Category Archives: Sea Control

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

Sea Control 143 – Cyber Threats to Navies with Dr. Alison Russell

By Matthew Merighi 

Join us for the latest episode of Sea Control for a conversation with Dr. Alison Russell of Merrimack College about navies and their relationship with cyber. It’s about the distinct layers of cybersecurity, how navies use them to enhance their capabilities, and the challenges in securing and maintaining that domain.

Download Sea Control 143 – Cyber Threats to Navies with Alison Russell 

This interview was conducted by the Institute for Security Policy at Kiel University. A transcript of the interview between Alison Russell (AR) and Roger Hilton (RH) is below. The transcript has been edited for clarity. Special thanks to Associate Producer Cris Lee for producing this episode.

RH: Hello and Moin Moin, Center for International Maritime Security listeners. I am Roger Hilton, a nonresident academic fellow at the Institute for Security Policy at Kiel University, welcoming you back for another edition of the Sea Control series podcast. Did any listeners read the news on twitter, message your friend on Facebook, or even do some mobile banking? Are you streaming this podcast for your enjoyment? If you did any of the above, like myself, you are dependent on the internet. So logically, based on this fact, it should come as no surprise that contemporary navies are as well. Naval technological capabilities and strategies have exponentially evolved from the nascent beginnings. Steam ships have been replaced by nuclear powered carriers while cannons have been substituted for intercontinental ballistic missiles. No doubt the power of modern navies is awesome, and as a result, their dependency and reliance on the cyber realm must not be overlooked.

Consequently, does this interconnectedness between hardware and software in fact leave 21st century navies more exposed to attacks from invisible torpedoes than actual physical ones? Here to help us navigate the minefield of the cyber threats facing both naval strategy and security is Dr. Allison Russell, she’s a professor of political science and international relations at Merrimack College in Massachusetts and a nonresident researcher at the Center for Naval Analyses. In addition, she’s the author of two books, Cyber Blockade and more recently, Strategic A2AD in Cyberspace. Dr. Russell, thanks for coming aboard today.

AR: It is great to be speaking with you Roger. Thank you for having me in your program today.

RH: Well, let’s get right into it. There’s no doubt that cyberspace and threats associated with it are hot topics today. While much of the news coverage on cyber threats is focused on hackers spreading disinformation, or even potentially gaining access to critical infrastructure, can you provide an initial overview of the role cyber plays in the contemporary maritime environment and as well as some of the menaces targeting the Navy?

AR: I would be glad to. As you pointed out, much of the attention on cyber threats focuses on hackers, data thefts, cyber espionage, and information or influence campaigns. And those are important. But these really are not the biggest threats in the maritime environment. The threats naval forces face in a maritime environment vary depending upon the part of cyberspace we’re talking about.

See, there are four levels in cyberspace: the physical, the logic, the information, and the user layers. The physical layer is the physical infrastructure, the hardware that underpins the global grid that is the basis of cyberspace. Although we tend to think of the internet and cyberspace as wireless or in the cloud, it is very much reliant upon physical infrastructure at its most basic level. Fiber optic cables including undersea cables, and satellites comprise some of the more prominent features of the physical layers of cyberspace.

The second layer is the logic layer. This is the central nervous system of cyberspace. This is where the decision-making and routing occurs to send and receive messages to retrieve files, really to do anything in cyberspace. The request must be processed through the logic layer. The key element of the logic layer are things such as DNS, the Domain Name Servers, and internet protocols.

The third level is the information level. This is what we see when we go on the internet: Websites, chats, emails, photos, documents, apps. All of that is the information posted at this level. But it is reliant on the previous two levels in order to function.

Lastly, the fourth level is the user level: the humans who are using the devices and are interacting with cyberspace. They matter because cyberspace is a man-made entity and its topography can be changed by people. Cyberspace is critical to modern naval strategy and security because it underpins the essential communications networks and capabilities of naval forces. And adversaries will seek to destroy or degrade those capabilities in the event of a conflict. Cyberspace enables robust command and control, battlespace awareness, intelligence gathering, and precision targeting, which are at the core of mission success. These days navies must defend and maintain their freedom to operate within cyberspace in order to be effective forces at sea.

RH: Thanks for the brief outline. As I mentioned earlier the identity of the navy has changed greatly since its original inception into conflict theaters. Accordingly, the advent of cyberspace has added an entirely different dynamic to the field. And you mention some of them as well. Consequently, what are some of the new responsibilities that have arrived with the integration of cyber to navies? And in general, what is the role the navy plays within a larger national security architecture?

AR: The cyber capabilities are really integrated at all levels at the naval mission. So, the core capabilities navies seek to provide are the blue-water capabilities of forward presence, deterrence, control, sea control, and power projection, as well as maritime security and humanitarian assistance or disaster response. All of these core capabilities are supported and enhanced by cyber capabilities. Thus, the full spectrum of naval operations and the corresponding naval strategy involve cyber capabilities today.

For more technologically advanced navies, these cyber capabilities are so integrated into weapon systems and platforms, that they’ve become essential to full spectrum warfighting operations. For the less technologically advanced navies, cyber capabilities can still play an important role in augmenting other capabilities by providing command and control and acting as a force multiplier in certain situations. In addition to their blue water role, naval forces are responsible for providing cyber capabilities to support combatant commanders’ objectives in defense of national information networks and for fleet deployment. They are force providers to joint and interagency operations. They are supporters of the national mission and blue-water warriors all at the same time. As a result, they must have a holistic, full spectrum understanding of the role cyberspace plays from tactics to operations to grand strategy.

RH: That was a great encompassing of it. As you can see it comes full circle when you compare conflict theatres to human assistance missions which is great you mentioned. At the same time Dr. Russell, you cite out naval strategies are in a period of transition at the moment. Could you elaborate on these implications with regard to how cyberspace is impacting the current formation of national naval strategies?

AR: Yes, naval strategies are in a period of transition with regards to cyberspace. Most navies acknowledge the importance of cyberspace as a critical enabler, but there’s emerging recognition that cyberspace is also much more than that. Ultimately, cyberspace is a game changer for naval forces and security forces in general. All phases of conflict now have a cyber dimension. From phase zero planning to phase five stabilization and reconstruction, cyberspace affects all levels of war, from strategic to the operational to the tactical. All types of conflict are affected by cyberspace including conflicts in the other four domains. For naval forces in particular, cyberspace enables new kinds of fires: Cyber-fires. It improves situational awareness and enhances command and control.

It has also opened the door to new threats. Anti-access and area denial operations, improved targeting capabilities by adversaries, and presenting more targets for attack in the form of cyber-attacks. As naval forces adopt next technologies to leverage the unique capabilities of cyberspace, reliable access to cyberspace is a necessity. Assuring access to cyberspace and confident C2 for deployed forces regardless of the threat environment is a top priority for the U.S. Navy as well as for many others.

RH: There’s no doubt based on your texts and some of the other content out there that reliable access seems to be driving naval strategy and security, especially among the technically advanced navies. So thank you for mentioning that to the listeners.

We spoke about technologically advanced navies and less technologically advanced navies. To demonstrate some of the diversity in strategy, can you provide a quick comparison about how some of the national strategies have integrated cyberspace in their doctrine?

AR: Yes, I think a comparison of the U.S. and Russia helps to illustrates this.

RH: You couldn’t have picked two better countries to compare at the moment, so thank you for that selection, Dr. Russell.

AR: (Laughs) Well, there’s a lot of interesting things happening there. The current U.S. maritime strategy, the 2015 Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower, has incorporated cyberspace and cyber power into that strategy in a very robust way. The strategy talks exclusively about all domain access and cross-domain synergy. By which it means, synchronizing battlespace awareness with all the layers and sensors and intelligence within that, and synchronizing that with the short access to networks. Offensive and defensive cyber operations, electromagnetic maneuver warfare, and integrated kinetic and non-kinetic fires. All of this is apparent in U.S. maritime strategy as essential elements in supporting the naval mission. And it’s all spelled out.

In contrast, there is very little information that is publicly available about how cyberspace effects the Russian maritime strategy. At last check, Russian maritime strategy does not directly address cyberspace and cyber security as a maritime or naval responsibility. But it does recognize the importance of what it calls information support of maritime activities for the maintenance and development of global information systems, including systems for navigation, hydrographic, and other forms of security. Most of the publicly available Russian cyber strategy in general focuses on information operations and disinformation campaigns. Despite having advanced cyber-capabilities, there’s not much information available on how that is being integrated into the Russian naval strategy.

RH: You know, it’s very unfortunate that there was no release of any new information recently in St. Petersburg, they celebrated national Navy day with President Putin visiting. But I guess we’ll have to stay on the lookout for any new information.

Before we even go up into the highly integrated platforms of navies in cyber, you reference very acutely the Kremlin’s use of synchronized fires. Can you briefly elaborate on what this concept is and if we can expect to see a similar pattern in future conflict theaters?

AR: Yes, without a doubt I think we can expect to see a similar pattern in the future. For those who don’t know, during the Russia-Georgia War of 2008, Russian forces assaulted Georgia on land, in the air, and from the sea, while at the same time Georgia was subjected to destructive distributed denial of service or DDOS attacks on the websites of Georgian government offices, financial services, and in news agencies. So, this was a synchronized attack in multiple domains on Georgia from Russia simultaneously.

In the Russia-Ukraine conflict, similarly Ukraine suffered multiple cyber attacks in conjunction with that conflict, including cyber attacks targeting infrastructure. I think that these synchronized integrated fires will likely continue and eventually become the norm in conventional conflict unless some action is taken, diplomatically or otherwise, to limit the use of cyber fires or restrict the number of quote unquote “legitimate” cyber targets.

RH: Again, that’s Russia picking on countries that are less developed, but it would be interesting to see moving forward against another more developed or modern adversary if it would be as effective a concept. When assessing operational level warfare, as well as tactical level warfare, how does cyberspace enhance their application?

AR: Starting with the operational level, cyberspace operations can be categorized in three ways: Offensive action, defensive action, and network operations.

