Tag Archives: Germany

Post-Election German Security Strategy

This article is a part of The Hunt for Strategic September, a week of analysis on the relevance of strategic guidance to today’s maritime strategy(ies). As part of the week we have encouraged our friendly international contributors to provide some perspective on their national and alliance strategic guidance issues.

Euro HawkAfter this week’s vote in Germany Chancellor Angela Merkel is likely to govern at least until 2017. Although fundamental strategy and policy shifts are unlikely, that does not mean everything will stay the same, particularly with regards to jobs in Brussels. Moreover, Germany will face interesting arms procurement debates and may have to re-evaluate its place in Europe.

How to Read the Election Result

Security policy was not an issue during this election campaign. The withdrawal from Afghanistan is in progress and was thus no topic of concern. Hotspots like Syria, Iran, and Egypt may have occupied some time on German TV news, but did not do so in mind of the broader German public. The disaster of the cancellation of the Euro Hawk drone program affected only defense secretary De Maizière’s reputation. Therefore, security policy had no discernible impact on the election’s outcome.

While German voters actually turned right, they got a left wing majority in parliament. The CDU, FDP and the new eurosceptic AfD parties together earned 51 % of all votes. However, as the FDP and AfD missed the 5% voter threshold to enter the Bundestag, parliament now has a left-wing majority. Nevertheless, Merkel’s CDU party will keep governing. Most likely with the SPD, but maybe even with the Greens.

Programmatically, no Merkel-led coalition would face serious difficulties in security policy. The CDU, SPD, and the Greens all-support NATO and the EU’s Common Security and Defense Policy (CSDP), but have a low appetite for an active (and costly) security policy in Europe’s neighborhood let alone across the globe. After 13 years in Afghanistan, all parties will be heavily reluctant to participate in large-scale expeditionary combat missions. Thus, security policy will not be one of the controversial topics during the coming coalition negotiations.

If looking for something interesting to watch, it might be the fight for a top job for a German in Brussels next year. It is clear that Germany will claim one of the five available positions*. Which seat Germany claims and which party will send a candidate will be subject to the coalition negotiations. There were rumors that CDU defense minister De Maizière could go for Rasmussen’s job at NATO. However, it could also turn out that a Social Democrat or Green guy will run for Catherine Ashton’s position as the EU’s Foreign Affairs and Security Policy head – coalition negotiations produce all kinds of strange outcomes after all. We will see when we get there.

New Drones, Fighters and Ships?

Do not expect rising troop numbers. Either the Bundeswehr will remain at about 185,000 soldiers or it will shrink further to 150,000 or even 120,000. As it is, the army struggles for recruits enough anyway. Plans for drastic cuts in Germany’s federal budget have already been leaked. If implemented, the Bundeswehr will once again have to do its share. Too few recruits could be used in arguments for further reductions.

There will, however, be three interesting procurement debates. First, the drone debate will re-surface. Since the early 2000s, all governing parties supported the decision to buy the Euro Hawk. The need for drones is surely there. Thus, it is likely that there will be new UAV procurement decision before 2017.

Second, a topic not yet being discussed is the replacement of Germany’s aging Tornados. These are the Luftwaffe’s only jets who can contribute to NATO’s Nuclear Sharing arrangement. Hence, the question will be if Germany acquires a new fighter-bomber, invests money in making some Eurofighters nuclear-capable or leaves Nuclear Sharing after 2020. With an eye on the German budget and Europe’s financial situation, neither German parties nor the widely nuclear disarmament-obsessed media and public will support spending money on aircraft to carry nuclear warheads. In consequence, prepare yourself for another failure of Germany’s Alliance solidarity.

Third, the German Navy has repeatedly called for two Joint Support Ships (JSS), like the Dutch Rotterdam-class LPD. Such ships are desirable. The German Navy contributes simultaneously to NATO, EU, and UN operations, while participating in international maneuvers and conducting smaller own SIGINT operations. One or two JSS would be a boost for Germany’s power-projection ability and its contribution to international operations. However, it remains to be seen whether there is enough political will and cash to go for JSS.

