Category Archives: Global Analysis

A Geographical Breakdown of What’s Going on in the World

Why NATO Needs a Standing Maritime Group in the Arctic

By Colin Barnard


Since the Cold War, the U.S. has maintained a steady presence in the Arctic—specifically the European Arctic, or High North—primarily through nuclear submarine deployments while relying on NATO allies in the region for logistical support. However, melting ice caps, an increase in commercial maritime activity, and ongoing territorial disputes necessitate stronger NATO cooperation in the region to achieve a deterrence posture against Russia and safeguard maritime security. Deterring Russian aggression is important in all European bodies of water, and the Arctic will increasingly face the same maritime security issues as other parts of the world, including illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing by China and the movement of migrants and refugees by sea.

Checking a Growing Russian Sphere of Influence

The Arctic has reemerged as a front for NATO in recent years, as Russia has ignored European policies not to militarize the region. Since at least 2010, Russia has been reopening and rearming much of the Arctic infrastructure used at the height of the Soviet Union. In 2012, Russia resumed its patrol of the Northern Sea Route (NSR), a commercial shipping lane running along Russia’s northern coastline from the Kara Sea to the Bering Strait. In 2014, Russia established a new joint strategic command in Severomorsk to oversee its Northern Fleet with renewed focus on the Arctic. And in 2019, following the first successful navigation of the NSR without icebreakers two years prior, Russia implemented mandatory pilotage for foreign vessels and demonstrated its maritime interdiction capabilities.

Similar to Russia, NATO needs to improve its capability and capacity to operate on the Arctic front. In order to deter the Russian threat and safeguard maritime security, sustained presence in the region is needed. To this end, NATO should create a new standing maritime group dedicated to the Arctic and separate from the maritime groups focused elsewhere. While likely to be hotly debated, a new standing maritime group should gain traction among many of the Arctic states, especially Iceland, Norway, and Denmark, who have long recognized the growing Russian threat in the region. With sustained presence, so too will come sustained situational awareness, which is fundamental for conducting successful operations.

Currently, NATO’s maritime component commander, HQ Allied Maritime Command (MARCOM), maintains operational control of NATO’s four standing maritime groups: two destroyer/frigate groups and two mine countermeasures groups. These groups are already overtasked, posturing against a resurgent Russian Navy across the North Atlantic, Baltic, and Black Seas, and lending support to NATO’s maritime security operation in the Mediterranean, Operation Sea Guardian, as well as the EU refugee and migrant crisis. Regardless of these ongoing tasks, these groups are not tailored for Arctic naval operations. For this reason, a new group needs to be formed.

Instead of relying exclusively on frigates and destroyers from NATO navies to form the new group, NATO should look to its coast guards as well, recognizing that many of these forces field ships that are optimized for Arctic operations. The U.S., Canada, Denmark (via Greenland), Iceland, and Norway all have Arctic maritime borders, and most have ice-class ships. Denmark has Thetis-class and Knud Rasmussen-class patrol vessels, the latter of which double as icebreakers. Norway has the patrol vessel Svalbard, which also doubles as an icebreaker and recently completed the first Norwegian voyage to the North Pole. Three new patrol vessels will soon join her. Iceland, too, can lend support with their aging but capable Ægir-class or newer Thor-class patrol vessels. Thor is not capable of icebreaking, but it can still operate in the Arctic.

HDMS Knud Rasmussen (P570) shown in the Nares Strait during an exercise with the U.S. Coast Guard, Aug. 23, 2011. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Luke Clayton)

Of course, these examples are just from the smaller NATO navies and coast guards of the Arctic; the U.S. and Canada would have a responsibility to support the group as well. U.S. Arleigh Burke-class destroyers can operate in the Arctic, as recently demonstrated, and where capabilities are lacking, the NATO Defense Planning Process should abide. NATO partners Sweden and Finland have land borders in the Arctic region and would likely contribute to the group, if not with tangible patrol and surveillance assets, then with information exchange. Beyond historical cooperation with NATO states through agreements such as NORDEFCO, Sweden and Finland have increased cooperation with NATO in recent years, joining the UK’s Joint Expeditionary Force (JEF), improving on existing agreements with the U.S., and participating in NATO exercises in the Baltic Sea.

One potential, but not required, outcome of establishing a standing maritime group for the Arctic is the feasibility for NATO to conduct freedom of navigation operations, or FONOPS, against Russia’s excessive maritime claims in the region. For years, the world has read stories of FONOPS in the South China Sea to challenge China’s excessive claims. According to the Department of Defense (DoD), FONOPS are conducted to “consistently challenge excessive maritime claims made by a variety of coastal States, including allies, partners, and competitors.” However, despite excessive maritime claims made the world over, high-profile FONOPS are rarely conducted outside of the South China Sea, including against Russia.