Offensive cyberspace operations are designed to project power through the application of force in or through cyberspace. They’re cyber attacks. Defensive cyberspace operations are intended to defend national or allied cyberspace systems or infrastructure. Network operations design, build, configure, secure, operate, and maintain information networks and the communications systems themselves to ensure the availability of data, the integrity of the system, and confidentiality. So those all work together on operational level.

So, to give an example, we already talked about how cyberspace enables assured command and control, integrated fires, battlespace awareness, intelligence, as well as protection and sustainment. It also enables naval maneuvers, with positioning, navigation, and timing support. For sea-based power projection, in a landscape that is very often devoid of signposts and landmarks, the ability to have precise navigational information and over-the-horizon situational awareness is particularly critical. Cyber and satellite-based global positioning and navigational systems provide this capability. Beyond the navy itself, commercial and academic institutions that provide support to the fleet or the military in the form of design, manufacturing, research, and other products and services, are also part of the broader environment for naval security.

So, naval security and warfighting advantage depends in part upon thwarting attacks on military or government sites, as well as securing sensitive information from cyber theft or cyber espionage. Sensitive information in the wrong hands can of course undermine the operational effectiveness of the fleet by improving targeting of naval forces by adversaries and increasing the adversary’s knowledge of how forces man, train, and equip for warfighting.

Moving to the tactical level, naval commanders must incorporate the use of cyber technologies into their battlefield tactics. In practical terms, this means that defensive and offensive cyber capabilities will be integrated alongside kinetic action. This is the integrated fires. Cyberspace can increase the effectiveness of traditional kinetic fires through improved intelligence and targeting. But it also presents new challenges for defensive operations to protect these systems from cyberattack as well as kinetic fires.

Cyberspace and cyber capabilities play a particularly important role in supporting network-centric weapon systems, such as the tactical Tomahawk missile, which the U.S. launched into Syria in April. Tactical Tomahawks receive in-flight targeting data from operational command centers. Similarly, carrier aviation maintenance programs rely on cyberspace to enable them to provide mission ready aircraft.

There are alternatives and workarounds to overcome system failures, but the point is that reliable access to cyberspace is critical to the successful employment of these systems. Naval security also depends upon the protection of access and critical information whether it is classified or not. For naval forces, this process of protecting critical information means educating and training sailors in good cyber hygiene habits and having cyber security integrated into the life cycles of systems.

 

RH: Moving on, we’ve discussed how naval strategies revolve around the four key layers. It is clear that the structure of cyberspace begins with the physical layer. Sometimes users forget how hardware like fiber optic cables and satellites are hidden from view in our daily use of cyberspace. It looks to be a frightening future as you provided a few examples that confirm how vulnerable these physical elements are to tampering.

An appropriate contextualization for the listeners of this threat was on display in a 2015 New York Times article that describes increased Russian submarine activity and how the construction of unmanned, undersea drones related to fiber optic cables is rattling the Pentagon. According to Rear Admiral Fredrick Roegge, commander of the Navy Submarine fleet Pacific (COMSUBPAC) he was quoted as saying, “I’m worried everyday about what the Russians could be doing.” What is your take on the threat to the physical layer and is this threat explicitly exaggerated? Or is it a feature that national security policy makers should be more concerned with?

AR: That’s a great question, I don’t believe that it’s exaggerated. The cables carrying global business for more than $10 trillion per day and 95 percent of daily communications. They are very important to our global economic and political structure.

Back in the 70s before there was a system as robust and widespread as it is today, the U.S. was willing to take great risks to tap into the cables in Soviet waters to gain intelligence. Now these cables carry much more information and have much more value in the present context. The Russians are seeking to identify and potentially exploit infrastructure weaknesses of the US and the West. So, I think it is absolutely worth being concerned about.

RH: Can you comment a little bit on what would happen in the event of tampering and what the process of repair might look like moving forward?

 AR: Well, it’s a little hard to speculate on exactly what would happen, but somethings that could happen is, cables could be severed, they could be cut, which would cause a slowdown in the system, and it would be difficult to repair them, particularly because these cables lie along the ocean bed, the floor of the ocean. And so, there are a certain number of ships in the world that can go to these places and fix the cables and that can be a process that is expensive and is time consuming. That’s just one scenario where the cables are cut.

Another scenario is that they can be potentially tapped into somehow. That is, of course, what the U.S. did to the Soviet Union in Operation Ivy Bells in the 1970s, and that was used for espionage purposes. So, something along those lines could be done with these cables with information being stolen or simply recorded and copied, but then passed along so that nobody knows that someone else was listening in. So, there are a variety of different things and they would require different responses, but some of them would be difficult to detect and to identify that there was a problem, while others like a cut in the cable would be immediately apparent.

RH: In terms of the logic layer, do you think it’s conceivable that a Stuxnet-like attack could seriously damage naval operations? It is worth noting to our audience that even in the case of air-gapped networks, which is what Iran was using, infections from viruses are still possible.

AR: I think it is entirely possible that a cyber-attack could manipulate the logic layer of cyberspace in a number of ways which could cause it to malfunction or shut down completely in order to inhibit the flow of data, which could directly affect naval operations. You make a very good point that even air-gap networks are still at risk. The Stuxnet attack happened 10 years ago, but it successfully targeted highly sensitive protected air-gap systems. And the technology and cyberweapons have advanced quite a lot in the decade since then.

RH: It seems like a bit of an antiquated question, but in the event, that a Stuxnet attack hit a naval operation, what would the response of the Navy be? I mean, do they still know how to use compasses and work like they did back in the day?

AR: (Laughs) This is a good question. But there are workarounds. There are capabilities that are redundant that have resiliency built in. Things would not function perfectly, but most things would still continue to function, so they would still be able to get to where they were going, but they wouldn’t be as effective as they’re intended to be. And so, it would be problematic. Absolutely.

RH: Just as an example for listeners though, but again theoretically, if there was a Stuxnet attack on an operation, it could kill the ability of network-centric weapons to function, correct?

 

AR: It has that potential, or could cause them to malfunction. So, an object could appear to go on course  go off course, or not be able to function entirely or, if it’s ordnance, explode too early, something along those lines.

It can cause a variety of effects, depending on exactly what type of attack it is and what it’s designed to do. Because these attacks – we say attacks in cyberspace happen very quickly because they do in cyberspace – but they also typically take a very long time to develop.

So, that’s another thing where we can develop the cyberweapons and keep them until you’re ready to use them, they do take a while to actually develop. But once you deploy them they happen almost immediately.

RH: A lot of those symptoms you just mentioned earlier about, sort of, missiles veering off course or exploding too early, that’s also a good way to look at the early stages of the North Korean missile program, which unfortunately has evolved to a dangerous point right now. But that’s also maybe a good example if you would agree about the various difficulties that come with a Stuxnet like attack on any sort of cyber infrastructure.

AR: I think that’s an excellent sample.

RH: Drives people crazy in Pyongyang. We have an established the crucial role of cyber for naval strategies, and touched on the composition and structure. Against this backdrop, what are the main opportunities for naval forces and policy makers moving forward with cyber?

AR: Well, there are many potential opportunities but there are three that I think are the most important and exciting.

The first is improved battlespace awareness. Cyber capabilities allow naval forces to have a better understanding of the environment in which they are operating and that is very very good for them.

The second is that cyberspace presents new opportunities for modelling and simulation to help naval forces prepare and train for warfighting.

And then third, as a new domain, cyberspace presents opportunities for cooperation with partner nations for developing, maintaining, and protecting a domain to ensure things like reliable access for allies and partners. And limiting the adversary’s maneuverability within the domain.

So, the domain is essentially a blank slate for cooperation within the international community. That provides some really exciting and interesting opportunities.

RH: Despite these improvements in the maritime domain, it is safe to say that you still remain skeptical of the numerous challenges that threaten naval security. Can you identify and describe some of the major threats? To either advanced technological navies or less advanced navies.

AR: Yes, and there are many challenges, but again I’ll pick the top three that I consider to be the most dangerous or the most important:

First, anti-access and area denial operations in cyberspace are the most significant challenge to the basic goals of naval forces: To retain freedom of maneuvering in cyberspace and deny freedom of action to the adversaries. Cyberspace is essential to naval operations so therefore; the protection of cyberspace is also essential. It doesn’t matter how new or fancy your ships are, if they don’t have the capabilities you need because you can’t access cyberspace. So, I think the most important challenge is, maintaining access to the domain.

The second is significant challenge for naval forces is that offense has the advantage. Threats in cyberspace develop faster than forces can protect against in many cases. The domain is constantly evolving, and innovation is happening so quickly that creating new systems, platforms, and tools occurs at a rapid pace. With the creation of new applications comes the opportunity for new vulnerabilities within the systems. Adversaries are constantly seeking new ways of attack or penetration of networks.

While defensive cyber operations have to work very hard to keep up with the constant onslaught of attacks, there are things like advanced persistent threats, APTs, that are these stealthy persistent attacks on a targeted computer system in order to continuously monitor and extract data. These are particularly problematic because they are so difficult to detect and could render significant damage. We just saw recently that a very prominent cyber security firm was actually targeted with the use APTs, which is very worrying given that they are a prominent cyber security firm. And in addition, the speed at which some cyber attacks can take place, the relatively low barriers on entry to cyberspace, and the potentially big impact of an attack provides a lot of incentive for attackers to keep trying. So, it’s difficult for defensive operations to keep up with them and innovate to protect against future attacks.

RH: I have to be honest Dr. Russell, based on our discussion and the litany of challenges, I’m more inclined to believe that navies will remain exposed to invisible torpedoes more so than physical ones. But hopefully the offensive actions and the various layers will become more resilient in defending and fighting them off. Undoubtedly, it has been an eye-opening podcast that has served to expand our collective assessment on the role of cyberspace and the implications for both naval strategy and security. As we sail off on another sea control series podcast Dr. Russell, do you have any operational takeaways for the listeners or the issues they should pay special attention to?

