Tag Archives: security cooperation

How Combined Navies and Coast Guards Coalesce: A Maritime Forces Learning Model

By Daniel T. Murphy

Walk into a bar in any country and ask a bunch of naval officers, coast guard officers and merchant mariners (Yes, I have done this), “Why is it that maritime forces are able to come together so quickly and effectively when the maritime domain is under duress?” You will hear answers such as . . . “We just know how to work together.” A Spanish admiral told me, “We speak the same language,” and an Indian naval officer told me, “We’re cut from the same cloth.” Examining some historical examples of how maritime security organizations have successfully come together in times of crisis will shed light on this fascinating phenomenon.

Historical Perspectives

Between June 1940 and December 1941, German submarines were sinking, on average, between 200,000 and 300,000 tons of allied shipping per month. Losses increased to 500,000 tons per month through mid-1943. Similar to their strategy in the First World War, Germany had a specific tonnage target they estimated would starve the allies to a negotiated peace. Beginning in late 1943 and onward, navy and coast guard forces from the U.S., U.K. and Canada combined to organize convoys, increase air coverage over shipping lanes, and introduce new radar and sonar technologies that reduced the loss rate to a manageable 100,000 per month. While still a lot of lost shipping, convoy losses no longer posed a threat to the allies’ ability to supply the war effort.

Fast forward to the 1980s, when the majority of illicit drugs entered the United States through the Caribbean basin. In the early 1990s, combined maritime security forces and agencies from the United States, and Caribbean, Latin American and UK allies (15-plus countries) coalesced to significantly reduce the flow of illicit drugs through the Caribbean maritime routes, forcing traffickers to shift more of their operations to overland routes through Mexico. The successful maritime security effort was largely centered around the development of the new Joint Interagency Task Force (JIATF) South that was established in 1994. While Caribbean traffic routes have again become popular with the cartels in recent years, few would argue that the aggressive, multinational effort of the 1990s did not produce results.

The Indian Ocean is an area with multiple fragile, failing, and failed states and large populations of desperate young male inhabitants who often have few life opportunities. Piracy has already been a cultural norm in this area for hundreds of years. The Somali Ministry of Fisheries and the Coastal Development Agency (CDA) established agricultural and fishery cooperatives, and permitted foreign fishing in Somalia’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) through official licensing or joint venture agreements. When the Somali government fell in 1991, local fishermen began enforcing the fisheries zones themselves, eventually evolving into piracy. By 2009 and 2010, Somali pirates were working more than a thousand miles offshore, using large “mothership” dhows as base stations for swarms of skiff attacks. As the situation worsened, and as shipping companies started paying large ransoms, piracy began spreading to other littoral states in the Indian Ocean.

Similar to the U-boat challenges of the First and Second World Wars, and similar to the drug war in the Caribbean theatre, maritime forces from the United States, multiple European countries, and Asian countries such as Japan, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore came together in relatively short order to address the problem of piracy in the Indian Ocean and Gulf of Aden. For example, twenty-five countries joined together in Combined Task Force 150 (CTF-150), a multi-national naval organization dedicated to counter-piracy operations. The European Union established the EU Force (EUNAVFOR) to help organize European naval operations around the Horn of Africa. The United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) organization took on primary responsibility for coordinating merchant vessels protection and defense in the region. As a result, the number of merchant vessels attacked and captured gradually decreased through 2011 and 2012, and became nearly nonexistent by 2017.

Organizational Learning (OL) as an Enabler

So what makes navies, coast guards and maritime security organizations of all countries quickly coalesce to become effective regional maritime security partners? A rich body of research suggests that military and security organizations are highly adept at what Peter Senge and other scholars call organizational learning (OL). Senge (1990) argued that a learning organization continuously expands its capabilities to create its future through five disciplines: personal mastery, mental models, building shared vision, team learning, and systems thinking. Senge’s work has been extended across many industries, including the military services by scholars such as Nevis, DiBella and Gould (1995), Goh and Richards (1997), Marsick and Watkins (1999), Chiva, Alegre and Lapiedra (2007), and Marquardt (2011).

Other scholars have specifically studied OL in the military services. Here are just a few examples: Baird, Holland and Deacon (1999), and Darling and Parry (2001) studied how the U.S. Army uses a four-step After-Action Review (AAR) process at the end of a ground operation. Daddis (2013) studied how the U.S. Army behaved as a learning organization during the Vietnam conflict. Etzioni (2015) studied OL by U.S. forces in Operations Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and Enduring Freedom (OEF). Gode and Barbaroux (2012) studied OL in the French Air Force. Marcus (2014) studied OL in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF).

To specifically study how OL enables maritime security cooperation between partner countries, I conducted a qualitative study using Marsick’s and Watkins’ (1999) framework. I conducted interviews with 11 U.S. Navy and Coast Guard officers between the ranks of Lieutenant (O-2) through Captain (O-6). Collectively the participants were experienced across all U.S. geographic combatant commands. All interviewees had operational fleet experience working alongside officers from foreign navies and coast guards. Interviewees included surface warfare officers (SWOs), aviation officers, and intelligence officers. All participation was voluntary. Interviews averaged 40 minutes and were recorded, transcribed, and codified.

The interviews yielded 448 keyword and phrase artifacts. The artifacts were aggregated into 25 artifact groups, and then aggregated again into eight overall findings. What follows is an abbreviated summary of the findings.

Finding 1: OL Enables Maritime Security Cooperation Between Partner Countries

As an overall finding, interviewees described work examples which supported all seven of Marsick’s and Watkins’ (1999) imperatives. In other words, interviewees validated that OL does enable maritime security cooperation between partner countries.

As an overall finding, interviewees described work examples which supported all seven of Marsick’s and Watkins’ (1999) imperatives. The seven imperatives are:

1.  Create continuous learning opportunities (CL): Learning is embedded within work so people can learn on the job; opportunities are provided for ongoing education and growth. 

2.  Promote inquiry and dialogue (ID): People express their views, listen to, and inquire into the views of others; questioning, feedback, and experimentation are supported.

3.  Encourage collaboration and team learning (CT): Work is designed to encourage groups to access different modes of thinking, groups learn and work together, and collaboration is valued and rewarded.

4.  Establish systems to capture and share learning (LS): Both high- and low-technology systems to share learning are created and integrated with work, access is provided, and systems are maintained.

5.  Empower people toward a collective vision (EM): People are involved in setting, owning, and implementing joint visions; responsibility is distributed close to decision-making so people are motivated to learn what they are held accountable for.

6.  Connect the organization to its environment (EN): People are encouraged to see the impact of their work on the entire enterprise, to think systemically; people scan the environment and use information to adjust work practices; and the organization is linked to its community.

7.  Provide strategic leadership for learning (SL): Leaders model, champion, and support learning; leadership uses learning strategically for business results (Marsick and Watkins, 1999).

In other words, interviewees validated that OL does enable maritime security cooperation between partner countries.

Finding 2: OL is Enabled Through Collaborative Activities

Interviewees described a rich array of examples of how partner country maritime services coalesce through structured after-action reporting, briefings, exercises, and combined operations. For example, regarding briefings, one interviewee said, “It’s built into the way we work every day. At the end of a mission we do a hot wash. Figure out what we did well and what we didn’t. And if we are operating with a partner navy or air force, they take part in the conversation. I know they also do their own hot wash too.”