Concerns over whether or not FONOPS in the Arctic would do more harm than good are valid, but these concerns are mostly due to the U.S. Navy’s current lack of capability and capacity in the region, which the new standing maritime group would help address. Nevertheless, objections to FONOPS in the Arctic, especially NATO-led, are still likely to be made for fear of escalation with Russia. However, even if Russia were to cite a NATO FONOP, it does not require one to justify its continued aggression, nor did it require one in Georgia in 2009 or in Ukraine in 2014 and 2018. Russia justifies its aggression because of NATO’s continued expansion into once Soviet territory, something which George Kennan, the architect of the Cold War containment strategy, predicted. Russia is going to act regardless of NATO conducting FONOPS.

With this tension between NATO and Russia in mind, some believe a military “code of conduct” is needed for the Arctic. While the recommendation for the deployment of a standing maritime group to the region may appear hardline in contrast, such a group would operate professionally alongside Russian units, as is already done by the other maritime groups. Moreover, such a group would be part of NATO’s increasing role in Arctic maritime security. From assisting with search and rescue operations to helping deter illegal/illicit activity ranging from IUU fishing to trafficking in persons or goods, NATO’s role in the region would be two-fold: deter Russia while safeguarding maritime security. Neither role precludes a code of conduct for the region, and the latter presents an opportunity for de-escalation and possibly even a measure of cooperation with Russia.

The China Angle

Another potential outcome of NATO’s sustained presence and situational awareness in the Arctic is a better deterrence posture against China. China, declaring itself a “near-Arctic” state and achieving observer status on the Arctic Council, is increasingly becoming a player in the region. While for now most of the play has been economic, investing large sums in Arctic states—including NATO allies—and adding the Arctic to its Belt and Road Initiative (Polar Silk Road), it can be assumed that its economic investment in the region will eventually be followed by militarization.

HMS Albion is shown operating near the coast of Norway as part of Exercise Hairspring in 2008. (Royal Navy photo by POA Angie Pearce)

How China might move to militarize the Arctic is anyone’s guess, but its 2018 white paper on the Arctic, as summarized by Lieutenant Commander Rachel Gosnell, USN, clearly states China’s interests in the region, and it has plans to protect them. While much of the paper touts adherence to international law, the world has very little reason to believe China will do so. One example of how China could move to militarize the Arctic is on the back of its seemingly benign fishing fleet. China has stated it has inherent rights to the fish migrating to the Arctic because of its large population. And where China’s fishing fleet goes, militarization will soon follow, as has been demonstrated already by Chinese fishing “militias.”


NATO’s sustained presence and situational awareness are needed to achieve deterrence against both Russia and China while safeguarding maritime security in the Arctic. The first step toward achieving this goal is to increase NATO capability and capacity to operate in the region, centered on a new standing maritime group that is dedicated to the Arctic and separate from NATO’s maritime groups operating elsewhere. This group should be formed by NATO states with Arctic maritime borders and ice-class ships. As NATO becomes the recognized authority for maritime security in the region, de-escalation and even cooperation with Russia could be possible. It is time for NATO to invest in this future, starting with a standing maritime group for the Arctic.

Lieutenant Barnard is serving as a staff operations and plans officer at NATO Maritime Command in Northwood, U.K. He was previously gunnery officer onboard USS Arleigh Burke (DDG-51) and weapons officer onboard USS Firebolt (PC-10), and was recently selected to be a foreign area officer in Europe. He graduated from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland with a master’s in terrorism studies and holds a bachelor’s in political science from Abilene Christian University in Texas. His views are his own and do not necessarily represent the views of the U.S. Navy, the U.S. Department of Defense, or NATO.

Featured Image: NoCGV Svalbard (W303), an icebreaker and offshore patrol vessel of the Norwegian Coast Guard (Kystvakten).

Clausewitz, Corbett, and Corvettes

This article originally appeared in edition 2/2020 of the German-language publication SIRIUS: The Journal for Strategic Analyses and is republished with permission. SIRIUS is edited by the foundation Stiftung Wissenschaft und Demoktrie based in Kiel, Germany. The article will be available online in its original German in the May-June timeframe. You can follow SIRIUS on Twitter (@JE_SIRIUS) and Facebook. You can find the most recent issues of SIRIUS online here:

By Captain Sascha H. Rackwitz, German Navy


Whether we like it or not, we live in an era of a fundamental reorientation of the international system. It doesn’t matter if you follow the American paradigm of “Great Power Competition”1 or the Chinese2 and Russian3 interpretation of a “multipolar world order.”  Global stability is being threatened by hegemonic tendencies of power. The perceptions of the United States, China, and Russia are principally the same, but are viewed from very different vantage points. After the bipolar confrontation of the Cold War and a short time of American unipolarity, the international system has entered a new phase that will be defined by the inter-relations of these three actors.