AR: Well, the rise of cyber capabilities of allies and adversaries such as precision targeting and long-range attacks on systems mean that navies will be simultaneously more connected and more vulnerable at sea than ever before. The modern Navy has so many capabilities that rely on cyberspace that it must not take access to cyberspace for granted. As our ships grow smarter and we invest more and more in the high-end capabilities that allow this unprecedented array of actions, let us not forget to simultaneously ensure that the cyber-connected systems are protected so that our new technology can be used effectively when it’s called upon.

Sun Tzu observed that it is best to win a war without fighting. If modern navies did not have access to cyberspace, it would be very difficult for them to fight. The goal of the navies in the future will be to retain freedom of maneuver and deny freedom of action to adversaries at sea. As well as in cyberspace.

RH: Dr. Russell, thank you again for taking the time to enlighten us on such a relevant and complicated issue.

If our listeners want to follow up in more detail on cyberspace and maritime strategy, or gain a better outlook on the general maritime domain, The Routledge Handbook of Naval Strategy and Security, edited by Sebastian Bruns and Joachim Krause, published in 2016 is an indispensable resource to have. Please check www.kielseapowerseries.com for more info on the book and other podcasts derived from the book.

With no shortage of maritime issues within the greater geopolitical landscape, I promise I will be back to keep CIMSEC listeners well-informed. From the Institute for Security Policy at Kiel University and its adjunct, the Center for Maritime Strategy and Security, I’m Roger Hilton saying farewell and auf wiedersehen.

Dr. Alison Russell is an Assistant Professor of Political Science and International Studies at Merrimack College.  The author of Cyber Blockades (Georgetown University Press, 2014), she worked for six years as a security analyst at the Center for Naval Analyses where she specialized in naval strategic planning. She holds a Ph.D. from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, an M.A. in International Relations from American University in Washington, D.C., and a B.A. in Political Science and French Literature from Boston College.

Roger Hilton is a nonresident academic fellow for the Institute for Security Policy at the University of Kiel.

Matthew Merighi is the Senior Producer for Sea Control. 

Sea Control 142 – The Blue Economy and Ocean Clusters with Kate Walsh

By Matthew Merighi 

Join us for the latest episode of Sea Control for a conversation with Professor Kate Walsh of the U.S. Naval War College about the Blue Economy, ocean clusters, and their relevance for maritime security. It’s a conversation about innovation, organization, and competition between the U.S. and China.

Download Sea Control 142 – Blue Economy and Ocean Clusters with Kate Walsh

For additional information on this topic, take a look at the following links:

The Ocean Economy in 2030 (OECD)

Center for the Blue Economy (Middlebury Institute of Monterey)

CMSI Workshop on U.S. and Chinese Perspectives on the Blue Economy (U.S. Naval War College)

Vision for Maritime Cooperation under the Belt and Road Initiative

A transcript of the interview between Professor Walsh (KW) and Matthew Merighi (MM) is below. The transcript has been edited for clarity. The views in this interview do not reflect those of the U.S. Naval War College, Navy, Department of Defense, or Federal Government.

MM: As is Sea Control tradition, please introduce yourself.

KW: I teach at the U.S. Naval War College as an Associate Professor of National Security Affairs. I teach officers and others policy analysis, which is basically policy decision-making in the U.S. and how it works or doesn’t work in some cases. I am also an affiliate with the China Maritime Studies Institute (CMSI) where I do research on China.

I came to the Naval War College as a former think tanker and consultant in Washington, DC. In 1997, I was offered a project in the Commerce Department to look at China and issues of technology transfer. That’s where I started on a different area of research focusing on science, technology, and innovation in China. I’ve stuck with it since then. In 2013 or thereabouts, I started to find references to the Blue Economy in that research. I started asking around what the was and didn’t get any good answers. I found since then that this idea is one which China and others are developing.

MM: Let’s dive into the idea of the Blue Economy. I’ve noticed that there’s a general lack of awareness on what the Blue Economy is. Tell us more about what it is, what industries are involved, and how is it relevant to your maritime work.

KW: One of the challenges is the different terminology whether you call it the Blue Economy, Ocean Economy, or Marine Economy. The definitions are not set yet so it’s hard for the U.S. and China to know what the other is talking about.

It’s organized around clusters where industries, such as fishing and shipbuilding, ones which deal with marine issues, are clustered together in a coastal area. It follows on earlier research done in the 1990s on innovation clusters in Silicon Valley. The ocean clusters build on that original research because it’s not just about innovation but also conservation. There’s the industry, innovation, and conservation aspects in ocean clusters. Some of the industries involved include oil and gas, shipbuilding, fishing, fisheries, conservation NGOs, government departments including navies and coast guards, and anyone having to do with anything wet or ocean or coastal or water. But the terminology differs in different areas.

MM: You mentioned different time periods. From your research, how long has this ocean cluster concept been around? Is it new or is it new branding for an existing trend?

KW: I’m still investigating this as I know you and others are as well. My best understanding is that they build on earlier research but focusing on an area which doesn’t get a lot of attention. My sense is that the cluster concept only goes back to about the late 2000s or 2010. Iv’e been focusing mostly on China’s Blue Economy concept which dates to a policy from Hu Jintao in 2010. China’s concept was built on earlier work in Europe and the U.S., so dating it is difficult. It’s definitely still new, which is what makes the terminology so difficult. That terminology is a real world problem. Just recently I was at an event and these definitional issues were raised because it hasn’t really been decided what they mean even in the U.S. It’s a new field in early days, which is exciting.

MM: Have you discovered why the Blue Economy is going unnoticed? A lot of our listeners are likely already literate in ocean issues but why is the broader academic enterprise ignoring this area?

KW: I don’t have the definitive answer but my sense is that a lot of the actors and interest is there but that the cluster idea is new. What I’m seeing regionally in Rhode Island is people saying they already have the parts that go into clusters: the academics, industries, and entrepreneurs. What they don’t have is an approach to network and connect these different players in a way that is beneficial to all of them.

There’s a natural resistance with some of these actors, such as ocean researchers and fishermen who are in competition with each other over use of water resources nearby. It takes work to overcome these differences; they don’t happen organically most of the time. I think there’s an interest, as globalization is progressing, to connect people together in ways which promotes cooperation, new ideas, and new opportunities. When I look at China, it’s first Special Economic Zone (SEZ), which in itself was a cluster, dates back to 1979. The focus on the ocean and adding of blue conservation in a way that serves everyone’s interest in the long term is the new part. The ocean is already under threat due to climate change and overfishing which I think has increased the focus on the ocean as an area of study.

MM: You mentioned geopolitical entities of various sizes ranging from China to Rhode Island. Clearly the cluster concept is happening in a lot of different places. Which areas, whether its counties, cities, or regions, have the most dynamic ocean cluster systems?

KW: I started my research with China and I would put them high on the list because they’ve been thinking about this for almost a decade now. Other countries are looking to China for their expertise, including countries in Africa. China is a big player there not only because of their size but because of their interest in this issue for such a long period of time. Under Xi Jinping, it’s been enhanced. Also of course the U.S.

We have a very different approach from China but the idea is not new here; in San Diego, L.A., and Monterey, they’ve been studying this idea for a while. San Diego is particularly strong. They have a virtual network of companies called The Maritime Alliance to foster and collaborate on opportunities. They’re providing a lot of advice to other countries now in Europe and elsewhere. Europe is the birthplace of the Blue Economy concept, so a number of countries there are pursuing this in their own way. Iceland comes up quite a lot and is prominent, along with other Scandinavian countries. Ireland has a Blue Economy effort underway. There are other countries in Asia beyond China, particularly in Small Island Developing States. It’s a global enterprise and the attraction is universal. I think this will be a growing area of study. In the U.S., there’s a number of different pockets: Maine, parts of Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Alaska, among others.

MM: You mentioned different approaches in these different clusters. You said the U.S. and China models have the largest different. What is the biggest difference between them?

KW: I alluded to China’s system, which is top-down like most of their innovation programs. The plan comes from Beijing and trickles down to the province and local level. It’s the same with the Blue Economy. In the U.S. it tends to be more organic, more locally driven. Many of them start because something was already happening and there was a clear opportunity for more. It comes from an opportunity to be entrepreneurial and seeing that the actors are there. All that’s missing is the coordination and collaboration. It just takes one person to start that.

For example, in San Diego, The Maritime Alliance started when its founder, Michael Jones, started talking to people and trying to get people connected. In Rhode Island, there’s an effort to develop a cluster with an international linkage between a local city with a sister city relationship in China. At the end the day, it’s all about global networking.

MM: What is the most pressing or relevant aspect of the cluster model for maritime security and national security?

KW: Building on the idea of global networking, this is a cooperative opportunity, but also a competition in terms of who does this better. Because global population is increasing and food and energy are depleting, the ocean is being looked at as more of a resource but one which is very unexplored. There’s competition to be the one who exploits the resources more effectively. I use the term exploit very carefully here to mean “understand what opportunities the ocean provides.”

One of the differences between the U.S. and China I’ve found is how they look at the ocean. Americans see the ocean as tourism, as recreation, and beach-going as well as industry. In China, it’s very different because they had a land-based mentality for a long time. They look at the ocean as an extension of the land. Conservation is the last priority. It is a part of their model but it’s not a priority; the priority is industry and innovation. There’s opportunity for cooperation but there’s going to be competition. And whoever competes better is going to have an economic advantage.

On the science and technology side, this is part of the consideration when evaluating the South China Sea or Arctic or Antarctica. What comes back is about Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs), mineral rights, and economic rights with these zones. Part of the Blue Economy efforts have to do with planning who will be able to use which parts of the ocean and who can’t. Of course, in the Asia-Pacific much of this is under dispute. There’s a lot of uncertainty in that relationship and that has to do with the nature of the ocean itself. The ocean connects us whether we like it or not. And if countries start to fight over ocean spaces, this could become more a conflict driver than cooperation driver. On the positive side, we’re involved with a number of Track 2 discussions with our Chinese colleagues. I think we have similar goals but different approaches to developing the the Blue Economy, especially for disputed EEZs.

