Tag Archives: middle east

Iran and Saudi Arabia’s Proxy War in Yemen

NAFAC Week

By Rose Cote

Iran and Saudi Arabia’s struggle for power in the Middle East and North Africa has led to many states becoming involved in their proxy wars. Some states have been left open to their intervention due to a power vacuum, and Yemen is no exception. Since the Houthi rebels’ overthrow of the Saudi allied leader Ali Abdullah Saleh in Yemen, both states have become involved (Malsin 2016). Since their revolution in 2011, the country has suffered from famine as well as airstrikes that have led to high casualty counts, particularly of civilians.

The Iran-Saudi Arabia conflict is often characterized as a religious divide between Shia and Sunni sects of Islam. However, when talking about the conflict in Yemen, it is most important to examine its location and strategic value to each of these states. Both states seek to gain ideological dominance and regional hegemony. This is due to many factors including their oil wealth, relative stability in the region as well as both of their religious sects and being seen as the leader of these sects. While religion is a factor for the conflict, particularly for Iran supporting the Shia Houthi rebels, this conflict is primarily centralized around Yemen’s strategic value for both Iran and Saudi Arabia.

Yemen is of particular strategic value for both states. For Saudi Arabia, Yemen’s proximity makes it concerned about border security. The Saudi-Yemen border is susceptible to infiltration from Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, a large terrorist group (Reardon 2015). This is one of the main reasons for their concern over the stability of the Yemeni government. This issue has led to their contribution toward propping up the government using ground support and airstrikes (Reardon 2015). But Yemen also sits along vital shipping lanes for Saudi Arabia in the Red Sea (“The Sunni…” 2016). Given that the Saudi economy relies heavily on oil and the safety of these routes, its interests rely heavily on the security of trade and its borders.

Additionally, they see Yemen as an easy target for Iran to take hold of in the Gulf region (Reardon 2015). Saudi Arabia currently holds hegemonic power in the Gulf region and it is concerned about the loss of this soft power given its intervention in states like Yemen and Bahrain. However, Yemen can be considered more easily controlled given its extreme instability. Iran has an easy path into the role of Yemen through common faith with the Houthi rebels. Iran seeks to find a solid foothold in the Gulf and Yemen is a good candidate because of the rebels’ strength. By propping up the rebels and joining with them based on their common sect of Islam they could potentially hold ground close to Saudi Arabia and use it as a bargaining chip in the future.

Religion certainly does still play a role in this conflict and is fuel for the fire but it is not the only source of tension. The Houthis are a Zaydi Shia militia and while this is not Iran’s brand of Shia Islam, they have chosen to align themselves with this group (“The Sunni…” 2016). Although this link is less strong than the Saudi’s pledge to the Yemeni government, both states have chosen opposing sides. Iran may be less involved in the conflict, financially and militarily, but more importantly, Saudi Arabia believes that Iran is backing the rebels to secure Shia hegemony and so prompts much of their involvement (“The Sunni…” 2016). While both countries are linked to the conflict by religion, they both have more stakes in the country than just these ties. Without other strategic value in Yemen, it is likely that these states would not be involved or less involved. Yemen’s location and strategic significance has likely prompted most of the conflict.

Due to Iran’s tenuous connection to the rebels, many have argued that their involvement is minimal and therefore Yemen’s conflict cannot be classified as a proxy war. Even though their connection is not heavily supported financially there is clear ideological support and since Iran’s involvement there has been more support for Iran in the region, threatening Saudi control and prompting their further involvement (“The Sunni…” 2016). Additionally, many have said that Yemen has primarily been a revolution of people given its beginning in 2011 during the Arab spring. Despite this, it was certainly a revolution against Saudi Arabia because of its support of the previous president and Saudi Arabia is keen on maintaining control over this strategic state. Iran saw this revolution as an opportunity to gain another ally in the Gulf and used their connection to the Shia rebels to gain access.