In public discussions in Germany, and even amongst German “defense professionals,” this understanding does not seem to have been established very well. Russian aggression against Ukraine, and particularly the annexation of Crimea in 2014, was a watershed moment in German security and defense politics. However, Russia’s confrontational politics toward the West is still seen as a specific transatlantic and isolated phenomenon that can be reduced to questions of defense and deterrence at the northeastern borders of the NATO alliance, the “Northflank.”  

No one in Germany will deny that China is posing a strategic challenge. This, however, is perceived to have above all economical relevance for Germany. And it is mostly seen as something totally unrelated to security issues on this side of the globe and more as an intensifying bilateral American-Chinese tussle. Illegal Chinese claims in the South China Sea will be met with open critique by German officials and diplomatic demarches. But China’s behavior is predominantly perceived as an economic threat to the freedom of navigation the German trade-oriented economy is dependent upon.

However, a self-centered perspective will not answer the challenges Germany is facing. For Germany, unlike most other countries, strengthening a rules-based order and the international organizations and structures that support it is not only – in the “end, ways, means” understanding of strategy – a way to achieve national interests. Derived from its geographic location, painful history, and ethical conviction, it is an end in itself. To safeguard this interest, political decision-makers rely on a military-strategic analysis that takes in the intensifying global rivalry in its entirety. Otherwise, Germany – and with it Europe – will face the Melian’s fate that Thucydides described over 2000 years ago, “The strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.”The lines of conflict of this great power struggle run, with little to no exception, through the maritime domain, including the Indo-Pacific, the North Atlantic, and the Mediterranean Sea. It is therefore particularly important for maritime professionals to take an active part in this strategy discussion and provide a maritime perspective. The following theses are intended to contribute to this debate and attempt to sketch practical conclusions from maritime strategic analysis.      

Thesis 1: Nuclear Weapons Continue to determine Military and Naval Strategy

Nuclear strategy issues have increasingly become a matter of and for specialists, far removed from the political sphere, and this seems even more dangerous in military strategic thinking.5 In Germany it is conventional wisdom that there is nothing to be won by discussing nuclear strategy, not for politicians, not for journalists, not even for political scientists. Even within the German armed forces, the discussion of the subject is often subsumed exclusively under Germany’s role in NATO’s nuclear sharing arrangements, as if military thinking is suspended with the threat of using nuclear weapons. However, nuclear weapons remain a necessary starting point for a strategic analysis. They set the framework for the use of conventional military means in a confrontation between the great powers and, not only for their own (maritime) strategic derivations. The roles prescribed for nuclear weapons by the United States, Russia, and China are all the more relevant since their declaratory policies differ substantially.

The Chinese no-first-use policy, usually a position repeatedly demanded by anti-nuclear activists and, for western nuclear weapon states as well, particularly by German anti-nuclear weapons activists, is no reason for consolation. In the context of escalating antagonism with the United States, it has a rather destabilizing effect, since the declared waiver of initial use or use against a non-nuclear weapon state feeds the illusion that a major military conflict can be limited. Read this way, the effect of the Chinese nuclear weapons policy is not to prevent any armed conflict through deterrence; to the contrary, it instead is making a conventional armed conflict more possible.

China presents the U.S. with a dilemma. On one hand, the onus of exceeding the nuclear threshold is assigned solely to the U.S., while at the same time the prospective costs for conventional intervention are increased to forbidding levels. As a consequence, China presents the United States with a stark choice: admit that your reassurances to allies and partners in the western Pacific are worthless; accept that you will suffer a prohibitively high price in blood and treasure trying to meet your obligations conventionally; or risk an all-out nuclear war as a nuclear aggressor. The South China Sea is the cordon sanitaire prerequisite for this narrative. Only by attaining indisputable influence over the East and South China Seas can China hope to create the strategic depth necessary to prevent the United States from defending its own possessions or allies in the Western Pacific. As a result, the Western Pacific is strategically isolated, the U.S. loses its escalation dominance, and military conflict becomes an option for China to resolve disputes in its near-abroad without fear of American interference.