MM: For those who are interested in ocean clusters, what are the short and long term trends to see how this concept develops?

KW: I’m going to be a bit parochial with my interest in China. One of the things I’ve seen that is important to the U.S. government and U.S. Navy is China’s plans for the Maritime Silk Road. Xi Jinping announced in 2013 a new One Belt, One Road plan; a very ambitious plan to connect China to parts of the old Silk Road on both land and sea. The maritime part of that plan includes the Blue Economy and ocean clusters along the way. If you look at the map, there are dots along the route where China hopes to develop the maritime road. There’s an action plan that came out March 2015 that has considerable detail. These includes developing ocean clusters, SEZs, and Blue Economy zones along this route. It takes China’s model and develops them overseas.

There’s a question as to whether or not the U.S. and its allies, partners, and friends will be able to be a part of this effort as collaborators and investors. China just recently announced a new maritime vision which is even more ambitious than the original plan. That’s important because it puts Xi Jinping’s stamp on what was originally Hu Jintao’s concept. This new maritime vision has a number of different initiatives which have the word blue attached to them: Blue partnerships, Blue carbon efforts, and Blue conservation efforts. The Blue Economy idea will be a carrot to other countries along the Maritime Silk Road. I don’t see anything in competition with this coming from the U.S., so it’s something to keep an eye on.

It seems to me that these zones and cluster are to be driven by Chinese investment, developed by Chinese infrastructure, using Chinese telecommunications, possibly with Chinese labor, all along the Chinese cluster model. This is not necessarily bad but it opens questions on how much the U.S. and its allies could be able to be involved. This is going to be somewhat of a race to see who can exploit these opportunities in a way that doesn’t undermine conservation. The ocean is a lot of ungoverned space with a lot of unknowns. We’ll have to work hard to make sure that, if it is a competition, that it’s a benign economic and industrial competition.

MM: What things would you recommend to learn more about the Blue Economy and ocean clusters? Beyond that, are there any other interesting things you’re reading now?

KW: There’s a great study by the OECD from 2016 which looks at the Blue Economy through 2030. It’s quite long but it is a good introduction and those with a strategic mind will find its future orientation useful. Those interested in the economic aspect, the Center for Blue Economy at the Middlebury Institute in Monterey, has a journal which is worth looking at. They’re trying to come up with economic metrics to measure what the Blue Economy is and how much it contributes to GDP.

Those interested in the China question, CMSI held a workshop in late 2014 addressing U.S. and Chinese perspectives on the Blue Economy to understand the similarities and differences. The Center for American Progress, a think tank in DC, has done a number of studies on the Blue Economy and U.S.-Chinese issues. They’ll be coming out with a report soon from a June dialogue which focused on the Blue Economy, fisheries, and the Arctic.

Those interested in the Maritime Silk Road should read the maritime vision white paper which China put out on 20 June to get a sense of how they promoting new blue partnerships not just domestically but in the entire region. In terms of other things, because I teach policy analysis, I picked up John Farrell’s new Nixon biography. I’m also just starting The Beautiful Country by John Pomfret.

Kathleen (Kate) Walsh is an Associate Professor of National Security Affairs in the National Security Affairs Department at the US Naval War College (NWC), where she teaches Policy Analysis. She is an affiliate of the China Maritime Studies Institute  and participates in NWC’s Asia Pacific Studies Group

Matthew Merighi is the Senior Producer of Sea Control and Assistant Director of Fletcher’s Maritime Studies Program.

Sea Control 141 – The Law of the Sea with John Burgess

By Matthew Merighi 

Join us for the latest episode of Sea Control for a conversation with Professor John Burgess of the Fletcher School about the Law of the Sea and its enduring effects on maritime security. This interview was conducted as part of the roll-out of the Fletcher School’s recently released primer on the Law of the Sea.

Download Sea Control 141 – Law of the Sea with John Burgess

A transcript of the interview between Professor Burgess (JB) and Matthew Merighi (MM) is below.

MM: And we’re back as I mentioned at the top I’m here with professor John Burgess of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. Professor Burgess thank you very much for being with us on Sea Control today.

JB: It’s my pleasure.

MM: As is Sea Control tradition, please tell us a little bit about yourself. Tell us about what are the main formative experiences you’ve had that brought you from where you were to where you are today.

JB: Well, I’m a Professor of Practice at the Fletcher School and that’s after having worked in law firms for about 35 years. But I did always have an interest in national and maritime security. I took a sabbatical and worked for the U.S. State Department in the area and I’d say the majority of my published articles were in the U.S. Naval Institute’s Proceedings, so moving towards maritime security and Law of the Sea as part of the courses I taught here was a pretty natural progression for me.

MM: I guess I’ll probably start the podcast off by mentioning the fact that you have a very robust library of maritime books. I’m curious, you’ve done maritime work but what got you interested in maritime law in the first place? Was it a personal experience or was it kind of discovering it by happenstance through your legal work or what brought you into maritime law?

JB: Well, of course a place like Fletcher been interested in international law and it’s interesting the way fashion works sometimes. The Law of the Sea, as we’ll talk later about the principal Convention, was adopted back in 1994. The course at Fletcher was taught for a while but then dropped out of the curriculum and the more I looked at the issues the more odd that seemed because the Law of the Sea, as embodied in the Law of the Sea Convention, is one of the most comprehensive pieces in international law that exists. And it covers obviously 90 percent of the planet and it raises all the classic issues of international law: how nations work together, how disputes are settled, how resources and rights are allocated, and it crystallizes all of those issues and we face the questions and disputes and developments every day. And so that led me to really want to focus on it in a systematic way. And, of course, here at the school of the international relations, it was a great venue to be able to apply the law to a very rapidly developing set of global situations.

MM: Let’s talk then about the historical underpinnings that have led us to where we are now before we get too far into the current issues. So, the Law of the Sea: tell us a little bit about it. What is it? You talked a little bit about its effects but what is it functionally at its core, why does it exist, what’s the history behind it, and how did it come to be?

JB: To summarize concisely, for the Law of the Sea, one of the reasons that it’s so interesting is that it’s both very old and it’s newest today. When nations began trading, gradually maritime custom and maritime law developed governing those relationships and by the 17th century, international legal thinkers were beginning to think about the ocean as a separate legal space that was not owned by any nation or controlled by any nation, but was a common; shared for commerce and navigation among the world’s nations. And that concept has evolved as part of customary international law for centuries.

After the second World War, in a more complicated world in some ways, with increasing numbers of nation states and  technology permitting greater exploitation of oceanic resources, nations began to focus on that system of customary law and whether it should be embodied in a treaty or treaties. And back in 1958, under UN auspices, preliminary group of treaties was adopted, but the scope was limited. And that led to a desire to address, on a comprehensive basis, the issues of Law of the Sea.

Over 10 years, dozens of nations in a conference of Law of the Sea worked to evolve what has become today, the Law of the Sea Convention: a treaty regarding the Law of the Sea, which became effective in 1994. And it is very, very detailed and very broad in its scope. It did several revolutionary things. It defined on a systematic basis a series of maritime zones; parts of the ocean over which states had different rights. And particularly, introduced the concept that we can spend a few more minutes on later, of an Exclusive Economic Zone, the right of coastal states to exploit the living and nonliving resources of the adjacent waters out to 200 nautical miles. It also crystallized in a written form the rights of maritime nations to freely navigate.

That idea that there is an element of the commons that is available for free navigation, the conduct of trade, the conduct of naval operations and at one level, the 1994 treaty of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea is a great compromise that assures developed nations and maritime nations the traditional rights and access of navigation. And developing nations and others have the right to exploit neighboring living and nonliving resources in the sea. Of course, for some countries it’s both; the United States draws great value from its economic zones off its oceans in terms of fishing, mineral, petroleum, other resources and as the world’s leading naval power, it’s critical to the United States to be able to exercise the rights of navigation that are embodied in that treaty.

MM: Before we go into some of those areas and get into the specifics, I was wondering if you could tell us since many of us already know customary international laws but I’m sure there are some people out there that haven’t worked in international relations in the legal space, but walk us through what is customary international law and if that is a form of law, why then would there need to be a treaty and then a Convention to institutionalize that in paper?

JB: Customary international law is sets of practice that are adhered to by the international community as evidenced by state practice, what nations do, as evidenced by the supporting actions of international courts, the adjudication by these commentators, that isn’t written down in a law book, but which by reason of practice over the course of time and the acquiescence of the international community, takes on the nature of law and that is an historic element of international law and is relevant to the Law of the Sea to this day.

The issue with customary international law however is it’s neither comprehensive, things can develop technological enabling or security issues that the law hasn’t addressed before, and you can’t rely on the accumulation of custom to address. And its interpretation is limited in scope but comes up as academic commentators write articles, as courts interpret decisions and with somethings as complicated as the governance of the world seas, something more comprehensive, something that was more up to date in many respects was critical.

I’ll just throw one example and that relates to environmental issues. For protection of the oceanic environment for a variety of reasons, there was no substantial body of customary international law on that topic, and it could’ve taken decades or longer for it to evolve. And by then environmental issues in the 20th century to respect to the world’s oceans could be critical. So, one of the thing that treaty does is systematically set up a regime for addressing those questions. You can’t do that customary international law, you need a treaty.

MM: Let’s start going through the treaty then. You mentioned there’s a number of different areas, but you mentioned first and foremost the fact that the ocean is divided into different zones.

JB: Yes, that is correct.

MM: So, walk us through those zones, what are they, how are they determined, and what can states do in those different zones?

JB: I’m going to walk through it beginning close to land and heading out to sea. And in principal, the rights of a coastal state are highest, this makes sense, closest to land, and are more limited as you go out to sea. Internal waters which are the waters on the landward side of the low tide line are, sovereign territory; those waters are fully subject to the laws of the state, and if you’re on the Connecticut river, you’re under U.S. and Connecticut law as an internal water. But then, on the other side of that baseline, that’s created to determine the outer limit of internal waters, you’re in what’s called the territorial sea, the territorial sea has a breadth of up to 12 miles. States can define it, and most do, out to 12 miles and states, in essence, are sovereign over the territorial waters along their coast as well. They have the full ability to legislate and enforce their laws in those waters. Subject to one very important right that we can talk about later which is a right of innocent passage by third party states to traverse the waters, subject to limitation, but that’s it.