Finding 3: OL is Enabled Through Communicative Activities

Interviewees emphasized the importance of certain communicative variables, including: face-to-face communications, common language, information-sharing based on agreed “need-to-know,” common nomenclatures, and radio communications. For example, one interviewee emphasized the value of having the U.S. landing signals officers (LSOs) from his squadron travel to Brazil to work face-to-face with the Brazilian pilots who would eventually be landing on the U.S. aircraft carrier.

Finding 4: OL is Enabled Through Organizational Elements and Concepts

Interviewees emphasized the importance of both horizontal and vertical organizational structures, and structures of unified commands. For example, one interviewee explained how a naval special warfare training organization was “stood up” to help a developing country build its special warfare operations capability. The organization emulated the U.S. Army’s CALL (Center for Army Lessons Learned) model to establish a continuous learning environment. Another interviewee pointed to the Dhow Project which was co-developed by the NATO Shipping Centre, the EU Maritime Security Centre (MSC-HOA), the U.S. Maritime Liaison Office (MARLO), and the merchant shipping community. The Dhow Project helped identify and track threats to merchant shipping in the Horn of Africa and the Gulf of Aden.  

Finding 5: OL is Enabled Through Human Relationships

Interviewees talked about having common interest with partner countries, and the importance of building personal relationships and trust. For example, when discussing combined operations with an Asian partner country navy, one interviewee said specifically, “I think more important is that personal level. It’s almost that friendship that you start to develop and you actually can see how you’re going to get there with that person or that group of guys, or gals, or what have you.” Nearly every interviewee made clear that, while conference calls and video conferences with partner country officers and staff were helpful, what mattered most was when personnel had opportunities to develop close personal trust-building relationships with one another.

Finding 6: OL is Enabled Through Technology

Interviewees recognized the importance of supporting technologies, including having a common operating picture, common networks, and common platforms. Specifically, in reference to the Global Command and Control System (GCCS) common operating picture and CENTRIXS networks, one interviewee said, “We use a variety of web-based platforms to share knowledge with all of our country partners. What we share depends on who they are. And there’s probably an incentive there for partner countries to get closer to us, because the closer they get, the more we share.” In other words, when information technology platforms and content are shared between countries, it underscores that those countries are in a relationship with one another. When countries are not granted access to those technologies and content, it underscores that the relationship with those countries is more distant.  

Finding 7: OL is Enabled Through Formal and Informal Training and Education

Interviewees emphasized the importance of combined military education (e.g., the U.S. Naval War College), formal training (e.g., SEAL training), and on-the-job training. One interviewee explained, “We have quite a good percentage of our, I guess, our partner countries that send their officers, both their senior officers and some of their junior officers to Newport. They learn to strategize the way we strategize, and they learn the content of our strategy as well. But I would say that we also have non-operational venues where we collaborate. For example, the International Maritime Symposium at the War College and in similar events we have out in the fleets on a regular basis.”

Finding 8: OL is Enabled Through Work Practices

Finally, interviewees emphasized the importance of everyday work practices, including directives, intelligence, and tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs). According to one interviewee, “I assume that in previous exercises, our partners in NATO started acquiring each other’s TTPs and we have them written down. We have TTPs for VBSS (visit, board search and seizure operations) and I assume that through years of sharing TTPs, our TTPs became similar at some point.” In other words, a large body of directives and TTPs “order” partner country navies and coast guards to work with one another toward specific operational ends.

Insight for the Fleet

These findings provide a rich list of elements that navy and coast guard officers have deemed “valuable” for building relationships with partner countries. In other words, according to the tactical operators in the fleet, this study describes the things that “work,” and that should be supported, and funded. Here are just four examples.

First, the data shows conclusively that navy and coast guard officers that participate in formal exercises do believe that exercises help partner country maritime forces coalesce and collaborate. What is important is that navy and coast guard leaders from all countries can look their respective congresspersons and parliamentarians in the eye and state emphatically, “Our officers do believe that these exercises matter. The more we exercise together, the more collaborative we become.” This study provides dozens of anecdotes to that effect. U.S. policymakers and military leaders should continue to support and fund naval exercises with partner countries. Policymakers and military leadership should similarly continue to support and fund inter-country training and education programs, and find ways for partner-country navy and coast guard officers to have more numerous face-to-face learning opportunities.

Second, the data shows that structured communications vehicles such as briefings are key enablers of security cooperation. Briefings specifically are the primary vehicle by which tactical and operational information is communicated between partner country navies and coast guards. Military leaders should step back and reflect on whether the briefing process can be made even more valuable through structuralization or even ritualization. Senge (1999) and other OL scholars would suggest that military briefings could become even more valuable if they evolved from being predominantly single-looped (e.g., What did we learn in the exercise?) to become ritually double-looped (e.g., How did we learn in the exercise?).

Third, multiple interviewees discussed how access to the GCCS and CENTRIXS systems, and access to U.S. national intelligence, should be used as incentives for closer relationships. In other words, Pentagon and fleet-level leadership should actively promote access to systems and intelligence as an incentive for closer collaboration with the U.S. and western allies. After a partner country “subscribes” to intelligence-sharing with the U.S. and allies, and after they prove their ability to protect sensitive and classified information, they can earn access to more sensitive and higher classifications of content thereby reinforcing the relationship in a positive feedback loop.

Fourth, OL between partner countries and security success seems to increase exponentially when combined OL-dedicated organizational structures are stood up, either temporarily or permanently. The creation of CTF-150 and other dedicated organizational structures had a significant impact on accelerating learning between partner navies and coast guards, which resulted in a significant reduction in piracy in the Indian Ocean. The creation of JITF South had a similar positive effect on the drug war in the Caribbean. In other words, joint and combined task forces work. Policymakers and maritime security leadership across all countries should work to make such structures easier and faster to stand up and establish a battle rhythm. To be specific, the U.S. and other leading nations in maritime security should continue, and perhaps increase, emphasis and funding on prepositioning programs and rapid deployment of adaptable expeditionary force packages. Such packages could provide an even faster response and return to normalcy when piracy inevitably springs up again in the Indian Ocean or elsewhere, or when new waves of refugees seek to escape from North Africa (highly likely), South America (also likely), or elsewhere in the world.

Introducing a Maritime Forces Learning Model

Most importantly, the study resulted in the development of a Maritime Forces Learning Model – a mental model for practitioners to learn and reflect on how OL-related activities, when practiced and improved in the fleet, can have a positive upward ripple effect. For example, improving the frequency and quality of operational briefings in the fleet can help improve OL between partner country navies and coast guards. Improving OL can help improve regional maritime security and regional security overall. If the regions of the world can be made safer, the world itself can be made safer.

A maritime forces learning model. (Daniel Murphy image – Click to Expand)

Final Thoughts

For good reason, there is a vast body of literature exploring military and security failures and partial failures in history – Waterloo, Pearl Harbor, Vietnam, the 9/11 attacks, Iraq, and others. In the spirit of Santayana, as military and national security professionals, we absolutely must understand our historical failures so that we can reduce the likelihood of such failures in the future. I believe that it is good news for humanity, that we (in Western society, at least) rigorously reflect on things done wrong. However, military historians and other social scientists should spend more time studying things “done right.” That was the intention of this study.

