This summer while many European vacationers bask on sunny Mediterranean beaches, out in the water, hundreds of people are fighting for their lives while an increasingly more complex and robust collection of maritime non-government organizations (NGOs) (see Table 1) alternatively try to rescue them from drowning or send them back to Africa. The line between maritime human trafficking and a flow of refugees at sea has been blurred. In response to the ongoing migrant wave, the group Defend Europe recently raised enough money to charter a 422-ton ship, the C-Star, to convey a team of its activists to Libya. They arrived in the search-and-rescue zone off the Libyan coast on August 4-5.
The authors understand the complexities of this situation in the central Mediterranean particularly with regard to strongly held political positions by both sides. We try not to take sides in political battles, especially as we sit on the board of directors of the Center for International Maritime Security (CIMSEC). Our interest is simply to discuss how organizations use the sea as a venue to proactively accomplish their own goals and deter their opponents’ goals. Our piece at War on the Rocks discusses the search-and-rescue NGOs and the approaching counter-NGO ship C-Star. As it has arrived on station off Libyan territorial waters, we spoke with Thorsten Schmidt, spokesman for Defend Europe.
What is the C-Star’s mission? “We came to the conclusion,” Schmidt says, “to get activists who are independent and fair. We need to get our own ship to get people there and to observe the left-wing NGOs.” Schmidt contends that the media has been embedded with the NGOs and therefore have a bias in support of their work. When asked if C-Star had an embedded reporter or asked for a reporter from any media organization, he stated that they just wanted their own activists to report with cameras.
C-Star from the perspective of the vessel Aquarius on August 5 around 20 nm off the Libyan coast. (via Paco Anselmi/Twitter)
The search-and-rescue (SAR) NGOs have operated between Libya and Sicily for two years. When Defend Europe began to consider their own maritime mission, they were approached by the owner of a ship to charter. The ship was the C-Star (formerly the Suunta – a Djibouti-flagged floating armory in the Red Sea). The owner is Sven Tomas Egerstrom, formerly associated with the Cardiff-based Sea Marshals which he was terminated from on 26 March 2014. Although there have been some questions as to whether C-Star has armed guards aboard, it is unlikely. Schmidt told us that the ship had no weapons aboard. More practically, we assessed in our previous piece that Defend Europe does not have the funds to support a ship for an extended mission beyond two weeks as well as the more costly endeavor of an armed guard team. Ships transiting the Gulf of Aden will only pay armed guards for a few days. That is a function of both need and cost in higher-risk areas.
The ship was detained both as it transited the Suez Canal and when it pulled in to Famagusta, Cyprus. It is unknown what exactly happened. Several reports suggested the ship had false documents or was transporting foreign nationals to Europe. Schmidt states that in both cases the authorities found nothing on the ships.
Once on station, C-Star will spend a week in the company of search-and-rescue NGOs and on the lookout for both migrant boats and human traffickers. Their cameras will be their weapons. According to Schmidt, nine out of ten migrants using the sea do not migrate from war-torn countries as refugees. When they reach the Libyan coast, he says, human traffickers put them on gray rafts and enough food and fuel to get to the 12 nautical mile territorial limit of Libya where search-and-rescue NGOs then pick up the migrants and take them to Europe. The traffickers use smaller, high-speed boats to follow the rafts then, when the NGOs have rescued the migrants, the traffickers take the motors and return them to Libya. Schmidt notes that in some cases, the traffickers join the migrants so that they can establish networks in Sicily and beyond. Italian authorities in Lampedusa this week seized the Iuventa, owned by the SAR NGO Jugend Rettet, accusing them of aiding and abetting traffickers.
If C-Star encounters a migrant boat in distress, Schmidt says it will render assistance first by notifying the MRCC in Rome, and then bring them aboard. According to Schmidt, the ship has “hundreds of life vests.” When asked about how it might accommodate for potentially dozens of refugees from a boat in distress, he says “the ship is fully equipped with an extra amount of water and food. Of course there are several activists on board with medical aid skills.” Instead of taking the migrants to Sicily or other European ports, they intend to take the migrants to closer, non-European ports such as in Tunisia. It is unknown if they have secured the diplomatic agreements to make those transfers happen. Defend Europe argues that this makes sense since there are closer countries than Italy that aren’t unstable like Libya.
