Category Archives: Strategy

The Evolution of Maritime Strategy and Naval Doctrines in North East Asia

By Pawel Behrendt

Great power competition and arms races are back, especially in Asia. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) Asia and Oceania countries in 2017 were responsible for 27 percent of global military expenditures. In absolute numbers it totalled U.S. $477 billion. Three out of the 15 top spenders are located in North East Asia: China ($228 billion), Japan ($45.4 billion), and South Korea ($39.2 billion).

Given the role of maritime trade for the economies of these three powers it is no surprise that navies are an important part of their military budgets. But maintaining old and ordering new warships is not everything. The shape of naval force employment is dependent on doctrine and strategy. These in turn depend on threat perception, political and economic needs, as well as  ambitions.

Japans’ maritime strategy and naval doctrine has been very stable during the last half century. Recent changes that aim to grow the capability of the Maritime Self Defence Forces (MSDF) are rather minor. On the flipside, the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) and the Republic of Korea Navy (ROKN) underwent radical development in the past two decades, reshaping them from brown water into green water navies with the eventual ambition to become blue water forces. Many of these changes are, especially in the case of South Korea, surprising and unexpected.

Japan

“Generally, naval power was born from the need to preserve freedom of the seas, enabling sea lanes of communications (SLOCs) and economic growth to prosper and expand.”1 – Admiral Tomohisa Takei (MSDF)

Protecting SLOCs along with “Defense of Surrounding Waters” is the most important task of the MSDF. Given Japan’s dependence on sea trade it is no surprise, however the current doctrine is equally the result of the experience of World War II and post-war pressure by the United States as a political-economic calculation. During the war the effects of unrestricted submarine warfare by the U.S. Navy were devastating to the merchant marine of Japan. The protection of merchant shipping proved to be inadequate, nearly 85 percent of the pre-war tonnage had been sunk.2

After the war the protection of sea lanes was advanced as a priority to be fulfilled by rebuilding the naval forces of Japan. Thus till the late 60s lasted an intensive debate between supporters of a strong navy oriented toward SLOC protection and a limited ant-invasion force. The main potential invader was then the Soviet Union. Finally the dispute resulted in a more balanced fleet, capable of both effective escort operations at range and the defense of its own coast. Such doctrine was supported by the Pentagon. The U.S. Navy needed an efficient ally, able to protect naval bases, but simultaneously able to secure SLOCs in the Pacific. Such a division of tasks would allow the devoting of more U.S. forces for offensive operations.3 At the same time the growing Japanese economy became more dependent on maritime shipping and a better understanding of the importance of SLOCs emerged.4 Japan has become a crucial and indispensable ally of the U.S. in East Asia, fomenting a deep interoperability between the U.S. Navy and MSDF.

Geopolitical changes after 1991 at first did not greatly influence the naval doctrine of Japan. An Escort Flotilla has remained up until today the main unit. Currently there are four such Flotillas (1-4) based in Yokosuka, Sasebo, Maizuru, and Kure. Each unit is grouped around a helicopter destroyer and two Aegis destroyers plus five smaller combatants, usually frigates. Changes came during the 90s and early 2000s. Expanding international activities, terrorism, and the rise of China pressed the MSDF to pursuit new capabilities. The first visible sign of changing attitude was the procurement of Ōsumi-class amphibious landing ships. For the first time since World War II Japan was capable of power projection. Next was the refueling mission during Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan where MSDF logistics ships refuelled coalition ships in the Indian Ocean, and anti-piracy missions off the coast of Somali. This latter mission brought the first Japanese overseas base in Djibouti and a larger appreciation of unconventional threats at sea.5

LST-4003 Kunisaki Osumi-class landing ship. (Wikimedia)

Now the main challenge has become China, who also strongly depends on maritime transportation. The growing quantity and quality of the People’s Liberation Army Navy only strengthened its ability to protect SLOCs. What’s more, fear of potential invasion has returned and is more and more visible in the military planning of Japan.6 This new threat perceptino gained the name of “Counterbalancing China.”7 Hence, despite growing rivalry between both states and Japan’s pursuit of power projection capability, escort tasks and coastal defense continue to be the main duties of MSDF.

The People’s Republic of China

During the last 20 years the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) has come a long way. Since 1949 there were two main missions for Chinese naval forces: reunification (invasion) of Taiwan and coastal defense. During the 80s lack of funds and concentration on continental threats led Admiral Liu Huaqing8 to the “offshore defense” doctrine. It focused on operations within China’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), what admiral Liu characterized as the Yellow Sea, South, and East China Seas, as well as waters around Taiwan and Okinawa. An additional task was nuclear deterrence. However, the main tasks of the PLAN largely stayed the same in spite of these ambitions. During the 90s economic changes, U.S. led operations in Iraq, Serbia, and the Taiwan Strait Crisis of 1996 gave impetus to change. Admiral Liu and his adherents were given arguments to expand the bounds of maritime capabilities beyond coastal waters. It resulted in the doctrine of “distant sea defense.” It asserted an intensive naval buildup and was defined not by geographical limitations but by the PRC’s maritime needs.9

A turning point for the PLAN was the year 2004, when President Hu Jintao called for pursuit of capability to sustain a maritime presence in strategic locations, in hostile conditions, and for extended periods. The doctrine of “distant sea defense” still encompassed the Taiwan issue and coastal defense but now also the distant protection of maritime sovereignty. This helped intensify the East and South China Seas disputes, and provided China with a long-term goal of effective defense of crucial SLOCs and in the future (perhaps around 2050) of becoming a global naval power.10

Even more attention has been paid to naval forces since Xi Jinping came to power. His “Belt and Road Initiative” greatly emphasizes the value of maritime communication. Under BRI China has invested about $44 billion in port infrastructure both at home and in other countries while further foreign investments of nearly $20 billion were declared for the near future. Especially interesting projects are the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, along with highways, railways, and pipelines connecting the coastal regions of Myanmar with Yunnan province and Kra Canal in the Malaya Peninsula. All of these aim in part to solve the “Malacca Dilemma” and reduce China’s dependence on the maritime chokepoints of Southeast Asia.11 Still it does not diminish the role of the South China Sea as a crucial waterway leading through the chokepoints in Indonesia and Malaya. Hence strengthening military presence in the region and pursuit for the capability to control it fuels China’s policy in the SCS dispute as well as prestige issues and protecting national resources.

More military-oriented aspects of BRI are growing PRC naval presence in the Indian Ocean and the great expansion of the PLAN Marine Corps which is expected to increase fivefold. This force now numbers 20,000 soldiers organized into two brigades, but the goal is as many as 100,000 troops in six brigades. This does not mean only the formation of new units, as it was reported that two brigades from the Ground Force had been subordinated to the Navy. The main task of this huge force would be the protection of the maritime thread of the New Silk Road and defense of the overseas interests of the PRC. The Chinese Marines are already stationed in Djibouti and have appeared in Gwadar, Pakistan. Both garrisons are rumored to have as many as 10,000 soldiers. Still such a great buildup causes many problems. The PLAN Marine Corps lacks experience in expeditionary missions and does not have sufficient equipment. What is more, a force that has spent years preparing mainly for an invasion of Taiwan and operations in nearby waters of South and East China Seas requires a thorough reorganization to face new, global tasks.12

All of this concerns the whole PLAN as well. As of January 2018 the PLAN had in service 26 Type 054A class frigates13 and 39 Type 056 class corvettes.14 These escort vessels are the real workhorses of the Chinese Navy. Both classes are more developed toward the anti-submarine warfare (ASW) mission. As was unofficially disclosed in the perception of the Chinese admiralty one of the biggest threats to both military and merchant ships are submarines, especially the conventionally-powered vessels of the MSDF. Thus the development of ASW capability has become a top priority.15 On the other hand experience in escort missions was gained during the anti-piracy mission off the coast of Somalia. The permanent presence of the PLAN in the Horn of Africa is also a key milestone in the process of building a blue water navy.”16

Republic of Korea

The Republic of Korea (ROK) is a very interesting case. Despite the location on the Asian mainland, in geopolitical terms it is effectively an island. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) separates South Korea from the rest of the Asian mainland. Also in economic terms the ROK is virtually an island nation, 99 percent of its exports and imports go via sea.17 Since the end of the Korean War the main task of South Korean naval forces was the defense of littoral areas against the North and securing the EEZ against intrusions of foreign fisherman.18

Similarly as in China the situation changed in the 90s. One of the results of its economic boom was a deepening dependence on SLOCs as well as growing overseas interests. In 1995 then Chief of Naval Operations Admiral An Byoung-Tae called for the construction of a blue water navy. Admiral Byoung-Ta’s ambitions were endorsed by President Kim Young-Sam and he in effect became to the ROKN the same as Admiral Liu Huaqing was to PLAN.