Navies, coast guards, and maritime security agencies around the world have an uncanny ability to come together in relatively short order, to protect and defend the maritime domain when threats arise. I believe it is important to understand the how of that phenomenon. To understand the how, one must dig deep – to what the anthropologist Geertz (1973) would call a “thick description” of culture. When we understand the details of the how – in this case how partner navies and coast guards coalesce – we can support, emulate, and appropriately resource the how. While this study was not intended to uncover any great “aha” on what makes maritime security cooperation tick, it was intended to provide some thicker description on how fleets coalesce, and ultimately underscore some of the practices that leaders should continue to emphasize and support.

Daniel T. Murphy is a full-time faculty member in Massachusetts Maritime Academy’s Emergency Management and Homeland Security department. He is also an adjunct faculty member in the Homeland Security and Strategic Intelligence department at Northeastern University, and a Lieutenant Commander in the U.S. Navy Reserve, currently assigned to the US European Command (EUCOM) Staff. Dr. Murphy received his Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Massachusetts, Master of Arts degree from Georgetown University, Master of Science degree from the National Intelligence University, and Doctorate degree from Northeastern University. He is also a graduate of the American Academy in Rome and the Naval War College. 

References

Baird, L., Holland, P., & Deacon, S. (1999). Learning from action: Embedding more learning into the performance fast enough to make a difference. Organizational Dynamics, 27(4), 19-22. doi: 10.1177/1046878114549426

Chiva, R., Alegre, J., & Lapiedra, R. (2007). Measuring organisational learning capability among the workforce. International Journal of Manpower, 28(3/4), 224-242.

Daddis, G. A. (2013). Eating soup with a spoon: The U.S. Army as a “learning organization” in the Vietnam War. Journal of Military History, 77(1), 229-254.

Darling, M.J., & Parry, C.S. (2001). After-action reviews: linking reflection and planning in a learning practice. Reflections, 3(2), 64-72. doi: 10.1162/15241730152695252

Do, Q.T., Ma, L., and Ruiz, C. (2016). Pirates of Somalia: Crime and deterrence on the high seas. Development Research Group Poverty and Inequality Team. Retrieved from http://pubdocs.worldbank.org/en/689501484733836996/pirates-of-Somalia-on-the-high-seas.pdf.

Etzioni, A. (2015). COIN: A study of strategic illusion, Small Wars & Insurgencies, 26(3), 345-376, doi: 10.1080/09592318.2014.982882

Geertz, C. (1973). The interpretation of cultures: Selected essays. New York, NY: Basic Books.

Godé, C., & Barbaroux, P. (2012). Towards an architecture of organizational learning: Insights from French military aircrews. VINE, 42(3), 321-334. doi: 10.1108/03055721211267468

Goh, S., & Richards, G. (1997). Benchmarking the learning capability of organizations. European Management Journal, 15(5), 575-583.

Marcus, R. D. (2014). Military innovation and tactical adaptation in the Israel–Hizballah conflict: The institutionalization of lesson-learning in the IDF. Journal of Strategic Studies, 38(4), 500-528. doi.org.ezproxy.neu.edu/10.1080/01402390.2014.923767

Marquardt, M. (2011). Building the learning organization: Achieving strategic advantage through a commitment to learning (3rd ed.). Boston: Nicholas Brealey Publishing.

Marsick, V. J., & Watkins, K. E. (1999). Facilitating learning organizations: Making learning count. Brookfield, VT: Gower.

Nevis, E. C., DiBella, A. J., & Gould, J. M. (1995). Understanding organizations as learning Systems. Sloan Management Review, 36(2), 73-73.

Seelke, C.R., Wyler, L.S., Beittel, J.S., and Sullivan, M.P. (2012). Latin America and the Caribbean: Illicit drug trafficking and U.S. counterdrug programs. Congressional Research Service (CRS) Report for Congress. Retrieved from https://www.hsdl.org/?view&did=705052.

Senge, P. M. (1990). The fifth discipline: the art and practice of the learning organization. New York, NY: Doubleday.

U.S. State Department. (2006). United States report to the Organization of American States on the application of confidence and security building measures for 2005 and 2006. AG/RES. 2113 (XXXV-O/05) and AG/RES. 2246 (XXXVI-O/06). Retrieved from http://scm.oas.org/IDMS/Redirectpage.aspx?class=CP/CSH&classNum=780&addendum=3&lang=e.

White, D. (2008). Bitter ocean: The battle of the Atlantic, 1939–1945. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.

Featured Image: PHUKET, THAILAND (Jan. 25, 2019) – U.S. Navy Capt. Brian Mutty, commanding officer of Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2), right, speaks with officers of the Royal Thai navy aboard Essex in Phuket, Thailand. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Molly DiServio) 190125-N-NI420-1062

Maritime Partnerships and the Future of U.S. Seapower in the Indo-Pacific

By LCDR Arlo Abrahamson

Introduction

“Relationships don’t stay the same, they either get better or they get worse.” These were the words of U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis at the 2018 Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore. Mattis was speaking about the importance of avoiding the status quo in America’s defense relationships by exercising “strategic reliability” through enduring military presence and meaningful security cooperation.1

Mattis’ concept of strategic reliability is an appropriate frame to examine the future of U.S. seapower in the Indo-Pacific. America’s rise as a naval power was predicated on the ability to form alliances and partnerships with nations that believe cooperative maritime security benefits common interests and enhances regional and global stability. The backbone of these alliances and partnerships derives from a fundamental belief in freedom of the seas, a central tenant of the international rules-based order, to which the former Commander of the Indo-Pacific Command Admiral Harry Harris said “ensures all nations, big or small, have equal access to the shared  domains.”2 Since the fall of the Soviet Union, in what the late Charles Krauthammer described as “America’s unipolar moment,” U.S. seapower, along with the alliances and partnerships that bolster its preeminence in the Indo-Pacific, has largely gone unchallenged.3 However, with a rising China and its focus on building its own world-class, blue water navy, the future of U.S.-led, cooperative maritime security in the Indo-Pacific cannot be taken for granted.

The underlying question is can U.S. seapower with its existing framework of maritime alliances and partnerships remain the leading guarantor of Indo-Pacific  maritime security, or will China take on that role? The collective wisdom is that the U.S. Navy will continue to lead and foster cooperative maritime security efforts in the Indo-Pacific, but only with a careful reexamination of how the U.S. projects its seapower and postures itself in a new era of great power competition with China.

Alliances and Partnerships, the Foundations of U.S. Seapower  

With the presence of the U.S. Asiatic squadrons in the 19th century, the U.S. Navy made its debut in the Indo-Pacific region. Like most global navies, the U.S. Navy emerged in the region to protect and promote America’s growing interests in commercial trade and diplomatic relations. From the U.S. Navy’s debut in the region, alliances and partnerships helped bolster and sustain U.S. seapower in the Indo-Pacific. Those alliances and partnerships were cemented with the spoils of victory in World War II, with the establishment of U.S. naval bases and forward operating locations throughout the region.

Today, the U.S. Navy enjoys unprecedented access to the Indo-Pacific region, with naval forces forward or rotationally deployed in Guam, Japan, Korea, Okinawa, and Singapore, and visiting force agreements in the Philippines and Australia. This access enables the U.S. Navy’s power projection in the region and yields opportunities for the U.S. to play a constructive role in strengthening cooperative maritime security networks by, with, and through the assistance of allies and partners.

