Tag Archives: Russia

The NATO of the New North

From author Ian Birdwell comes The Changing Arctic, a column focusing on the unique security challenges presented by the increasingly permissive environment in the High North. The Changing Arctic examines legal precedents, rival claimants, and possible resolutions for disputes among the Arctic nations, as well as the economic implications of accessing the region’s plentiful resources.

By Ian Birdwell


NATO is justifiably focused on dissuading Russian aggression, especially given the Federation’s aggressive actions over the past two years in the region. However, there is growing concern for NATO’s northern flank: the Arctic Ocean and far northern Atlantic. The warming of global temperatures presents new challenges related to rising sea levels to navies like the United States,’1 but the retreat of ice in the Arctic Ocean poses a new risk as an avenue to exploit NATO’s flank in Europe. Though some budding conversation determining NATO’s role in defending Arctic nations like Norway from new security challenges is occurring,2 NATO’s gaze remains focused on ground threats throughout Eastern Europe. Despite the persistence of NATO’s strategic goals of deterrence and cooperation, a warmer Arctic demands the attention of NATO powers to preserve regional stability. Looking toward the role NATO could play in maintaining an Arctic balance of power into the future, it is important to acknowledge NATO’s regional hurdles and the strategies the alliance could employ to overcome them.
NATO’s goal has always been deterrence through mutual defense and cooperation between member state militaries, but this has never rung quite as clear among its member states as it has since the onset of the ongoing Ukrainian crisis. The crisis, if not instigated by the Russian Federation, certainly advances, exacerbated by the comments of Russian officials and state actions. Since then, Eastern European NATO states have clamored for NATO support in counteracting Russian aggression. Vladimir Putin’s regime regularly draws international ire for their actions moving to exploit Arctic oil resources, the effects those operations may have on surrounding communities, and the measures against those protesting oil exploration.3 For the Russian Federation, the Arctic Ocean represents more than just a birthplace of new oil revenues and potential superpower status, it is one of the only areas of the world were its navy may be able to operate more effectively than NATO.

Russia’s Oil and Gas Activities in the Arctic (Malte Humpert/The Arctic Institute)

The Russian Northern Fleet possesses a slight advantage over NATO forces in several crucial areas, including a slight and recent increase in submarine warfare capabilities,4 a focus on constructing Arctic naval installations,5 and a plethora of icebreakers compared to NATO.6 Russian forces certainly retain a regional upper hand at the moment yet the aged nature of their equipment belays an opportunity for NATO to deter Russian regional aggression if action is swiftly taken. Finally, to accommodate necessary actions to dissuade aggression, the alliance must gather the funding to make readiness plans a reality, which could become a difficult prospect. Most NATO members overlook the requirement to contribute two percent of national GDP towards military operations, leaving other NATO states like the United States to fit the bill.7 With a new American administration critical of NATO’s funding woes, member states may grow concerned NATO capital will go toward the defense of Eastern European states or other areas with higher visibility.8

Arctic Adaptation

NATO possesses the capability to address and overcome the challenges laid before it. A promising step to move NATO toward readiness for Arctic operations would be to expand the frequency of training activities in the High North. While the norm for nations with Arctic waters like Canada,9 Norway, and the United States,10 the inclusion of non-Arctic NATO powers in a variety of training exercises could prove pivotal in deterring aggression within the Arctic. This past summer, NATO held an anti-submarine warfare exercise called Dynamic Mongoose in the Norwegian Sea that included vessels from eight alliance members.11 With other operations planned for later this year,12 increasing the frequency of such operations, the variety of weather conditions faced, and diversifying into other types of exercises such as amphibious assault drills will allow NATO to become acclimated to regional obstacles and gain the flexibility to respond to threats.

The costlier long-term readiness goal involves the expansion of ports close to or within the Arctic Circle to house larger vessels and the construction of new facilities. Accomplishing this task would help close Russia’s geographic and logistical advantages while assisting troops in becoming acclimated to the region’s weather conditions. Moreover, those expanded ports hold the potential to facilitate an increase in commercial traffic, provide a base for scientific research vessels, and contribute to the logistical support of search and rescue operations – all valuable assets for nations wishing to study a changing global climate. For these reasons, the Army Corps of Engineers in the U.S. investigated deepening the Port of Nome.13 Dredging and enlarging ports in the region offer a boon to NATO’s defense goals while boosting Arctic infrastructure for other non-military functions.

The last and largest task for NATO powers concerned about Russian Arctic capabilities is providing the funding necessary to meet their NATO obligations. Each NATO nation with Arctic borders proffers in various declarations their preferred method to move forward with Arctic defense is to cooperate with close allies to fill gaps in their defenses.14 If Canada, Denmark, and Norway,15 NATO Arctic powers currently shy of their NATO percentage pledges, increase their military funding closer to the required two percent of national GDP, then it becomes easier for NATO to achieve its overarching security goals within and outside of the Arctic region.


NATO transformed from a tool bolstering European Defense in the early days of the Cold War into an alliance pulled in several directions in the name of collective security. Today NATO faces a familiar sight, a Europe pressured by an aggressive Russia. Yet as NATO reinforces its easternmost borders, the Russian Federation focuses on a new, warming frontier that could provide a new threat axis where Russia enjoys preeminence.

Ian Birdwell holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Government and International Politics from George Mason University.