Russia’s “de-escalating nuclear strike” strategy pursues the same purpose on the opposite tack.6 It is based on the assumption that even though Russian conventional forces cannot match NATO’s military potential, Russia can achieve a locally and timely limited conventional superiority sufficient to create a fait accompli. This superior position is then protected by threatening the use of small yield, short-range nuclear weapons. The first-use of nuclear weapons is, therefore, not excluded. On the contrary, the first use policy is openly announced and, as part of major Russian exercises, is also regularly emphasized to the West as the potential opponent. The purpose of threatening to use nuclear weapons in this limited fashion is to strategically separate the east of the alliance area, especially the Baltic States, from the rest of the alliance. A strategic dilemma is presented to the nuclear weapon states of the west, in particular the United States, of either giving in to Russian aggression and consequently allowing the collapse of the alliance or, conversely, to risk an uncontrollable nuclear escalation. The strategic value of the medium-range weapons stationed by Russia in violation of the INF Treaty is precisely that these weapons can reach Poland and possibly Germany, but not the Alliance’s nuclear weapon states. Whether Russia would consider such a nuclear strike only if defeat in a conventional war loomed or early on in a conflict to pre-empt a conventional NATO reaction is beside the point. The strategic isolation of the eastern alliance area by limited nuclear strikes is the basis to shield a war with “limited object”7 and thus to use military force below the threshold of a global nuclear war.

The fact that both China and Russia, while confronted with comparable problems, assign such different roles to their nuclear arsenal is also due to the fact that China acts confidently from a position of strength. Russia, on the other hand, from the assumption that it was only possible to gain conventional superiority vis-à-vis NATO locally, and for a short period of time, plays a weaker hand.

Both approaches share the aim to gain freedom of action in the near-abroad, to be able to use conventional military means to pursue limited purposes, if necessary, and to reduce the risk of an escalation to an unlimited nuclear war. The control of maritime areas is of central importance for both China and Russia in these respects.

Thesis 2: “Anti-Access/Area Denial” has little to do with “Sea Denial” and a lot to do with “Sea Control”8

Undisputed sea control, or maritime supremacy as the U.S. Navy would call it, in the South and East China Seas is what China needs to keep conventional American armed forces at a distance from mainland China, to gain the freedom of movement for its own forces to threaten American forces in the Pacific, and eventually the continental United States with escalation. As a result, the United States will face the dilemma of either accepting high losses, nuclear escalation, or moral defeat – and all this for what amounts to an American perspective as only “limited political aims” – the commitments made to partners in the Western Pacific. China’s illegal land reclamation in the South China Sea9 has less to do with access to marine resources, but much more to do with the development of the military infrastructure to push its own sensor and weapons range so far into the Pacific that it becomes impossible for American forces to touch Chinese positions without risk to its fleet. Having gained freedom of action in order to build a credible military position to assert its own interests in its immediate neighborhood, particularly against Taiwan, China could theoretically reign supreme in the Western Pacific. The only contingency would then be a “distant blockade,”10  which China could attempt to counter by increasing self-reliance or the careful establishment of a string of strategic positions in peacetime. Both are already core elements of current Chinese policy, namely “China 2049” and the “Belt and Road Initiative.”

Compared to China, Russia has a similarly complex strategic position on its doorsteps. This position is aggravated by the fact that American partnerships in Europe are institutionalized in NATO. Particularly interesting is the situation in the Baltic Sea with respect to the Kaliningrad exclave. On one hand, Kaliningrad offers a strategic maritime position from which large parts of the eastern and central Baltic Sea can be affected. At the same time, Kaliningrad threatens the land lines of communication from Poland to the Baltic States through the so-called Suwalki Gap. However, Kaliningrad is dependent on supplies from the sea, and a possible Baltic area of ​​operations is entirely within the range of regional allied naval forces. Moreover, maintaining superiority long enough for Russia to secure territorial gains depends on neutralizing the only two ways by which NATO could reinforce its members in the east in a timely fashion – by air or by sea.

In case of conflict, simply preventing western naval forces’ access to the central and eastern Baltic Sea would not meet Russian requirements. Russia must be able to positively control this sea area. In short, Russia must exercise sea control in order to obtain freedom of action to contribute to joint operations in the Baltic States, protect sea lines of communication to defend the Kaliningrad exclave, and cut off the Baltic States from their western allies. Even if the term “Anti-Access/Area Denial” (A2/AD) at first glance suggests otherwise, A2/AD is not just a question of denying the use of a maritime area. Rather, A2/AD is a concept for obtaining sea control in coastal and confined waters, which is primarily characterized by the use of land-based capabilities.

A map of Eastern Europe denoting the Kaliningrad exclave (Wall Street Journal)

The U.S. Marine Corps has taken this understanding as their point of departure for the most fundamental realignment of the force since World War II. The Corps no longer sees its primary warfighting role in the Western Pacific as operating from the sea under the conditions of sea control won by the U.S. Navy. Rather, the Corps sees itself as an integral part of the naval force contributing to the fight for sea control with its specific capabilities, and thus to maintain escalation dominance.11 The Marine Corps no longer desires a dependence on Navy-won access for amphibious operations, but seeks to use its forward amphibious abilities to open access for the navy to project power. It is all about “contested sea control.”