To the outside viewer religion may seem like the primary motivation for both states involvements. In the landscape next to Iran and Saudi Arabia’s various other conflicts, Yemen could be seen as another proxy war between the two rivals. However, Yemen is unique given its strategic location for trade and its vulnerable border shared with Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia’s involvement clearly lies in its interest in keeping the Yemeni allied government in power for these reasons while Iran saw the weak state as an opportunity to gain advantage over Saudi Arabia in yet another conflict and used its Shia ties to the revolutionaries to gain access. Therefore, while the religious divide has certainly fueled the desire of both states to be involved in the conflict, each has chosen to be a part of the conflict in Yemen because of its strategic geographic significance in the region.

Rose Cote attends Syracuse University, where she majors in International Relations and Economics. She did a semester abroad in Morocco to study Arabic, and will be joining the Peace Corps to work in Namibia after graduation.

Works Cited

Ighani, Helia. “Managing the Saudi-Iran Rivalry.” October 25, 2016. Council of Foreign Relations. Accessed March 31, 2017. file:///Users/rcote/Downloads/Workshop_Report_CPA_Saudi_Iran_Rivalry_OR.pdf

Malsin, Jared. “Yemen Is the Latest Victim of the Increase in Iran-Saudi Arabia Tension.” TIME. January 11, 2016. http://time.com/4174837/yemen-analysis/

Reardon, Martin. “Saudi Arabia, Iran and the ‘Great Game’ in Yemen.” Al Jazeera. March 26, 2015. http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2014/09/saudi-arabia-iran-great-game-ye-201492984846324440.html

“The Sunni Shia Divide.” February 2014. Council of Foreign Relations. Accessed March 31, 2017. http://www.cfr.org/peace-conflict-and-human-rights/sunni-shia-divide/p33176#!/?cid=otr-marketing_url-sunni_shia_infoguide

Yeranian, Edward. “Yemen Proxy War Adds to Tensions Among US, Iran, Saudi Arabia.” February 6, 2017. VOA News. Accessed March 31, 2017. http://www.voanews.com/a/proxy-war-in-yemen-adds-to-tensions-among-us-iran-saudi-arabia/3707893.html

Featured Image: Shi’ite Muslim rebels hold up their weapons during a rally against air strikes in Sanaa Shi’ite Muslim rebels hold up their weapons during a rally against air strikes in Sanaa, Yemen, March 26, 2015. (Reuters/Khaled Abdullah)

Saudi Navy Expansion Program

By Chuck Hill

The Royal Saudi Navy is planning to replace virtually all of its Eastern Fleet. The expected price tag has been variously reported as between $11.25 and $20B. One of Saudi Arabia’s two fleets, the Eastern Fleet is based in the Persian Gulf and faces off squarely against Iran’s Navy and Revolutionary Guard Corp. The Western Fleet is based in the Red Sea and includes seven French built frigates.

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The existing Eastern fleet, all American built, includes four 75 meter (246 foot), 1,038 ton corvettes and nine 58 meter (190 feet), 495 ton guided missile boats. All are nearing the end of their useful lives, having entered service in the early ’80s.

It appears Saudi Arabia is again looking to the US to build this new fleet, reportedly buying  four up-rated Lockheed Martin Freedom Class Littoral Combat Ships.  While these ships have been much in the news, they are only part of a much larger program.

In February Defense News reported that Saudi Arabia had sent a letter of request to the US Navy that outlined the entire program.  It specified:

  • Four 3,500-ton “frigate-like warships” capable of anti-air warfare, armed with an eight-to-16-cell vertical launch system (VLS) capable of launching Standard SM-2 missiles; fitted with an “Aegis or like” combat system using “SPY-1F or similar” radars; able to operate Sikorsky MH-60R helicopters; with a speed of 35 knots.
  • Six 2,500-ton warships with combat systems compatible with the frigates, able to operate MH-60R helos.
  • 20 to 24 fast patrol vessels about 40 to 45 meters long, powered by twin diesels.
  • 10 “maritime helicopters” with characteristics identical to the MH-60R.
  • Three maritime patrol aircraft for coastal surveillance.
  • 30 to 50 UAVs, some for maritime use, some to be shore-based.

This shopping list sounds remarkably specific. This suggest that they already have a good idea what they expect to buy.