1. Myers, Meghann “Rising oceans threaten to submerge 128 military bases:report” Navy Times. July 29, 2016 https://www.navytimes.com/story/military/2016/07/29/rising-oceans-threaten-submerge-18-military-bases-report/87657780/

2. Dearden, Lizzie “Norway urges Donald Trump to announce clear policy on Russia amid fears of military activity in Arctic” Independent December 3, 2016 http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/donald-trump-russia-vladimir-putin-norway-nato-clear-policy-arctic-bases-submarines-military-a7453581.html

3. Luhn, Alec “Arctic oil rush: Nenet’s livelihood and habitat at risk from oil spills” The Guardian December 23, 2016 https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/dec/23/arctic-oil-rush-nenets-livelihood-and-habitat-at-risk-from-oil-spills

4. Sonne, Paul “Russia’s Military sophistication in the Arctic sends echoes of the Cold War” The Wall Street Journal October 4, 2016 http://www.wsj.com/articles/russia-upgrades-military-prowess-in-arctic-1475624748

5. Einhorn, Catrin, Hannah Fairfield, and Tim Wallace “Russia rearms for a new era” New York Times December 24, 2015 http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2015/12/24/world/asia/russia-arming.html

6. Snow, Shawn “Retired 4-Star: US Military ill-prepared for Arctic confrontation” Military Times December 27, 2016 http://www.militarytimes.com/articles/retired-4-star-us-military-ill-prepared-for-arctic-confrontation

7. Thomassen, Daniel “Norway faces a new era of Russian realpolitik in the Arctic” Center for International Maritime Security July 5, 2016 http://cimsec.org/norway-faces-new-era-russian-realpolitik-arctic/25984

8. Frum, David “Trump will inherit the biggest NATO buildup in Europe Since the Cold War” The Atlantic January 10, 2017

9. Pugliese, David “Canadian Forces to expand Nunavut training centre as Russia plans more bases in the Arctic” National Post February 23, 2016 http://news.nationalpost.com/news/canada/canadian-forces-to-expand-nunavut-training-centre-as-russias-plans-more-bases-in-the-arctic

10. Schehl, Matthew L. “Marines hit the arctic for largest winter exercise since the Cold War” Marine Corps Times March 2, 2016 https://www.marinecorpstimes.com/story/military/2016/03/02/marine-hit-arctic-largest-winter-exercise-since-cold-war/81161832/

11. North Atlantic Treaty Organization “NATO Launches anti-submarine warfare exercise in Norwegian Sea” June 20, 2016 NATO Press Release http://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/news_132596.htm?IselectedLocale=en

12. Thomassen, Daniel “Norway faces a new era of Russian realpolitik in the Arctic” Center for International Maritime Security July 5, 2016 http://cimsec.org/norway-faces-new-era-russian-realpolitik-arctic/25984

13. Zak, Annie “Port of Nome sees big growth as traversing the Arctic gets easier” Alaska Dispatch News November 24, 2016 https://www.adn.com/business-economy/2016/11/24/port-of-nome-sees-big-growth-as-traversing-the-arctic-gets-easier/

14. Wezeman, Siemon T. “Military Capabilties in the Arctic: A new cold war in the high north?” Stockholm International Peace Research Institute October 2016 https://www.sipri.org/sites/default/files/Military-capabilities-in-the-Arctic.pdf

15. North Atlantic Treaty Organization Public Diplomacy Division “Defense Expenditures of NATO Countries” North Atlantic Treaty Organization July 4, 2016 http://www.nato.int/nato_static_fl2014/assets/pdf/pdf_2016_07/20160704_160704-pr2016-116.pdf

Featured Image: U.S. Coast Guard (Patrick Kelley)

Russian Warships in Latvian Exclusive Economic Zone: Confrontational, not Unlawful

By Sean Fahey

The past months have seen a significant increase in Russian military activity across Europe, including the Baltic Sea. Last month, Admiral Michelle Howard, commander of U.S. Naval Forces Europe and Africa, and commander of NATO’s Allied Joint Force Command Naples, described the scope of Russian military activity in Europe as “precedential,” exceeding even Cold War era levels.1 The Baltic Sea, in particular, has become increasingly congested with Russian military forces operating in the region, leading to tense encounters in the air and on the water. Most notably, last April, two Russian Sukhoi SU-24 attack aircraft made repeated low-altitude passes over the USS Donald Cook, a guided missile destroyer operating in international waters in the Baltic, with several of the passes resembling “simulated attack” runs.2 Russia also recently deployed Iskander missiles, a “nuclear-capable” system with a range of over 400 miles, to Kaliningrad, the Russian enclave situated between Poland and Lithuania,3 and, last month, conducted cruise missile drills in the Baltic Sea.4 This summer, Russia is expected to conduct its “Zapad” (or “West”) Exercise in Kaliningrad and Belarus, with estimated Russian participation numbering between 70,000 and 100,000 troops.5 Some of these incidents are alarming in and of themselves; others, though seemingly routine, may be cause for concern when viewed in light of other regional Russian military activity. Context matters.