In February 2018 while underway in the South China Sea, Rear Admiral John Fuller, commander of the USS Carl Vinson Strike Group, told a group of academics and reporters that “nations in the Pacific are maritime nations. They value stability…That’s exactly what we are here for. This is a very visible and tangible presence. The United States is here again. U.S presence matters.”4

The prosperity and upward economic trajectories of Indo-Pacific nations are a byproduct of the relatively stable period that emerged after World War II. This prolonged period of regional stability was underwritten for the last 75-plus years in part due to unfettered U.S. naval presence. Sustained by a strong network of alliances and partnerships, the U.S. Navy has focused its forward presence on deterring conflict, ensuring access to the global commons, protecting U.S. commerce, while promoting U.S.-led security cooperation.

The U.S. Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower underscores the value of maritime security cooperation directly tied to U.S. interests, particularly in the economic and security spheres:

“By expanding our network of allies and partners and improving our ability to operate alongside them, naval forces foster the secure environment essential to an open economic system based on the free flow of goods, protect U.S. natural resources, promote stability, deter conflict, and respond to aggression.”6

The Indo-Pacific region features a complex stratosphere of global and economic interests with growing importance for the U.S., China, and the international community at large. The United Nations estimates more than 80 percent of global trade by volume travels by sea; with 60 percent of seaborne trade volume traveling through the Indo-Pacific region.7 Moreover, $5.3 trillion in seaborne trade passes through the South China Sea each year, nearly a third of all global trade. This includes $1.2 trillion in trade destined for U.S. ports and 80 percent of China’s hydrocarbons that pass through the strategic chokepoints of the Straits of Malacca and Singapore and onward to the South China Sea.

In such a dynamic maritime environment, the existing framework of rules, standards, norms and laws that assures free access to the global commons and open sealanes remains essential for regional stability. James Manicom notes that  “free access to the seas fosters not only economic growth within individual East Asian states, but also the creation of robust economic interdependence between East Asian states that creates a powerful disincentive for war.”9 A strong belief in free and open sealanes has not lost its relevance among Indo-Pacific nations, even with the threat of a rising and revisionist power in China that seeks to adjust the international order to benefit its own interests. Accordingly, great power competition with China presents both challenges and opportunities for the U.S. Navy in the Indo-Pacific. While Indo-Pacific nations make room for China’s rise as a maritime power, U.S. seapower should remain focused on preserving the rules-based order while enhancing stability that binds its existing network of allies and partners.10

Forward Presence and Cooperation in the Midst of a Rising Maritime Power

A rising Chinese maritime power harkens to the realities of geo-strategic position. The U.S. Navy serves as a mostly non-resident, yet established maritime power in the Indo-Pacific while China is embracing its role as the resident, emerging maritime power.

Against the backdrop of the routine presence of the U.S. Navy across the Indo-Pacific, nations are increasingly hosting the People’s Liberation Army-Navy (PLAN) in their waters and ports. The PLAN is growing rapidly as a regional maritime powerhouse and blue water navy, and nations in the Indo-Pacific know they must cooperate and work with their Chinese neighbors at sea to maintain cordial and friendly relationships with the fledgling superpower.

In August 2018 China conducted its inaugural multilateral exercise with Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) noting the maritime drills aimed “to expand China and ASEAN’s military communications and security cooperation.”11 Singapore, currently at the helm of the rotational leadership of ASEAN, lauded the exercise as a notable first step in enhancing interoperability with the PLAN. “At the end of the exercise, we have strengthened our ability to work together,” said Colonel Lim Yu Chuan, commanding officer of the Singapore Navy’s 185 Squadron.12

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (Nov. 16, 2018) Cmdr. Albin Quiko, assigned to the Expeditionary Resuscitative Surgical System (ERSS) team, discusses medical capabilities with Lt. Miranda Norquay, the medical officer aboard the Royal Australian Navy landing helicopter dock ship HMAS Adelaide (L01), in the surgical room of the amphibious transport dock ship USS Green Bay (LPD 20) during a tour. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Anaid Banuelos Rodriguez/Released)

Despite the emergence of China as a rising maritime power, the U.S. still embodies its role as the principal leader of cooperative maritime security in the Indo-Pacific region. The U.S. Navy facilitates multilateral, cooperative security engagements such as Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC), Malabar alongside the Japanese and Indian navies, and Southeast Asia Cooperation and Training (SEACAT) that enables the U.S. to operate with ASEAN and South Asian partners such as Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. When manmade and natural disasters afflict the region, nations in the Indo-Pacific frequently request the assistance of the U.S. Navy in relief operations such as in the Philippines after Typhoon Haiyan in 2013, the search and rescue of Air Asia Flight 8501 that crashed into the Java Sea in 201, and more recently to assist in flood relief efforts in Sri Lanka in 2017.

Collin Koh, maritime studies researcher at the Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), notes that nations in the Indo-Pacific generally regard U.S. naval presence as constructive in promoting collaborative partnerships, capabilities, and stability:

“The U.S. naval presence is still seen as a stabilizing element in a geopolitically uncertain time in the region. Operationally, regional militaries see their engagements with the U.S. as a vehicle for extracting knowhow, expertise, and best practices for their own capacity building processes.”13

The U.S. Navy should use its credibility in the Indo-Pacific to advance the National Defense Strategy that advocates for strengthening the U.S. network of alliances and partnerships through “mutually beneficial collective security,” “reinforcing regional coalitions and security cooperation,” and “deepening interoperability.”14 Indo-Pacific nations have no choice but to cooperate with China as the emerging, resident maritime power, but that doesn’t diminish the U.S. Navy’s role in the region. In fact, fears of how China is using its rising maritime power may even strengthen it.

Focusing on Relationships as a Means to Balance China’s Influence

Edward Luttwak postulates that seapower during peacetime equates to “passive suasion” that can reassure allies and/or influence the behavior of nation states.15 In an increasingly competitive and contested maritime environment in the South China Sea and

Northeast Asia, the U.S. Navy’s mere presence in the region is increasingly viewed by nations within the context of strategic hedging of great power capabilities. In Richard Fontaine’s view, this hedging is “creating regional security challenges that incentivize cooperation and counterbalancing.”16

While some Indo-Pacific nations are careful to temper their public sentiment regarding U.S. naval presence, countries of the region clearly support U.S. seapower and continue to enable it. James Manicom argues that by virtue of Chinese maritime assertiveness in contested waters, “there is clearly still an appetite for U.S. seapower among East Asian states, which reinforces the legitimacy of American power.”17

In recent years the Philippines, Australia, and Singapore have upgraded their enhanced defense cooperation agreements with the U.S. that allows rotational deployments of ships and aircraft. Moreover, the U.S. has significantly enhanced maritime security cooperation, information sharing, and logistical support agreements with Vietnam, Sri Lanka, and India.18

MANILA, Philippines (Sept. 27, 2018) – Adm. Philip Davidson, Commander of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, and Gen. Carlito Galvez, Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, sign agreements on security cooperation activities for 2019 at this year’s Mutual Defense Board and Security Engagement Board Meeting at Tejeros Hall, AFP Commissioned Officers Club, Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City. (Photo by SN1 Donald Viluan PN/PAOAFP)

Despite its strong regional security networks and amicable relations with allies and partners, the U.S. Navy cannot take its status quo for granted. An easy assumption may be that maritime alliances and partnerships can endure through periods of non-engagement when priorities for naval platforms and people are needed for other pressing operations. This would be a strategic mistake for the U.S. in an environment where China is eager to fill even the smallest void left by the U.S. Navy’s competing priorities. Consequently, U.S. strategic choices in projecting routine naval presence and its investment in long-term military relationships correlate directly with Mattis’ concept of strategic reliability. On the operational and tactical levels, this translates to meaningful and routine maritime security cooperation where relationships form the foundation of trust for the alliance or partnership.