Four 3,500-ton “frigate-like warships”

Plans have firmed up for the four frigates. While they will not have the Aegis like radars they will have a, “…16-cell (Mk41) VLS installation able to launch Evolved Sea Sparrow missiles, and will carry Harpoon Block II surface-to-surface missiles in dedicated launchers, and anti-air Rolling Airframe Missiles in a SeaRAM close-in weapon system. The MMSC will also mount a 76mm gun… a Lockheed Martin COMBATSS-21 combat management system, which shares some commonality with the much larger Aegis combat system, and feature the Cassidian TRS-4D C-band radar.”

Six 2,500-ton warships with combat systems compatible with the frigates, able to operate MH-60R helos.

The design for the six smaller ships hasn’t been discussed openly, so this is a bit of speculation, but at least I think we can expect something like this. The video below, from Swiftship, recently appeared without much explanation.  The similarity in design to the Freedom class is striking and it claims to be a proven hull form. If Marinette Marine is too busy to build these smaller ships in addition to the LCS and the Saudi Frigates, having Swiftships build them might be a way have having them delivered relatively quickly and it looks like it might fit the description. Note there is no mention of an ASW capability for these ships (other than the ability to embark an MH-60R). This parallels the current fleet structure where only the four largest vessels have an ASW capability and the next largest class vessels do not.

Swiftships has a record of selling vessels through “Foreign Military Sales” and the vessel in the video shares a number of systems in common with the projected Saudi frigates including a 76mm gun, RAM missiles, MH-60s, and possibly Harpoon (they show only a generic representation of an ASCM).

20 to 24 fast patrol vessels about 40 to 45 meters long, powered by twin diesels.

A likely choice for the patrol boat is this one, eight of which were sold to Pakistan. Reportedly these 43 meter, 143 foot vessels can make 34 knots and operate a ScanEagle UAS.

Westport143
Westport Yachts photo

Another possibility is this 43.5 meter vessel that was provided to Lebanon under FMS.

RiverHawk-LCSC-42

Both of these PCs have the capability to stern launch an RHIB.

10 “maritime helicopters” with characteristics identical to the MH-60R.

A request for ten MH-60Rs was submitted earlier and has been approved by the State Department.

Included in the buy of the helicopters are, “one-thousand (1,000) AN/SSQ-36/53/62 Sonobuoys; thirty-eight (38) AGM-114R Hellfire II missiles; five (5) AGM-114 M36-E9 Captive Air Training missiles; four (4) AGM-114Q Hellfire Training Missiles; three-hundred eighty (380) Advanced Precision Kill Weapons System rockets; twelve (12) M-240D crew served weapons; and twelve (12) GAU-21 crew served weapons.”

I note that the 380 Advanced Precision Kill Weapons System (APKWS) semi-active laser homing 70mm rockets is exactly the number to fill twenty 19 round launchers. These weapons are probably an ideal counter to the much vaunted Iranian “swarm.”

Three maritime patrol aircraft for coastal surveillance:

These are almost certainly P-8s.

30 to 50 UAVs, some for maritime use, some to be shore-based:

While there is no indication which system is favored.  This sounds like too many systems for Firescout.

ScanEagle or one of Insitu’s slightly larger systems seems more likely, and if the Swiftships Offshore Patrol Vessel video is any indication, it includes a ScanEagle launch and recovery.

Conclusion:

This will be a major upgrade to the Saudi fleet that should allow them to maintain an advantage relative to the Iranian Fleet.

  • The ships and patrol boats will be three to five times larger than those they replace and far more survivable.
  • Fleet air defense systems which have been limited to 76mm guns and Phalanx CIWS will get a basic local area defense in the form of Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile, which will be backed up by rolling airframe missiles.
  • ASW  capability will take a quantum leap with the addition of the three Maritime Patrol Aircraft (MPA), the ten MH-60R.
  • The Eastern fleet was relatively well equipped to target larger surface targets with a total of 68 Harpoon launch tubes on the existing ships, but they were less well equipped to deal with numerous Iranian small craft.  MH-60Rs  armed with Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System guided rockets should provide an effective counter to Iran’s swarm strategy.
  • MPA and Unmanned systems will enhance ISR capability.
  • The larger patrol craft should significantly improve maritime security.
  • According to my “Combat Fleets of the World,” the Saudi Navy has a Marine Corp of 3,000, but their only Amphibious Warfare ships are four LCUs and two LCMs. The addition of at least 30 ships with RHIBs, assuming the patrol craft have this capability, should allow the Saudi Navy to consider at least small scale raids and other forms of maritime Special Ops. If the six 2500 ton ships are configured like the ship in Swiftships video, with four RHIBs, it would seem particularly appropriate for this role.  The addition of ten helicopter decks where there were none before also opens up options for these types of operations.