The most recent Russian military activity to draw attention in the region was the transit of three Russian warships through the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of Latvia, a NATO member state.6 The three warships—the  corvettes Liven 551, Serpukhov 603 and Morshansk 824—were sighted four miles outside Latvia’s territorial sea, or sixteen miles from the Latvian coast. The warships were scheduled to participate in a naval parade to commemorate “Victory Day,” celebrating the end of World War II, but were redeployed prior to the parade, quite possibly in response to the destroyer USS Carney’s arrival into the Baltic Sea.7 

In isolation, the transit of the Russian vessels through the Latvian exclusive economic zone is relatively benign. In the context of Russia’s military activity in the Baltic over the past year, however, the transit can appropriately be described as “aggressive,” even “confrontational.” That said, the transit was not unlawful under international law, and this point cannot be lost in the discussion. The United States and its allies rely on the navigational freedoms protected under international law as much as the Russians, arguably more so. Promoting these freedoms is essential to ensure U.S. maritime mobility.

Under international law, coastal state sovereignty ends at the outer limit of the territorial sea and the airspace above it,8 and even this sovereignty is subject to certain navigational rights, such as the rights of “innocent passage” and “transit passage.”9 Vessels and aircraft, to include military vessels and aircraft, operating seaward of a state’s territorial sea enjoy the freedoms of navigation and overflight and other internationally lawful uses of the sea related to those freedoms.10 The U.S. position is that for military vessels, this freedom of navigation includes being able to conduct certain military activities in a state’s EEZ, such as military maneuvers, flight operations, military exercises, surveillance and intelligence gathering, and weapons testing and firing.11 

Not all nations share the U.S. view on the scope of permissible military activities in the EEZ, and instead advocate a legally and practicably untenable interpretation. This interpretation is based, in part, on an incorrect reading of Article 88 of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which applies in the EEZ through Article 58(2).  This Article states that the high seas shall be reserved “for peaceful purposes.”12 The “peaceful purposes” language in UNCLOS, however, does not prohibit military activities in the EEZ, only those activities inconsistent with Article 2(4) of the UN Charter.13 Nevertheless, even under a restrictive interpretation, warships transiting through a coastal state’s EEZ—even with the intent to locate and surveil a foreign warship on the high seas—would still be permissible under international law. In fact, had the three Russian warships been transiting through the Latvian territorial sea (within twelve nautical miles of the coast), and even done so unannounced, this too would have been permissible under international law, so long as the vessels were properly exercising their navigational right of “innocent passage.”14

Military activities, both planned and unplanned, will continue to be conducted in the Baltic, by both Russia and NATO and its allies, for the foreseeable future. That is not a criticism; it is a statement of fact. While it is certainly appropriate—strategically critical even—to criticize and protest unwelcome, aggressive and confrontational military acts, care must be taken not to mischaracterize the lawfulness of the acts under international law, either directly or by implication. To be optimally effective in the Baltic region, NATO forces, to include those of the United States, will rely on the freedoms of navigation and overflight preserved under the law of the sea. The lawful exercise of those freedoms, particularly as it relates to military activities, must be preserved, even when their application is unpopular.

Commander Sean Fahey, United States Coast Guard, is currently assigned as the Associate Director for the Law of Maritime Operations at the Stockton Center for the Study of International Law at the U.S Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island. He is also the Editor-in-Chief of International Law Studies. He can be reached at Sean.Fahey@usnwc.edu

The views and opinions expressed here are presented in a personal and unofficial capacity. They are not to be construed as official policy or reflecting the views of the United States Coast Guard or any other U.S. government agency. 


1. Andrea Shalal, Russian Naval Activity in Europe Exceeds Cold War Levels: U.S. Admiral, Reuters (Apr. 9, 2017, 11:09 AM), http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-russia-military-idUSKBN17B0O8.

2. U.S. Department of Defense, Navy Ship Encounters Aggressive Russian Aircraft in Baltic Sea, Apr. 13, 2016, https://www.defense.gov/News/Article/Article/720536/navy-ship-encounters-aggressive-russian-aircraft-in-baltic-sea/

3. Russia Deploys Nuclear-Capable missiles in Kaliningrad, BBC News (Oct. 9, 2016), http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-37597075.

4. Damien Sharkov, Russia Begins Submarine Cruise Missile Drills in Baltic Sea, Newsweek (Apr. 10, 2017, 10:30 AM), http://www.newsweek.com/russian-baltic-sea-fleet-practices-submarine-cruise-missile-fire-581524

5. Thomas Gibbons-Neff, U.S. Shifting Forces to Monitor Large Russian Military Exercises, Officials Say, Washington Post (May 10, 2017), https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/checkpoint/wp/2017/05/10/u-s-shifting-forces-to-monitor-large-russian-military-exercises-officials-say/?utm_term=.580e19108096.

6. Caroline Mortimer, Russian Warships Spotted Just Outside Latvia’s Territorial Waters in Latest Show of Strength, Independent (May 9, 2017), http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/russia-baltic-agression-navy-latvia-warships-victory-day-a7725261.html;Damien Sharkov, Latvia Spots Three Russian Warships off Sea Border, Newsweek (May 8, 2017, 12:18 PM), http://www.newsweek.com/latvia-spots-three-russian-ships-sea-border-596219; Will Stewart, Putin Sends Three Warships to Latvian Waters in the Baltic Sea in Latest challenge to NATO, Daily Mail (May 8, 2017), http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4485604/Putin-sends-ships-Latvian-waters-challenge-NATO.html; Doug G. Ware, Russian Warships Spotted in Baltic NATO Waters, Latvia Says, UPI (May 8, 2017, 7:53 PM), http://www.upi.com/Top_News/World-News/2017/05/08/Russian-warships-spotted-in-Baltic-NATO-waters-Latvia-says/9341494285894/

7. Damien Sharkov, Latvia Spots Three Russian Warships off Sea Border, Newsweek (May 8, 2017, 12:18 PM).

8. United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, Dec. 10, 1982, 1833 U.N.T.S. 397, arts. 2-5. (Article 2(1) reads: “The sovereignty of a coastal State extends, beyond its land territory and internal waters…to an adjacent belt of sea, described as the territorial sea.” Article 2(1) reads: “This sovereignty extends to the air space above the territorial sea as well as to its bed and subsoil.”) Every State has the right to establish the breadth of its territorial sea up to twelve nautical miles from its baseline, normally the low-water line along its coast. (arts. 3-5).

