Tag Archives: Germany

The Baltic Sea and Current German Naval Strategy

The following article is adapted from part of the 2015 Kiel Conference proceedings.

By Dr. Sebastian Bruns

With the deteriorating relations between the West and Russia in the wake of Crimea’s annexation and the hybrid war in Eastern Ukraine since early 2014, the Baltic Sea is suddenly thrust back into the spotlight of naval planners, policy analysts, and students of strategic geography alike.1 This article lays out some principles of looking at the Baltic Sea through the lens of the German Navy, which – while busy conducting a host of maritime security operations (MSO) in such far-flung places as the Horn of Africa, the coast of Lebanon, and the Central Mediterranean for more than two decades – finds itself returning conceptually to one of its home waters. It was the Baltic Sea and related military contingencies that dominated Germany’s naval DNA during the Cold War. Operating in the Baltic Sea was a fundamental part of the German Bundesmarine (Federal German Navy) coming-of-age. In fact, some of the legacy platforms still operated by the German Navy stem from an era that was entirely focused on the shallow and confined waters between Jutland, Bornholm, and farther east.

BalticSea
The Baltic Sea. (Encyclopedia Brittanica)

Since 2014, Germany finds itself in need to return to the Baltic Sea operationally, conceptually, and strategically. However, with a smaller navy increasingly stretched for resources, manpower and vessels, Germany cannot afford the luxury of ignoring other maritime security focus areas of the world worthy of a more expeditionary navy. This spells hard choices for the German Navy and its political masters who have depleted many maritime resources while simultaneously expanding the naval operational portfolio. To underline the conceptual reorientation that this strategic challenge demands, this essay first sketches what characterizes this ‘third phase’ of the German Navy (the first phase being the coastal/escort West-German Navy period from 1956 to about 1990, the second phase the expeditionary period from 1990 to about 2014). Second, the piece will discuss a few of the current political dynamics as they relate to naval and political relationships in the Baltic Sea in particular and the German Navy in general. Third, this essay addresses some of the fundamental naval-strategic shortcomings that put a coherent and believable strategic approach at risk. Fourth and finally, a handful of policy recommendations are provided.2

Three Phases of the Modern German Navy

To put the recent challenges to the German Navy into perspective, just as the service is celebrating its 60th anniversary, it is instructive to briefly touch upon some of the conceptual and intellectual frameworks that govern German maritime and naval strategy. Problems with periodization aside, it is helpful to frame the strategic evolution of the German Navy and how it is intellectually and conceptually approaching the return of the Baltic Sea as an area of responsibility.  

The three Charles-F-Adams-type destroyers MOELDERS, LUETJENS and ROMMEL were the backbone of the Cold War West-German Navy and were a mainstay in Kiel naval base (photo: Frank Behling, Kieler Nachrichten).
The three Charles-F-Adams-type destroyers MOELDERS, LUETJENS and ROMMEL were the backbone of the Cold War West-German Navy and a mainstay in Kiel naval base (Frank Behling, Kieler Nachrichten).

In very broad terms, the ‘first phase’ of the modern German Navy – keeping in mind that the navies before 1945 officially hold no traditional value for the post-war service and are consequently not a point of departure 3  – ran from the inception of the Bundesmarine in 1956 to German reunification in 1990.4 After the devastation of World War II and the demise of the Third Reich, only ten years passed until Germany once again fielded a military. Before the German flag was hoisted again on a warship, a handful of predecessor organizations existed for tasks such as mine-clearing, intelligence gathering, and border patrol. When the Bundesmarine came into being, it was a product of the emerging Cold War and the bipolar world order. There was considerable Anglo-American support after 1945, both covertly and openly, for a new German maritime defense.5 In contrast to the grander aspirations of the decades before, the West German navy was limited to coastal defense (including mine warfare, submarine operations, and air defense) in the North Sea and the Baltic Sea. From the outset and bound by constitutional and political imperatives, the German navy fashioned itself as a territorial defense and alliance force with strict limitations on where and how to operate. Its geographic restriction was eased in the 1970s when missions such as convoy protection in the North Atlantic emerged and more trust was bestowed by NATO allies on West Germany as well as the modernized equipment its navy fielded. From 1980, the Concept of Maritime Operations (CONMAROPS) integrated German posture in the Baltic Sea into the broader NATO-led maritime defense:

“CONMAROPS highlighted the importance of containing Soviet forces through forward operations, of conducting defense in depth, and of gaining and maintaining the initiative at sea. CONMAROPS was based first on deterrence. Should deterrence fail, the strategy was designed to mount a defense far forward in order to protect the territory of the alliance’s European member nations. The concept bracketed NATO’s naval operations into five operational areas or campaigns: the Mediterranean lifelines, the eastern Mediterranean, the Atlantic lifelines, the ‘shallow seas,’ and the Norwegian Sea.” (Børresen 2011: 99)

While increasing cooperation and temporary integration into the Standing NATO Maritime Groups (SNMG) became an integral part of the maritime mindset, Baltic contingencies still formed a key pillar of German strategic naval DNA. The fleet of diesel submarines, mine warfare ships, fast-patrol boats, anti-submarine and air warfare destroyers and frigates, as well as naval warplanes, reflected this.  

Fast patrol boat FRETTCHEN plows through the Baltic Sea (Photo: German Navy).
Fast patrol boat FRETTCHEN plows through the Baltic Sea (German Navy).

The ‘second phase’ of the German Navy began with the transition from the Cold War posture and lasted for more or less a quarter of a century. The 1990-2014 timeframe was initially characterized by the absorption of the East-German Navy and a shrinking set of assets in the wake of a dramatically changing strategic environment. Real-world crises from 1990 onward mandated a transition of the German escort navy to a more expeditionary force (Chiari 2007: 139). Consequently, the German Navy was no longer confined to waters in its near abroad. Instead, it practiced more diverse, but nonetheless challenging operations in the Mediterranean and the Persian Gulf (Bruns 2016a: 285-287).

Politically, the Baltic Sea, once a contested and disputed area between the East and the West, became a true ‘NATO lake’ with the accession of former Warsaw Pact member states to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in 1999 and 2004, respectively. To address maritime security and safety challenges, a set of governance regimes was installed, most notably the Maritime Surveillance network (MARSUR) for maritime situational awareness and Sea Surveillance for the Baltic Sea (SUCBAS). The military integration along the Baltic littoral was complemented politically and economically by the expansion of the European Union into Central and Eastern Europe in the early 2000s.6 In the absence of the very Cold War scenarios that the German Navy had practiced for until 1990, the Baltic Sea became little more than a ‘flooded meadow’7 – a site for training and testing, or a theatre of Partnership for Peace (PfP) initiatives with non-NATO members. The commercial use of the Baltic Sea rose significantly with an increase in maritime traffic (both cargo and passenger vessels) and a surge in exploitation of the maritime realm for energy purposes (such as offshore wind farms and gas pipelines), but that did not nearly require as much military attention on the part of Germany as it did in the years prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall.