Chuck retired from the Coast Guard after 22 years service. Assignments included four ships, Rescue Coordination Center New Orleans, CG HQ, Fleet Training Group San Diego, Naval War College, and Maritime Defense Zone Pacific/Pacific Area Ops/Readiness/Plans. Along the way he became the first Coast Guard officer to complete the Tactical Action Officer (TAO) course and also completed the Naval Control of Shipping course. He has had a life-long interest in naval ships and history. Chuck normally writes for his blog, Chuck Hill’s CG blog.  

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Is Egypt’s Instability a Threat to the Suez Canal?

Fatal attacks on the Suez Canal, one of the world’s central trade routes by sea, have long been a mere theoretical possibility. This changed with the attack on the “Cosco Asia” on 31 August 2013. The attack is a result of political instability in Egypt, leaving the Sinai Peninsula a lawless zone for jihadists and Bedouin militias. In response, the Egyptian armed forces launched a brutal anti-terrorism campaign in the northern Sinai. However, purely military measures could prove insufficient.

RH-53D_over_Suez_Canal_1974
A U.S. Navy Sikorsky RH-53D of helicopter mine countermeasures squadron HM-12 Sea Dragons sweeping the Suez Canal using an Mk 105 minesweeping gear during “Operation Nimbus Moon” in 1974. Source: U.S. Navy Naval Aviation News September 1974

The Suez Canal is one of the most militarized zones in the world due to its strategic importance, reflected in the Suez Crisis in 1956 and its closure from 1967–1975 during the Arab-Israeli wars. The passage through the Red Sea, the Suez Canal and the Strait of Bab el-Mandeb is considered to be the second most important waterway for global oil trade after the Strait of Hormuz. A blockade of the Suez Canal could have disastrous effects on the world economy. The canal, built by the British and in operation since 1869, is controlled by an extensive security system under supervision of the Suez Canal Authority (SCA). The SCA employs vessel data registration, radar surveillance, signal stations, camera surveillance and a signal-based automatic identification system. Egypt’s armed forces are responsible for its security, having an estimated five divisions deployed with the Second Army responsible for the Port Said-area from the Mediterranean Sea to the north and the Third Army responsible from Ismailiya to the Red Sea to the south.

Attack on the Canal

Yet the Cosco Asia attack exposed its vulnerabilities – primarily because the geographic 120-mile stretch between Port Said and Suez is hard to control, enabling militant groups to mount land-based attacks in narrow passages. On 31 August 2013, a group calling itself “Al-Furqan Brigade” claimed responsibility for an RPG (rocket-propelled grenade) attack on the Cosco Asia, a Chinese-owned container ship under Panamanian flag with 10,000t of cargo on its way to Northern Europe. The attack did not cause much harm. The bullet only struck a container containing an illegal delivery of cigarettes belonging to Irish smugglers. If such terrorist groups are able to cause a ship to sink in a narrow passage of the canal, the authorities would be forced to stop canal traffic and remove the ship. Yet an incident of this magnitude seems highly unlikely since it would take a large-scale operation to sink a robust ship. Thanks to the comprehensive surveillance system in the canal zone, Egyptian security forces can quickly respond to major incidents. Larger operations would therefore be very difficult for terrorist groups to carry out.