That’s really the only exception or limitation on the coastal states sovereignty. The next key zone is the one I described to you, the one that really was created under the Convention of the Law of the Sea and that is an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). That goes out all the way to 200 miles and it says that the coastal states have the exclusive right in that zone to exploit the living and nonliving resources. The seabed, what’s under the seabed, petroleum, fish, mineral rights, but those otherwise are part of the high seas, they can’t restrict navigation in the way they can in territorial waters, and their rights are therefore limited as opposed to territorial waters.

Once you get beyond 200 miles, it is the high seas, a commons that the world continues to have rights to navigate in. Below the surface, after 200 miles, there may continue to be rights to exploit minerals, under the extended continental shelf. That continental shelf set of rights can extend depending on the geology, it’s a complicated equation of a coastal state, out beyond 200 miles but typically not beyond 350 miles as an outer limit. And beyond that the seabed again becomes part of the common. It’s open to exploitation by all nations, whether they have access to the coast, whether they are landlocked or not, under the separate regime established under the treaty.

MM: So, it’s pretty intuitive then in terms of the rights of different zones and how they’re allocated for large bodies of land, so say for example knowing how far the end of California is from 200 miles, that’s pretty easy.

JB: It is, yeah.

MM: But they’re also notions of a place where there’s a lot of other features, I guess is the technical terminology from there and I think one of my favorites from the Law of the Sea Convention is the difference between islands and rocks. So, I was wondering if you could walk us through the differences between those two features are and how they play into the Law of the Sea?

JB: Yeah, I’m always reminded of the old Simon and Garfunkel song, “I am a rock; I am an island,” but it’s actually a legal concept here, not a musical one, and the key point is that, as you described, if you’re along a continental coastline, it’s pretty intuitive, you get 12 miles and then you get 200 miles. It’s a small percentage relative to the size of the continent, but how do you treat an island? And an island is defined under the Convention as a body of land surrounded by water that’s above sea level at high tide, and it actually creates a territorial sea and an EEZ as well, so if you’re looking at the Florida Keys individual islands that remain above high tide, they have the potential to create, a territorial sea and an EEZ all on their own.

So, I’m going to indulge for a second if it’s okay in a little geometry, let’s say you’re in the middle of the Pacific and you’ve got an island that is a mile wide. Well, it can create a territorial sea and an exclusive economic zone. I’m not great at geometry but I think the area of the circle is πr squared. So, 200 miles and square it: 40,000 miles, multiplied by pi; a one-mile island can create a tens of thousands of square miles of exclusive economic rights. Interestingly enough, that would mean that the nation that has the largest EEZs is the United States because of the range of the islands principally that are United States territory in the Pacific. Surprisingly enough, the next one is France.

MM: France?

JB: To understand that, you need to go look at a map and go “oh yeah French Polynesia or the islands that France controls in the Indian sea, Indian Ocean rather.” And how did they get so big? Because of this leverage and the drafters of the Law of the Sea Convention, they kind of knew that, they said we have to safeguard the abuse of that status so only one kind of island gets those rights. There’s a subset of islands that we’re going to call rocks. And those are islands that can’t sustain human habitation or economic activity. They don’t have to be literally rocks; they could be a sand spit, they could be a coral reef, but if they lack the capacity to support human habitation in a meaningful way or meaningful economic activity, then they do not generate an EEZ. And it eliminates that ability to leverage, so dramatically, the territory of an island to an essence to create very, very significant and valuable oceanic zones. So, they thought of it, but it’s still an issue in today’s law.

MM: So, let’s talk about that a little bit, because obviously the incentive for a country that owns a rock, you know, if it’s not the size of Oahu which has Honolulu on it, but is kind of the cartoon depiction of sort of a person on a tiny deserted island with a palm tree on it.

JB: Yeah with the palm tree on it (laughs).

MM: But the incentive I’m sure for a country with that in order to gain those exclusive economic rights is to say, “oh well, that can sustain human habitation.” So, I was wondering how then is it determined whether a piece of land in the water is an island or a rock? You have this sort of the definitions, but how do you define then human habitation, well, human habitation is pretty easy, but economic activity seems to be kind of fuzzy?

JB: Well, actually both of them are a bit tricky and as typically happens, the treaty doesn’t give you a lengthy piece of guidance on how to do that. And many nations including the United States have, I’ll use the phrase, been liberal in their interpretation whether a feature is an island, for the reasons you described. But in the last year, last summer, an international tribunal on the South Seas, which adds South China Sea in particular, which we’ll talk about, looked at that question and provided some more detailed interpretation and it said a few things.

First of all, when we evaluate whether an island can sustain human habitation or economic life, we’re going to look at the island in its natural state, so for starters, if the Chinese or somebody else build a huge structure or transform the island, you can’t look at that, you have to go back historically, see what it looked like before human intervention transformed it. Secondly, you’re going to look at the ability to sustain human life without massive outside intervention. If you fly in lots of people, you fly in water, fly in food, it’s clear that those external interventions again aren’t the test, you have to look at what is there on the island. And interestingly enough, it doesn’t necessarily have to have a human population. The question is “is there water, are there resources to supply food whether its vegetation or animal or fish that could or does sustain a human population?” And not on a transitory basis, people coming through for two months a year to fish doesn’t count.

Secondly, in the tribunal they also took a hard look at what economic activity or life would mean, and underscored that it couldn’t be merely extractive. You know there are islands that were made of bird dung, guano, and in the 19th century, people would go and mine these islands, well that’s just extractive, that’s not economic life, there has to be some set of resources that would permit economic activity on an island, and that could be mining, it could be fishing, but it can’t simply be mining that cannot sustain and does not sustain a local population. That still raises lots of factual questions in every case, but it does make clear that an island has to be something more than just a palm tree and someone waiting for the ship to come, to qualify. And that’s going to have implications for nations like the U.S. and France and others who have significant island claims.

MM: So, we understand a bit about the zones, how they’re built, how they’re projected out, and some of the controversies surrounding this which we’ll get into the specifics in a bit, but to set up the ground work for everyone out there in our audience, tell us a little bit about what you alluded to earlier, about innocent passage and freedom of navigation. What is it, how does it function, and how does the Law of the Sea Convention define those different kinds of activities? What are the rules of the road?

JB: And those are critical elements because really the Law of the Sea is a balancing of interests of states, the coastal states want to control as much as possible, as far as possible and obviously maritime and commercial states wish to be able to conduct trade and activities without interference by coastal states, and those compromises are reflected in a couple of different concepts.

The first is the concept of innocent passage. As I mentioned a few minutes ago, the sovereign coastal state has a lot of power and authority in the territorial sea, subject to one exception and that is the vessels of third parties can traverse the territorial sea to make a transit or to enter into the ports of the coastal state under the doctrine of innocent passage. The coastal state cannot forbid that kind of transit or activity, and when you think about it that’s pretty critical to commerce, a cargo ship proceeding along the U.S. coast in order to trade in order to access U.S. ports in order to efficiently transit is going to enter territorial waters, and this right of innocent passage allows it to do so, but it’s a very limited right. The passage has to be continuous, it has to be expeditious, you can’t anchor off a coast for a week, absent an emergency set of circumstances, so it’s got that test, and it has a variety of other tests that are designed to assure that innocent passage isn’t exploited to take advantage of the coastal states’ resources or military security.

For example, you can’t fish on innocent passage, because that is in conflict with the rights of the coastal state. You can’t operate military systems, you can’t take on or land aircraft or launch aircraft. Submarines have to proceed on the surface which kind of spoils the whole purpose of being a submarine precisely to avoid provocative threats to the security and safety of the coastal state. So that’s the balance its achieved.

Transit rights relate to a very specific kind of territorial water, and that’s international straits. Straits of water that connect bodies of the high seas or economic zones and you could think of lots of examples: the Straits of Gibraltar, the Straits of Malacca, places which are narrow waterways, that would be the territorial waters of the contiguous states, but this special set of transit rights are granted. It’s rather like innocent passage, but because international straits are so critical to global security and commerce the rules are more relaxed.

I mentioned submarines couldn’t proceed on a submerged basis in innocent passage. They can in transit rights. The number of restrictions on activities in transit rights is much more limited than for innocent passage. And aircraft have transit rights as well as vessels in innocent passage, only surface vessels and submarines have that right. So, this is to the more liberal regime, which is a critical regime to assuring global access to those straits that are fundamental choke points in the conduct of global commerce.

MM: There’s also a concept inside the Law of the Sea called sovereign immunity.

JB: Yes.

MM: I was wondering if you – since that’s at least tangentially connected to innocent passage and freedom of navigation rules – walk us through what is sovereign immunity? What does that mean?

JB: Well, it’s more than in the Law of the Sea; it’s really more of a doctrine of international law that states will not conduct criminal or adversarial actions against other states. And when you think about it, it’s an element of comity and we won’t go on with France interfering with U.S. military aircraft and ships and France similarly does not want us doing the same with theirs. But its significant with the Law of the Sea in that many of the provisions in the Law of the Sea exempt vessels that are subject to sovereign immunity or aircraft that are subject to sovereign immunity. For instance, the anti-pollution provisions don’t apply to a U.S. warship or a French warship for that matter.

In innocent passage, it’s an interesting dynamic because it basically says that if a ship that has a right to sovereign immunity violates the ground rules for innocent passage, the coastal state has the right to take steps to ask it to cease the passage. What that means isn’t entirely clear, it is in fact very likely that there’s no right of force or coercive ability to force the sovereign immune vessel to change its course and conduct, so implicit of that is risk of standoff and certainly the rights against the sovereign immune vessels are more limited. And state interference with those kind of vessels is a very serious breach, not just of Law of the Sea but of international law, which was why when the Chinese picked up a drone operated by the U.S. vessel, which is subject to sovereign immunity, it was a U.S. government vessel although not a naval ship as such, that raises implications of a breach of sovereign immunity.

