National Defence and Security

Main issues

National defence and security are MSP topics that require additional care under the planning process. Their specific status comes from their role as belonging to key and fundamental functions of national governments, therefore creating preconditions for all other human activities on the sea. 

National defence and security are not synonymous: 

  • Military defence usually comprises activities that are designed to ensure capability for armed combat (on, above and under the water), which is ensured by means of naval exercise areas, artillery ranges and air bases, for example. Civil defence safeguards the civil population, ensures the most important societal functions and contributes to military defence in the event of war.
  • Security is a generic term that can relate to a broad range of military and domestic issues including border security, crime prevention and prosecution (e.g. illegal fishing), management of migration crises, and disaster relief. Sometimes security and defence are named a total defence (e.g. in Sweden - please see p. 86 of the draft Baltic Sea plan). 

MSP creates important pre-conditions influencing performance of defence and security both during peacetime and conflicts (e.g. coastal defence is important for contingency measures). However, MSP has to address a number of challenges: 

  • Defence and security spatial needs come with a degree of uncertainty and can therefore only be planned to a limited extent. With the exception of training exercises and related military training areas in peacetime, it is difficult to predict under MSP process what security and defence measures will need to be taken. 
  • MSP must also cope with classified or secrete information (e.g. specific areas where windmills can affect/disturb protected secret systems such as sensors and radars - please see presentation of Eva Rosenhall, 3rd slide, from 2nd Baltic MSP Forum). 
  • The superior position of authorities responsible for defence and security, in comparison to the other stakeholders, might bias the MSP discourse due to possible power arrangements.

International standards regarding how to include national defence and security in MSP do not exist. The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) only partially regulates defence and security with regard to selected topics, such as innocent passage, piracy, transport of slaves, and illicit traffic in illegal drugs. Many of these topics are not space specific and do not influence MSP. Article 25 of UNCLOS seems to be the most relevant as it gives rights to the coastal state to temporarily suspend, in specified areas of its territorial waters, the innocent passage of foreign ships if such suspension is essential for the protection of the state’s security, including weapons exercises. This provides the basis for establishing various military training areas and other temporarily closed zones for navigation, fishing and other maritime activities in territorial waters. However, such a mandate does not extend beyond the limits of territorial waters. Defence and security are not listed among freedoms in EEZs, high seas and continental shelf areas, nor are they prohibited there. Therefore, in practice (with some limitations related to nuclear power), military and security related activities are performed outside territorial and internal waters on the basis that they are not forbidden there. 

The EU MSP Directive (article 8) suggests that military training area might be covered under the MSP planning process as one of the 14 sea users listed in this article. However, enhancing national defence and security is not directly mentioned among the MSP objectives in article 5 of the Directive. Therefore, it is up to Member States to decide how to tackle national defence and security in maritime spatial plans. 

At a sea basin level, the pros and cons of MSP in a defence perspective were discussed at the session devoted to this subject at the 2nd Baltic Maritime Spatial Planning Forum in November 2016 in Riga.

Please note that this section of the EU MSP Platform website is not currently being updated with new information. However, the resources throughout our website remain relevant to our mission of sharing knowledge and experiences on MSP in the EU.

Frequently Asked Questions

This question is answered in detail on the page Defence and Other Uses on the MSP Sectors page.

National defence and security are considered traditional sea uses. Therefore, the main challenges arise with new and emerging maritime uses, in particular those requiring permanent spatial reservations.

There are several studies and information sources examining the spatial conflicts between national defence (military activities) and other users. For instance, the BaltSeaPlan Findings (p. 77) identified military training areas as incompatible only with offshore energy and oil and gas extraction (based on the Baltic Sea context). Other conflicts can be mitigated and diminished under certain circumstances and conditions (e.g. temporary opening military training grounds to navigation, fishery or gravel extraction).

Additionally, Scotland’s National Marine Plan (p. 119) lists key conflicts related to national defence. Some conflicts relate to incompatibility character (with carbon capture and storage, aquaculture, off-shore renewables and gas and oil extraction), while other include limitations of temporary restrictions related to fishery, navigation and marine tourism.