20130713_MAM919
Source: The Economist

Egypt’s Sinai Problem

An attack on the Suez Canal could cause a devastating disruption of maritime trade. It is less real danger, but more the possibility of such attacks that creates anxiety among Egyptian authorities and international shippers. There are reasons to remain cautious in the future. After the downfall of President Hosni Mubarak on 11 February 2011, Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood was elected President of Egypt on 30 June 2012; Morsi in turn was later ousted on 3 July 2013. In Egypt after Mubarak, the constitution is disputed, the military establishment continues to dominate and Islamists are increasingly confronting the state authority. Egypt’s security policy in Sinai is becoming a key challenge. On 17 July 2013, the Associated Press reported, based on a series of interviews with military sources, that Morsi had been at odds with General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi for several months, the man whom Morsi had promoted from Head of Military Intelligence Services to Defense Minister and Head of the Armed Forces in August 2012. According to a former general the security situation in the Sinai was the main source of disagreement. According to military sources, but also leading Islamist figures who reject the use of violence as a tactic, Morsi was collaborating with armed extremist groups in the Sinai. El-Sissi believed that insecurity in Sinai was a threat to Egypt’s state security and used this as the reason to topple Morsi from the presidency.

The Sinai Peninsula Underworld

The 23,500 mile²-large peninsula has been a buffer zone between Israel and Egypt since the peace treaty of 1979. Only limited military forces are allowed to operate and multinational armed forces (MFO) are stationed to ensure accordance with the peace treaty. The population of around 400,000 people consists to three quarters of Bedouins, the rest Palestinians, Egyptian immigrants and descendants of the settlers from the Ottoman period. Egypt has largely neglected Sinai and its inhabitants, many of whom do not have Egyptian citizenship, keeping public investments and military presence low. The Egyptian army never deployed more than 70-80 percent of the 22,000 soldiers allowed by the Camp David Agreements in Zone A of the Western Sinai. Nor had it opened headquarters or trained troops for combat in desert terrain. After Mubarak’s downfall, jihadist groups became more active, supported by increasingly dissatisfied Bedouins. The long marginalized tribal Sinai Bedouins have since become a semi-autonomous player. Egypt could no longer neglect the Sinai Peninsula, considering increasing terror activities of Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Al-Qaeda or Bedouins who joined Salafi-jihadist groups. After the uprisings in the Arab world, illicit smuggling of people and weapons from Algeria and Libya increased. Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) welcomed hundreds of Sinai-based militants to Libya for training and cooperation. A strong Hamas network has been smuggling weapons both from and into Gaza, coming from Iran through Sudan and Egypt. Hamas employs secret storage sites throughout the Sinai, including long-range missiles, explosives workshops, rockets and mortars. It is estimated by local sources that a total of 100,000 weapons of all kinds and an illicit trade amounting to roughly $300 million exist in the Sinai.

File-picture-of-a-fire-at-al-Arish-in-the-north-of-the-Sinai-peninsula-following-an-attack-on-a-gas-pipeline-AFP
Militants in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula bombed a gas pipeline to Jordan on July 6, 2013 witnesses said, amid a surge in attacks on police and soldiers since Islamist president Mohamed Morsi’s removal from office. (Source: AFP)

Uprising and Open Confrontation of the State Authority

After Mubarak’s fall, Sinai experienced a quasi-insurgency with more than 200 attacks in five months, including rocket attacks on military targets and gas pipelines as well as armed robberies using trucks and motorcycles. Egypt’s armed forces launched Operation Eagle in August 2011 to address increasing lawlessness, mainly in the north of Sinai. On 19 August 2013, 25 Egyptian policemen were killed in an ambush in Rafah. The attackers fired RPGs on their convoy to stop it, before removing and then executing the passengers openly in the street. After Morsi’s ouster, violent attacks peaked between 1 and 28 July 2013, when 250 attacks were tracked. As a reaction, the armed forces started Operation Desert Storm on 27 July, deploying 20,000 soldiers supported by US-supplied Apache combat helicopters. This meant Egypt’s largest mobilization since the Yom Kippur war in 1973. Egypt’s security forces killed and detained militants from Libya, the Palestinian Territories, the North Caucasus, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Yemen. The frequency of attacks dropped in the months that followed. The inhabitants of the Sinai bemoan indiscriminate destruction of their homes, enormous brutality of the Egyptian army against suspects and their stigmatization as “terrorists.” Many young Bedouins have joined jihadist groups. Al Qaeda, Hamas and many other groups are in open confrontation with the Egyptian state with increasing support of the locals, who are loosing confidence in the state. On November 20, a Salafi-jihadist group attacked a convoy of buses with Egyptian security personnel in the northern Sinai, killing 11 and wounding 35 – the bloodiest attack since July but the last of this size. It seems the military was successful in curbing attacks which went down from 104 in July, to 40, 31 and 22 in August, September and October. During the counter-terrorism campaign, the Egyptian armed forces recognized that the Rafah tunnels at the 9 miles-border to Gaza are a key security challenge. Since August 2012, the military targeted the tunnel networks, bombing and flooding them. In July, the estimates of operating tunnels ranged between 100 and 300, while in September, only ten remained. However, the bombardments on the tunnels to Gaza will lead to further economic losses and deprive even more people of their livelihood.

