Category Archives: Sea Control

Main podcast series of CIMSEC. Hosted by CIMSEC President, Matthew Hipple.

Sea Control 137 – Security Cooperation with Derek Reveron

By Matthew Merighi

Join the latest episode of Sea Control for a conversation with Professor Derek Reveron from the U.S. Naval War College to talk about how the United States military conducts its security cooperation mission and his book on the subject, Exporting Security.

Download Sea Control 137 – Security Cooperation with Derek Reveron

The transcript of the conversation between Professor Derek Reveron (DR) and Senior Producer Matthew Merighi (MM) begins below. This transcript has been edited for length and clarity. Special thanks to Associate Producer Ryan Uljua for helping produce this episode.

DR: Great to be here. And just as the standard disclaimer I am speaking my own personal views and I don’t represent the Navy, the War College, or the Department of Defense.

MM: So, as is Sea Control tradition, please introduce yourself. Tell us a little bit about your background and what were the major things you did which got you to where you are today.

DR: I have a PhD in Public Policy Analysis from the University of Illinois in Chicago and the book represents a fusion of the two parts of my professional life. On the one hand, I’ve been a Navy Reservist for almost 27 years and in that role my career has been marked by the conflicts in the Balkans, Bosnia and Kosovo, the Middle East, and Central Asia.

And then there is the other side of my life which is my academic career that examines U.S. foreign policy and defense strategy. Where the two came together came when I was serving at the NATO headquarters in Kosovo in 1998/99 and I witnessed how the Supreme Allied Commander, Wesley Clark at the time, was both a military leader and, in the academic sense, a policy entrepreneur. He was a senior diplomat working closely with foreign heads of state and the U.S. Secretary of State as well. When I came back from that, I examined others in a similar vein: General Zinni in the late 1990s at CENTCOM and then I got to work with Admiral [William] Crowe a little bit when he was teaching at the Naval Academy and talked to him a little bit about his time at PACOM. What I learned is Combatant Commanders are as much policy entrepreneurs as they are warfighters. They have to be national security leaders, not just military leaders. 

MM: You said that’s what prompted you to write your book Exporting Security. Tell us a bit about it. Why specifically write this book? Also, there is a second edition which came out just last year. What prompted you to write not only the first version but the second version as well?

DR: The first edition I wrote during the height of the [Second] Iraq War. It was very clear what the military was doing in a combat zone but when we started looking at the U.S. exit path and strategy success was based on building the Iraqi forces to take over for U.S. forces. I looked more broadly outside of combat zones to see what else the U.S. military was doing and, partly being as a professor, I was able to work with other security cooperation offices primarily in Latin America and East Africa to see what they were doing and the ways they were helping their countries address what I call security deficits.

The second edition was nice to revisit because I found with the first edition that I tilted too much towards weak states and failed states while ignoring developed states. The second edition takes a couple of things into account. One, I got to serve for a year in Afghanistan working at the main NATO training command for the Afghan security forces where we did industrial-scale security cooperation. And then second, looking at the things the U.S. was doing to help developed countries, such as Japan deal with its security concerns on China, Saudi Arabia as it relates to Iran, and then European countries as it relates to Russia. So the second edition takes into account how the U.S. helps developed countries take care of their security deficits.

MM: What are the ways the U.S. addresses security deficits? What are the different levers to pull, methods, and TTPs you end up using for that kind of work?

DR: The simple approach is through Foreign Military Sales. Some of the most important exports from the United States are weapons and training. If you take a particular example of a C-130 transport plane, I think more are flying on other countries’ flags than flying the U.S. flag. As a professor I am deeply involved in the education of foreign military leaders. At the Naval War College we have about 70 countries that send officers and these are top performers.

At any one time, 15 percent of the world’s navies are led by Naval War College graduates. There is a leader development dimension in addition to that. Finally, through exercises is where it all comes together because coalition warfare is the norm. When I was in Afghanistan we had 50 countries that we were working with. Interoperability is key and you get it by operating common platforms through defense exports, from common training and doctrine through education and training, and then you practice that through exercises.

MM: You’ve talked a little bit about some of the reasons embedded in this; not just how we do it but also why. I want you to expand on that a bit more. You mentioned both operational but also strategic reasons why this mission is important. Walk us through what the U.S. gets out of this security cooperation arrangement.

DR: So there’s two sides of it. There’s what we get out of it but also American generosity and political culture explain a lot. There was an officer from Chad who captured the political culture side: “if your neighbor’s house is burning, you should put it out so it doesn’t jump to your own house.” But there is an effort by the U.S. to help other countries be better because if they help them be stronger to deal with their own security challenges than the U.S. will not have to intervene.

Additionally, in combat zones, for the U.S. to redeploy, it needs to hand off the security situation to some other military. In the Balkans we look to NATO to do those missions and we still have KFOR running in Kosovo. In Afghanistan and Iraq it was all about handing it off to the Afghans and the Iraqis. But I think the overall goal is to stabilize the region. So in South Korea, where North Korea is in the news daily now, this is probably one of the best security cooperation success stories because the Koreans were able to use U.S. training and equipment to create a very capable military. So now you have a 700,000-person South Korean force supported by a 30,000 U.S. force.

MM: You also mentioned some of the economic aspects of these relationships and what they can do for the defense industry and industrial base which underpins some of our security advantages. Walk us through some of the political economy aspects of security cooperation too.

DR: From a U.S. domestic perspective, defense weapons are a huge export for the United States. That has multiple aspects: employs Americans, keep lines open, and lowers unit cost. Could you imagine how much an F-35 would be if we didn’t also have international partners buying into that system and bringing that cost down? I haven’t been able to confirm but, informally, someone told me that  international buyers of the P-8 caused the purchase price for the U.S. to drop by 10 percent. And then on the other end of why security even matters is economic opportunity. Admiral Stavridis when he was the Commander of SOUTCOM said “money is a coward.” Countries that lack security aren’t going to get investment or trading partners.

MM: So those are the benefits. What are some of the drawbacks of or pushback against the security cooperation mission? This reflects some of the things I saw in the Air Force, and I should put in the caveat that my views do not reflect those of the United States Air Force. There is pushback from some and, if not hostility, skepticism about the security cooperation mission. Walk us through why security cooperation can be a controversial topic in some military circles.

DR: There’s a lot of pushback on the idea and a lot of it has to do with our performance in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria. Without a doubt we could use the “f”-word, failure, in some of these places. I think there are three million veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, so their impressions of building partner capacity is based on their personal experience. We all know it is dissatisfying. At this point, the Iraqis should have had the capability to deal with the emergence of ISIS and bringing regional stability. The Afghans today are taking greater casualties than they were five years ago in spite of a hundred billion dollar effort to build their force.

So we have those experiences and then some positive experiences. If we want to compare industrial scale efforts, I would also raise South Korea because that was a rebuild effort from scratch in the 1950s and their military today is fantastic. If we look at another more recent small-scale effort, Plan Colombia began in the early 2000s with a modest amount of U.S personnel, training, and equipment like helicopters to build an air mobility command. Using that, the Colombian military brought their government from the brink of failure back to a great, strong, democratic, capitalist country.

But if we look more broadly one of the reasons why failure is going to be more common is that we are non-exclusive. That over the last 15 years we’ve tripled the number of Status of Forces Agreements (SOFAs) from 40 to 120. If we look at funding for International Military Education and Training (IMET) it’s doubled. Foreign Military Financing, where you can use U.S. grants to buy equipment, has more than doubled. We’re extremely non-exclusive and any time you take the non-exclusive approach and plant seeds everywhere, you’re not always going to get flowers. So there are probably going to be more failures than successes.

My answer to critics on this point is that it’s a foreign policy program. I know we want to measure outcomes based on what we think we’re doing and there’s always an effort to make armies, navies, and air forces better, but there is a foreign policy dimension to this that we cannot overlook. Sometimes what that means is we get a better relationship or the U.S. gets base access. There are clear cooperative benefits such as working with Japan and Israel on missile defense. That’s security cooperation too. It’s not just Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

MM: You’ve outlined why security cooperation is important and answered some of the skepticism about the mission. But how do you answer the broader question which came up during the last presidential election about the role of the military. I think there was a quote, at one point, that the military’s job is to “break stuff” and it should only be doing kinetic missions. How does the military, which is already overstretched with its current obligations, balance the kinetic mission with the security cooperation mission?

DR: This is an old idea. One of the inspirations for me was Marine General [Charles] Krulak and his experience in Somalia in the early 1990s. He talked about the three-block war where, at any one time, a Marine unit could be fighting, conducting peacekeeping, and conducting humanitarian assistance all at the same time. This is an important debate. I get pushback from both sides: the humanitarian community says “you’re militarizing foreign policy; this should be the work of NGOs, not military personnel.” My response is usually “I agree entirely and that is the preferred outcome” but in certain spaces where it is to dangerous for NGOs to operate, like Iraq and Afghanistan, you do find that the military is operating in those spaces.