Defend Europe wants an end to human trafficking but, as Schmidt says, “we are just one ship and you can’t stop it with just one ship…We are an avant garde but need help.” Though they have an abbreviated mission this time, the $185,000 they have raised ensures that they will look to a second and third mission. Already, he says, two more ship owners have contacted them.
Table 1: NGO Rescue & Interdiction Vessels Operating in the Mediterranean
Proactiva Open Arms
Proactiva Open Arms
Proactiva Open Arms
Save the Children
Claude Berube teaches at the United States Naval Academy and is an officer in the Navy Reserve. He has published three non-fiction books and two novels. Follow him on Twitter@cgberube. Chris Rawley is a Navy Reserve surface warfare officer and entrepreneur. Follow him on Twitter@navaldrones. Rawley and Berube frequently write and speak on maritime organizations and both serve on the Board of Directors of CIMSEC. The views expressed are theirs alone and not of any organization with which they are affiliated.
Featured Image: A banner reading ‘Stop Human Trafficking’ attached to the side of the C-Star. (Angelos Tzortzinis/AFP)
This analysis was produced as part of the Naval Academy Foreign Affairs Conference, held in April of 2017. Since that time, Montenegro has officially joined NATO.
By Kirk Wolff
There is no sugarcoating it: Russia’s continued aggression in Eastern Europe is not only reckless and a violation of international norms, but is illegal. In the invasion of Georgia and the annexation of Crimea, Russia showed complete disregard for the sovereignty of its neighbors and violated multiple treaties to which Russia is a party, including the 1994 Budapest Memorandum. Under the Budapest Memorandum, Russia agreed to never use force against or in any way threaten the territorial integrity of Ukraine.1 It is clear Russia is no longer following international laws, even those it helped establish. Vladimir Putin’s desire to reclaim the perceived glory of the Soviet Union has manifested itself in illegal invasions of weaker neighbors. These actions have been met with responses from much of Europe and the United States that were, at best, toothless. The Russian Federation’s aspiration to expand its borders and sphere of influence into former Soviet states and satellites poses a great threat to the stability of Europe and has already caused instability and military buildup in Eastern Europe. Putin has never hidden his desire to restore the USSR, the dissolution of which he referred to as “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th Century.”2
NATO and Russian Pressures
Consequently, the international system is now witnessing the single most important moment in NATO’s history since the collective response to the 9/11 attacks. It is clear that continued sanctions in the vein of visa bans and asset freezes are no longer adequate responses to Putin’s actions. In order to stave off further illegal expansion by an emboldened Russia, NATO must swiftly expand to include Finland and Sweden. Deciding not to expand NATO to include these Nordic States would represent a complete failure to learn the lessons of the last decade, which occurred as a result of the rejection of Ukraine and Georgia’s attempts to join NATO. This proposed 7th expansion of NATO would include Montenegró, which has recently earned acceptance from Alliance member states.3 There is no better way to contain Russia than through expanding the alliance, the most effective collective defense organization in history and the historical counterbalance to Russo-Soviet expansionism.
Prior to and throughout the invasions of Georgia (2008) and Ukraine (2014), Russia telegraphed its intention to regain its former status as a great power. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the Russian military fell from around 5 million troops to roughly 1 million in 19944 and the capacity of those 1 million troops to exert Russian influence was questionable. Since that time, Russia’s military strength has experienced a revitalization, bringing the current number to over 3 million troops.5 The Russian military budget has increased by a factor of 5 since 1994, with a 91 percent boost in spending from 2006 to 2016.6 This boost in military spending and size transformed the Russian Armed Forces from a fledgling that could only muster around 60,000 troops to put down a Chechen rebellion in 19947 to its current status as a resurgent world superpower that successfully used covert military forces to annex an entire region of its sovereign neighbor Ukraine in 2014. Through his reforms following the 2008 invasion of Georgia, Vladimir Putin has orchestrated a spectacular comeback for Russia in a region where the nation lost almost all of its influence a quarter century ago.