9. Id., arts. 17-19, 37, 38 and 45.

10. United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea, supra note 8, arts. 58 and 87. Though the United States has not ratified the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, the United States considers those provisions relating to the freedoms of navigation and overflight as memorializing long-standing customary international law. United States Oceans Policy, Statement by the President, March 10, 1983 (“…the United States is prepared to accept and act in accordance with the balance of interests relating to traditional uses of the oceans—such as navigation and overflight. In this respect, the United States will recognize the rights of other states in the waters off their coasts, as reflected in the Convention, so long as the rights and freedoms of the United States and others under international law are recognized by such coastal states.”) https://www.state.gov/documents/organization/143224.pdf.

11. U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps & U.S. Coast Guard, NWP 1-14M/MCWP 5-12/COMDTPUB P5800.7A, The Commander’s Handbook on the Law of Naval Operations ¶ 2.6.3 (2007).

12. United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, supra note 8, Articles 58 and 88; See James Kraska, Military Operations, in The Oxford handbook of the Law of the Sea884-85 (Donald R. Rothwell, Alex G. Oude Elferink, Karen N. Scott and Tim Stephens, eds., 2015).

13. Kraska, supra note 12, at 884-85. Article 2(4) of the UN Charter reads: “All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.” http://www.un.org/en/sections/un-charter/chapter-i/ .

14. United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, supra note 8, arts. 17-19.

Featured Image: Russian Navy corvettes (East2West news)

The Role of Cruisers in Promoting Russian Presence and Deterrence in Peacetime

The following is a two-part series on the role cruisers played in the Soviet and Russian Navy. The first part examined historical inspiration for developing a cruiser-focused force, concepts of employment, and strategic rationale. Part II will focus on how cruisers shaped the environment through forward presence during the Cold War, and how the nature of presence may evolve into the future. 

By Alek Clarke

The Multi-Layered Approach of Presence

“Naval losses are hard to make good. Therefore, each defeat inflicted on an enemy means not only the achievement of the goal of the given combat clash but the creation of favorable conditions for quite a long time for solving the next task.” Admiral Sergey Gorshkov1

It was not of course all about the cruisers. Even with two ‘levels’ of construction the Soviets would not have been able to devote enough resources to the construction of cruisers to sustain the number of hulls required to maintain the level of visibility that is a requisite of presence. In simple terms they hit the same problem the Royal Navy (RN) of the 1920s faced. The pre-WWI Fisher reforms sold off all the old ships which had been used as presence vessels2 – in the phraseology of that period, gunboats,3 so what to build as new build vessel for presence?

The RN in the 1920s focused on light cruisers, ships of 6,000 tons and a main armament of six to eight six-inch guns.4 Yet, still even in that period when defense budgets were able to call on far larger proportions of national funds than they can today, the RN was not able to acquire enough (even discounting the artificial strictures imposed by the arms limitations treaties5) to maintain the visibility portion of presence with only these ships. The Soviet solution to this problem was not that different to Britain’s in the 1920s; to focus efforts on the more useful ships where they could be of most benefit, and to make use of other ships to achieve the visibility aspect of the presence mission elsewhere.6

This visibility mission, often characterized as ‘Showing the Flag,’7 really started again for the Soviet Union after a 14-year hiatus that included the WWII years with a visit by a Sverdlov-class cruiser to Britain to take part in Queen Elizabeth’s 1953 Coronation Review.8 This visit was the harbinger of a busy future, and four years later another Sverdlov-class vessel, accompanied this time by a destroyer, made the first visit by a Soviet Union vessel to Latakia, Syria;9 a naval relationship which has continued to have an impact on world events to this day. The growing use of naval diplomacy by the Soviet Union in the early to mid-Cold War era is highlighted by the numerical increase in port visits: over a fourteen year period (1953-66) 37 port visits were made, 21 of which were to developed countries, yet over the next ten year period (1967-76) 170 port visits were made, of which only 30 were to developed countries,10 and 108 or 77.6 percent of which involved two or more vessels.11

What reveals more is the theater the visits were focused on: 69 went to the Indian Ocean –the highest number. Of these visits though, 29 took place during a two-year period, 1968-9, while the Soviet Navy was settling on which Indian Ocean ports to use as either a primary or secondary operational hub to support the Indian Ocean Squadron (the second forward deployed squadron the Soviet Union created), in the region.12 These visits were arguably more about testing the port facilities of allies, although they were also important for presence. In the retreating colonial atmosphere where the traditional power, Britain, was withdrawing and the new powers, America and the Soviet Union, were still integrating themselves – these visits served to foster relationships and grow connections.  

The second largest was the Atlantic, followed by the Mediterranean (which was the home of the first Soviet Union forward deployed squadron), and then the Pacific.13 The visits were very much focused at the ‘southern flank,’ and nations which belonged to NATO. They served to highlight the reach and capability of the Soviet Union to these nations in a very visible and of course ‘peaceful’ way.

