Joint Warrior is the twice-yearly UK-led NATO exercise in Scotland involving both sea, air and land assets.
Joint Warrior 15-1 has gathered 55 ships, a similar number of planes, and 14,000 personnel from 14 countries. It will run from 11 to 24 April. The maritime part of the exercise will focus on mine warfare and fast attack craft swarming-attacks.2121
Two standing NATO mine counter-measures groups (SNMCMG1, SNMCMG2), including mine countermeasures vessels (MCMV) from 8 countries, arrived in Faslane (30km from Glasgow) earlier last week.
German and Norwegian fast attack craft (FAC) were deployed as well: 6 Gepard-class fast attack craft of the German navy (P6122 Puma, P6123 Hermerlin, P6125 Zobel, P6126 Frettchen, P6129 Wiesel, P6130 Hyäne) and the two Skjold-class stealth corvettes of the Royal Norwegian Navy. The German Gepard-class is an evolution of the Albatros-class, modernized with the addition of a GDC-RAM launcher. The Norwegian P960 Skjold and P962 Skudd are capable of reaching 60 knots and carrying 8 NSM anti-ship missiles.
This edition of Joint Warrior is the largest to date, and could be compared to RIMPAC, although RIMPAC2014 gathered 55 ships, 200 aircraft and 25.000 personnel. Thus, JW151 is 140 aircraft and 10,000 personnel smaller than RIMPAC2014.
This extraordinary participation in a NATO exercise may come in reaction to Russia’s increasingly aggressive posture towards Europe since March 2014. Over both Europe and Japan, Russian strategic bomber flights are becoming more and more frequent.
Louis Martin-Vézian is the co-president of the French chapter at CIMSEC.org, and the founder of CIGeography, where he posts his maps and infographics on various security and defense topics. He is currently studying Geography and Political Science in Lyon, France.
Given shrinking global fleets and growing seaborne challenges, the United States has embraced security cooperation to augment its own force to improve maritime security around the world. The country looks to its partners to address sub-national and transnational actors who generate maritime insecurity. As such, the U.S. builds global maritime partnerships to respond to piracy, illicit trafficking, and other illegal activities to protect important sea-lanes. And where limited capacity exists, the United States helps to build national capabilities with new countries such as East Timor, post-conflict countries such as Liberia, or long-time allies such as the Philippines.
This effort to build global maritime partnerships is not new. A decade ago, Vice Admiral Morgan and Rear Admiral Martogolio wrote, “policing the maritime commons will require substantially more capability than the United States or any individual nation can deliver.” This thinking underlies the tri-service maritime strategy signed by the Coast Guard Commandant, Chief of Naval Operations, and Commandant of the Marine Corps. The strategy called for fostering critical relationships overseas, screening ships bound for our ports, and responding to threats approaching our coastline.To be effective, the partnerships include navies, coast guards, commercial shipping companies, and port operators. This is logically based on the importance of seaborne trade, the size of the world’s oceans, and interconnectedness of the maritime transportation system.
There is renewed interest in protecting the maritime commons. The United Nations General Assembly is “concerned that marine pollution from all sources, including vessels and, in particular, land-based sources, constitutes a serious threat to human health and safety, endangers fish stocks, marine biodiversity and marine and coastal habitats and has significant costs to local and national economies.” Many countries lack the resources to protect their fisheries and enforce environmental laws giving rise to security deficits on the seas. This lack of government presence further enables criminal groups to traffic drugs, people, and weapons. They thrive in the vastness of the oceans and relative lack of maritime domain awareness or response capabilities in most of the world. The result is that Mexican and Colombian drug trafficking organizations generate, remove, and launder between $18 billion and $39 billion in wholesale drug proceeds annually. These groups use the profits to equip themselves with the latest equipment and employ various means such as semi-submersible vehicles, which challenge governments’ abilities to interdict.
To meet these challenges, partners generate demands for U.S. assistance. When the Caribbean was identified as America’s third border, for example, the Caribbean Community and the Dominican Republic “recognize[d] the importance of close cooperation to combat new and emerging transnational threats that endanger the very fabric of our societies.” U.S.-Caribbean engagement programs are designed to enhance cooperation in the diplomatic, security, economic, environmental, health and education arenas. Through the Central American Regional Security Initiative, for example, partner countries supported 67 percent of illicit trafficking disruptions in 2012.