The question of why Georgia and Ukraine were targeted specifically is answered by the failure of NATO to offer either nation a Membership Action Plan following the April 2008 Bucharest Summit despite the pursuit of admission to the Alliance by both states.8 It is likely that Putin was greatly relieved by this shortsighted decision by NATO, as his plans for Russian expansion were no longer threatened by NATO’s collective defense pledge. It only took four months for Russia to invade the former NATO-hopeful Georgia, in what is referred to as the first European war of the 21st Century.9 There is a reason the invocation of NATO’s collective defense measure, otherwise known as Article 5, has only occurred once in history, and that it was prompted by the actions of rogue non-state actors on 9/11. The full backing of NATO’s member states maintains peace at a level unseen in history by guaranteeing a costly counterattack to actions like the invasions of Georgia and Ukraine. It is critical for NATO to learn from the mistakes of the Bucharest Summit and prevent further destabilization of Europe by accepting both Finland and Sweden into the Alliance posthaste.
The Grand Strategy of Russian Resurgence
The United States and NATO have been operating without a grand strategy since the fall of the Soviet Union, and consequently, Russia has implemented its own grand strategy that takes advantage of this stunning lack of action by the West. Russia is clearly, though not officially, following the grand strategy laid out in the Foundations of Geopolitics by Alexandre Dugin. The book has had a considerable impact on Russian foreign policy and was adopted as an official textbook at the Russian equivalent of the U.S. Naval War College, where senior officers and government officials receive graduate degrees related to policy.10 Major points of the work include (among other goals) separating England from Europe, dismantling Georgia, and annexing Crimea,11 all of which have been at least partially accomplished through Russian pressure, overt or otherwise. Not only have the arguments laid out in Dugin’s work been mirrored by Russian policy, but Dugin has even been made a major foreign policy advisor to the Putin regime12 and enjoys considerable influence and contact with the parliament and military.13 One major goal listed in the plan that has yet to be accomplished is the annexation of Finland. This, along with continued aggressive actions against Finland, shows that there is an imminent threat to Finland from Russia. If Finland fails to act quickly to join NATO, it is likely to be next in line for Russian expansion, in partial fulfillment of Dugin’s grand strategy for resurgent Russia.
In both Finland and Sweden, support for accession to NATO has been growing due to the aftermath of the annexation of Crimea. Russia has significantly ramped up operations and drills in the vicinity of Finland to such a degree that both Finland and Sweden are actively seeking new defensive agreements with western nations including the U.K. and U.S.14 Multiple Russian jets have violated Finnish airspace, further showing Russia’s disregard for the sovereignty of any of its neighbors.15 Additionally, Russia has been working to increase Finland’s dependency in order to further pull it into Russia’s economic and political sphere of influence. One such attempt involves energy, where Russia is attempting to undermine the Finnish energy sector and even create an artificial energy crisis which would drive Finland to rely heavily on Russian government and energy firms.16 Like Georgia and Ukraine, Finland was once part of Russia, and such historical ties were used as justification for both of Putin’s illegal invasions.1718 In fact, the Winter War of 1939 was started by Russia in an attempt to reabsorb Finland; it resulted in Russian territorial gains from Eastern Finland.19 Based on the recent Russian actions in Georgia and Ukraine, it is not outside of the realm of possibility for Russia to make another attempt to regain Finland. Sweden has felt the increased pressure from Russia as well, as evidenced by the extreme step the Civil Contingency Agency of Sweden took in December 2016 of telling towns to reinitiate Cold War era counter-invasion measures, including bunker systems and military drills.20 All of this represents a return to the great power conflict of the Cold War. Additionally, this demonstrates the clear and present threat to both Finland and Sweden from Russia that NATO would best solve.
The Current State of Partnership
Convincing the people of Finland of the necessity of NATO membership appears to be reliant on Sweden agreeing to join simultaneously. Support for a military alliance with Sweden is high, with 54 percent of Finns supporting such an alliance in 2014 while only 36 percent oppose21, so the people of Finland could be persuaded to support NATO if their friend Sweden agrees to join as well. That same year, Gallup found that 53 percent of Finnish citizens would support joining NATO if the government of Finland recommended the move.22 Since Finland already recognizes the importance of a military alliance with Sweden, it clearly can be convinced of the necessity of NATO as well. In Sweden, support of NATO membership has been on the rise. For instance, in 2015 the Centre Right Party joined two other major Swedish political parties to support NATO membership after having previously opposed the measure,23 which further indicates the political tides of the nation are turning in support of NATO. Not only is the move towards membership a necessity for these two nations, but it is also entirely within the realm of possibility in the near future.
