CIMSEC is having a Non-Navies Week from 29 July to 2 August as a first step in a longer series on specific non-navies. Delve into this list of non-navy navies with us.
Mainstream policy discussions of navies and maritime law enforcement often consider the denizens of the high seas to be a pliant polity – passive actors being defended, disrupted, or directed by the might of global or local security networks. However, national fleets and their individual warships are not the only ones with the agency to effect global politics and security.
Some topics we have covered at length – pirates and the Private Military Contractors that have risen up in opposition – but we have only scratched the surface.
Commercial enterpirses pursue the possibility of massive drone-ships, bringing new possibilities and vulnerabilities as our virtual network and our trade network grow closer together. Remember those pirates?
Fishing fleets have their own interests and controls – their operations and movement impacting global politics from the Gibraltar to the South China Sea. Sometimes inadvertant, sometimes purposeful, their movements can motivate states or global institutions – from territorial disuptes, to security, to environmental concerns.
Ever-better organized and equipped activists are taking to the high-seas, battling whalers or even states. From the Sea Shepards to the “amphibious landings” of Japanese and Chinese activists in the Senkakus, civilians are taking the politics to sea. Somalian piracy actually started as activism, fisherman-come-vigilantes.
Terrorists are an unfortunate reality on the high seas, from the category of at-sea terrorist attacks to the use of amphibious operations as vectors for attack from Israel to Mumbai. Some groups, such as the Tamil Tiger’s “Sea Tigers”, even went so far as be considered a possible real-world naval force.
Around the raucus political conflicts flows the silent schemes of smugglers, black marketeers, and human traffickers. From drug runners to sanction busters, admirals are not the only ones trying to mask their position. Criminal enterprises conduct their own air-sea battle, even operating submarines to smuggle goods.
The almost clinicically precise maps of the sea lines of communication would lead one to think that the oceans are a tame and organized place. Hardly. The sea is as alive with merchants, combatants, and all number of active players creating their own order and chaos.
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Last week the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) released figures on the number of migrants crossing the Gulf of Aden (and risking their life) by sea and arriving at their destination in an “irregular” manner. The quantity of African migrants seeking a better life to the north was actually significantly down from last year, with approximately 62,000 arrivals in Yemen during 2013 so far (compared to approximately 89,000 in the first ten months of last year). In all of 2012, 107,500 people had made the same journey, a slight increase from 103,000 in 2011. 2011 and 2012 were by far the highest annual figures since UNHCR began collecting records in 2006.
The journey across the Gulf of Aden is the one of the most used of the many dangerous maritime routes currently employed by desperate migrants trying to get to more economically developed nations. Dangerous conditions and unscrupulous vessel owners are unfortunately common, with the October sinking near the Italian island of Lampedusa of a migrant boat whose voyage originated in Libya gaining worldwide attention after killing at least 300.
The European Union’s EUROSUR effort is supposed to “to reduce the number of deaths of irregular migrants by saving more lives at sea,” but even if it proves effective in making the Mediterranean crossing less deadly, it is unclear whether such an initiative could be replicated in the seas between Yemen and Somalia.
On a related note, in recent days there have been riots and battles between the authorities and undocumented immigrants (many Ethiopian) in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. The government claims that it has detained 30,000 illegal workers. Unfortunately, a government crackdown on undocumented labor in Saudi Arabia may currently be one of the best demand-side deterrents that could discourage potential migrants from risking their lives by attempting such a risky voyage.
Lieutenant Commander Mark Munson is a Naval Intelligence officer currently serving on the OPNAV staff. He has previously served at Naval Special Warfare Group FOUR, the Office of Naval Intelligence, and onboard USS ESSEX (LHD 2). The views expressed are solely those of the author and do not reflect the official viewpoints or policies of the Department of Defense or the US Government.
The challenges facing East African maritime security are many, and without viable measures taken to combat growing sea-born threats, the region is destined to remain in a state of instability and war. The absence of a formidable naval power in the area has allowed illicit smuggling activity to flourish in the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden, and has also allowed state and non-state actors to manipulate the lawlessness to their own advantage, leading to increased insecurity in the region. Looking past East Africa’s most publicized maritime problem, piracy, I would like to discuss two equally threatening, but less well-known issues, currently inhibiting its stability.
The first major issue that arises due to inadequate regional naval capabilities is the widespread smuggling of illicit arms, drugs and people into, out of and throughout East African countries. The influx of drugs, munitions and other illicit goods, arm and fund terrorist organizations and militias not only on Africa’s Eastern coast but in the rest of the continent as well. Somalia’s al Shabaab, Kenya’s al Shabaab affiliate, al Hijra, and the Congolese rebel group M23, are all examples of groups sustained through illegal maritime smuggling.
Weapons enter the region not just through the vulnerable Gulf of Aden and the Somali coastline, but also through considerably more stable and peaceful countries like Kenya and Seychelles. Once ashore, illicit materials easily find their way through the hands of corrupt government officials to destabilizing, violent actors. New intelligence estimates point to growing cross continental smuggling networks between groups like al Shabaab and North Africa’s Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, heightening the importance for a secure Eastern shore.