MM: So then let’s talk about some of the specific examples since you mentioned China, since that’s the one that probably most of the people out here are familiar with. Walk us through the South China Sea, why is the Law of the Sea a part of the disputes happening there? What does it say about the disputes that have been happening and how is it generally guided the developments that have happened in that region?

JB: Well, in some ways it’s a textbook example of the importance of the Law of the Sea because the South China Sea is fraught with conflict. There are small islands: the Spratlys, for instance, and the Paracels that are claimed by the multiple adjoining states. The claims with respect to economic zones and extended continental shelf create issues of overlap and conflict. And, this is in a region where suspicion and friction between the neighboring states is high, so the ground rules of the Law of the Sea are critically important element in helping to resolve the frictions that are embedded in the issues I just described to you. And one of the key elements has been the tension between the Chinese view of its rights with respect to the South China Sea and those of the adjoining states.

The international tribunal decision at the permanent court of arbitration in 2016 that I mentioned earlier, really arose out of that and some other related disputes, but the principal core was with respect to China’s view of its rights over the South China Sea. China has asserted that it has broad sovereign rights within an area defined by the so-called 9-dash line, and that expression comes from the fact that the map that originally included it had nine dashes, the number of dashes varies from time to time, that doesn’t matter. What does matter is that the line embraces the great majority of the South China Sea. It comes down close to Indonesia, Vietnam and to the Philippines. And the line conflicts with the Exclusive Economic Zones of those nations. China’s never defined precisely, and certainly not in the context of the Law of the Sea, what it means by the sovereign rights under the 9-dash line, but both verbally and in action, has asserted rights that would be in conflict with the Law of the Sea for instance, the access of Filipino fishers to living resources within the South China Sea has been restricted by the Chinese on the basis of the 9-dash line.The tendency of China to increasingly enforce or assert the 9-dash line was triggered when Vietnam and the Philippines began oil exploration in the South China Sea.

The tribunal took a hard look at the 9-dash line, and it unequivocally said that, this line which China asserts has its origins in ancient historic rights to the sea is in conflict with the Convention of the Law of the Sea and hence is legally of no effect. The tribunal said that when China signed the Convention, it gained great rights including to the EEZ around China that didn’t exist before, and in doing so, also lost any more vague and historic claims. And that was a very important decision both legally and geopolitically. It’s no question that legally it was the right decision. This kind of broad, inchoate historic right to great reaches of water doesn’t exist anywhere in the Law of the Sea. And in addition, it was a firm message that, from a political standpoint, China’s position was an overreaching assertion of sovereign rights, which is one of the reasons why the Chinese have so bitterly denounced the decision.

MM: So, let’s talk about the other end of this, since we’ve talked mostly about the economic rights, let’s talk about freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, because you mentioned the drone seizure, what then does the Law of the Sea say should be happening in the South China Sea and what is the position of China, how they’re acting, and how do they contrast with one another?

JB: Yes, the tribunal did not address that set of issues, but it has been an escalating and critical source of friction as well particularly although not exclusively between the U.S. and China. And it has two elements, the first relates to innocent passage. I’ve described that before, it’s the right for the continuous and expeditious crossing of territorial seas, innocent passage is available to warships as well as civilian vessels, but a certain number of nations including China have asserted that it’s necessary to provide notification and to obtain consent to conduct innocent passage. The U.S. position, which is consistent with the Convention, is that that consent is not required.

That war honestly has been more one of words than of action perhaps fortunately. The U.S. conducts what it calls freedom of navigation exercises from time to time to preserve those rights. It’s complicated in the South China Sea because those navigation exercises have sometimes been ambiguous, the U.S. has sailed within 12 miles of certain of these small maritime features and it’s been unclear whether the U.S. is in fact asserting innocent passage and conceding there’s a territorial sea around the feature, or is the U.S. asserting that there’s no territorial sea, and is simply a high seas transit right, and that ambiguity continues. China protests those exercises, we periodically conduct them, as I said the struggle has largely been one of words, but it is important and as a security matter for the United States, the assertion of the right of innocent passage within the South China Sea is very important.

The other and more broad question is, whether there are any limitations on the conduct of military surveillance, reconnaissance, or activities within China’s EEZ. And China also interprets its rights there very broadly. It asserts that the EEZ can only be used for peaceful purposes and that reconnaissance flights, this is beyond the 12 miles remember, it’s out beyond that zone, or military exercises are inconsistent with its interpretation of the Convention. And that has led to serious difficulties.

More than a decade now ago, there was a collision between a Chinese interceptor aircraft and a U.S. reconnaissance aircraft, the Chinese pilot was killed and his plane crashed, the U.S. aircraft was forced to land on an emergency basis on a Chinese airbase. And unfortunately, with the last couple of years, nothing that serious has occurred, but there have been recurring games, for the lack of a better word, of international chicken between Chinese interceptor aircraft and U.S. reconnaissance aircraft. And the risk of an incident there is real. And again, arises from the U.S. goal of assuring, particularly as a major power in the region and as a leading naval power, that its high seas rights are preserved. The erosion of that would be a serious blow to U.S. security interests, and China’s assertions that at least within the EEZ, conduct of that nature is not allowed of absent Chinese consent.

MM: So, lest our audience assume that basically every tension over the Law of the Sea somehow involves the United States and China or let’s be honest, sometimes just China and its neighbors, tell us a little bit about the United States and Canada and its disagreements on freedom of navigation.

JB: What could be friendlier than the United States and Canada? But things do happen when the issues are ones critical to open navigation to the principles of Law of the Sea and to access resources and that’s shown up between the United States and Canada on an abiding disagreement regarding the fabled Northwest Passage, the sea route through the Canadian island chain, that once upon a time explorers hoped led directly to El Dorado, but now with melting arctic ice may offer a way through the great circle route to significantly reduced transit time between the U.S. east coast and Asia. 

The Canadian position is that they are internal waters and if you recall, internal waters are equivalent to sovereign territory, there are no rights of third party nations and the rights abide exclusively with the coastal state. And in some ways, this has become a key psychological element to the Canadians, the Northwest Passage being truly part of the “Canadian north” or the “Canadian arcti”c, however you define it. The U.S. perspective is rather different. It is that the Northwest Passage is in fact an international strait, a way to connect two sets of high seas, and is subject to the transit rights available to third party nations under international law. And that therefore for example, a U.S. ship could proceed through the northwest passage without consent or notification, provided that it abided by the rules applicable to transit passage.

This disagreement remains more theoretical than real in the sense that traffic obviously through the Northwest Passage is limited. The two states have agreed to share information regarding such passages without the United States in anyway acknowledging that Canadian waters are internal and without Canada acknowledging in any fashion that the Northwest Passage is an international strait. And part of the disagreement turns on what an international strait mean. What does it mean to be used to permit passage between two sets of high seas or EEZs? Does “real use” constitute part of that definition? Because historically transit to the Northwest Passage relative to most other international straits has been very limited.

The U.S. view is that it can be used and it has been used whether or not it’s a large number of times and hence it’s a strait. The Canadian view is that that’s not the case because usage has been highly limited and doesn’t correspond to what has been historically associated with international straits. There are ironies to the position on both sides, I will note that it’s not entirely clear that it would be a geopolitical victory for the U.S. if it is an international strait, because for example, that means that Russian reconnaissance aircraft are free to fly down the straits under rights of transit. On the other hand, from the U..S standpoint, the principle at stake is critical because if there is any evolving body of law that erodes the definition of international straits, it’s a clear detriment to a leading maritime and a naval nation like the United States, so it does matter.

MM: So, the Canada issue and the strait versus internal water alludes to the fact that the ocean is changing and that as a result of the changes in the ocean, it is also then driving changes in the Law of the Sea, if not the law itself, but in terms of evolving issues that are coming up. So, besides the Canada strait versus internal waters issue, what other issues do you see coming down the pike for the Law of the Sea?

JB: Well, the issue you just alluded to is one of them. And as you also mentioned it goes well beyond the question of the northwest passage. As we’ve talked about before, the definition of the low tide line is a very important marker, one of the key ways, not the only way, but one of the key ways that the baselines from which the maritime zones are measured is defined. We had a discussion about the difference between a rock and an island.

Well imagine if as it seems to be the case, global sea levels are rising, there are currently islands that are a meter or two above sea level. Given another 50 or a 100 years, if current trends continue, that could fundamental impact on the definition of maritime zones. They may be retreating landward. There are islands which would disappear, eliminating EEZs, or territorial seas associated with those islands. And there’s no resolution today about whether the baseline should be frozen and the way the borders are defined today is embedded, at least for some period of time, or whether they’re ambulator: the legal word for walking around, whether they reflect adjustments in sea level. 

There are groups under the International Bar Association and U.N. auspices looking at it and it’s a real question. Let alone dealing with the broader question which is not purely a Law of the Sea question of what becomes of island states, small nations in the Pacific or the Indian Ocean, it’s not simply a question of maritime borders disappearing, but of a country disappearing. And what is the status of a country’s sovereignty and what happens to its population? So it’s a good thing that it isn’t going to happen in the next five years, because it’s going to take a lot longer to resolve issues of that depth and complexity.

MM:  So, as is Sea Control tradition since we’re approaching the end, please walk us through what it is that you’re reading right now. You obviously have a very interesting and diverse background in terms of you know your education. So, tell us a bit about what you’ve been reading lately, whether its Law of the Sea-related or maritime-related, even if it’s something fun you found online recently.