However, the vision of President Kim remains quite far from the concepts of military planners from China and Japan. Kim defined two areas of operations: East Asia for the long term and the Indian Ocean and the Strait of Hormuz for short term missions. He emphasized participation in multinational coalitions and thus giving South Korea more influence on the international arena and better ability to shape near and far political environments.19

During the last 20 years South Korea has now built naval power second in East Asia only lesser than that of China and Japan. Thanks to several landing ships, three Aegis destroyers, and nine smaller destroyers the ROKN has gained noticeable power projection capability. The recent arming of destroyers with cruise missile has built a credible deterrence capability against not only DPRK but also China, Japan, and Russia.20 However, ASW and mine countermeasure (MCM) capabilities lay far behind. According to the MSDF, South Korean naval forces are unable to protect the crucial link to the ROK’s economy, the Tsushima Strait. The solution to this situation could be closer cooperation with Japan, but it is greatly hampered by strong anti-Japanese sentiment and several territorial disputes.21

Insufficient ASW and MCM capabilities were noticed and addressed by ordering new frigates and mine hunters. Still, in the case of frigates more attention was paid to include them into the national anti-missile defense system than increasing their ASW capabilities. Such a stance is incomplete given the threat posed by DPRK’s midget and small submarines. An example here is the fate of the Cheonan corvette that was sunk by a North Korean submarine.22

Conclusion

The SLOCs are lifelines for the dynamic economies of East Asia. As CSIS estimates any long closing of the Strait of Malacca would generate costs, about $350 million after one month, that would have an impact not only in regional but also in global scale.23 Thus the protection of merchant shipping and the secure delivery of hydrocarbons remain crucial tasks of nearly all mentioned naval forces.

Pawel Behrendt is a Political Science Ph.D. candidate at the University of Vienna. He is an expert at the Poland-Asia Research Center and is the deputy chief-editor of konflikty.pl. Find him on Twitter @pawel_behrendt.

References

[1] Tomohisa Takei, Japan Maritime Self Defense Force in the New Maritime Era, Tokyo 2008, p. 2.

[2] Takei, p.3.; more on SLOCs in the doctrine of Imperial Japanese Navy: Euan Graham, Japan’s Sea Lane Security, 1940-2004: A Matter of Life and Death?, New York 2006, pp. 63-89.

[3] Graham, pp. 118-120.

[4] IGraham, pp.123-129

[5] Graham, pp.185-200, Alessio Patalano, Japan as a Seapower: Strategy, Doctrine, and Capabilities under Three Defence Reviews, 1995–2010, in: Journal of Strategic Studies Volume 37, 2014 – Issue 3: Rising Tides: Seapower and Regional Security in Northeast Asia, pp. 403-441.

[6] Yuji Kuronuma, Japan’s military chief warns on China naval expansion, Nikkei Asian Review, 19.01.2018 (www.asia.nikkei.com/Politics-Economy/International-Relations/Japan-s-military-chief-warns-on-China-naval-expansion)

[7] Bjørn Elias Mikalsen Grønning, Japan’s Shifting Military Priorities: Counterbalancing China’s Rise, in: Asian Security Volume 10, 2014 – Issue 1, pp. 1-21.

[8] Liu Huaqing (1916-2011), known as the father of modern Chinese Navy, more about his life and theories: Daniel Hartnett, The Father of the Modern Chinese Navy—Liu Huaqing, Center for International Maritime Security (www.cimsec.org/father-modern-chinese-navy-liu-huaqing/13291)

[9] Office of Naval Intelligence, The People’s Liberation Army Navy. A Modern Navy with Chinese Characteristics., Suitland 2009, pp. 5-6.

[10] Hartnett; Office of Naval Intelligence, The PLA Navy. New Capabilities and Missions for the 21st Century, Suitland 2015, pp. 5-9.

[11] Pawel Behrendt, The Maritime Silk Road, Centrum Studiów Polska-Azja, 10.08.2017 (www.polska-azja.pl/analiza-cspa-13-morski-jedwabny-szlak/).

[12] Pawel Behrendt, The Growing Dragon: The Radical Reorganization of the PLA, 03.05.2018 (http://cimsec.org/?s=growing+dragon)

[13] Gabriel Dominguez, PLAN inducts Type 054A frigate into North Sea Fleet, Jane’s 360, 15.01.2018 (www.janes.com/article/77048/plan-inducts-type-054a-frigate-into-north-sea-fleet).

[14] Henri Kenhmann, Bientôt 40 corvettes Type 056 dans la marine chinoise, East Pendulum 16.01.1018 (www.eastpendulum.com/bientot-40-corvettes-type-056-marine-chinoise).

[15] Kenhmann, La marine chinoise multiplie les moyens anti-sous-marins, East Pendulum 20.11.2016 (www.eastpendulum.com/marine-chinoise-multiplie-moyens-anti-sous-marins)

[16] Emanuele Scimia, Anti-piracy mission helps China develop its blue-water navy, in: Asia Times 08.01.2018 (www.atimes.com/anti-piracy-mission-helps-china-develop-blue-water-navy/)

[17] Mingi Hyun, South Korea’s Blue-water Ambitions, The Diplomat 18.11.2010 (www.thediplomat.com/2010/11/south-koreas-blue-water-ambitions/)

[18] Paul Pryce, The Republic of Korea Navy: Blue-Water Bound?, Center for International Maritime Security 28.01.2016 (www.cimsec.org/the-republic-of-korea-navy-blue-water-bound/21490).

[19] Hyun.

[20] Adam M. Maciejewski, Skrzydlate pociski manewrujące Republiki Korei, in: Wojsko i Technika 12/2017, pp. 30-37.

[21] Pryce.

[22] Pryce

[23] CSIS China Power Project, , How much trade transits the South China Sea? (www.chinapower.csis.org/much-trade-transits-south-china-sea/).

Featured Image: Chinese Navy sailors take part in an international fleet review to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Liberation Army Navy in Qingdao, Shandong province in this April 23, 2009. (REUTERS/Guang Niu)

Topic Week on Maritime Strategy for Great Power Competition Concludes on CIMSEC

By Dmitry Filipoff

Last week CIMSEC featured articles submitted in response to our Call for Articles on Maritime Strategy for Great Power Competition. They covered a broad range of topics including hybrid warfare, the role of maritime power in grand strategy, and how great power competition is shaping naval competition. Below is a list of articles that featured during the topic week and we thank these authors for their contributions.

