Meteorology Rules

 

Taming the Cobra

An interesting post on gCaptain for professional mariners as we enter hurricane season proposes an update to the Mariner’s 1-2-3 Rule

I admit that unlike its 3-2-1 Rule brother for operating with aircraft carriers, I’d never heard of the 1-2-3 Rule. Most of the hurricane tracking, forecasting, and avoidance in the U.S. Navy is distributed to ships  by the Fleet Numerical Meteorology and Oceanography Center in Monterey in conjunction with Fleet Weather Centers Norfolk and San Diego, established in 2010 to consolidate weather services for their respective U.S. fleets (2nd, 4th, and 6th from Norfolk, the rest from San Diego). Officer training focuses on interpreting and using the distributed products rather than understanding how they were developed, but a fundamental education in basic meteorology and oceanography is still taught as part of required naval science courses. 

As it should be. While thanks to satellite imagery, much more accurate weather reporting, and advances in communication technology we’re unlikely to see a repeat of the Cobra Typhoon disaster in World War II (picture above), understanding the seas plays an important role in things such as predicting the range of pirate skiff attacks.

Parallel Rocks

Civilian authorities spot a foreign fishing vessel trawling their nation’s territorial waters. The authorities move to intercept but are held at bay by the offending vessel’s government escorts. The scene: Gibraltar. The actors: The U.K. and Spain.

As readers of this blog know, stand-offs over fishing rights and territorial disputes have made a lot of news of late when they occur between China and its Asian neighbors. But they don’t happen solely in the Pacific.

The long-running territorial dispute between Spain and the U.K. over the famous gateway to the Mediterranean has grabbed headlines locally in recent weeks as Spanish trawlers have twice fished in Gibraltar’s territorial waters while Spanish Civil Guardia vessels escorted the vessels.

According to the BBC, in the latest incident four police vessels and a British Royal Navy patrol boat intercepted a single trawler but did not attempt to board the vessel as it was shadowed by two Civil Guardia vessels. Spokesman for the Royal Gibraltar Police, Richard Ullger, said “we avoid active enforcement because it could provoke an incident.” Yet the captain of the Spanish trawler, Francisco Gomez, highlighted the tenseness of the confrontation claiming the vessels were so close that some of the hulls scraped each other. After 6 hours the vessel left. The Royal Gibraltar Police will issue a court summons for the crew, but it is not expected that they will appear in court.

In light of the incident a Member of the European Parliament for Gibraltar, Julie Girling warned, “What we don’t want in Gibraltar is a situation like the Falklands: there seem to be disturbing parallels in attempts to damage the livelihoods of Gibraltar’s fishermen.”

These are not The Rocks you’re looking for

Girling was of course referring to the current situation in the Falkland’s, not the situation preceding the 1982 war. Yet a comparison between Gibraltar, the Falklands (then and now), and the South China Sea yields interesting insights.

In all three locales, resources contained therein play a role in pushing confrontation. In the South China Sea, rich fishing banks and oil exploration are primary causes for the scramble for territory. In Gibraltar, resources are not really the prize (besides for the local small-scale fishing operations) – the fishing expeditions merely provide a convenient means for pushing the larger territorial claim. Resources didn’t play much part sparking the Falklands War, but today many believe the resurgence of Argentine clamor for the islands is due to the potential oil reserves and fishing that invigorated the islands since the war. Today, the U.K. claims harassment of its own boats in Falklands water by Argentine coast guard vessels.

With regards to both the Chinese and Spanish fishing vessels, one of the more interesting questions is whether it is fishermen or government officials who are the driving force for journeys into contested waters. Are the maritime officials simply assisting their citizens in pursuit of excellent fishing grounds, or are they providing safety to vessels recruited and sent forward in calculated moves? How high in the government do such sensitive expeditions need approval?

The strategic value of these bits of territory also plays a role in their attraction. Gibraltar, dominating the chokepoint between the Mediterranean and the Atlantic, also oversees much traffic that heads through the Suez Canal. Islands in the South China Sea sit astride trade routes vital for many economies, and can serve as forward operating bases or logistics and communications relays. The only exception is the Falklands, despite one Argentine paper’s claim at the time of the war that the islands were “strategically important because they were on a direct maritime route to India.”

Another Rock with a contested past

One of the most important distinctions between the South China Sea and the other two instances is that of self-determination. On the issue of sovereign control of territory, international law, international institutions, and disinterested intentional sentiment routinely come down on the side of the principle of self-determination. In Gibraltar the locals have voted in referendums for continued British rule (by 98.9% in 2002). The British meanwhile say they are open to a UN-sponsored referendum in the Falklands, where a similar result is likely, and tellingly it’s an offer the Argentines ignore. This makes it hard for Argentina or Spain to rally legal or global public opinion to their side. The difference for the South China Sea islands is that by and large there are no locals. Most of the bits of territory are tiny non self-sustainable pieces of rock or submerged reef, making resolution harder.