These observations have been confirmed by the official planning process in Latvia (presentation of Ilona Ekmane, 5th slide, from 2nd MSP Baltic Forum), where both defence and security have been analysed. Key conflicts for national defence were identified with diving, wave energy production, mineral extraction, and in the case of munitions dumping, also with bottom fisheries and fairway maintenance. All other activities were determined as able to co-exist with military training areas, provided they can be temporarily excluded during exercise times. 

This question is answered in detail on the page Defence and Other Uses on the MSP Sectors page.

For MSP the most difficult conflicts to be managed are not those related to incompatibilities, such as exclusions which are usually addressed by top governmental decisions, but rather those related to co-existence. As with other uses, new types of development and activities can restrict national defence and security (e.g. in both on Sweden and Poland, there have been concerns that wind turbines could interfere with defence radar - please see Sweden: Marine Spatial Plan, Baltic Sea Consultation proposal, 15/02/2018, p. 88).  

One starting point for potentially resolving co-existence issues should be proper identification of the nature and intensity of conflicts. Defence is therefore also listed as one of the uses to be taken on board for a cross-sector (cross-border) analysis within the Matrix of Interests for Coherent Cross-border Maritime Spatial Planning, developed within the BalticScope project (Lesson learned, pg 63/64). ‘Defence’ and ‘Military Training Areas’ have also been listed also at cross-border level as conflicting with other uses such as ‘Submarine Cable Pipelines’ (Coherent Cross-Border MSP in Southwest Baltic Sea, Kriegers Flak case, pg. 49) or ‘Fishing Areas’ (Coherent Cross-Border MSP in Southwest Baltic Sea, Southern Middle Bank case, pg. 53).

The planning experience indicates several ways how such conflicts can be handled through various administrative and co-operation process, such as:

  • by establishing laws and voluntary guidelines on the use of the military areas. An example can be the Scottish code of conduct for fishermen jointly agreed by industry and the Ministry of Defence (p. 119, Scotland's National Marine Plan); and the MSP role to observe and support this process if necessary by supplementing it with planning information.
  • by informing (in the plan) potential developers about (i) interests of national defence and security in a given site (please see Swedish draft plan for the Baltic Sea, p. 86-87) and (ii) the role of national defence and security authorities in the licensing process. This allows for bilateral discussions on concrete solutions between interested parties prior to location decisions.
  • by installing in the plan concrete non-controversial conditions for co-existence of uses (e.g. ban of trawling in munitions dumping sites) as it has been done in the Belgian MSP (please see p. 16 of Belgian National Marine Spatial Plan:
  • by agreeing on the acceptable trade-offs in the course of MSP stakeholder discussions, and then installing such agreements in the plan. These could include special focus groups such as theFace to Face NAVY consulting group, or the PLANNERS/PORT/NAVY working group in the case of Lithuanian plan (please see 6th slide of presentation of Nerijus Blažauskas from the 2nd Baltic MSP Forum.)

Even the conflicts between incompatible uses could be handled through:

All these options require time and patience. For instance, in Germany the military activities are quite secretive, so only indirectly in the course of the licensing decisions can planners identify important military areas. 

In general, it is easier to handle conflicts related to defence than to national security.  So far, limited experience exists on problems related to search and rescue (SAR)or border control by new maritime activities, in particular permanent sea structures.  Some activities (e.g. wave energy production) might create permanent barrier hampering security functions at sea or increase their costs.  Such discussions should be launched during the MSP process at its early stage.

One should also keep in mind that national defence and security can also offer important synergies. For instance, military areas that restrict other activities can prevent environmental pressures (please see p. 95 of Swedish report Marine Spatial Planning —Current Status 2014 and p. 119 of Scottish National Marine Plan.)