For the United States, the global illicit drug trade is a significant transnational security threat that undermines democratic governments, terrorizes populations, impedes economic development, and hinders regional stability. The UN Office of Drug Control and Crime Executive Director Antonio Maria Costa warned that, “States in the Caribbean, Central America and West Africa, as well as the border regions of Mexico, are caught in the crossfire between the world’s biggest coca producers, the Andean countries, and the biggest consumers, North America and Europe.” This formulation places Caribbean countries as victimized bystanders to a Yankee drug problem, but the State Department recognized that this view is changing and partners see drug trafficking as a shared problem in that “We all face a thinking, well-financed enemy and we must all, every legitimate nation-state and international authority, work together to thwart this network.”
Indeed, there is a shared insecurity enabling cooperation on shared challenges like transnational organized crime. But this has not been easy. Drug traffickers successfully exploit weak security institutions and take advantage of political tension created by U.S. drug policy and declining presence. The challenge for the United States, however, is to build renewed relationships without overwhelming these countries with its military and law enforcement efforts. With its intervention history and large size, the U.S. military too easily scares its partners. The U.S. Marine Corps, for example, is larger than almost every country’s military in the Western Hemisphere and Africa. Further, a slowing defense budget is reducing military deployments in the Western Hemisphere where the Coast Guard already supplies the bulk of ships and aircraft to disrupt drugs bound for the United States.
Maritime security cooperation can offset U.S. absence and empower its partners. Under international law, countries have basic obligations under the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea Convention, International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships, and the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. These laws form the basis of partnerships as countries seek to prevent security incidents on ships and in ports through the International Ship and Port Facility Security Code. And trust can be reaffirmed through programs like the Proliferation Security Initiative and the Container Security Initiative to reduce illicit trafficking. While countries ratify these agreements, they often lack the maritime capability and capacity to patrol their waterways, ports, and territorial waters.
Given its history, law enforcement capabilities, and place in the federal government, the U.S. Coast Guard is well-positioned to build partnerships and promote maritime security. Under Title 14 of the U.S. Code, the Coast Guard has jurisdiction both in territorial waters and on the high seas. As the service responsible for protecting U.S. ports and its lead responsibility for maritime drug interdiction, the Coast Guard has the expertise and experience to work with maritime partners around the world. While the Coast Guard has no independent funding authority to conduct security cooperation, it can draw program support from the Foreign Assistance Act and Section 1206 of Title 10, which provides funding for international education, training and equipment.
Congress intended international military education and training (IMET) to accomplish three principal goals. First, foster increased understanding between the United States and foreign countries in order to enhance international peace and security. Next, enable participating countries to become more self-reliant by improving their ability to utilize defense resources obtained through foreign military financing (FMF). Finally, increase the awareness of internationally recognized human rights issues.
The Coast Guard provides international education at its Academy and technical training through its various schools. New London counts 114 international cadet graduates since 1971, while schools and mobile training teams train thousands of students annually from more than 80 countries.In support of U.S. embassies around the world, the Coast Guard conducts boarding officer training, engages with maritime police, and trains search and rescue personnel so countries can meet their international legal obligations. International coast guard officers also attend DOD-funded schools such as the US Naval War College, where it can count among its alumni the current heads of coast guards in Bangladesh, Belize, Cape Verde, Jamaica, and Seychelles.
Augmenting military training and education is the FMF program that supplies grants and loans to finance American weapons and military equipment purchases. Working with allies and partners, the United States seeks to develop regional capabilities to protect trade, natural resources, and economic development. This includes establishing maritime domain awareness through the automated identification system, an array of coastal radar systems, and improved command and control. Most countries lack significant maritime capacity to protect their territorial waters let alone their Exclusive Economic Zones. Nigeria, for example, which is the largest country in sub-Saharan Africa, counts about 7,000 maritime enforcement personnel with several offshore patrol vessels to include former US Coast Guard cutters Gallatin and Chase. More broadly, the Coast Guard supported delivery of over 300 vessels and trained the crews of 56 countries.Through FMF, excess defense articles programs, and other authorities, the United States transfers weapons to increase maritime capacity.
