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On The Decline of European Naval Power: A Conversation with Jeremy Stöhs, Pt. 2

Read Part One here.

By Roger Hilton

RH: You state that after the end of the Cold War many states had been able to consolidate their militaries despite fiscal restrictions. This all changed in 2007-2008, this groundswell of financial issues, tanking economies, and soaring national debt. You argue that even previous levels of defense spending and the corresponding force structures were unsustainable in many cases. It is evident that we have fairly polarizing periods here. On the one hand we have the reduced defense spending period of the immediate post-Cold War, and then the high defense spending in the latter 2000s, immediate post 9/11 era. Can you help us understand the short and long-term impact that the global financial crisis had on naval procurement?

JS: In the 1990s a lot of states still invested heavily in modernizing their militaries, and you see a real strengthening of naval forces. Just take a look at the Greek Navy; also the French are still spending quite a lot on national defense. The real problem really starts in the 2000s. Purely from a platform-centric point of view, much of the damage to European navies began in the 2000s I would say. You see the decommissioning of numerous vessels and platforms without replacements – the Danish submarine flotilla for example or large parts of the Dutch escort fleet. You have problems with procurement processes, you see this with the German and Spanish submarine programs. This was really exacerbated by the financial crisis, putting procurement projects on hold or canceling them outright. My British colleagues will attest to this, most infamously the cancellation of the British Nimrod maritime patrol aircraft, which left the Brits without any dedicated fixed wing maritime surveillance platform. But that’s just one of many examples.

RH: When it comes to specific examples in your book you describe a bleak picture that in the decline of the 2000s, on top of the financial crisis, it essentially removed some features of European navies, possibly for good. You cite the devastating example of the Dutch, who went from having one of the most capable Cold War fleets to what some observers describe today as a second-rate Navy. Could you elaborate a bit on this example?

JS: I think this is one of the best examples of the decline of European naval power. This also happened before the financial crisis. The Dutch defense studies postulated in 2003 and 2005, they spelled out that the Navy had to find a new balance, and this meant selling six of their frigate to Belgium, Chile, and Portugal. This would leave them with a fleet escort of a total of six frigates. And instead of buying new frigates, they would receive Holland-class OPVs, which while being the “Rolls Royce” of OPVs, don’t have the fighting power of a frigate of course.

And then you have at the same time the earlier 2000s, the fleet of Orion maritime patrol aircraft being sold to Germany, and all that happens prior to the crisis. I think what the crisis then did, including for the Netherlands, is that it significantly impacted training and readiness, and that definitely had long-term effects on naval forces. Another example is the new submarine that should be commissioned will probably be introduced sometime in 2028 or 2030, something like that, and the current submarines will have reached 40 years by then, which is quite a long period of time. So that just shows these long procurement processes and the problems they suffered.

RH: To shift to some encouraging news, despite the tight national purses that affected procurement, what are your thoughts on the FREMM project between France and Italy that was designed to build a multi-purpose frigate? In the book you said the project was deemed as a success, but is still subject to economic limitations. Today with more appetite for spending, is this a concept that can be recreated with success today?

JS:  I like the FREMM frigates not only because they are beautiful ships, both the French and Italian version, and they might also be the U.S. Navy’s next frigate, so that this is a first…but what I find interesting is that this Franco-Italian cooperation project worked relatively well. They included lessons learned from the previous cooperation which was the Horizon project, an air defense destroyer, a trilateral cooperation between the British, the French and the Italians. It ultimately produced only two destroyers for France and Italy, and the British went on to produce their own destroyer, the Daring-class. What they learned is that you don’t have to build an identical ship, but actually can have some similarities and at the end of the day you have ships that are cousins. That really is an example of how corporations in the defense sector can work. But of course the French aren’t procuring nearly as many as they initially planned, and now they’re selling some to Morocco and Egypt. There are other examples but that is one.

RH: On Greek and Turkish maritime capabilities, you established that unlike most European nations, the Hellenic Navy had seen the fewest doctrinal changes. It remained focused on defending its adjacent waters and fulfilling its NATO obligations. At the same time you assert that the naval balance of power in the region had shifted to its traditional regional competitor, Turkey. How do you forecast the competition in the maritime domain playing out between these two ‘allied’ powers?

JS: This was the most interesting case study to me because those were two countries that in the 1990s and 2000s adhered to traditional national defense strategies and did not jump on the power projection bandwagon. You only see a little bit of it in Turkey’s force structure and operations, but Greece is really still adhering to territorial defense, SLOC protection, and it has the fleet for that.

You see a similar trajectory in recent years, both have had shed unnecessary addendums and allowed the older combatants and ships to be decommissioned to more effectively modernize their fleets through this period of the 1990s and 2000s. Both of them actually have larger fleets now than they had in the 1990s, not only in regard to the order of battle, but also more capable fleets relative to other powers.

Greece was of course hit very hard economically and put a number of programs on hold such as its fast attack craft and German submarines. Turkey on the other hand has incrementally been creating a capable domestic defense sector, despite setbacks. They’re really trying to create their own capability in terms of being able to build their own weapon systems, everything from tanks, UAVs, and now up to frigates. They started building licensed, state-of-the-art German submarines. Now they are also building the Spanish-designed TCG Andalou aircraft carrier which is a very interesting development of course for power projection.

But on the other hand, two caveats I want to add here, both of them have challenges they face, and one is of course fiscal for the Greeks. For the Turks, I believe it’s hard to imagine after two consecutive purges in the military so I’m told, that that has not had a negative effect on the Navy. While the current naval officers are loyal to President Erdogan, I would be looking over my shoulder if I were them.

The Turkish Navy also has to keep a close eye on the Russian fleet, which unlike the Baltic in my opinion, is considerably more powerful than it was a couple years ago. It’s a development that is evolutionary rather than revolutionary as long as Turkey remains in NATO.

RH: For the third period you cover, 2014 to the present, post Crimea annexation, we arrive at a juncture for European navies. The annexation of Crimea set off waves of reverberations that are still being felt today. Russia’s annexation caught policymakers by surprise, and in response to bolster their defense, actions taken by NATO and the EU have attempted to address this previous complacency. Compounding matters, as you state, is the proliferation of terrorist attacks in Europe, creating a permanent sense of insecurity. Then enter a wild card – President Trump’s America First nationalist policy and Washington’s rebalancing toward the Indo-Pacific region. When taken together these events have only amplified the sense of uncertainty. Is it a little too late for European naval forces to defend themselves without the full support of the U.S.?

JS: Does the U.S. have an interest in staying engaged in Europe? There is no doubt about it. I think for the foreseeable future, it’s a pipe dream to believe Europeans will gain full strategic autonomy from the U.S. I think that is a buzzword that is being spread in Brussels and throughout Europe. There are several areas in which the European Union wants to become truly autonomous. This includes politically, operationally, and also industrially and technologically autonomous.

And while there is a sense in the globalized world that there is such a sense of technological autonomy, I find it really difficult to believe that there will be operational autonomy, in terms if when push comes to shove and European states are engaged or see a necessity to engage in high-intensity warfare or a military campaign, they will not only need the U.S. they will need other European countries to support them in some way. I don’t see any scenario where that need will be lessened at the operational level, or at the political level. What they need is as much independence as possible, but that does not mean autonomy.

RH: As a product of this tumult you state how closer cooperation between Europe’s armed forces has emerged. Can you discuss some of the future and completed programs, and if this cooperative model is sustainable in the long-term when it comes to naval forces?

JS: What I think is important is that with respect to fiscal austerity, there is a very interesting idea on how European naval forces can deal with times of fiscal austerity. It provides four possibilities on fiscal austerity. First, shortcuts, or settling for less. Next, jointness and working with other military services. Then, multilateral and combined operations in cooperating with other states. And the fourth is leap-frogging or offsetting and using asymmetric technologies. European navies have been doing a bit everything, but their governments have been choosing number one too much, namely settling for less.