The German Navy frigate FGS Hamburg (F220), left, and the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69), right, take on fuel and stores from the Military Sealift Command fast combat support ship USNS Bridge (T-AOE 10), center, during a replenishment-at-sea in the Arabian Sea on March 23, 2013. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Ryan D. McLearnon/Released)
The German Navy frigate FGS Hamburg (F220), left, and the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69), right, take on fuel and stores from the Military Sealift Command fast combat support ship USNS Bridge (T-AOE 10), center, during a replenishment-at-sea in the Arabian Sea on March 23, 2013. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Ryan D. McLearnon/Released)

Coupled with the broadened mission set and the distance to the German Navy’s post-Cold War operating areas, this mindset fundamentally shaped how the institution and its people thought about and practiced maritime strategy as a whole. To them, it was something that was designed to address expeditionary challenges in the Mediterranean, off the coast of Africa, or in the Persian Gulf, and nothing that dealt with the ‘Fulda gap’ equivalent at sea near Fehmarn. The Cold War generation of naval leaders and a new generation of officers schooled at fighting pirates, upholding embargoes, providing humanitarian assistance, or patrolling the sea lines of communication existed in parallel for a period of time, often utilizing the very same platforms that were originally designed for fleet-on-fleet tasks envisioned for a NATO-Warsaw Pact conflict. Whereas the warships and maritime patrol aircraft hardly changed, the German naval and maritime strategic horizon, and the public and political understanding of the role and value of the German Navy in the 21st century, did.  

The ‘third phase’ began in the wake of Crimea’s annexation and the Ukraine quasi-civil war in 2014. Since Russia’s return to the world stage as a powerful actor willing to use military force rather indiscriminately for political ends, defying the Western model and conceptions about NATO-Russian partnerships, much has changed in threat perception. Spillover effects into the Baltic Sea include Russian harassment of the three Baltic countries (Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania) as well as Scandinavian allies, the reevaluation of all bilateral and multilateral political and economic relations with Russia, and a significant rearmament of the Kaliningrad exclave. Concurrently, the ever-smaller German Navy, challenged by an unsustainable force structure trajectory which has hampered modernization, readiness, recruitment, and operations, finds itself under significant strain.

German Navy Type 212 submarine (Bundeswehr)
German Navy Type 212 submarine (Bundeswehr)

The German Navy is not the only force which needs to refocus on the Baltic Sea, as Denmark and Sweden have also reduced many of their capabilities that they no longer regarded as necessary for their own maritime transitions since 1990. Still, the German Navy finds itself as the largest Western Navy in the Baltic Sea, despite the transfer of the naval bomber arm to the Luftwaffe in 1993 (and the loss of respective capability), the phasing out of the Bremen-class frigates since 2012, the scheduled decommissioning of the remaining fast-attack boats of the Gepard-class in 2016, and the shrinking of the submarine and mine countermeasures (MCM) force. At the same time, the German Navy is forced to refashion its contribution to German defense and national security. The upcoming White Book on German defense policy (the first since 2006), a new European Union global strategy due out this summer as well, and plans to update NATO’s Alliance Maritime Strategy (AMS) of 2011 are the push factors that frame how the Navy must articulate its missions. Keeping in mind that strategic cultural change is very hard, if not impossible, to mandate, there are two capstone documents being planned /written to complement and operationalize the White Book. First, a dedicated top-level service vision dubbed Dachdokument Marine,and second, a more focused naval operational strategy dubbed Militärische Seefahrtstrategie. The thrust of both documents is that the German Navy is no longer afforded the luxury of choosing their maritime focus areas. It must be both, a homeland and alliance defense force, as well as a capable integrated regional power projection navy.  

Current Baltic Sea Maritime Challenges

Such a shift of attention and focus is challenging. Until recently, German politics has been very consumed by mass migration from Africa and the Middle East. In fact, not one, but two naval missions (one in the central Mediterranean and one in the Aegean Sea) with significant German Navy participation speak volume to the size of the problem perceived by Berlin – although these missions are hardly what navies are built and maintained for.9 Meanwhile, there is a larger sense in Berlin that the German Navy is overstretched and underfunded. Given its hollow force structure, the dire human resources situation in the wake of transforming the Bundeswehr into an all-volunteer force, and the strain of ever-longer deployments with increasingly overburdened warships, the need for improved strategic guidance and more resources for Berlin’s 911-force of choice is evident.

For the time being, such political challenges cloud the deteriorating relationship with Russia over the Baltic Sea. Russia’s intimidating actions are widely seen with a grain of salt within the security community, but the wider German public is hardly critical of the shift and fails to comprehend Moscow’s motives as well as the complexities of international politics. A case in point was the recent ‘buzzing’ of the U.S. Navy’s Arleigh-Burke-class destroyer USS Donald Cook (DDG-75) in international waters in the Baltic Sea. Susceptible to Russian and anti-American narratives, it was questioned why the U.S. Navy operated in the Baltic Sea in the first place.

BALTIC SEA - A Russian Sukhoi Su-24 attack aircraft makes a very-low altitude pass by the USS Donald Cook (DDG 75) April 12, 2016. Donald Cook, an Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer, forward deployed to Rota, Spain is conducting a routine patrol in the U.S. 6th Fleet area of operations in support of U.S. national security interests in Europe. (U.S. Navy photo/Released) BALTIC
BALTIC SEA – A Russian Sukhoi Su-24 attack aircraft makes a very-low altitude pass by the USS Donald Cook (DDG 75) April 12, 2016. (U.S. Navy photo/Released)

German-Russian relations in the Baltic Sea realm are still fundamentally about economic ties, some with considerable personal investment of high-ranking policy-makers like former chancellor Gerhard Schröder. The Northstream pipeline, which transfers Russian gas to Germany on the seabed, might offer a point of departure to exert political leverage on Moscow, but it also raises fears of a tainted German-Russian deal over Central European countries’ national interests, as has happened in the past. For the German Navy, the Baltic Sea has lost little of its ‘flooded meadow’ characteristics, at least when it comes to potential naval missions in the area. Four of the five major German Navy installations (Eckernförde (class 212A submarine base), Kiel (home of Flotilla 1 and the Centre of Excellence for Operations in Confined and Shallow Waters), Neustadt/Holstein (damage control training facility), and Rostock (home of the naval command and home port to the largest German Navy surface combatants in the Baltic Sea) are located here, but conceptual and strategic innovation in terms of smart power beyond good order at sea remain scarce.

German Shortcomings

There are a number of areas where shortcomings are evident, and these need to be addressed now. While it would be easy to simply ask for more money to be poured into the Army and Luftwaffe-centric German defense budget, the more fundamental challenge is that of an intellectual kind. Little has changed from this 2013 assessment:

“The German Navy’s contributions to NATO’s maritime roles fall mainly within the lower end of the operational spectrum. Germany’s cruising navy provides little in the way of power projection but, for out-of-area operations, the fleet adds to alliance maritime security and cooperative security, and, though the sea-control capabilities resident in these platforms, it can contribute to collective defense.” (McGrath 2013: 6)

The question that begs an answer then is just what role sea power plays for the government in Berlin, and just how the German Navy can provide the necessary options to the political decision makers (including the respective price tags).