From the military, I get the same sort of criticism that the U.S. military’s role is to fight and win the nation’s wars, kill people, and break things. And then I’ll usually highlight that the military is largely a logistics force. I think in the Army there is a 1:6 ratio of lethal trigger-puller to support. How I see security cooperation is: what are those six people doing when they’re not fighting war? The U.S. military has the largest logistics capability in the world. The U.S. military has the largest deployable medical capability in the world. So when President Obama wanted to respond to the Ebola crisis, he looked to the U.S. military because it could bring its own logistics and medical capability to help countries overcome the security deficit created by the disease.

Without a doubt it is controversial but it also goes into how do you conceptualize war. The kind of work I’ve been doing is really about how to prevent conflict. I think how you do that is through strength and partnership. My refrain is “even Switzerland flies the F-18.” It has more fighter aircraft than Nigeria does. Countries need a minimum level of national security both from a defense perspective, such as protecting their airspace, but also the internal perspective which deals more with policing.

MM: Walk us through a couple of other examples beyond Ebola, Iraq, and Afghanistan of how the U.S. has used its robust logistics capability for the security cooperation mission.

DR: Let me try to navalize this a bit.

MM: We are a maritime security podcast after all.

DR: I’m a Navy reservist but the irony is the two times I’ve been mobilized for deployments I’ve worked for the Army. So I probably have more insights there. The Navy is extremely embedded in the concept of security cooperation. For example, in the book I reference how in 2005 two thinkers, Admiral [John] Morgan and Admiral [Charles] Martoglio proposed the idea of the 1,000 ship Navy. It wasn’t 1,000 U.S.-flagged warships but it was the idea that the oceans are too big and too much maritime insecurity for one country to deal with it alone. The U.S. would instead use its logistics and intelligence capabilities to organize maritime coalitions. We see this today where three maritime coalitions are operating out of Bahrain that patrol the Indian Ocean, the Arabian Gulf, and those important waterways and chokepoints. That’s security cooperation: countries that are working together to reduce security deficits at sea.

We saw it pay off about a year ago when the U.S. had an aircraft carrier gap in the region, so France assumed command of CTF-50 and used the Charles DeGaulle, its aircraft carrier, as the lead strike element. That was possible because the U.S. and France and other navies in the region had already been exercising together and promoting interoperability. That’s something where the U.S. benefits along those lines. You look at bilateral relationships in Northeast Asia: for every F-35 South Korea or Japan buys, that’s one more in-theater the U.S. could have in a time of crisis or one less the U.S. would need to provide. Coalition warfare is the norm and we need to promote that through interoperability and information sharing.

MM: I’m glad we’re getting to the maritime dimension of this. In the maritime chapter of your book, you talk about some issues which most people don’t think about they think about the sea services. You talk about illegal fishing, piracy, trafficking, and pollution. What makes the maritime domain different for conducting security cooperation versus on the land and in the air? How do those issues you identify play into the Navy’s and the Coast Guard’s capabilities for dealing with these challenges?

DR: In general, I’m united about the idea of security deficits. Regardless of where it is, a security deficit is when a country lacks the ability to protect its national security without others’ help. And in this case other tends to be the United States because we are the largest military dollar-wise and very professional. The U.S. has no shortage of soft power; almost every country in the world wants U.S. attention. The source of the deficits change though. In Latin America on the ground, its transnational gangs and trafficking organizations. At sea in East Africa, it was maritime piracy but the deficit was on the land. The Somali government couldn’t control its water space and that created the deficit at sea which allowed the pirates to challenge commercial shipping.

Same thing with airspace. We take for granted in the U.S. that we have a good idea of what is happening in our airspace. That’s not true in many parts of the world, so the U.S. will promote air understanding through exporting radars and building command and control networks. At sea, we have to recognize that the U.S. Navy is focused on sea control and naval warfare but the other 100 or more navies and coast guards in the world aren’t. They are more concerned about migrant flow, illegal fishing, and maritime piracy. When the U.S. Navy wants to work with these countries, that’s where it has to meet them. They have to focus on what concerns them, not what concerns us. But I will also argue that, if we work together on how to combat maritime piracy, we can bring the same interoperability to a combat scenario.

MM: As you mentioned, a lot of the world’s navies are more like coast guards. What do you see as the proper balance between the roles of the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Coast Guard for doing the security cooperation mission? Should the Navy be more adept at dealing with law enforcement issues even though it’s not allowed to do them in the U.S.? Do you see the Coast Guard as having a larger role in the security cooperation mission despite its smaller size?

DR: I don’t want to upset some of your listeners by using the Grey Zone concept because I know it’s controversial but, by U.S. law, we want to separate war from police very cleanly. In general I agree that the Navy should lead in issues of war and the Coast Guard should lead in issues of law enforcement. What I have found in my reading of military history and personal military experience is that war and peace do not separate so neatly on the battlefield. What about when a drug trafficking organization uses a semi-submersible vehicle? Is that really a police problem or is it a Navy problem? In general, the Coast Guard does not practice anti-submarine warfare (ASW); the Navy does. It really depends. Would I want the Coast Guard to develop an anti-submarine warfare capability? I would say no because it’s time-consuming and expensive. But would it make sense for the Navy to do ASW during some of its build-ups? I’m more open-minded to that. Is there a shortage of vessels whether they are grey-hull [Navy] or white-hull [Coast Guard]? Absolutely. Is there any amount of vessels the U.S. can deploy to solve the gaps on its own? Absolutely not. That is why I think the global initiatives are important for U.S. national security.

MM: One of the ideas you discuss is the Global Fleet Station concept. Walk us through that. What is the concept, how does it work, and how has it been utilized so far?

DR: This is a small-scale attempt for the U.S. Navy to work with partners around the world. In Africa it’s called the Africa Partnership Station. In the Western Hemisphere, there’s a version called Southern Partnership Station. The Pacific has Pacific Partnership Station. It’s a mobile training platform, the Navy will go from port to port doing short courses. In many cases, you aren’t going to be able to solve the long-term security problems these nations have with a week’s worth of training. But it’s not intended to do that. It’s one way to supplement other security cooperation programs.

As a professor, I believe one learns best when teaching others. So the sailors, marines, and coast guardsmen who embark on these programs are teaching but they’re also learning. There’s been good efforts on the part of the Ghanaian and Nigerian navies to combat armed robbery at sea activity which has come through these training programs. I would start with being realistic on what the U.S. can actually do. I’ve got a good friend at Tulane who takes a more isolationist view of U.S. foreign policy. To him, we’re at a great point in our history: we’ve got a strong military and a strong economy, oceans to protect us, and safe neighbors, so we should pull back. If I could quote former Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, he said “we can give them training, we can give them equipment, but we obviously can’t give them the will to fight. But if we give them training, we give them equipment, give them support, and give them some time, I hope they will have the will to fight.” I would say that’s broadly true. We can train and equip but we can’t give the will to fight. An outside actor like the United States can only have so much influence.

MM: Throughout the course of your research, you’ve given a great and detailed description of how the U.S. does the security cooperation mission. You also mentioned that the United States, for the most part, is the international partner of choice whether because we are a superpower or because we can be in more places due to our mastery of logistics. In your research, have you come across other ways of doing the security cooperation mission used by other countries, say what Japan is starting to do in Southeast Asia, the French support mission in Mali, or the nations operating under the NATO banner in Afghanistan? Are there other security cooperation models which you found interesting or noteworthy for our audience?

DR: I think in general other countries follow the U.S. model but, really, the U.S. doesn’t have a model. This is one of the criticisms: there is no one-size-fits-all approach where you can measure things. To me, that’s the right approach. I understand why people want to see performance measurements. But it’s a foreign policy program and not every project is going to be successful.

For example, the Chinese have replicated U.S. hospital ships that are doing medical diplomacy missions. They’ve replicated the idea of war colleges and staff colleges bringing foreign personnel to study. Let me use another successful example of Canada. Canada had been training Jamaican helicopter pilots for decades. They’d fly them up to Canada for training and it would be very expensive. So at one point they said they’d like the Jamaicans to be self-sufficient in this. So Canada helped stand up a helicopter training program so it could train its own pilots. But now what happened is that Jamaica became a regional center to train pilots from throughout the Caribbean and central america. And that to me is a great idea: put a training base in another country. That’s a lesson I think we could learn. We’ve done that with peacekeeping center. The other one with Plan Colombia.

The question you ask is ‘what do these countries look like when they graduate? Do these countries ever graduate?’ It is a foreign policy program so, for example, I don’t envision Israel ever graduating from the U.S. foreign assistance program. It’s an important relationship and in some ways it’s a two-way relationship such as through missile defense. But it’s also a U.S. foreign policy priority for Israel to have the strongest military in the region. In Colombia, their graduation is that they’re now training militaries from other parts of the hemisphere against drug traffickers and insurgents. To me that’s great news. It’s great that we have a long-term relationship with them but also that they are spreading out to train others to improve hemispheric security.

MM: So if you were president for a day and could move those bureaucratic levers, what would you do if you could make changes to how the U.S. security cooperation mission works? Would there be personnel changes, would you invest in certain technologies, would you put more resources or attention into certain regions? What would be your wish list for what you would like the U.S. to do to improve its security cooperation mission?

