Fragmentation, Complexity and Cooperation: Understanding Southeast Asia's Maritime Security Governance.

AuthorEdwards, Scott

Southeast Asia is beset by a host of maritime security threats, including illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, piracy and sea robbery, illegal trafficking in arms, people and drugs, and environmental crimes. Institutions responding to these issues have proliferated, both inside and outside of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Such proliferation has led to a dense and complex institutional environment, with many initiatives overlapped and duplicated. Analysis of this complexity is largely absent from the existing literature because much of it was produced prior to increasing trends of institutional proliferation, it analysed the form and function of only some specific cooperative mechanisms, or because it focused more on traditional maritime security issues such as territorial disputes. (1) This omission is problematic when we consider the speed at which arrangements have proliferated. Maritime security appears in 54 regional arrangements identified so far in 2021, up from 38 in 2010 (see Appendix 1).

The article draws primarily on Mette Eilstrup-Sangiovanni and Oliver Westerwinter's measures of governance complexity--scale, diversity and density--in what they refer to as a global governance complexity cube. (2) Using this framework, this article maps 54 arrangements identified so far that have an interest in a more expansive concept of maritime security, encompassing maritime or "blue" crime. (3) It analyses their interactions to demonstrate the high degree of complexity caused by fragmentation. (4) The article shows that the scale of the maritime security architecture is growing for several reasons, and not only as an instrumentalist response to emerging issues. Different institutional mechanisms are instead emerging over single-issue areas, such as divergent cooperative fora developing around IUU fishing. To explain this, the article points to the variety of different actors as an explanation for the strong degree of diversity. It further develops measures of governance complexity to suggest diversity can also be domestically driven. Different domestic actors create higher degrees of complexity than is suggested by only focusing on the national membership of arrangements.

There have been calls for further regime-building to address current gaps in responding to maritime security issues, despite the fact that more arrangements would only fragment governance further. (5) Understanding the implications of fragmentation therefore becomes essential, and this article addresses this understanding. Initially, it would appear that this high degree of complexity is a worrying trend--stretching finite resources across an unnecessarily complicated web of responses. This article demonstrates, however, that while this has an impact on problem-solving potential, there are also positive outcomes such as trust and collective identity-building. Southeast Asian countries are becoming more adept at working together to tackle issues of maritime insecurity as a result of the community building such cooperation engenders. (6) In order to demonstrate how this process is occurring, this article points to ASEAN as a sphere of authority that is increasingly managing fragmentation, including with arrangements outside of its formal structure. These factors are important to the understanding of Southeast Asia's maritime security architecture's potential. Fragmentation has created opportunities for sustained interaction between different groups of maritime security stakeholders and practitioners, habituated cooperation between them, and created new forms of cooperation.

This article focuses on arrangements in Southeast Asia that deal with some form of maritime security, referred to as Regional Maritime Security Arrangements (RMSAs). (7) An RMSA is considered an arrangement if its membership is multilateral and has existed for more than two years, which suggests the arrangement has some degree of longevity and precludes one-off meetings. It also allows for the inclusion of relatively new and experimental RMSAs. An RMSA is based on some form of written agreement (including terms of reference or a memorandum of understanding), is regionally rather than externally driven, and is focused on some form of blue crime. Both the mapping and analysis draw upon new empirical data collected from maritime security practitioners in the region. This consists of an online survey with practitioners who participated in RMSAs. Deeper insights into the dynamics and implications of fragmentation were gained from 16 in-depth interviews with RMSA participants. Such data enable us to gain a new perspective on the state of regional maritime security cooperation.

Fragmentation and Complexity

At its core, fragmentation refers to the growth of arrangements oriented to particular international issues. (8) A concept developed in international law, it highlights how international law is expanding due to different interpretations, but in a non-hierarchical or integrated manner.

Within International Relations, these processes of institutional proliferation at the international level result in a "regime complex", a set of overlapping regimes and arrangements governing a particular issue area. (9) Analysts are increasingly interested in particular issues such as intellectual property rights and climate change, but there has been no explicit application to maritime insecurities. (10)

There exist different definitions of regime complexity, that is the characteristics of a regime complex and the process through which it comes about. (11) However, for the purposes of this article, it refers to the process where multiple institutions with overlapping membership speak to a particular issue area. (12) There are two primary dynamics that create overlaps and are important in defining what regime complexity is: first, membership is shared to some degree among the institutions; and second, these institutions have similar interests in a particular issue area. While much of the focus has been on formal institutions, (13) regime complexes may include informal institutions or arrangements with either state or non-state actors. (14)

Regime Complex Characteristics

While the drivers of fragmentation are beyond the scope of this article, it is important to note that regime complexes can vary in structure. (15) Within an issue area, there can exist many different cooperation arrangements, with different or similar roles, functions, and membership, as well as various degrees of interaction between them. This complexity becomes even greater when we compare different issue areas with one another, as overlaps may also exist between their cooperation arrangements. Eilstrup-Sangiovanni and Westerwinter succinctly refer to these structural differences as scale, diversity and density. (16) All are important considerations when mapping the maritime security regime complex in Southeast Asia.

Scale is the most straightforward metric, referring to the number of arrangements within a complex and the different actors that constitute these arrangements. Scale is useful for denoting the complexity of a regime as it demonstrates how many constituent parts it has fragmented into.

Diversity refers to the variety of arrangements and actors involved and is more complex. There are various differences contributing to diversity in a regional complex. The most notable difference is the variation of design these arrangements may take. Some can be formally designed with secretariats and working groups. Although regime complexity literature has predominantly focused on formal institutions, Friedrich Kratochwil notes that informality is increasingly important because they contribute to the proliferation of cooperation institutions as well as their quality and complexity. (17) The proliferation of informal arrangements is linked to the need to experiment with different types of responses, where informal mechanisms require less initial buy-in, allowing for circumventing routines and the involvement of proxies such as non-governmental organizations. This also recognizes the wider range of practical agreements that actors rely on, such as memorandums of understanding (MOUs] and codes of conduct.

Another form of diversity is the differences between the actors involved. In the literature, this primarily refers to differences of national interests, and therefore diversity in terms of the goals sought. Existing studies have tended to focus on states as relatively unitary actors, highlighting variables such as strength as drivers of diversity. (18) This is a useful foundation, but it belies much of the complexity of the different types of actors involved in arrangements. In the case of maritime security, domestic harmonization is often difficult to achieve. Domestic disunity can be seen in negotiations on the drafting of maritime security strategies, which bring divergent perspectives together into one guiding document. (19) Different agencies pursue their own interests in multilateral arrangements that may not necessarily be in line with the assumed "national interests". Differing domestic interests may be driven by differing strategic cultures, personalized decision-making or competition over limited resources. Domestic responses may therefore be fractured themselves, in turn creating diversity between different arrangements.

This diversity also leads to very different perspectives on how an issue is understood and the type of problematization that follows. New issues on the international agenda tend to produce new institutions, while existing institutions may aim to put the new issue on their agenda in order to justify their continued existence. (20) The transnational nature of blue crimes, for example, means they may require new forms of governance if there are not sufficient institutions in place to respond to them in the cooperative manner required. (21) Institutions may...

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