While Germany is lacking certain capabilities worthy of a medium-sized navy (such as the vaunted joint support ships capable of launching and supporting, amphibious operations from the sea), it is also lacking vocabulary for a more confrontational stance requiring hard-power capabilities on the one hand, and a clearer understanding of the roles and missions of naval forces on the other hand. One will be hard-pressed to find anyone in Berlin or Rostock who is war-gaming in earnest anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) scenarios in the Baltic Sea, or who is discussing with salience the naval side of deterrence and hybrid scenarios in the Mare Balticum. This is all the more discomforting because Germany has signed up to, but obviously not understood, NATO’s Alliance Maritime Strategy. This document from 2011 contains language that should inform partner nations’ naval outlook. The AMS mentions four areas for alliance naval activity: deterrence and defense, crisis and conflict prevention, partnership and cooperation, and maritime security. If one decides to focus on particular areas over others, such cherry-picking will amount in demonstrating a lack of coherence and conviction, which is both disastrous for the navy as a foreign policy tool, German standing, and for those Baltic Sea neighbors keen for alliance protection.

The challenge for any workable strategy is to prioritize. With finite resources, and certainly for a powerful country such as Germany, the task is to balance the force adequately so that it can do both. It needs to be able to conduct expeditionary operations under an international EU, UN, or NATO mandate together with other navies (think anti-piracy off the coast of Somalia or naval capacity-building such as in Lebanon), and also provide sustained territorial and alliance defense for and from the home waters. A flawed appreciation for strategy or an unwillingness to even think and act strategically is guaranteed to make such endeavors outright impossible. The objective is, to put it in the words of one analyst, “strategic flexibility and ambiguity of response” (Kofman 2016) against a changing strategic landscape in the Baltic Sea. The German government would be well-served to look into the NATO treaty, in particular Article 5, and make all efforts to provide adequate resources for its military to honor previous commitments. It would follow that the German Navy, which has all but lost its ability in many traditional naval mission areas such as anti-air warfare (AAW), antisubmarine warfare (ASW), and anti-surface warfare (ASuW), would require better intellectual and financial preparation. 

Window of Opportunity: A Few Policy Recommendations

A popular saying notes that in the long-run, the pessimist may be proven right, but the optimist has the better time on the trip. In that spirit, there is a window of opportunity.

First, now is the time for a broader and more focused German maritime and German naval strategy. Self-evidently, these documents would need to carry the thrust of the government and in their scope and relevance not be limited to a particular service or department. They would also need to be deconflicted with the White Book and with relevant emerging EU and NATO strategies, while also honoring commitments from previous national and multinational capstone documents. Such a German naval strategy can focus on high-end design for its forces, extrapolated from its defined naval missions in support of Germany’s security and defense policy.

Second, it would embrace temporary integration with its allies beyond the Standing NATO Maritime Groups (SNMG) to finally provide teeth to the concept of shared and pooled resources. Third, low-end maritime security operations on the side would still be in the portfolio, but ships and aircraft would do these on the side, so to speak, rather than this being the chief strategic concern.

Standing NATO Maritime Group 2, seen here steaming in formation, is currently tasked with operating on the Aegan Sea refugee route. (NATO)
Standing NATO Maritime Group 2, seen here steaming in formation, is currently tasked with operating on the Aegan Sea refugee route. (NATO)

Fourth, it would address the intellectual gaps that have emerged in Germany on the role of naval forces as a foreign policy tool, speak on contemporary maritime scenarios such as hybrid or asymmetry, and provide a sense of direction for the navy. This would definitely strengthen the European pillar of NATO. A return to the ‘bracketing’ approach of CONMAROPS could serve to connect areas of alliance maritime interests. Fifth, it would give the service and its political masters the sense that the maritime challenges of the 21st century are not entirely new. In fact, such a capstone document could address some of the constants of naval issues and initiate a hard look at recent (Cold War) history to address the dynamics of a forward-operating focus, and the role of maritime power for Germany.

Sixth, a capstone document would give allies (and opponents) the opportunity to read about what Germany is up to in the maritime domain. It would sketch avenues to engage with the German Navy. This could mean more exercises, also in the Baltic Sea and beyond such established annual events as BALTOPS. Eventually, it would also provide a sense of direction for those countries in the Baltic who feel most threatened.

It should not come as a surprise that the Baltics are determined to defend against Russia, but they seek German leadership as a responsible lead nation in the Baltic Sea area. Germany should take this seriously.

Dr. Sebastian Bruns directs the Center for Maritime Strategy and Security at the Institute for Security Policy at Kiel University (ISPK). He recently published the edited volume Routledge Handbook of Naval Strategy and Security (London 2016) together with Joachim Krause. Dr. Bruns, a former Congressional staffer in Washington, D.C., is also one of the project directors of the Kiel Conference on maritime security challenges, soon in its third iteration. This article is part of the 2015 Kiel Conference proceedings, available upon request by e-mail or online (www.ispk.org).

Endnotes

Børresen, Jacob (2011), Alliance Naval Strategies and Norway in the Final Years of the Cold War, Naval War College Review Vol. 64 (2), 97-115.

Breyer, Siegfried/Lapp, Peter Joachim (1985), Die Volksmarine der DDR: Entwicklung, Aufgaben, Ausrüstung, Bonn: Bernhard & Graefe.

Bruns, Sebastian (2016b), A Call for an EU Auxiliary Navy – under German Leadership, Center for International Maritime Security (CIMSEC), 1 March 2016, http://cimsec.org/a-call-for-an-eu-auxiliary-navy-under-german-leadership/22385 (18 May 2016).

Bruns, Sebastian (2016a), Elements of Twenty-First-Century German Naval Strategy, in: Joachim Krause/Sebastian Bruns (eds.), Routledge Handbook of Naval Strategy and Security, London: Routledge, 283-295.

Bruns, Sebastian (2005), “The Role of the United States Navy in the Formation and Development of the Federal German Navy, 1945-1970”, Washington, D.C.: Naval History and Heritage Command, http://www.history.navy.mil/research/library/online-reading-room/title-list-alphabetically/r/the-role-of-the-united-states-navy-in-the-formation-and-development-of-the-federal-german-navy-1945-1970.html (18 May 2016).

Chiari, Bernard (2007), Von der Escort Navy zur Expeditionary Navy: Der deutsche Marineeinsatz am Horn von Afrika, in: Wegweiser zur Geschichte. Horn von Afrika, im Auftrag des Militärgeschichtlichen Forschungsamtes herausgegeben von Dieter H. Kollmer und Andreas Mückusch, Paderborn et al.: Schöningh, 126-139.

Kofman, Michael (2016), “Fixing NATO Deterrence in the East or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love NATO’s Crushing Defeat by Russia”, Warontherocks, 12 May 2016, http://warontherocks.com/2016/05/fixing-nato-deterrence-in-the-east-or-how-i-learned-to-stop-worrying-and-love-natos-crushing-defeat-by-russia/ (26 May 2016). 

McGrath, Bryan (2013), “NATO at Sea: Trends in Allied Naval Power”, National Security Outlook No. 3, Washington, D.C.: American Enterprise Institute.

Peifer, Douglas (2002), The Three German Navies: Dissolution, Transition, and New Beginnings, 1945-1960, Gainesville: University of Florida Press.

Pfeiffer, Ingo (2014), Seestreitkräfte der DDR. Abriss 1955-1990, Berlin: Miles.