DR: The first thing would be to preserve and strengthen the dual-key approach. One of the concerns people have is militarizing foreign policy. Beginning with Secretary Clinton and Secretary Gates, they put in a dual-key approach that any program would need to be approved by both State and Defense. What I found working with different embassies around the world is ambassadors look at these programs as deliverables to their host government. All countries have national security challenges; even Switzerland buys the F-18. So we need to make sure we preserve that foreign policy dimension.

The second would be to look long term. We’re on annual budgets if we’re lucky but these programs take a long time to develop. As we know with our military it takes a decade or longer to get a senior NCO or mid-grade officers. So we need to be in less of a hurry. Finally, we need to embrace the idea that our partners’ failure is not our failure. I had to embrace this idea a bit when I was in Afghanistan. One of the problems with U.S. military culture is that can-do attitude which works wonders most of the time, but with security cooperation and assistance programs, we need to make sure the U.S. is not doing the work for others. That success is when they can stand on their own.

This strikes me as there is a little more patience today in Iraq, as you can see in General [Joseph] Votel’s testimony to Congress in the last few weeks. We’re moving at an Iraqi pace. I’m sure that’s frustrating for some who’d say that, if it was the U.S., we’d be done by now. But the point is what happens after ISIS is defeated. It’s the Iraqis are still there. They need to be the ones with the skill and investment in their national security.

MM: That’s a good point to start wrapping up. So, as is Sea Control tradition, what are you reading? What would you recommend to people who are interested in learning more about security cooperation or otherwise?

DR: I recently picked up Nadia Schadlow’s book War and the Art of Governance. I didn’t intend to read it fully because I had grading to do but I really liked her book. I thought it was sort of a bookend for my work. I look at phase zero, before combat activities, while Nadia looks at post-conflict and the important role that stability operations play in building foreign forces after conflict. Her work looks at how stability ops are a critical part of U.S. Army history and her bigger conclusion, which I find compelling, is that we suffer from a denial syndrome. That we still have this notion that wars look like what we see on the History Channel with victory in the Pacific or D-Day invasion and we don’t have documentaries on post-conflict reconstruction in Germany, Japan, South Korea, and the Balkans.

Beyond that, I’ve got a couple of my own book projects I’m working on including looking at the other side of this coin: what generates human insecurity. If you look at conflict data, the event where countries which invade other countries is pretty rare right now. Obviously you have examples like Russia and Ukraine, the U.S. and Iraq, Israel, and Lebanon. But there’s a lot of conflict in the world, at security below the state level with transnational actors. So I’ll be looking at that and how it generates U.S. foreign policy responses.

MM: I’ll take this opportunity to plug Exporting Security again on your behalf. I’m personally a big fan of the security cooperation mission and there’s not a whole lot of scholarship on it and I appreciate you writing about this mission which normally flies under the radar. Thank you for being on Sea Control, good luck with your book projects, and hopefully we can get you on another time to talk about your new research.

DR: Thank you for your time, Matt, and thank you for all of the work you guys are doing with CIMSEC. Keep promoting the importance of maritime security and promoting the role that navies play and making sure we can drink coffee in the morning.

Derek Reveron is a professor of national security affairs and the EMC Informationist Chair at the U.S. Naval War College and author of Exporting Security: International Engagement, Security Cooperation, and the Changing Face of the U.S. Military. These views are his own.

Matthew Merighi is the Senior Producer for Sea Control. 

Sea Control 136 – Being SECNAV with Ray Mabus

By Matthew Merighi and Roger Misso

Join the latest episode of Sea Control for a conversation with Ray Mabus, former Secretary of the Navy (SECNAV), to talk about his experience leading the Navy. The conversation ranges from how a person becomes SECNAV, the challenges he faced in the role, and what he learned along the way.

Download Sea Control 136 – Being SECNAV with Ray Mabus

The transcript of the conversation between Secretary Mabus and Roger begins below. This transcript has been edited for length and clarity. Special thanks to Associate Producer Ryan Uljua for helping produce this episode. 

Roger: Hi, my name is Roger Misso, and I’m pleased to bring you another edition of the Sea Control podcast from the Center for International Maritime Security. In true CIMSEC tradition, we’ll ask our distinguished guest who’s here with us to introduce himself and to tell us about himself in just a few words.

Secretary Mabus: My name is Ray Mabus, I’m the immediate past Secretary of the Navy. Longest serving since WWI, from 2009 to January 20, 2017.

Roger: Thank you Mr. Secretary, it’s an honor and we’re really privileged that you joined us here today. We’re excited to talk to you and learn about your time as SECNAV. The first question I have for you is: A lot of people know how admirals and generals are promoted; they know how senators and governors and presidents are elected. They don’t necessarily know how service secretaries and political appointees are made. I was wondering if you could tell us the story of how you became Secretary of the Navy? Is it something you asked for? Is it something that someone suggested to you? How did that come about?

Secretary Mabus: In 2007 – March of 2007 – I endorsed a relatively unknown Illinois Senator named Barack Obama for president. I then went out and did about 300 events for him. I was his most traveled surrogate, ever. And when we won the election, his transition team called me and said, “Would you like to come into the administration?” And I said, “Well, it depends on the job.”

And they said, “Do you have anything in mind?”

And I said, “I want to be Secretary of the Navy.”

And they said, “Well, okay, what’s your second choice?”

And I said, “That’s pretty much it.”

I always thought that Secretary of the Navy – because I’d been in the Navy years earlier – 37 years earlier – I was commissioned in ‘69, got out in ’72 – I always thought Secretary of the Navy was probably the best appointed job in government. I had the best elected job as Governor of Mississippi, but in terms of appointed jobs, Navy Secretary is so big, it’s got a global reach, you can have a huge impact on large numbers of people and big policies, on things that happen in the world. And so that’s why I wanted it. It came from me.

Turns out, I found out it was the most requested job in the Obama administration. And so that’s how political appointees get made.

Most people believe you have to serve, but I was the first Secretary of the Navy since the early ‘90s that had served – in any branch in the military, but particularly in the Navy. John Dalton, who had been Secretary from ‘93 to ‘97, was a Naval Academy grad, but for everybody in between, nobody had served.

Roger: You mentioned you’re the longest serving SECNAV at least since…

Secretary Mabus: WWI.

Roger: 2,803 days as secretary according to Wikipedia at least, which is iron-clad information…

Secretary Mabus: It’s always true…

Roger: As you look back on your time, what do you wish you knew at the beginning of your tenure that you didn’t know then, and conversely, what do you wish you could change at the end of your time that you realized you couldn’t?

Secretary Mabus: I’ll take the first part of your question a little differently. I thought one of the great strengths I brought to Navy is that I didn’t know what the issues were – but I also didn’t bring any baggage. So I could take a fresh look.

I think that’s valuable, not just to the Navy, but anywhere. Occasionally, you need to bring in people from completely outside that can look and see what’s important that you may [overlook] because of just the day to day stuff, looking down, making sure that you’re getting the inbox cleaned out, making sure that you’re doing the stuff you need to do that day, that you don’t step back and say, “What’s important here?”

And I thought that that was a great strength coming in. The Pentagon does a really good job of getting you ready for your confirmation hearings and your job, because for several weeks in a windowless room in the Pentagon in one hour chunks from eight in the morning until five in the afternoon, I got briefed on what the Navy and the Marine Corps and the Department of the Navy were doing around the world. And as you listen to that, issues start popping up. So I picked four.

One of the lessons I learned as governor, and in any of these leadership roles, is that you’ve got to narrow your focus. You can’t try to do everything.

So I picked People – our Sailors and Marines; Platforms – the number of ships, aircraft, and systems that we have; Power and energy – to do the things we needed to do with our ships and with our aircraft; and Partnerships – internationally and partnerships with the American people.

In terms of the second part of your question, there were some things that I wish I had started working on earlier, because it really does take a long time to get some things done. One of the things is loosening up the promotion process, allowing people to not have a traditional career path, because I think that too many times we get into this “check the box” thing, where now with big data, with analytics, with metrics, you can take somebody that comes in from a very different way, you can categorize that, you can value that. So if somebody misses their Department Head tour or something, maybe they were out doing something else that was at least as valuable, maybe more valuable to the Navy, if we can keep them in.

Along those lines, I started the Career Intermission Program so you could take up to three years off, but I do wish that I had started some of these particular personnel initiatives sooner, started them maybe three years in. But it just takes, as you know, a long, long time for some of these to come to fruition. You’ve got to go through several cycles, you’ve got to give people a heads up, you’ve got to make sure that careers aren’t harmed by people that were under the old system. Now, I think it’s going to happen and I think it is happening, but I wouldn’t change anything that I did. I might have started a couple of things earlier.

Roger: In 2,803 days you worked under four different Secretaries of Defense. Secretary Gates, Secretary Panetta, Secretary Hagel, and Secretary Carter. Did your job differ at all under those four SECDEFs, and how did their different leadership styles affect the Navy?

Secretary Mabus: First, my job didn’t change. The Navy is so big. The Department of the Navy is so big. If we were a private company, we would be the second-biggest in the country in terms of employees after Wal Mart, third-biggest in terms of assets in between Exxonmobil and Berkshire Hathaway, fifth-biggest in terms of budget authority – $170 billion budget; 900,000 people. So because you’re so big, and because the service secretaries are the operators – recruit, train, and equip – the people buying things, training people, furnishing the equipment and the people that the combatant commanders need, which is why I think the service secretary’s job, particularly Secretary of the Navy, is a far better job than SECDEF, for example. Because you are so big, [you have] so much autonomy. SECDEF and DoD writ large is more policy, more advice to the president, more that role and not the direct operator role.

