VERTIC is pleased to announce the publication of the final feasibility study report, authored by Dr Tanvi Kulkarni, Dr Frank O’Donnell, Shatabhisha Shetty, and Angela Woodward, in our joint project with the Asia-Pacific Leadership Network (APLN) on maritime incidents and unintended escalation in the Asia-Pacific. VERTIC staff on the Compliance Mechanisms and Measures programme, Deputy Executive Director and Programme Director Angela Woodward and Researcher Roel Walravens, worked on this project.

The report, ‘Crisis Avoidance: Preventing Dangerous Maritime Incidents and Unintended Escalation in the Asia-Pacific’, identifies the main drivers of instability in the Asia-Pacific maritime space. Regional dialogues and consultations with senior experts from across the region reveal that six key factors contribute to the growing instability in the Asia-Pacific’s maritime environment:

  • Growing grey zone incidents involving non-military vessels in violent encounters at sea;
  • Different interpretations of the law of the sea and the selective interpretation of the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) by China relating to determination of jurisdictional zones and effects on navigation;
  • Sovereign impunity of actors resulting from unenforceability of treaties and formal agreements;
  • Great power rivalries overshadowing and compounding maritime challenges for smaller powers;
  • Growing military and technological assets and capabilities of regional powers crowding the maritime and overhead air spaces in the Asia-Pacific;
  • Limited maritime domain awareness inhibiting regional actors from developing a shared understanding of maritime security threats.

To identify pathways forward to address these challenges, the APLN-VERTIC project conducted wide consultations with experts from countries across the Asia-Pacific, and published three scoping papers on the extant Asia-Pacific maritime CSBM context and areas for improvement. From these initial analyses, APLN-VERTIC identified existing gaps in the CSBMs architecture, which could be addressed by combinations of:

  • the expansion of the geographical scope of existing arrangements;
  • broadening the vehicle classes and civil/military statuses of vessels covered;
  • the addition of new participating states;
  • the expansion of agreements to include non-military maritime agencies such as coast guards;
  • standardising and regularising information and data exchange processes;
  • reducing the selective interpretation of UNCLOS.

This report is the final report in the APLN-VERTIC project on Maritime Incidents and Escalation in the Asia-Pacific. It is partly informed by three expert scoping papers that were published as part of the project. The first paper, Assessing Military and Non-Military Incidents at Sea in the Asia-Pacific by Dr Bec Strating, was published on July 11th, 2023. The second paper, Confidence and Security Building Measures in Southeast Asia’s Maritime Domain by Dr Collin Koh, was published on July 20th, 2023. The third paper, Confidence Building Measures in the Maritime Domain in Northeast Asia: An Analysis of Japan-China Maritime and Aerial Mechanisms by Professor Kyoko Hatakeyama, was published on August 28th, 2023.

About the Authors

Dr Tanvi KULKARNI is a Policy Fellow at the Asia-Pacific Leadership Network for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament.

Dr Frank O’DONNELL is a Senior Research Adviser at the Asia-Pacific Leadership Network for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament and a Non-resident Fellow in the Stimson Center’s South Asia Program, Washington DC.

Shatabhisha SHETTY is the Executive Director of the Asia-Pacific Leadership Network for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament.

Angela WOODWARD is Deputy Executive Director and Programme Director for Compliance Mechanisms and Measures of the Verification Research, Training and Information Centre (VERTIC).

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this paper are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the funder nor of the project partners, their staff or boards.