Of course, all of these considerations are solely derived from the declaratory policies of China and Russia, a cursory analysis of the maritime areas in question, and the respective maritime military potentials fielded. Fortunately, it seems unlikely that Russia, for example, will raid one of the Baltic States as long as the Putin system remains stable. Indeed, the intensity of the actors’ motivation is a key factor in assessing the threat and, in turn, the required deterrent.12

The insinuated Russian stratagem is based on two assumptions. First, Russia gains conventional superiority for a short time. Second, and more importantly, that the motivation of western allies, and particularly the United States, does not suffice to risk a nuclear escalation in defense of their eastern allies. But Russian motivation to seek a systemic change in Europe by armed confrontation is perceived to be low, and justifies merely a “tripwire force” in Poland and the Baltic States – NATO’s Enhanced Forward Presence (eFP).13 Their multinational composition addresses the danger of a split of the alliance and the force creates a limited position of deterrence by denial.14 The small motivation of Russia is thus met by a small but sufficient tripwire, and is thus deterred. The message to Moscow is that invading the Baltic States would mean not only meeting with the Balts, but all major allies, and though NATO could be easily outnumbered, it would not be a walk in the park – so think twice.

What is the maritime dimension of this tripwire? Which specific opportunities does the maritime domain offer to strengthen and enhance the credibility of NATO’s deterrent position?

Thesis 3: Our most pressing operational problem in the Baltic Sea is not maintaining the sea lines of communication to Baltic States for reinforcing and supplying NATO forces

Following Russian aggression against Ukraine in 2014, NATO and Germany refocused on the ability to conduct a symmetrical war in Europe. By regaining and strengthening NATO’s ability to wage a symmetrical war on Europe’s eastern border, the conventional complement to nuclear deterrence is strengthened. For the German Army, this means above all returning to maneuver warfare and combined arms operations, strengthening armored units, and empowering them to quickly deploy heavy formations to the alliance’s eastern border. For the Navy, this means maintaining the sea lines of communication between the east coast of the United States to ports in Germany, Poland, and the Baltic States.

Of course, conflict between NATO and Russia would not happen out of thin air. There would most probably be times of heightening tensions and grey zone or hybrid activities. Arguably, Russia has for some time tested NATO’s preparedness and resolve, not only in the cyber domain,15 but also by incursions into the Baltic States.16 However, should tensions escalate to a level that would call for a decision of the North Atlantic Council to move larger formations from North America to Europe, deterrence would have already failed. Arguably, in such a situation, Russia would have stopped perceiving the price for taking on NATO in the east as still too high compared with the possible gains. To put it bluntly, if we are compelled to organize convoy operations across the Atlantic and through the Baltic Sea, NATO has already failed with its most important task – to send a message to Russia that the potential costs of aggression are always greater than the prospects of success.

A deterrence posture that basically rests on a tripwire activating over-the-horizon forces is opening a gap to an opposing strategy that is based on quick results and strategic isolation of the theatre of operations. Naval forces, however, in the Baltic Sea could provide an additional deterrent element that counteracts the Russian stratagem at a stage before a distant deployment of NATO formations to the Baltic States becomes necessary and must be protected on its journey. The double exclaves of Kaliningrad and the Baltic States provide the key to do just this. Understandably, due to the exposed location of the Baltic States, western observers perceive the theatre geometry in the Baltic Sea first and foremost as a vulnerability. However, Kaliningrad is even more exposed, lacking even the narrow and hard-to-defend land corridor that the Suwalki Gap is providing between Poland and Lithuania. The Russian position in the Baltic Sea is nowhere near as advantageous as the skillful Russian propaganda makes us believe. Kaliningrad’s geographical position is more tenuous given several considerations. Kaliningrad is essential for the enforcement of Russian sea control in the middle to eastern Baltic Sea and all of Kaliningrad is within weapon range from the sea. Access to Baltysk can easily be blocked, and sea lines of communication from Kaliningrad through the Gulf of Finland to St. Petersburg can easily be disrupted.