Now, I’m not going to get into individual personalities here, but one thing I will say is that the lessons of leadership that I’ve learned over a career in government and the private sector is that they’re exactly true. Whether Secretary of Defense or service secretary, you’ve got to focus on a few things that you can get done. You’ve got to be willing to let go; you can’t micromanage. If you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re probably in the wrong room. You need to get good people, give fairly clear direction – which came from the president, basically – and then hold people accountable.

The only one personality thing I’ll get into is Bob Gates, when he was Secretary of Defense, before I got there. Bob Gates never raised his voice. He was, as far as I could tell, always calm. Yet he fired a Secretary of the Air Force, a Secretary of the Army, a Chief of Staff of the Air Force, and a Chief of Staff of the Army. And I think part of leadership is you don’t get heated up, you don’t yell and scream and this sort of stuff, but you do hold people accountable…that brand of leadership, that calm, steady leadership but then actually taking action. You see these people yelling all the time – ”I’d fire those people!” – but then if he actually did it? Not in terms of firing people, although I did that from time to time, but in terms of trying to be a responsible leader that had people under me, trying to give clear direction and then say, “Go do it, I will hold you accountable, but I’m not going to get in your business day in and day out.”

Roger: I think that’s a great lesson for everybody to take away, certainly, one that applies regardless of rank or position or title.

Currently Secretary Stackley is the Acting Secretary of the Navy, but we don’t have a newly appointed Secretary of the Navy yet. When that person does come along, what advice might you have for them?

Secretary Mabus: Well, first, Sean Stackley is terrific. He was there with me the entire time I was there. But he is an acquisition specialist. And I think Sean would be the first person to tell you that what he loves and what he wants to get back to is acquiring things, doing the negotiations, doing what he is unsurpassed at.

And I think the fact that it’s five months into an administration almost, and you haven’t had anybody even nominated to be Secretary of the Navy, is just terrible. The lack of direction – there was an Acting Secretary of the Navy when I came in, but he had only been acting for about six weeks. But even in that six weeks, he had decisions that he had to make. Now, BJ Penn was the Acting, and he was terrific at it. He didn’t make a decision that he thought belonged rightfully to the permanent Secretary of the Navy. He would just say, “I’m not going to do this because he may not agree with it,” which I think is right.

Sean is in the same position. He’s got to make decisions, but he doesn’t know which direction the new Secretary, whomever that may be, wants to go in. And with the confirmation process, and with the Senate schedule, even if somebody is nominated today, it’s probably going to be September or October before they’re confirmed – I mean, realistically. So you don’t know.

But I guess the things that I would say:

Number one, the things that I did in terms of the four Ps that I mentioned – People, Platforms, Power, Partnerships – I did to make us better warfighters. Because we’re going to alternative energy, fewer people are going to die. We were losing a Marine killed or wounded for every 50 convoys of fuel we brought into Afghanistan. Because of the personnel moves, opening everything to women, of repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” we’re stronger. A more diverse force is a much stronger force.

And don’t look at it in ideological terms. Look at it in – is it working? And is it making the Navy and Marine Corps better warfighters? Because it can be proved that all four of those things are.

Second, pick your own stuff. Every Secretary is different, and they should be. But always have that touchstone, that if it’s not making the Navy and Marine Corps better, if it’s not making them better warfighters, if it’s not making them better at their job, then why are you doing it?

The third thing is you’re going to have to keep one eye on today, because of the things that are happening today. But if you don’t keep an eye on 10 years from now, 15 years from now…The quick example I’ll give you is in 2001, the U.S. Navy had 316 ships. By 2008, seven years later, after one of the great military buildups in our history, we were down to 278. In those seven years, the Navy only put 41 ships under contract. In my seven budget years, I put 86 ships under contract, more than twice what [the previous administration] did.

Now the day I left, there were 274 ships in the fleet, because of the decisions that had been made 10, 15, 20 years earlier. We’ll get back to 308 ships, which is what we were building toward by 2021, which is not that far away – four years away. And I guarantee you, whoever the Secretary of the Navy is then, whoever the president is, will say “Look what I did! Look at this! We got to 308 ships.”

But if whoever comes in as Secretary of the Navy now doesn’t continue building ships at this high rate, doesn’t keep doing it year in year out, then the Secretary of the Navy and the president in 2030, in 2035, won’t have the fleet that they will need to have to do the things that they need to do.

It takes a long time to build a fleet. It takes a long time to reverse a decline. And even if you don’t pay attention to it every year – it won’t happen when you’re there. Nothing the next Secretary will do, even if they stay like I did almost eight years, won’t see it in terms of platforms in particular while they’re there. But you’ve got to do it. You’ve got to do it for the Navy, you’ve got to do it for the Marine Corps, and you’ve got to do it for the country.

Roger: I think there was a sign on Joe Rochefort’s desk that said: “There’s no limit to what we can do together, so long as no one cares who gets the credit.”

Secretary Mabus: Right.

Roger: That seems pretty applicable here.

We’ve talked about the Secretary of the Navy; we’ve sort of talked about the president. Do you think there are ways that the Navy can strengthen its relationship with Congress? Are there things we can do better? Different approaches?

Secretary Mabus: I think one of the main things that the Navy or any federal agency needs to do with Congress is be completely up front, completely transparent, and not try to hide the ball. Bad news doesn’t get better if somebody else finds it out first.

Engage with them a lot. I found that was one of the things that was most helpful, is getting to know members as individuals. And again, this is a pretty nonpartisan job – I mean, the military ought to be a little separate from politics and from partisanship. And so, whether somebody’s a ‘D’ on the Hill shouldn’t really matter. And you shouldn’t just talk to the people in your party regardless of which party that is. But there’s people in Congress and, number one, they want to do the right thing I think more times than not. Number two, they need information, because they’re the ones appropriating the money. You’ve got to show to them that you’re tackling fraud, abuse, and that you’re not asking for money that isn’t going to be well spent. And so I think that transparency, along with some actual substance in terms of what you’re doing, makes all the difference.

Roger: There’s a unique challenge, as you well know, between inspiring change and then managing to produce results eventually. I think you tried to tackle this especially as it related to your Innovation Vision. How do leaders do this? How did you manage the difference between inspiration – inspiring the force – and actually creating change and seeing it through to the end? And do you think, as you look back, that the Innovation Vision has been a success so far?

Secretary Mabus: I’ll answer the last one first: yes, I do. Some of the things that we’re doing now – for instance, every time we put a ship in the yard we change the light bulbs. We had a suggestion from a Chief. It saves a destroyer 20,000 gallons of fuel a year to change light bulbs to LEDs. And it’s better light. And you don’t have to change the bulbs but every seven years instead of every six months like we do today. And you don’t have to break out the scaffolds and things like hangar decks.

But I think there are several things, one is first you’ve got to come up with the idea, you’ve got to come up with the inspiration. And it has got to be clear, and you’ve got to talk about it all the time. Whatever that is, whether it’s innovation as a general thing, or whether it’s one of the specific programs I mentioned. And you’ve got to repeat it over and over again so that people know that the leadership is committed; that if they go out on a limb in their career, or in their job, they’re going to have some top cover to do that.

Second, you’ve got to get people on the deckplates, people who are actually out there, involved. And there are lots of ways to do that. We did a crowdsourcing platform in innovation, we stood up Task Force Innovation which people compete to get on. It’s a year tour, it’s going to help your career to be on it, because you work on one project, you do a deep dive for a year, and you come out with recommendations.

Three is, as a leader, when somebody recommends something or it bubbles up through this innovation process, you’ve got to fund it. You’ve got to show people that, and then you have to recognize people. And you’ve got to explain to people over and over again, not that this is a great theory, but that this is how it’s going to affect you. This is how it’s going to affect your life. This is why it’s going make you better at your job. This is why it’s going to make the Navy better warfighters, better at what they do. We’re not just doing this for drill, we’re not just doing this because it’s a great idea. We’re doing it for a purpose – and here’s that purpose. And then when somebody comes up with one of these great ideas – recognize them. Recognize them in front of their peers, recognize them to the leadership, to show people we really will listen.

Roger: Last question, you mentioned that Governor of Mississippi is your best elected job, Secretary of the Navy your best appointed job. What’s next? What’s the next job? What’s the next task for you, after having been Secretary of the Navy for so long?

Secretary Mabus: I like change. I like being an agent of change. I like to be disruptive in a good sort of way. I like building more than I like maintaining. So I’m an advisor now with Google Ventures, in terms of what comes next. I’m helping several pre-IPO companies with: How do you manage growth? How do you instill a culture? How do you keep that culture as you’re getting bigger? How do you create a narrative about what you’re up to? Because one of the things – it doesn’t matter that you’re doing the right thing if nobody knows you’re doing the right thing, particularly the people working with you. It’s not useless, but it’s not as powerful as it should be.