Countering Hybrid Threats in the Maritime Environment by Chris Kremidas-Courtney

“As we’ve seen recently, in both Crimea and the South China Sea, a hybrid approach lowers the political price for aggression, making regime change and territorial annexation possible “on the cheap.” Many refer to this phenomenon as “hybrid warfare” and in the process militarize a phenomenon that is actually much broader and more complex. This phenomenon requires a whole-of-government and whole-of-society approach to access the necessary means and authorities to address them. Thus, hybrid threats are best understood when framed as an attack on governance, specifically democratic governance.”

Russia-China Naval Cooperation in an Era of Great Power Competition by David Scott

“Straight balancing imperatives against the U.S. bring Russia and China together. This was first evident in their 1997 ‘Joint Declaration on a Multipolar World and the Establishment of a New International Order,’ which was followed by a Treaty of Good-Neighborliness and Friendly Cooperation signed in 2001, and proclamation of a ‘strategic partnership.’ Joint military exercises were initiated in 2005, with maritime exercises starting in 2012. Their military cooperation has clear ‘geopolitical signaling’ to the U.S.-led order, reflecting their maritime strategies.”

What do the New National Security and Defense Strategies Mean for Maritime Security? by Jack McKechnie

“The NDS outlines the Department of Defense’s approach to implementing the President’s NSS. Both signify a significant change of focus while also confirming the traditional American approach to security. During the implementation of these strategies, the maritime environment plays a prominent role in addressing security concerns for the foreseeable future.”  

Manning the Distant Rampart: Maritime Strategy in an Age of Global Competition by Harry Halem

“Eurasia’s narrow seas also include maritime chokepoints that constrain nearly all seaborne movement – controlling even one of these chokepoints gives the dominating power the ability to manipulate the global economy, and deny other powers secure lines of communication while facilitating the transfer of forces between theaters. Maritime strategy, therefore, is a significant part of American grand strategy, as Eurasia’s proximate maritime features and chokepoints have always been central areas of contestation in great power competition.”

The Discrepancy Between U.S. Administration Rhetoric and Navy Strategy by Philip Chr. Ulrich

“Here, the strategy is based on a long-term build-up of forces supplemented by plentiful cooperation with allies and partners – also through multilateral organizations and upholding international norms and rules of the liberal world order. The process to reach this strategy took more than a decade following the fall of the Soviet Union, only now to be met by an administration challenging the very order that this strategy sees as the very foundation of U.S. global power.”

Togetherness At Sea: Promoting 21st Century Naval Norms of Cooperation by Commodore Olutunde Oladimeji, NN (ret.)

“Given its open access to all comers, the sea has become a home of very many illegalities, a den of pirates, illegal bunkerers, crude oil thieves, smugglers, poachers, polluters, drug traffickers arms dealers, terrorists and other economic saboteurs. In view of the huge number and sophistication of these misusers of the sea, globally, navies are teaming up for maritime security protection, given their inbuilt scalable capabilities to deal with all eventualities.”

Dmitry Filipoff is CIMSEC’s Director of Online Content. Contact him at Nextwar@cimsec.org 

Featured Image: Singapore (Feb. 7, 2006) – The Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) and guided-missile cruiser USS Lake Champlain (CG 57) sits moored side by side at the Changi Naval Base while their crews enjoy four days of liberty in Singapore. (U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate Airman Gary Prill)

Togetherness At Sea: Promoting 21st Century Naval Norms of Cooperation

Maritime Strategy for Great Power Competition Week

By Commodore Olutunde Oladimeji, NN (ret.)

Anytime we see photos of international naval exercises, involving many warships, large and small, what comes to mind is what we can call an ensemble of naval forces at sea. Such an ensemble often looks like a task force from what Admiral Mike Mullen, in 2005, then U.S. Chief of Naval Operations, called a global 1000-ship Navy. Admiral Mullen’s concept is a fleet that would comprise of “all freedom-loving nations, standing watch over the seas, standing watch over each other.” In spite of renewed great power competition, multilateral cooperation between the world’s navies must grow to deal with common threats and forge constructive bonds between nations.

Classical naval battles were not always fought for portions of seawater but to ultimately influence events on land for economic benefits of the naval powers. Although usually configured as instruments of war, navies also deter war, promote peace, and in doing that, promote commerce, protect trade routes, ensure safety of people and goods on the high seas. Although navies all over the world are established to fight if it comes to that, navies are more than fighting instruments. Navies are also the most potent maritime security agency to prevent numerous illegalities capable of hampering the economic well-being and prosperity of their people. But within each maritime nation no navy or any other maritime security agency can do it alone. It is unfortunate that, for political, legal, and bureaucratic reasons, maritime security roles are fragmented among many agencies.

For many reasons, international maritime security deserves some form of a global togetherness arrangement. A standing ensemble at sea is desirable and all littorals should be encouraged to join. After all the sea is one, by and large. It is interconnected and it is a universal habitat where Sailors and merchant ships carry out their duties. Naval customs and ceremonies in this habitat are similar where the conviviality of when navies make port calls is usually memorable in spite of the differing political positions of littoral nations.

It is true that coastal nations have enormous potential benefits for having the fortune of facing the ocean, but there are some costs to bear and some investments to make to actualize their objectives. Many successful maritime nations have done that and are reaping huge benefits from their efforts.

It is significant to look at a list of the largest economies in the world. They are invariably nations with a coast along a great body of water, and many can be considered maritime nations. Their maritime and naval investment efforts are bringing them wealth. They include the United States, Japan, Germany, China, United Kingdom, France, Italy and Canada. Others are Spain, Brazil, Russia, India, South Korea, Mexico, Australia, and the Netherlands. The other members of this exclusive club that Nigeria aspires to join are Turkey, Belgium, Sweden and Switzerland.

It is not by accident that these international economic giants are industrial or industrializing nations. In addition they are vibrant maritime nations, trading nations, shipping nations, and nations with coherent national maritime strategy and appropriate naval forces to protect what they have.

Even the land-locked Switzerland is no exception to this general maritime rule and route to economic greatness. Switzerland has a long tradition of civilian navigation, both on its lakes, rivers, and on the high seas. It has a civilian high seas fleet of merchant vessels, whose home port is Basel from where the country connects to the port of Rotterdam in the Netherlands and thus to the sea trade network. Swiss industry and commerce rely on this connection, exploited for centuries by Swiss Rhine barges, for a substantial part of their imports and exports.

All these maritime economies and others that are striving to make it to the list of the top 20 have one thing in common. They have an enlightened appreciation of the importance of the sea, have developed coherent national maritime strategy and have considerable investment in merchant shipping and naval forces.

From time immemorial navies have always been closely associated with the economic prosperity of their nations. This is so because navies that guarantee benefits to littoral states in terms of maritime trade and enjoyment of sea-based resources such as fish, shrimps, and oil are not hindered or stolen by other, more determined and better armed people. Navies, whatever names they are called, are also instruments of law enforcement at sea. Navies usually have robust, multi-capable platforms with mobility, flexibility and endurance. They have well-trained officers and personnel, and they carry lethal war-fighting capabilities which are adaptable to deterrence and to fighting determined and well-equipped pirates and terrorists at sea.

Security of the seas is important and impacts us all. Today the enemies for which navies prepare are not only state actors. Given its open access to all comers, the sea has become a home of very many illegalities, a den of pirates, illegal bunkerers, crude oil thieves, smugglers, poachers, polluters, drug traffickers arms dealers, terrorists and other economic saboteurs. In view of the huge number and sophistication of these misusers of the sea, globally, navies are teaming up for maritime security protection, given their inbuilt scalable capabilities to deal with all eventualities. Therefore, opportunities are available for maritime forces to operate together regularly, and stamp out criminals and illegalities at sea. When this happens, the vision of the sea becoming a totally peaceful commune for humanity and for economic prosperity can become a reality. However, all this will happen only if the different political and economic systems allow naval operational harmony to prevail and if solutions can include poor littoral nations. In technological terms, these underdeveloped states are the weakest links in the chain of expected togetherness.

