Category Archives: Global Analysis

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

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.

Conclusion

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

Links

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 seacontrol@podcast.org

Sea Control 166 – Georgetown’s Wargaming Program with Sebastian Bae

By Jared Samuelson

Sebastian Bae (@SebastianBae) joins Jared (@jwsc03) to discuss his own development as a wargamer and designer, the genesis for Georgetown University’s new wargaming program, the Georgetown University Wargaming Society, the explosion of wargaming in both the academic world and Department of Defense and what he’s learned in his first year of teaching. One editor’s note: Nick Murray was identified as working for the Naval Postgraduate School during the podcast. He works for the Naval War College.

Download Sea Control 166 – Georgetown’s Wargaming Program with Sebastian Bae

Links

1. Georgetown Wargaming Society.

2. Reflections on Teaching Wargame Design by James “Pigeon” Fielder.

3. Simulating War by Philip Saban.

Jared Samuelson is the Senior Producer of the Sea Control podcast. Contact him at seacontrol@cimsec.org

A Bump in the Belt and Road: Tanzania Pushes Back against Chinese Port Project

By John Hursh

China’s Maritime Silk Road ambitions suffered a setback after Tanzanian officials refused to budge over stalled negotiations to build what would be the largest deep-water port in Africa. Initially agreed to in 2013, the terms of the agreement remain a point of contention between Tanzanian President John Magufuli and China Merchants Holdings, the Chinese firm slated to construct the port and adjoining infrastructure. Tanzania suspended the project indefinitely in June, and it showed no signs of backing off in follow-up negotiations held in October. Instead, Tanzanian officials offered the Chinese firm a blunt ultimatum: accept our conditions or leave.

Although China and Chinese firms remain the dominant investors in African infrastructure, and especially in ports, the Bagamoyo port dispute demonstrates that African leaders are becoming more demanding that Chinese-funded projects align with African development needs, or at least African political interests. This dispute also raises questions over Chinese business practices and what U.S. officials characterize as China’s “debt trap diplomacy.” And while these are legitimate concerns, the most pressing issue for African leaders is answering increased domestic pressure for these infrastructure projects to deliver local results. Even after protracted negotiations, Tanzanian officials did not feel that the terms of this project would benefit the country. Whether more African leaders will adopt such an approach is uncertain, but similar examples, such as the government of Sierra Leone cancelling the construction of a new airport in 2018, suggest that Chinese investors may face more scrutiny over current and future development projects.

The Bagamoyo Port Project

Tanzania is a key part of China’s Maritime Silk Road project and the broader Belt and Road Initiative. In 2013, China Merchants Holdings, the largest port operator in China, signed a framework agreement to build a massive port in Bagamoyo, a small town about 45 miles north of Dar es Salaam. Dar es Salaam is the country’s largest city and home to an outdated and overwhelmed port that is struggling to modernize. In addition to building what would be the largest port in Africa, China Merchants agreed to construct railways and a special economic zone with the goal of making Tanzania a regional trade and transport center.

If completed as planned, the Bagamoyo port would be considerably larger than the Kenyan port of Mombasa, the largest African port on the Indian Ocean and a key economic driver for East and Central Africa. Only about 175 miles north of Bagamoyo, the Port of Mombasa is also tied to Chinese investment, as a surprise story last December showed that the Kenyan government used the port as collateral to finance a $3.2 billion railway project connecting Mombasa to the capital Nairobi. And while China was unlikely to take control of the port, the story angered many Kenyans and reignited concerns over heavy-handed tactics accompanying Chinese investment.

On October 21, the Tanzanian government issued China Merchants its ultimatum: accept the government’s terms and conditions or leave the project. A few days later, on October 24, Tanzanian officials arrested four Chinese contractors in Dar es Salaam for making slow progress on state construction projects to “set an example” to other underperforming managers.

This ultimatum is a consequential economic decision, as the $10 billion port project would provide a considerable injection of foreign direct investment into a country where the per capita GDP is less than $1,000 per year and, despite consistent increases in overall GDP, the number of Tanzanians living in poverty remains steady.

Despite this strong financial incentive, the Tanzanian government rejected five demands made by China Merchants claiming they were not beneficial to the country. Instead of a 99-year lease, the government is now willing to issue China Merchants only a 33-year lease. The government also denied the company the tax-free status it requested, making clear that it would be subject to all applicable taxes. Likewise, the government denied the company’s request to receive a special rate for water and electricity, insisting that it would be subject to the market rate like all other investors. The government also denied China Merchants the ability to open and operate other businesses it deemed necessary within the port without government approval. Further, any such business, if approved, would remain subject to government oversight and regulation. Finally, the government stated that it would remain free to develop other ports to compete with Bagamoyo.