They are closing their interoperability gaps, which is an obvious problem of course.  I have to say, we complain a lot, but no alliance has had better interoperability than NATO. There’s been discussion of including Japan and Germany in the Five Eyes agreement. We have a multitude of bilateral and multinational naval cooperation: the Swedish-Finnish efforts, the German-Dutch amphibious forces, the Belgian-Dutch BeNeSam; I could go on. What I would like to see is an equivalent of a NATO AWACS, or an equivalent to the aerial tanker and transport fleet. I thought when the deal didn’t go through with the Mistral-class amphibious assault ships the French were building for the Russians, that could have helped trailblaze this idea of having a ship under the NATO flag with different countries providing the crews and aviation platforms. But from what I heard it was  discussed for about ten minutes and then the idea was laid to rest. But maybe ten years from now we’ll actually see something like that happen.

At the beginning I pointed out that even a land-locked country like Austria can have agency at sea, and Austrian Special Forces were deployed and embarked on a German vessel in an EU operation at sea. If 20 years ago you had suggested that the EU would be conducting naval operations in the Med, and there would be Austrian Special Forces embarked on that vessel, they would have probably thought you were crazy. But that just goes to show what naval forces can do, and that we all can contribute and that sea power is shared.

RH: Coming to the last point here in the third period, in parallel to this cooperation theme, you stress the need for nations to strike a capabilities balance. In search of harmony, how do European navies reconcile investing resources in high-intensity capabilities aimed at deterring conflict with other navies rather than in investing in low-intensity capabilities designed for the maintenance of maritime order?

JS: In general, what I currently see, at least in some circles, is that the pendulum has swung too far in one direction. Yes, I believe naval forces are built for warfighting, that’s their primary mission and function. But people are readily forgetting about all the other things naval forces can do, from constabulary duties, the diplomatic roles, that’s often brushed aside because it’s not as glamorous. I think we have to be careful that we don’t only emphasize that because for the first time naval forces will have to do really everything because the challenges are so great. The range of missions runs the gamut of the intensity spectrum and we can’t just say, well, we’ll do collective defense or anti-submarine warfare and we won’t worry about migration, for example.

What I argued for is that niche specialization is important. It provides small countries that have very limited budgets the ability to add something to the greater whole, to NATO or the EU for example. But that can be taken too far as well or not suffice. What I argue for are baseline capabilities. Rich states such as Germany and the Netherlands can invest in having balanced navies that can conduct a wide range of missions not specialize in niches. However, I think for smaller states that specialization can be dangerous because it can limit possibilities and can make you very dependent on others for aid.

The limit of course is GDP, and whether there is funding for naval forces. For a Latvia or a Slovenia that will be difficult. But what is necessary is prudent thinking about contributing to naval operations. I mentioned earlier Austrian boarding teams that can be deployed on EU missions or the possibility of a small Swedish warship operating off the Horn of Africa.

I would also argue to not make the mistakes of the past. Perhaps as a scholar that didn’t live through the Cold War, it seems to me I see people reverting to an older, more comfortable view. Kaliningrad Oblast is often described by NATO zealots as a seemingly impenetrable fortress that renders all NATO and partner navies in that area sitting ducks. A scholar at the Center for Naval Analyses in Virginia, Steven Wills, who has a piece on CIMSEC, discussed how the West got Soviet naval strategy entirely wrong in the 1960s and 1970s. I wonder today if we’re prudent enough to get our analysis right.

RH: Let’s return to our initial question. Are European naval forces doomed to impotency, or is reform and renewed power projection possible? How do you rate their chances for success?

JS: I wrote an article recently for The Naval War College Review titled “Into the Abyss” where I argued that by 2014 the situation was quite bleak. The decline was so pronounced in many of the navies and their capabilities were so atrophied that this really called into question their ability to provide credible deterrence. And they were smaller than any time in recent history, they lost capability, and the idea of deploying them in contested environments had almost been forgotten. There was a preoccupation with low-intensity operations, counter-piracy operations, but the basic function of warfighting had been forgotten to a certain extent.

But, at the same time, I see light at the end of the tunnel. I know for a lot of people who want to see change happen quickly and see budgets rise very quickly. It bears remembering that in the 1990s they were using vessels designed in the 80s and 70s, so it will take time for the changes to take place and we have to be very smart in the risks we assume in defense spending. But I do see light at the end of the tunnel what European naval forces are concerned.

RH: This positivity you’re sharing with us is certainly an exercise in patience and prudent decision-making in defense spending. Looking to the future, do you have any last strategic takeaways that we should be conscious of?

JS: For anyone who is interested in European naval matters it is important to scale down your expectations. European navies and their militaries are sometimes seen as collectively powerful because Europe as a whole is more populous than the United States and its cumulative GDP is also higher. The United States and Europe are similar, so it seems. And that’s a very inviting idea, but it just does not work because Europe has different states with very different interests.

It’s important to remember that the individual defense budgets of the respective states are but a fraction of that of the United States. But what is more important for the smallish navies is that they still play an important role in the freedom of the seas and good order at seas, and also in military operations. There is a necessity for far greater research on European naval forces, especially of their development over the past decades. There is very little comprehensive research on what they have been doing, what their policies were, what they changed what the force structures were, and so on. So, I am just trying to contribute to that a bit.

Finally, as a strategic takeaway, without giving away too much of what’s in my book, I believe that in an age of great power competition it is very likely that the 21st century will be one of continued American naval power despite all the naysayers. I believe it will also be an era of rising (or already risen) Asian naval power. The question is really to what degree it will involve European sea power and naval power.

I encourage readers to reach out to us at ISPK and the Center for Maritime Strategy and Security to discuss these pressing questions. We believe shared knowledge is empowerment.

RH: On that note Jeremy, thank you for taking the time for helping us to discuss this pressing but under-the-radar issue. If our readers would like to follow up on Jeremy’s work, please check out his book The Decline of European Naval Forces. You can also look for the Routledge handbook of Naval Strategy and Forces, edited by Sebastian Bruns and Joachim Krause, which is an indispensible resource. For more info on the book and other podcasts, don’t forget to visit https://www.kielseapowerseries.com/en/ and follow us on Twitter at @SeapowerSeries for more updates.

Jeremy Stöhs is a security and defense analyst at the Institute for Security Policy at Kiel University (ISPK) and its adjunct Center for Maritime Strategy & Security as well as a fellow at the Austrian Center for Intelligence, Propaganda & Security Studies (ACIPSS).

Roger Hilton is the defence and Security stream manager at GLOBSEC, a global think-tank based in Bratislava, Slovakia  as well as a research fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute (CGAI).

Featured Image: Norwegian Sea, Nov 7. 2018. TRIDENT JUNCTURE 18 PHOTEX. (NATO Photo by Wo Fran C. Valverde)

On The Decline of European Naval Power: A Conversation with Jeremy Stöhs, Pt. 1

By Roger Hilton

The intensifying competition between the United States, Russia, and China for control of strategic spaces has brought with it a slew of challenges and a lowered threshold for potential confrontation. Consequently this new security dynamic has forced national policymakers to reconsider the importance of the maritime domain when it comes to global statecraft. Consequently, this new security dynamic has forced national policy makers to reconsider the importance of the maritime domain when it comes to global statecraft. On quick observation the situation does not inspire much confidence. Years of neglected force structure investment by European nations coupled with shifting American presence to Asia suggest a distressing situation. Consequently, based on these factors it is only natural to ponder if Europe’s naval forces are doomed to impotency for the foreseeable future, or if reform if possible.

Here to help us navigate these questions is Jeremy Stöhs, an Austrian-American defense analyst at the Institute for Security Policy at Kiel University and its adjunct Center for Strategy and Security. In addition, he is also a fellow at the Austrian Center for Intelligence, Propaganda, and Security Studies. His current research and teaching focuses on transatlantic relations, maritime security, and European naval power. He has written various articles and chapters on the matter and is the author of the recent book, The Decline of European Naval Forces, Challenges to Sea Power in an Age of Fiscal Austerity and Political Uncertainty.