JB: Yeah, well I think I describe two things. One is kind of a pure Law of the Sea book, but it covers a bit different topics then we’ve been discussing but one that the audience might be interested in is and that is a book by Natalie Klein on maritime security and the Law of the Sea that talks about issues we really couldn’t talk about today, including piracy and weapons of mass destruction and issues of intersection of security issues and Law of the Sea. And I’ve also been reading a book on the Barbary pirates which is a kind of a classic set of questions that relates to the history of U.S. frigates but also these, some of these issues were present at the beginning of the United States, issues of control of piracy, freedom of navigation. If the Barbary pirates were anything, they were dedicated to limiting freedom of navigation and exploiting the sea in a way that was at odds with freedom of commerce and of security.

MM: Wonderful, well thank you very much again professor for being with us on Sea Control and best of luck with all of your work. And hopefully we’ll be able to welcome you back on again at some point in the future

JB: My pleasure, thanks a lot.

John A. Burgess is Professor of Practice and Executive Director of the LLM Program at Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. He teaches courses on international finance transactions, international securities regulation and cross-border mergers and acquisitions.

Matthew Merighi is the Senior Producer of Sea Control and Assistant Director of Fletcher’s Maritime Studies Program.

Sea Control 140 – The U.S. Coast Guard with Admiral Charles Michel

By Matthew Merighi 

Join us for the latest episode of Sea Control for an interview with Admiral Charles Michel, the Vice Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard, for a discussion about his service’s unique role in ensuring international maritime security. From his vantage point at the intersection of military force and law enforcement agency, he discusses some of the emerging threats in the maritime domain, how cyber challenges affect the Coast Guard’s mission, and the enduring importance of protecting global supply chains.

Download Sea Control 140 – The Coast Guard with Admiral Charles Michel

A transcript of the interview between Admiral Michel (CM) and Matthew Merighi (MM) is below.

MM: We’re here with Admiral Michel, the Vice Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard. Admiral Michel, thank you for joining us on Sea Control today.

CM: Thanks for having me, I appreciate it.

MM: As is Sea Control tradition, please introduce yourself, tell us a little bit about your background, how you came to be where you are now, and what were the main events that happened along the way.

CM: Sure I’m the Vice Commandant of the Coast Guard, so I’m the number two person at the Coast Guard. I assist the Commandant. We’re in this great organization called the U.S. Coast Guard which has about 40,000 active duty members, plus reserve, plus a cadre of auxiliaries which help us out. Really, we are an agency with global responsibilities so the Commandant needs somebody like me to run this entire enterprise.

I’m the chief operations officer and also the chief acquisitions officer, and a bunch of other things that make this the world’s best Coast Guard. I think I’ve got an interesting background, and I know you have a naval officer audience, but the Coast Guard is kind of unique in that we can become specialized officers but also retain our line credentials at the same time. So I’m a lawyer for the Coast Guard as well as an operator. I spent about half of my pre-flag officer career afloat and the other half as a lawyer which is kind of unusual now. I’ve been able to work all the way up the organization. According to my bio I’m the only 4-star officer in all the armed forces who’s also a career Judge Advocate (JAG) which is kind of an unusual thing, just a consequence of what I do. So I’ve got kind of a unique background with operations afloat and legal, and I’ve done some other things for the Coast Guard.

MM: So let’s talk for a minute about your role since you mentioned you’re the only four star JAG who has managed to make it to that level. But you’re also the first 4-star Coast Guard officer who is not the Commandant. So in terms of your day to day role, in doing acquisitions and operations, how have you transitioned the role of the Vice Commandant to being a 4-star? Have you noticed it being different or how has that gone?

CM: It’s different and in a good way. I think Congress chose to elevate this position from what has traditionally been a 3-star to a 4-star in recognition of the Coast Guard’s prominence and the need for another senior officer for all the diplomatic and representational duties we share. I know you mentioned the COO and the acquisition officer which have external aspects, but our work with all the elements of the defense establishment, the 4-star elevation gets you into different levels of engagements than as a 3-star. Same on the international scene. Bringing a 4-star on the table has a different flavor. I know to junior officers there doesn’t seem to be a difference between a 1-star and a 2-star, but there’s a big difference between a 3-star and a 4-star in a lot of events and I think it’s a reflection of the prominence and the credibility of the Coast Guard within the congressional leadership.

MM: So let’s talk then about your work with the other services. What is the Coast Guard’s role in the maritime security space, particularly how it organizes and how it works with the other services? Also how does the Coast Guard pursue its unique mission set of being a military service and law enforcement agency?

CM: For your listeners who aren’t familiar with the Coast Guard we are a member of the armed forces at all times but at the exact same time we have the responsibilities of a law enforcement, regulatory, humanitarian, environmental protection, navigation, and communication agency and much more. These are all things we bring to the fight at the same times. So when you are talking about the world of threats we have an oar in the water on the symmetric threats such as nation state actors and on any given day a number of our ships are chopped to combatant commanders.

Today, without giving the numbers, we have a number of ships with U.S. Southern Command in a detection/monitoring mission. We have six patrol boats in the Persian Gulf who are chopped to CENTCOM. A lot of times we have an icebreaker chopped to PACOM for deep freeze missions. We participate in RIMPAC and other exercises with DoD. We’ve got responsibilities on the symmetric side and on any given day there are Coast Guard people on every continent. Some small boat units and some major units. We are required by statute to operate as a specialized service in the Navy during time of war when the president directs. So our equipment is interoperable with DoD partners. Many aspects of our operations are woven together.

At the same time the Coast Guard has the job of law enforcement agency, regulatory and many other things. A lot of our effort is engaged in that, regulation of shipping, making sure cargo entering the nation’s ports is secure, making sure inland waterways, which is a whole highway vital for economies to operate, works together. We deal with the navigation on the Great Lakes, we conduct polar operations, protect fisheries, you’ll probably see us on the Weather Channel rescuing people in storms and other things. And we’re a unique agency that operates in the whole threat spectrum from symmetric actors, to terrorists, to criminals, to regulator violations to mom-and-pop boaters getting in trouble, to natural disasters, hurricanes, earthquakes, and oil spills. All with 40,000 people, smaller than the New York Police Department.

MM: That’s obviously hard to accomplish with 40,000 people and a very broad mission set. One that many of our listeners know some of the aspects but not all. So from your position looking at those different challenges in maritime security and Coast Guard missions, which of those threats are the ones that interest you the most, that you think are going to be the most potent or the potential to evolve to be pressing to our national security? Is it terrorism, criminal elements, migration, what are sort of the things you’re keeping an eye on?

CM: On the symmetric side of the house, not counting DPRK, let’s take a look at the threats to freedom of navigation that are being asserted by nation states right now, whether its Russian navigation restrictions in the Northern Sea Route or things going on in the South China Sea. That increasing world of these unlawful navigation restrictions concern me quite a bit. I think freedom of the seas for national security and movement of commerce is absolutely critical. The Coast Guard plays a role in all those freedom of navigation assertions whether being the lead role of the international maritime organization where we champion these rights or others. Those concern me a lot on the symmetric side.

On the asymmetric side, we have a lot of terrorists out there doing a lot of bad things. Some of them have shown the ability to operate in maritime spaces. Maritime is also a logical route for moving goods or terrorists themselves, we monitor that extremely carefully. Post September 11th, we have established a layered security regime that involves ports, ships, and a whole network of connections as we deal with those asymmetric threats that may harm this nation. Then we have a bunch of other challenges such as competition for resources whether it’s unlawful claims to hydrocarbon jurisdiction, fisheries poaching, or a whole other world to work with. I get concerned with transnational criminal organizations in the Western Hemisphere due to their increasing sophistication. They put out semi-submersible vessels with over 3000 mile ranges. That means they can carry 7-10 metric tons of any product from South America to Africa almost undetected. Their ability to impact the lives of people in the Western Hemisphere, they create a large homicide rates, instability which is driving migration which is driving instability. I worry about that whole problem set.

Then when is the next black swan event such as an oil spill or a major hurricane or earthquake which we have responsibilities for. It really is a world of threats and it requires a very agile agency to have the capabilities and capacities and authorities to deal with this range of threats. Whether symmetric nations, law enforcement challenges, terrorists, and then the big one in my wheelhouse that surprised me the most is cybersecurity. You wouldn’t think the Coast Guard wouldn’t be that involved but we are. We are a member of DoD Information Network, so we have own cyber defense challenges. We also explore how to use cyber to better enable our mission sets. And lastly, we are the agency charged with the regulatory responsibility for an increasingly automated port and shipping industry.

You may have seen that we had a major attack on Maersk shipping and ports that shut them down for a while. The entire delivery chain was subject to a cyber attack and that concerns us because that industry is a model of efficiency; because it is reliant on the internet and all the goodness of that. And every time you bring in a new navigation, communication system, etc. that replaces a human which you plug into the internet, it creates vulnerabilities. That is probably my most challenging task to create an agency that can operate in that space while that space is an active operational battlespace.

MM: Let’s dive deeper into the cyber issue. When I was doing some research before coming here, I saw you had given some talks on cyber and it surprised me just as much as it did about how crucial that realm is to the Coast Guard. Can you walk us through what happened to Maersk, it was Petya right?

CM: Yes, it was a Petya variant.

MM: So walk us through what happened, not just the basics but how the Coast Guard got involved and what you learned about how the Coast Guard needs to prepare for and how you’re going to get in front of it.

CM: First of all, we’ve got a good partner in Maersk. We do have authority to mandate reporting from certain partners, but they are a responsible party who brought this to our attention. They actually sit on a lot of our Area Maritime Security Committees (AMSCs). The Coast Guard Captain of the Port for each of the nation’s 361 major ports is designated as a Federal Maritime Security Coordinator. He chairs a committee that brings together all federal, state, local and private entities to deal with maritime security because ports are very integrated. If you deal with one portion of the port it will impact another. So getting a holistic approach to this problem set is critical. Most AMSC’s perform that function.

So this report was brought through the AMSCs. We took a look at it from a security perspective with Maersk. This was not a government-owned system. It was privately owned. The Coast Guard has mandatory security regulations on the physical security side, such as access control. On the cyber side we have some voluntary guidance but we have no imposed standards for shipping or port facilities. So we are operating against that kind of legal backdrop. But we reached out to help Maersk as much as we could, to try and get their arms around what kind of attack they were dealing with, what kinds of systems, business, or industrial control systems. Without going into great detail, a large portion of their remediation was done by their business people.These were their business systems by and large. But that split between what is the responsibility to a nation from cyber attack is really complicated.