Security cooperation also includes maritime security sector reform, which is an area of increasing importance. Sustained maritime security sector reform includes governance, civil and criminal authority, defense, safety, response and recovery, and economy.It focuses on improving civil-military relations, promoting collaboration among regional partners, and fostering cooperation within partners’ governments. The United States has learned that contemporary security challenges often require whole-of-government solutions and regional cooperation. Consequently, it seeks to foster this same approach around the world. Programs support legislative reform (e.g. seizing assets from drug traffickers), enhancing cooperation between police and defense forces (e.g. building bridges among bureaucratic rivals), and managing the legacy of past human rights abuses (e.g. integrating human rights training in programs).
To be sure, the United States has a long history of global presence and supporting almost every country in the world. Fiscal austerity is likely to restrict this presence, yet security cooperation can offset U.S. assets through U.S. partners. As my colleague Ivan Luke has written, “strategists and practitioners will need to be smart about how they approach peacetime missions.” With growing international trade and security deficits, the Coast Guard’s unique civil-military blend makes it an ideal service to conduct maritime security cooperation.
Derek Reveron is a professor of national security affairs and the EMC Informationist Chair at the U.S. Naval War College and author of Exporting Security: International Engagement, Security Cooperation, and the Changing Face of the U.S. Military. These views are his own.
 Derek S. Reveron, Exporting Security: International Engagement, Security Cooperation, and the Changing Face of the U.S. Military, (Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press, 2010).
 Vice-Admiral John Morgan, Jr. and Captain Charles Martoglio, “The 1,000-Ship Navy: Global Maritime Network,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings 131, (November 2005), p. 18.
Cooperative Strategy for Twenty-First Century Seapower, October 2007.
 Office of National Drug Control Policy, National Drug Threat Summary, (Washington, DC: ONDCP, 2009) http://www.usdoj.gov/ndic/pubs31/31379/index.htm
“U.S./CARICOM/Dominican Republic Statement on Third Border Initiative,” January 14,2004. http://www.america.gov/st/washfile-english/2004/January/20040114144116nesnom0.569256.html#ixzz0AZrjgdVl
 U.S. Southern Command, “Posture Statement of General John F. Kelly, United States Marine Corps Commander, United States Southern Command before the 113th Congress Senate Armed Services Committee,” March 19, 2013.
 Quoted in UN Office of Drugs and Crime, Annual Report2009, (New York: United Nations, 2009), 11. http://www.unodc.org/unodc/data-and-analysis/WDR.html
 Horace A. Bartilow and Kihong Eom, “Busting Drugs While Paying with Crime,” Foreign Policy Analysis, Vol. 5, Iss 2, (April 2009), pp. 93-116.
 Department of State, International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, (Washington, DC: Department of State, 2008). http://www.state.gov/p/inl/rls/nrcrpt/2008/vol1/html/100772.htm
U.S. Southern Command, “Posture Statement of General John F. Kelly, United States Marine Corps Commander, United States Southern Command before the 113th Congress House Armed Services Committee,” February 26, 2014.
 ISPS is an amendment to the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) Convention (1974/1988).
 Committee on International Relations and Committee on Foreign Relations, Legislation on Foreign Relations through 2002, (Washington, DC: Congress, 2003), chapter 5.
 U.S. Coast Guard, International Training Handbook, Edition 14, p. 12.
 U.S. Coast Guard, International Training Handbook, Edition 14, p. 12.
Maritime Security Sector Reform Guide, December 2010.
 Ivan Luke, “Naval Operations in Peacetime: Not Just ‘Warfare Lite,’” Naval War College Review, Spring 2013, p. 24.
By Claude Berube, Stephanie Chenault, Louis M-v, Chris Rawley
Although the Saudi-led Operation RESOLUTE STORM (alternately translated as DECISIVE STORM) began with air strikes into Yemen on March 26 and continue as of this writing, the heightened level of regional activity also includes maritime operations. These national and multi-national operations highlight the importance of naval platforms and presence. Yemen is strategically located with the heavily-trafficked Red Sea to its west and the Gulf of Aden along its southern coast. Some twenty thousand ships transit the Gulf of Aden annually. Yemen’s ports have been largely closed to commercial traffic.