I just finished teaching at Harvard Law School, Harvard Business School, and Harvard Kennedy School, and that was a wonderful experience. I’m going to continue at the Business School off-and-on this fall.

But it’s what’s over the horizon, it’s what’s next, it’s what technology or what idea is going to change this country, going to change the world for the better – that’s what I want to be involved in.

I’ll end with a Navy story. I was in Asia, talking to a Head of Navy there. And he said that the difference [between] soldiers and sailors is that the Army looks down; they look at maps, they see boundaries, they see obstacles. The Navy looks out; they see the horizon, they don’t see any boundaries, they don’t see any obstacles, and they want to see what comes next. It’s a different mindset if you join the Navy or the Marines than it is if you do anything else. And I’d like to think that’s my mindset. I want to see what’s over the horizon. I want to see what comes next. I’ve got that Navy and Marine Corps curiosity and mindset.

Roger: Well that’s something we can certainly all take to heart, Mr. Secretary. It was an honor to have you join us today, and I’m really looking forward to what’s next for you, for our Navy, and for everyone in it. So thank you very much.

Secretary Mabus: Me too, thank you.

The Honorable Ray Mabus is the longest serving Secretary of the Navy since World War I, and has also served as Governor of Mississippi, Ambassador to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and Chairman and CEO of Foamex.

Roger Misso is the Vice President of CIMSEC.

Matthew Merighi is the Senior Producer for Sea Control. 

Sea Control 135 – Rear Admiral Jeff Harley, President of the U.S. Naval War College

By Ashley O’Keefe

Join the latest episode of Sea Control for a conversation with Rear Admiral Jeff Harley, president of the U.S. Naval War College (USNWC), to talk about the ways in which the College is adapting to a rapidly changing strategic environment. We’ll learn about the USNWC’s updated mission set, their outreach to the international community, and their part in the new renaissance in wargaming, among other topics.

Download Sea Control 135 – Rear Admiral Jeff Harley, President of the U.S. Naval War College 

The transcript of the conversation between Admiral Harley and Ashley O’Keefe begins below. Special thanks to Associate Producers Roman Madaus and Ryan Uljua for helping produce this episode.

Ashley: Good afternoon, and welcome to this week’s Sea Control podcast. I’m Ashley O’Keefe, and I’m here today with Rear Admiral Jeff Harley, the president of the United States Naval War College. He’s a career surface warfare officer, and a foreign policy expert. He has a masters from Tufts – the Fletcher School – and the Naval War College, and he’s been the president here at the U.S. Naval War College (NWC) for almost a year. We’re really looking forward to this discussion. Thank you again for being here, Admiral.

Many of our listeners have heard of the U.S. Naval War College, and most know about your core mission of educating and developing future naval leaders. There have been some big developments here in the last year, with an expanding mission set and several new initiatives launched here in Newport. Can you describe some of the impetus for those changes?

RADM Harley: The big change that we have is a function of our strategic plan – meaning that we have a plan on how we’re going to keep the College relevant. When you look at the strategic environment around us, you’ll recognize the exponential change everywhere, whether it’s in leadership or in technology. The demands placed on the educational system as a result of that exponential change require that we do things to ensure our relevance. So, some of the initiatives that we have are a function of that change – of trying to keep up with that change and maintaining our relevance.

We have a number of missions here at the college, but I’d like to start out by saying that when people say we’re the U.S. Naval War College, we’re really none of those things. We’re not U.S. – we’re an international school. Of our student body, one-sixth of them, some 110 students, are international students. We are not a naval college, we’re a joint college. We have students from all over the interagency, civilian agencies, all of the different services – we are a joint college and not merely naval. We are a war college in the sense that we study war, but we truly study the constructs of peace, the understanding of policy and strategy and the interrelationships between the two, all with a goal of preventing war. And then, probably trivial, but we’re not really a college, we’re a university, because we have four or five different colleges within our system, as well as a very large research arm that includes wargaming capacity. So, we’re really none of those things –U.S. Naval War or College. If we changed our name it would be something like the ‘International Joint Peace University,’ so it would be fairly complex.

But the impetus is really the change that’s going on around us, and so we’ve expanded our missions to reflect that change and that requirement for us to maintain that relevancy. And so we also look of course for how we can make a great institution even greater.

As you said, our principal mission, the core mission upon which everything else builds, is the education and development of future leaders. That’s our student body throughput. It’s also a reflection of our distance education capability. We have hundreds of thousands of people enrolled in our distance education programs through the College of Distance Education.

In the past, we had principally four missions, and the second one would be helping to define the future Navy. Whether that’s through fleet architecture studies, or helping to red-team those studies or helping to provide the home of thought – the strategic underpinnings of those kind of dialogues.

Our third mission was to support combat readiness, and we do that through our College of Operational and Strategic Leadership. And what they do is they have a number of advise-and-assist teams that work closely with the fleets. They participate in conferences, events, and wargaming all over the world to do that.

Our fourth mission always was to strengthen global maritime partnerships, which we do on a number of levels, including the International Seapower Symposium which happens every other year, a number of regional alumni symposia, as well as the international student throughput that goes with that.

The additional missions that we’ve added in some ways reflect things that we already do, but they also reflect expansion in these areas as well. We’ve added three relatively new missions.

The first is promoting ethics and leadership. Of course, when we talk about educating and developing future leaders, we’ve always had a leadership component, but we folded in a great deal of additional study in the curriculum and are working with the Navy Leadership and Ethics Center (NLEC) to expand the impact of our education and training provided through the education system at the various touch points. That continues to expand.

The second of those three new missions is contributing historical knowledge to shape decisions. We’ve always had a strong history here reflected in world-class archives and our History Center, and we’re expanding our Maritime History Center to be a Maritime History and Research Center. We’re trying to build this into a hive of activity. Understanding history is critical. History may not repeat itself, but it certainly does rhyme, as they say. So, having a world-class history research center here is critical to our future development within the College. Of course, in the 1970s, Admiral Stansfield Turner had the Turner revolution, in which he imbued history throughout the entire curriculum, and it remains to this day part of the national treasure of being able to attend this College, the historical underpinnings that you get in terms of understanding strategy and policy.

The last mission is providing input to the international legal community. We do that through our Stockton Center. That center contributes to the international dialogue on everything from the law of the sea, to law of war, to conflict prevention and humanitarian assistance, and simply so much more. The impetus was indeed the change that’s going on around us – the need to maintain our relevance here at this extraordinary institution and these new missions are simply a reflection of that need.

Ashley: Thank you, Admiral. It must be a really exciting time to be here at the War College. When you talk about these new missions –  or at least, writing down the things that were already happening to some extent – what is some of the work that you see coming out of places like the Maritime History Center, the Stockton Center, that’s exciting to you? What do you think are some of the impacts that you see coming from those places inside of the War College?

RADM Harley: Well, I would think that we’re at the forefront of so much of the thinking in so many different areas. So, illuminating history is the contribution of the History Center, again soon-to-be renamed History and Research Center. History has that critical role in so many things we do, and again, there’s so much history embedded in the institution. But also within our curriculum, providing that historical foundation, which, often for many of the students with very technical backgrounds, is the first time that they get this extent of the historical underpinning. And then the Stockton Center contributes an enormous amount at the maritime level, the national level, and the international level. On the issues of the day – key, critical issues that you see every day, such as the law of the sea issues in the South China Sea, vis-a-vis China, or the law of war, or conflict prevention, or the interfaces with the United Nations… it’s pretty extraordinary, the things that we’re doing.

I’ll just torture you with this idea of using those kind of examples of history and of the international law center as simply being a reflection of the contributions that the College makes at the national level. We’re continuing to expand how we ensure that relevancy of those seven missions. We’re doing that through what I call the “izes.”

The first of those is that we’re going to continue to operationalize the Naval War College. We’re doing that by enhancing the operations analysis that we do in concert with the Naval Warfare Development Command as well as the modeling and simulation that takes place within the Pentagon and other places. We’re operationalizing in terms of the way that we’re adding additional warfighting education to our curriculum. We’re adding particularly in terms of sea control and all-domain access. We’ve reflected the strategic environment in which we live through the stand-up of the Russia Maritime Studies Institute here last fall so now we have world-class experts in a critical area of geopolitical interest for our nation.

We also are navalizing our curriculum. We’ve always been a joint college, at least for the past several decades, but I think that we’ve become reliant on this idea that sea control is something that you already have, and in today’s world of anti-access capabilities, it’s really important that we teach sea control and maritime capabilities, all in accordance with the Chief of Naval Operations’ Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority.

We’re also futurizing the College. We’ve got our expanded and much more robust cyber curriculum, we’re teaching unmanned systems, we’re teaching space, we’re teaching the new and emerging technologies that influence the strategic environment. Within that futurization initiative is the creation of an Institute for Future Warfare Studies, which is going to allow us to look 30 or more years out into the future, instead of the tendency to look a very short period of time out, because of exponential change. But you can study future probabilities, and you can look that far out, and you can look at force architectures that would be required to work in that environment thirty years from now.