Dzirhan Mahadzir, former researcher at Malaysia’s Maritime Institute, notes that while fostering relationships through routine engagement is paramount, these relationships and persistent naval presence also “dissuades or prevents countries like China from diminishing the U.S. role in leading cooperative security.”19

Every time the U.S. Navy conducts a security engagement or exercise with its allies and partners, it sends a strategic message that aligns with America’s stated commitments to the Indo-Pacific. Moreover, in the age of tweets and 24-hour news cycles where organizational memories are short, the Navy’s engagement with allies and partners must be routinely executed to demonstrate U.S. resolve and commitment. Rest assured, U.S. friends and allies will take note of how it postures its seapower and forward presence to match words with deeds.

What could marginalize U.S. Seapower in the Indo-Pacific?

The task of fulfilling global commitments remains a challenge for the U.S. Navy with competing priorities both globally and domestically. Critics can point to the findings of the Navy’s reviews of surface force incidents that the U.S. 7th Fleet is overstretched in both commitments and platforms, a challenge complicated by the sheer geography of plying the waters of a vast Indo-Pacific operating area.20

After at-sea collisions by USS Fitzgerald near Japan and USS John S. McCain in the Singapore Strait, China took full advantage of the disarray and characterized the U.S. Navy in its state-run press as dangerous and undependable for Indo-Pacific nations.21 The U.S. Navy cannot be everywhere, and it certainly is not immune to accidents, but the solution to restoring any lack of faith in U.S. seapower in the Indo-Pacific is to remain engaged and double down on the U.S. commitment to free and open seas and regional stability by way of its alliances and partnerships.

GULF OF THAILAND (June 3, 2017) The littoral combat ship USS Coronado (LCS 4) is underway in formation with ships from the Royal Thai Navy as part of a division tactics exercise during Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) Thailand. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Deven Leigh Ellis/Released)

William Choong, Senior Fellow for Asia-Pacific security at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), posits that “Southeast Asian countries usually prioritize economic development over U.S. military presence in the region” as means for advancing their upward economic mobility.22 This trend in the region will continue and China is equipped to assert its economic leverage through ambitious programs such as the One-Belt, One Road initiative, which could be a potent undercurrent in nations’ decisions to engage with the U.S. in the maritime security sphere.

However, even with growing economic ties between Indo-Pacific nations and China, Collin Koh notes China’s economic influences have not discouraged most allies and partners from working closely with the U.S. in security cooperation engagements:

“Even as Indo-Pacific countries move toward China in economic ties, we don’t see a let down in enhancing and building security relations with the U.S. This can only mean these governments are intent on keeping these military ties with the U.S. in the midst of their wariness towards a growing Chinese shadow.”23

The U.S. Navy possesses adequate technology, diverse naval platforms, and perhaps most important, the creativity and ingenuity in its people, to remain relevant and engaged with allies and partners across the Indo-Pacific and retain its principal leadership role. Yet with the realities of great power competition, skepticism will not cease completely, and tepid or inconsistent engagement will cast doubts of U.S. resolve. In essence, any marginalization of U.S. seapower in the Indo-Pacific will be a strategic choice, not a preordained destiny.

Practical Considerations for Sustaining U.S. Seapower

The National Defense Strategy contends the U.S. military must “outthink, out maneuver, out-partner, and out-innovate” America’s adversaries and competitors.24 In this vein, practical considerations for cooperative maritime security engagement should be considered carefully. The U.S. Navy must continue to demonstrate credible, lethal, and distributed seapower.25 This must be accomplished using the full breadth of naval power and associated platforms that can operate adeptly in the littorals, global commons and in contested grey zone spaces.

The 3rd Fleet forward initiative is a prudent step to deploy additional naval assets to the Indo-Pacific to enhance presence operations and maritime security cooperation engagements and exercises. Moreover, the U.S. Navy should continue to harness the employment of Military Sealift Command (MSC) ships in security cooperation engagements ranging from logistics interoperability to operating with partner navies at sea. Progress has already been made with the inclusion of expeditionary fast transport ships (EPF) and expeditionary transfer docks (ESD) in a number of exercises and engagements throughout the region.26 The value of security cooperation with small, expeditionary units should not be underestimated. Diving and salvage subject matter expert exchanges, explosive ordnance disposal team engagements, civil engineering exchanges with Seabees, and small boat operations are in high demand for many of the U.S. Navy’s partners in the region, particularly in South and Southeast Asia.27

Lastly, the U.S. Navy should seek more opportunities to work jointly with other U.S. military services during cooperative security engagements. Partnering with other U.S. services, including the U.S. Coast Guard, increases opportunities, scope, and the quality of engagements with allies and partners while prudently managing finite resources in manpower and available platforms.

In practical terms, maritime security cooperation is military diplomacy. As with all forms of national diplomacy, the task is never quite finished.28 The byproduct of a broad cooperative maritime security strategy is cumulative when measuring the value of all engagements and activities. The late Admiral J.C. Wylie posits that cumulative operations, much like effective diplomacy, can advance national interests systematically:

 “…the entire pattern is made up of a collection of lesser actions, but these lesser or individual actions are not sequentially interdependent. Each individual one is no more than a single statistic, an isolated plus or minus, in arriving at the final result.” 29

Wylie’s view of cumulative operations provides a suitable template to assess the value of cooperative maritime security engagements across the Indo-Pacific. Engagements large and small all matter when assessed holistically and contribute toward the greater goal of advancing U.S. interests and strengthening seapower.

More importantly, the cumulative effect of sustained U.S. naval presence and engagement sends an important message to allies, partners, and adversaries alike that America is an Indo-Pacific maritime power that remains committed to its role as the principle guarantor of regional stability.  

Conclusion

The future of U.S. seapower in the Indo-Pacific is filled with challenges yet ripe with opportunity. As the National Defense Strategy notes, “the willingness of rivals to abandon aggression will depend on their perception of U.S. strength and the vitality of our alliances and partnerships.” 30

China’s rising maritime power should not threaten U.S. maritime superiority. U.S. seapower will only be marginalized by inaction induced by lack of will or by strategic choice. While both the U.S. and China have an important role to play in preserving peace in the Indo-Pacific, the U.S. Navy is uniquely positioned to remain a regional leader of cooperative maritime security due to the values it promotes and the stability it underwrites through sustained naval presence.

Competing operational priorities and finite resources are a reality for a forward-deployed maritime power. Yet these challenges should not deter routine security cooperation with allies nor should it equate to neglect of smaller, less strategic maritime partners. China’s growing economic influence, sometimes coercive in nature, also raises doubts about the sustainability of U.S. alliances and partnerships.

The future of U.S. seapower in the Indo-Pacific remains viable so long as it remains embedded in the alliances and partnerships that sustain it. This requires routine naval presence, reassurance when necessary, meaningful military relationships, and as Secretary Mattis suggested, these actions culminate in strategic reliability. In this frame, U.S. seapower in the Indo-Pacific remains as relevant today as it ever was.