Earlier this year, the US and other nations began pulling out of embassies and recommending their citizens leave Yemen at the earliest opportunity. Once RESOLUTE STORM began, airspace was restricted with limited flights out of the country. Consequently, several countries have been evacuating its citizens via comparatively safer ports such as Aden in the Gulf of Aden and Hodeidasituated along the Red Sea. One Pakistan Navy ship got underway from Pakistan on Sunday while a second planned to depart the following day, both for the port of Hodeida where some 600 Pakistani citizens were converging.
Indiasent five ships to evacuate approximately four thousand nationals from Hodeida. The passenger ships include the M/V Kavaratti and M/V Corals. The Indian Navy ships include the Delhi-class destroyer Mumbai, the Talwar-class frigate Tarkash, and the Saryu-class patrol vessel Sumitra.
While the majority of Operation RESOLUTE STORM activities have been air strikes with the possibility of a future ground conflict, the domestic instability in Yemen and on-going military operations underscore the importance of naval platforms, presence, and the varied operations that can be conducted by navies. Naval activity in the region by regional and international actors can be expected to continue for the foreseeable future. Possible future naval missions could include patrols designed to prevent Iran’s resupply of Houthi forces from the sea. Previous attempts by the Iranians to smuggle modern weapons to Houthi forces, such as the Jeehan 1 in January 2013, were foiled by Yemeni government forces. It is doubtful such naval capability still exists in non-Houthi Yemeni elements so multi-national forces will need to take on the maritime interdiction role.
The operations also highlight the PLA/N’s increasing capability. China began sending anti-piracy flotillas off the Horn of Africa in 2008 at the height of Somali pirate activity. To date, the PLA/N has sent nineteen flotillas, each comprised of two warships and one supply ship. These uninterrupted operations have enabled the Chinese to become familiar with long-term operations, logistics, and the importance of presence. Without the PLA/N’s experience in the region, it is unknown how or if it could have extracted its citizens from Yemen in a timely fashion.
A new op-ed in a Chinese newspaper on March 30 points out that “China has evacuated hundreds of its nationals from war-torn Yemen by Monday, in demonstrating responsibility and humanistic care toward its citizens. In the era of globalization, coupled with China’s increasing presence in the world, more Chinese nationals are living and working overseas.”Another online commenter on China’s Sina Weibo stated: “The strength of the motherland is not about the visa-free agreements with other countries, but that it could bring you home from danger.” Put simply: The Navy protects you.
One might ask, given budget priorities, have Americans and Europeans forgotten this?
Claude Berube is a history instructor at the U.S. Naval Academy and author.
Stephanie Chenault is the Chief Operating Officer of Venio Inc. and a Policy & Strategy Consultant for the Department of Defense.
Louis Martin-Vézian is the co-president of the French chapter at CIMSEC.org, and the founder of CIGeography, where he post his maps and infographics on various security and defense topics. He is currently studying Geography and Political Science in Lyon, France.
Chris Rawley is an entrepreneur and reserve naval officer.
A Story of Climate Change, Destruction and Global Solidarity
The little archipelago of Vanuatu in the South Pacific has been struck by a tropical cyclone of nearly unprecedented scale on the night from Friday the 13th (!) to 14th March 2015. With 165 MPH winds, the category 5 cyclone named ‘Pam’ is the most destructive tropical cyclone in Vanuatu’s history and the second most intense tropical cyclone in the South Pacific basin after Cyclone Zoe of 2002. Zoe hit several small islands in the Temotu Province of the Solomon Islands with a total population of 1700.
Pam was much stronger than Hurricane Katrina. Now, Vanuatu must begin the long process of recovering.
Casualties and damages
As of 16 March, the National Disaster Management Office confirmed 24 fatalities in total, including 11 from Tafea, 8 from Efate, and 5 from Tanna. However, there are still no reliable casualty figures from the rest of the country.
The president of Vanuatu, Baldwin Lonsdale, told the Associated Press:
“More than 1,000 people have been evacuated to evacuation centers and will be returning to their homes some time later today, if their homes still stand. That’s in the capital Port Vila alone. Confirmed dead in Port Vila is 6 and more than 30 injuries. I do believe the number of casualties will not be high. More than 90% of the buildings and houses in Port Vila have been destroyed or damaged. The state of emergency that has been issued is only for Port Vila. Once we receive an update on the extent of the damage in the provinces then another state of emergency will be issued for the outer islands. Despite widespread damage, Shefa remains the only province declared an emergency at this stage.”