Of these points of conflict, the only that so far turned into a shooting war in modern times was the Falklands. In that case the dictatorship generated a nationalist distraction from a plummeting economy. As smarter people than me have said, this is one good reason no one should wish for the Chinese economy to slow precipitously. While Spain and Argentina today are in their own economic messes, both have the safety valve and check on their actions of democracy.

The good news is that the most common denominator in all of these cases is at least lip service towards peaceful resolution. Despite the nationalist push for the Falklands, President Cristina Kirchner has stated she will obtain the islands only through peaceful means. Foreign ministers of Spain and Britain met Tuesday and urged a peaceful resolution to the fishing issue. In Cambodia the defense secretaries of China and Philippines did the same on the same day.

One final thought. All of this shows the importance of coastal patrol forces, including those administered by civilian agencies, and that they can be used for either defensive or offensive strategic-level maneuvers. Interesting then to see that the Chinese ship construction buildup is not in naval forces alone – the Chinese Maritime Surveillance agency will commission 36 cutters in the next 3 years. (h/t CGblog)

Standing at the Crosswalk: Memorial Day

Standing in uniform at a crosswalk, fruitlessly mashing the “Press to Cross” button, I felt unsettled. I have less a “belief” in crosswalks than an occasional passing superstition. I’m the type who thinks right-of-way means it’s my right for you to get out of the way, whether I’m on foot or behind the wheel. Why should a uniform cause me to use the push-button placebo? I realized that my simple unwillingness to jaywalk in uniform represented one of the greatest pillars of our national security: our military’s ingrained subservience to and respect for civilian control.

The defense of the realm is more than facing down external threats; the cornerstone of a healthy military is subservience to the population it defends. Western nations have long taken this relationship for granted, with law-abiding militaries obedient to civilian leadership and observant of civil codes. However from the Balkans to Burma, we have witnessed unspeakable devastation when the military wing serves itself. Be it institutional military control of industries in Indonesia or the individual sobels of Sierra Leone, the corruption of the military is arguably more rule than exception. When the madcap dictator rolls out elaborate medals, titles, and military accoutrements, he’s attempting to enshrine his legitimacy in supposed military prowess, ensuring the military becomes a force to be served rather than serve.

In the United States, our tradition goes beyond mere obedience to civilians; we cringe at even inconveniencing them. With the Third Amendment, “no soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law,” our military was founded on principles not just for defending the nation but also minimizing the impact on the lives of citizens. In a less dramatic example, one need merely try convincing a Normandy veteran to go to the head of the grocery line. They’ll resist your polite offer as hard as they resisted the Germans. Our military institutions have instilled at the core of our pride a selflessness that has been the guarantor of our military’s loyalty and good conduct, and this nation’s stability.

However, the unwillingness to walk out into the crosswalk represents in a small way our veterans humble unwillingness to step out into the spotlight for themselves. Many complain that Memorial Day has lost its meaning, that a day dedicated to our fallen and our veterans has become National Grill Day. I would argue that there is no better tribute to the success of their battles than the nation’s families joyfully gathered together, blissfully ignorant of the horrors of war. That is what these men fought for. That said, many may not realize that we lost the last veteran or WWI this year. It is a timely reminder that the human link to history won’t last forever. With fallen who cannot speak for themselves and veterans too humble to take their due credit, it falls upon us to bring their remembrance into the celebration. Memorial day is not a mourning of those who have fought and those who have been lost, it is a celebration of what they have gained us. They’ve already done their job, now its time to do ours.

Matt Hipple is a surface warfare officer in the U.S. Navy. The opinions and views expressed in this post are his alone and are presented in his personal capacity. They do not necessarily represent the views of U.S. Department of Defense or the U.S. Navy. 

Northern Hospitality

Fishing for trouble?

While some adversaries come to the aid of each others’ mariners in distress, some supposed friends have squabbled over claims of officially hostaged fishermen. A good Washington Post article details the fate of Chinese fishermen who ran afoul of the North Korean navy with new interviews from those aboard. While it isn’t clear whether the fishermen were illegally poaching in North Korean waters, their treatment at the hands of a purported ally is markedly different from that they’ve received in recent similar disputes with Japanese and Filipino authorities, among others.

Significantly, the hostile reaction of the Chinese public towards North Korea in this incident mirrors the online anger that erupted against the Philippines earlier this month over the Scarborough Shoal stand-off. As can be expected, the indignity voiced is especially acute for the fact that the two nations are often considered each others closest allies. Said one Chinese internet-user: “We raised a dog to watch the door, but were bitten by the crazy dog!”

However, few experts believe this latest row is likely to shake an alliance cemented more for fear of the second-order consequences of a collapse in the North and strategic reasons than an enduring affinity between the two people.

Fostering the Discussion on Securing the Seas.

Skip to toolbar