While the “Tripwire Forces” of the Enhanced Forward Presence represent an element of “Deterrence by Denial,” the maritime domain offers the possibility of adding an element of “Deterrence by Punishment” without the risk of escalation. As an aggressor, Russia would also have to lose something immediately before the NATO machinery starts up properly, adding a critical psychological effect.17 In the Baltic Sea, the role of naval forces is not merely the defensive protection of sea lines of communication to the Baltic States. In Corbett’s18 terms, already in peacetime and in order to contribute to a balanced deterrent posture and prevent a “limited war,” the role of naval forces in the Baltic Sea can be the “tactical offensive” as part of an overall “defensive strategy.”19 Like the Enhanced Forward Presence, this deterrence posture does not necessarily require great numbers of maritime forces. Those deployed, however, must be able to question the Russian claim to sea control and the sanctuary of the Kaliningrad exclave through land-attack and anti-ship-cruise missiles launched from small surface combatants, corvettes, submarines, and aircraft, as well as through mine-laying capabilities. Not all these forces have to be provided by one nation alone. In parallel to the Enhanced Forward Presence, multi-nationality would be an essential factor in preventing the strategic isolation of the eastern flank. And this is the second major advantage of the maritime domain – only at sea can Sweden and Finland be included in a credible deterrent posture without upsetting the complex balance of power by a motion for formal integration into NATO.


Russian appetite for serious mischief-making in the north is, thankfully, considered to be low. But it should prompt us to widen our peripheral vision – to the Mediterranean, the near east, the Indian Ocean, and the Pacific, where we do in fact see a lot more maritime activity. Maritime forces deployed to the Mediterranean or the Indian Ocean in constabulary force missions might actually be just as close to the mission set of “deterrence and defense” as those forces up in the north. Parallels and deviations in the approaches of Russia and China point to the fact that in a struggle involving nuclear-armed great powers there are no easily defined geographic limitations – and in fact, it is in our better interest as the Melians in the room not to allow any power to willfully separate strategic spaces. After all, we have to realize that the autocratic players in “Great Power Competition” try to widen and exploit geographic and political fault lines in the west. Let us not widen them intellectually ourselves.

Captain Sascha H. Rackwitz joined the German Navy in 1991. A submariner by background, he was captain of a submarine and commanding officer of the German Navy’s submarine squadron. After tours in the Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, he until recently taught naval strategy and operational art at the German Armed Forces Command and Staff College before assuming his current responsibilities as deputy commander and chief of staff of Flotilla 1 of the German Navy, home to the German Navy’s corvettes, submarines, mine countermeasure forces, special operations, and naval infantry forces. The views expressed here are presented in a personal capacity. and do not necessarily reflect the views of any government or agency. 


1. United States of America (2017): National Security Strategy of the United States of America.

2. Peoples Republic of China, State Council Information Office (2019): China’s Defence in the New Era.

3. Russian Federation (2015): National Security Strategy.

4. Thucydides, History of the Peleponnesian War, Chapter XVII, Melian Dialogue.

5. Gray, Colin S. (2018): Theory of Strategy, Oxford: Oxford University Press, p. 121f.

6. Gray, Colin S. (2018): Theory of Strategy, Oxford: Oxford University Press, p. 98.

7. Clausewitz, Carl (1832): On War, Berlin, Book VIII, Chapter V.                   

8. “Sea Control” is more of a process than a condition in which by constant effort freedom of action in a maritime area is obtained. Sea Control is regularly understood to be a prerequisite for protecting sea lines of communication and projecting power from the sea. „Sea Denial” on the other hand is the denial of the unhindered operational use of a maritime area to an opponent. Both sea control and sea denial have to be fought for, are therefore principally only applicable in times of conflict. They will only be achieved temporarily and locally to a certain extent depending on the effort invested – uncontested sea control is only theoretically possible.

9. Permanent Court of Arbitration, Philippines vs. China, 2016.

10. Corbett, Julian (1911): Some Principles of Maritime Strategy, London, p. 97.

11. United States Marine Corps (2019): Commandant’s Planning Guidance.

12. Morgan, Patrick (1983): Deterrence: A Conceptual Analysis, Beverly Hills: Sage Publications, p. 164f.

13. NATO Factsheet on eFP,

14. Mazarr, Michael J./Chan, Arthur et al. (2018): What Deters and Why. Exploring Requirements for Effective Deterrence of Interstate Aggression, Santa Monica: RAND, p. 17ff.

15. Estonian Foreign Intelligence Service (2019) International Security and Estonia.

16. Republic of Estonia, Ministry of the Interior, Press about the kidnapping of an Estonian Internal Security Service officer, last updated 28 September 2015:

17. Snyder, Glen (1961): Deterrence and Defense: Toward a Theory of National Security. Westport: Greenwood Press.

18. Sir Julian Corbett, 1854-1922, British naval historian and strategic theorist is considered to be one of the most influential theorists of naval power next to the American Alfred Thayer Mahan.