And then the last thing that we’re doing in terms of those “izes” is that we’re internationalizing our College. And by that I mean that we’re expanding the international interfaces that we have and we’re increasing the number of regional alumni symposia that we execute with our international  graduates in between our International Seapower Symposia that we conduct every two years. We’ve increased the number of Chief of Naval Operations International Fellows that we have onboard as part of our faculty. In fact, just a month ago, we brought on the former head of navy from Japan, Admiral Takei, so now Professor Takei is part of our faculty and staff. He brings a great deal of warfighting and educational experience to help shape the contours of the education that we provide both to our student body throughput, but also to our wargaming, and to our advise and assist teams that are really all over the world. This fall, we hope to bring on board the former head of navy from Norway. In doing so, we’ll have the Atlantic experience, the Arctic exposure, and obviously some NATO experience. So that will increase our CNO international fellows to four, and we’ll look to continue to expand that program because of the great skill sets that they can bring to the College and to the education for our individual students.

So those four “izes” really put into context the means and the lines of effort by which we aim to increase the relevance of this great institution.

Ashley: It’s exciting that as the College expands and creates value on so many different levels that it’s not insular, it’s really very global in perspective. And many of our listeners are in fact not in the U.S. – they’re foreign naval officers, they’re otherwise interested maritime security people. So when we think about how the College does interact, I understand that you take in foreign naval officers for education, but what are some other places where the College is collaborating internationally, maybe you could talk about the regional alumni symposia and what those bring to the table.

RADM Harley: The big effort that we make is the International Seapower Symposium here in Newport. The next one will be in the fall of 2018. That will be a largely attended event; it’ll have something on the order of 85 heads of navy here. To keep the momentum going between the International Seapower Symposia, we do hold these regional alumni symposia. About a month ago, we held one in Lima, Peru. It was focused on the Americas – all the way from Canada to South America. Simply extraordinary – we talk regional and local issues, we bring world-class experts in from the respective nations as well as from the U.S. Naval War College.

It helps us maintain the alumni relations and develop a deeper understanding of the issues that affect the regions. And we rotate, throughout the cycle, to get to all the different areas of the world. Our next one is scheduled for this fall. It will be in the Middle East, and then we’ll be in Asia in the spring, then we’ll do the International Seapower Symposium next fall, then keep the rotation going between Africa and Europe. So it’s a pretty exciting opportunity to maintain those alumni relations, and their connections to the College that many of our international student graduates have come to know and love and respect for the contributions that we make in this international dialogue.

Ashley: One more last hot topic before I let you go, sir. Everybody loves to talk about wargaming. It’s been hot since, I suppose, Sims and Luce, but today we’re talking about it as well. So what are some of the new developments? I see it pop up a couple of times in some of those new mission areas that you talked about – could you maybe just explain a little bit more what you’re doing here?

RADM Harley: I think you’re right, there’s certainly been a renaissance in wargaming, led by Deputy Secretary Work in the Pentagon, and we’ve revitalized our wargaming program in a number of different ways. We’re really focusing hard on integrating the wargaming through the ops analysis community. By that I mean with the folks who do modeling and simulation and those who do experimentation. So, there is a greater effort to have that level of integration, so that your wargaming is informed by the experimentation that’s taking place. The experimentation that you’re doing is informed by the wargaming that you’re doing – and apply that same argument to the interfaces with modeling and simulation.

We’re also slowly expanding the amount of wargaming that we do with the student body. We of course have groups that are student-led. That’s essentially their elective while they’re here at the College. But we’re trying to get wargaming exposure to every student who comes through this great college, so everybody will have an opportunity to participate in wargaming.

We’re expanding the analysis that we’re doing in the wargaming, putting the appropriate focus on the quality of the analysis to make the quality of the wargames even better through the strategic enterprise of our Navy. The scheduling of the gaming has been refined to the point to offer the optimal output for the capacity that we have, and integration with all of the other entities that do wargaming as well. So you’re absolutely right, there’s so much going on with our wargaming, with our research, all integrated into the broader Navy analytic agenda. We’re excited about the ability to imbue each and every student with a fundamental understanding of  the contributions that wargaming can make.

Ashley: Well, sir, I think that you’re going to get a spike in applicants here as our CIMSEC listeners all get excited about the things that the College is doing, and just how vibrant this community is here. Is there anything else that you wanted to cover or leave our listeners with anything to close?

RADM Harley: Well, I’m humbled and honored to serve here at your USNWC. We do look forward to being able to maintain the dialogue with the international community, providing appropriate strategic thinking to our national leadership, particularly on maritime issues. We do so much to contribute to that dialogue and we’re just honored and humbled to be a part of that dialogue that takes place in this most demanding and complex of times.

Ashley: Thank you again for your time this afternoon, Admiral!

Rear Admiral Jeff Harley is the President of the U.S. Naval War College.

Ashley O’Keefe is the CIMSEC Secretary for 2016-2017. She is a U.S. Navy surface warfare officer. 

Sea Control 134 – The South China Sea with Vasco Becker-Weingberg

By Matthew Merighi

Join the latest episode of Sea Control for a conversation with Professor Vasco Becker-Weingberg of Universidad Nova in Lisbon, Portugal, about the South China Sea. The interview, conducted by Roger Hilton of the University of Kiel, address topics including the role of the Law of the Sea, the oil sector, private security contractors, and everything in between.

Download Sea Control 134 – South China Sea with Vasco Becker-Weinberg

The transcript of the conversation between Vasco Becker-Weinberg (Vasco) and Roger Hilton (Roger) begins below. Special thanks to Associate Producer Ryan Uljua for helping produce this episode.

Roger: Hello CIMSEC listeners and welcome to another edition of the Sea Control podcast series. My name is Roger Hilton,  and I am a non-resident academic fellow for at the Institute for Security Policy at Kiel University. With no shortages of geopolitical crises erupting today, our podcast could not come at a more timely moment. One global topic that is especially prone to unpredictability is the evolving list of security threats dominating the South China Sea (SCS). Thankfully, I have the pleasure of hosting Vasco Becker-Weinberg as our guest for this episode today. Vasco is a law of the sea professor at the Universidad Nova de Lisboa, and a coordinator of the LLM program on the maritime economy and the law of the sea at Nova. His contribution to the Routledge Handbook of Naval Strategy and Security outlines the very security issues dominating the SCS. Vasco, thank you for joining us.

Vasco: It’s my pleasure.

Roger: After reading your piece, it is clear that there are a litany of issues in the SCS outside of the region’s well-publicized territorial disputes.To lay the groundwork for the conversation, can you start by explaining to our listeners how the maritime space is currently organized, and some of the threats that we are going to discuss today?

Vasco: We’ll probably focus on maritime jurisdiction in the SCS,  also perhaps refer to the seabed activities in the disputed maritime areas, meaning what is the regime applicable to these areas, and current threats–perhaps piracy, armed robbery, and weapons of mass destruction (WMD)–must be addressed as well.

On the issue of maritime jurisdiction, just briefly, it’s important that our listeners understand that this important maritime area is not no-man’s-land in the sense that this dispute has the result of two or more overlapping claims. These claims have to be based on the legal title recognized by international law and claims have to be made clearly to other states. What we see today in the case of the SCS is that some of these claims or claiming states, to be precise, neither put forward the basis on which they make their claims (i.e. their respective legal title), and second, what is the location (precisely) of the disputed maritime areas. So therefore this creates a sort of cloud of legal uncertainty regarding some of these claims.

To make matters even complex, our listeners should know that different offshore features have different legal regimes. So, the legal codification of the feature as an island or as a rock, for example, has different consequences in the type of maritime zones it can project. When we refer to maritime zones, essentially, we refer to territorial sea, to an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). So in the case of a rock, a rock can project a territorial sea (TTS) up to 12 NM but if the legal status of this feature is an island or should be considered an island, then it can actually project a 200 mile EEZ. So the differences are actually quite significant. Of course, the tendency is that claiming states would always consider these offshore features to be islands, so that they can actually project greater maritime zones, and therefore, there’s an inherent stress between different claiming states between claimed offshore features. And in this respect, recent international jurisprudence has been extremely helpful in clarifying exactly what the relevant criteria in terms of what is a rock or an island. But let me point out that although there is recent jurisprudence on this matter, the debate is still very much alive.

When it comes to jurisdiction of states, it’s important to understand that the further you go from land towards the sea, the rights of states are not as intense as they are closer to shore. So, in the territorial sea of 12NM, that’s the first fringe of sea that’s closer to land, and states exercise more rights of sovereignty. But when we refer to sovereignty at sea, it’s not the same thing as sovereignty on land. There is no concept of private property at sea, for example, and you cannot cross the territory of another state. There is no right for you to do so without that state’s permission. Whereas in the TTS, for example, there is the right of innocent passage for certain vessels that comply with the conditions listed in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). There’s no similarity between this right of innocent passage and any other right on land.

Then, forgetting about the contiguous zone, then after the TTS is the EEZ. The EEZ has its own special regime because it is neither TTS nor is it part of the high seas. It allows you to develop economic activities. It’s not exclusive, it’s economic. There’s very little that gives the state exclusivity in the EEZ. And finally, on the seabed and subsoil adjacent to the baselines of the TTS, we have the continental shelf. The continental shelf has been recognized as existing beyond the will of the coastal state to declare a continental shelf. It means that state exercises exclusive rights of sovereignty for the purpose of exploration of the resources of the shelf. There’s an erroneous perception some might have that the whole continental shelf is an extension of land sovereignty from the coastal state.It’s not that. It’s only focused on resources. And to end on a simple note, the current UNCLOS was developed on a resource-based approach, and a sectoral approach. Therefore, the whole issue of economic issues at sea and environmental resources is quite central to how the current legal regime has developed in recent years.