1. A selection of further reading (of only the very recent analyses) includes Lucas, Edward (2015), “The Coming Storm. Baltic Sea Security Report”, Centre for European Policy Analysis (CEPA), Washington, D.C.; Lundqvist, Stefan & Widen, JJ (2015), “The New US Maritime Strategy. Implications for the Baltic Sea”, The RUSI Journal, 160:6, pp. 42-48;  Kramer, Franklin & Nordenman, Magnus (2016), “A Maritime Framework for the Baltic Sea Region”, Atlantic Council Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security, Washington, D.C.

2. This chapter is based on a presentation given in Arlington (Virginia), United States, on 21 March 2016. The author wishes to acknowledge the Center for Naval Analyses (CNA), sponsor and facilitator of that roundtable discussion, for its support.

3. See Douglas Peifer (2002) for an interpretation which pushes back against the perception that there were little continuities from the Kriegsmarine in the post-World War German navies. Quite the contrary was the case. 

4. The East German Volksmarine (People’s Navy) was disestablished in 1990 with much of its materiel decommissioned/sold; the majority of its officers and enlisted personnel were laid off. The service thus remains but an episode in German naval history without much resonance in its post-1990 DNA and is therefore not subject to deeper consideration for this article. For (German-language) introductions to the Volksmarine, see Siegfried Breyer/Peter Joachim Lapp (1985) and Ingo Pfeiffer (2014).   

5. See Bruns (2005) for an annotated bibliography of U.S. Navy influence on the development of the West-German navy for the 1945-1970 timeframe.

6. The EU has fielded its own Baltic Sea Strategy which focuses entirely on environment and good governance aspects.

7. The Baltic Sea is frequently referred to as little more than a flooded swamp, in particular by members of the German naval community. This affectional characterization is based in the shallow and confined hydrography of this particular body of water and the strategic geography it entails, making it a unique area for naval operations and the political use of sea power. 

8. Full disclosure: This author has been part of the group that was tasked with conceptualizing and writing the drafts of that document.

9. For a pledge to consider establishing an auxiliary navy to address low-end maritime missions (a European Coast Guard by another name), see Sebastian Bruns (2016b).

Featured Image: Corvette Ludwigshafen am Rhein ( F 264 ) in magnetic surveying at the Wilhelmshaven Wiesbaden Bridge (Ein Dahmer)

A Call for an EU Auxiliary Navy – under German Leadership

By Dr. Sebastian Bruns

A popular quote reads “A ship in port is safe. But that’s not what ships are made for.” Correspondingly, one could quip “Navies are very good in constabulary tasks. But that’s not what they’re maintained for,” echoing noted political scientist Samuel Huntington in the process. More than sixty years ago, Huntington wrote about the purpose of naval forces in the early Cold War, yet some of his thoughts have an enduring value for 2016. In the Mediterranean, not one but two naval task groups are working hard to contain a humanitarian crisis at sea. While their service is admirable and strictly necessary, even as it is only a drop in a bucket, naval capabilities which are in high demand elsewhere are bound in a mission that is only a secondary role for navies. Instead, Germany should lead the way in investing in an EU auxiliary force.

A crowded boat with migrants awaits rescue by EU NAVFOR MED.
A crowded boat with migrants awaits rescue by EU NAVFOR MED.

In May 2015, the German Navy began participating in the search and rescue mission in the Central Mediterranean north of the Libyan coast, dubbed EU NAVFOR MED (Operation “Sophia”) shortly thereafter. The pressure to act had become unbearable for political decision-makers in Berlin and Brussels after yet another devastating humanitarian catastrophe which occurred somewhere on the High Seas between Libya and Italy. An overloaded boat sank during the night of 18/19 April, costing the lives of up to 800 migrants. Hundreds others had perished in the Mediterranean during the months before. Following a European Council decision and a parliamentary green light, the German Navy dispatched the frigate Hessen (F221) and the combat support ship Berlin (A1411) to provide a presence north of Libyan territorial waters. At the time, both ships were operating off the Horn of Africa and in the Easter Mediterranean to provide the German Navy with an operational reserve. Hessen and Berlin joined a number of other EU vessels, which ranged from warships to auxiliary and coast guard ships. EU NAVFOR MED was just the latest mission that the German government engaged its shrinking military forces in; on the maritime domain alone, Germany is continuously involved in naval operations in the central Mediterranean (ACTIVE ENDEAVOUR, since 2002), off the coast of Lebanon (UNIFIL, since 2006), and on the Horn of Africa (EU NAVFOR Atalanta, since 2008). German Navy participation in one or often two of the four Standing NATO Maritime Groups, exercises, training, and out-of-the-schedule naval operations such as providing cover for the destruction of Syrian chemical weapons at sea in 2014 have added pressure to (wo)men and material.

Combat support ship Berlin and frigate Hessen steam side by side in the initital provision of humanitarian assistance on the Southern flank.
Combat support ship Berlin and frigate Hessen steam side by side in the initital provision of humanitarian assistance on the Southern flank.

Cue: Queen, “Under Pressure”

Since the summer of 2015, rotating up to two ships in and out of the EU NAVFOR MED mission – such as the Berlin’s sister ship Frankfurt (A1412), or the tender Werra (A514) – put a truly severe strain on German military-operational planning. It goes without saying that adapting these venerable warships and supply vessels, which are optimized for many things other than housing, feeding, and medically caring for hundreds of castaways on board, has put a strain on the Deutsche Marine. The noble task of saving lives at sea has challenged the well-trained crews of the ships, but it hardly obscured the fundamental problem that more than two decades of defense budget cuts, strategic disorientation, and a larger disinterest in all things hard power by the German public (and most of its political masters) have caused. By default, the German Navy has turned into a low-end, operationally-minded force, where high intensity should be a design guide.

The German Navy’s dilemma, at 16,000 people and just 62 vessels at the smallest it has ever been by a December 2015 count, was illustrated best right before Christmas. In response to the November attacks in Paris, the frigate Augsburg (F213) was re-assigned from EU NAVFOR MED to provide air defense for the French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle in the Eastern Mediterranean and Persian Gulf. The mine hunter Weilheim (M1059), en route to return from UNIFIL to its homeport on the Baltic Sea right in time for the holidays (and probably the least-capable vessel to offer space for potentially hundreds of migrants), was tasked to remain in the Central Mediterranean. It joined the corvette Ludwigshafen am Rhein (F264), another warship tasked with a humanitarian assistance task that was hardly envisioned by strategic and operational planners in Berlin and Rostock, site of the naval command. Samuel Huntington, who warned that navies should concentrate on providing high end options and not be used for low-end missions, would probably turn over in his grave. This is not to say that other countries did not have their own challenges in providing assets to the mission, but some of them are better equipped to attend to low-end missions. The Royal Navy, for instance, dispatched HMS Enterprise (H88), a multi-role hydrographic oceanographic vessel.

The corvette Ludwigshafen am Rhein is currently part of Germany's contribution to EU NAVFOR MED. Germany's naval missions can sometimes be as complicated as its ship-naming policy.
The corvette Ludwigshafen am Rhein is currently part of Germany’s contribution to EU NAVFOR MED. Germany’s naval missions can sometimes be as complicated as its ship-naming policy.