This depends on the interests which would need to be established first. Moreover, spatial interests of national defence and security are different. As a general rule, national defence requires space and the restriction of other activities. Security-smart and forward-looking spatial arrangements are needed that can cope with an unpredictable future, in particular low probability and high impact events.

Spatial interests of national defence and security at sea are actually not limited to the reservation of exclusive or temporal use rights for military training grounds or munitions dumping sites. Although those are the most visible signs of military sector presence at sea, the real needs and requirements are more complex as shown by following examples:

  • locating activities/infrastructure affecting military uses e.g.:

  • securing proper functioning of underwater military infrastructure (e.g. cables); 

  • installing resilience and flexibility of maritime spatial patterns for the sake of the national security:

    • safeguarding areas for unforeseen activities in case of emergency situation (please see presentation of Ilona Ekmane, 6th slide, 2nd Baltic MSP Forum)

    • securing proper functioning of key marine infrastructure indispensable for national safety and security (e.g. pipelines, transmission cables, data cables etc.)

    • securing easiness of the emergency actions of SAR of border police

While these concerns may differ depending on each country’s context, they should be investigated as part of MSP stocktaking, then mapped (if possible) and properly interpreted. There are several good practices related to mapping and identifying interests and impacts of national defence and security at the sea, such as the Swedish and Polish stock-taking reports. Understanding the concerns of neighbouring countries as well as proper collaboration and data sharing among countries is necessary as well, as is the existing practice in the Baltic Sea region.

To achieve this, the MSP process must be designed to fully include authorities responsible for national defence and security, in order to build trust among them and other marine stakeholders, and finally result in planning solutions that do not compromise national security and defence. Otherwise, the requirements and concerns of national security and defence will be raised at the stage of concrete sectoral activities, such as constructing sea structures or laying cables, which could make maritime spatial development riskier and costlier, and undermine the role of MSP.  

Practical ways of including national defence and security in a maritime spatial plan depend on the nature of the plan and importance of national defence and security among national priorities.

Countries, which include defence and/or security in their MSP objectives

In the UK Marine Policy Statement, national defence and security is addressed directly: “Marine activities should not prejudice the interests of defence and national security and the Ministry of Defence should be consulted accordingly”. 

In Sweden, defence and security (named total defence) is included among nine MSP objectives. According to Swedish national MSP legislation (1) “areas that are important for total defence purposes shall, to the extent possible, be protected against measures that may be detrimental to the interests of the total defence”.  Moreover if any area is of national interest for incompatible purposes, priority shall be given to the defence interests if the area is needed for total defence (section 10). 

In Poland, national defence is among the key MSP objectives stipulated by legislation.

The Guidelines containing criteria for preparing maritime spatial plans in Italy (Decree of the Presidency of Council of Ministries, December the 1st, 2017) includes military training areas among the maritime uses that MSP plans shall deal with in terms of spatial and temporal distribution of related activities.

Countries, which do not explicitly include defence in their MSP law

Some MSP legislation exempts national defence and security from MSP. For example, in the Danish MSP law or Finnish Land Use and Building Act, defence and security are not listed among planning objectives like in Poland. In the Maltese Development Planning Act (2016), defence is almost not existing and its presence is limited to the special purpose buildings and construction.  

The issues of national defence and security are also differently regulated between strategic non-binding plans and regulatory plans.  For example, in the Strategic Plan for the Environment and Development (SPED) adopted in 2015 in Malta, national defence and security has not been addressed since the plan is focused on the future spatial distribution of development and the protection of the environment. The following examples show that national defence and security can be incorporated either at the general (strategic) or detailed level, or also at both levels simultaneously. 