After announcing these terms, the Tanzanian government stated that once China Merchants agreed to these conditions, the project could move forward in collaboration with Oman’s State General Reserve Fund, the other commercial entity financing this project.

Chinese officials insist that the Bagamoyo port and other large-scale investment projects are a win-win for China and African countries and polling data shows that the Chinese receive a generally favorable impression throughout most countries in Africa, including Tanzania. However, the Tanzanian government, and particularly the current president, has been critical of the Bagamoyo project for years.

The Bulldozer in Chief

The 2013 framework agreement came under former Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete. But, only a few months after assuming the presidency in October 2015, Magufuli suspended the project in January 2016. Magufuli has said that the investment conditions set forth by his predecessor were tantamount to selling Tanzania to China. Magufuli, known as the Bulldozer for his less than subtle responses to criticism and hostility toward opposition political parties, has looked to Arab Gulf States and China for foreign aid and investment after his increasingly repressive measures have caused Western donors and investors to reconsider their support. European governments, such as Denmark, and the World Bank have suspended aid and development programs over the government’s homophobic and sexist policies. For his part, Magufuli said that he prefers China’s aid as it is not tied to any conditions.

Magufuli has also made outrageous demands of Western companies. Most notably, in 2017, he demanded that Acacia Mining, the largest mining company in Tanzania and a subsidy of the Canadian company Barrick Gold, pay $193 billion for past taxes and undervaluing gold exports. The company’s gold exports declined sharply and the government arrested several current and former Acacia officials. The case settled in October for $300 million.

Tanzanian officials had hoped that the Bagamoyo port and related infrastructure projects would spur economic activity within Tanzania, while also competing with regional ports, especially those in Kenya. Negotiations stalled in May, with Tanzanian officials accusing China Merchants of proposing investment terms that were commercially unviable and treating them “like schoolchildren.” In June, Magufuli characterized the terms negotiated by his predecessor Kikwete as “exploitative and awkward.”

Initially expected to open in 2017, investors anticipated that the port could handle 20 million cargo containers a year, which would place it ahead of the busiest port in Europe. Instead, the Tanzanian government failed to raise enough money to compensate landowners displaced by port construction, forcing it to forego its equity stake. The project then stalled until 2018, when the government struck a deal with China Merchants and Oman.

Djibouti as a Cautionary Tale

China Merchants is the same company that asserted control of operations at the Doraleh Container Terminal in Djibouti last February. The terminal sits next to the multipurpose cargo facility constructed by the state-owned China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation and the China State Construction Engineering Corporation. Due to its location, the economic and strategic importance of this port is difficult to overstate.

Although China Merchants currently operates the terminal, the previous operator, Dubai-based DP World, has challenged the legality of this arrangement. DP World won a 25-year concession to operate the Doraleh Container Terminal in 2004, but the Djibouti government unilaterally terminated DP World’s concession in February 2018 after it nationalized the terminal. DP World took the matter to court, and in August 2018, the London Court of International Arbitration ruled that DP World was the legal owner of the concession, which “remained valid and binding.” The next month, the High Court of England and Wales granted DP World an injunction that prohibited Djibouti from terminating the contract, which Djibouti ignored. In turn, in April 2019, a London Court awarded DP World $535 million for Djibouti’s breach of contract.

After the termination of DP World’s concession, China Merchants wasted little time expanding port facilities and seeking to make the port a global logistics hub to complement an envisioned exclusive trade zone. Once complete, Chinese-flagged vessels will benefit from priority handling and lower docking fees, thus giving Chinese companies a considerable commercial advantage. Djibouti accused DP World of “irregularities,” but this claim is seemingly without merit. Instead, it appears that the government made a strategic decision to live with the results of its litigation with DP World in exchange for ensuring good relations with China. Not incidentally, China owns most of the country’s public debt—which amounts to 85 percent of Djibouti’s GDP—and built its first foreign military base in Djibouti, only a few miles from Camp Lemonnier, the only permanent U.S. military base on the continent.

The Doraleh Multi-Purpose Port. (Sarah Waiswa for Bloomberg Markets)

Djibouti officials have repeatedly assured foreign governments, particularly the United States, that it, not China or a Chinese company, controls the Doraleh terminal. Despite these assurances, U.S. officials continue to express concern that at some point, China will gain full control of the terminal. In 2018, USAFRICOM Commander Marine General Thomas Waldhauser testified to Congress of the significant consequences that a Chinese takeover of the port would have on U.S. forces in Africa, including resupplying Camp Lemonnier and refueling U.S. Navy ships. Like Waldhauser, current AFRICOM Commander U.S. Army General Stephen Townsend has stressed the threat China creates to U.S. military objectives in the region, noting the likelihood that China will open additional bases on the continent following its naval base in Djibouti.