Egypt-choppers-strike-Sinai-militants-in-biggest-assault
Egyptian military helicopters on September 3, 2013 launched air strikes on militants in the country’s restive Sinai peninsula, where the army has been battling a semi-insurgency, security sources and witnesses said. Source: www.devanture.net

 

Egypt’s Coming Collapse?

This will not calm Sinai’s inhabitants, who may find more reasons to confront the Egyptian state. More unrest and terrorist attacks against civilians, military targets or the Suez Canal can be expected. The confrontation may become even more intense after Al Qaeda veterans’ call for arms against the Egyptian army. On September 5, the Sunni-jihadist group Jamaat Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis used an improvised explosive device (IED) placed in a car with 50 kilograms of explosives to target the interior minister Mohamed Ibrahim’s convoy in Nasr City, Cairo, injuring 22. More such IEDs have been found on the main Cairo-Suez road, indicating that the wave of violence increasingly affects the mainland. After Morsi’s ouster, regular protests and attacks on military targets took place in the Suez Canal port cities, Suez, Ismailia and Port Said. Lloyd‘s List, a marine insurance company, reported increased military activity and ship inspections in the canal. Lloyd‘s recommended ships take the 6000 mile-longer route around the Cape of Good Hope instead. This wave of terror might only be the beginning. If the security situation in Egypt is not improved, the Suez Canal passage would be considered to be even more dangerous in the future, increasing risk premiums for shipping and causing the Egyptian economy to suffer further. It cannot be ruled out that the North Sea route will become more attractive for international shipping in the future.

In spite of the recent successes by the Egyptian armed forces’ counter-terrorism campaign, the breeding ground for jihadists in the Sinai Peninsula remains a challenge for Egypt, forcing it to look beyond the military dimension and instead focus on governing Sinai and addressing local grievances in the long run.

References

Niklas Anzinger is a Graduate Assistant at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs in Syracuse, NY. This post appeared in it’s original form and was cross-posted by permission from our partner site Offiziere.ch.

What NATO Must Do After ISAF

While some question NATO’s relevance, and even its need to exist after Afghanistan, there are, in fact, many jobs left to be done.

Deterrence and Defense 

In Germany, few people understand that defense and deterrence are still tasks for NATO. We are surrounded by friends. But talk to our allies from Norway, Eastern Europe, and Turkey and you find their feelings are quite different. Norwegians and Eastern Europeans fear Russia. The Turks have worried about Iran and are now concerned about Syria. NATO’s Patriot deployment to the Turkish-Syrian border proves wrong all who argued that the era of collective defense and deterrence is over.

In addition, “nuclear sharing” is still appropriate, even if Germans with their excessive desire for disarmament do not like it. If some of our allies sleep better due to U.S. tactical nukes based on our soil this is a price we have to pay. In an alliance based on the all-for-one principle, nuclear sharing is necessary as long as a single ally considers it important for his security.