When all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail

In February 2016, the German Navy is still tied up in the EU NAVFOR MED. Privately owned platforms such as the Phoenix, operated by the Malta-based Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS), and two vessels operated by Doctors without Borders (Medicines Sans Frontiers, MSF), the offshore supply ships Bourbon Argos and Dignity 1, have also at some point joined the operation (although they are not integrated into the EU force). At the same time, the Aegean Sea, which offers the shortest distance between Turkey and Greece, has moved into focus for human trafficking. The cold of winter has hardly deterred the refugees from mounting unseaworthy dinghies, rubber boats, or derelict fishery vessels that the criminal networks of human traffickers operate. In response, NATO stepped in and dispatched its Standing NATO Maritime Group 2 (SNMG2). The task force is commanded by the German rear admiral Jörg Klein and currently consists of the German Navy combat support Ship Bonn (A1413) and four frigates from Turkey, Italy, Greece, and Canada. As the New York Times noted in an article on 11 February,

“while the hastily made decision reflected the growing urgency of the situation, it was not clear that it would have much practical effect on the flow of refugees fleeing Syria’s five-year civil war: The alliance said it would not seek to block the often rickety and overcrowded migrant vessels or turn them back, and military officials were scrambling to determine precisely what role their warships would play.”

Standing NATO Maritime Group 2, seen here steaming in formation, is currently tasked with operating on the Aegan Sea refugee route.
Standing NATO Maritime Group 2, seen here steaming in formation, is currently tasked with operating on the Aegan Sea refugee route.

A European Auxiliary Navy

Granted, the political leverage for European integration is low at the moment. The European Union is struggling to fend off tendencies that call not for an ever closer union, but in fact work towards dismantling some of the EU’s accomplishments in the wake of the refugee crisis. Still, with security and defense in increasing demand, including maritime security from on Europe’s southern flank, there need to be fresh ideas that can be operationalized quickly. In the face of the deteriorating relations between the West and Russia and the disintegrating Middle East, warships should contribute to the more robust stance against political aggression and hard threats, thus focusing on more of their core tasks (no doubt requiring doctrinal and conceptual re-assessments in some European capitals). This would give NATO a stronger role, and leave the EU to take care of the low-end maritime task. It could thus serve as an example of burden-sharing between the two entities.

Germany could play a leadership role in drawing up a European auxiliary navy, reenergizing the European spirit of cooperation in the process. Such a task force could have a number of political advantages. First, it would send a strong signal that European nations are willing to work together to address the ramifications of maritime trafficking. Second, Germany would address calls from inside and outside to do more. As a maritime nation with strong normative impulses, the Federal Republic would also demonstrate to the electorate (long weary of military engagement) that it is aware of the utility of naval forces in crisis response. Naturally, German investment into an auxiliary EU navy should not come at the expense of more robust naval tasks with the German Navy, but these could be better tailored if the combat support ships, frigates, and corvettes need not be used in lesser operations. Third, if and when the current migrant crisis ebbs, the European auxiliary navy could concentrate on the public diplomacy role of naval forces, providing anything from humanitarian assistance to the provision of medical services on goodwill tours around the world (like the U.S. Navy and the Chinese PLAN routinely do already). This auxiliary navy could also lend a hand to regional coastal and constabulary navies and coast guards (e.g. in West or East Africa) to train and exercise.

The last dedicated German hospital ship was the MS Helgoland, which saw extensive action in Saigon (South Vietnam) between 1966 and 1972. The ship was operated by the German Red Cross.
The last dedicated German hospital ship was the MS Helgoland, which saw extensive action in Saigon (South Vietnam) between 1966 and 1972. The ship was operated by the German Red Cross.

To this end, it is strictly necessary to inject some fresh thinking into how such as force could be tailored. It is imperative that an idea such as this can be put into action rather quickly before being brought to grinding snail speed by bureaucrats in Brussels or Berlin. First, one should look at the market of commercial vessels. Ro/Ro ships or offshore supply ships are available, usually even on short notice. They could be painted gray or white, manned by a mixed civilian-military crew, and quickly form the backbone of an auxiliary navy.

The Royal Navy used the Ro/Ro vessel Atlantic Conveyor in the 1982 campaign to retake the Falkland Islands from Argentina. The makeshift helicopter and Harrier carrier was sunk by Argentine forces in the course of the conflict.
The Royal Navy used the Ro/Ro vessel Atlantic Conveyor in the 1982 campaign to retake the Falkland Islands from Argentina. The makeshift helicopter and Harrier carrier was sunk by Argentine forces in the course of the conflict.

Other opportunities arise as well. The offshore patrol vessel L’Adroit (P725) is a demonstrator vessel built by French shipbuilder DCNS and was placed at the disposal of the French Navy for three years, a period that is now drawing to a close. The ship could be introduced as a French contribution to the auxiliary navy, which need not limit itself to state-run ships. If done properly, NGOs like SOS Mediterranee could be integrated (the non-profit organization operates the MS Aquarius, a former German fishery protection vessel). The former rescue cruiser Minden, built in 1985 and serviced by volunteers from the German Maritime Search and Rescue Service, will join what is already emerging as a multinational, civilian, and military task force in the Mediterranean.

The former SAR cruiser Minden, for thirty years operated in the North Sea and Baltic Sea by an NGO, will soon begin rescue operations in the Mediterranean.
The former SAR cruiser Minden, for thirty years operated in the North Sea and Baltic Sea by an NGO, will soon begin rescue operations in the Mediterranean.

In the medium term, one could consider the charter of vessels which could be converted quickly as dedicated hospital ships, also crewed by civilian mariners and military. A logistics ship would also come in handy, as well as a simplistic command platform. To provide range, ships taken up from trade (not such a novel concept after all) could be selected if they provide the opportunity to operate reconnaissance drones or helicopters. In the long term, there are even further ideas that could be floated. For example, the 2016 German federal budget has earmarked the procurement of three new patrol vessels for the Bundespolizei See, Germany’s quasi Coast Guard. It is entirely plausible that these ships could also be detached as part of the EU’s auxiliary fleet, akin to NATO’s SNMGs – that is, if Germany politically resolves its constitutional conflict between police and military jurisdiction and respective responsibilities. To go even further, the German Navy is currently in the early stages of procuring the future multi-role combat ship MKS180, designed as a modular warship. Is it too far-fetched to consider adding a civilian variant, a MKS180CIV, for the auxiliary “Great EU White Fleet”?

The German Navy's next project: Multi-role combat ships MKS180 (artist conception).
The German Navy’s next project: Multi-role combat ships MKS180 (artist conception).

To be clear: Such an auxiliary navy would have to be organized, trained, and equipped properly. This requires financial and political investments. The task force, more of a 10-ship navy than a 100- or even 1000-ship navy, would provide a vision for European cooperation. EU or United Nations mandates would be desirable. It appears that it is also a much more sensible road leading to further defense and security cooperation than political soap-box oratories about the need for a European army could ever do. Politically and operationally, it could provide Berlin with a sense of regaining some degree of initiative when it comes to maritime security.

Sebastian Bruns directs the Center for Naval Strategy and Security at the Institute for Security Policy, University of Kiel (Germany). He is the editor of “The Routledge Handbook of Naval Strategy and Security” (Routledge: London 2016). 

The “Cooperative Strategy” (CS-21/CS-21R): A View from Germany

By Dr. Sebastian Bruns

In mid-March 2015, the U.S. Navy, the U.S. Marine Corps, and the U.S. Coast Guard published its new strategy “A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower: Forward, Engaged, Ready.” This article looks at the new strategy through the prism of Germany, one of the leading industrial powers in the world and a country dependent on unhindered maritime trade routes.