Both Finland and Sweden have been longtime members of the Partnership for Peace (PfP)24, a NATO program which aims to build stronger relationships with non-Alliance members.25 Participation in the PfP is often seen as a pathway to membership since so many current NATO members were originally part of the PfP. This is crucial, because under Article 10 of the treaty all members must be unanimously confirmed; the fact that Finland and Sweden are already contributing to the collective defense of NATO shows that they would be valuable assets to the Alliance. Both Finland and Sweden sent troops to support NATO actions in Afghanistan, and Sweden was part of NATO’s 2011 mission in Libya.26 Due to their willingness to participate in operations, Finland and Sweden are clearly military assets to NATO, thus clearing the collective defense hurdle of NATO.
Despite this, neither nation could take on Russia alone. Swedish military experts found that if attacked by Russia, the nation could only hold out for one week27, further highlighting the need for NATO to step in and prevent another Crimean crisis. Opponents of NATO enlargement may argue that Sweden and Finland fail to meet the requisite military spending requirement of the Alliance, which is 2 percent of GDP. This is irrelevant for two reasons. First, it is far more important to keep Russia in check and have nations remain in America/NATO’s sphere of influence than to worry about the arbitrary 2 percent requirement. Demanding Sweden and Finland to increase their spending before joining will not create any measurable increase in NATO’s military effectiveness, as the U.S. spends around $650 billion dollars on defense.28 The next closest Alliance member spends a mere 60 billion dollars.29 It could be reasonable to require that both nations set a goal of reaching the 2 percent threshold within a decade, but the situation in Europe is too precarious to hesitate on such a minor issue. The true goal of NATO is maintaining the post-Soviet world order through the maintenance of the current spheres of influence.
The second reason the 2 percent requirement is irrelevant is the fact that only 5 of the 28 members currently meet the requirement. Based on publicly available military budget information, of the 28 NATO members, Finland outspends 14 before even joining and Sweden outspends Finland as well. Allowing Russia to continue to destabilize all of Europe because Finland and Sweden fail to meet a standard that over 80 percent of current NATO members also fail to meet is shortsighted.
For Finland, Russia’s western neighbor, the stakes are quite high. Putin has made multiple threatening statements in opposition to NATO enlarging to include Finland. These statements should be disregarded, as an identical scenario played out almost a decade ago in Georgia and recently in Ukraine. As mentioned earlier, Putin publicly opposed Georgia and Ukraine joining NATO, and shortly after NATO decided not to include the two nations, both were invaded by Russia’s military. The only way to secure the stability of Northern Europe is through the accession of Finland and Sweden into NATO, since this provides the closest thing to a guarantee against Russian intrusion, as admitted by Russia’s foreign minister Sergei Lavrov who said in 2016 that Russia “will never attack a member state of NATO.”30
There is a choice for NATO currently: either allow Russia to expand its sphere of influence even beyond the bounds of the former USSR into the Nordic States, or learn from the examples of Georgia and Ukraine by blocking expansionism through a 7th enlargement of the Alliance. We are clearly in a new era of great power conflict, and for their own safety Sweden and Finland must join their Nordic neighbors under the collective defense shield of NATO. NATO must recognize the dawn of this new era and learn the lessons of Crimea. The move to add Finland and Sweden to NATO is not only plausible, but entirely necessary to safeguard the stability and peace that Europe has enjoyed since the fall of the USSR.
Midshipman Kirk Wolff is from Morristown, Tennessee and is studying political science as a member of the U.S. Naval Academy Class of 2018. He can be contacted at email@example.com.
The author would like to thank Dr. Gale Mattox at USNA for her help.
 Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). Budapest Memorandums on Security Assurances. 1994.
 Ellen Barry and Steven Myers. “Putin Reclaims Crimea for Russia and Bitterly Denounces the West.” New York Times, March 18, 2014.
 Edward Joseph and Siniša Vuković. “Montenegro’s NATO Bid.” Foreign Affairs, December 22, 2016.
 Dmtri Trenin,. “The Revival of the Russian Bear.” Foreign Affairs, May & June 2016.
 “Russian Military Strength.” Global Firepower. 2016.
 Sam Perlo-Freeman, Aude Fleurant, Pieter Wezeman, and Siemon Wezeman. “Trends in World Military Expenditure, 2015.” SIPRI Fact Sheet- Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, 2016, 4.
 Trenin, The Revival of the Russian Bear
 Adam Taylor. “That time Ukraine tried to join NATO — and NATO said no.” Washington Post, September 4, 2014.