The decline of European naval power can provide insight into the evolution of Europe’s naval forces since the end of the Cold War. To illuminate the drastic changes many European navies have undergone in the past 25 years, we turn to Jeremy who has analyzed the defense policies and naval strategies of 11 European states, as well as the evolution in deployments and capabilities of their respective forces.

JS: Thank you for having me Roger, it’s always a pleasure talking to you.

RH: Before we dive in, it might be helpful if we structure the conversation. We will cover three distinct periods as they relate to the decline of European naval forces. The first period reaches from 1990-2001, and encompasses the post-Cold War peace dividend. The second period, from 2001-2014, covers land wars in the age of global terrorism after 9/11. Period three, 2014 to the present, begins with the annexation of Crimea. 

In your book you describe both the concept of sea power and naval power, can you explain each concept and explain what distinguishes them?

JS: Thank you very much for the question. There is, as you infer, significant semantic awkwardness regarding these terms and their numerous definitions for seapower, for maritime power, for naval power. I like to paraphrase retired British Admiral Chris Parry who argues that sea power is the combined investments of various resources of the state or enterprises in the pursuit of favorable outcomes at sea. I happen to focus on states despite non-state actors gaining power in the world.

But it’s not only about investments or what Geoffrey Till calls the inputs. Sea power is also about the outputs, or in other words, what capacity states have to influence human behavior by what they do at sea. The state is one basic unit for the measurement of power distribution so sea power broadly speaking would include all investment of the state, such as cultural, commercial, military in the maritime domain. Naval power is but one part of sea power, it’s the military investment.

RH: Can you provide some contemporary examples of each?

JS: The concepts are linked, so I would not say there is one example for one or the other. In order to have sea power in my opinion, you need to have a degree of naval power. Some states may have some significant maritime commercial interests but relatively little means for similarly large investments in naval power. But I refer again to Geoffrey Till who refers to that as the virtuous circle, so one investment in one area is mutually beneficial, and a decline in one area can affect decline in another. I believe this is something we have seen in the past, it is important to remember that most every state –  or rather every state – has some interest in the sea, and they enjoy different forms of agency at sea. Even landlocked countries like my home Austria has a part to play within the global trade regime and therefore also has stakes at sea.

Sea power and naval power are linked, and it’s a different concept than how it was understood maybe 200 years ago, but today they are inextricably linked. 

RH: We have the post-Cold War peace dividend, from 1990-2001. You describe in detail how this period started the initial erosion of naval capabilities and strategies. With the end of the Cold War, yourself like many experts declared that the existential threat of the USSR disappeared and by extension led to the abandonment of traditional naval doctrine. As this was a period of transition from sea control, sea denial, and territorial defense operations to power projection and operations in the littorals. How would you describe this transition, and was this shifting of capabilities for nations smooth or for others was it a regrettable experience?

JS: Well now we have the benefit of hindsight and hindsight is always 20/20. But generally speaking you are correct, although I would say that this process was much more nuanced depending on the respective state and more nuanced than it might seem today.

Two broad trends that are discernable during this period of time are states either adhering to traditional strategies of territorial defense, or seeking greater power projection in all its forms, not only military but also in terms of economics and so on. Those are the two opposing trends. But as always I think it’s important to keep in mind it was not black and white but a continuum of change. States might have had a government that emphasized one area over others, and because sea power is an enduring element many of the developments were gradual. So I try to refrain from revolutionary language, I think it was very incremental. Ships cannot be built overnight, naval and maritime proficiencies cannot be gained overnight, and the capabilities in existence in the 1990s were very much the same as the 1980s. It was the same or similar platforms, systems, and people, largely working in unfamiliar waters maybe, and often in unfamiliar ways.

It’s important to note that some navies in some states welcomed these new missions whereas others were reluctant to join in the post-Cold War euphoria. And this is of course related to geostrategic freedom of action. You look at a state like Norway with its proximity to a historical antagonistic, Russia, and other states with very limited financial means it’s difficult to change its naval policy. Therefore I don’t think there is a clear answer to your question.

RH: Against the backdrop of this maritime landscape that deemphasizes traditional doctrine, how are navies in this time justifying their existence and budgets?

JS: A difficult question to generalize and, again, it depends a lot on each Navy, and there should be much more research of each Navy in terms of how the defense policies have changed. But broadly speaking already during the 1980s in the period of easing tensions between East and West, the German reunification, the maintenance of previous spending levels on defense was not possible. You see this already in British defense studies such as the Options for Change white paper of 1990 that clearly describes how previous defense spending was no longer feasible. So how do they actually justify their existence?

It depends. You have the Scandinavian states, with the exception of Denmark, justifying their existence through a continued threat to their territory, with Russia still being the most powerful military power on the continent. The need to protect their Exclusive Economic Zones was also a core argument, and it’s important to remember that provisions of UNCLOS came into force in 1994, elevating the importance of the EEZs even more so.

In the south you have Greece and Turkey which lived through a period of increased tension during the 1990s. This necessitated hikes in defense spending. And for the rest of Europe, many countries placed great emphasis on projecting power, interventions, peace support operations and such. These took navies outside of the NATO’s traditional areas of operation, ‘out-of-area,’ and naval forces were uniquely suited in this role because of their three basic functions, including: the military, the diplomatic, and the constabulary function.

In this period of fiscal austerity, defense planners used every opportunity they had, but it differed from country to country.

RH: You make the observation that green and brown-water navies evolved into blue water navies. Was this a matter of survival, or was this repurposing utility?

JS: There are only a couple of examples where that actually occurred and that has something to do with this aforementioned trend toward power projection. During the Cold War, European navies were assigned specific duties within their areas of responsibility, such as anti-submarine warfare, mine warfare, escort duties, amphibious assault, and so they were quite limited by the bipolar world order.

Once these restrictions ended then states that enjoyed strategic freedom of action sought to use naval forces to project power. And an interesting point, those examples that stick out are the Germany Navy or the Danish Navy, to the less extent the Belgian and Spanish navies, they really saw power projection in different forms. But these navies, mainly the German and the Danish navies, were mainly green water navies, operating close to shore occasionally conducting escort duties, but now they would become blue water navies operating far from home. Now they would go into other littorals at great distances, so they would still act as littoral navies, but at a great distance from home. So that’s an interesting aspect of this whole blue water, green/brown debate.

And of course the repurposing had some utility for those navies. They were able to contribute to increasing number of peacekeeping operations that were emerging in the 1990s, including crisis management which was one of NATO’s main roles, military interventions of course in the Balkans for example, but also further afield. We have numerous operations, including Desert Storm, Yugoslavia, Operation Desert Fox in the late 90s, the intervention in Sierra Leone, also low-key humanitarian assistance and disaster relief efforts after natural catastrophes and so on.

RH: Despite it being a time of economic prosperity and peace, you reference large-scale investments and procurement projects that took place during this period. Can you situate some of the naval hardware being bought and used at the time?

JS: I provide a lot of examples in my book on naval procurement and force structure, and to a certain extent the platforms and their advantages and disadvantages. It’s important to note that European defense industry was of course a powerful actor. It had influence on how naval forces were built and what they looked like, and critical technologies and jobs of course were still main concerns.

It’s important to remember as I mentioned before, navies can’t be built overnight. So, during the 1990s, they were designed for the Cold War, for high intensity warfighting. If you look at the Italian Navy, the German Navy, they were designed for warfighting, a lot of anti-submarine warfare, escort duties, and mine warfare. Now, all of the sudden, you have this need for expeditionary operations and what you need for that, well you need multi-purpose surface combatants, landing platform docks, amphibious assault ships, helicopter carriers and such. So, on one hand, you see this trend that you need larger platforms for low-intensity operations, and at the same time you have all those procurement projects that were developed and designed in the 1980s. There was a divergence between strategic necessities and the security environment for what you need for that and the procurement plans that are already in the pipeline. In the 1990s you see European countries developing air defense capabilities and air defense destroyers and frigates, and those were capable ships that were commissioned at a time where threats of anti-ship missiles in the littorals are not all too great, and where European countries are operating ships with relative impunity.

But of course this had the advantage of supporting important industries and just goes to show that you have to be very prudent about your decision-making and strategic forecasting.