 Range of Saudi CSS 2 missiles (Source)

Deterrence by denial will provide NATO more workload. The latter means to prevent an adversary from acting aggressive by making his means useless through one’s own capabilities. In particular, this applies to missile defense, but not only with regard to Iran. Saudi Arabia also has sophisticated medium-range missiles. If Saudi Arabia falls apart and “turns Egypt,” it can hardly be guaranteed that Saudi MRBMs will not fall into a bad guy’s hands. Moreover, Russia’s fears about missile defense are nonsense. U.S. missile defense’s final phase in Europe has just been cancelled. In addition, the U.S. is almost broke, and it is unclear how much new government revenue the “Shale Gas revolution” actually brings. It is therefore very unlikely that Congress would approve a new budgetary disaster.

Nordic Air Policing

The Baltic countries lack their own air forces. Thus, NATO is providing security for their airspaces. Moreover, Russia is increasing its number of assertive air patrols in the Baltic and the Arctic, while all NATO/EU countries in the High North have budgetary problems to sustain numbers and operational readiness of their fighter aircraft.

Hence, it would make sense for operational and for strategic reasons to establish a Nordic Air Policing mission from the Baltic over Denmark, Norway, and Iceland to Greenland, maybe even including the UK as lead nation. Non-NATO-members Sweden and Finland should receive an offer to join. Moreover, the positive side effect would be the outward-drifting UK could be linked to European security.

Special Operations Forces

Due to the political hazard of Iraq and Afghanistan, along with austerity, the era of major NATO land campaigns is over. Syria tells us that Western decision makers will try to avoid at any cost sending combat troops to foreign ground. Training and support missions, as the EU is doing in Mali and Somalia, will be the West’s approach, at least until the end of the decade. While the EU is doing well with training missions, it lacks experience with special operation forces (SOF). However, NATO’s SOF headquarter is running very well. Therefore, there is considerable potential for NATO-EU work-sharing. The Union could do basic military training, while the Alliance focuses on SOF training including partnerships with Non-NATO-countries.

Future Western land campaigns – if ever given a go by decision-makers – will follow a “light footprint” approach, which perfectly suits SOF. They will mainly carry the operational burdens. It is in all member states’ interest that NATO provides the framework for interoperable SOF.

Maritime Security and Naval Operations

The Standing NATO Maritime Groups are an unparalleled, but unnoticed success story. Since their creation beginning with SNMG 1 in 1968, the two SNMGs and two Standing NATO Mine Countermeasures Groups (SNMCMGs) have done their job without causing any political tensions. Instead, they were ready to go when called, like the 1999 Allied Harvest mine-clearance effort in the Adriatic Sea after the Yugoslav bombing campaign, or in front of Libya during Operation Unified Protector in 2011.

Naval operations are a niche where NATO is preeminent, due to operational experience and U.S. assets as a backup. However, the EU could try to seek a way into this niche by playing on the lessons learned from Operation Atalanta. Plagued by failures in security policy (e.g. Mali and its battlegroups), some EU fans may conclude that naval operations are a sector where the EU could better play of its success. But the EU does not have such operational experience in maritime affairs as NATO does, nor has it any access to U.S. assets. If things go wrong, NATO would receive a U.S. military bailout, the EU would not. Thus, naval operations should be left to NATO, while the EU focuses on the civilian side. In times of austerity, we do not need two organizations competing in the same field. Operation Unified Protector showed the enduring worth of the capability for rapid maritime crisis response. With a look on the instability in Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt, scenarios for new maritime operations in front of North African shores cannot be ruled out. Hence, SNMGs and SNMCGs should be excluded from defense spending cuts. Beside the Strait of Gibraltar, the focus of NATO’s maritime presence should be the Eastern Mediterranean. Trouble is likely due to the civil war in Syria and tensions between Turkey, Lebanon, Cyprus, and Israel about offshore gas. Russia is seeking to implement an anti-access/area-denial strategy by its largest naval expeditionary operation since the USSR’s collapse. Thus, a show of force and demonstration of political will by NATO is a necessity. After 2014, the Eastern Mediterranean is going to be the operational area for NATO’s seaborne missile defense on U.S. Aegis-destroyers.

We are right at the beginning of an Indo-Pacific-Century. Thus, when it comes to maritime security – I am explicitly not talking about air and ground forces – NATO should look more East-of-Suez. The Alliance has been present at the Horn of Africa since 2008 to protect the World Food program’s vessels and to fight piracy. NATO outreach to Asian navies, in particular China, has already begun. It would not make sense to cut these tiny, but very important strategic ties by ending NATO’s navel presence at the Horn of Africa.