 “Post-Mortem on Europe’s First War of the 21st Century.” Centre for European Policy Studies Policy Brief, no. 167
 John Dunlop. “Aleksandr Dugin’s Foundations of Geopolitics.” Demokratizatsiya: The Journal of Post-Soviet Democratization, no. 41 (January 31, 2004): 1.
 Ibid., 2-8.
 Henry Meyer and Onur Ant. “The One Russian Linking Putin, Erdogan and Trump.” Bloomberg, February 2, 2017.
 Dunlop. Aleksandr Dugin’s Foundations of Geopolitics. 12.
 Julian Borger. “Finland says it is nearing security deal with US amid concerns over Russia.” The Guardian, August 22, 2016.
 Tuomas Forsell and Jussi Rosendahl. “Estonia, Finland say Russia entered airspace before U.S. defense pact.” Reuters. October 7, 2016.
 Rebecca Flood. “Finland warns Russia is becoming ‘more aggressive’ with nuclear power threat.” The Express UK, September 1, 2016.
 “Russia moves toward open annexation of Abkhazi, South Ossetia.” Eurasia Daily Monitor 5, no. 74. April 18, 2008.
 Barry. “Putin Reclaims Crimea for Russia and Bitterly Denounces the West.”
“The Soviet-Finnish War, 1939-1940.” Military Review, July 1941, 1-16.
 “Swedish towns told to ‘make preparations regarding the threat of war and conflict’ with Russia.” The Telegraph, December 15, 2016.
 “Majority of Finns back Swedish military union.” The Local. March 24, 2014.
 Verkkouutiset explained: The people willing to join NATO, if the state leadership so wishes.” Verkkouutiset. March 25, 2014.
 “Swedish centre right in favour of NATO membership.” Reuters. October 9, 2015.
 “Signatures of Partnership for Peace Framework Document.” NATO. January 10, 2012.
 “Partnership for Peace programme.” NATO. April 7, 2016.
 Gabriela Baczynska. “Wary of Russia, Sweden and Finland sit at NATO top table.” Reuters. July 8, 2016.
 Suvi Turtiainen. “Sweden and Finland Face Their Russian Fears.” Die Welt (The World, German). April 9, 2014.
 Ivanna Kottasova. “These NATO countries are not spending their fair share on defense.” CNN.com. July 8, 2016.
 “Just Visiting: Russian aggression is pushing Finland and Sweden towards NATO.” The Economist, July 7, 2016.
Featured Image: Soldiers from Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, the U.K. and the U.S. conduct a convoy June 10 into the field-training portion of Exercise Saber Strike. (Latvian MoD/Gatis Diezins)
The past months have seen a significant increase in Russian military activity across Europe, including the Baltic Sea. Last month, Admiral Michelle Howard, commander of U.S. Naval Forces Europe and Africa, and commander of NATO’s Allied Joint Force Command Naples, described the scope of Russian military activity in Europe as “precedential,” exceeding even Cold War era levels.1 The Baltic Sea, in particular, has become increasingly congested with Russian military forces operating in the region, leading to tense encounters in the air and on the water. Most notably, last April, two Russian Sukhoi SU-24 attack aircraft made repeated low-altitude passes over the USS Donald Cook, a guided missile destroyer operating in international waters in the Baltic, with several of the passes resembling “simulated attack” runs.2 Russia also recently deployed Iskander missiles, a “nuclear-capable” system with a range of over 400 miles, to Kaliningrad, the Russian enclave situated between Poland and Lithuania,3 and, last month, conducted cruise missile drills in the Baltic Sea.4 This summer, Russia is expected to conduct its “Zapad” (or “West”) Exercise in Kaliningrad and Belarus, with estimated Russian participation numbering between 70,000 and 100,000 troops.5 Some of these incidents are alarming in and of themselves; others, though seemingly routine, may be cause for concern when viewed in light of other regional Russian military activity. Context matters.
