International maritime law has evolved to act more to foster coordination and cooperation than to set limits
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Over the past two decades international maritime law has evolved from a set of rules designed to avoid naval warfare, by keeping maritime powers apart, toward a new global framework designed to facilitate maritime security cooperation, by bringing naval forces together to collaborate toward achieving common goals. The effects of this change are far-reaching—for the first time, law is a force multiplier for pursuing shared responsibilities in the maritime domain. In a departure from the past hundred years of state practice, the contem- porary focus of international maritime law now is constructive and prospective, broadening partnerships for enhancing port security, as well as coastal and in-shore safety, extending maritime domain awareness, and countering threats at sea. In contrast, the predominant influence of law on sea power from the first Hague conference in 1899, through two world wars, and continuing until the end of the Cold War, was focused on developing naval arms-control regimes, refining the laws of naval warfare, and prescribing conduct at sea to erect “firewalls” that separated opposing fleets. The maritime treaties were designed to maintain the peace or prevent the expansion of war at sea by controlling the types and numbers of warships and their weapons systems and by reducing provocative or risky behavior.
Today treaties do more than reduce friction and build confidence: contemporary international maritime agreements spread safety and security through networks or coalitions. Laws and international institutions have become catalysts for fostering coordination among states and distributed maritime forces and spreading the rule of law at sea, and as a consequence, the strategic, operational, and political “landscapes” of the oceans have decisively changed.