Climate change as suspect N°1
President Lonsdale declared that climate change was contributing to the severe weather his country is experiencing: “Climate change is contributing to the disasters in Vanuatu. We see the level of sea rise. Change in weather patterns. This year we have heavy rain more than every year.” He added that his country had been “wiped out” by the catastrophe and would have to build “a new paradise again”.
President Lonsdale received the support of Anote Tong, president of Kiribati, who declared:
“For leaders of low-lying island atolls, the hazards of global warming affect our people in different ways, and it is a catastrophe that impinges on our rights and our survival into the future. There will be a time when the waters will not recede. It is now time to act on climate change.”
Kiribati is slowly disappearing under the seas and some of its population has been sent to Fiji as the first climate-change refugees of the world. Three islands of Kiribati have been struck by the cyclone Pam and Tuvalu is thought to have suffered extensive damage.
International aid on its way
The first priority now is humanitarian needs. 90% of the buildings have been destroyed and people have nowhere to stay. President Lonsdale has been asking for help:
“Clothing, eating utensils, and bathing, most of the necessary items of the households, all this has been destroyed and damaged. I really request for humanitarian needs and assistance at this stage. Tarpaulins, water containers, medical needs, gathering tools, and construction tools, all these are very important right now.”
Currently, 3,300 people are sheltering in 37 evacuation centers in Torba and Penama Provinces, and on the main island of Efate. UNICEF officials warned that the entire population of Tanna island faces starvation within days. Indeed, the cyclone destroyed all crops on the island. Islanders have just a few days of fruit and root vegetables left. There are very serious concerns about food stocks going forward.
Somewhat more positive, communications have been almost fully restored in Port Vila but other islands remain cut off from the world. People remain without power and ADRA Australia reported that most evacuation centers lacked even basic hand washing facilities. Another source of concern is contamined water supplies and the risk of the spread of dengue and malaria.
Aerial assessments have been carried out by military aircraft from New Caledonia, Australia and New Zealand. On Sunday, France sent a military plane, a Casa loaded with relief supplies, a vehicle to enable the recognition, a generator for a desalination plant, sheeting for shelters to protect a hundred families, the Route Opening equipment (chainsaws, and other tools), satellite communications, along with a logistics unit to support the detachment for 10 days. The plane came from Tahiti and took off from Noumea (New Caledonia), which is only 500 km away from Vanuatu. The Casa carried three soldiers, a member of the Civil Security and a member of the Red Cross. A second plane was sent on Monday.
The Australian Defence Force sent two C-17A Globemaster IIIs loaded with food and basic equipment and a C-130J with an on-board evaluation team. Foreign Minister Julie Bishop pledged long-term support for the recovery effort and sent two more military aircraft. AP-3C Orion maritime patrol was positioned in Honiara, Solomon Islands and started aerial reconnaissance of the archipelago. A second AP-3C Orion launched reconnaissance flights in northern Archipe.
In Polynesia, the Air Force is operating with a detachment consisting of a transport squadron of two tactical transport Casa 235s (ETOM 0082) while in New Caledonia, the Air Force maintains the transport squadron (ET52) with two Casa planes and three Puma helicopters. The frigate Vendémiaire, currently in Noumea, will be deployed to the remote island of Tanna on Friday. It will carry a Puma helicopter on board. Another humanitarian C-17 transport plane with emergency supplies took off from RAF Brize Norton, Oxfordshire, UK as part of a growing effort involving countries from around the world.
The 268,000 affected people are spread over 65 islands, with security experts likening it to dealing with 65 simultaneous emergencies. Furthermore, the difficulty of travel from one island to another makes it incredibly hard to compile an accurate picture of what the situation is.
I remember going to remote islands of Vanuatu with the French Navy: Ni-Vanuatu had nothing but gave us everything.
To those affected, we have everything. Let’s at least give them something. It’s up to us to make sure that these wonderful people don’t die suffering from hunger, thirst, cold, fear alone on their ravaged island.
Fair warning: what follows is commentary about the F-35. However, this isn’t going to be a very popular commentary, as it doesn’t follow suit with the endless stream of recent articles, opinions, and blog posts making the F-35 out to be the worst debacle in the history of the militaries of the world. On top of those you’d expect, even automotive and IT blogs have piled on.