Soviet Port Visits 1967-76. Source: Soviet Naval Diplomacy.14

Alongside the visibility of presence gained from port visits, these visits also provided the opportunity to build relationships and gather human as well as electronic intelligence. Whilst of course this is true of both the visitor and host, the initiation of the visit by the visitor, and rules of diplomatic etiquette (if followed by both sides), will usually serve to give the visitor an edge. This can be crucial in providing knowledge to the capability and capacity (i.e. how many ships/units can be actually made available at any time for operations) of potential opponents and allies.

Electronic intelligence and human intelligence are factors which are widely discussed,15 but still need to be highlighted. Even a ship outfitted with a moderately capable Command, Control, and Communication (C3) setup can provide significant listening capability whilst just passing through an ocean. Many nations put in far more basic equipment. This variance in electronic equipment outfit can often be a significant explanation as to the cost differences between procurements of similar vessels for different countries.

These passive sensors are nothing though compared to the turning on of more active sensor systems as both capability sets provide governments with the ability of proactively observing events within an area so that they have as much and as accurate information as possible. This capacity, when combined with the relationships that are built by ongoing diplomatic and military interaction, can provide interested nations with the ability to more accurately predict the possibility, as well as take advantage, of events or opportunities.

The Soviets at many times, but most notably in the 1975 Angolan Crisis,16 were able to build upon forces already in the area, use local knowledge, as well as on-the-spot presence to react to events. The reinforcements were carefully managed to present a deterrent to the threatened increased American involvement – which never actually materialized. Although there existed the presence of two carrier battle groups, based around the USS John F. Kennedy and the USS Saratoga in the Gibraltar/Atlantic area at the time, such involvement was a significant possibility.17

The presence of the ships combined with the airlift of mainly Cuban military personnel and Soviet equipment for which those ships provided cover secured the installation of the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) in power, rather than the American- or Chinese-backed organisations.18 While the warships never directly took part in combat operations, their presence allowed the Soviets to keep a very close eye on the situation.

This success is the capability which presence is an auger for. The vessel that is seen serves as a symbol and warning for all the force that might be dispatched. While there, the ships can provide more tangible benefits in terms of gathering intelligence and building relationships which could make a larger deployment unnecessary. If such larger deployments do become necessary, the information already gathered enables governments to refine and focus any such deployment to achieve the aims they desire more effectively and efficiently.

These successes were ultimately why the Soviet Navy eventually chose to procure aircraft carriers, as well as cruisers.19 It was not the pursuit of German-style ‘Risk Fleet’ strategy,20 but a realization that adding another level of presence would give them more diplomatic and operational flexibility. With the addition of aircraft carriers to its cruiser force the Soviet government was able to maintain ongoing presence within regions and raise the level of commitment if warranted, but always building upon the foundation of presence that was the ongoing feature of their policy. It was their ability to magnify the presence of Soviet forces by the addition of an organic sea-based fixed-wing component (giving the options for overflight, like the British achieved in Belize/British Honduras vs Guatemala with the Ark Royal in 197221) that was their peacetime selling point.

Future Possibilities

“The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.”-W.B. Yeats, The Second Coming. 23

The primary question that will undoubtedly feature in future presence discussions is whether manned or unmanned systems are better value for money. Whilst those who are budget-minded will no doubt seek to replace manned with the unmanned, in reality the more sensible idea would be to consider the lessons of the past, and perhaps even the principle foundation of presence itself. It is a standard of presence that the small vessel that is seen is an active emblem for the far larger fleet that can be sent. This idea has been built upon. Helicopters have been used along with a detachment of marines/infantry to give an impression that a far larger ground force was available – as well as demonstrating their ability to appear anywhere. From all of this, there is therefore a successful precedent, whereby smaller/lower presence units are used to magnify the presence/area of effect of a higher impact unit. This is most likely to be the best option for unmanned systems, that they be part of a larger manned system or work in tandem with one so that the human side of presence is involved, while the unmanned aerial and surface systems would serve to magnify its impact.

It is as such a probability that the utility of small vessels for presence effect missions will grow; yet they will always depend, as the Russians and Soviets demonstrated, upon the strength of will encapsulated in their orders, the quality of their crew, and the foundation provided by the capable vessels they represent. This could be a basis for the promulgation of a two tier naval force, one with a strong core of warfighting vessels (aircraft carriers, destroyers, amphibious ships and submarines) kept at a high level of training and readiness, but which are deployed rarely – except to the most dangerous areas that require something more.

The second tier would be a larger number of presence/flotilla vessels, which would be almost continually forward deployed to show the flag, provide maritime security, and demonstrate interest around the world.24 Such an idea is not new:25 in fact it was the foundation of Soviet naval diplomacy and of the British Empire’s maritime policy for most of the 19th, and early 20th centuries. However, in an age where the complexity and advanced technology of weapons systems (and warships in particular) seems to be a major selling point for their procurement, such a premise may be difficult to sell.

Many countries possess both a Coast Guard and a Navy, and in the case of the U.S., the size, level of armament, and general sophistication of the Coast Guard cutters means that they are in many ways just as useful as USN ships in providing presence. This is not the case with most nations, but Britain as a nation which has a longstanding maritime history is an example of this.