For decades, the United States Navy has actively taken up the mantle of global leadership by promoting maritime security partnerships globally through sea power symposia and conferences, joint operational training and equipment transfer using under the auspices of the NIPO (Navy International Programs Office). The growth of multilateral cooperation among African navies with each other and the U.S. Navy is an excellent example of this principle in practice.

African Partnerships and Security

Nations that understand this central purpose of navies equip them to optimize the naval strategy and thereby maximize returns of their investments. Those nations that ignore building and maintaining effective navies because they lack the vision, resources, the will, or are distracted by other political or security challenges on land, like Nigeria now bogged down by many political disorder and insurgencies, often become victims of national and international economic disillusionment.

The realities in the world today suggest that no one nation can do it alone in maritime security. Admiral Harry Ulrich III, a former commander of U.S. Naval Forces Europe and Africa, once declared that “maritime security is a team sport.” No navy can do it alone whether at the global, regional, sub-regional and at the national level. At the African regional level many calls have been made by successive Nigerian Chiefs of the Naval Staff, for African navies to cooperate to curb the activities of sea pirates in the continent’s coastal waters.

The African continent especially needs to learn the hard lessons about the power of sea power. As a South African Minister for Intelligence Services, Ronnie Kasrils, reminded African leaders at a Symposium on Sea Power for Africa in 2005:

“The destiny of this continent has for centuries been determined by the sea powers of the world, not by the people of the continent. That has been the case because they had the ability, the sea power, to voyage to Africa and to impose their will…Since the seventh Century, every invasion, every colonization, and every attack has come by sea.”

For several decades, the American global naval system has been unrelenting in driving global, regional, sub-regional and national naval partnerships, especially in the West and Central Africa. What started as an annual Training Cruise in the 1970s has metamorphosed into a U.S. African Command, coordinating an annual multi-national maritime exercise appropriately named Obangame Express. It brings together African, European, South American, and U.S. forces to enhance cooperation and expertise in maritime security operations.

Incidentally, “Obangame” which means “togetherness” comes from the Fang language of northern Gabon, Southern Cameroon and other parts of Central Africa. Obangame Express gives the partner nations the opportunity to work together, share information, and refine tactics, techniques, and procedures in order to assist the Gulf of Guinea maritime nations to build capacity to monitor and enforce their territorial waters and exclusive economic zones.

The United States has not attained the commanding height of coordinating the international maritime security cooperation out of the blue. This status has come out of the many decades of persistent pursuit of sea power advocacy, of which African people and governments should buy into and support. The South African Navy, Nigerian Navy, Senegalese Navy, Ghana Navy, and other active navies in Africa should come together and learn to interoperate for the security and economic benefits of the region. But habits of togetherness, led by navies, should start within the maritime communities of each nation. This is the foundation on which international togetherness in maritime security can be built.

How Maritime Nations Task and Empower their Navies

European Union Navies: Multinational European Union Naval Forces (EU NAVFOR) are engaged in a multi-tasking deployment to counter piracy in the Horn of Africa, protect the World Food Program to Somalia, and give logistic support to the African Union troops on peacekeeping operations in Somalia.

India: In 2009, against the backdrop of the Mumbai terrorist attack, the Union Government of India designated the Indian Navy as the authority responsible for overall maritime security, which includes coastal and off-shore security. The Navy will be assisted by the Coast Guard, state maritime police, and other central and state agencies. When the Minister of Defence announced the decision, he explained that the government decided to set up joint operation centers in Mumbai, Visakhapatanam, Kochi, and Port Blair. A national command, control, communication and intelligence network for real time maritime domain awareness would also be set up.

Brazil: Under the National Defense Strategy unveiled in 2008, the Brazilian Navy is tasked with developing a force to protect the country’s huge “sub-salt” oil reserves, the Amazon river basin and its 7,491 kilometers (4,655 miles) of coastline. The oil fields, located off Brazil’s southeast Atlantic coast beneath kilometers of ocean and bedrock, could contain more than 100 billion barrels of high-quality recoverable oil, according to official estimates. In a speech to the Navy’s top brass in June,  then-President Dilma Rousseff stressed that the buildup, including the acquisition of the country’s first nuclear-powered submarine, was a key “instrument of deterrence.”

Pakistan: Apart from a role in Cooperative Maritime Security, the Pakistani Navy is also undertaking independent operations to protect its flag carriers in the Indian Ocean and effectively counter threats posed to Pakistani economy due to rise in piracy incidents at sea.

Canada:  The Canadian Navy projects and protects Canada’s interests ashore and in distant places, it protects the passage of trade upon the seas, it participates in the monitoring of Canada’s ocean areas, and assists other government departments in the enforcement of Canadian maritime laws.

United States of America: When the American Revolution came to an end, George Washington was sworn in on 30 April 1789 as the first President of the United States. His first priority was to establish economic stability in the wake of $70 million debt accumulated during the war. To lead the task of economic reform, George Washington appointed Alexander Hamilton, his former aide-de-camp, as the first U.S. Secretary of the Treasury. Among the initiatives in Alexander Hamilton’s economic reform plan was the formation of a strong, seagoing military force then known as “Revenue Marine.”

For over two centuries the U.S. Coast Guard has safeguarded United States’ maritime interests in the heartland, in the ports, at sea, and around the globe. What is in a name? It may be called a coast guard, but it is reckoned to be the sixth largest navy in the world.  It was configured from the very beginning as an “economic force,” so to say, with military readiness embedded. That makes the USCG a model navy for many third world countries. It is not surprising that it is the service of choice by the United States’ to woo coastal nations in Africa and other parts to the world to be maritime security partners.

By law, the Coast Guard has 11 missions:

  • Ports, waterways, and coastal security
  • Drug interdiction
  • Aids to navigation
  • Search and rescue
  • Living marine resources
  • Marine safety
  • Defence readiness
  • Migrant interdiction
  • Marine environmental protection
  • Ice operation
  • Other law enforcement

China: China has come out boldly to proclaim that it needs “a strong navy to protects interests.” And that China needs a strong navy to protect its interests on the high seas, too. This is against the backdrop of what China sees as unnecessary apprehension in the West about the on-going revival of the Chinese Navy.

The Chinese aircraft carrier and its trial runs reflect the Chinese Navy’s growing competence in defending the country’s sovereignty and maritime interests. With a coastline of 18,000 kilometers, more than 6,500 islands, and about 3 million square kilometers of maritime area, China needs a strong and modern navy to prevent any violation of its territory, sovereignty over the islands and maritime interests in its waters.

The country became the world’s largest exporter in 2009 and imported 63 percent of its iron ore and 55 percent of its crude oil needs in 2010. The safety of China’s personnel, assets and shipping lanes is very important for its economy.

Gulf of Guinea Navies: In consonance with global developments and best practices, the Gulf of Guinea navies which were before isolated, are now teaming up to fight the menace of sea piracy in the sub-region. The current global concern about the Gulf of Guinea also has to do with the area’s growing importance as an oil producing region, leading the U.S. to increase its military presence in the area.

The need to enhance maritime security in the Gulf of Guinea was one the reasons behind the conduct of the joint sea exercise Obangame Express 2011. It was coordinated by the U.S. Coast Guard in concert with Navy units from Nigeria, Angola, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon and Sao Tome and Principe

Nigeria: Nigeria is a nation with the good fortune to have a considerable coastline sea and an economy critically dependent on the ocean resources and marine transportation.

