Kathy Gibson reports from the Maritime and Coastal Security conference in Cape Town – Regional co-operation is the best way to combat piracy, and impressive progress has been made in the last five years towards securing Africa’s seas.

Professor Francois Vrey, associate professor or strategy: faculty of military science at Stellenbosch University, explains that the post-modern maritime landscape is under threat and, unless we can secure the environment, globalisation could fail.

“We are talking about good order at sea and there are no quick and easy solutions,” he says.

The solution to maritime security must be regional, Very stresses. National security is too limited in that the sea threats don’t respect national boundaries, so trying to manage them on a national basis means they will either simply migrate away or overwhelm the national entity.

“Regional security is a dynamic level for action,” he says. “It is a way of tying in the weaker states and also helps to manage the patterns of amity and enmity.”

Regional security would assign functions to various regional entities and serves the intentions of all of the players. As countries achieve deeper co-operation, there is a common external effect. In addition, organised or inter-state security puts pressure on trans-national business leaders.

But why is it necessary to move beyond the state, Very asks? He points out that there are global pressures and sub-state pressures on the state but also regional pressures. We can now see these playing out at sea in sub-Saharan Africa.

“In Somalia, it was only when there was a maritime option that problem started follow a downward curve,” he adds. “As long as they tried to deal with it only on land, there was no effect at sea.”

There are challenges, he adds, and in Africa we can expect political-ideological forces to come into play. In addition, there will be institutional weakness, which is where the political will becomes necessary to carry decisions down the regional pathway.

An issue that cannot be trivialised is that of inter-institutional competition and there are very powerful, very influential personalities that could dominate discussions. And regional solutions will tend to play out around personal, national and regional interests, Vrey says.

The bottom line, he says, is that national security benefits from regional security. “You don’t go into this because you like the other players so much,” Very says. “If you can make the other players secure, you have goes a long way towards national security.”

In order to foster international co-operation at sea, countries have to start thinking, conferring and debating on the new navy roles, driven by unconventional problems at sea. Navies could take on a more constabulary functions, divorced from operations on land and designed to address exceptional measures at sea that are needed for good governance.

A number of building blocks will be required to meet the imperatives, Very says. This would include second track diplomacy where the issues are discussed with academics, think tanks and analysts talking in parallel to official co-operation.

In Africa, the declared approach to threats is regional, Very adds, and a regional arrangement can be used to cover expanded security agendas.

A lot has already been done, he adds, and there are regular gatherings where mutual concerns are discussed. There are initiatives where there a new forms of o-operation, new forms and better military co-operation in respect of defence diplomacy. Relevant states and being brought into the regional fold and help is now available from other militaries.

The building blocks are in place with the regional agreements in the east, west and south of the continent.

“We have intensified security co-operation since 2005 with mutual engagement and activities,” Vrey says. “We share information, and have a shared repertoire to respond to maritime threats. There are new joint enterprises that co-ordinate, train and educate people.

“These are all already in place.”

The question remains, Vrey says, why it is taking so long to finalise these mutual collectives? The answer, he says, like in leadership, with leaders who can transcend the complexity of the situation needed.

However, it is clerat that in Africa, the face of regional co-operation is here to stay, he says.