Roger: Thanks for such a comprehensive introduction. Undoubtedly, all of the technical and legal information you outlined is critical to understanding the activities in the SCS. It’s definitely a lot for the states in question to consider. Let’s get to some specifics now. As you state, tensions among the claiming states have shrunk the prospects for the delimitation of boundaries either via agreement or compulsory mechanisms. Against this backdrop, how do states interact legally in this gridlock?

Vasco: Well it’s true that it has become very difficult for states to agree on a compulsory set of mechanisms – meaning, resorting to a third party or any other means of settling the dispute. On the other hand, the fundamental reason why states have not been able to come to an understanding or an agreement is precisely  the lack of clarity regarding some claims and some legal titles.

So what are states bound to do if they can’t reach an agreement? International law is quite clear in defining these obligations. The first principle is the preservation of the maritime environment. In the disputed area, claiming states can’t act as if it’s a no-man’s land and have different conduct in that area. So they have a fundamental obligation to protect the marine environment, which states are bound to. Another obligation is that of the freedom and safety of navigation. Just because it is a disputed maritime area, the rights of third-party states are not shrunken. So guaranteeing that other states can freely exercise the freedom of navigation is extremely important. Unfortunately, what happens is that this sort of competitive behavior has developed in recent years in the SCS, particularly with oil and gas, therefore placing offshore installations that are neither identified, or were placed without notifying other states that this was happening. Of note, in a disputed maritime area, no state may develop the resources of that area without the consent of all states that are also claiming that same area, since a claim to that area is also a claim to those resources. So, a state, if he wants to develop, he must first seek the consent of all other states. Of course, this is not an easy task. Another case that is also important is that if a state finds out that there are important marine resources in a disputed area, he has the obligation to inform the other states that these resources exist.

How can we develop these obligations? Based on two fundamental principles of international law. First, good faith, of acting with good faith, and the principle of cooperation.

Roger: The legal dynamic in theory seems to work, but in practice it might be overshadowed by the disproportionate capabilities of the competing states. It’s undeniably a difficult challenge to preserve the diverse ecosystem of the SCS while simultaneously developing the lucrative trade in the region. That trade will only increase as the region becomes a hub for global finance. This is the perfect segway into the dangers of nationalism being injected into the negotiations for disputed areas. I think you’d agree that this hinders progress during negotiations, as any international compromise can be interpreted domestically as a form of capitulation. Should the listeners expect to see more of this in negotiations, or will it diminish moving forward?

Vasco: You put the question in an interesting way. If we are focusing on the SCS, but if you look at many disputes around the world, first, there’s no obligation to draw maritime boundaries, and many boundaries in the world are still pending the limitation or any form of settlement. You know, there are many examples. And in many of these cases, because it’s part of defending the territorial integrity of any state, throughout history governments have used nationalism to create a sense that there’s no giving up of claims or of territory. So, this nationalistic rhetoric is precisely to reinstate their claim for territorial integrity. 

But having said this, it’s interesting to see that in one case, of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), two years ago the PRC government announced the Belt and Road initiative, which also included the Maritime Silk Road initiative. These are an interesting approach by the PRC, and involves strong nationalistic rhetoric. It’s important to understand that all states in the SCS have their own nationalistic rhetoric at home. This new approach, the belt and road initiative, is precisely focused on economic development and increasing efficiency in transportation of goods, not only in the region but beyond. It involves connecting port infrastructures, making sure there’s security and safety, and these are all important for creating a dynamic of cooperation between states. So, if you want, things can be thought of in this way –I think states will continue this rhetoric, even though it’s not helpful in its outcome, and secondly, I think the tendency will be to continue developing some sort of cooperation between both claimant states and regions. The threats that claiming states and regions are facing are common to both, and cooperation will become an inevitability.

Roger: Maybe what distinguishes the SCS, which involves so much competition, is that the current operation of jurisdiction in the SCS is a minefield to navigate on a daily basis. So in your opinion, the functional link you mentioned earlier, it seems to serve its purpose of facilitating the compartmentalization of relations, but can this model be sustainable long term? Where are the shortcomings likely to be exposed?

Vasco: The international law isn’t without its shortcomings. Where many skeptics of international law focus is on the lack of effectiveness of international law to uphold its own decisions. We saw that recently with an arbitration between 2 states in the SCS where one state refused to participate, or to comply with the award. Therefore, one can very well ask ‘ok, we have international law, the obligations are clear, but then do states just continue doing what they are doing’? But that’s how it is. The global awareness of maritime disputes and the need to continue increasing cooperation will lead to the need for agreement on a specific dispute to take place. The problem of the SCS regarding other disputes is the intricacy of the different claims, and of course the importance of the SCS for international trade. Therefore, it’s quite a complex situation.

Is it sustainable to continue with the current dispute? Well, there are many cases around the world where disputes regarding maritime boundaries have existed for centuries and states nonetheless have had an entente cordiale, some sort of understanding to allow them to continue. It is important to look to the Law of the Sea and to the Convention to understand that the convention gives us the mechanisms not only to promote cooperation but also to help with the very important element of saving face.

I’m referring specifically to joint development, which is an alternative to states that do not agree on a maritime boundary, either by agreement or by compulsory settlement mechanism, but still manage to find this legal solution. It is not prejudicial and has no bearing on the claims they have made. This allows the two states to achieve economic development in a disputed maritime area. Then of course this would be an optimal result, but there are many different types of agreements states can make before they get to this optimal agreement. For example, making sure that there are mechanisms for 2 states that claim a disputed area to implement environmental assessment mechanisms that allow both of them to act in a way that preserves and protects the marine environment. This may not be a satisfactory answer to your listeners, but it’s the one that’s possible given the current legal framework.

Roger: Against this complicated legal backdrop, you mention that while disputed areas aren’t subject to the sovereignty of a coastal state, that does not mean that seabed activities are exempt from an internationally binding legal regime, which is a positive, both in terms of trade and protection of the environment. Can you elaborate on the procedural duties of this in an international law context–the difference between the lack of jurisdiction in disputed areas and seabed activities?

Vasco: The first thing we should be aware of is that there are thousands of offshore installations at sea. In many parts of the world, these installations are located in areas under the jurisdiction of a particular state, and therefore they’re accounted for. We know where and what they are, and we can monitor the safety procedures they’ve implemented. For example, around each installation there should be a security zone–not only to prevent some sort of collision, but also to ensure that the activity itself can take place safely.

In the SCS, we don’t have as much information as we would desire. Firstly, many of these offshore installations are in disputed maritime areas–very difficult to reach considering the military tension around them, and secondly, some of these installations have actually passed their service date, more than 30 years, and some have been abandoned, they’re just sitting there at sea. This can represent a hazard not only to the environment, but also to safety of navigation.

International law provides us with rules for states in these conditions. Firstly, the law of the sea is the law of the continental shelf. So, it’s impossible to construe the option that a state could be allowed to develop the resources in an area and not be responsible for exactly how those resources are developed. So the lack of clear jurisdiction doesn’t mean that all states concerned don’t have the obligation to protect the environment (and this is very clear and specific measures under international law) and also to protect the freedom of navigation. For example, if you have an offshore installation abandoned, then the state that put the installation there in the first place is responsible for all damages resulting from that offshore installation, be that complying with the obligation of dumping waste to the sea, or if there’s a spill after it’s no longer in use. The state that placed that installation will have to be responsible under international law.

Roger: It’s all very relevant and valid. As the region is developing, it’s a very new experience that it is responsible for upholding environmental standards. We’re hoping that with more time and experience, it will get a little more familiar and rigidity at administering these practices. In your text, in the post-Deepwater Horizon era, you identified how the EU and its member states have tried adopting common standards without impacting the jurisdiction affecting the national maritime areas. This is also backed up by UNCLOS Art. 192, which says that all states, including the landlocked states, have the duty and obligation to protect and preserve the maritime environment. Can you detail the EU’s practices, and if this model is realistically transferrable to the states in the SCS?

Vasco: Well the EU does not exercise jurisdiction over the maritime areas belonging to its member states. It does, regarding one activity, fisheries, and regarding other activities, it shares confidence, if you want to put it simply, with the member states. But the rights of coastal states, regarding maritime zones, that too stays with the EU member states. What happened was until we had the Deepwater Horizon incident, the notion of the financial implications and magnitude of the environmental impact were completely unrealistic compared to what we saw actually happened there, both in terms of indemnities that have been established, and other standards. It’s important to know that Deepwater Horizon was not in compliance with many international standards, but the problem there was of significant human error.

So the EU, after what we saw, took and made security of offshore installations and safety a priority for the EU, and also put forth legislation for states to implement at the national level. Another important organization putting forth valuable guidelines is the International Maritime Organization. All of these efforts made at a global level also have an impact on the SCS. In the SCS, for example, ASEAN has taken to heart the preservation of the maritime environment and encouraged member states to adopt measures. But you can’t really compare. What we have in the EU in terms of political integration is quite unique compared with other world regions.