By law the Nigerian Navy is specifically tasked with:

  • Defence of Nigeria by sea;
  • Enforcement and assisting in coordinating the enforcement of all customs laws, including anti-illegal-bunkering;
  • Fishery and immigration laws of Nigeria;
  • Enforcement and assisting in coordinating the enforcement of all national and international maritime laws ascribed or acceded to by Nigeria;
  • Making of charts and coordinating of all national hydrographic surveys;
  • Promoting, coordinating and enforcing safety regulations in the territorial waters and the EEZ of Nigeria.

Add to all these, sea piracy, human trafficking, narcotic smuggling, marine safety, search and rescue, and pollution control are also a part of the Nigerian Navy’s missions. Expectations by Nigerians for their Navy are very high. But few are aware of two decades of decline of the Navy’s fleet.

In addition many people are not aware that coastal security is a complex issue which requires seamless coordination across numerous government departments and agencies such as NIMASA, NPA, Customs, Immigration, Marine Police, and Inland Waterways. It also requires the setting up of technological expensive infrastructure. All that will cost a lot of financial resources.

But there are arguments in maritime security quarters that the required money can be made available if policy makers focus on costs and benefit thinking. That means they should fund the Nigerian Navy appropriately as a leading African nation in the world.

Conclusion

Economic gains are behind the building of all navies. Remove the veil from all strategic postulation and posturing, especially from the large and medium sea power nations, and one will discover that the whole purpose of navies is to further the economic interests of their states. But then, any nation that wants its navy to discharge its roles credibly must provide for that navy so that it can join the ensemble of navies working together. Vice Admiral Patrick Sebo Koshoni, a former Nigerian Chief of the Naval Staff once said:

“If you do not fund your Navy adequately, you will not get your Navy to discharge its roles optimally. If we don’t discharge our roles optimally, we are hazarding, willy-nilly, the economic lifelines of this country, which are predominantly offshore based.”

The international environment is one of violent peace, occasioned by sea piracy and many other illegalities at sea. This is stimulating the teaming up of global, regional, and coastal navies for collective maritime security. Also within coastal nations are a cornucopia of threats to peaceful resource enjoyment – from militants, pirates, illegal bunkerers, drugs, traffickers, and terrorists.

The bottom line is that across the globe navies are being charged with the leadership of the maritime security of their nations. But no navy can perform without significant legislative and financial support from national leaders. You can’t be an effective team player if you can’t get on the field.

Olutunde Oladimeji is a retired commodore of the Nigerian Navy. He is a 1972 graduate of Mass Communication, University of Lagos and earned a Master’s degree in International Relations from OAU University, Ile-Ife. He served in the Nigerian Navy for 22 years and finished as Director of Naval Information and Plans before retiring in 1994. He has written many books and articles for defense and naval magazines, including the U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings and has participated in many maritime security-related conferences in Nigeria and abroad.

Featured Image: The former Coast Guard cutter Gallatin was transferred to the Nigerian navy Wednesday at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in North Charleston in May 2014. (FLETC)

Manning the Distant Rampart: Maritime Strategy in an Age of Global Competition

Maritime Strategy for Great Power Competition Topic Week

By Harry Halem

Introduction – Maritime and Grand Strategy

During the third presidential debate of the 2012 election season, then-President Obama famously characterized the foreign policy of his Republican opponent, Mitt Romney, as decades out of date. When Romney identified Russia as the primary geopolitical foe of the U.S., Obama responded with “The 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back because the Cold War’s been over for 20 years.”

Six years later, candidate Romney’s prediction seems prescient, not antiquated. Russia and Iran now operate alongside one another in Syria, China continues to expand its maritime footprint in the South and East China Seas, and all the while North Korea’s nuclear arsenal holds America’s attention. Concurrently, the EU still struggles to respond to migrant flows from the Near East and North Africa, terrorist organizations persist despite ISIS’ destruction, and the world’s major powers struggle to counter transnational issues like piracy, international crime, and climate change.

Great power competition has clearly returned. But nontraditional issues have retained their relevance, with great powers using them as strategic facilitators in their quest to gain marginal advantages. In this international environment, the sea has retained its unbroken importance. The overwhelming majority of humankind’s physical trade is still transported on maritime highways, while the geography of contemporary global flashpoints, and the ambitions of great powers and nonstate actors, makes the sea central to international competition.

America’s sea services, therefore, require a new maritime strategy. One can understand maritime strategy as the relationship between naval and maritime power and a nation’s ultimate security objectives. This, in turn, stems from a grand strategy, a nation’s understanding of how to produce security from threat perception, safeguard its interests, and defend its honor. Crafting a new American maritime strategy thus requires a revitalized grand strategic paradigm, which entails a review of the nation’s enduring interests, and the specific threats it faces. From this broader paradigm, one can establish the relationship between a nation’s security and its maritime security, and outline a specific naval force structure.

The American Republic’s strategic objective remains preventing a hostile actor or coalition from dominating the Eurasian landmass. This requires fighting conflicts as far away from the American homeland as possible by establishing control of strategically vital regions in Eurasia. One can identify the illiberal entente of Russia, China, and Iran as the greatest adversaries of the U.S. The ultimate goal of this entente, and particularly of China, is to accumulate strategic nuances that can be used to crack America’s alliance structure or stage a coup de main against American forces.

One can identify three objectives for the sea services from this set of circumstances. First, American naval power must ensure access to specific narrow seas and maritime chokepoints. Second, the U.S. Navy (USN) and Marine Corps (USMC) must be able to deny America’s enemies their initial objectives in a broader conflict, with the goal of deterring or preventing a coup de main. Third, the sea services must field sufficient forward presence to preclude a fait accompli in various regions. One can identify a varied force structure to achieve these goals: a multi-Carrier Strike Group surface force optimized for sea control, a specific fleet of small surface combatants for use in the pre-conflict “grey zone,” a forward-deployed submarine force, and a USMC large enough to defend isolated outposts and mount large-scale counteroffensives.  Absent such changes in force structure, America’s adversaries will be able to take advantage of critical capability gaps.

Grand Strategy – Manning the Distant Rampart

Politics, like any human interaction, is not strictly scientific. However, one can identify enduring interests for different international actors. For example, any power that wishes to dominate Europe must contest control of the Mediterranean. This was true of Rome, the Venetian Republic, the Habsburg and Ottoman Empires, Britain, the French Republic, and Imperial and Soviet Russia. Similarly, specific regional actors have enduring interests. One can identify an intelligible French territorial interest from the mid-15th century onward which, whether Valois, Bourbon, Bonapartist, or Republican, had an overwhelming interest in ensuring Central Europe’s political weakness, and dominating it if possible. Only two world wars and a sustained confrontation between superpowers mitigated this strategic objective.

Similarly, different “problems” exist in international politics. Geostrategists are familiar with Alfred Thayer Mahan’s “Problem of Asia” – the threat of Russia’s expansionist impulse and geographic position, or the potential power of a unified China, would pose to international stability. The “German Problem” is similarly enduring: a united Germany, absent clear military restraint, naturally jeopardizes European security because of the population and resources it can muster.

The American Republic faces what one could term the “Eurasian problem.” American safety and prosperity is directly tied to the Eurasian balance of power. Eurasia contains the majority of the world’s population and resources. Hence, the domination of Eurasia by a hostile power or coalition would ultimately pose a direct threat to American survival – such an actor or coalition would always retain the ability to deny America access to markets, or launch an offensive against the Western hemisphere. However, unlike similarly insular maritime powers like Japan and Britain, the United States lacks easy access to Eurasia by virtue of its distant geographic position. Even launching small-scale raids on the European coastline would require a notable exertion of American power if not for the positional advantages gained through alliances.