RH: Is there anything else you’d like to add that we should know or that we’ve overlooked?

JS: With respect to downscaling in this period of time, you have fiscal austerity, a peace dividend, so especially maintenance-intensive and manpower-intensive platforms are decommissioned. But it can be considered a period of relative plenty, especially with regard to the threat scenarios at the time. You still have highly capable platforms coming online, you have highly-proficient crews and personnel, so it’s important to note those capabilities that were being developed in Europe. The Horizon-class, the Daring-class, the German air defense frigates, they were state-of-the-art and comparable to the best air defense destroyers in the world. The UK got the Tomahawk land-attack missile for their subs, the French got their Charles De Gaulle carrier. There was also closer cooperation between the states because of the need to streamline and operate together at a tactical level.

The United States still had such great capabilities that they could compensate to some extent for the dwindling numbers among European naval powers. But the 1990s still proved how important naval power was.

RH: Let’s move on to the second period, involving land wars in the period between 2001-2014. This was a seminal moment not just for European navies but also world history. Not only did this period bring two major operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, but also the global financial crisis. How did these developments play a major role in the development of European naval forces?

JS: I would argue not to over-dramatize this period. It is true that the last decade it was very challenging for European naval power and the defense community in general in Europe. But it’s also important to put it into a historic context, for the naval forces of some European states, such as the Spanish armada in the 19th century or the 20th century German or Italian navies, they had endured far greater calamities and declines than what we’ve witnessed recently.

However, if you look at the past 30 years, this last decade had the most significant impact on naval forces. I wouldn’t say that it was mainly the land wars but, more importantly, the decreasing defense spending because that more or less is what shapes your naval forces.

RH: At the time we’re in Afghanistan and Iraq, how did the preoccupation with these land wars recalibrate naval power?

JS: There are a couple points to keep in mind here. First of all these operations, we talk about the war on terrorism, you have military operations on land but naval forces play an important role in contributing to these campaigns from air strikes to cruise missiles to providing close air support and medevac, inserting special forces, logistics, and so on. At the same time you had a broadening of the security agenda in general. That already occurs throughout the 1990s but then picks up speed during the 2000s. 9/11 caused Article V of NATO to be invoked for the first time. A large number of European states contributed to the war in Afghanistan, and then also two years later in Iraq. This changed the security environment in such that you have a broadening security environment, a broadening of the term security, and from the 1990s onward and especially after 9/11 you have the threat of terrorism as one of the challenges the naval forces have to deal with. So you see naval forces being deployed in counter-terrorism, combating illegal trafficking of arms, drugs, people, counter-proliferation against weapons of mass destruction. The concept of maritime security is prevalent at this time and naval forces are assigned with dealing with all kinds of maritime security challenges.

RH: It’s been argued that this period helped assert the dominance of the Army and Air Force, and that it led to the de-prioritization of naval power. Amidst this interservice rivalry, did it force navies to expand their repertoire of functions to become more versatile?

JS: I would have to say that really depends on each individual state. I find it difficult to make general claims here. But one thing that is clear is that air and land forces received the lion’s share of funding during this period of time and usually they got a greater portion of the defense budget. We have similar developments in the U.S. as you see in Europe, in those wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, where you prioritize the capabilities that you need in war. I remember the discussions quite vividly in investing in low-intensity capabilities such as mine resistant ambush protected vehicles. That was the problem, the high-low mix, therefore U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates slashed the F-22 program for instance. You have a similar problem in Europe.

What this period of time does, I believe, is it changes the perception of the functions of the navies and the understandings of navies in what their constabulary and diplomatic roles are. This is reflected in concepts such as the 1,000-ship Navy, the U.S. maritime strategy A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower, and the European effort for capacity building on the low-end of the intensity spectrum together with partners, and it’s easier to build partnerships at the lower-level compared to the high-end.

So you see this growing cooperation and this cooperative approach toward maritime missions, and of course what happens is that this comes at the expense of warfighting capabilities. Especially anti-submarine warfare wasn’t really practiced, offensive mining was relinquished, anti-surface warfare is difficult to do when you lack surveillance assets like maritime patrol aircraft. So the focus is shifted perhaps too much toward the low-end, it really changed the perception of what navies can do. But I think that is being forgotten again.

Jeremy Stöhs is a security and defense analyst at the Institute for Security Policy at Kiel University (ISPK) and its adjunct Center for Maritime Strategy & Security as well as a fellow at the Austrian Center for Intelligence, Propaganda & Security Studies (ACIPSS).

Roger Hilton is the defence and Security stream manager at GLOBSEC, a global think-tank based in Bratislava, Slovakia  as well as a research fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute (CGAI).

Featured Image: British Royal Navy air defense destroyers HMS Daring (front) and HMS Dauntless operate, February 2010. (Wikimedia Commons/UK Ministry of Defence)

Sea Control 147 – Former German Navy Chief Lutz Feldt on Defining Maritime Security, Pt. 2

By Cris Lee

Join us for the latest episode of Sea Control for a conversation with Vice Admiral Lutz Feldt (ret.), former Commander-in-Chief of the German Fleet and Commander-in-Chief of Naval Staff, about the challenges of defining and conceptualizing maritime security. 

Download Sea Control 147 – Former German Navy Chief Lutz Feldt on Defining Maritime Security, Pt. 2

A transcript of the interview between Admiral Lutz Feldt (LF) and Roger Hilton (RH) is below. The transcript has been edited for clarity.

RH: Admiral Feldt, in addition to the previous discussion, you have said to enhance maritime awareness it is essential to return to the basics of geography. According to renowned geopolitical author Robert Kaplan, a map is a spatial representation of humanity’s division, by which he means not just physical territory but topography. Let me ask: with so much advanced technology providing satellite imagery and real time data, why should we consider the influence of geography?

LF: To answer with a question, are we overestimating all of our technical development? Are we really reliant only on technical information, the internet, etc.? Are we able to take into consideration other important criteria as well? Geography is a big criteria, even today. If you look into geography, you are looking at the people living in that geography, to the culture which is their culture, the weather conditions, the climate, and how people live. This has great importance and great influence on everything which we have to decide in the maritime domain. Therefore I think if you are working together with people from the Southern parts of Europe region, or German authorities to ones in Spain, Italy, South France, Greece, or Turkey, or whatever country you may name, of course the way they are solving problems is different. And this has something to do with the areas in which they live, and the living conditions.

The living conditions are formed and created by geography, and directly and indirectly by the climate conditions in which they live. So I think it is important to look into the geography as well. As a seafarer, even if you believe in civilized navigation, even if you think a satellite is covering the whole globe, you must still learn that that is not the case. It will not happen in the next decade as well. So there will always be areas which are not covered. There will always be areas which are up to today, which have not a reliable a sea map, a sea shot. If you go into the big regions, the only thing you can rely on is the GPS. This makes it very clear that geography and the conditions created by geography are very important. Weather affects all operations. You can have a wonderful operation plan think you have thought through, if you have forgotten the geography of the weather, it is a risk you should not accept.

RH: Admiral Feldt, now that we have looked at a catalogue of issues that have impacted sea awareness, it is critical for our listeners to place these subjects in the role of global stakeholders. Obviously the headlines on this ticket are the NATO and the EU. You distinguish in your piece the remarkably different approaches to issues. Consequently, can you provide a quick snapshot of activities of global stakeholders in the maritime space?

LF: I think we have to talk about the international maritime organizations as well. I always think and call them the guardians of the sea, and they have developed a lot of very helpful legislation for the sea. They are responsible for all the agreements and they have developed a code of conduct for a limited number of countries. So I think yes it is a lot of administrations, a lot of paperwork. On the other hand you need these basic documentation, you need this framework in which you are doing your business as a commercial in which you have to follow the sovereign estate as well.