The most recent Russian military activity to draw attention in the region was the transit of three Russian warships through the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of Latvia, a NATO member state.6 The three warships—the corvettes Liven 551, Serpukhov 603 and Morshansk 824—were sighted four miles outside Latvia’s territorial sea, or sixteen miles from the Latvian coast. The warships were scheduled to participate in a naval parade to commemorate “Victory Day,” celebrating the end of World War II, but were redeployed prior to the parade, quite possibly in response to the destroyer USS Carney’s arrival into the Baltic Sea.7
In isolation, the transit of the Russian vessels through the Latvian exclusive economic zone is relatively benign. In the context of Russia’s military activity in the Baltic over the past year, however, the transit can appropriately be described as “aggressive,” even “confrontational.” That said, the transit was not unlawful under international law, and this point cannot be lost in the discussion. The United States and its allies rely on the navigational freedoms protected under international law as much as the Russians, arguably more so. Promoting these freedoms is essential to ensure U.S. maritime mobility.
Under international law, coastal state sovereignty ends at the outer limit of the territorial sea and the airspace above it,8 and even this sovereignty is subject to certain navigational rights, such as the rights of “innocent passage” and “transit passage.”9 Vessels and aircraft, to include military vessels and aircraft, operating seaward of a state’s territorial sea enjoy the freedoms of navigation and overflight and other internationally lawful uses of the sea related to those freedoms.10 The U.S. position is that for military vessels, this freedom of navigation includes being able to conduct certain military activities in a state’s EEZ, such as military maneuvers, flight operations, military exercises, surveillance and intelligence gathering, and weapons testing and firing.11
Not all nations share the U.S. view on the scope of permissible military activities in the EEZ, and instead advocate a legally and practicably untenable interpretation. This interpretation is based, in part, on an incorrect reading of Article 88 of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which applies in the EEZ through Article 58(2). This Article states that the high seas shall be reserved “for peaceful purposes.”12 The “peaceful purposes” language in UNCLOS, however, does not prohibit military activities in the EEZ, only those activities inconsistent with Article 2(4) of the UN Charter.13 Nevertheless, even under a restrictive interpretation, warships transiting through a coastal state’s EEZ—even with the intent to locate and surveil a foreign warship on the high seas—would still be permissible under international law. In fact, had the three Russian warships been transiting through the Latvian territorial sea (within twelve nautical miles of the coast), and even done so unannounced, this too would have been permissible under international law, so long as the vessels were properly exercising their navigational right of “innocent passage.”14
Military activities, both planned and unplanned, will continue to be conducted in the Baltic, by both Russia and NATO and its allies, for the foreseeable future. That is not a criticism; it is a statement of fact. While it is certainly appropriate—strategically critical even—to criticize and protest unwelcome, aggressive and confrontational military acts, care must be taken not to mischaracterize the lawfulness of the acts under international law, either directly or by implication. To be optimally effective in the Baltic region, NATO forces, to include those of the United States, will rely on the freedoms of navigation and overflight preserved under the law of the sea. The lawful exercise of those freedoms, particularly as it relates to military activities, must be preserved, even when their application is unpopular.
Commander Sean Fahey, United States Coast Guard, is currently assigned as the Associate Director for the Law of Maritime Operations at the Stockton Center for the Study of International Law at the U.S Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island. He is also the Editor-in-Chief of International Law Studies. He can be reached at Sean.Fahey@usnwc.edu.
The views and opinions expressed here are presented in a personal and unofficial capacity. They are not to be construed as official policy or reflecting the views of the United States Coast Guard or any other U.S. government agency.
7. Damien Sharkov, Latvia Spots Three Russian Warships off Sea Border, Newsweek (May 8, 2017, 12:18 PM).
8. United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, Dec. 10, 1982, 1833 U.N.T.S. 397, arts. 2-5. (Article 2(1) reads: “The sovereignty of a coastal State extends, beyond its land territory and internal waters…to an adjacent belt of sea, described as the territorial sea.” Article 2(1) reads: “This sovereignty extends to the air space above the territorial sea as well as to its bed and subsoil.”) Every State has the right to establish the breadth of its territorial sea up to twelve nautical miles from its baseline, normally the low-water line along its coast. (arts. 3-5).
9. Id., arts. 17-19, 37, 38 and 45.
10. United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea, supra note 8, arts. 58 and 87. Though the United States has not ratified the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, the United States considers those provisions relating to the freedoms of navigation and overflight as memorializing long-standing customary international law. United States Oceans Policy, Statement by the President, March 10, 1983 (“…the United States is prepared to accept and act in accordance with the balance of interests relating to traditional uses of the oceans—such as navigation and overflight. In this respect, the United States will recognize the rights of other states in the waters off their coasts, as reflected in the Convention, so long as the rights and freedoms of the United States and others under international law are recognized by such coastal states.”) https://www.state.gov/documents/organization/143224.pdf.