Human trafficking, another dangerous issue, further highlights the permeable nature of the regions’ maritime borders. According to the International Organization for Migration, in the first four months of 2012, 43,000 migrants traveled from East Africa, through the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea, to Yemen. This constant flow of migrants in and out of the region allows for a massive human smuggling market.
In recent news, there have been reports of the success of the NATO fleet in reducing piracy in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean. But under Operation Ocean Shield, NATO vessels are strictly tasked with counter-piracy measures and are unable to intervene in the practice of illicit trafficking occurring in those same bodies of water. While good work is being done to prevent piratical attacks, illegal smuggling of people, munitions, and other goods remains unchecked.
Kenya’s Unilateral Maritime Power and its Consequences
The second problem that surfaces is due to an uneven balance of power. Kenya possesses the overwhelming naval advantage in the region, allowing it hegemonic rule over maritime boundaries. Kenya has 23 ships in its fleet, which were mainly acquired through Western allies such as the United States, France, Spain and Great Britain. Kenya’s offensive capabilities are limited and its fleet only has two amphibious assault vessels, which were most recently used to attack the terrorist-held Somali city of Kismayo in September 2012. While the Kenyan fleet is small when compared to international standards, it is far more powerful than any other East African country.
Kenya’s Southern neighbor, Tanzania, has a navy that consists of seven attack vessels and twelve patrol vessels obtained from the Chinese between 1969-1971. Tanzania’s navy is effectively untested and would likely be unable to engage in any meaningful military action to secure its coastline. To Kenya’s north, Somalia has no navy to speak of, and has been reliant on the Kenyan naval power in helping secure key al Shabaab stronghold’s along Somalia’s Southern coast.
The absence of another equal, or at least, threatening East African power in the Indian Ocean allows Kenya to exert undue control over its maritime neighbors. Kenya and Somalia are in the middle of a maritime border dispute that is currently leaning in favor of Kenya. The Somali government believes the border should be drawn perpendicular to the coastline, whereas the Kenyan government wants the border to be drawn along the line of latitude. Complicating the issue are potential underwater oil reserves and existing oil licenses granted by both countries for exploration in the disputed area. Kenya continues to push for exploration agreements with private companies, despite the inability of the two countries to delineate an agreeable maritime boundary, aggravating an already tense relationship.
Further irritating Kenyan and Somali border relations, are corrupt Kenyan Navy officials who have taken advantage of Somalia’s fledgling central government and have begun to encroach on its sovereignty. A UN report released in July 2013, asserted that following al Shabaab’s defeat in Kismayo, the Kenyan Navy took over control of the port. It now controls all goods coming into and going out of Kismayo, and corrupt Kenyan officials collect revenues from the port that should instead be managed by the Somali government. Kenyan Navy personnel even flouted the UN ban on charcoal exports from Kismayo, despite protestations from the Somali government and international organizations.
Kenya’s unilateral maritime power allows corrupt individuals to adhere to their own rules of engagement and many times disregard international norms, infringing on neighboring countries’ maritime, and land-based sovereignty. This severely threatens stability in the region as this manipulation of power creates tenuous and volatile relationships with other East African nations and the international community.
The First Steps
When thinking of possible solutions to help increase naval power and maritime security in East Africa, it is hard to imagine viable near-term options. Some governments have taken steps to try to address maritime vulnerabilities. Kenya passed a law in 2010 formerly recognizing human trafficking as a crime. Also in 2010, the semi-autonomous Somali state of Puntland established the Puntland Maritime Police Force. It was first created as an anti-piracy body but it has had some success in intercepting arms, drugs and human smugglers. These measures are good first steps, but broader, regionally agreed upon action must be taken.
It is hard, however, for these countries’ governments to justify spending money to secure their nations’ maritime borders, when the there is no certainty of peace on land. But of course, it is necessary to understand that without maritime stability, that peace cannot be assured.
Breuk previously worked at the American Enterprise Institute’s Critical Threats Project, and published articles on issues relating to security in the Horn of Africa. She received her B.A. in International and Comparative Politics from Brown University and is currently studying in North Africa.
While Somali piracy may have been significantly down in 2012, another type of illicit activity in the Gulf of Aden has continued to increase. According to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), 107,500 people fled Africa for Yemen via the sea in 2012. This was an increase from 103,000 in 2011 and the most since these statistics were first collected in 2006. The majority of the refugees in 2012 were Ethiopian, and they braved dangerous conditions which are estimated to have left at least 100 dead or lost at sea.
The growth in human smuggling over the last year was actually less than between 2010 and 2011, when the number of refugees crossing the Gulf increased from 53,000 to 103,000. That growth has generally been attributed to the increasing number of Ethiopian migrants, which greatly outnumber all other nationalities. Until 2009, most people smuggled across the Gulf were Somalis.