I think the International Maritime Organization is an important player. The weakness of the IMO that they cannot enforce their own laws. They have no enforcement capabilities and the only nation who is able to enforce the IMO’s laws and other laws is the United States and it will remain to be the United States. Maybe in competition with some other nations, China is trying very hard to become a very important global player in the maritime domain as well as the Russian Federation. I understand very well why they are doing that. I wouldn’t blame them about that, but we have to take into consideration they will in any case be in some sort of competition with the U.S. The U.S. needs a global strategy, maritime strategy, and a naval strategy, this is a comprehensive approach that works very fine.

And then of course we have the European Union. NATO is the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, it was focused on the North Atlantic. During the last years, NATO was much more involved in army and air force business than in the naval business. This is something that I do not appreciate because now we have a lack of maritime expertise which we have to overcome quite soon. The EU is becoming a much more important player, not just in civilian issues, but also in the economic side, from a common defense and security policy side as well. I think the EU will increase its military experience, and NATO will be much more open, civilian-military operations as well. The African Union has developed an all-maritime strategy for the African continent. They are a regional initiative. They have the potential to become a very important player as well. I think they should be interested in taking responsibility for their own territorial waters and increase their independence from others.

And then we have what we did call the BRICS, Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa. China will be a big player, and already is a big player, and will become an even bigger player in the maritime domain. Brazil has for the first time taken on international responsibility in supporting the European navies in the Mediterranean several times for example. Russia is looking for naval bases outsides its territories. Now they are in Syria, it has the occupation of Crimea, not only because they love the people there, but because of a very strategic impact in now having an important naval base in the black sea. So they are all playing to their national interests. The only ones who are trying to improve not only its own capabilities but of its neighbors as well is South Africa. They have a good navy as well. They can support the navies in developing their own coast guards and to a certain degree their naval functions as well.

RH: Anyone listening will get a perspective on how crowded the maritime domain is and how competitive it potentially is both from a bloc perspective or from an individual country perspective. Returning to the EU, its early security ambitions were defined by 2003 European Security Strategy: A Secure Europe in a Better World by the EU’s common representative for the common foreign and security policy, Mr. Javier Solana. It was more recently amended in 2008 and paid scant attention to the maritime situational awareness. This is particularly frustrating since this piece establishes how crisis can develop far from Europe and still affect continuity on the continent. Moving forward, has the EU addressed this phenomenon?

LF: Yes, it has. I think in 2003, the world, not just the maritime domain, looked very different from nowadays. Strategy: A Secure Europe in a Better World, updated in 2008, has been overtaken by events. The EU has developed a newer strategy in a very good way. Everyone was involved in that. It took us only three-quarters of a year. We have a new strategy which is a very good build up, taking an important part of security and defense issues in the strategy, which was not the case in the first.

Now I think it is a comprehensive approach. To deliver something of a comprehensive approach, where all the actors know their responsibilities, and knowing that they don’t have to do this on their own in one pillar, in isolation from the other, they are doing this together. Strategy is encouraging them to do that. Perhaps encouraging is not strong enough; it is forcing them to do that. And therefore I really appreciate this approach. You know, in the maritime world, 2014, the European Maritime Security Strategy has been published as well. We have now, not only a global strategy from the European Union side, but maritime strategy as well. We are now working on the implementation of the different subjects. I think that in a good way, a lot of things have been moved in the right direction and I am optimistic that they will carry on. And if I may say so, the commission, the parliament, and the council, they are doing very well. They are doing this in one line.

RH: Any conversation about EU maritime policy or maritime policy will be incomplete without mentioning Turkey and its role in facilitating EU’s maritime sphere. Recently president Erdogan called for a border review of the 1923 treaty of Rozanne in Athens in early December. What do you make of this comment, and how do you think Turkey and the EU can continue to work together on maritime domain issues?

LF: It’s a critical situation. Turkey is a member of NATO, and wants or once at least wanted to become a member of the European Union as well. Greece is a member of NATO and the EU. All these years, all these decades, there has been tension between both countries about sea borders and how the treaty is working. Even in the treaty there are disputes over islands and sea borders. This is a fact. I do not think that in the actual situation the border review will take place. I do not think so. The last signals were bit different. There is another convention we have to consider. This is the Montreux convention which is giving Turkey the responsibility to supervise or monitor the Montreux Strait. You have to look into this as well. Both are very close together.

The EU and Turkey are well-advised if they are accepting of the status quo, or improve the situation. To talk about improving, there is an ongoing operation between NATO and Turkey, as a NATO member, and Greece on the other hand, in the East part of the Mediterranean and the Aegean Sea. The part of the maritime civil operations where everyone is looking for migrants, not only to rescue them, but to prevent them from going illegally from one country to another. And the cooperation of the partners in these technical operations level is very good. I have heard from colleagues in this operation, the cooperation with the Turkish coast guard is good. They are doing their jobs professionally and well, and the same with Greece. It is good practical example of good practical cooperation. As often you can find on the practical, pragmatic level, you can find solutions for almost all problems.

RH: Hopefully based on all the encouraging news you’ve provided with us cooler heads will continue to prevail as there are a plethora of issues that the EU and Turkey need to work together on to solve in the future. Finally Admiral Feldt, for the foreseeable future, you reiterate, the complex picture of today’s maritime security issues, is a consequence of three factors: the transition from industrial to the information age, globalization, and climate change. And that the urgent need for maritime domain and situational awareness is a precondition to achieve good governance at sea. Having spoken about sea blindness already, would you count on those leading to take these issues into effect in policy?

LF: I think the first point, the transition from industrial to information age, I think this is a big challenge. This is nothing you can just do automatically. Switching from the industrial to the information age takes time. This issue is not just for the younger generation, it is an issue for my generation and even for those who are little bit younger than I am. A lot of people are still making the assessments and adjustments based on the procedures and experiences that were right and good in the industrial age but which is now overtaken in the information age. And the information age is more than the internet. The social networks are a very important part. The fact that in the information age a hack can be done by a hacker where nobody knows where he’s from, whether it’s his boss telling him now you have to hack the German parliament, or now you have to hack a big company in France or whatever, no one really knows that in the very beginning.

It’s not just the use of the internet and all the advantages which you can take out from networking. This is the second point. Networking is becoming more important. Networking happens all the time. But it’s not only the internet. It’s also the information age as a whole new environment. Think about new technologies and the impact of the industry, all that development and our naval units where you are reliant on the computer system. These all need new thinking. A new mindset. This is very difficult to achieve. It takes time to be aware that not everybody is able or willing to follow you, but this is the real thing. So it’s a big challenge. The challenge is not the technology, the challenge is to understand and to use the new technology to your advantage.

Globalization is an effect, it’s now under pressure again. I always think that there are no ideas without bad sides, and there are bad sides to globalization as well. Maybe the government has to look into that more carefully, but if we go back to nationalist thinking, then we of course are doing the wrong thing, a very dangerous thing. The clear historical experience that nationalism is in the direction of something we do not want. Certain kinds of own interests is always not only acceptable but necessary, and the real impact is that you have to look for your national interest on one hand, but on the other hand balance them with the international interests as well. If you are not able or willing to do that then you are a danger.

Climate change is something very much related to globalization and the change of information age as well. We do not know the final impact of climate change. We only can think about they will change the maritime domain. This will have an impact on everything. The issues and the outcome of climate change, there is only one solution, and this is to prioritize the protection of our maritime domains. Protection of the oceans and the protection of the maritime domain in relation to climate and everything belonging to that, from biodiversity to clean oceans and whatever you may name it, this has a high priority. And it is not a task done by the civilian authorities, the navy must be included as well. They have a responsibility to report and monitor climate protection as well. This is very new to the navy, other things as well, but there is an urgent need to do that. Climate change and the negative sides of climate change are a real challenge. They are a threat.

RH: Admiral Feldt, I want to thank you on behalf of the listeners for such a comprehensive analysis and sobering judgment of the current state of affairs. As we dawn on another sea control podcast, Admiral, do you have any quick operational takeaways for the listeners, or issues related to maritime domain we should keep tabs on?

