Energy & Maritime Interests: Cooperation or Competition

Asian states have shown limited cooperation over maritime commons, energy resources, and oceans governance. Instead, the Indo-Pacific region could be embarking on a path of energy conflict and naval nationalism. Some analysts argue the rapidly increasing demand for energy inevitably fuels “resource nationalism” and drives nationalistic naval policies, security dilemmas, and maritime territorial disputes. Others, however, have questioned this pessimistic structural logic by suggesting market-oriented changes in global energy markets and alternative energy supplies to adopt a more relaxed view of energy and maritime security interests.

How analysts and policymakers understand and interpret this issue has enormous policy implications. This is especially important for the United States as it calibrates and operationalizes the rebalancing strategy in Asia—or looking ahead to 2016, perhaps even revises it under a new administration.

The Project

EnergyMaritimeThe “Energy and Maritime Security in the Indo Pacific” project will address this problem by investigating the domestic political processes through which five pivotal Asian states—China, India, Japan, the Philippines, and Vietnam—formulate their energy and maritime security policies. This research project will address the debate between those who see security competition and conflict in the energy and maritime arena as inevitable and those who see more market-oriented approaches to energy security by unpacking the domestic political dynamics in each of the five countries of this project.

Our working hypothesis is that the linkage of energy and maritime security discourses at both the elite and public levels has the potential of producing coalitional logrolling between energy and military interests and institutions on behalf of energy mercantilism and nationalistic military policies. Through the propagation of “a coalitional ideology” of nationalism, these groups are well placed to capture national discourse on energy and maritime policy and drive it in a more provocative direction. Naval interests and national energy companies in particular stand to advance their more parochial interests in this manner. It is not necessary that these actors actively collude to hijack policy through hardened logrolling coalitions; their promotion of a securitized, nationalist energy and maritime discourse could have the same effect. Once this process is set into motion, it would likely be just one step away from deliberate logrolling to achieve narrow ends. Reversing this would be extremely difficult, and it could reverberate as a contagion of logrolling in the region—leading to an environment reminiscent of East Asia during the late 1920s and early 1930s when logrolling between military and economic interests propelled Japan’s military expansion.

Why These Case Studies?



Our case studies – China, India, Japan, the Philippines, and Vietnam – stand at an inflection point after the 2011 announcement of the U.S. rebalancing strategy: India and Vietnam weighing the costs and benefits between strategic maritime cooperation with the United States and studied engagement with China; Japan on whether to gamble on a more pro-active maritime and energy resource approach to the East China Sea under the assurance of the rebalance; the Philippines pursuing a surprisingly assertive maritime policy toward China and the Obama administration plans to base additional U.S. troops in the nation; and China holding out the possibility of a new phase of greater assertiveness in the East China Sea, South China Sea, and Indian Ocean in response to the rebalancing.

Project Goals

We will highlight and explain the risks of this competitive dynamic, but we will also develop ways to mitigate competition and promote cooperative approaches to energy and maritime security. Although the risks of inter-state conflict regarding energy and maritime interests are growing, our view is that coalitional logrolling between energy and military sectors has not hardened and that there is still an opportunity to loosen the linkage between energy and military policies in each of the five countries.

As a major player in the global energy market and the key provider of the public good of sea lane security, the United States can shape the energy and military discourse in the Indo-Pacific region and encourage cooperation over competition. The current U.S. rebalancing strategy is cast too narrowly in military terms and holds the danger of exacerbating competitive logics. Our project will generate and recommend a more comprehensive regional strategy than the current U.S. “rebalance” or “pivot” policy in Asia by fully integrating the energy and maritime security dimensions.

To accomplish this task, the project aims to close a gap in the current body of literature and scholarship by answering the following research questions:

  1. To what extent and in what ways are elite and public discourses about energy security and maritime security being linked in the five key states in the Indo-Pacific region?
  2. How has this linkage between energy and maritime security discourses in the above states changed over time during the 2005-2015 period, and what factors explain this discourse evolution?
  3. How has the linkage between energy and maritime security discourses shaped state military and energy policies and behavior?
  4. How do the five states selected for study converge and diverge in terms of the linkage between energy and maritime security discourses, the impact of this discourse linkage on energy and military policies and behavior, and what factors explain this cross-national convergence and divergence?
  5. How does the linkage between energy and maritime security discourses impact state policy and behavior and affect the prospects for inter-state cooperation, competition, and conflict in the realms of energy and maritime security?
  6. How do regional perceptions as well as the reality of U.S. military and energy involvement in the Indo-Pacific region shape the energy and maritime security discourses in each of the case study countries and the interactive dynamics among these states?


MacFundThis project is generously supported by the MacArthur Foundation’s Asia Security Initiative. The MacArthur Foundation supports creative people and effective institutions committed to building a more just, verdant, and peaceful world. More information is at www.macfound.org.