The Bundeswehr’s New Missions

As said, due to Afghanistan, Germany’s political elite is very reluctant to grant the Bundeswehr new missions. The basic rule: The larger the number of troops, the farther away the operational theater, or the more combat involved the larger the German reluctance. For example, Berlin would ignore a UN call for 5,000 German soldiers to fight in the eastern Congo. Sending 50 officers for training or observation to some place close to Europe would probably get Merkel’s okay. As in Mali and Somalia, Germany’s land forces after Afghanistan will find themselves mostly in training, observation, and disaster relief missions.

Air operations other than NATO Air Policing will also find low support in the Bundestag, the parties, media and public. Only with a clear UN mandate might Germany be willing to send fighters for combat missions. One more reason to send fighters, when called, is to get rid of the image of being an unreliable ally. However, as it did before regarding Libya, decisions like this will not depend on any strategy, but rather on the political situation at home.

Silently, but steadily, the German Navy has done a lot in international operations, especially in the Mediterranean. However, few have recognized that there is since 2002, although within different mandates, a permanent German naval presence in the Indian Ocean. The piracy offshore West Africa makes it likely that we will see the German navy also in the South Atlantic. As German naval missions so far have involved little combat and are publicly not recognized, one can expect that Germany’s naval activities remain the same. Nevertheless, other than for friendly port visits or disaster relief, Berlin will not send warships or submarines east of Malacca.

EU Consensus is Necessary

We will see when the on-going fiscal crisis returns, but right now, it seems that EU’s December summit is really going to talk about security policy (although schedules in Brussels can change very quickly). This is truly necessary, because in the recent past the EU as a security actor has been plagued by disaster (Libya, Mali, Syria, et.al.). It is necessary to decide two things in December: The way for new common strategic vision and to how to increase integration of the armed forces.

For the first goal, Germany, France, and Britain would have to find some kind of geopolitical consensus. However, while Germany has a comfortable working relationship with the Chinese, Britain is reviving its alliance with Japan and talking about plans for troops East of Suez. The extent of the diverging security policy cultures between the Big Three was also seen in their approaches to Syria. In addition, a new coalition partner for Merkel will not change this, rather it could make things even worse, as the SPD is very attached to Russia.

To make EU security policy work, Paris and London would have to step back from their activism and go a bit more German, while Berlin would have to give up its muddling through and go a bit more Anglo-French. Here, a new European Security Strategy might help, but not one decided in one night by the governments. Instead, the EU should look to what NATO did in 2009-10. The Alliance started an open and public process with all member and partner states to debate its new strategic concept. The EU should take that as an example and start its own one- or two-year consensus-building process to debate and develop a new European Security Strategy.

Increased integration of European armed forces is the only way to prevent Europe from falling from part into complete military irrelevance. Germany has already started deeper military integration with the Netherlands and Poland. Moreover, CDU parliamentarians like Andreas Schockenhoff and Roderich Kiesewetter have called publicly for even deeper cooperation of the Bundeswehr with other European forces. But no matter who joins Merkel’s government now and no matter whether the Bundeswehr has 185,000 or 120,000 troops, there are no fundamental changes in sight. Expect Germany to muddle through international security as it did before.

Finally, only a left wing government by SPD, Greens, and Socialists would bring fundamental change to the German attitude towards military missions. In all other constellations, the approach will stay pretty much the same.

Felix Seidler is a PhD candidate at the Institute for Security Policy, University of Kiel, Germany, and a German security affairs writer. This article appeared in original form at his website, Seidlers Sicherheitspolitik.

Shipping as a Repository of Strategic Vulnerability

The following article is special to our International Maritime Shipping Week. While we often discuss the threats to maritime shipping, this week looks at dangers arising from such global trade, and possible mitigations.

“Where the carcase is, there will the eagles be gathered together.”

                                            Julian S. Corbett, Some Principles of Maritime Strategy (1911)

In a global system marked above all by its complexity and interconnectedness, dependence on international shipping is universal. Yet some nations are far more vulnerable than others. As students of naval history well know, such vulnerability is often turned into a source of strategic leverage. To what extent can this leverage actually be exploited under 21st century conditions?