Waiting until conflicts reach the Western hemisphere jeopardizes American interests. It is unlikely that a hostile Eurasian power could actually conquer the territorial United States. However, a Eurasian power could come to dominate Latin America over time while attacking strategic points in the Caribbean and along the U.S. coastline, slowly eroding the position of the U.S., and forcing it to acquiesce to an unfavorable and likely illiberal international order. Nuclear weapons compound the issue. Mutually Assured Destruction would provide much less comfort against an anti-ballistic missile network and tactical nuclear arsenals distributed throughout the Western Pacific and Latin America.

Two strategic precepts flow from the Eurasian problem that the American Republic confronts. First, the U.S. must ensure a favorable Eurasian balance of power. Second, the best way to preserve this balance of power is by fighting wars and influencing events away from the Western Hemisphere. By maintaining overseas bases, partnering with regional powers, and fielding a powerful Navy, the U.S. can man what Professor Harold Rood termed in his 1967 prize-winning essay for Proceedings the “Distant Rampart.”

Just as France’s leaders have followed a consistent logic in their foreign policies despite changes in regime and ideology, so have the American Republic’s statesmen done the same. The American Revolution can be understood in part as an attempt to prevent the colonies’ interests from being overshadowed by those of Europe’s great powers during post-conflict settlements. The Monroe Doctrine began forward defense: preventing foreign meddling in the Western hemisphere precludes a campaign against America’s homeland. The belated American entry into both World Wars demonstrates strategy’s eventual triumph over ideology – American leaders could not accept German, either Imperial or Nazi, domination of Europe.

The unfortunate side effect of the American Republic’s ascendancy in the post-WWII era was the relative diminishment of allied European military power and global political networks born from colonial interests. Rather than simply supporting allies in key regions, during the Cold War the U.S. was forced to man the Distant Rampart itself, maintaining a permanent and prominent military presence in Europe and Asia, and committing to large-scale interventions in Korea and Vietnam.

Although the Soviet Empire collapsed in 1991, the Eurasian problem still persists.  Advances in Artificial Intelligence are poised to revolutionize global economics and finance, but unless one can solve fundamental resource questions, maritime trade will remain central to the global economy, making hostile control of Eurasia an economic threat. Moreover, Eurasia’s resources comparative to the Americas ensure the persistence of the Eurasian problem.

Manning the Distant Rampart, then, must remain the core of American grand strategy. As such, maritime power is the most fundamental component of America’s national power because maritime power is what ultimately assures American access across the large oceans that separate it from the Eurasian landmass. Dominating Eurasia requires dominion over the large oceans that surround it and the narrow maritime chokepoints that connect key geographic regions. With such dominion, a would-be authoritarian hegemon can bully smaller states into submission by threatening to deny them access to regional trade, eroding their sovereignty through naval patrols in their territorial waters, and staging amphibious assaults upon their territory. Eurasia’s narrow seas also include maritime chokepoints that constrain nearly all seaborne movement – controlling even one of these chokepoints gives the dominating power the ability to manipulate the global economy, and deny other powers secure lines of communication while facilitating the transfer of forces between theaters. Maritime strategy, therefore, is a significant part of American grand strategy, as Eurasia’s proximate maritime features and chokepoints have always been central areas of contestation in great power competition.

Threats – the Illiberal Entente and its Wildcards

Delineating specific roles for the sea services requires a review of the specific challengers the American Republic faces, along with the “wildcards” that said challengers can employ or benefit from, particularly terrorism and non-state actors.

Nearly 111 years ago, Britain, France, and Russia cemented the mutual political and strategic understanding that is termed the Triple Entente. While each partner was an erstwhile rival or enemy of the other two, all three shared an interest in containing Imperial German power. One can see a similar arrangement developing between three aspiring hegemons today – China, Russia, and Iran. Each has either openly facilitated or tacitly acquiesced to the aims of the other two, in the belief that destabilizing American power elsewhere will enable its own regional objectives.

China poses the most obvious threat. It has the world’s largest population (1.4 billion) and either its largest ($21-23 trillion PPP) or second-largest ($11-12 trillion nominal) GDP. Scaling for personnel costs and adjusting the purchasing power of U.S. and Chinese budgets, China may spend roughly the same and possibly more than the U.S. on weapons systems, military operations, and training exercises.

China’s contemporary military is the culmination of four decades of development and reform. The PLA is the largest active military in the world. Its Navy is one of six that operates both a fixed-wing aircraft carrier and a nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine. Its Air Force operates the world’s third largest combat aircraft fleet, and is one of three to field strategic bombers. Moreover, its Navy is scheduled to possibly outstrip America’s in size by 2020.

China’s internal system rests upon contradictory premises. Selective liberalization and capitalization are in tension with socio-political uniformity. Since Deng Xiaoping’s victory over the Gang of Four, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has restrained itself from overt, society-wide ideological engineering. Rather than pursuing a socialist utopia, the PRC’s social contract requires the continual increase of living standards, particularly for the urban middle class, in return for acquiescence to the regime’s social control. Such a social contract is not fully legitimate – a fact that helps explain the CCP’s fixation on Taiwan, an economically vibrant democracy that demonstrates an alternative developmental path.

One can link this fixation on legitimacy with the CCP’s ideational aims. Chinese rhetoric about its “century of humiliation” must be taken seriously in understanding China’s perspective. As the preeminent Western power, the lynchpin of the contemporary international economic order, and with its network of Pacific bases and a blue-water Navy, America is China’s obvious rival. Many elements of China’s economy are dependent on seaborne commerce, such as how China’s economy requires natural resources for production and its population needs more energy than China’s domestic deposits provide.

Hence, China has embarked upon a campaign of hedging against U.S. offensive action and global economic shock, the two events that can disrupt Chinese growth. In maritime terms, this is best expressed in its South China Sea (SCS) and East China Sea (ECS) aggression. The majority of China’s imports pass through these waters, making hostile control of them in war a mortal threat to Chinese ambitions and stability. Additionally, control of the SCS and ECS allows China to isolate Taiwan and cut off energy flows to Japan, breaking up the U.S. regional alliance structure. On land, China is attempting to acquire resources at the point of extraction, especially in Africa and Central Asia. Beijing’s One Belt One Road initiative seems grandiose and ill-fated until one identifies it as a component of Chinese hedging. Rather than attempting to compete with American maritime advantages overland, China could be attempting to create a windpipe to relieve itself during a major crisis. Concurrently, China has expanded its maritime trade fleet, an asset that ensures energy and other imports during the next international economic contraction.  Finally, Beijing’s hedge includes the ultimate goal of transforming China’s economy, to ensure the rising living standards its urban middle class demands. Chinese encroachments into Latin American markets facilitate this objective, while also offering it access into the geopolitical backyard of the U.S.

While China operates largely independently in the Pacific, Russia and Iran have intertwined objectives in the Near East and Europe, making it reasonable to address both powers simultaneously.

Putin’s Russia lacks the USSR’s military capabilities, but the laws of geopolitics still apply. While Russia’s military weakness relative to China has diminished its role in Asia’s balance of power, the Russian problem remains relevant for Europe and the Near East. Russia’s overarching strategic objective, whether Imperial, Soviet, or Putinist, has been securing itself from European invasion. European nations have been united twice under an anti-Russian coalition – in both instances, Russia survived an invasion attempt, but only after immense loss of life and expenditure of resources. Controlling Eastern Europe gives Russia a buffer against potential aggression, while establishing itself as Europe’s preeminent power offers long-term security. This combines with Russia’s ideological impulses, which Imperial and Soviet Russia both shared. Russia’s self-image demands respect, whether as the Roman Empire’s successor, leader of international Marxism, or simply Europe’s foremost state.

Considering Russia’s diminished power position, obtaining Eastern Europe as a buffer and expelling America from the European continent requires creative strategy. Rather than physically removing the U.S., Russia is attempting to “crack” NATO by attacking its members’ domestic institutions, likely as a prelude to crisis generation. The Eastern Mediterranean and Black Sea are central to this goal – control of both allows Russia to dominate the Balkans and pressure Europe’s “soft underbelly.”