Lt. Commander Arlo Abrahamson is a career public affairs officer with the U.S. Navy and current graduate student at the U.S. Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island. He has served operational and staff tours in Japan, Korea, and Singapore with the U.S. 7th Fleet operating as a spokesperson for the U.S. Navy while supporting major exercises and security cooperation engagements across the Indo-Pacific. Abrahamson holds a Masters Degree in Mass Communication from San Diego State University.

References

1. James Mattis, Remarks at Plenary Session of Shangri-La Dialogue, 2 June 2018, accssed 25 Sept, 2018,  https://dod.defense.gov/News/Transcripts/Transcript-View/Article/1538599/remarks-by-secretary-mattis-at-plenary-session-of-the-2018-shangri-la-dialogue/

2. Harry B. Harris,  Keynote Remarks at the Galle Dialogue, 28 Nov 2016, accessed 11 Sept 2018, http://www.pacom.mil/Media/Speeches-Testimony/Article/1013623/sri-lanka-galle-dialogue/

3. Charles Krauthammer, The Unipolar Moment, 20 July 1990, accessed 22 Sept 2018, https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/opinions/1990/07/20/the-unipolar-moment/62867add-2fe9-493f-a0c9-4bfba1ec23bd/?utm_term=.d50667a20b8a

4. Agence France Press (AFP), U.S. Admiral: U.S. Presence Matters, 15 Feb 2018,  accessed 15 Sept 2018, https://www.scmp.com/news/asia/south-asia/article/2133506/us-presence-matters-admiral-aboard-uss-carl-vinson-says-carrier

5. U.S. Navy. A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower, 9 March 2015. Accessed 10 September 2018, http://www.navy.mil/local/maritime/150227-CS21R-Final.pdf

6. U.S. Navy. A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower. 9, March 2015. Accessed 10 September 2018, http://www.navy.mil/local/maritime/150227-CS21R-Final.pdf

7. CSIS Chinapower, How Much Trade Transits the South China Sea, 2018,  accessed 14 Sept 2018, https://chinapower.csis.org/much-trade-transits-south-china-sea/

8. New York Times, “The South China Sea, explaining the dispute,” 15 July 2016,  accessed 20 Sept 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/15/world/asia/south-china-sea-dispute-arbitration-explained.html

9. James Manicom, “Chinese and American Seapower in East Asia, Is Accomodation Possible?,” Journal of Strategic Studies, 37, No. 3 (2014): 345-371. DOI: 10.1080/01402390.2014.900753

10. Tan Weizhen, “China’s military and economic power cannot be denied and the U.S. has to make room,” 17 Sept 2018, accessed Sept 25, https://www.cnbc.com/2018/09/18/china-military-is-growing-us-must-make-room-eurasia-groups-kaplan.html

11. Fathin Ungku (Reuters News), “China, Southeast Asia Kick Off Inguaral Mariime Drills”,  Reuters.com, 3 Aug 2018, accessed 11 Sept 2018, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-asean-singapore-navy/china-southeast-asia-kick-off-inaugural-maritime-drills-idUSKBN1KO0S7

12. IBID.

13. Dr. Collin Koh (Rajaratnam School of International Studies RSIS), email correspondence to author, Sept 21, 2018.

14. U.S. Department of Defense,  U.S. National Defense Strategy, Washington, D.C.: Secreatary of Defense, 19 Jan 2018.

15. Edward Luttwak, “Political Uses of Seapower,” Studies in International Affairs (The Johns Hopkins University Press), 23 (1974).

16. Richard Fontaine, “Networking Security in Asia,” The Washington Quarterly, Vol. 40, No. 3 (2017), 45-62.

17. James Manicom, “Chinese and American Seapower in East Asia, Is Accomodation Possible?,” Jounal of Strategic Studies 37, no. 3 (2014), 345-371. DOI: 10.1080/01402390.2014.900753

18. Congressional Research Service, “U.S. Strategic and Defense Relationships in the Asia-Pacific Region,” Foreign Affairs, Defense, and Trade Division, January 2007, accessed Oct 1 2018. https://fas.org/sgp/crs/row/RL33821.pdf

19. Dzirhan Mahadzir (Maritime Institute of Malaysia), email correspondence to author, 22 Sept, 2018.

20. U.S. Navy, Comprehensive Review of Recent Surface Force Incidents, March 2018,  accessed 19 Sept 2018, https://www.public.navy.mil/usff/Pages/usff-comprehensive-review.aspx.

21. Hueling Tan, “USS John McCain collision met with applause in China, state run media reports”, CNBC.com, 21 Aug 2017, accessed 26 Sept 2018, https://www.cnbc.com/2017/08/21/uss-john-s-mccain-accident-created-applause-chinese-state-media.html.

22. Dr William Choong, email correspondence to author, Oct 20, 2018.

23. Dr. Collin Koh (RSIS), email correspondence to author, Sept 21, 2018.

24. U.S. Department of Defense,  U.S. National Defense Strategy, Washington, D.C.: Secretary of Defense, 19 Jan 2018.

25. Thomas Rowden, VADM,  Peter Gumataotao, RDML,  Peter, Fanta, RDML,  “Distributed Lethality”,  U.S. Naval Institute,  January 2015, accessed Sept 24, 2018. https://www.usni.org/magazines/proceedings/2015-01/distributed-lethality

26. Mahadzir, Dzirhan,  “U.S. Plans to Expand Naval Engagements in Southeast Asia using LCS and EPFs”, USNI News, 21 Nov 2017, accessed 24 Sept, 2018, https://news.usni.org/2017/11/21/u-s-plans-expand-naval-engagements-southeast-asia-using-littoral-combat-ships-epfs

27. Doornbos, Caitlin,  “Navy and Marine Corps begins this Year’s  CARAT Drills in Thailand”,  Stars and Stripes,  14 June 2018,  accessed 27 Sept, 2018. https://www.stripes.com/news/pacific/navy-marine-corps-begin-this-year-s-carat-drills-in-thailand-1.532680

28. Adams, Gordon, Murray, Shoon, Mission Creep, The Militarization of Foreign Policy? (Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press, 2014).

29. J.C. Wylie, Military Strategy: A General Theory of Power Control (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press 1989), 22.

30. U.S. Department of Defense,  U.S. National Defense Strategy, Washington, D.C.: Secretary of Defense, 19 Jan 2018.

Featured Image: YOKOSUKA, Japan (June 14, 2018) Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Joey Legaspi (left) verifies a Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force (JMSDF) patient during a mass patient disembarkation bilateral training exercise between the United States and JMSDF. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Kelsey L. Adams/Released)

Togetherness At Sea: Promoting 21st Century Naval Norms of Cooperation

Maritime Strategy for Great Power Competition Week

By Commodore Olutunde Oladimeji, NN (ret.)

Anytime we see photos of international naval exercises, involving many warships, large and small, what comes to mind is what we can call an ensemble of naval forces at sea. Such an ensemble often looks like a task force from what Admiral Mike Mullen, in 2005, then U.S. Chief of Naval Operations, called a global 1000-ship Navy. Admiral Mullen’s concept is a fleet that would comprise of “all freedom-loving nations, standing watch over the seas, standing watch over each other.” In spite of renewed great power competition, multilateral cooperation between the world’s navies must grow to deal with common threats and forge constructive bonds between nations.

