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MSR21 and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

A few weeks ago I was invited to Washington and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace to participate in a roll-out for a new think tank, Marine Silk Road 21st Century, or MSR21. MSR21 is an advisory group dedicated to understanding the Indian Ocean basin, including the commercial, environmental, political, cultural and military activities in the basin, and the stakeholders connected to it via the Marine Silk Road (MSR). Readers may recall that I shared some thoughts on the MSR in this blog-space, last spring. The strategic significance of the MSR is becoming increasingly obvious to businesses, governments and multilateral agencies, hence the event in DC. I share below a synopsis of my interpretations and reflections as discussant for a panel, “What Is the Marine Silk Road and Why Should We Be Concerned?” These comments, and additional information re the MSR and MSR21, also are posted at http://msr21.org/past-events/.

An overarching theme of the MSR: size matters. At least three billion people reside in countries directly linked to it, a preponderance of global trade passes along it, major powers vie for influence in and some control of it, nearly all of us are dependent upon on it for food, energy, and consumer goods that emanate from or pass through the MSR. To be sure, our personal and national security is greatly contingent upon its access, stability and predictability.

The enormous volume of trade, the gargantuan ships plying these waters, the massive – and expensive — infrastructure required to ensure speed, access and profitability, and the complex, coordination of companies, governments, laws, risk-management and people all were discussed. Panelists more specifically explored nuances of supply-chain management, and its systemic nature. Particular emphasis was placed on logistics, cargo (e.g., oil, coal and gas, and consumer goods), “choke points” where the supply chain is most vulnerable, and considerations to ensure trade flows, including state-of-the-art ports and ships, ship-builders, shipping companies, and governments, and a responsible military presence to ensure the system is not hijacked or disrupted.

All panelists agreed that profits are vital for firms and countries invested in the MSR; they also agreed the socio-economic well-being of marginalized or poor people residing in the countries along the MSR also is imperative. The rising tide that facilitates shipping and enables global trade must also lift people from poverty and disenfranchisement. Indeed, despite intense competition in many sectors, the extent to which all stakeholders along MSR can prosper is likely to be a predictor for further commercial success; this theme draws attention to environmental sustainability, and issues such as worker and consumer safety. Constructive engagement and win-win trade are seen as catalysts to affect the most positive outcomes for the largest number of people along the MSR.

Moving forward, readers may also be interested to know that the Quinlan School of Business has scheduled a Conference to be held in Chicago, March 29, 2014, which will explore business issues, challenges and opportunities along the Silk Road – both maritime and terrestrial. Additional information will be posted on Quinlan School sites, as the conference takes shape.

  • By Mason D. on 11.25.2013 at 12:27 pm

    I never really thought of how much commercial trade moves through the Indian ocean! Sure, there’s always the exported business to India to cut costs, but the infrastructure for all those countries would be massive. I get why making sure this is stable is so important!

    I hope the conference is a success!

  • By Danielle on 11.25.2013 at 6:27 pm

    It is interesting to see how commerce can lead to peace and sustainability. I feel like the stability of the MSR and the socio-economic well-being of the people living along the MSR is barely discussed in political and business circles, despite how essential it is for trade. I look forward to hearing more at the conference in March.

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