Russia’s objectives in the Eastern Mediterranean and Black Sea mesh with Iran’s regional ambitions. One should not underestimate the religious animus that drives the Iranian regime. The Islamic Republic’s political structure, despite its electoral obfuscation, heavily centralizes control in the clerical class and the IRGC. Locked in religious competition with Israel and sectarian competition with Saudi Arabia, the Iranian regime’s “governance of the jurist” engenders an aggressive, anti-Western foreign policy. Additionally, the Iranian people still remember the Anglo-American engineered deposition of Mohammed Mossadeq in 1953, adding distrust to Iranian avarice. Even more apparent than Iran’s ideological goals are its actions. Tehran has manufactured a corridor from Iran’s borders to the Eastern Mediterranean through proxies in Iraq and Syria. Despite its nuclear arsenal, Israel’s population precludes an actual offensive campaign against Iran, while Saudi Arabia, despite Mohammed Bin Salman’s reforms, remains corrupt and internally weak. If Israel or Saudi Arabia could subjugate Iran, one of the two would have done so already, rather than allowing the Islamic Republic to continue increasing its power. The Iran-Iraq War demonstrated the true strength of Iran’s society. Israel and Saudi Arabia, therefore, seek a reasonable accommodation, while Iran desires domination.

To facilitate their mutual aims, Tehran and Moscow have entered into an increasingly public partnership. Russia’s increased presence in the Eastern Mediterranean and support of the Assad regime occurs in tandem with Iran’s increasing control over Iraq, and its support for Hezbollah. Russia lacks a territorial interest in the Near East, while Iran’s primary rivals are land-based. Hence, the two powers cooperate to achieve their joint goals, with Russian weapons finding their way to Iranian proxies, and Iranian special forces working alongside Russian troops. Recent news of a Russo-Israeli agreement on Iran’s withdrawal from southern Syria does not change this relationship. Russia requires Iran’s partnership, absent increased Turkish stability or a literal revolution in Saudi Arabia, while Iran can still support Hezbollah, even if its forces are not stationed on Israel’s northern border.

Not only do the actions of each of the illiberal entente’s members support others’ positions – all three partners use strategic wildcards to expand their power.

Iran’s relationship with Russia has already been explicated. Less obvious is its relationship with China. Aside from the military relationship between Tehran and Beijing, Iran can influence the Strait of Hormuz, an important strategic chokepoint for China especially. This past April, India and China imported nearly half of Iran’s oil production. Oil travelling to China from Iran by water must pass through the Strait of Hormuz, off Iran’s coastline, and the Strait of Malacca, on the SCS’ southern rim. Even if China gains control of the SCS, the U.S. Navy could exert distant pressure in the Indian Ocean, denying China-bound ships the opportunity to even reach the Strait of Malacca and where directly blockading the Strait of Malacca would be economically catastrophic.

China and Iran are developing the mutual tools and positions to respond to such a move. Iranian long-range missiles like the Shahab-3, with its 2000-kilometer range, can reach a longitudinal line running from the Horn of Africa to the Indian coast. If the road-mobile weapon is based in Houthi-controlled Yemeni territory, one could envision an even greater area of coverage.  Concurrently, China now holds two ports in the Indian Ocean: Gwadar, on the Pakistani coast, and Colombo, in Sri Lanka. Neither location is militarized today, but both could become focal points for Chinese power projection in the Indian Ocean in the future.  Even absent the hardening that would make these ports tenable in a major conflict, China can still use them to escort China-bound shipping in a “grey zone” scenario as described above. China lacks regular  Mediterranean presence, but Iranian and Russian acquiescence to China’s Eastern Mediterranean economic expansion indicates similarly overlapping interests. One could envision the Greek port of Piraeus becoming a shared location for the illiberal entente’s members

China, Russia, and Iran also benefit from strategic wildcards that can disrupt the status quo, and provide cover for expansion. ISIS posed an undeniable security threat to Iran and Russia. But it is also clear that, without Iraqi state weakness, Iran’s project to create a chain of proxy or allied states spanning the Near East would be much further from completion. Russia would have lacked cover to expand its reach into the Eastern Mediterranean and threaten Europe’s underbelly without the rebel and jihadist threat against the Assad regime. Similarly, the PLA Navy would not be able to deploy as easily to the Indian Ocean without the cover of antipiracy operations. China’s current antipiracy Indian Ocean presence consists of two frigates and 700 Special Operations Forces and other soldiers. But if China’s presence in Africa, anchored in Djibouti, expands, this could turn into a larger, more permanent force. One should note that a Sino-Iranian response to American interdiction of China-bound shipping in the Indian Ocean would likely involve the forces engaged in antipiracy operations off the Horn of Africa.

None of these adversaries have the immediate goal of war with the United States. However, all three powers have the potential to execute faits accomplis – quick, decisive actions that cannot be responded to absent general escalation. Russia maintains overwhelming relative superiority in the Baltics and Ukraine. Putin could one day elect to quickly connect St. Petersburg to Kaliningrad, or drive further west in Ukraine. China outnumbers and outclasses the Philippines and Vietnam in the SCS. If Chinese violations of Vietnamese or Philippine fishing waters, or a repeat of the Hai Yang Shi You 981 standoff, prompt a strong militarized response, the PLAN and PLAAF would enjoy steep superiority over their regional counterparts. Vietnam would fare better in a full-scale confrontation, but China could still obtain the more limited objective of neutralizing the Vietnamese Navy by drawing it out into a lopsided engagement. In each of these situations, the U.S. will be faced with the choice between escalation, and the potential of general war between nuclear-armed powers, or acquiescence to adversarial expansion and intimidation, and the erosion of its strategic position.

Moreover, an ultimate goal of China, may be to stage a coup de main against American forces in the Pacific. China’s long-range missiles would isolate America’s Pacific bases from one another and American forces from their allied counterparts, while long-range strike aircraft and amphibious units would overwhelm remaining outposts, and leave China with a free hand to neutralize Taiwan. Bursting through a cordon of the First and Second Island Chains, PLAN submarines could attempt to tie down U.S. follow-on forces by attacking naval bases at Pearl Harbor, Kitsap, and San Diego. Even more unconventionally, a great power adversary could smuggle weapons of mass destruction into major American cities using clandestine naval power, as ML Cavanaugh suggests in his provocative Modern War Institute piece, and hold the U.S. population hostage through threat of an unpreventable nuclear strike. Accumulating nuanced advantages through repeated faits accomplis can facilitate ultimate objectives.

Manning the Distant Rampart – Maritime Strategy and Force Structure

The clearly maritime nature of contemporary great power competition, along with the specifics of the illiberal entente’s objectives and capabilities, necessitates a specific maritime strategy. The USN should be tasked with three major missions: maintaining control of certain strategic chokepoints, the prevention of a coup de main by manning specific Distant Ramparts, and the prevention of faits accomplis.

First, the sea services must control specific international chokepoints which correspond to the narrow seas previously discussed. Most important to this strategy is control of the Strait of Hormuz, Strait of Malacca, and the Eastern Mediterranean Basin. Control of these three chokepoints enables a far blockade/interdiction strategy critical to victory in a long-term conflict. Control of the Eastern Mediterranean hems in Russia from the South, facilitates operations against Iranian expansion in the Near East, and shortens transit time between the Atlantic and the Pacific. Control of the Strait of Hormuz and Western Indian Ocean enables a far blockade or interdiction operation against China, and provides critical screening for forces moving between the Far East and Europe. Finally, control of the Strait of Malacca and the Indonesian Throughflow, while not a foolproof method to prevent Chinese submarine leakage into the Indian Ocean, would at least make it more difficult for PLA Navy surface combatants to operate in this maritime space. Moreover, were China to militarize Colombo and Gwadar, and create a major facility in Djibouti, American and Allied forces would likely be able to prevent their relief and neutralize their combat efficacy.