The needs of a nation, the opportunity of a foe
The needs of a nation, the opportunity of a foe

The globalized economy is, in a very real sense, a system of maritime exchange. As Thomas Friedman points out, as much as any other recent innovation, it was the shipping container that shaped our daily lives by making the economic transformation of the late 20th Century possible.[1] In the past two decades alone, the volume of sea-borne commerce has more than doubled, from 4 billion tons in 1990 to 8.7 billion tons in 2011. According to the International Maritime Organization, if the overall trend of trade growth observed over the last one and a half centuries continues, the figure will be 23 billion tons in 2060. And, while the exact share of global trade in goods that is moved by is a matter of some debate, it is sea well in excess of 75 percent by most reckonings. Further, it is clear that only cheap and plentiful shipping in a secure maritime environment can sustain this transformation. As a result, the stakes in international shipping are widespread.

But while any nation that wishes to prosper in the current global environment shares in the global dependency on shipping, the vulnerabilities that arise from it are distributed unevenly. This is mainly for two reasons: First, the degree to which specific nations sustain themselves by means of ship-borne imports, and to which they found their prosperity upon maritime exports, varies greatly. Secondly, depending inter alia on a country’s geopolitical setting, it will be more or less able to manipulate the degree to which it has to rely on shipping for its economic security. A resource-rich, continental-size state with landward access to sizeable markets – like Russia – has serious alternatives to maritime transportation. A small island nation with an export-oriented economy that runs on imported hydrocarbons – such as Taiwan – does not. It is where dependency gives rise to vulnerability that it turns into a potential source of leverage for outside powers.

Targeting Shipping for Strategic Effect

In what ways can vulnerabilities in the area of maritime transportation be exploited for strategic effect? There is, of course, a whole spectrum of options available to would-be-predators. Unilateral or multilateral sanctions have been a mechanism of choice since the end of the Cold War. But historically, it has been direct military action against the opponent´s shipping that has had the greatest impact on trade. Two main methods of waging war on commercial shipping can be distinguished, at least at an analytical level: (1) the blockade, and (2) guerre de course, or commerce raiding. The blockade relies on concentration and persistence to choke off the flow of sea-borne goods into enemy harbors, and as such will usually require some form of command of the sea. Commerce raiding, on the other hand, relies on dispersed, attritional attacks by individual vessels (or small groups of vessels), which makes it an attractive option for navies that find themselves in a position of inferiority. Both methods leverage the disruption of shipping to impose a cumulative toll on the adversary’s economy, which is expected to have a significant indirect impact on the war effort and/or erode the opponent´s will to resist.

Recsuing the survivorsHistorical examples of shipping being turned into a strategic lever are abundant. In the age of sail, preying on adversaries’ commerce was an integral part of most naval campaigns, including those of the Dutch Wars, the Seven Years’ War, and the Wars of the French Revolution. While it was seldom decisive, it was often “exceedingly painful,”[2] as Colin Gray observes. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, innovations in naval technology all but brought to its termination the “close blockade” of enemy harbors while also providing means – the submarine, torpedo, and naval mine – that would transform guerre de course into a method of total warfare. Much ink has been spilled on Germany’s failed – and strategically counterproductive – attempts subdue Britain by way of Handelskrieg (the German variation of commerce raiding), while a slightly more specialized literature focuses on the “distant blockades” of Germany that were a key feature of British naval operations in both World Wars.  However the case of Japan is most the instructive for the purposes at hand.

An island nation with an extremely circumscribed resource base, Japan was utterly dependent on ship-borne imports of a range of raw (and precursor) materials. In a very real sense, the Empire´s huge naval modernization program during the 1930s was based on its maritime commerce with the United States. Among other things, the U.S. covered 80 percent of Japanese liquid fuel needs. Given its political and military trajectory, Japan´s demand for key commodities was highly inelastic. The only alternative to trade with the United States and other potential adversaries was the unilateral extraction of resources from Japan´s near abroad – which could decrease its dependence on this particular foreign power, but (crucially) not on maritime transportation. When war came, the U.S. was able to exploit this vulnerability to devastating effect. Despite the many operational and technical inadequacies revealed by its initial operations in 1941-42, the U.S. Navy´s all-out war on Japanese shipping eventually came as close to strategically decisive as can reasonably be expected from any indirect use of military power.[3] Aided by the dire lack of defensive measures on the part of the Imperial Japanese armed forces, U.S. submarines alone sent more than 1,100 Japanese merchantmen to the bottom, and nearly as many were sunk by aircraft and mines. By the spring of 1945, Japanese sea-borne logistics had virtually ceased to exist, and so had Japan´s ability to sustain its war effort.