As much as for any other nation, the American sea services remain a benchmark for Germany in terms of operations, standardization, and for combined operations. After all, the United States fields the single global force projection navy: It is the qualitatively largest naval force and the only one that is forward-present or rotating in areas of strategic interest. In addition, the U.S. Navy (and, to a lesser degree, the Marine Corps and the Coast Guard) is frequently and proactively used as a foreign policy tool. In short, U.S. sea power helps shape the international security environment for better or for worse. German security policy must heed the political and military implications of where U.S. naval power is being projected (and in some cases, where there is a divergence) in order to play an accordingly responsible and reliable role. As the smallest of the three German military branches, it has often been under the radar of policy-makers and the public. In contrast to the U.S. Navy, for instance, the German Navy has until recently not been understood as a tool of statecraft. Accordingly, German naval operations were, for a long time, more reactive than proactive (which is, certainly, a function of cautious leaders aware of German history as well as of the dynamics of force structure and deployments).

German expeditionary military operations (and by implication, its strategy) by law must be integrated in systems of collective defense or collective security. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) firmly bounds Germany and the United States together in a military alliance that is fundamentally maritime in character, although it has been focusing heavily on ground operations for the past decades. Since 1990, Germany’s small navy, grouped around larger frigates and smaller coastal combatants as well as a few state-of-the-art conventionally-powered submarines, has continuously been operating in maritime focus areas as diverse as the Central and Eastern Mediterranean, the Horn of Africa, the Persian Gulf, the Adriatic Sea, and obviously the Baltic Sea and North Sea. It transformed from an escort navy of Cold War days to an increasingly expeditionary navy, as the German military historian Bernard Chiari has characterized it.

German tender FRANKFURT AM MAIN (A 1412) meets U.S. amphibious transport dock MESA VERDE (LPD 19) somewhere between Berlin and Washington.
German tender FRANKFURT AM MAIN (A 1412) meets U.S. amphibious transport dock MESA VERDE (LPD 19) somewhere between Berlin and Washington.

In all of these regions and in various naval operations, cooperation with U.S. naval forces was the norm rather than the exception.[i] European waters moved to the periphery of American geopolitical thinking. Consequently, U.S. naval forward presence in the 6th Fleet area of responsibility diminished significantly after the end of the Cold War. Aircraft carriers, for instances, were often only seen in the Mediterranean when they transited to or from the Persian Gulf. Northern European waters, which saw extended U.S.-led naval presence since “The Maritime Strategy” of the 1980s, were almost completely empty of U.S. Navy surface warships (with the notable exception of the annual U.S. Baltops exercise in the Baltic Sea, and on-and-off port visits and exercises in between). Together with the changing security environment in Central Europe, in principle this offered new opportunities for the German Navy, which at the time transformed from protecting to projecting force – in doctrine, not in the composition of the fleet.

CS-21 (2007)

To understand the implications for Germany from CS-21R, it is instructive to briefly review the impact of that document’s predecessor, CS-21 (2007). The strategy, which appeared on the eve of the global financial crisis, featured a systemic approach, that is: it emphasized the cooperative nature of naval forces working together to build maritime security regimes in order to protect the globalized system of the exchange of goods, services, and information. Such an approach – highly uncommon for most maritime, much less naval strategies – fared well in principle with Germany. It did so for several reasons: First, it appeared to overcome the unilaterlist notions of the era of President George W. Bush. Second, it emphasized the need to protect the global commons from harm and hardship, and by extension safeguard the sea lanes on which Germany’s industrial power is very dependent. Third, the cooperative nature was in line with German security policy thinking, which has a marked uneasiness towards employing military means and much rather focuses on ‘civilian-military cooperation’, ‘comprehensive approaches’, and a primate of soft power politics (as if sensible sea power would not offer the vast variety of policy measures on the spectrum of conflict). Fourth, the open spirit of CS-21, its deliberately glossy format, and the non-militaristic lingo had potential to appeal to makers and shapers of policy. It is no coincidence that CS-21, not CS-21R or any other U.S. Navy capstone document, remains the yardstick for naval strategy planning and thinking in Germany for the time being.

German navy corvette Braunschweig (F 260) departs Hamburg in December 2006 on its maiden voyage. The vessel is the first-in-class of the K130-type corvettes.

Operationally, maritime counter-terrorism operations (such as Operation Enduring Freedom’s TF 150 off the Horn of Africa, in which Germany actively participated since 2002), maritime capacity-building measures (such as UNIFIL’s maritime task force off the Lebanese coast since 2006) and counter-piracy efforts (with EU NAVFOR Atalanta being stood up in December 2008) appeared to be the dominating naval missions of the period, along with the occasional disaster relief and humanitarian assistance operations which CS-21 had elevated to a strategic objective. Such a view fared well in Berlin, and for the navy, it meant a boost in public relevance.

In this view, CS-21 was a very fitting document for the German Navy, which to date does not have a unique capstone document of its own. The systemic maritime strategy published in Washington emphasized seemingly softer naval missions at the perceived expense of warfighting, deterrence, or amphibious landings. Implicitly, in the view of Germany, the U.S. and some other allies would probably still do these things, but the focus clearly was elsewhere.

The German navy frigate FGS Hamburg (F220), left, and the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69), right, take on fuel and stores from the Military Sealift Command fast combat support ship USNS Bridge (T-AOE 10), center, during a replenishment-at-sea in the Arabian Sea on March 23, 2013. The Eisenhower, Hamburg and USS Hue City (CG 66), top, are deployed to the 5th Fleet area of responsibility to conduct maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts.
The German navy frigate FGS Hamburg (F220), left, and the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69), right, take on fuel and stores from the Military Sealift Command fast combat support ship USNS Bridge (T-AOE 10), center, during a replenishment-at-sea in the Arabian Sea on March 23, 2013. The Eisenhower, Hamburg and USS Hue City (CG 66), top, are deployed to the 5th Fleet area of responsibility to conduct maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts.

While the narrative about the role of naval forces now was increasingly clear to the German public – after all, fighting pirates and other bad guys at sea has a long tradition in Germany, dating back to the days of the Hanseatic League – a severe intellectual disconnect that had developed since 1990 finally surfaced. More than ever, maritime security operations (MSO), although but one of any balanced navy’s many missions, became the key raison d’être for the German Navy. Stripped of the word ‘operations’, ‘maritime security’ (or Maritime Sicherheit in German) increasingly turned into a catch-all term in German policy and military circles to legitimize the current fleet. The paradox consequence: The securitization of the maritime sphere, as Christian Bueger has characterized it, led to an increasingly diluted understanding of risks and naval countermeasures while at the same time producing an unjustified, mind cuffs-like emphasis on MSOs as the sole rationale for German sea power. The consequence could be observed in the 2011 NATO campaign against Libya: For political reasons that reached to the German foreign minister, the frigate Niedersachsen (F 208) was quickly detached from the NATO force which prepared to strike targets in Libya. The change in government after the 2013 general election in Germany set the stage for a slightly different approach.

