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  • Writer's pictureTravis Turgeon

QUAD's Maritime Initiative Update (August 2023)

"The IPMDA will act as a deterring mechanism for all illegal or illicit activity in maritime spaces in the Indo-Pacific and will promote law and order in a region that has yet to be adequately managed."

Last year, we posted an article covering the details of the QUAD Maritime Initiative and the latest updates from the Tokyo Summit.

The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD) convened in Tokyo in 2022 to discuss the Indo-Pacific Partnership for Maritime Domain Awareness (IPMDA) - an initiative aimed at enhancing maritime security in the Indo-Pacific by equipping joining nations with emerging maritime technologies, training, and access to a global network of information to improve real-time security capabilities.

A key component of the IPMDA is to combat China’s aggressive and assertive military actions in the Indo-Pacific. However, many regional states are wary of entering an initiative that aims to push back against China so aggressively. Many regional states simply don’t share an interest in restraining or putting direct pressure on China, so progress toward full implementation has been slow, to say the least.

Fast forward to today, a year later, and the IPMDA seems to be at a standstill - although there is still much hope for progress and implementation.

So, what needs to happen to bolster progress toward adopting and deploying the IPMDA?

For starters, QUAD countries must clarify to nations considering joining that the initiative is not strictly aimed at China. Instead, the initiative is meant to improve national and territorial security in the region, regardless of the threat. We outline how the IPMDA will do that below.

A Quick Overview of the QUAD’s IPMDA

As discussed earlier, the IPMDA aims to enhance maritime security in the Indo-Pacific with a common framework shared amongst partnering countries. While much of this involves China’s militarization of the South China Sea, the initiative also aims to tackle broader concerns, including:

  • Monitoring regional maritime spaces

  • Securing open lines of communication at sea

  • Providing capacity-building measures for regional partners

  • Natural disaster monitoring and response

  • Human and weapons trafficking

  • IUU fishing

  • Vessel identification and dark shipping incidents

The IPMDA will act as a deterring mechanism for all illegal or illicit activity in maritime spaces in the Indo-Pacific and will promote law and order in a region that has yet to be adequately managed.

The idea is to use low-cost methods like information-sharing and networking while also deploying relatively economical strategies like deploying low-cost earth observation satellites to monitor the area and collect data from ships that could be acting illegally or without transparency.

What is Needed for Swift IPMDA Progress?

Unfortunately, there is no single answer for what needs to happen to bring QUAD’s IPMDA into existence faster. Instead, numerous pieces of the puzzle must be solved to get things active and running at pace.

For the IPMDA to take off, all the countries involved must fully commit to the process.

  • Networking and information sharing is a key issue that lacks structure, which the initiative aims to strengthen. Still, QUAD countries must align their efforts to structure the concerns, which will take time, money, and resources from all involved. While upfront costs concern some, the return on investment should be more profitable for those interested.

  • Another issue to address will be coordinated action practices. This involves information sharing in real-time but will also require action plans that require coordinated responses to threats or instances of potential threats. Potential threats could include anything from vessels identified as dark ships that are part of IUU fishing operations, human or weapons trafficking, or military actions - although that list is not exhaustive by any means. Since most countries in the Indo-Pacific lack the infrastructure and resources to tackle problems like dark shipping alone, a team-oriented approach may be the only way to effectively and efficiently make progress in the region.

  • Finding solutions for vessel identification is a known issue that also needs answers, which requires accurate and timely data. Many countries in the Indo-Pacific lack the resources to make this possible, so a multi-faceted approach will be needed to solve those concerns. The IPMDA will need to invest in open-sharing information systems and train maritime law enforcement on how to respond to supposed threats. Satellites and radar systems will need to feed private information systems, which can be used against public information systems to make more informed decisions on threats at sea.

  • Policymakers must also advise on creating a free and open Indo-Pacific without focusing solely on China’s presence in the region. Doing so should give countries skeptical of joining the initiative due to Chinese concerns some peace of mind - ensuring that the IPMDA is not solely focused on China and its Militarization of the South China Sea.

The primary consideration for more widespread support of the IPMDA is to ensure no country is burdened by the actions or aims of the initiative. If, for any reason, a country feels as though it may provoke China in unnecessary ways, it may spell trouble for those involved. The goals and interests of the IPMDA should serve all countries involved and not solely be a measure to mitigate Chinese efforts.

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