Second, the USN and USMC must maintain overwhelming force superiority at critical sections of the Distant Rampart. In particular, the Ryukyu Islands, Indochinese coastline, and Persian Gulf must be unimpeachably secure. Crushing smaller adversaries like the Philippines and, depending on the conflict, Vietnam, could be executed before the arrival of American follow-on forces. A Taiwanese fait accompli is also possible, particularly if China struck after eliminating Vietnam or the Philippines. However, if China were not to secure a quick victory, it would need to isolate Taiwan from external supply lines and possible vectors of foreign intervention. This involves cutting through the Ryukyu Islands and Luzon in a pincer movement. Similarly, a quick descent upon the Strait of Malacca could require neutralizing Vietnam as an adversary – forces operating from Da Nang and Hai Phong would directly threaten the Southern Seas Fleet’s bases on Hainan Island and in Zhanjing. Ensuring American strength at each of these points would make the risk of these decisive actions much greater. If China cannot neutralize Taiwan with an overwhelming first strike, and if reinforcing CSGs and submarines operate behind a nest of island-based missile defenses, China will need to actually fight for the First Island Chain, rather than gaining it as a launchpad for further operations. If a Chinese move against Malacca requires eliminating an American-aligned Vietnam that can stall an offensive, the possibility of a quick, decisive strike spiraling into a broader war increases. And if America holds force superiority at key strategic points, this broader war looks increasingly less attractive for China. A similar concept applies in the Persian Gulf. A quick Iranian strike against Saudi Arabia or an attempt to control the Strait of Hormuz would be much less attractive if American forces in the Persian Gulf could intercept incoming Iranian missiles, sink the inevitable swarm of fast attack craft and missile boats, and eliminate the Iranian naval command at Bandar Abbas. Maintaining superiority at critical points on the Distant Rampart ensures that America’s adversaries will need to seriously consider the implications of full-scale and long-term war, rather than being tempted to strike quickly and decisively.

Third, the sea services, and the Navy in particular, must guard against smaller-scale faits accomplis from America’s adversaries by maintaining long-term and sufficient presence and combat power in the narrow seas, namely the SCS, ECS, Baltic, and Eastern Mediterranean.  The specific force structure in the first three differs from that in the last. The SCS, ECS, and Baltic are potential “hot zones,” in which China or Russia could stage a quick strike against an American ally or U.S. forces.  For long-term combat power, submarines are more important in these areas than surface combatants – although small surface combatants used as a tripwire, and to engage in grey zone operations, are relevant. By contrast, Russia’s aim of cracking NATO involves applying coercive naval and maritime pressure to Southern Europe and, potentially, Israel. Particularly in the Eastern Mediterranean, land-based airpower can prove decisive in preserving sea control, as Britain’s experience during the Second World War demonstrated.  Thus, the USN’s Eastern Mediterranean role must be to outmuscle Russian warships, serving as a visible marker of American interest in, and commitment to, a favorable regional balance of power.

A specific force structure and distribution descends from this strategy. The two major chokepoints that the U.S. must control – the Strait of Hormuz and Strait of Malacca – require frequent carrier coverage, or at a minimum, a large, visible surface presence. In addition, the USN must provide a capable battle force ready to deploy to Asiatic waters, which likely includes two on-station CSGs at any time. Presuming contemporary operational tempo during peacetime, this necessitates an expansion of the U.S. carrier fleet to 15 ships from its present 11. Despite their age, the Navy could consider bringing the USS Enterprise and John F Kennedy out of retirement, at least until the mid-2020s, when CVN-80 will be commissioned. With four surface combatants and one submarine per CSG, the Navy will need to dedicate 20 surface combatants and five SSNs exclusively to maintaining these permanent formations. That is absent the surface action groups necessary to operate a far blockade. The Future Surface Combatant’s development offers a significant opportunity in this regard: developing a family of warships intended to operate as a cohesive, networked whole in blockade operations would benefit America’s long-term strategy.

Preventing faits accomplis requires a similarly significant force restructuring. The basis of this deterrence force should be the four Ohio-class submarines the USN has modified to carry cruise missiles, operating alongside Surface Action Groups (this makes eight more deployed DDG-51s, DDG-1000s, or CG-47s). Such formations will be particularly important in the Baltics, SCS, and ECS, environments in which America’s adversaries could contest access in crisis situations. The SSGNs will be able to avoid enemy detection, and inflict substantial punishment on advancing forces and their supporting infrastructure with their 154 cruise missiles. However, the U.S. must consider revising longstanding biases, and forward-deploying small surface combatants optimized for lethality, rather than emphasizing survivability and defensive armament. Conventionally-powered attack submarines may also be a part of such a force, either directly in the U.S. fleet, or operated by American allies with weaker military capabilities.

Most importantly, preventing a coup de main requires a radical overhaul of the USN’s and USMC’s present operational outlook. While the far blockade is invaluable to winning a major great power war, it is unlikely to deter one. Short, decisive actions that transform the regional balance of forces are unlikely to be deterred by long-term punishment strategies, of which the far blockade is an example. The case of Germany in 1914 is illustrative. British strategy was premised on maintaining the far blockade against Germany, and in conjunction slowly grinding down Germany’s military positions on the European continent. The strategy worked, but only after 1.1 million British and Imperial lives were lost. If Britain had attempted to deny Germany its immediate objectives in 1914, and threatened to deploy 30 or more divisions in support of France at the outbreak of hostilities, the already anxious Moltke the Younger may have objected to the Schlieffen Plan in its totality.

Similarly, denying China its objectives in the Pacific requires ensuring that Taiwan remains defended and supplied despite an overwhelming initial Chinese offensive. Neutralizing Taiwan is essential for China’s long-term war objectives in a protracted and wide-scale conflict. If the island remains functionally independent, it could act as a strategic salient for hostile forces, and a staging point for attacks against Chinese shipping and naval units. The two-CSG battle force proposed previously would help protect Taiwan from China’s initial offensive. However, the USMC must also fortify the islands that provide access to Taiwan, namely the Ryukyus and the north of the Philippine archipelago. This not only entails an expansion of the USMC, but also a modification of its role. Marines fortifying these islands must field their own long-range anti-ship and anti-air missiles, while the Marine air units deployed would be focused upon air defense and sea control, rather than ground attack.

The exact size of such a fleet and Marine Corps would fluctuate depending upon specific operational choices. However, one can expect the USN would break 350 ships, while the USMC would expand to 190,000-200,000 men.

Conclusion

Such a force expansion would be costly, but is miniscule compared to the price of fighting a major war unprepared. Manning the Distant Rampart is an expensive process, even with allies to shoulder the load. But abandoning it, as empires from Rome onward have learned, is even more dangerous. By refocusing U.S. maritime strategy on forward defense and offensive action, one can hope for, if not the realization of American security goals, then at least the right general approach to the Republic’s challenges.

Harry Halem is an undergraduate at the University of St Andrews studying International Relations and Philosophy. He welcomes your comments at hh66@st-andrews.ac.uk

Featured Image: EAST CHINA SEA (March 11, 2018) An F-35B launches off the flight deck of the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp (LHD 1) as part of a routine patrol in the Indo-Pacific region. Pilots with the “Green Knights” of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121 (VMFA-121), assigned under the Okinawa-based 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, are scheduled to conduct a series of qualification flights on Wasp over a multi-day period. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Levingston Lewis/Released)