LF: If you are interested, take some keywords and go into the internet, or even look into the publications. It’s not just Robert Kaplan who publishes a lot of things. There are a lot of authors and scientists who are publishing a lot about the maritime domain and the complexity and they are not only good for students, but for normal people as well. There are sometimes scientists who are able to write in a way everyone can understand it. The awareness is the first method for my side. The second side is that the cooperation and trust and confidence between the different maritime services must be supported as a citizen of my country. I cannot understand that for example how customs is not able to communicate with the navy without taking some risks due to data protection. Data protection is very important, but if data protection is hindering us in providing safety and security, than it has to be questioned.

A lot of people are talking about legal obstacles, who are talking about what we want to do but the law is against us, this is eight out of ten times not the case. They often use the law as shelter not to do something. This is something where citizens must be able to carefully be able to increase security internal and external security in a much more professional way; we are open to information exchange. The internal and external security issue is something which is very crucial thing as well, we have not touched upon that, but it is a very important. You cannot separate internal and external security any longer. And if you do so, you must accept the risk, and you must explain to your citizens why you are doing this, with all the consequences.

My third point is if you love the sea, if you are in favor of the sea, if you are really knowing about the sea, not only from the coast but from the ocean as well, it is much more easier to understand the complexity as well as overcome the challenges. It was a great pleasure for me, thank you very much.

RH: Admiral Feldt, I would say in conclusion, if our listeners want to follow up on the European or international maritime domain, the Routledge Handbook of Naval strategy and Security, edited by Sebastian Bruns and Joachim Krause and published in 2016 is an indispensable resource to have. In addition, please visit www.kielseapowerseries.com for more info on the book and other podcasts derived from the book.

With no shortage of maritime issues in the greater geopolitical landscape, I will be back to keep CIMSEC listeners informed and up to date. From the Institute of Security Policy and its adjunct center for strategy and security, I am Roger Hilton saying farewell and auf wiedersehen.

Vice Admiral Lutz Feldt (ret.) served in the German Navy for 38 years and served as Commander-in-Chief of the German Fleet and Commander-in-Chief of Naval Staff. Since retiring in 2006, Vice Admiral Feldt has taken over several different posts of honor: he was the President of the German Maritime Institute, Bonn, from 2007 to 2012 and is now a member of the Board of the German Maritime Institute, a member of the “Bonner Forum”of the German Atlantic Association; from 2005 until March 2010 he was a member of the advisary board of the “Evangelische  ilitärseelsorge”(evangelical miltary religious welfare) and he is still a member of the advisary board of the publication “Schiff und Hafen”, an International Publication for Shipping and Marine Technology. He is director of WEISS Penns International.

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

Cris Lee is Senior Producer of the Sea Control podcast. 

Sea Control 146 – Former German Navy Chief Lutz Feldt on Defining Maritime Security, Pt. 1

By Cris Lee

Join us for the latest episode of Sea Control for a conversation with Vice Admiral Lutz Feldt (ret.), former Commander-in-Chief of the German Fleet and Commander-in-Chief of Naval Staff, about the challenges of defining and conceptualizing maritime security. 

Download Sea Control 146 – Former German Navy Chief Lutz Feldt on Defining Maritime Security, Pt. 1

A transcript of the interview between Admiral Lutz Feldt (LF) and Roger Hilton (RH) is below. The transcript has been edited for clarity.

RH: Hello and moin moin, Center for International Maritime Security listeners. I am Roger Hilton, a non-resident academic fellow for the Institute for Security Policy at Kiel University, welcoming you back for another listen of the Sea Control podcast.

It is hard to deny the spoils of globalization. Consumer access to a near-endless range of products is sometimes taken for granted. Although the current success of globalization emerged through the exploitation of airspace, outer space, and cyberspace, this feature has led many politicians and experts alike to suffer into complacency when assessing the significance of the maritime domain. Dr. Chris Perry, of Redding University, echoed this sentiment by stating “The sea is the physical manifestation of the world wide web. The absolute engine of globalization.”

Here with us today to provide a tonic to the endemic sea blindness is retired Vice Admiral Lutz Feldt, former Commander-in-Chief of the German Fleet and Commander-in-Chief of Naval Staff. Vice Admiral Feldt has had a distinguished career in the Navy. Since retiring, from 2007 to 2012, he was president of the German Maritime Institute, and has chaired Euro Defense Deutschland for four years, and now is a member of the steering board. As a director of WEISS Penns International, he is working with four retired admirals from France, Italy, Spain, and the UK, and an associate partner from Switzerland on almost all maritime security and defense topics. Admiral Feldt, welcome aboard today.

LF: Good afternoon and it’s a real pleasure to have this opportunity. And I think I very much like your tonic to see with more clarity. I will to create a better clarity for one or the other issues you mentioned and really looking forward to the questions.

RH: Admiral Feldt, you initially positioned your piece by arguing that the maritime domain is radically different today and no longer as well understood as it used to be. Specifically, you cite the introduction of a geographic-centric view of maritime affairs, like a euro-centric, or sino-centric view that is no longer promising or sustainable. To begin with, and to provide some historical context, how was the former maritime domain engaged and you in your professional opinion, what factors have led to changes in doctrine?

LF: Thank you very much. What we have to consider is the fact that for a long time, nobody was really aware of the complexity of the sea. Everything went right, and something went wrong nobody really got upset about that because it was so far away. But to look into the sea nowadays, I come back to your introduction where the sea is a manifestation of the web, I really believe that. That makes it really urgent to really look into these huge domains from a regional perspective. All maritime domains, we call them oceans but we can call them domains as well, they are very different. They have some things in common but most of the things are different. I think that if it’s somebody from Europe or from the West or China’s perspective they are thinking they’re doing something that is appropriate for their region that can be transferred to another region as a solution or an option, but I have my doubts that this will work. Regions are very different. The other point I want to make, is that every region has its own traditional ways to solve problems or to live with the problems. That does mean we have a global common on one hand, but we have multiple regions on the other hand. I am very much in favor of these principles developed to think globally but to act regionally and sometimes even locally.

RH: We touched on it a little bit. Returning to this Modus Operandi of the maritime domain in the 21st century, specifically on how it’s very hard to transfer, can you elaborate on the two major issues that arise within this concept?

LF: One major issue is that we have to solve problems between global perspective on one hand and regional and local perspectives on the other hand. There’s of course another point, which is very much related. The driver is not just the internet, and the networking activities, but the driver of different perspectives years and centuries ago, is of course the development of technology and it is not just the complication of technology, but it is old technology which is not only used in the shipping communities but the navies and the merchant navies as well. We have nowadays a lot of maritime infrastructures in the seas. In my experience, the maritime domain has changed a lot, but a lot of people are still looking into the maritime domain with a different, if I may say so, old-fashioned perspective.

RH: I think this idea of the maritime industry with an old perspective is expressed succinctly in your piece on how for a while it was an area that remained largely self-governing. And as you point out, in terms of the shipping industry, it was over-the-horizon, out of sight, and out of mind, which is no longer the case today, I think you would agree. What do you think is the ability to attract more attention and the catalyst for political policy makers who have been somewhat complacent on the sea and who have taken its importance for granted?

LF: I think there are different interests. I think we need more awareness in our society because we are totally depending on what happens on the sea and under the surface. We need a better knowledge of what is happening at sea, by our political leaders, some scientists who are looking into environmental protection. I think what we need is a better awareness, better understanding of what is happening. If something is happening in the North Sea, this has influences on other regions immediately. And we have some examples for that. If something is happening in the South China Sea, the impact is eight to ten days later in Europe as well. If we are knowing that, perhaps we can think about it, and perhaps we can create some kind of awareness, and we will not always be surprised with that. Therefore I think that to think globally but act regionally is of utmost importance again.

RH: I couldn’t agree with you more. And unfortunately it usually takes a massive natural disaster, or a human disaster, to really attract the attention of the political elite and policymakers. As you state, challenges become more pronounced when problems arise beyond the capabilities of a single nation which is extremely important to recognize. You cite specifically incidents like the Deep Water Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico as well as the Ominco Cadez off the coast of Brittany, France. Consequently you have deduced we are all suffering from sea blindness, potentially not just politicians. Can you elaborate on this powerful metaphor and what this blindness entails?

