• The facts

"Rule, Britannia! rule the waves: Britons never will be slaves." Poem by James Thomson and music by Thomas Arne, 1740.
The sea is at the heart of UK’s identity and pride, security and power (relies on maritime transport for 95% of its trade in goods) => UK a seapower* but is it a maritime power ?

1. The oceans, UK’s geopolitical asset

A territorial power base
17 dependent territories*, a worldwide asset
3 Crown dependencies (CDs)* and 14 Overseas Territories (OTs)* give the UK a worldwide presence. They also allows the UK control over the 5th EEZ in the world (recent, 2014)- except in the Mediterranean.
But a disputed UK's sovereignty* over the Falkland Islands (1982 war), South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands claimed by Argentina ; British Indian Ocean Territory claimed by Mauritius ; Gibraltar border disputed by Spain & Antarctic borders by Chile and Argentina.

A strong maritime diplomatic influence
London at the heart of maritime diplomacy
As the seat of the International Maritime Organisation, (IMO)*, London attracts other maritime IGOs and major shipping players which increase UK’s influence. UK’s voice is amplified as it also represents the interests of its overseas dependencies.
A prominent role in maritime environmental diplomacy
The UK played a leading role (IMO) in securing agreement to the target of a 50% greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reduction from the maritime sector by 2050. It increased the UK diplomatic standing and political influence while boosting its economic strengths with the City taking the lead in green finance and insurance and the 9 regional maritime clusters* focusing on transitioning to a zero emission target (an estimated $260bn industry).

Still a top sea power*
A still powerful navy
The Royal Navy no longer dominates the seas but it still ranks 6th and has true blue-water capability* with a global -although limited, projection power* thanks to its 4 OT overseas bases : Gibraltar and Cyprus in the Mediterranean ; in the Atlantic, Ascension, a stop-over to the Falklands ; in the Indian Ocean, San Diego operated with the USA.
The Royal Navy operates close to the UK to protect territorial waters*, projects globally to support the OTs and their EEZ* (Falklands 1982) and secure the free movement of global trade in the high seas*. It contributes to conflict prevention with submarine strategic nuclear deterrence* -the Trident nuclear program based in Faslane, Scotland- and to UK’s influence with humanitarian assistance (2017 Caribbean hurricanes).
But major geostrategic challenges
To address the growing strategic importance of the Indo-Pacific, the UK is renewing commitment in the Persian Gulf. This ‘return to East of Suez’ could widen the gap between the UK’s strategic ambitions and its military capabilities. Indeed, the UK’s military ability to deploy strategically significant forces allows only one fighting commitment at a time.
It explains the 2014 ambitious plan for the Royal Navy (2 new carriers by 2020 & nuclear deterrent renewed). It also accounts for UK’s multilateralism* : closely working with NATO to deal with Russia, the resurging regional Euro-Atlantic threat, intensifying co-operation with the US Navy & old Indo-Pacific allies or joining multinational coalitions to enforce maritime security worldwide.

Protecting the maritime environment : a necessity and a new instrument of power
Environmental vulnerability. As small island nations, the territories are vulnerable to the most severe impacts of climate change. Their marine environment is also threatened by pollution (Pitcairn Islands MPA = world highest density of plastic debris) and over-fishing. And Brexit means the end of EU environmental funding (£1 million a year)...
Marine conservation. The UK is in the lead (23% of its waters protected) with the Blue Belt programme in its territorial waters* and Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in its OTs* (the world 2 largest in Atlantic & Indian Oceans which boosted UK’s image and sovereignty*).
Marine science. UK’s marine science and research has a worldwide reputation (3rd in the world for the n° of publications) and operates 6 large vessels. RRS Sir David Attenborough, flagship of British polar research launched in 2020, showcases UK’s global engagement.

2. The ocean economy, UK’s source of power in a context of globalisation*

Remaining competitive : Adapting to South East Asian competition
Keeping the lead in maritime business services.
London is a global maritime cluster and the global centre for maritime professional services. It leads in maritime insurance, law, shipbroking and finance. Challenged by Singapore, Hong Kong & Shanghai, London is seizing opportunities in emerging sectors: the City*, for instance, is taking the lead in green finance and insurance for sustainable development.
Shifting to premium shipping services.
UK shipping services are still significant despite a decreasing share of the world fleet due to competition from Asian flags (Honk Kong, Singapore) and flags of convenience with lower costs but lower standards. To remain competitive, the UK is promoting premium services for high quality ships.
CD & OT combined registered trading fleet is greater than the UK’s because they combine pro-business environment (banking centres like the Cayman Islands, tax-free fiscal regimes like the Isle of Man) with UK high security standards and the support of British diplomacy and military worldwide.
Focusing on high quality ship building.
The global shift of large scale commercial low wage, labour-intensive shipbuilding to the Far East means the UK lost its world-class capacities. Consequently UK shipbuilding specialises in high value-added niche manufacturing sectors (superyachts) and invests in emerging sectors like autonomous or zero-emission vessels.