11. U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps & U.S. Coast Guard, NWP 1-14M/MCWP 5-12/COMDTPUB P5800.7A, The Commander’s Handbook on the Law of Naval Operations ¶ 2.6.3 (2007).
12. United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, supra note 8, Articles 58 and 88; See James Kraska, Military Operations, in The Oxford handbook of the Law of the Sea884-85 (Donald R. Rothwell, Alex G. Oude Elferink, Karen N. Scott and Tim Stephens, eds., 2015).
13. Kraska, supra note 12, at 884-85. Article 2(4) of the UN Charter reads: “All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.” http://www.un.org/en/sections/un-charter/chapter-i/ .
14. United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, supra note 8, arts. 17-19.
Featured Image: Russian Navy corvettes (East2West news)
The Danger of a Declining Power: Reckless Courage in the Face of Oblivion
It seems as if a day does not pass without seeing a news article analyzing the relations between the United States and Russia. It remains undisputed that Vladimir Putin has successfully solidified his position of leadership amidst the Russian hierarchy, and the world waits in wonder of what he may do next. The troubling, and occasionally overlooked, variable of this situation is that Putin is not commanding a thriving nation. Rather, Russia has experienced considerable decline in terms of market economics since the collapse of the Soviet Union, losing global power and failing to compete with the torchbearers of globalization. Thus, it is evident that Russia is not an emerging power in the global landscape, and furthermore, it is safe to assert that they are not ‘reawakening’ under any conditions. Instead, amidst their decline (or possibly even within the monotony of stability via mediocrity), the United States must be cautious of the dangers posed by a disruptive nation that acts like it has nothing to lose. Let us begin by debunking the notion that Russia is an emerging power before moving on to analyze the dangers associated with declining powers.
The National Intelligence Council’s Global Trends 2030 predicts the misfortune of Russia. The report proposes in relation to Russia’s economy that it is “likely to continue [its] slow relative decline.”1 The report continues, “[A] Russia which fails to build a more diversified economy and more liberal domestic order could increasingly pose a regional and global threat.”2 The threat here would be exhibited in the form of trying to obtain resources and other market shares from neighboring countries, conflicts that may extend so far as to provoke NATO. Russia, for so long, has relied upon the oil industry to fuel its economy, failing to diversify fully into other areas within the market economy. By failing to fully embrace the liberal order of modern markets, Russia has not achieved the success of its counterparts. With the prices of crude oil currently dropping to just under $50 per barrel, it looks as if the Russian economy is far from sustainable, especially considering it is pillared on a resource that is subject to exhaustion.3
In his article, “The Illusion of Geopolitics,” G. John Ikenberry categorizes Russia as a “part time spoiler,” citing that they are not worthy of the title of “revisionist power.”4 In this context, revisionist powers are understood to be emerging authorities that seek the throne of global hegemon. These authorities would seek to abolish/revise the pluralistic, democratic, and capitalistic practices that have been established in many nations throughout the world under the tutelage of the United States—going as far to usurp the U.S. from its seat as global hegemon. Russia, according to Ikenberry in his response to Walter Russell Mead, is clearly not a revisionist power, deducing this from observing Russia’s willingness to maintain its status amongst the global institutions (i.e. the UN Security Council, IMF, World Bank, etc.). Moreover, Ikenberry notes that Russia’s stance on international relations is “mainly about the search for commerce and resources, the protection of their sovereignty, and, where possible, regional domination,” and continues, “[t]hey have shown no interest in building their own orders or even taking full responsibility for the current one and have offered no alternative visions of global economic or political progress.”5 Thus, Russia recognizes the importance of the global market system and the role that it plays in its success. Beyond trade, though, is a concern for geopolitics, preventing Russia from expanding their order to contend for global supremacy.