People who have no idea how government acquisition works, nor the purpose of the Joint Strike Fighter program — or even some who do, among many with ideologicalaxes to grind — relish trashing the F-35, always managing to include “trillion dollar” (or more) somewhere in the title of the latest article to lambast the plane.
The F-35 is a multirole fighter that is designed to replace nearly every fighter in not just the Air Force inventory, but the Navy and Marine Corps as well: the F-16, F/A-18, AV-8B, and A-10, and to augment and partially replace the F-15 and F-22. The F-35 lifetime cost will be less than that of all the diverse platforms it is replacing — and their own eventually needed replacements.
Navy test pilot LT Chris Tabert takes off in F-35C test aircraft CF-3 in the first launch of the carrier variant of the Joint Strike Fighter from the Navy’s new electromagnetic aircraft launch system, set to install on USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78).
If anything, the F-35 suffers from being a “jack of all trades, master of none” — which is itself a bit of an overstatement — but we also can’t afford the alternative of follow-on replacement for all existing platforms. And for all the delays, we still have aircraft in the inventory to serve our needs for the next 10-20 years. Articles oversimplifying sensor deficiencies in the first generation, software issues with its 25mm cannon (the gun remains on schedule), or the oft-quoted 2008 RAND report, apparently choose overlook the reality that it’s not going to be instantaneously better in every respect than every aircraft it is replacing, and may never replace aircraft like the A-10 for close air support.
The F-35 development process is no more disorganized than any other USG activity, and if you want to look for people protecting special interests, it’s not with the F-35 — ironically, it’s with those protecting all of the myriad legacy platforms, and all of the countless different contractors and interests involved with not just the aircraft, but all of the subsystems made by even more contractors, all of whom want to protect their interests, and which are served quite well by a non-stop stream of articles and slickly-produced videos slamming the F-35.
NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope was originally to cost $500 million, and is now expected to cost $8.8 billion and will be over a decade late. Shall we cancel it? Or take the pragmatic approach when the purpose of the mission is important and no reasonable alternatives exist? This isn’t a problem with just DOD acquisition. It’s the reality in which we live.
One of the reasons the JSF program, and the F-35, came into being is precisely because we won’t be able to afford maintaining and creating replacements for a half-dozen or more disparate aircraft tailor-made for specific services and missions.
The F-35 itself is actually three different aircraft built around the same basic airframe, engine, and systems. The F-35A is the Air Force air attack variant, the F-35B is the VSTOL Marine Corps variant, and the F-35C is the Navy carrier-based variant. If we had already retired every plane the F-35 is supposed to be replacing, there might be cause for concern. But as it stands, we have retired none, and won’t until the F-35 can begin to act in their stead.
If there are questions as to why we even need a fifth-generation manned multirole fighter with the rise of unmanned systems, cyber, and so on, the answer is an easy one: China and Russia both developed fifth-generation fighters, and the purpose of these aircraft isn’t only in a direct war between the US and either of those nations, but for US or allied military activity in a fight with any other nation using Chinese or Russian military equipment, or being protected by China or Russia. You don’t bring a knife to a gun fight.
The F-35 isn’t just a US platform: it will also be used by the UK, Canada, Australia, Italy, the Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, Israel, Turkey, Singapore, and perhaps other nations. And the fact is, this is not only our fifth-generation manned fighter, it is likely the last. We cannot afford to have separate systems replace all or even most of the platforms the F-35 is replacing, nor can we simply decide to forgo replacements and extend the life of existing platforms by decades.
The F-35 is our nation’s next generation fighter, and it’s here to stay.
F-35B ship suitability testing in 2011 aboard USS Wasp (LHD-1)
As the phenomenon of piracy is usually dependent on the existence of sanctuaries in failed (or failing) states, counter-insurgency can represent an effective way to confront it. Insurgencies and piracy represent two distinct security issues, but a combined approach can be part of the solution to both.