Remaining competitive : Upgrading the port sector
Developing commercial ports.
The UK privately-operated port sector is the second largest in the EU and the majority of UK’s container imports comes directly from its largest trading partners (China, USA). However, the Northern Range potential competition resulted in major investments. For instance, London Gateway, UK’s newest (2013) and top 2 container port (Felixstowe n°1) accommodates ultra-large containerships and handles boxes automatically, becoming a major logistics hub* and distribution centre. However, congestion is still a problem.
Seizing blue tourism* growth.
UK commercial ports increase or switch to leisure facilities with marinas and waterfront development. Southampton invested in cruise facilities and is Europe 1st port for starting cruises. Cruise ships stop in Caribbean OTs but also in Gibraltar and the Falkland. Caribbean islands especially built their reputation as beautiful, safe, exclusive and high-end tourism destination aimed at the luxury market like Virgin Islands yacht chartering.

Becoming more sustainable* : The challenges of the Blue Economy*
The need for more sustainable* fishing
- The UK sea products imports are twice as much as its exports and over 50% of its fish stock is exploited unsustainably* despite more sustainable regional resources management, new marine conservation zones and over-fishing prevention (satellite monitoring co-operation with Chile)
- Although small in terms of the national economy, fishing plays a significant role in addressing local coastal communities socio-economic difficulties. Hence the sensitive 24-12-2020 Brexit* deal as EU trawlers will still fish -unsustainably, in UK territorial waters and keep 65% of their catch.
Decarbonising UK’s energy supply*
- North Sea offshore oil and gas production is ending but still operates about 300 rigs ; the new challenge is to create more decommissioning hubs to take apart, sell or recycle them. British Petroleum (BP) is the world third oil and gas supermajor (TNC*) but its image was damaged by the largest oil pollution in history (Deepwater Horizon, Gulf of Mexico, 2010).
- The UK is the world leader in offshore wind power and generated 30% of UK’s electricity in 2020 thanks to industrial scale offshore wind farms (Hornsea One, off Yorkshire, 2019). The target is to increase capacity by four to power all UK homes by 2030.

• Key notions & vocabulary
seapower : state with the sea the heart of their identity, that chose to pursue a sea-centred approach to trade, and security as it relies on external resources to sustain its economy.
maritime power : measure of the total national engagement with the sea, the capacity to operate there and the ability to exploit it. It includes economic and diplomatic power, not just military - i.e. with a strong navy.
hard power : the threat or use of military or economic coercion or physical effect to achieve influence.
soft power : the ability to persuade or encourage others to adopt an alternative approach.
sea power : means by which a nation extends its military power onto the seas
deterrence : the potential use of nuclear or conventional hard power
projection power, capability : the military ability to operate far from its original bases, i.e. one’s country
blue-water capability : an oceangoing fleet able to operate on the high seas far from its nation's homeports.
multilateralism : foreign policy consisting in co-operating, collaborating with others states.
International Maritime Organisation (IMO) : a specialised agency of the United Nations responsible for regulating shipping.
maritime environment = territorial seas from the coast to 12 nautical miles, exclusive economic zones up to 200 nautical miles from the coast, and the high seas, established by the 1982 United Nations Convention
dependent territories : aren’t sovereign but aren’t part of UK territory ; the British Government is responsible for their defence, international representation and ensuring good government but they have their own system of government and laws. They include :
- 3 Crown Dependencies (CDs) in the Channel (the CDs : Jersey, Guernsey & Isle of Man),
- 14 Overseas Territories (OTs) in the Mediterranean (Cyprus Sovereign Base Areas & Gibraltar) and the Caribbean (Anguilla, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Montserrat, Turks and Caicos Islands) ; in the Atlantic (St Helena + Ascension + Tristan da Cunha, the Falklands, South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands), and Pacific (Pitcairn Islands) oceans ; the British Indian Ocean Territory and the British Antarctic Territory.
ocean economy : the economic activities of ocean-based industries and their links to marine ecosystems.
Blue Economy : the sustainable use of ocean resources, i.e. for economic growth, improved livelihoods while preserving marine and coastal ecosystem.
blue tourism : maritime tourism and leisure
decarbonising a country’s energy supply = energy transition : shifting from fossil fuels to renewable, cleaner energies.