In fact, Britain possesses not only a Coast Guard, but also a Border Force; both of which operate ships. Although the vessels are capable in localized maritime constabulary roles (and two of the Border Force vessels were deployed with HMS Bulwark to help with the 2015 Mediterranean Crisis26) – they are not as capable in the presence role as the River-class OPVs or minesweepers the RN currently uses for its small ship missions.

This does not mean though these Coast Guard and Border Force ships are not useful, just that they cannot be considered interchangeable with the RN ships. The British Government, which is currently procuring three more River-class vessels27 and has made an announcement to procure two further vessels, might wish to look again at the this very useful and adaptable class and see what more can be achieved from its design or could be gained by further increasing numbers in a presence context.


Presence matters. Events are decided by those who care enough to show up28 – not by those who sit back on the sidelines. The Soviet Navy, and to a large extent the modern Russian Navy, was not built on its wartime missions; but rather its peacetime roles – in contrast to Western navies that have prioritized warfighting constructs.

This focus is understandable when considering the constricting budgets these navies face and requirements that war would undoubtedly place on them. However, while the last year that British forces were not in action was 1968, wars which require naval forces to do more than support land forces are not that common – in fact the 1982 Falklands War was it for Britain. This does not mean the capabilities are not needed, as when they are needed they are really needed; but it does mean that in order to justify themselves navies need to be more engaged with peacetime possibilities and roles. They need to be engaged with the full role of the cruiser, the peacetime ambassador and bobby on the beat, and the warrior.  

Lack of focus on peacetime roles weakens navies in the political sense, as in a democracy the leaders respond to the public and media, who in turn largely respond to what is most visible, most immediate – not having the time to really consider the long term before the next thing comes along. This weakness was of course less of a problem for the Soviet Navy, and to an extent the Russian Navy, which has to impress a small number of stakeholders. Western navies however need to be in the public debate in order to justify the expense, whether it is for warfighting or for peacetime.

This is not because democratic governments do not care about defense, but because the nature of democracy means that that the more visible the department of government, the more it shows its relevance to the public and the harder it is to cut. The Soviet Navy (admittedly working in a less democratic national governance model) managed to build a fleet for war by mastering and building recognition from the missions of peacetime.

This is not to say that western navies need to build flotilla vessels, although they could be useful as presence and force multipliers;29 the Soviets went down that route as an offset strategy. For the carrier-centered western navies, whilst a small increase in major surface combatants would no doubt be of use to provide flexibility of presence; for pure presence missions, vessels of OPV or corvette size would be more appropriate. These vessels are often cheaper, and as with the Soviet choice of cruisers in the Cold War, would not carry the risk of provoking an arms race, and would provide the hulls necessary for nations to have presence where they need it to be.

This is important, because if countries wish to be actors more often than reactors, they need to have as accurate as possible understanding of what is going on and be able to act quickly. A small ship may not have the status of a larger vessel, but its presence as the vanguard of the larger can enable it to have an impact out of all proportion.30 Events which are caught early can often be resolved more quickly by what is already there – thus according the situation less possibility for escalation. Presence can serve to increase predictability and stability which are always good for helping to maintain peace.

Dr. Clarke graduated with a PhD in War Studies from KCL in 2014, the thesis of which focused upon the Royal Navy’s development of naval aviation and aircraft carrier design in the 1920s and 1930s. He was supervised during this by Professor Andrew Lambert. Alongside this he has published works on the 1950s with British Naval History, and has also published on current events with European Geostrategy and the Telegraph online as part of the KCL Big Question series. He has maintained an interest in digital history, and is organizing, hosting, and editing a series of Falklands War veterans interviews for the Center for International Maritime Security and Phoenix Think Tank. Recent research outputs include presenting a paper at the National Maritime Museum’s 2016 conference on the ASW capabilities of the RNAS in WWI, and will be presenting a paper on the design & performance of Tribal Class Destroyers in WWII at the  forthcoming BCMH (of which he is a member) New Researchers Conference.  

Archival Sources

TNA: ADM 1/8672/227. 1924. “Light-Cruisers Emergency Construnction Progrmme.” Admiralty 1/8672/227. London: United Kingdom National Archives(Kew).

TNA: ADM 116/4109. 1940. “Battle of the River Plate: reports from Admiral Commanding and from HM Ships Ajax, Achilles and Exeter.” Admiralty 116/4109. London: United Kingdom National Archives (Kew).

TNA: ADM 116/4320. 1941. “Battle of the River Plate: British views on German pocket battleship Admiral Graf Spee in Montevideo harbour; visits to South America by HMS Ajax and HMS Achilles.” ADM 116/4320. London: United Kingdom National Archives (Kew).

TNA: ADM 116/4470. 1940. “Battle of the River Plate: messages and Foreign Office telegrams.” ADM 116/4470. London: United Kingdom National Archives (Kew).

TNA: ADM 223/714. 1959. “Translation of the 1949 Russian Book “Some Results of the Cruiser Operations of the German Fleet” by L. M. Eremeev – translated and distributed by RN Intelligence.” ADM 223/714. London: United Kingdom National Archives(Kew), 02 September.

TNA: ADM 239/533. 1960. “Supplementary Naval Intelligence Papers relation to Soviet & European Satellite Navies: Soviet Cruisers.” ADM 239/533. London: United Kingdom, National Archives (Kew), November.