Classical naval battles were not always fought for portions of seawater but to ultimately influence events on land for economic benefits of the naval powers. Although usually configured as instruments of war, navies also deter war, promote peace, and in doing that, promote commerce, protect trade routes, ensure safety of people and goods on the high seas. Although navies all over the world are established to fight if it comes to that, navies are more than fighting instruments. Navies are also the most potent maritime security agency to prevent numerous illegalities capable of hampering the economic well-being and prosperity of their people. But within each maritime nation no navy or any other maritime security agency can do it alone. It is unfortunate that, for political, legal, and bureaucratic reasons, maritime security roles are fragmented among many agencies.

For many reasons, international maritime security deserves some form of a global togetherness arrangement. A standing ensemble at sea is desirable and all littorals should be encouraged to join. After all the sea is one, by and large. It is interconnected and it is a universal habitat where Sailors and merchant ships carry out their duties. Naval customs and ceremonies in this habitat are similar where the conviviality of when navies make port calls is usually memorable in spite of the differing political positions of littoral nations.

It is true that coastal nations have enormous potential benefits for having the fortune of facing the ocean, but there are some costs to bear and some investments to make to actualize their objectives. Many successful maritime nations have done that and are reaping huge benefits from their efforts.

It is significant to look at a list of the largest economies in the world. They are invariably nations with a coast along a great body of water, and many can be considered maritime nations. Their maritime and naval investment efforts are bringing them wealth. They include the United States, Japan, Germany, China, United Kingdom, France, Italy and Canada. Others are Spain, Brazil, Russia, India, South Korea, Mexico, Australia, and the Netherlands. The other members of this exclusive club that Nigeria aspires to join are Turkey, Belgium, Sweden and Switzerland.

It is not by accident that these international economic giants are industrial or industrializing nations. In addition they are vibrant maritime nations, trading nations, shipping nations, and nations with coherent national maritime strategy and appropriate naval forces to protect what they have.

Even the land-locked Switzerland is no exception to this general maritime rule and route to economic greatness. Switzerland has a long tradition of civilian navigation, both on its lakes, rivers, and on the high seas. It has a civilian high seas fleet of merchant vessels, whose home port is Basel from where the country connects to the port of Rotterdam in the Netherlands and thus to the sea trade network. Swiss industry and commerce rely on this connection, exploited for centuries by Swiss Rhine barges, for a substantial part of their imports and exports.

All these maritime economies and others that are striving to make it to the list of the top 20 have one thing in common. They have an enlightened appreciation of the importance of the sea, have developed coherent national maritime strategy and have considerable investment in merchant shipping and naval forces.

From time immemorial navies have always been closely associated with the economic prosperity of their nations. This is so because navies that guarantee benefits to littoral states in terms of maritime trade and enjoyment of sea-based resources such as fish, shrimps, and oil are not hindered or stolen by other, more determined and better armed people. Navies, whatever names they are called, are also instruments of law enforcement at sea. Navies usually have robust, multi-capable platforms with mobility, flexibility and endurance. They have well-trained officers and personnel, and they carry lethal war-fighting capabilities which are adaptable to deterrence and to fighting determined and well-equipped pirates and terrorists at sea.

Security of the seas is important and impacts us all. Today the enemies for which navies prepare are not only state actors. Given its open access to all comers, the sea has become a home of very many illegalities, a den of pirates, illegal bunkerers, crude oil thieves, smugglers, poachers, polluters, drug traffickers arms dealers, terrorists and other economic saboteurs. In view of the huge number and sophistication of these misusers of the sea, globally, navies are teaming up for maritime security protection, given their inbuilt scalable capabilities to deal with all eventualities. Therefore, opportunities are available for maritime forces to operate together regularly, and stamp out criminals and illegalities at sea. When this happens, the vision of the sea becoming a totally peaceful commune for humanity and for economic prosperity can become a reality. However, all this will happen only if the different political and economic systems allow naval operational harmony to prevail and if solutions can include poor littoral nations. In technological terms, these underdeveloped states are the weakest links in the chain of expected togetherness.

For decades, the United States Navy has actively taken up the mantle of global leadership by promoting maritime security partnerships globally through sea power symposia and conferences, joint operational training and equipment transfer using under the auspices of the NIPO (Navy International Programs Office). The growth of multilateral cooperation among African navies with each other and the U.S. Navy is an excellent example of this principle in practice.

African Partnerships and Security

Nations that understand this central purpose of navies equip them to optimize the naval strategy and thereby maximize returns of their investments. Those nations that ignore building and maintaining effective navies because they lack the vision, resources, the will, or are distracted by other political or security challenges on land, like Nigeria now bogged down by many political disorder and insurgencies, often become victims of national and international economic disillusionment.

The realities in the world today suggest that no one nation can do it alone in maritime security. Admiral Harry Ulrich III, a former commander of U.S. Naval Forces Europe and Africa, once declared that “maritime security is a team sport.” No navy can do it alone whether at the global, regional, sub-regional and at the national level. At the African regional level many calls have been made by successive Nigerian Chiefs of the Naval Staff, for African navies to cooperate to curb the activities of sea pirates in the continent’s coastal waters.

The African continent especially needs to learn the hard lessons about the power of sea power. As a South African Minister for Intelligence Services, Ronnie Kasrils, reminded African leaders at a Symposium on Sea Power for Africa in 2005:

“The destiny of this continent has for centuries been determined by the sea powers of the world, not by the people of the continent. That has been the case because they had the ability, the sea power, to voyage to Africa and to impose their will…Since the seventh Century, every invasion, every colonization, and every attack has come by sea.”

For several decades, the American global naval system has been unrelenting in driving global, regional, sub-regional and national naval partnerships, especially in the West and Central Africa. What started as an annual Training Cruise in the 1970s has metamorphosed into a U.S. African Command, coordinating an annual multi-national maritime exercise appropriately named Obangame Express. It brings together African, European, South American, and U.S. forces to enhance cooperation and expertise in maritime security operations.

Incidentally, “Obangame” which means “togetherness” comes from the Fang language of northern Gabon, Southern Cameroon and other parts of Central Africa. Obangame Express gives the partner nations the opportunity to work together, share information, and refine tactics, techniques, and procedures in order to assist the Gulf of Guinea maritime nations to build capacity to monitor and enforce their territorial waters and exclusive economic zones.

The United States has not attained the commanding height of coordinating the international maritime security cooperation out of the blue. This status has come out of the many decades of persistent pursuit of sea power advocacy, of which African people and governments should buy into and support. The South African Navy, Nigerian Navy, Senegalese Navy, Ghana Navy, and other active navies in Africa should come together and learn to interoperate for the security and economic benefits of the region. But habits of togetherness, led by navies, should start within the maritime communities of each nation. This is the foundation on which international togetherness in maritime security can be built.

How Maritime Nations Task and Empower their Navies

European Union Navies: Multinational European Union Naval Forces (EU NAVFOR) are engaged in a multi-tasking deployment to counter piracy in the Horn of Africa, protect the World Food Program to Somalia, and give logistic support to the African Union troops on peacekeeping operations in Somalia.