For example, for a Maersk port facility, they have certain requirements for access controls. And typically those are to keep trespassers off their property or maybe a terrorist or a criminal or something like that. But it’s typically not to keep out nation states. If a nation state wanted access to that port facility, we do not require them to hold off nation states. But think about this from a cyber perspective. That exact same security posture for that Maersk port facility. If a nation actually attacks their cyber infrastructure, who has the responsibility to defend against that? A private citizen, the government, an insurance or regulatory problem? There’s a bunch of ways to skin that cat, we’re gonna have to get our arms around this, where on the physical security side we have that pretty much covered.  We know what territoriality is, we know what a nation state attack is, we know what international law is on that. It has a physicality aspect that were comfortable with and cyber is a different animal.

Every time you turn on your cellphone it’s not just your friends and family; it’s hacktivists, criminals, nation states, all types of different actors, and what is your level of responsibility for that access system. It’s much broader, but as a lawyer I can tell you what I think will make a difference is creating common definitions and defining terms in this space then we can develop the norms we have in the physical world and get those into the cyber side. But we’re building this plane as it’s flying, there are real operations occurring in this space, good and bad.

The Coast Guard is kind of unique on this side, I think we talk from a position of not a large organization but authority-rich and when the Coast Guard was created it was not only for symmetric threats, i.e. nation states; the Coast Guard has been in every single war in the U.S., since the founding of the country, that has had a maritime component. But we also have this basket of other authorities that deal with law enforcement and regulatory and insurance challenges and all these other things. And you’re going to want to convert that same type of flexible nimble organization to cyber because when you get a cyber attack, where is it coming from? In the past if we knew it was from a nation state you know what the authorities were, if it was a criminal you know what the authority was. But now many times you get ambiguous threats. So when you need to align your authorities or responsibilities, you need a nimble agency like the Coast Guard, or the National Guard who also has nimble authority to deal with these types of threats. I know that Alexander Hamilton founded the Coast Guard in 1790, but in many ways he was very cyber aware because he founded an organization that was very nimble with all these authorities.

MM: So a parallel challenge to that that you alluded to in the cyber domain which is the Coast Guard has a role in is protecting supply chains. There’s the cyber dimension but there are also similar challenges to physical aspects too. Tell us a little bit about what the Coast Guard’s role is now and will be in the future for U.S. supply chain security

CM: So it’s related to what I said before. We built this wondrous supply chain that is the marvel of the world, and it gets better every day, with the just-in-time delivery of products, all overseen by this integrated IT that makes all this stuff happen. Monitoring containers from the time it’s loaded, where it gets on, where it’s trans-shipped, all the way here. Its sequenced to get on the automated truck that carries it to the rail yard. The Coast Guard doesn’t own that entire supply chain. We basically own the part where it gets loaded and where it gets off and we have responsibilities for a certain amount reaching the port.

When you look at negotiation in international ship port facility security code at the International Maritime Organization (IMO), it was revolutionary for the IMO to reach off of the ship onto the port. Bringing that port infrastructure into the security realm and our domestic legislation does the same thing. But other agencies such as Customs and Border Protection (CBP) with their lading rules and their electronic manifesting, cargo tracking, container security initiative, CTPAT, basically a partnership against terrorism that is voluntary and allows shippers to become trusted shippers. It’s a combination of things that’s going to protect this security chain. A lot of it resides on the side of the shippers but part of it is the government too. Where they are ladened on the ships, what the security arrangement at the port, on the ship and on the other end, how it reaches its intermode of transportation, all of which has a cyber element because it is all on network IT. So it’s a combination of both physical and cyber security.

I deal with issues like, should all containers be physically opened? I think if anyone who has asked that question has never been to the port of L.A.-Long Beach (LALB) and seen the vastness of the operation, and the majority of it brings goodness and essential economic strength, and what I will say is  reduction techniques can be used to decrease the amount of physically going in and opening containers. But you can smartly address risk in that system through some more sophisticated methods.

MM: One of the most unique things I’m seeing about the Coast Guard is that you are referencing actions from private organizations and international partners which are done seamlessly with your own work. So what does the Coast Guard do that makes it able to effectively operationalize these public-private partnerships and international cooperation?

CM: First of all, the Coast Guard from its design in the very beginning, was made to operate with others. It started out as an anti-smuggling organization, but even then it was reaching to people on shore and to international components, so we have a great organizational reputation. Each one of our Coast Guard folks here has as part of their organizational DNA a natural bent to work with partners. We want to leverage our partners and I think it comes down to us being such a small organization with a lot of responsibilities. Authority rich with great people but not a lot of Coast Guard to go around. So we aren’t afraid to get our hands into cooperation at all.

Rarely do we reach for a fully organic Coast Guard solution which I think is rarity in government. Most government organizations say how are we going to build this, how much is it going to cost, etc. The Coast Guard mentality is: who can we work with to fulfill our goals? We’re more than comfortable with working with people. We have Coast Guard people in small numbers scatter around the government and around the world and they bring that organizational DNA of connecting with others. They bring that basket of authorities and they bring that organizational reputation of being a good organization and partner.

Private industry loves it. Many times they don’t want regulations; they want assistance and they want a level playing field so that they can remain competitive. Many times they want to shoulder that responsibility themselves. In cyber, I think many of the solutions are going to come from private industry with government guidance. And I think that softer approach is how the CG solves problems and thats the way we’ve been from the very beginning. We’re a natural integrator and typically our first grab is not to build our own organization, which is unusual for a regulatory organization.

MM: One of the challenges I’ve seen personally, one which Admiral Stavridis at the Fletcher school has talked about and the Stimson Center has been doing some work on, is the role of illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing as an economic and national security threat. Walk us through what you see the future of fishing enforcement will look like and what the Coast Guard’s role will be.

CM: For many people, protein from the ocean is their main source of food. And I can tell you when people can’t eat then bad things happen. For a lot of countries it is an existential threat, especially these small Pacific island nations that rely on fishing for sustenance. This is a huge challenge and I can tell you there is a huge competition for resources.

Fisheries is just one example. Fishing technology has advanced so fast that boats can clean out all the protein they need and then get out of dodge and sell their products with no eye on sustainable fisheries, which really is a tragedy of the commons. Part of the reason they can do this is that there is no eye in the sky on oceans with maritime awareness. So it is a governance challenge too, the legal regimes. And legal regimes have been put into place. In fact, Congress recently took some action. One of the unique challenges of IUU fishing that makes it particularly difficult to deal with is you have to have a viable at-sea enforcement regime. You can’t deal with it through ports. A fisherman can choose where to put his catch or where he wants to trans-ship it, so by the time it gets to a port official, it is hard to be able to take action. I’m not saying port enforcement officials don’t have that in place; but if you don’t have that enforcement presence at sea to catch them in the act, take their boat, take their catch, you’re just not going to get there. There’s not enough law enforcement assets, so it’s a awareness challenges. I think that is where you’re going to see some of the most innovative things done will be in maritime domain awareness.

So the use of commercial overhead is something we’ve talked about before with sophisticated sensors to alert law enforcement regarding closed areas. To provide countries with some ability, even if it’s a shared ability, to do at-sea law enforcement. Some will get together to share an asset or maybe use a ship-rider program which we’ve done before to spread their authorities. I think that in combination with a smart look of the space itself is going to be a major way forward. I think transponders offer a lot too; to use transponders to sort out legitimate fishers from illegitimate fishers, deal with dark vessels and non-emitters, which we’re getting better at every day with sensors becoming cheaper. That is something else that we can do.

I’m of two minds of this thing. There are lots of countries where their fishers are doing illegal activities and I’m not convinced that all of them are doing everything they can to police their fishing fleet. At the same time, I’m optimistic about technology, more sophisticated law enforcement regimes that may balance this. And I think there is a place for port enforcement on this, although as I said you really can’t completely deal with it without at-sea enforcement.

MM: Since we’re reaching the end of our interview, we will conclude with the same conclusion with most of our episodes. Tell us about what you have been reading recently, what are the main articles and books that have caught your eye.

CM: This is going to sound pretty boring, but I’ve been reading a lot of energy-related publications because I believe the world is undergoing a geostrategic shift in the balance of power in energy and related products. Although it wasn’t covered very well in the press, President Trump mentioned not only energy independence for this country but also energy dominance. I would encourage people to examine that topic because that is super important.

This country has been energy dependent, in varying degrees, on lots of different players in the past, but it may not be in the future. We have liquefied natural gases leaving this country in export quantities both through the expanded Panama Canal to Asian nations which are consuming that. President Trump in his speech to Poland highlighted that a cargo of U.S. liquefied natural gas was delivered to Poland for the first time, which has huge geopolitical ramifications in regards to Russia. The combination of two simple technologies, horizontal drilling and fracking, has the potential of becoming a major energy supplier which will impact the world geopolitical climate. Whether it’s countries in the Middle East or South America who’ve relied on their own version of energy dominance, I see that being chipped away.

As a Coast Guardsman this is hugely relevant, because if energy is being exported by any means other than pipelines, it is moving by water and through the sophisticated shipping industry that moves products around in a global market. Once again, a just-in-time market, and we get movement of energy products in this country on inland waterways, offshore, arctic, you name it. These energy trends have the potential of reshaping the geopolitical globe that I grew up with. And I’m watching it very carefully and the Coast Guard is right in the middle of it because a lot of these products, unless they go by pipeline, move by water. And when you talk about products moving by water, you have the Coast Guard right in the middle of all that stuff.

MM: Thank you so much for your time, Admiral Michel. Best of luck with all of those diverse security challenges you have to deal with, and we’re all rooting for you.

CM: Great, proud to serve. Semper paratus.

Admiral Charles Michel is the 30th Vice Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard.

Matthew Merighi is the Senior Producer of Sea Control.