TNA: ADM 239/821. 1959. “Particulars of Foreign War Vessels Volume 1: Soviet & European Satelite Navies.” ADM 239/821. London: United Kingdom National Archives (Kew), January.

TNA: DEFE 6/51/104. 1958. “Requirement for Cruisers East of Suez.” DEFE 6/51/104. London: United Kingdom National Archvies (Kew), 21 August.

TNA: FO 371/106559. 1953. “Soviet ships off the Shetlands; visit of Soviet cruiser Sverdlov to Spithead for the Coronation. Code NS file 1211.” FO 371/106559. London: United Kingdom National Archives(Kew).

TNA: PREM 11/1014. 1955. “Reconnaissance of Soviet cruisers by HMS Wave and RAF aircraft.” PREM 11/1014. London: United Kingdom National Archives(Kew).


1. Sergey Gorshkov (1980), p.229

2. Lambert (2008)

3. Cable, Gunboat Diplomacy 1919-1979, Political Applications of Limited Naval Force (1981)

4. TNA: ADM 1/8672/227 (1924) provides a good example of this, but for quick reference then Norman Friedman’s work British Cruisers; Two World Wars and After (2010) is also excellent 

5. Signatories of the Washington Naval Limitation Treaty (2005)

6. Dismukes & McConnell (1979), p.93 & 96

7. Dismukes & McConnell (1979), pp.88-114 –this is Chapte 3, written by Charles C. Peterson, who credits much of the information used to the work of Anne Kelly Calhoun

8. TNA: FO 371/106559 (1953), and Dismukes & McConnell (1979), p.89

9. Dismukes & McConnell (1979), p.89

10. Ibid, pp.89-90

11. Ibid, p.94

12. Ibid, pp.91-2

13. Ibid, p.94

14. Ibid, p.100

15. Aldrich & Hopkins (2013), and Herman (1996)

16. Dismukes & McConnell (1979), pp.144-53

17. Ibid, pp.147

18. Ibid, pp.144

19. Rohwer & Monakov (2006), Polmar (1991), and TNA: ADM 223/714 (1959)

20. Massie (2005)

21. White (2009)

22. Pocock (2015)

23. W.B. Yeats The Second Coming

24. Cable, Gunboat Diplomacy 1919-1979, Political Applications of Limited Naval Force (1981)

25. Clarke, Protecting the Exclusive Economic Zones – Part I & Part II (2014), & Clarke, October 2013 Thoughts (Extended Thoughts): Time to Think Globally (2013)

26. Ministry of Defence & The Rt Hon Michael Fallon MP (2015), and Naval Today (2015)

27. BAE Systems (2015)

28. President Bartlet (Sorkin, 2000)

29. A. Clarke, Europe and the Future of Cruisers (2014)

30. Cable, Gunboat Diplomacy 1919-1979, Political Applications of Limited Naval Force (1981)

Featured Image: Soviet Navy Kirov-class cruiser. (Public Domain)

The Reawakening of the Russian Bear


By Jared Russell

The Danger of a Declining Power: Reckless Courage in the Face of Oblivion

It seems as if a day does not pass without seeing a news article analyzing the relations between the United States and Russia. It remains undisputed that Vladimir Putin has successfully solidified his position of leadership amidst the Russian hierarchy, and the world waits in wonder of what he may do next. The troubling, and occasionally overlooked, variable of this situation is that Putin is not commanding a thriving nation. Rather, Russia has experienced considerable decline in terms of market economics since the collapse of the Soviet Union, losing global power and failing to compete with the torchbearers of globalization. Thus, it is evident that Russia is not an emerging power in the global landscape, and furthermore, it is safe to assert that they are not ‘reawakening’ under any conditions. Instead, amidst their decline (or possibly even within the monotony of stability via mediocrity), the United States must be cautious of the dangers posed by a disruptive nation that acts like it has nothing to lose. Let us begin by debunking the notion that Russia is an emerging power before moving on to analyze the dangers associated with declining powers.

The National Intelligence Council’s Global Trends 2030 predicts the misfortune of Russia. The report proposes in relation to Russia’s economy that it is “likely to continue [its] slow relative decline.”1 The report continues, “[A] Russia which fails to build a more diversified economy and more liberal domestic order could increasingly pose a regional and global threat.”2 The threat here would be exhibited in the form of trying to obtain resources and other market shares from neighboring countries, conflicts that may extend so far as to provoke NATO. Russia, for so long, has relied upon the oil industry to fuel its economy, failing to diversify fully into other areas within the market economy. By failing to fully embrace the liberal order of modern markets, Russia has not achieved the success of its counterparts. With the prices of crude oil currently dropping to just under $50 per barrel, it looks as if the Russian economy is far from sustainable, especially considering it is pillared on a resource that is subject to exhaustion.3

In his article, “The Illusion of Geopolitics,” G. John Ikenberry categorizes Russia as a “part time spoiler,” citing that they are not worthy of the title of “revisionist power.”4 In this context, revisionist powers are understood to be emerging authorities that seek the throne of global hegemon. These authorities would seek to abolish/revise the pluralistic, democratic, and capitalistic practices that have been established in many nations throughout the world under the tutelage of the United States—going as far to usurp the U.S. from its seat as global hegemon. Russia, according to Ikenberry in his response to Walter Russell Mead, is clearly not a revisionist power, deducing this from observing Russia’s willingness to maintain its status amongst the global institutions (i.e. the UN Security Council, IMF, World Bank, etc.). Moreover, Ikenberry notes that Russia’s stance on international relations is “mainly about the search for commerce and resources, the protection of their sovereignty, and, where possible, regional domination,” and continues, “[t]hey have shown no interest in building their own orders or even taking full responsibility for the current one and have offered no alternative visions of global economic or political progress.”5 Thus, Russia recognizes the importance of the global market system and the role that it plays in its success. Beyond trade, though, is a concern for geopolitics, preventing Russia from expanding their order to contend for global supremacy.

