Term Paper: Developing a Maritime Policy for Saudi Arabia

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¶ … Rational Maritime Policy for Saudi Arabia

The Untapped Potential of Saudi Arabia's Maritime Resources

Saudi Arabia is not a nation whose fate has been historically associated with the oceans. Images conjured of Saudi Arabia will involve oil fields and vast deserts. At first blush, there seems little reason to even consider a maritime policy for the nation, let alone a rational and holistic one that incorporates information from many maritime interests and successfully coordinates policy decisions for all. This is a misconception. In fact, Saudi Arabia has an intimate and strategic relationship with two major oceanic routes: the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf. As the importance of these routes is certain to grow in the coming years and decades, it is important for Saudi Arabia to consider today the means by which a sensible maritime policy can be devised and implemented.

Despite the conception that Saudi Arabia is a landlocked desert nation, its fate and success depends on cogent management of its maritime resources. Unlike Western -- and in particular European -- nations, Saudi Arabia does not have an extensive history as a seafaring nation. The European age of imperialism, combined with Europe's natural maritime resources, meant that the West has had a long and powerful relationship with the seas. Of course, just because the West has a stronger historical link with its maritime resources has not meant that it has deployed significantly more holistic maritime policies than Saudi Arabia. The European Commission's Maritime Policy Task Force (2006) recently reported the fundamental problem the EU faces regarding its maritime resources:

So far our policies on maritime transport, industry, coastal regions, offshore energy, fisheries, the marine environment and other relevant areas have been developed separately. Of course we have tried to ensure that their impact on each other was taken into account. But no one was looking at the broader links between them. No one was examining in a systematic manner how these policies could be combined to reinforce each other.

Fragmentation can result in the adoption of conflicting measures, which in turn have negative consequences on the marine environment or may impose disproportionate constraints on competing maritime activities. Moreover, fragmentation of decision-making makes it difficult to comprehend the potential impact of one set of activities upon another. It prevents us from exploring untapped synergies between different maritime sectors. (p. 4)

From this we can see that even the European Union, with its long history as a collection of sea-faring nations, faces fragmentation of its general maritime policies. If this is the case, then we should expect that a similar focus on creating a singular, cohesive maritime policy in Saudi Arabia would address similar concerns and would, perhaps, have even more powerful effects. If Saudi Arabia can work toward the development of a sustainable, holistic maritime policy it has the real opportunity to ensure its long-term success as a nation whose fortunes are very much dependent on the seaways it controls.

The purpose of this study isn't to develop a definitive maritime policy for Saudi Arabia. Instead, this examination will probe the dominant and prevailing maritime issues that Saudi Arabia faces and suggest some means by which a holistic approach could improve management of Saudi Arabia's maritime resources. The aim is not to override existing maritime policies in Saudi Arabia in favor of ones cut whole from new cloth. Instead, the overall goal will be to find new ways to integrate existing policies and attitudes, but leaving room within the policy to develop new protocols for the gaps that exist.

For a holistic maritime policy to be a success in Saudi Arabia it must strike a balance between a diverse set of competing needs. The nation's maritime resources are significant, but not limitless. In order to be sustainable, any policy recommendations must weave their way through economic, social, environmental, and security issues. Despite the challenge this represents, it is an achievable goal. Saudi Arabia's maritime resources constitute an important component of the nation's future success. Developing the policies now that will allow the nation to move forward sustain-ably toward that future is paramount.

Saudi Arabia must consider the development of a holistic maritime policy that integrates currently fragmented policy protocols to create a cohesive plan for the nation's maritime resources. Some of the major issues that currently face Saudi Arabia in terms of its maritime resources and policies include a lack of understand of the extent of the resources available. In other words, because all of the interested parties are not fully aware of each other and their competing or complementary interests, effective and efficient policy decisions cannot be easily made. Additionally, marine infrastructure in Saudi Arabia is in significant need of advancement. Only this year has the Saudi Port Authority devised plans to expand port facilities throughout the kingdom -- of course, this announcement came without any other examination of how expansion would fit into an overall maritime policy.

Whereas other nations can develop a maritime policy with only slight regard to security issues, Saudi Arabia's strategic geographic position, its vast energy resources, and its location in a volatile region of the world all contribute to the greater need for active policing of territorial waters. Any effective maritime policy must make allowances to ensure the safety and security of the seas and oceans. For the sake of Saudi industry, development, and continued trade with the world, it is important that Saudi Arabia minimizes any potential disruptions to marine commerce as possible including terrorist, political, and criminal threat.

As a final note, attention must be paid to environmental integrity in any maritime policy. Failure to do so is likely to result in the fast deterioration of existing marine resources and the ineffectual ability of those resources to continue to produce value for the nation. Marine resources can be sustain-ably harvested if care is taken to protect the environment in the process. In the interest of a maritime policy that fosters long-term sustainability, attention to the environment is crucial.

The Extent of the Maritime Sector for Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia's maritime sector is more significant than one might at first realize. For this reason especially, we must consider a cohesive and rational maritime policy that can integrate information and action from a variety of interests into a simple whole. Maritime resources include control over or access to major shipping lanes in the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf. This is in addition to access to offshore energy reserves, primarily in the form of oil and other fossil fuels. Saudi Arabia's maritime sector must also consider potentially new industries beyond the tried and true venues of shipping and energy production. Additionally, Saudi Arabia has access to potential aquaculture resources, desalinization facilities, and tourism primarily along the Red Sea coastline.

The maritime sector for Saudi Arabia must consider other factors, however, beyond simply the vast opportunity for development and management that already exists. Because of the volatile nature of the region in which Saudi Arabia is situated, unique and persistent threats challenge the nation's maritime resources and may limit the effectiveness to which the nation can access and control its maritime resources. Providing for safe, secure, and efficient transport and usage of the marine environment is crucial to long-term efforts to sustain-ably manage the resources (Pidersen 2006).

In that regard, Saudi Arabia must try to secure the region from criminal and political threats such as groups engaged in piracy or political terrorism. Such actions undermine the safe passage of legitimate travelers and cargo through the area. Saudi Arabia already controls significant political leverage on shipping because of its proximity to two major bodies of water and because of its important oil shipping industry (Saudi Arabia 2006). Enforced security that is quickly able to respond to threats throughout Saudi Arabia's territorial waters is an important component in the regional maritime policy. The nation cannot afford to be so naive as to assume that all other interested parties in the region will simply play nice. Saudi Arabia's maritime resources are significant and could represent an enticing target to a motivated group or nation.

An additional form of manmade threat includes pollution. This can be runoff from land-based industry and development. However, given the nature of the ocean-going vessels that frequent Saudi ports, it is much more likely that environmental degradation will occur because of oil spills (Saudi Arabia 2006). Protection of the nation's maritime resources requires a clear focus on marine health and environmental integrity. While this is often considered an anathema to normal economic development, this attitude is shortsighted and prosaic. In fact, environmental and marine ecosystem health is an important factor that affects a number of industries and marine resources. Pollution and spills can disrupt shipping activities, damage fragile aquaculture resources, negatively impact tourism in the region, and even threaten efforts to produce freshwater via desalinization treatment. Rational environmental policies must form a key component in any holistic maritime policy because the state of the marine environment is likely to have… [END OF PREVIEW]

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