LF: Sea blindness explains in two words what is our challenge. When some manmade or natural disaster is happening everyone is looking to the sea and asking what have we done to allow this and why have we not done this or that but the sea blindness is going even further. It’s the fact that in our nations, the knowledge about the sea is very limited. Even when we are looking into the huge numbers of people enjoying sea cruises this is only a very small portion and I have my doubts that during their sea cruise they are really learning the importance of the sea as a global commons. I think sea blindness can only be changed and improved by a permanent discussion. I think what we are doing is important to overcome this sea blindness, to give some information. The real thing about that is, the people living ashore are so much depending on very secure sea lines or lines of communications, the highways of the sea as we call them, we are so heavily dependent that we cannot live on with the sea blindness.

I can tell you there is another aspect, of course this is something more political process, I can see in the global context that two or three big countries, for example such as the Russian Federation and China, they have recognized that if they want to live in a safe and secure environment, they have to overcome the sea blindness and they have taken a lot of steps to do that. Western nations are very reluctant to understand that, and this concerns me.

RH: Based on everything you said, I think for our listeners, the two major ways is that we need to educate people not just in maritime security but in the role the sea plays and it also seems important that we need to get individuals with maritime security more involved into civic and political duties. More often leaders and political chiefs are often landsman who lack any type of maritime experience.

LF:May I think when you talk about how to overcome sea blindness, we need what we call a comprehensive view. We need to not only focus on one specific topic like container traffic or the transport of oil and whatever, we have to look at the maritime domain as a whole. And everything that is tackled has an impact on other elements as well. We need a comprehensive plan too, and this makes it really challenging for everyone dealing with that.

RH: Now that we have gone from a broad idea, when dealing with something as global and complex as maritime security, which includes a lot of topics, what is implied by security? And moving forward, how can we define safety and defense in this context?

LF: I think we always trying to make it easy to understand even for ourselves. We have these: safety, security, and defense. It’s very clear. Defense is the responsibility of the navy, maritime and of the air force and naval air arms. Safety is clearly the responsibility of the international maritime organizations, and its well-handled there. I think we have a lot of legal systems which are dealing with them. I have no concerns about safety and some concerns about defense. In the middle of both of them is the issue of security. Security is a mixed issue. It is civilian and military together. On one hand it is where more civilian maritime service s are in the lead, and on specific situations, it is the military that leads with brilliant participation. We have located a definition, where there is no common understanding of what security means in the international community, so everyone is looking for their own understanding and definition, but in essence it is where both parts, civilian and the military community, have to coordinate and cooperate.

RH: Do you think the civilian aspect should take more of a role in governing security as opposed to the military?

LF: It is clear in a lot of operations, which are ongoing around the world, not only the cooperation but coordination is essential for success. Some military, some naval commanders, think they are the only ones who can fix the problem, which isn’t right, if I may say clearly. They need a civilian contribution and I imagine that for a lot of situations, for example if it is a civil-military operation, the civilian part, the coast guard or the law enforcement agency, is in the lead, and the military is in support of that.

RH: Some of your findings resulted in an interesting recasting of the subject matter, as maritime insecurity issues as opposed to maritime security issues. Would you like to defend this recasting to the audience?

LF: If we look into the actual maritime domains, we found more insecurity than security. We are not only talking about European oceans and seas, but we are talking about other areas as well, where the insecurity comes from the lack of willingness to cooperate and to coordinate. To be able to cooperate and coordinate you need a well-functioning information exchange system or mentality. This is something which takes a long time. We need a mindset change going from what we need to know to need to share, where need to share is something different from need to know. We can even go a step forward and say there is a responsibility to share critical information not only within your fellows in the navy or customs or fishery protection. We need a better information exchange that includes all maritime services. And of course it is the responsibility of every community.

RH: Well as we try to rectify this perceived maritime insecurity, your piece makes the argument that there is a perception that the concept of security is not so much a definable condition as it is but an essential feeling. Specifically, as a conditional state of something that may happen, rather than an existential danger. As we know, the term security, and its integration into the lexicon of international relations jargon and institutions like NATO and EU has to some degree been mischaracterized. With all of this apparent confusion, can you clarify how we should be using the word security?

LF: The word security is very popular. There is an inflation of who uses it .Security has everything to do, in the first role, as something to protect and secure the life and wellness of the people of your country. I think this is very important. The second one is of course, if you go further out, it is the well-being of your neighboring nations and of your partners in an alliance. In the third role you are talking about global security. Global security is founded in part on treaties, agreements, and conventions and in this case I think the International Maritime Organization is a good provider for the global part, and some regional organizations are good providers for the regional parts. But on the other hand I think the real important thing about that is, you are aware that there is a responsibility to secure the nation’s territory and citizens from all threats which are coming from the sea, which has a real impact on their well-being and their lives and on their security. For example piracy is something that had happened far away from the European countries but it had a direct impact on our lives, not only on the lives of the seafarers who have been captured and very badly treated by the pirates, but on the impact of our lives as a whole. The same for smuggling and human trafficking and now for the Europeans it is a challenge to find a way to save the big numbers of migrants who want to join Europe using Mediterranean as a sea which they want to overcome to go to Europe, to Italy, Spain, Turkey, and Greece.

RH: As we established consequently, security in the maritime encompasses elements of safety and defense that expand both into civilian and military domain. But, as we continue our deep dive into the issue, any discussion and analysis will be incomplete without acknowledging risk assessments. Can you describe the four criteria used to describe maritime risk, why should landlocked states care about these assessment factors?

LF: I think we are all connected in a global economy, on cultural issues as well. Of course economy is where it’s easy to understand. Landlocked countries of course need the global logistics chain, a port in which goods are coming by sea into the port and then following the railroad track or the truck track into the country. As we know, most goods, at least for a certain amount of time are transported by sea so I know that for example, one important port for landlocked countries is Hamburg, others in Poland. These landlocked countries have good relations with the ports and in history, even some ownership parts in these ports. This has now changed with the European Union with free access and they can do treaties and the logistics is working very well. So I think the landlocked countries are really benefiting from safe and secure maritime domain directly. For example, one very landlocked country like Luxembourg contributed to the anti-piracy operation by donating a plane for sea surveillance which we all appreciated very much because it is not just that they are benefiting from the sea but they have to contribute as well.

Yes, the risk assessment, it’s different from region to region. If you ask the people in Greenland what their greatest threat is, they will say oil spill. If you go to other regions, it is terrorism. Now for Europe, a big risk, and if we do not handle it the right way, is human trafficking and illegal immigration which is something that can endanger the stability of our nations as well. My point is we have to handle this in the right and appropriate way in line with all of our human rights and interests. Narcotics and arms trafficking is a real big deal and will continue to be. And I have to say, some years ago perhaps I wouldn’t have said, we have to look to the Navy-to-Navy engagements at small- to medium-sized fleets as well. That is something of a real concern. If you are talking about maritime interests, it is the importance of securing the exclusive economic zones, the different countries, and the huge amounts of dispute between countries, not just the South China Sea, but in other areas as well, something which can create a risk, which can become a threat. And as I’ve mentioned, environmental degradation and dumping of toxic waste, or illegal pumping of oil water into the sea and all these kinds affect maritime insecurity, collisions, and wreckings from bad navigation and bad training, those are all risks and some of the risks can become greater threats as well.

RH: Some important figures I wanted to share for our listeners specifically for those living in the EU. According to the European Atlas of the Sea and its examination of Europe’s eight sea basins, it found the following statistics which are very important to recognize. The EU has 70,000 kilometers of coastline. Almost half of the EU citizens or roughly 371 million people, including the United Kingdom, live within 50 kilometers of the sea. Almost 40 percent of Europe’s GDP is generated from its maritime regions. 90 percent of the EU’s foreign trade is conducted through sea. Against this backdrop and figures and our previous discussion on risk assessment, how do these criteria affect the current European theatre?