I believe that Ikenberry’s analysis of Russian prioritization in modernity hits the mark, but his overall optimism of the United States’ position having a certain degree of permanency is poorly founded. In attempting to solidify the position of the United States atop the global ladder, Ikenberry fails to adequately account for geopolitics as he attempts to undermine the importance of geopolitics by conceding its existence as negligible. It is on this point that I must agree with Mead in part, as geopolitics would appear to play a considerable role in global power dynamics—but, that is not to say that engaging in geopolitics warrants a position equitable to a revisionist power. Over the past several years in Crimea and South Ossetia, we have seen Russia take holdings in Ukraine and Georgia, land that was once part of the Soviet Union. This behavior, though, is not an attempt at the building of a new order. It appears to be an effort to disrupt democratic political institutions that have been established to respond to such situations. One must wonder: is this Russia’s advance at cementing their power on the global scale or is it an exhibition of a dying country that is so desperately trying to stay relevant?

If we were to accept the former, in that Russia was trying to cement its power, we would be accepting the argument of John Mearsheimer. Richard Betts weighed in on the topic, channeling Mearsheimer when he advances, “Bucking the tide of optimism, [Mearsheimer] argued that international life would continue to be brutal competition for power it had always been…[his] vision is especially telling because it is an extreme version of realism that does not see any benign actors in the system and assumes that all great powers seek hegemony: ‘There are no status quo powers…save for the occasional hegemon that wants to maintain its dominating position.”6 But does this viewpoint encapsulate the current state under which Russia operates? I am certain that Russia yearns to be the global hegemon, but all of the evidence that we have reviewed thus far suggests that they could not be farther from actualizing that goal.

Russia, even with their antics over the course of the past ten years, has been unable to disrupt the fabric of humanity. Instead, they have elected to directly challenge democratic institutions in Europe and the United States. Alas, it seems as if we have reached the pinnacle of our dilemma, and we can identify it as a continuance of a problem outlined by George Kennan during the Cold War. Kennan posits the necessary response, “it will be clearly seen that the Soviet pressure against the free institutions of the western world is something that can be contained by the adroit and vigilant application of counter-force at a series of constantly shifting geographical and political points, corresponding to the shifts and maneuvers of Soviet policy, but which cannot be charmed or talked out of existence.”7 It appears as if Russia, even in its decrepit post-USSR state, is trying to apply pressure against the free institutions of the western world. Kennan had advocated for a response that is economic and political to such disruption, as a military conflict with Russia will yield no winners—and most likely a world of losers. If the United States responds to Russia’s disruption militarily, then we may truly have a discussion about the ‘reawakening’ of the Bear.

Ultimately, we settle upon the realization that we must recognize our differences with Russia in terms of ideals, values, and institutions–transcending beyond the traditional military disputes that marked the history of our relationship until the finale of the Cold War. To say that Russia is reemerging into the global political scene as a contender for the position of global hegemon appears to be entirely fallacious. For Russia, their economy and the diversity of their resources point toward an overall declination in global power. Let it be clear, though, that reemergence is not a necessary condition of danger. As we tread into the future, we must account for Russia’s incessant desire to maintain its standing near the top of the global battleground. If Russia does, in fact, face impending oblivion, the United States must remain cautious to falling into the traps of reckless courage exuded by the falling Bear.

Jared Russel is a junior from Colorado College majoring in political science and philosophy and will be graduating in 2018.


1.“Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds,” National Intelligence Council, 2012, iv.

2. “Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds,” National Intelligence Council,2012, ix.

3. “Crude  Oil Index,” NASDAQ, Accessed March 22, 2017, http://www.nasdaq.com/markets/crude–‐oil.aspx.

4. G. John Ikenberry, “The Illusion of Geopolitics: The Enduring Power of the Liberal Order, “ in Foreign Affairs: The New Global Context, 2015, 16.

5. G. John Ikenberry, “The Illusion of Geopolitics: The Enduring Power of the Liberal Order,” in Foreign Affairs: The New Global Context, 2015, 24.

6. Richard Betts, “Conflict or Cooperation: Three Visions Revisited,” in Foreign Affairs: The Clash at 20, 2013, 72.

7. George Kennan, “The Sources of Soviet Conduct,” in Foreign Affairs, 1947, Part III.


Betts, Richard. “Conflict or Cooperation: Three Visions Revisited.” In Foreign Affairs: The

Clash at 20, 69-80, 2013.

“Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds.” National Intelligence Council, 2012.

Ikenberry, G. John. “The Illusion of Geopolitics: The Enduring Power of the Liberal Order. “ In

Foreign Affairs: The New Global Context, 16-24, 2015.

Kennan, George. “The Sources of Soviet Conduct.” In Foreign Affairs, Parts I-IV, 1947.

Featured Image: Members of the armed forces of the separatist self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic drive a tank on the outskirts of Donetsk, Ukraine, in this January 22, 2015 file photo. (Reuters/Alexander Ermochenko)