Controlling ports is central to this threat. As Judd Devermont, Director of the Africa Program at the Center for Security and International Studies, notes, “Chinese port ownership or operation pose immediate risks to U.S. interests, potentially allowing China to extract intelligence, block the U.S. government from accessing territory or services, and use ports to dock military vessels.” In addition to ports in Tanzania, Kenya, and Djibouti, China Merchants is also a key investor in the West African ports of Lomé, Togo and Lagos, Nigeria.

Further, there are several instances where Chinese naval deployments and strengthened bilateral military agreements quickly followed the completion of port construction projects, including Djibouti and Namibia (Walvis Bay) in Africa, as well as Pakistan (Gwadar), Sri Lanka (Hambantota), and Greece (Piraeus). And as Chinese investment in maritime projects has increased along Africa’s Indian Ocean coast, so too has the People Liberation Army (PLA) Navy’s military posture and force projection.

In Tanzania, China has already built a sprawling training facility for the Tanzanian armed forces, completing a $30 million training center for the Tanzanian People’s Defence Force in February 2018. President Magufuli and the Chinese Ambassador to Tanzania attended the opening of the center, which was built in part by the PLA.

Debt Trap Diplomacy?

U.S. officials from across the political spectrum have criticized Chinese aid and investment practices in Africa. Former Secretary of State Hilary Clinton warned that China is embarking on “new colonialism” in Africa, while former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson focused on what he termed China’s “predatory loan practices.” Former National Security Advisor John Bolton echoed Tillerson’s perspective when he unveiled the Trump administration’s Africa strategy last December, where he accused Chinese officials of using bribes, opaque agreements, and strategic debt to achieve political and economic objectives.

Although Chinese officials and companies certainly have a freer hand in some regards, analysts also note that Chinese companies have succeeded by building relationships and giving African business opportunities greater priority than their U.S. counterparts. Further, a considerable amount of research, such as the work completed by the China-Africa Research Initiative at Johns Hopkins, suggests that the debt-trap diplomacy criticism of the Belt and Road Initiative is often misunderstood.

At the very least, the “debt trap” argument is overly simplistic and overlooks the amount of African debt that China has forgiven, as well as its willingness to renegotiate lending terms. High debt levels within African countries raises significant concerns, but it is worth noting that African countries are likely more indebted to Western countries than to China and that poor governance by African leaders, not usurious lending terms, usually leads to negative economic results on the continent. In this sense, many regional analysts believe that African countries can benefit from the Belt and Road Initiative provided their leaders exercise prudent decisionmaking and press Chinese companies for more favorable lending terms and infrastructure projects that will drive local and national economic growth, and not just Chinese interests.

All Politics Is (Still) Local

The dispute over the Bagamoyo port project may not be the best example for extrapolating trends due to the inconsistencies of President Magufuli, who has irked European and African companies, along with Chinese investors. However, for all the criticism that Magufuli received for the lawsuit against Acacia Gold, under his leadership Tanzania still won a $300 million settlement, secured increased royalties, and earned a greater stake in three of the company’s gold mining projects.

In a more fundamental sense, the Bagamoyo port dispute demonstrates the primacy of African politics. As alluring as massive infrastructure projects are to African leaders, recent practice and underwhelming results that do not meet expectations suggests that they will be more cautious to agree to these projects unless they can demonstrate economic gains for their constituents. Perhaps above all, it reaffirms the difficulty in managing the risk and the opportunity that Chinese investment brings. And on this point, and putting aside an otherwise odious approach to governance, African leaders could do worse than follow the example of the Bulldozer by demanding greater transparency in negotiations and more return for their investment as they balance the need to improve infrastructure crucial to trade and economic development while also maintaining control of strategic assets such as ports.

John Hursh is Director of Research at the Stockton Center for International Law and Editor-in-Chief of International Law Studies at the U.S. Naval War College. Previously, he was a Policy Analyst for the Enough Project, where he focused on East Africa and Sudan. The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the U.S. government, the U.S. Department of the Navy, or the U.S. Naval War College.

Featured Image: Tanzania’s President John Magufuli addresses a news conference during his official visit to Nairobi, Kenya October 31, 2016. (Reuters/Thomas Mukoya)