LF: I can tell you, it’s creating a big impact. What is good news in this case, it took some time for the European Union and member states to recognize the importance of the sea. I will come back to sea blindness, but of course they were focused on other internal issues. The financial reasons were very high on the topic. The first step taken by the commission, together with the parliament and the council, was the development of an integrated maritime policy. That was focusing on all aspects that we have already mentioned, not only the commercial ones but the environmental ones. This integrated maritime policy excluded the defense part of the whole maritime domain due to the fact that this has been changed with the Treaty of Lisbon, until then there was a clear division between the European common defense and security policy. But this has changed now and for good reasons. One reason for that is what you have mentioned. Therefore I think the geography of Europe is like a peninsula. If you look at a map you can see this. We have ports in the south, in the north, and in the middle. We have all we need, but it must function well; it must be secure. Therefore the combination of what I have mentioned before; a lot of civilian economic actions are important, but you must include in these commercial approach the coast guard on one hand, and the navy on the other hand as well. If somebody is thinking he can increase security only by civilian means and by diplomacy, I think that will not improve security, it will bring us back to insecurity.

RH: I couldn’t agree with you more. Just for the listeners: think about how access to the ports are easy, it also makes it easy to complicate global freedom of navigation and we’ve touched on this topic without discussing security threats, specifically how your piece recognizes that of A2/AD. Keeping with the EU theme, admiral, Brussels must coordinate with an extensive list of authorities in the maritime domain with the objective of protecting a maritime picture in the local, regional, and global level. Can you identify the six functions you’ve mentioned as they relate to maritime safety and security in the member states?

LF: I think we have a lot of maritime services, but I would like to mention the six of them which are the key players. This is of course customs, fisheries protection, border control, law enforcement, and also it is the marine environmental protection. I think these are the big players if they are establishing a good and trustful exchange of information. Even with a little bit of specific tasks, safety and security will increase. And of course, I didn’t mention the defense issue. Then of course, the defense will have only a preventive task. And if all the others are exchanging their information and doing their job together and not in a stovepiped manner, then of course it will be much more easier for the navies to participate and to act in accordance with their really core tasks to protect citizens and their national interests, and in this case, EU interest.

RH: As we’ve established how the EU is trying to create a picture on the local, regional, and global level, you stated in your piece how the sixteen maritime surveillance-related initiatives sadly work in isolation from one another. Consequently, what is the impact of this disjointed surveillance on the EU?

LF: This is something where I can say we have reached a lot of progress. The fact that it really worked in isolation, and the fact that this was no longer acceptable and the fact that the Commission was developing this integrated maritime policy, that all started a process for better information exchange, better surveillance in the European Union. Therefore, for example, the fisheries protection, border control, and customs already reached a much higher level of information exchange then it was two or three years ago. That is a really big improvement. I am in this case very optimistic, that the current situation in the Mediterranean, and other maritime domains, will help to even improve it further on. We have reached more than I expected in a limited time. We all have to accept that the still 28 and possible future 27 members of the European Union are sovereign states with their own decisions. It takes some time to bring them together and convince the participants to change their minds from the need-to-know to the responsibility to share mentality, but this needs time. And if someone is pressing too much, too high, then the outcome will not be better. It has achieved a lot and I am optimistic that this progress will continue. There is room for improvement. It is still on the way of the right direction.

RH: Just for the record, as we spoke about earlier, as in this case again, it has taken a disastrous migration crisis for the EU and other areas to coordinate and better implement maritime policy. With so much dysfunction though, what has been the response from the European Commission to rectify this?

LF: You’re right. This is something where it’s not a functional problem. It is a problem of, if I may say so, a problem of political will, to do something before the crisis arrives. The EU has a very far developed crisis management system. But if the member states are not providing the essence, the political will to participate, then of course, it would be very difficult to get the crisis management process working. The loss of so many lives in the Mediterranean, and in certain degrees in other areas as well, is what brought the commission and the parliament and the council together to these initiatives with the Operation Sofia in the Mediterranean in the one hand and Operation Sea Guardian by NATO on the other hand. And the frontline operations in the Italian coasts as well. But the dysfunction, if I may say so, I wouldn’t call it a dysfunction. This has been taken over by events, and the cooperation as I mentioned, there is room for improvement, but the actual situation and the actual operations are as good as they could be. But there is a lack of units, a lack of aircraft to survey and to identify the people who are distressed, and this is a decision, a sovereign decision by the member states, what they contribute and if they contribute. This is something at the moment where all the navies are very short on capacity, the boats and the aircraft, and this is something that is a real concern. So what we need is not only better coordination and collaboration, we need more assets to do our business. We have missed the turnaround point, and now we need some time before we get the capacity.

RH: Keeping on the issue of burden-sharing and improving performance, recently the European parliament proposed the formation of a European Coast Guard. It was met with mixed reaction from the member states as you said earlier, in terms of the sovereignty being guaranteed. What is your take on the initiative, and will its creation serve to help manage the maritime domain with more efficiency based on our previous discussion?

LF: I think the coast guard is an important player in all the issues which we have mentioned. They are acting already as a link between the navies and the civilian authorities and they are doing great work not just in the Mediterranean but in other parts of the world as well. But in Europe with 27 member states, we have different solutions for coast guard functions. If you go for a European Coast Guard, you have to consider that all of the European nations have different constructs. For some nations, the coast guard is part of the defense ministry, in others its part of the ministry of the interior, in some it’s on their own. So it is very difficult in such a federated situation to have the idea of a coast guard as one. If I look at my country, in Germany, we do not have a coast guard. We have the combination of different issues, you can call them a coast guard but from an organizational and responsibility view, it is not a coast guard like the U.S. for example. And there is another point which you can make. The coast guard function, which is the approach taken by the EU, I appreciate that, some countries are using their maritime assets, navy assets, law enforcement, they use them and task them to do coast guard functions. In France for example, this is a very successful thing, but France as a country is differently organized, not federally organized, centrally organized, and then things are different. And so, I think it is a good idea for a European Coast Guard, but in this case, the devil lies in the details.

RH: Well from hearing about most EU projects, I think there is a disconnect between theory and what will happen in implementation. But still an interesting thing for listeners to keep at the top of their head. Finally, can you just comment really quickly on the informal meetings between the European navies, Chiefs of the European Navies (CHENS), and how they’ve evolved since its original meeting in 2003?

LF: I have learned that informal meetings are sometimes producing more outcomes than formal meetings. I appreciate these chance meetings. I was part of that for some time and I can tell you that these discussions which we have inside the heads of the European navies, and always having invited the U.S., Canada, and for a certain time Russia as well, which is now not the case. That was a very good exchange. The big thing about this: it is informal, and you can really achieve trust and confidence building, and you can create a network at the highest level. And this is something which cannot be overestimated. The value of informal meetings is much higher than a lot of people realize as many are in favor of formal meetings.

It’s not just the heads of the European navies, there are several coast guards, as well as in other regions, we have the North Atlantic Coast Guard forums, Arctic Coast Guard forum, the Mediterranean coast guard forum, so during these meetings of the coast guard forum, the navies are always invited. Today, even other maritime services are invited. They are executing this comprehensiveness, and the outcomes are studies, sometimes documentation, which do not have a formal character, but which influence the processes to achieve better cooperation and therefore I am very much in favor of these informal meetings.

Stay tuned for Part 2!

Vice Admiral Lutz Feldt (ret.) served in the German Navy for 38 years and served as Commander-in-Chief of the German Fleet and Commander-in-Chief of Naval Staff. Since retiring in 2006, Vice Admiral Feldt has taken over several different posts of honor: he was the President of the German Maritime Institute, Bonn, from 2007 to 2012 and is now a member of the Board of the German Maritime Institute, a member of the “Bonner Forum”of the German Atlantic Association; from 2005 until March 2010 he was a member of the advisary board of the “Evangelische  ilitärseelsorge”(evangelical miltary religious welfare) and he is still a member of the advisary board of the publication “Schiff und Hafen”, an International Publication for Shipping and Marine Technology. He is director of WEISS Penns International.

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

Cris Lee is Senior Producer of the Sea Control podcast.