CS-21R (2015)

CS-21R, the revised version of CS-21, is being phased in a radically changing security environment. The return of geopolitics over the Ukraine-Russia crises, the rise of the “Islamic State” in Syria and Iraq, the outbreak of Ebola in Africa, failing states in the Southern Mediterranean region, increasing tensions in the South-East Asian littorals, the challenging dynamics of an Iranian quest for a nuclear program, the fallout of the currency and debt crisis in Europe, and many more factors provide ample evidence that the world has not turned into a notably more stable, peaceful, and serene place. Germany is slowly, albeit steadily adopting a more robust posture to address such threats and dynamics. Still, until 2014, the Army-focused operations in Afghanistan dominated the German strategic thinking about the use of military force. With the end of combat operations, the German military establishment and parts of the public and the policy elite are reconsidering their country’s role in the international arena. A new “White Book” is currently in development (the first since 2006, and only the third since the end of the Cold War). This process was recently kicked off with a public forum in order to be as inclusive for stakeholders, analysts, and the public alike. For German terms, an open discussion about defense issues is rather revolutionary. Thus, the orchestrated speeches by President Joachim Gauck, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, and Secretary of Defense Ursula von der Leyen at the 2014 Munich Security Conference – calling for more robust German engagement, including military means – were remarkable in every way. A 2013 think tank report was outspoken in a similar manner, declaring that Germany’s new power meant a new degree of international responsibility. The 2010 abolition of conscription and (yet another) new organization and orientation of the Bundeswehr by then-Secretary of Defense Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg have proven to be a fundamental challenge for the service. It has also been demonstrated that against the backdrop of an increasingly violent world, the military is an integral part of German power, and must be treated, organized, funded, and employed accordingly. All of this is important to understand the environment in which CS-21R is made public.

Minehunter FULDA (M 1058), seen here in 2008, and its sister ships may see increased operational relevance now that the Baltic Sea area has once again returned as a maritime focus area with potential for both, cooperation and confrontation (photo: Deutsche Marine)
Minehunter FULDA (M 1058), seen here in 2008, and its sister ships may see increased operational relevance now that the Baltic Sea area has once again returned as a maritime focus area with potential for both, cooperation and confrontation (photo: Deutsche Marine)

It is still too early to call the shots on the true effects and consequences of CS-21R on Germany and the German Navy. CS-21R has received little attention in the media (with the exception of the trade press), and even the handful of German military blogs have remained silent so far. There are at least three aspects that have a direct relevance for Germany.

First, a closer look at the document reveals the inclusion of fiscal dynamics into U.S. naval planning. It is likely that the trend of less U.S. naval presence in Germany’s maritime focus areas has very real implications for what the German Navy may be asked to do. This would, in turn, yield the need to invest better in the Deutsche Marine and raise the budget accordingly in line with established overarching defense requirements. A second, potentially contentious point is the absence of humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HA/DR) as a core strategic capability of the sea services in the new U.S. document. Whereas navies are certainly not built for such operations, as Samuel Huntington already cautioned in his landmark 1954 Proceedings article, such missions provide an opportunity for quick political gains. A response to the on-going migration waves from Northern Africa to Southern Europe using military vessels for search and rescue could be such a measure, even though Germany’s possible participation in would be conditional once again on an international mandate and with the clear understanding that the European littoral states would also shoulder their operational responsibility. Third, CS-21R’s regional approach is centered on the Indo-Asian-Pacific region. These are hardly traditional operating areas for the German Navy, even if the maritime discourse in Germany has been shaped by anti-piracy patrols. Within the framework of “responsibility”, it is conceivable to argue that other nations (and the U.S.) are more responsible for that region, although Germany would potentially be willing to play its part and contribute forces along defined missions (such as in Operation Atalanta or in one of NATO’s four standing naval forces, should the situation require it). The flipside of such an argument is that Germany would have to play a more assertive role in its “home waters” such as the Baltic Sea, the North Sea, and by extension the waters surrounding Europe. As for the Baltic Sea, the first few steps are on the horizon, at least in terms of re-focusing strategically and operationally, and taking leadership through collective security management. Whether the capabilities and the political will can follow along, however, remains to be seen. Still, CS-21R and the environment in which it has been published, provides an opportunity for Germany to focus on the value of navies in international security. A stand-alone strategic capstone document would help explain this new role to its allies as well as to the public and to many policy-makers alike.

From another era? The officers and crew of the German destroyer Lütjens (D 185), say goodbye and render honors to USS Winston S. Churchill (DDG 81) by lining the rails in their Dress Blues as they came alongside the ship at sea. The German Sailors, who had become good friends with many of the crew on board Churchill, were flying an American flag at half mast and had hung a homemade banner that read, "We Stand By You." The ships had been conducting joint exercises off the coast of the United Kingdom prior to the terrorist attack on the United States on September 11th.
From another era? The officers and crew of the German destroyer Lütjens (D 185), say goodbye and render honors to USS Winston S. Churchill (DDG 81) by lining the rails in their Dress Blues as they came alongside the ship at sea. The German Sailors, who had become good friends with many of the crew on board Churchill, were flying an American flag at half mast and had hung a homemade banner that read, “We Stand By You.” The ships had been conducting joint exercises off the coast of the United Kingdom prior to the terrorist attack on the United States on September 11th.

[i] In recent years, there has also been an increasing level of integration with German Type F-123/F-124 frigates being part of U.S. Navy carrier strike groups in the Persian Gulf. Other cooperative measures such as the exchange of officers or cooperation in technology issues have been around since the formation of the German Navy after World War II.

Sebastian Bruns recently graduated from the University of Kiel with a PhD in Political Science. He is a Fellow at the Institute for Security Policy, University of Kiel (ISPK)North Atlantic Ocean (July 12, 2004) — The German frigate FGS Niedersachsen (F208), the submarine tender USS Emory S. Land (AS-39), the Turkish frigate TCG Gediz (F495), and the Spanish frigate SPS Alvaro De Bazan (F101) steam together through the Atlantic Ocean while participating in Majestic Eagle 2004., where he works on naval strategy.

The Gutting of Ukraine

By Norman Friedman

UkraineChina has consistently supported Ukraine during its agony at the hands of Russian-supported separatists. One of the less-publicized reasons why is that China has relied heavily on Ukrainian firms to help modernize its military.

For example, the active phased-array radar on board Chinese Type 052C destroyers was developed by a Ukrainian company. The current Chinese main battle tank is essentially the current Ukrainian one. The firms involved are all in the heavily-industrialized area in which the Russian-backed forces are operating; it may even be that the Russians are specifically targeting particular Ukrainian towns and companies. From Mr. Putin’s point of view, the Ukrainian companies may be unwanted competitors with the military industrialists on whom he depends for much of his power. At the least, he is trying to put them out of business. The white trucks supposedly carrying humanitarian aid into Ukraine from Russia were actually arriving to plunder Ukrainian factories of their modern machine tools. What the West may not want to sell to Mr. Putin, his forces can steal.

The Ukrainian plants and development companies exist because of policies implemented long before the Soviet Union broke up. The rulers of the Soviet Union were always worried that nationalism would break up their country — as, in the end, it did. One of their insurance policies against breakup was to make it difficult or impossible for those in any one of the republics making up the Soviet Union to build key items independently. For example, gas turbine ships built in Leningrad (St. Petersburg) in Russia were powered by gas turbines made in Ukraine. Their torpedoes came from Kazakhstan. Sonobuoys came from Ukraine, as did helicopter dipping sonars. Some ballistic missiles came from Ukraine. The only shipyard in the old Soviet Union capable of building carriers was in Nikolaev, in Ukraine. However, any carrier built there was armed with weapons and sensors from elsewhere in the Soviet Union, mainly from Russia.