Roger: Could standards not rise without political integration?

Vasco: That’s precisely what we’re going to say. There is today a very clear understanding of the standards around the world. It would be very easy to determine certain options and see whether they’re operating within the international legal framework. There’s consent given by all relevant states, that they would abide by those standards, and subject to inspection and so on and so forth. The problem is there is very little information and there could possibly be much more about these offshore installations. So yes, they’re subject to international standards and the industry itself is very different these days than it was several years back. The industry is very aware, and continues to increase its own self-regulation. Standards these days in most places around the world are very high.

Roger: It’s hard to compare the two, but moving forward even without the political integration, we can all wish that they will collectively voluntarily want to raise the standards for the general use of the area.

Vasco: There’s another element to this. The fact is that many oil companies around the world actually have their headquarters outside of the region. I’m thinking of oil companies based in the EU. We now have international jurisprudence and domestic courts where you are allowed to sue the mother company that isn’t located in that specific country where it is not upholding the level of standards, but back home. For example, if the company which is based in the EU opens a branch in another country where perhaps the levels of compliance are lower than those in the home state, the parent company can actually be sued for failing to exercise due diligence, or failing to comply with international standards. So the approach can be sometimes very frustrating, but we have a series of new mechanisms in development to make sure that when a company goes abroad, it doesn’t do whatever it feels like, but complies with the standards of its home state. These situations have rapidly developed and you’re seeing more and more situations where parent companies are actually sued for violations outside the home state.

Roger: Good to know there are some mechanisms to keep companies in check if the political integration isn’t there on the national level. Shifting gears, we’ve spoken about the legal governance and how seabed activities are conducted in disputed maritime areas. There are some major hard security issues that we would be foolish not to talk about. The rise of professional piracy, as well as the menace of trafficking weapons are all increasing substantially. Consequently, both of the issues are not confined to the SCS but to a global area. Let’s start with trafficking of WMD. What has the response been in the SCS?

Vasco: What we’ve seen in recent years is the increasing number of private military security companies. Statistics show that ships that have members of private security companies significantly reduce the cases of incidents occurring. These cases often occur when security personnel are not onboard the ships. But it’s a double-edged sword. Although international law recognizes this is the situation–there are these companies operating onboard the ships–it raises the problem of the presence of firearms aboard ships and the training of these elements is complicated. And their own role on the ship  such as their relationship with the captain, the crew. It creates a lot of added difficulty.

Nonetheless, similar to what happened with the oil and gas industry, private security companies are increasing their own self-regulation. This can be a huge risk  for them if they’re not applying best standards when defending or being present onboard a ship. At the end of the day, responsibility falls with the flag state. The flag state has the obligation that these companies operating onboard the vessel actually comply with the laws of that flag states. Regarding the protection of human life, that is fundamental. Some states, there are many European states that don’t allow the presence of firearms and ammo onboard their own vessels. So there is some request by the shipping industry that many states develop the legal framework allowing the presence of military and security personnel onboard the ship.

The other element of response that’s been extremely effective is increasing level of sharing of information and intelligence and cooperation between national agencies. It’s not possible to control every ship at sea. Or, even far more impossible, to put armed guards on every ship. Flag states can’t put a guard or policeman or army personnel on every single ship. If you look at what happened the anti-piracy efforts that were undertaken by the EU and others, particularly in the Gulf of Aden, even with all the military power that was put into place in the region, we were only capable of monitoring very small portions of the space. Therefore, it is a very complicated issue and probably private security companies are the most efficient way to combat the threat. In addition to sharing of information and intelligence, which will make it possible to combat in a holistic way the proliferation of WMD.

Roger: This is all true, but it puts both commercial carriers and nautical tourism in a very difficult situation based on the security concerns. The listeners should take note of two very important cases. In 2008, the motor vessel Sirius Star was hijacked by pirates and was carrying oil cargo valued at $100 million USD, which was later negotiated for a year later in the millions sum, the largest ransom ever paid. So this is on the commercial side. In the other issue, in regards to the private security companies, some off-duty Italian marines inadvertently killed some Indians who appeared to be assuming a negative position in February of 2012. So how do companies manage security for their cargo and their tourists against such dangerous security concerns?

Vasco: Well, this is a very difficult question. In the first case, regarding the robbery of oil, that can only be fought efficiently and stopped if we try to find out how this practice has developed. You’ll be surprised to find out that in some parts of the world, for example in the Gulf of Guinea, there is a huge connection between the robbery of oil, piracy, and the financing of terrorism in other states of the the Gulf of Guinea, and also connection with illegal unreported and unregulated fishing. But that probably would take us to an entirely different podcast.

The problem really is that states have to call into port to supply. So, the safety and security of port infrastructure is also a key element to ensure that ships can call into port in a secure manner. But the professionalism of pirates and those committing robbery at sea is also increasing tremendously. Therefore, it makes it even more difficult for traditional players of the shipping industry to combat this without the support of a larger network. Meaning cooperation not only between states but also between agencies and those working at sea.

Regarding the Enrica Lexie case, this is very interesting because in this case there were two marines aboard the ship, and so the issue of diplomatic immunity has also been raised. Many questions were asked not only regarding the position taken by Italy as the responsible state, but also India, because not only was it Indian nationals who were mistakenly shot, but the area where the incident took place is also a disputed area. Since then, some sort of agreement has been reached. But this is a phenomena that we’ll continue to witness if states don’t establish legal binding guidelines for personnel aboard their vessels. At the end of the day, the flag state will be accountable if it does not exercise its obligation of due diligence to make sure the people on the ship are qualified to carry arms and use them if necessary onboard a ship.

Roger: It seems there’s a bit of tension between the increased communication and cooperation between states and the private sector, which on an ad hoc basis might want to continue with private security companies. Despite international law considering the use of force as a last resort, it appears the great challenge governing private security companies is the legal harmonization, as you said. Based on all the research out there, it doesn’t look like there’s a standard operating procedure that’s in the pipeline that might be able to produce real guidelines about how universally they should operate with arms aboard the shipping vessels.

Vasco: The IMO has made significant efforts and has put forth important guidelines that IMO member states should implement. But the situation is very complicated when you consider the size of trade. Maritime trade will increase. We’re now seeing super containers and as more countries have access to industrialization and become exporters of goods, we have no other option than to create and implement these guidelines in all parts of the world. Without them it can become extremely complicated. It’s a two-edged sword, as I said. We know that the presence of these private security companies is extremely useful and effective, but on the other hand we still see some states reluctant to enact legislation and enforce guidelines onboard their ships. Without the flag state doing that, these military private security companies can find themselves in a very dubious situation.

Roger: We’ll have to keep a close eye on this. As the listeners have heard, there’s no shortage of issues for the SCS. Do you have any last operational takeaways for the listeners?

Vasco: The SCS is not very different from other parts of the world, except that the awareness of international public opinion has become greater. The Gulf of Guinea situation is extremely complex, but the difference between the Gulf of Guinea and the SCS is that in the Gulf of Guinea we’ve witnessed a lot of maritime delimitation, initiatives, joint development, etc. So although the situation can be extremely complex and even seem hopeless, there are also in the SCS many positive examples of not only regional cooperation but also bilateral cooperation. However, there’s a road still that has to be done, and one of the key elements that will contribute is if states undertook and implemented many of the agreements that they’ve already addressed. I think that would be a positive development if states plus ASEAN and China would implement the principles they agreed to many years ago–like the 2002 Code of Conduct, and eventually, the Code of Conduct that would safeguard that these obligations would be rightfully implemented.

Roger: Vasco, amidst all the global turbulence, it’s nice to see that you’re seeing a couple of positives. Hopefully they’re not too overshadowed by all the negatives that dominate the press. No doubt your feedback today gave us a lot to think about in the SCS and globally. You can find more information in the Routledge Handbook online. Thank you again, Vasco, and goodbye.

Vasco Becker-Weinberg, Dr. iur. (Hamburg), LL.M (Lisbon), is a professor at the Faculty of Law of the Universidade Nova de Lisboa and a qualified lawyer at the Portuguese Bar Association. He is the coordinator of the LL.M program on Law and Sea Economy and is undertaking post-doctoral studies in public international law at NOVA. He was previously legal advisor to the Portuguese Secretary of the Sea (2013-2015) and a full-time scholar at the International Max Planck Research School for Maritime Affairs at the University of Hamburg (2008-2012).

Roger Hilton is from Canada and a graduate of the Diplomatic Academy of Vienna where he holds a Master’s Degree in Advanced International Studies. He has previous experience at the Office of the State Minister of Georgia for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration as well as with the delegation of the Kingdom of Belgium at the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe. Since 2017 he is a Non-Resident Academic Fellow at the Center for Maritime Strategy & Security at the Institute for Security Policy at Kiel University in Germany. His research publications concentrate on transatlantic affairs and the post-Soviet sphere. 

Matthew Merighi is the Senior Producer for Sea Control. He is also Assistant Director of Maritime Studies at the Fletcher School at Tufts University and CEO of Blue Water Metrics.