It has been suggested that other attempts throughout history at disrupting shipping flows might well have been equally successful in exploiting strategic vulnerabilities, had it not been for the predators´ “technical incapacity, operational ineptitude, and policy incompetence […] in the conduct of commerce raiding.”[4] Whether this assessment is accurate or not, there is little doubt that – despite the moral opprobrium that has often accompanied attacks on civilian vessels – the vulnerable dependence on sea-borne trade can be exploited to considerable effect. What relevance this finding might possess in an era of global economic integration is, however, much less clear.

Execute against China?

Until very recently, the explosion of maritime trade supporting economic globalization has not resulted in a resurgence of military strategies based on the (selective) disruption of international shipping. An important exception has been Iran´s focus on the Strait of Hormuz, which has played a critical role in Iranian strategic thinking since the 1980s. But it is the rise of China that has reignited naval strategists´ interest in shipping as a source of strategic vulnerability.

One set of scenarios that has been debated in detail involves Chinese offensive operations against Taiwan´s economic lifeline.  Given the island´s vulnerable dependency on shipping and the enduring limitations of the People´s Liberation Army with regard to a full-scale invasion, it is hardly surprising that the imposition of a coercive blockade should hold some appeal in PLA planning circles.

Considerably greater attention has been attracted, however, by the possibility that the People´s Republic might itself become the target of offensive military action against the sea-borne commerce on which the integrity of its economic model stamds. After all, 90 percent of China’s exports and 90 percent of its liquid fuel imports – which, as Sean Mirski observes are “functionally irreplaceable”[5] – are transported by sea. The oft-cited ‘Malacca dilemma’ is but one expression of a suspicion that now unites an increasing number of strategic thinkers, both Chinese and foreign: namely, that its dependence on maritime transportation may prove to be China´s Achilles’ heel on its way to greatness.

While the vulnerability of the PRC’s sea lines of communications has become an official justification for naval expansion and a rallying cry for naval nationalists, it is also a focal point for U.S. strategizing in the context of increasing access challenges in the Western Pacific. Thus, a blockade of Chinese (or rather China-bound) shipping has been debated both as an element of, and as an alternative to, the AirSea Battle Concept that is designed to enable operations in the face of an anti-access/area-denial challenge, such as U.S. military planners anticipate in case of conflict along the Chinese periphery.

Shipping LanesWhile Western treatments of the subject tend to agree that a blockade would be militarily feasible – given an adequate investment of resources – and could have a very considerable impact on the Chinese economy, the assumptions under which they arrive at these conclusions are extremely restrictive. For example, Mirski assumes that (1) the U.S.-China conflict in question would not be limited in scope, yet would stop well short of nuclear use, (2) the U.S. would find itself in the position of defender of the status quo against a blatantly aggressive China, (3) the U.S. would be able to build a coalition that includes Russia, India, and Japan; and (4) under these conditions, a ‘sink-on-sight’ policy towards civilian vessels in China’s near seas would be politically viable. Even with these preconditions, he concludes that despite the American blockade “China would be able to meet its military needs indefinitely.”[6]

Recent publications also points to changes in the nature of international shipping itself as potential complicating factors: in a prospective blockade scenario, few – if any – civilian vessels would fly the Chinese flag and, given the practice of selling and reselling cargo on spot markets, a ship´s final destination might not be known until it actually enters port.[7] But while Mirski’s proposal of instituting a system of digital navigational certification is ingenious, he dodges the broader question of how the United States and the nations of the Asia-Pacific would deal with the myriad repercussions of what would amount to a major disruption of the globalized economic sphere for an extended period of time.

Conclusion: Return of the commerce raiders?