19. Corbett, Julian (1911): Some Principles of Maritime Strategy, London, p. 73.

Featured Image: Russian Navy Baltic Fleet ships on parade. (ITAR-TASS/ Elena Nagornykh)

Rising to Lead: Female Commanding Officers in Latin America’s Navies

The Southern Tide

Written by Wilder Alejandro Sanchez, The Southern Tide addresses maritime security issues throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. It discusses the challenges regional navies face including limited defense budgets, inter-state tensions, and transnational crimes. It also examines how these challenges influence current and future defense strategies, platform acquisitions, and relations with global powers.

“We focus on partnerships…Our partners want to work with us. They want the advantage of the United States education, training, exercises and military equipment. It’s the best in the world. And so it’s up to us to deliver that in a way that’s relevant and also provides a return on investment for American taxpayer. So that is our focus.” –Navy Adm. Craig S. Faller, commander of U.S. Southern Command, before the Senate Armed Services Committee July 9, 2019.

By Wilder Alejandro Sanchez

A historical milestone was reached in Uruguay as Capitan Valeria Sorrenti became the first female commander of an Uruguayan Navy vessel. With that said, it is important to keep in mind that she is only the latest example of a growing trend. In recent years there were a number of positive “firsts” when it comes to female naval officers taking command of ships among various Latin American navies, a trend that will hopefully continue.

The Uruguayan Navy’s Newest Ship Commander

At a ceremony held in Montevideo in early March, Captain Sorrenti became the commander of Audaz (ROU 34), a Kondor II-class minesweeper. The ship was commissioned in the South American country’s navy in the early 1990s, after previously serving in the East German Navy. The officer is no stranger to Audaz as she previously served as the ship’s second in-command. With its new commander, Audaz will be tasked to monitor Uruguay’s territorial waters, with a focus on combating maritime crimes (particularly illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing), conducting mine-sweeping exercises, and performing search-and-rescue operations.

Capitán de Corbeta Valeria Sorrenti of the Uruguayan Navy (Uruguyan Ministry of National Defense)

Such tasks are problematic for the Uruguayan Navy these days since, as the author discussed in a 2016 analysis for CIMSEC titled, “The UNCLCS Ruling and the Future of the Uruguayan Navy,” the country has one of the oldest fleets in South America. This presents a problem when it comes to the multiple tasks the fleet has to perform within territorial waters and also abroad, as Uruguay has an important presence in Antarctica.

The renewal of the fleet has been slow and revolves around the acquisition of small vessels. In August 2019, the U.S. delivered “a second batch of two Metal Shark 32-ft (9.8m) fast patrol boats … to the Uruguayan Navy Comando de Infanteria de Marina (Marines),” according to Jane’s Defence. That brings the total fleet of Uruguayan fast patrol boats to four platforms. In late 2018, the Navy also acquired two German-made search-and-rescue vessels, called Isla de Flores (ROU 51) and Isla de Lobos (ROU 52).

For years, the Uruguayan Navy has attempted to acquire new offshore patrol vessels to modernize its fleet, but this has yet to occur due to the defense ministry’s limited budget. Nevertheless, with commanders like Captain Sorrenti at the helm, the Navy may make the most of what it has.

Other “Firsts”

The promotion of Captain Sorrenti does not occur in a vacuum as throughout the past decade other female personnel have been promoted to positions of command throughout various Latin American navies.

In 2009, midshipman Erica Vanessa Bibbó was named commander of the Argentine coastal patrol boat ARA Zurubi (P-55). That same year, Frigate Lieutenant Raquel Elena Romero of the Colombian Navy became the commander of the buoy-deploying ship ARC Isla Palma. Some years later, in 2013, Captain Hildelene Lobato Bahia became the first Brazilian female officer in command of a vessel of the country’s merchant navy, the tanker Rômulo Almeida.

Furthermore, in January 2018, Captain Casandra Silva became the first female commander of a Peruvian Navy vessel – the offshore patrol vessel Rio Cañete (PM-205), manufactured by the Peruvian state-run shipyard SIMA. Under her command, Rio Cañete intercepted a vessel in Northern Peru, which was reportedly carrying 1,850 kilograms of cocaine. A year later in January 2019, 2nd Lieutenant Carolina Cuadras was named the captain of the patrol boat Salinas (LPC-1816), which has its home port in Iquique, Northern Chile. Cuadras is the first woman to obtain the command of a ship in the Chilean Navy.

It is also worth noting that female officers are also in command of naval facilities. Captain Nora Benavides Luna is the first female commander of a Peruvian naval base, located in Pucallpa port, in the Peruvian Amazon. Finally, there are female commanders of civilian ships, such as the tug boat Monte Cristi in the Dominican Republic which has an all-female crew.

On the other hand, one tragic case is that of Captain Eliana Krawczyk, Argentina’s first ever female submarine officer. Sadly, she was aboard the Argentina submarine ARA San Juan when it disappeared in November 2017. She and the other 43 crew members of the boat were lost.