While the insurgency-terrorism nexus has been thoroughly explored in the last years, the relationship of piracy with these two phenomena is still not well understood. A direct link between transnational terrorist networks and piracy hotbeds has been highlighted earlier this year on this very website by Niklas Anzinger. He quotes Al-Qaeda’s ideologue Abu Mus’ab al-Suri, who identified the Strait of Hormuz, the Suez Canal, Bab al-Mandib and the Gibraltar Strait as targets for an offensive maritime strategy which comprises piracy. However, despite these plans, Al-Qaeda’s maritime strategy so far has consisted of a very limited number of attacks to foreign oil tankers and warships, the most famous being the bombing of the destroyer USS Cole in Aden on June 2000. The failure to build a solid connection between Al-Qaeda’s franchises and local pirate groups can be explained with Al-Qaeda’s (and, for this matter, any other terrorist group’s) unwillingness to align itself with individuals who openly engage in criminal activity. In their battle for the population’s allegiance, persuasion is as important as coercion.
Thus, terrorist and insurgent groups tend to distance themselves from pirates. These, in turn, are arguably motivated by material gains alone, and thus are more interested in perpetuating the state of things that allows their illicit business to flourish. Despite the claim of moral superiority, some analyst considered the two categories to be “remarkably similar”, in that both are made up of “young, unemployed and highly impressionable” members. However, the motives of the two groups are not only different – they are conflicting.
Indeed, insurgency and piracy feed each other in a vicious circle. The conditions that help in igniting an insurgency – corruption, disruption of the local economy, and, above all, lack of societal security – are fostered by the very existence of parasitical pirate groups. Collusion between piracy and terrorism would allow extremist groups to overcome practical constraints in carrying out offensive operations in maritime areas. This could be done either by merging the two entities or by establishing a division of labour where pirates are tasked with the execution of terrorist activities at sea. Yet, there is no record of such a collaboration. As stated above, this is probably due to the friction in the objectives and values of the two groups. Nonetheless, piracy thrives in so-called “uncontrolled spaces”, and the solution to piracy may lie on land. So, while formal affiliation of pirates to insurgent groups is unlikely, counterinsurgency can represent a valid method to tackle piracy.
Somali pirates. Source: Telegraph.co.uk
In fact, pirate gangs share structural characteristics with insurgencies. They do not represent an alternative to state control – on the contrary, they scavenge the carcass of failing states. However, like insurgencies, they rely on the existence of safe havens. Denying sanctuary to these criminal groups is paramount and, especially in some theatres, could prove to be extremely effective. A report by the RAND Corporation on the influence of maritime components on irregular warfare concluded that counter-piracy measures are needed in order to contrast insurgencies that take advantage of their area of operations’ geographical proximity to the sea. The reverse is true as well. Population control represents the basis for any measure aimed at targeting the actions of pirate gangs that are otherwise elusive. The existence of ungoverned areas is the sine qua non condition for both insurgencies and criminal syndicates. While the first exploit grievances to advance their political aims, the second group – to which pirate bands belong – profits from the absence of the rule of law. The actions of both these groups can be considerably weakened by the enforcement of state control over the economy. This cannot be done without a direct involvement of state policing in the contrast to piracy. On this point, it should be noted that the hurdles deriving from the employment of private security contractors to protect against piracy currently outweigh the advantages of such an approach.
Restoring the rule of law is required in order to address the root causes of piracy rather than its symptoms. Currently, the intervention of Foreign Navies in incidents related to piracy is particularly problematic. The effectiveness of initiatives like NATO’s Operation Ocean Shield is undisputable, but constraints on the offensive actions of counterpiracy forces persist. This was recently highlighted by ECHR’s decision to sanction the French Navy for the detention of a group of Somali pirates after they hijacked two French yachts in 2008. The involvement of ground forces is extremely unlikely in the current state of things. Unity of command and unity of action are difficult to achieve without a coherent and comprehensive strategy that goes beyond the patrolling of sea routes.
NATO anti-piracy operations. Source: Shipping.nato.int
Meeting the conditions stated above would set counterpiracy as the tactical component of an overarching counter-insurgency strategy. This approach has the potential to eradicate – rather than just mitigate – the presence of pirates in areas outside of state control. Considering the presence of pirates as part of a wider issue can help in devising the strategies that are best fit to counter it.
Giorgio Bertolin holds a B.A. in Middle Eastern Studies and an M.Sc. in International Security. He joined CIMSEC in October 2014. He is currently studying for a PhD at King’s College London, Defence Studies Department. His main fields of interests are counterinsurgency and organisational culture.