Strategic inclusion means focusing on rules, procedures and information sharing.  In the East Inshore and East Offshore Marine Plans (England - UK), the specific policy was formulated that “Proposals” (i.e. new licensable marine activities) “in or affecting Ministry of Defence Danger and Exercise Areas should not be authorised without agreement from the Ministry of Defence”. The map indicating where this policy applies can be found in the plans themselves (please see UK East Inshore and Offshore Marine Plans, p. 110, fig. 13). Similarly, in Scotland’s National Marine Plan (NMP), the defence was operationalised with specific objectives stipulating that at firing danger areas and military exercise areas (delineated in the plan - map 13 on p. 22), proposals for development and use should be discussed with the Ministry of Defence at an early stage in the process. Moreover, the NMP stipulates that this Ministry can establish by-laws for exclusions and closures of sea areas and code of conduct for fishers. The strong position of defence is secured by the statement that “Where potential for conflict with other users is identified, appropriate mitigation will be identified and agreed with the Ministry of Defence, prior to planning permission, a marine licence, or other consent being granted”. As presented, the UK solutions are really at the project/licensing level and not generic with respect to zones.

A similar approach was adopted by Sweden. In the three draft maritime spatial plans (non-binding strategic documents), areas important for total defence are revealed at maps [2]. Potential developers and investors are informed in which sites they should consider the interest of total defence; however, similar to the UK solution, the details are to be discussed at the project level (when preparing concrete investments).  

In detailed regulatory plans, defence and security are regulated more comprehensively. The Belgian maritime spatial plan delimits several zones for military activities and assigns exclusive rights to the military sector to use those zones accordingly. The plan also delimits a closed munitions deposit area with some bans related to activities touching the seabed. The Polish draft maritime spatial plan also contains detailed prohibitions and general regulations and defence and security received a status of the overarching objective for the sea areas under Polish jurisdiction. In practice, freedom for various defence and security related activities can impede all other uses (while respecting international conventions), i.e.   restrictions can be imposed on any other sea uses to protect defence and security interests with the use of sectoral law. In both the Belgian and Polish examples, key training military grounds are delimited as the sea areas with defence as a basic (priority) function. In the Polish draft plan, the list of very concrete restrictions for other activities that are allowed to be performed is provided for each of such type of sea area separately, in order to secure priority of security and defence needs. In some other sea areas, the restrictions on the size and heights of the naval constructions were introduced in the plan in line with suggestions from the Ministry of Defence in order to secure free observation horizons for military purposes. For security reasons, SAR and other emergency services were exempted from the navigation restrictions of the plan. 

National defence and security are also included in other maritime spatial plans (e.g. Lithuania, LatviaFinland, Netherlands, and in Estonia). As discussed above and evidenced in these other plans, there is no single method of inclusion of defence and security into MSP.  It is included in general terms (like in the UK or Sweden) with details left to the licensing process, or in a more comprehensive way (such as in Poland or Belgium) where concrete restrictions are formulated within the plan. However, all planning efforts indicate the importance of inclusion of authorities responsible for national defence and security at the early stage of planning in order to reveal and map their spatial concerns and interests. For example, the Swedish Agency for Marine and Water Management invited the Swedish Armed Forces (SAF) to participate in MSP in Sweden early in the process. As a result, SAF provided information on national Interests of defence, participated in workshops and working groups and analysed how other interests might affect SAF areas and interests (please see presentation of Camila Bramer, 5th slide from 2nd Baltic MSP Forum).


[1] Chapter 3 section 9 of the Swedish Environmental Code  –

[2] Map 13, page 87 of the Baltic Sea draft plan

Proposals for ICZM-MSP for the marine area of Emilia Romagna Region - Italy

Reduction of surfaces subjected to military constraint reducing conflicts with other existing or proposed uses

Lithuanian Model Case

Reallocation of military training grounds

Pilot MSP for Western Coast of Latvia

Mapping military interests

Matrix of Interests for Coherent Cross-border Maritime Spatial Planning for the Southwest Baltic Sea

Matrix providing an overview of the scope of interests and differing priorities between the countries, as well as potential conflicts also related among others to defence

Study of Conditions of Spatial Development of Polish Sea Areas

The inventory study included documenting marine cultural heritage considerations for MSP.

Scotland's National Marine Plan

Marine plans for both the inshore and offshore regions, which will be published as a single document. A sustainability appraisal is being undertaken to assist in the development of the marine plan.