deploying 60% of its naval fleet by 2020. Perhaps, sea lines of communication for Australian exports are not only critical towards intra and interregional trade, but geopolitics post 2020 will evolve the architecture of maritime security. It is equally important to sustain international harmony in the maritime sphere of Asia-Pacific, but are China, USA and other rising powers willing to extend collaboration and coalitions for maritime security? Many experts and scholars from war studies and international relations agree towards the minimum possibility towards a military conflict in the Asia-Pacific, but they don’t completely rule out the fact. Power projections in the seas of Asia-Pacific remain a source of anxiety, and the deployment of submarines and destroyers in strategic positions produces a negative image.
Transnational criminals today have accelerated in their modus operandi by advancing in strategic intelligence through contemporary technologies. The cyber domain remains sophisticated, but has its cons that can be favorable to criminals for locating LNG shipments through GPS tracking and etc. On the same note, the Straits of Malacca remain the central route for Australian LNG shipments to pass towards East Asia; the year 2014 had accounted for 75% of the world’s piracy attacks in the area. Further, in an article from BloombergView “Islamic State Is Rapidly Expanding in Southeast Asia” quoted as Southeast Asia is a key recruitment center for ISIS, the nexus between terrorism in Southeast Asia and Jihadi extremism from the Middle East evolves a broader challenge in the maritime route for Australian LNG shipments.
It is a question of international economic security towards safety of Australian LNG shipments, in two parts. First preventing an economic breakdown for Australia and second the dependence of importer states for their national operations and productivity. International development requires a sustainable mechanism of integration between states, and the Asia-Pacific region is evolving complex dynamics that inculcate development, geopolitical, race, and transnational challenges. Demand of LNG in the Asia-Pacific will extensively grow in forthcoming years; Australia will be a significant contributor towards the same. But geopolitics in the Asia-Pacific is defining competition in facets of arms race, strength and modern imperialism. Transnational crimes such as terrorism, radicalization and piracy are a threat to Australian LNG shipments capitalizing on geopolitical objectives in a camouflaged manner. Simply, while there is a debate going on amongst great and rising powers of who is right in the Asia-Pacific, transnational criminals are emerging through the sideways planning catastrophic events.
The Asia-Pacific region in the maritime domain requires consensus building from global and rising powers. A direction towards international development, ownership of vital ocean resources and disputes on maritime boundaries are aspects that ignite geopolitical race. First the international framework under the United Nations convention on the Law of Seas (UNCLOS) must be followed by all states, which allows interpretation of rules and laws, simplifying dimensions of the international maritime mechanism. The International Ship and Port Facility Security (ISPS) Code by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) chalks out a coherent framework for safety of sea ports and vessels, uniformity applying the same particularly from maritime nations will allow combating transnational threats. Second, to maintain international harmony in the oceans and minimizing threats from transnational challenges; stakeholders of the Asia-Pacific must devise a collective and collaborative strategy based on joint intelligence sharing. Safety and security of LNG shipments are not only important for Australia, but global operations depend on it. Though Australia has collaborated with various states in Asia-Pacific towards maritime security, it is equally essential to initiate a productive platform towards dialogue that will allow the Asia-Pacific century to become a reality. Maritime security for Australia and other states can be strengthened by adapting the existing international framework towards laws and regulations of the seas; perhaps, this could initiate discussion and consenting on alliance and cooperation in the oceans.
Mohid Iftikhar has Masters of Philosophy in Peace & Conflict Studies from National Defence University, Pakistan and Bachelor in Business Administration from University of Southern Queensland, Australia. He has completed a short course on Defence & Security Management in collaboration with Defence Academy, UK, Cranfield University and NDU, PK. He is a member of Center for International Maritime Security and Associate member, the Corbett Centre for Maritime Policy Studies, King’s College London. At present, he is working for the Federal Ministry of Planning Development & Reform in Pakistan.This article was prepared by Mohid Iftikhar in his personal capacity. The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect of any Organization or Institute.