In Soviet times, none of this really mattered. The Ukrainian factory making gas turbines responded to commands from Moscow to deliver engines to St. Petersburg, just as any factory in Russia did. There was little or no distinction between what happened in Moscow and what happened in, say, Nikolaev — no border, no transfer of cash. To a considerable extent design organizations were set up in Ukraine in the early 1960s or the late 1950s because Nikita Khrushchev, who ran the Soviet Union, was Ukrainian. For example, Khrushchev decided to reward his homeland by transferring the Crimea to it. Unsurprisingly, Russians applauded its seizure, since they had never considered the transfer legitimate. Ukrainian independence is a much more substantial issue, although most Russians apparently consider it a spurious notion, its separation a penalty imposed by the West at the end of the Cold War.

Once the Soviet Union broke up, the Soviet -era distribution of facilities suddenly mattered a great deal. All of the constituent republics of the old Soviet Union were suddenly plunged from a world of command by Moscow to a world of cash purchases. The Ukrainian plant could still make gas turbines, but if Moscow wanted a set for installation in St. Petersburg it suddenly had to pay up with real money. That was not easy. In time the Russians built their own gas turbine factory, but while that was happening they had to power ships with steam plants, because the steam plants were being made in Russia.

Conversely, key components of the carrier Varyag, afloat at Nikolaev, could not be delivered because they could not be paid for. The yard had no way to complete the carrier. Parts of her weapon system were visible for some years on the pier alongside, incomplete and hence impossible to install. In much the same way the Ukrainians had no way of completing a Slava class cruiser left nearly completed when the Soviet Union broke up. The carrier proved saleable — its transfer may have been the beginning of Ukrainian arms exports to China — but the cruiser did not. Even Ukrainian governments clearly favoring the Russians could not conjure up the resources to give the Russians weapon systems or platforms they wanted, because it took cash to move equipment over the border.

With their Russian (ex-Soviet) customers no longer paying, Ukrainian firms looked elsewhere, and they seem to have found their main customer in China — which certainly did have lots of cash. Exports were not so much finished equipment (which would probably have required components from elsewhere in the former Soviet empire) as innovative designs, such as the active phased-array radar. From time to time the Russians have tried to police the export of military data and know-how from their country, but once the Soviet Union broke up Ukraine must have made such controls a mockery in many cases. That might not have mattered had Russian military R&D kept advancing at its pre-collapse pace, but the cash shortage stopped most of that, too. Ukrainians who knew what the Soviet Union had developed by the time of its collapse could sell just about anything Russians could.

For a time, the Russians recovered to the point that they did have cash, but Russian military producers faced much higher costs at home, not least to feed an extremely corrupt political system. Now that a plunging oil price has cut Russian cash resources, it is even more difficult for them to buy from Ukrainian firms. It must be doubly difficult if they have to compete with much wealthier Chinese buyers. Theft is a much easier way to obtain the necessary products. Since it includes the theft of production tooling, the plants in question can be re-established in Russia, where their products will be far more affordable. Hence the systematic looting of plants in Ukraine. Looting also circumvents the effect of a falling price of oil, which drastically reduces hard-cash resources in Russia.

If the Ukrainian agony were all about money and access to technology, it would be unhappy enough. However, a major the driving force is nationalism. Vladimir Putin’s only important attraction for Russians is nationalistic: he is seen as a strong man who will restore the strength of the motherland, and he will also expunge all of those unhappy guilty memories of the Soviet past. In this narrative, the West is the enemy who broke up the Russian Empire and thus sought to crush Holy Russia. Anyone familiar with Russian history before the Revolution can recognize the sort of policy Mr. Putin is following. It takes a very committed Russian nationalist to say, as some have in recent days, that the falling price of oil is part of a deliberate plot on the part of ‘certain organizations’ in the West intended specifically to weaken Russia. Ukraine was the oldest part of the Empire, and its recovery excites Russian nationalists. Before he annexed Crimea, Mr. Putin was extremely unpopular. People in Russia saw him for what he was: a thief working with larger thieves to plunder their country. Afterwards his popularity soared, and old-style raw Russian nationalism became a ruling force.

Russian nationalism is opposed by Ukrainian nationalism. It may not be particularly powerful in the Eastern Ukrainian regions in which the Russians and their friends are operating, but in much of the country it is alive and well. Ukraine has a distinctive culture and language. The language and the alphabet are similar to Russian, but by no means identical. Ukraine enjoyed brief independence after the Russian Revolution. During the late 1920s and early 1930s the government in Moscow created a famine in Ukraine that killed 6 to 10 million people in the name of collectivizing farming. Ukraine had been the breadbasket of Europe, its wheat exports the major source of foreign currency to Czarist Russia. After collectivization, the Ukraine was badly enough ravaged that in the 1950s the Soviet Union found itself buying wheat abroad.

The horrors of the 1920s and 1930s remained fresh in Ukrainian minds when the Germans invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941. Initially Ukrainians understandably welcomed the Germans as liberators, only to discover that the racist Germans lumped them with the Russians as sub-human. Even so, they hated the Russians even more, and a low-level insurgency continued well into the 1950s. The Ukrainian view of the man-made famine is somewhat analogous to the Polish view of the Soviet massacre of Polish military officers in 1941 at Katyn. Each was a horrific crime committed by the Soviet Union and then buried. Under Soviet domination, denial that the Soviets had committed such crimes became a test of political loyalty. Once Ukraine and Poland were free of Soviet control, memory of such crimes helped generate nationalist hatred for the Soviets. When Mr. Putin glorifies the Soviet Union which produced him, he enrages those it tortured. Victims inside the Soviet Union are less than popular in the current nationalist climate, but victims outside are in a very different position.

To further complicate matters, another Soviet-era strategy for binding together the Soviet Union was to encourage ethnic Russians to settle in the various republics forming the Soviet Union. That produced large ethnic Russian minorities in countries like Latvia and Ukraine. Mr. Putin is encouraging the ethnic Russian minority in Eastern Ukraine to revolt against the government in Kiev. Although he is enjoying a short-term advantage, surely what he has done has made other post-Soviet governments uncomfortably aware that they may be harboring hostile minorities. They may decide to do something about them before they can revolt.

If that seems an extreme extrapolation, remember that before World War II Hitler exploited the manufactured resentments felt by a large ethnic German minority in Czechoslovakia (in the Sudetenland) to dismember that country (he did not have to resort to invasion or even to proxy invasion, as in Ukraine). Governments who remembered what minority Germans had done in the 1930s expelled them after Germany collapsed in 1945. Many Germans found themselves walking all the way across Poland from what had been East Prussia, and for years the cry to recover that territory resonated through German politics. What is likely to happen now in places like the Baltic states? Their governments lived through decades of repression in the name of the Soviet Union, but up to now they have been relatively restrained about the Russians in their midst.

Norman Friedman is author of The U.S. Naval Institute Guide to World Naval Weapon Systems. This article can be found in its original form at the Australian Naval Institute here and was republished by permission.