If nothing else, the current debate about a U.S. naval blockade of China reveals that – much like their predecessors in past centuries – strategists in a globalized era see shipping as a repository of strategic vulnerability, particularly in cases of high-intensity conflict between great or medium-size powers. But while the potential leverage to be gained from nations’ dependence on international shipping is perhaps greater than ever before, the actual leverage might not correspond to planners’ expectations. The sources of this disconnect lie primarily in the political and economic context in which any concerted military action against sea-borne trade would be embedded. Given the U.S. Navy’s determined stewardship of freedom of navigation, the U.S. in particular would find itself on the wrong side of the norms it has been upholding for the past 60 years. And while the economic fall-out of any great power war is likely to be significant, the willful disruption of trade flows for strategic effect would only serve to accentuate the costs to regional allies and global trading partners.

As a result, unrestricted commerce warfare of the type pursued by the U.S. Navy against Japan in 1941-45 is just not in the cards. On the other hand, anything short of a strategically counterproductive ‘sink-on-sight’ policy might not produce sufficient strategic impact to justify the cost of embarking on such a risky course of action in the first place. Finally, once we move beyond the context of open interstate warfare, multilateral economic sanctions offer the possibility of causing many of the same effects at markedly lower cost to the attacker’s international standing.

Overall, the recent surge of interest in economic warfare strategies does little to encourage faith in the potential decisiveness of military actions against globalized trade, and serves to underline the practical and political challenges presented by any attempt at leveraging the vulnerabilities of a major trading power under 21st-century conditions. While the dependence on international shipping poses many risks, the strategic leverage it provides as a direct result of its crucial contribution to the prosperity of nations is now more apparent than real.

Michael Haas is a researcher with the Global Security Team at the Center for Security Studies, ETH Zurich. The views presented above are his alone. Michael tweets @the_final_stand.


[1] Thomas L. Friedman (2006), The World Is Flat: The Globalised World in the Twenty-first Century (London: Penguin), 468.

[2] Colin S. Gray (1992), The Leverage of Sea Power: The Strategic Advantage of Navies in War (New York: Free Press), 13.

[3] Robert A. Pape (1996), Bombing to Win: Air Power and Coercion in War (Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP), 100-01.

[4] Gray 1992, 13.

[5] Sean Mirski (2013), “Stranglehold: The Context, Conduct and Consequences of an American Naval Blockade of China,” Journal of Strategic Studies 36:3, 389.

[6] Mirski 2013, 416.

[7] Ibid., 402; Gabriel B. Collins and William S. Murray (2008), “No Oil for the Lamps of China?,” Naval War College Review 61:2, 84.

The Carrier and National Security Variables

 

Worth the price of influence?
Worth the price of influence?

The report At What Cost a Carrier? published by CNAS and written by CAPT Henry J. Hendrix contains all the necessary ingredients for a simple model-structuring discussion about the validity and viability of the “Carrier Force” concept. With such a model, individual variables can be discussed or discarded without undermining the need to answer the leading cost question or the model itself. These are the basic variables we get with a carrier:

  • Influence: The amount of influence a navy can project on the world is indirectly measured by carrier military power – sets of “90,000 tons of diplomacy” – and not limited to it. In fact, the rest most of the world uses other means to influence events in order to achieve favorable outcomes.  Other nations may want a carrier but, because they cannot afford one, have to look for alternatives.
  • Cost: The cost of achieving a carrier’s desired capabilities, whether measured by the price of procurement, life-cycle cost, or the cost to restore damaged capabilities during armed conflict. Inversely, not building carriers incurs the cost of losing industrial base and know-how.
  • Risk: This is commonly understood as vulnerability from a lack of assets (the risk of going without), but there are also consequences of losing a carrier. The magnitude of lost military power, cost, influence, and image in such a case would enormous.

Military effectiveness-related attributes, like striking power and affordability, are relatively easy to measure and remain at the center of discussions. On the other hand, political-value calculations are less structured (and harder to quantify) but probably represent the biggest threat to the carrier-centric concept, especially if linked with a shift in strategy. What is the acceptable Cost to have X amount of Influence? Or to reduce X amount of Risk? Is increasing Influence worth increasing Risk? What is our strategy to have Influence on opponent?

There are many examples of proposals aimed at undermining the delicate balance between the above attributes.