British warships East of Suez in 2012 (Source)

Right now, Britain and France are pursuing their own track in the Indo-Pacific, while the EU is not taken seriously there in terms of security issues. However, as NATO’s present Maritime Groups will busier in the Mediterranean, a considerable option is to base a new third SNMG in Djibouti. The strategic values would be; permanent protection of vital sea-lanes; ability of rapid power projection and crisis response towards the Persian Gulf; quickly available means for disaster relief; mutual trust building by naval diplomacy with emerging maritime powers like China or India; a virtual capacity to reach out east of Malacca.

Of course, in many member states, especially Germany, such ideas about new NATO forward presence would be extremely out-of-favor. Thus, a more realistic approach is just to never end Ocean Shield. Open discussions about the operation should be avoided. While little attention is given, the mission can evolve in the ways mentioned and, hence, create irreversible facts.

The Arctic, however, should not be subject to military considerations other than Air Policing. Engaging Russia and new Asian stakeholders in the High North is a political question. The worst possible mistake would be to militarize and thereby to complicate Arctic politics.

Export and Guarantee Stability in Europe

After the Cold War’s end, the export of stability to Eastern Europe and the Balkans has been an outstanding success. While the Nobel Peace Prize has been given to the EU for incomprehensible reasons, it was NATO that connected past adversaries into its framework of peace, stability, and security. Macedonia and Montenegro should join NATO, once all membership criteria are met. In the medium term, the door should also be open to Bosnia, Serbia, and Kosovo. The more Balkan countries in NATO, the better, because it significantly decreases the likelihood of conflict in the region.

Georgia and Ukraine are not yet close to NATO membership, but the door should not be closed. The Georgians have a pretty tough road ahead. They will never join NATO as long as there are Russian troops on Georgian territory. Thus, either they find a way for the Russians to leave (which Moscow will not do) or they have to give up Abkhazia and South Ossetia as a prize for their way into NATO and EU (which Tibilisi will reject).

With regard to Russia’s resurgence and emerging assertiveness, Sweden and Finland should be offered closer partnerships or full memberships, if they so choose. To prevent Cyprus from becoming a Russian proxy, it would be a great idea to bring them into NATO. Unfortunately, Turkey would not let that happen. If they really go for independence, membership for Greenland, Scotland and Catalonia in NATO should be granted. (Although the Spanish stance on Catalan NATO/EU-membership after a succession would be quite interesting to watch).

EU youth unemployment 2013 (Source)

Europe’s crisis has been managed, but is far from being solved. In 2009/10 – surprise, surprise – the trouble in Greece occurred a few weeks after the German elections. We will see what happens after Merkel has been re-elected on September 22 or after the elections to the European Parliament in May 2014. It is an open secret in Berlin that Greece needs a second haircut. New bailouts for Cyprus, Portugal, Spain, and Italy are still on the table, but before September 22 nobody wants to talk about such issues. The fatal consequences of the huge youth unemployment have not occurred much yet, but they will eventually. Last but not least, when the United States is back on track with an economy running “full steam ahead,” France will still be discussing retirement in the age of 62. After ISAF’s end, one of NATO’s main missions is to be a backup for stability in Europe, if turmoil in the Euro Zone or even EU takes charge.

Keep the Russians and Chinese Out

There are these debates about Chinese bases in the Atlantic – which the author has been part of – and a new Russian naval presence in the Mediterranean including a base in Cyprus. There are reasonable arguments for the position that these debates are not kind of close to reality. However, the fact that such debates are now possible, which they would never have been ten years ago, should raise one’s attention.

Except the Soviet/Russian Westgroup from 1990-94 in Germany, a Non-NATO/EU-country has never had a permanent military presence in a NATO/EU-country. If Russia, China or someone else finds a way to set up a permanent military presence in a NATO or EU country, it would a dramatic signal for Western decline. NATO’s decision makers and strategists are tasked to prevent that from happening at any cost.

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.