Maritime security will be of vital importance to the world of 2020, and particularly to maritime nations such as the United States. The oceans are, and will remain, a key source of food, energy, transportation, trade, and communications. It will be a continual challenge to ensure the oceans remain a safe and stable source of these needs.
The overall changes affecting the world of the future are aptly described as globalization. According to A National Security Strategy for a New Century, recently published by the White House:
"Globalization - the process of accelerating economic, technological, cultural and political integration - means that more and more we, as a nation, are affected by events beyond our borders. Outlaw states and ethnic conflicts threaten regional stability and economic progress in many important areas of the world. Weapons of mass destruction (WMD), terrorism, drug trafficking and organized crime are global concerns that transcend national borders." 1
Certainly, many of the concepts and threats described here have a maritime component.
A good deal of uncertainty is involved in predicting the world 20 years into the future. Several issues or events may have a great effect on maritime security in 2020, but the direction or even the occurrences cannot be predicted with any degree of accuracy. Regional conflicts, natural disasters, asymmetric warfare carried out by hostile states or non-civil, non-state actors, and unforeseen technological developments are all examples of wildcards that may affect maritime security in 2020. Even with these uncertainties, however, certain trends shaping the maritime security environment of 2020 can be predicted.
Significant Changes Affecting the Maritime Environment
There will be several striking trends affecting security in the maritime environment of 2020. Most of these trends are part of larger global changes that will have effects beyond the maritime sphere. Some of the most salient changes that will affect the maritime environment include the following:
Legal maritime trade, driven by global economic growth and flourishing international trade, will triple by 2020.
The most explosive growth will be in the container shipping industry. The trend will be toward larger ships carrying more containers. The volume of cargo and size of ships will require U.S. ports to expand their infrastructure and deepen their channels to remain competitive. Smaller but faster container ships, travelling at speeds of up to 40 knots, may ply the coastal trade routes between U.S. ports. The movement of these relatively large vessels at such high speeds could create safety concerns in the coastal shipping lanes.
Tanker traffic in U.S. waters will increase substantially by 2020 as U.S. oil imports rise. The increasing energy demand in the United States and decreasing domestic petroleum production will drive oil imports from 46 percent of U.S. petroleum consumption in 1996 to 66 percent in 2020.
The number and size of cruise ships will increase significantly through 2020. The number of cruise ships will likely double, and some of the newest cruise ships will be twice the size of cruise ships built in past decades. The Caribbean will remain the busiest region for these ships, but more routes to remote areas such as Antarctica will open.
High-speed ferries will be a burgeoning transportation business in 2020. Ferry speeds will increase as ferry companies try to compete with other forms of transportation, such as commuter airlines. Ferry speeds may reach 80 or even 100 knots, posing significant safety challenges in busy coastal zones.
Non-state actors will challenge the sovereignty of the state and have a greater effect on international affairs by 2020. While the state will still play the predominant role in the international political system, non-state actors such as the media, non-governmental organizations, and multinational corporations will play roles of unprecedented importance in national and international security. Environmental activist groups, in particular, will have great influence in the maritime sphere.
Organized crime will increase in influence and scope through 2020 as organized crime groups become increasingly entrenched in the international economy and as demand for and profits from the illicit transportation of people, drugs, and contraband multiply. These crime groups will take advantage of growing global maritime trade to move their products more efficiently using commercial means.
Adversaries of the United States will be more likely to engage in asymmetric warfare such as terrorism, sabotage, information operations, and chemical or biological attacks. The proliferation of nuclear weapons will also remain a concern. Challenges from future conventional maritime weaponry could include aircraft, antiship cruise missiles, patrol combatants and larger naval surface combatants, submarines, mines, special operations forces, small craft, coastal artillery, ballistic missiles, and even weapons available to ground combat units operating along the shoreline. Military operations in times of tension short of war during sanctions enforcement, non-combatant evacuations or shipping escort operations, for example, could take place very near the routine operating areas of potentially hostile forces. The majority of future maritime threats, however, will originate from individual states and stateless organizations with naval capabilities ranging from a limited ability to operate within their own territorial waters to the almost nonexistent. Therefore, the world's littorals will be the most stressing environment for U.S. maritime forces through 2020.
The capabilities of space-based ocean monitoring systems will greatly increase through 2020. The resolution and availability of imagery from commercial electro-optical and synthetic aperture radar satellites will improve dramatically. There will be numerous applications for this technology, such as navigation, surveillance, search and rescue, and monitoring of oil spills. Surveillance and targeting technology will become more complex and capable, with space surveillance systems expected to assume a more important role in reconnaissance and target cueing. This technology, however, will also be available to potential adversaries, such as organized crime, terrorists, and hostile states.
Exploitation of non-living marine resources likely will increase by 2020. The world increasingly will probe and exploit the oceans for energy and minerals to fuel its expanding economy. Furthermore, exploration, drilling, and mining operations will move farther offshore as new technology advances the ability to operate in deeper waters. More facilities and operations in deeper waters will create more maritime safety and security challenges.
Issues of Continuing Concern
Several of today's concerns regarding the maritime environment will continue as pressing issues in 2020. Specifically:
Worldwide demand for fish will increase through 2020, stressing already fully fished and overexploited stocks, reinforcing the need for sound fisheries management practices, and creating potential conflict among states competing for scarce fisheries resources. This will be a major concern for the United States, which has the world's largest exclusive economic zone, containing an estimated 20 percent of the world's fishery resources.
Drug trafficking will plague the United States through 2020, driven by continued high demand for illicit drugs. Traffickers in the future will rely increasingly on commercial transportation systems to move their products. They also will use successful non-commercial means, remaining flexible in altering methods in response to law enforcement tactics.
International migration, fueled by tremendous population increases in developing countries and uneven global economic growth, will be one of the most important factors affecting maritime security through 2020. World population will increase by two billion people by 2020, with most of this growth in developing countries. Migrating to the United States will remain an attractive choice for many, and people trying to illegally immigrate to the United States by boat will continue as a maritime security challenge.
Degradation of the marine environment will remain a substantial concern in 2020. The marine environments near most developed states will be healthier in 2020 than today, because of these states' commitment to stricter standards in shipping and environmental protection. However, developing states will not have the same commitment and ability, and the marine environments around these states will likely deteriorate.
1The White House, A National Security Strategy for a New Century (Washington, D.C.: The White House, 1998), 1.