During the 1980s, Surface Action Groups (SAGs) built around battleships (then still in service) were considered partial substitutes for Carrier Battle Groups (CBGs). It was a compromise, which in effect supplemented carriers but did not replace them.

In the same category we can place contemporary “Influence Squadrons.”

“If the Navy rethinks the role of Carrier Strike Groups (Ferrari) and deploys new, scaled-down Influence Squadrons (Ford), the result will be 320 hulls in water for three-quarters the price,” said Capt. Hendrix. This fits well with the trends of other nations, purchasing LPH-class helicopter carriers as affordable naval air power, and spurs grim predictions for carriers from bloggers:

Were Humphrey a betting man, then he’d be willing to place a small wager that within 20 years, there will be six nations operating aircraft carriers (down from nine today), and only two of them will be in the West…

Sir Humphrey depicts the world (almost) without carriers and shows how easily – through the cascading effects of delayed deployments, reduced training, and backlogs in nuclear refueling – sequestration could drastically reduce U.S. naval air power (or its useful part). In this context, if the variables above are the right ones, than DF-21 is the modern equivalent of the Star Wars project and cruise missiles from Cold War-era. Development of these weapon systems created such strong financial pressures on their opponent that they ultimately put the enemy’s whole system on the edge of collapse. DF-21 is presented as a weapon targeting carriers’ vulnerabilities, but in a way it becomes strategic weapon with political calculations behind it.

Ballistic missiles represent yet another area of exploration, which potentially could result in changing the prime positions of carriers in a national defense portfolio. We’ve lately seen the latest attempts to reinvent conventionally armed Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missiles (SLBMs). These concepts are not new and in this case risk-calculation will probably prevail, as launching ballistic missiles from submerged submarines creates a danger of triggering nuclear conflict as the adversary may have a hard time differentiating the conventional launch from the nuclear variety.

 

Challenging the old calculus.
                             Challenging the old calculus.

The impression is that there is no threat today to aircraft carriers’ primacy because they still represent such a large capability to influence events. Experimenting with other alternatives shouldn’t be viewed as a budgetary threat to carriers but rather as a way to limit the risk if an opponent changes the balance between Influence, Cost, and Risk in favor of other means or weapon systems. The time elapsed between construction of HMS Dreadnought and the Jutland Battle was only 10 years. In the battle, the British Grand Fleet validated the concept of the distant blockade of Germany, but at the same time forced Hochseeflotte to switch resources toward U-Boats, which in turn made the Grand Fleet obsolete in maintaining a distant blockade. Preparing defensive measures against the new threat was costly during the war and forgotten in peacetime.

Przemek Krajewski alias Viribus Unitis is a blogger In Poland.  His area of interest is broad context of purpose and structure of Navy and promoting discussions on these subjects In his country

Divers Find Sunken WWII German U-boat off Nantucket

Side-scan sonar image of U-550 from GK Consulting & AWS Expeditions.

Divers using side-scan sonar on Monday found the wreck of U-550This discovery is a reminder that the oceans that flank America, and have often shielded the nation from the direct wrath of enemies, are not impregnable. 

NBC news provides an account of the naval action that sent the U-boat to the bottom:

On April 16, 1944, the U-550 torpedoed the gasoline tanker SS Pan Pennsylvania, which had lagged behind its protective convoy as it set out with 140,000 barrels of gasoline for Great Britain, according to the U.S. Coast Guard website and research by Mazraani.

 

The U-boat slipped under the doomed tanker to hide. But one of the tanker’s three escorts, the USS Joyce, saw it on sonar and severely damaged it by dropping depth charges.

 

The Germans, forced to surface, manned their deck guns while another escort vessel, the USS Gandy, returned fire and rammed the U-boat. The third escort, the USS Peterson, then hit the U-boat with two more depth charges. The crew abandoned the submarine, but not before setting off explosions to scuttle it. The submarine hadn’t been seen again until Monday.

Crew of the U-550 abandon ship.

The American ships were destroyer escorts (DEs) of Escort Division 22 and manned by Coast Guard crews plus the Gandy, a Navy DE. The surviving German crew were taken to Great Britain.