I believe that Ikenberry’s analysis of Russian prioritization in modernity hits the mark, but his overall optimism of the United States’ position having a certain degree of permanency is poorly founded. In attempting to solidify the position of the United States atop the global ladder, Ikenberry fails to adequately account for geopolitics as he attempts to undermine the importance of geopolitics by conceding its existence as negligible. It is on this point that I must agree with Mead in part, as geopolitics would appear to play a considerable role in global power dynamics—but, that is not to say that engaging in geopolitics warrants a position equitable to a revisionist power. Over the past several years in Crimea and South Ossetia, we have seen Russia take holdings in Ukraine and Georgia, land that was once part of the Soviet Union. This behavior, though, is not an attempt at the building of a new order. It appears to be an effort to disrupt democratic political institutions that have been established to respond to such situations. One must wonder: is this Russia’s advance at cementing their power on the global scale or is it an exhibition of a dying country that is so desperately trying to stay relevant?
If we were to accept the former, in that Russia was trying to cement its power, we would be accepting the argument of John Mearsheimer. Richard Betts weighed in on the topic, channeling Mearsheimer when he advances, “Bucking the tide of optimism, [Mearsheimer] argued that international life would continue to be brutal competition for power it had always been…[his] vision is especially telling because it is an extreme version of realism that does not see any benign actors in the system and assumes that all great powers seek hegemony: ‘There are no status quo powers…save for the occasional hegemon that wants to maintain its dominating position.”6 But does this viewpoint encapsulate the current state under which Russia operates? I am certain that Russia yearns to be the global hegemon, but all of the evidence that we have reviewed thus far suggests that they could not be farther from actualizing that goal.
Russia, even with their antics over the course of the past ten years, has been unable to disrupt the fabric of humanity. Instead, they have elected to directly challenge democratic institutions in Europe and the United States. Alas, it seems as if we have reached the pinnacle of our dilemma, and we can identify it as a continuance of a problem outlined by George Kennan during the Cold War. Kennan posits the necessary response, “it will be clearly seen that the Soviet pressure against the free institutions of the western world is something that can be contained by the adroit and vigilant application of counter-force at a series of constantly shifting geographical and political points, corresponding to the shifts and maneuvers of Soviet policy, but which cannot be charmed or talked out of existence.”7 It appears as if Russia, even in its decrepit post-USSR state, is trying to apply pressure against the free institutions of the western world. Kennan had advocated for a response that is economic and political to such disruption, as a military conflict with Russia will yield no winners—and most likely a world of losers. If the United States responds to Russia’s disruption militarily, then we may truly have a discussion about the ‘reawakening’ of the Bear.
Ultimately, we settle upon the realization that we must recognize our differences with Russia in terms of ideals, values, and institutions–transcending beyond the traditional military disputes that marked the history of our relationship until the finale of the Cold War. To say that Russia is reemerging into the global political scene as a contender for the position of global hegemon appears to be entirely fallacious. For Russia, their economy and the diversity of their resources point toward an overall declination in global power. Let it be clear, though, that reemergence is not a necessary condition of danger. As we tread into the future, we must account for Russia’s incessant desire to maintain its standing near the top of the global battleground. If Russia does, in fact, face impending oblivion, the United States must remain cautious to falling into the traps of reckless courage exuded by the falling Bear.
Jared Russel is a junior from Colorado College majoring in political science and philosophy and will be graduating in 2018.
1.“Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds,” National Intelligence Council, 2012, iv.
2. “Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds,” National Intelligence Council,2012, ix.
4. G. John Ikenberry, “The Illusion of Geopolitics: The Enduring Power of the Liberal Order, “ in Foreign Affairs: The New Global Context, 2015, 16.
5. G. John Ikenberry, “The Illusion of Geopolitics: The Enduring Power of the Liberal Order,” in Foreign Affairs: The New Global Context, 2015, 24.
6. Richard Betts, “Conflict or Cooperation: Three Visions Revisited,” in Foreign Affairs: The Clash at 20, 2013, 72.
7. George Kennan, “The Sources of Soviet Conduct,” in Foreign Affairs, 1947, Part III.
Betts, Richard. “Conflict or Cooperation: Three Visions Revisited.” In Foreign Affairs: The
Clash at 20, 69-80, 2013.
“Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds.” National Intelligence Council, 2012.
Ikenberry, G. John. “The Illusion of Geopolitics: The Enduring Power of the Liberal Order. “ In
Foreign Affairs: The New Global Context, 16-24, 2015.
Kennan, George. “The Sources of Soviet Conduct.” In Foreign Affairs, Parts I-IV, 1947.
Featured Image: Members of the armed forces of the separatist self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic drive a tank on the outskirts of Donetsk, Ukraine, in this January 22, 2015 file photo. (Reuters/Alexander Ermochenko)