Captain Eliana Krawczyk of the Argentine Navy (ASSA – Agrupación Suboficiales Submarinistas Argentinos)

Primed to Rise

Discussing the history of women in Latin American militaries in general, or navies in particular, would require a volume to do it proper justice. Focusing on senior officers, there are already women who have managed to achieve high-ranking positions in various Latin American navies, but their numbers are few. There are two in Brazil, including Rear Admiral Dalva Mendes and Rear Admiral Luciana Mascarenhas da Costa Marroni, and Rear Admiral Mayra Alicia Díaz of the Dominican Republic’s Navy. Another female admiral can be found in Venezuela, Admiral Érika Virgüez Oviedo, who also serves as a deputy defense minister for the regime of Nicolas Maduro.

Rear Admiral Luciana Mascarenhas da Costa Marroni of the Brazilian Navy (BBC News Brasil)

In an interview with the author, Vice Admiral (ret.) Omar Eduardo Andujar-Zaiter of the Dominican Republic’s Navy (DRN), highlighted how in the Caribbean nation’s navy there are already female personnel whose ranks range from ensign to admiral. He added that while currently there are no female commanders of vessels, “it’s just a matter of time before this occurs.”

Hopefully, with more young women enlisting and many already currently deployed aboard ships, more Latin American vessels will be commanded by female officers in the near future. One example can be found in Colombia, where in 2018, for the first time an overwhelming majority of female cadets  (51 in total and three men) were aboard the navy’s training vessel ARC Gloria as part of a training exercise. Hopefully several of these young cadets will have the opportunity to command their own ship in the coming years.

One clear obstacle preventing more women from obtaining high-ranking positions is that navies, along with other services and careers, have limited the types of fields that women can join, hence limiting how high up the chain of command they can go. A December 2019 article in Americas Quarterly, entitled “Why It’s Essential to Have More Women in Latin America’s Militaries,” explains how “high-ranking female officers in Latin America are few in number. Some have served as doctors, teachers and computer scientists, but training for roles directly involved in security is still almost exclusively left for males.” A March 2020 report in the BBC’s Portuguese service about the history of women in the Brazilian Navy mentions how Rear Admiral Mendes focused on health services while Rear Admiral da Costa Marroni concentrated on engineering and telecommunications.

Without a doubt there is still a long way to go for greater gender equality amongst Latin American defense forces. An April 2019 article by Plaza Publica discusses the lack of female generals (or admirals) in the Guatemalan armed forces. Gender discrimination is still an ever-present problem that needs to be tackled.

It is important that female navy officers are now commanding vessels, not only because of this achievement in and of itself, but also because these types of posts will help them advance even more in their careers.


The Uruguayan Navy now has its very first female ship commander – an important achievement for  Captain Sorrenti, the Uruguayan Navy, and Latin American navies in general. There are already female admirals in the region, but female commanders of vessels are still a rarity. Hence the importance of female officers commanding ships in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, and Peru cannot be overstated.

As Latin American navies undergo modernization, with a focus on operating more domestically-manufactured vessels and submarines, it is similarly important to monitor who is commanding them. “Female naval personnel in the DRN have maintained the strictest standards of conduct,” explains Vice Admiral Andujar-Zaiter, thanks to which false paradigms and orthodox myths about women in the armed forces have been debunked. Without a doubt, only the most capable officers should lead a ship, and female Latin American naval officers are proving that they are more than up to the challenge.

Wilder Alejandro Sánchez is an analyst who focuses on international security and geopolitics. The views expressed in this article belong the author alone and do not necessarily reflect those of any institutions with which the author is associated.

Featured Image: Capitán de Corbeta Valeria Sorrenti of the Uruguayan Navy taking command of the minesweeper Audaz (Uruguyan Ministry of National Defense)

Sea Control 168 – Operation Albion with Dr. Bruce Gudmundsson and Tim Powledge

By Jared Samuelson

If you’re a naval integration fan, this episode is for you! Dr. Bruce Gudmundsson, a military historian with the Military Learning Gateway,* and career Marine infantryman Tim Powledge join Jared to break down Operation Albion. As World War I wound down, the Germans launched an assault on the Baltic Islands in an attempt to knock the Russian Empire from the war. The resulting was the most successful amphibious operation of World War I.

Sea Control 168 – Operation Albion with Dr. Bruce Gudmundsson and Tim Powledge


Operation Albion: the German Conquest of the Baltic Islands

Military Learning Gateway

*Correction: An earlier version of this post indicated that Dr. Bruce Gudmundsson was a full-time historian with Marine Corps University, which was no longer the case as of 2017.

Jared Samuelson is the Senior Producer of the Sea Control podcast. Contact him at