India: In 2009, against the backdrop of the Mumbai terrorist attack, the Union Government of India designated the Indian Navy as the authority responsible for overall maritime security, which includes coastal and off-shore security. The Navy will be assisted by the Coast Guard, state maritime police, and other central and state agencies. When the Minister of Defence announced the decision, he explained that the government decided to set up joint operation centers in Mumbai, Visakhapatanam, Kochi, and Port Blair. A national command, control, communication and intelligence network for real time maritime domain awareness would also be set up.

Brazil: Under the National Defense Strategy unveiled in 2008, the Brazilian Navy is tasked with developing a force to protect the country’s huge “sub-salt” oil reserves, the Amazon river basin and its 7,491 kilometers (4,655 miles) of coastline. The oil fields, located off Brazil’s southeast Atlantic coast beneath kilometers of ocean and bedrock, could contain more than 100 billion barrels of high-quality recoverable oil, according to official estimates. In a speech to the Navy’s top brass in June,  then-President Dilma Rousseff stressed that the buildup, including the acquisition of the country’s first nuclear-powered submarine, was a key “instrument of deterrence.”

Pakistan: Apart from a role in Cooperative Maritime Security, the Pakistani Navy is also undertaking independent operations to protect its flag carriers in the Indian Ocean and effectively counter threats posed to Pakistani economy due to rise in piracy incidents at sea.

Canada:  The Canadian Navy projects and protects Canada’s interests ashore and in distant places, it protects the passage of trade upon the seas, it participates in the monitoring of Canada’s ocean areas, and assists other government departments in the enforcement of Canadian maritime laws.

United States of America: When the American Revolution came to an end, George Washington was sworn in on 30 April 1789 as the first President of the United States. His first priority was to establish economic stability in the wake of $70 million debt accumulated during the war. To lead the task of economic reform, George Washington appointed Alexander Hamilton, his former aide-de-camp, as the first U.S. Secretary of the Treasury. Among the initiatives in Alexander Hamilton’s economic reform plan was the formation of a strong, seagoing military force then known as “Revenue Marine.”

For over two centuries the U.S. Coast Guard has safeguarded United States’ maritime interests in the heartland, in the ports, at sea, and around the globe. What is in a name? It may be called a coast guard, but it is reckoned to be the sixth largest navy in the world.  It was configured from the very beginning as an “economic force,” so to say, with military readiness embedded. That makes the USCG a model navy for many third world countries. It is not surprising that it is the service of choice by the United States’ to woo coastal nations in Africa and other parts to the world to be maritime security partners.

By law, the Coast Guard has 11 missions:

  • Ports, waterways, and coastal security
  • Drug interdiction
  • Aids to navigation
  • Search and rescue
  • Living marine resources
  • Marine safety
  • Defence readiness
  • Migrant interdiction
  • Marine environmental protection
  • Ice operation
  • Other law enforcement

China: China has come out boldly to proclaim that it needs “a strong navy to protects interests.” And that China needs a strong navy to protect its interests on the high seas, too. This is against the backdrop of what China sees as unnecessary apprehension in the West about the on-going revival of the Chinese Navy.

The Chinese aircraft carrier and its trial runs reflect the Chinese Navy’s growing competence in defending the country’s sovereignty and maritime interests. With a coastline of 18,000 kilometers, more than 6,500 islands, and about 3 million square kilometers of maritime area, China needs a strong and modern navy to prevent any violation of its territory, sovereignty over the islands and maritime interests in its waters.

The country became the world’s largest exporter in 2009 and imported 63 percent of its iron ore and 55 percent of its crude oil needs in 2010. The safety of China’s personnel, assets and shipping lanes is very important for its economy.

Gulf of Guinea Navies: In consonance with global developments and best practices, the Gulf of Guinea navies which were before isolated, are now teaming up to fight the menace of sea piracy in the sub-region. The current global concern about the Gulf of Guinea also has to do with the area’s growing importance as an oil producing region, leading the U.S. to increase its military presence in the area.

The need to enhance maritime security in the Gulf of Guinea was one the reasons behind the conduct of the joint sea exercise Obangame Express 2011. It was coordinated by the U.S. Coast Guard in concert with Navy units from Nigeria, Angola, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon and Sao Tome and Principe

Nigeria: Nigeria is a nation with the good fortune to have a considerable coastline sea and an economy critically dependent on the ocean resources and marine transportation.

By law the Nigerian Navy is specifically tasked with:

  • Defence of Nigeria by sea;
  • Enforcement and assisting in coordinating the enforcement of all customs laws, including anti-illegal-bunkering;
  • Fishery and immigration laws of Nigeria;
  • Enforcement and assisting in coordinating the enforcement of all national and international maritime laws ascribed or acceded to by Nigeria;
  • Making of charts and coordinating of all national hydrographic surveys;
  • Promoting, coordinating and enforcing safety regulations in the territorial waters and the EEZ of Nigeria.

Add to all these, sea piracy, human trafficking, narcotic smuggling, marine safety, search and rescue, and pollution control are also a part of the Nigerian Navy’s missions. Expectations by Nigerians for their Navy are very high. But few are aware of two decades of decline of the Navy’s fleet.

In addition many people are not aware that coastal security is a complex issue which requires seamless coordination across numerous government departments and agencies such as NIMASA, NPA, Customs, Immigration, Marine Police, and Inland Waterways. It also requires the setting up of technological expensive infrastructure. All that will cost a lot of financial resources.

But there are arguments in maritime security quarters that the required money can be made available if policy makers focus on costs and benefit thinking. That means they should fund the Nigerian Navy appropriately as a leading African nation in the world.

Conclusion

Economic gains are behind the building of all navies. Remove the veil from all strategic postulation and posturing, especially from the large and medium sea power nations, and one will discover that the whole purpose of navies is to further the economic interests of their states. But then, any nation that wants its navy to discharge its roles credibly must provide for that navy so that it can join the ensemble of navies working together. Vice Admiral Patrick Sebo Koshoni, a former Nigerian Chief of the Naval Staff once said:

“If you do not fund your Navy adequately, you will not get your Navy to discharge its roles optimally. If we don’t discharge our roles optimally, we are hazarding, willy-nilly, the economic lifelines of this country, which are predominantly offshore based.”

The international environment is one of violent peace, occasioned by sea piracy and many other illegalities at sea. This is stimulating the teaming up of global, regional, and coastal navies for collective maritime security. Also within coastal nations are a cornucopia of threats to peaceful resource enjoyment – from militants, pirates, illegal bunkerers, drugs, traffickers, and terrorists.

The bottom line is that across the globe navies are being charged with the leadership of the maritime security of their nations. But no navy can perform without significant legislative and financial support from national leaders. You can’t be an effective team player if you can’t get on the field.

Olutunde Oladimeji is a retired commodore of the Nigerian Navy. He is a 1972 graduate of Mass Communication, University of Lagos and earned a Master’s degree in International Relations from OAU University, Ile-Ife. He served in the Nigerian Navy for 22 years and finished as Director of Naval Information and Plans before retiring in 1994. He has written many books and articles for defense and naval magazines, including the U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings and has participated in many maritime security-related conferences in Nigeria and abroad.

Featured Image: The former Coast Guard cutter Gallatin was transferred to the Nigerian navy Wednesday at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in North Charleston in May 2014. (FLETC)

How Australia’s Maritime Strategy and Partnerships in the Indo-Pacific Upset China

By David Scott

Introduction

On 4 September 2017, an Australian naval task group departed from Sydney  and embarked on a unique deployment called Indo-Pacific Endeavour 2017 to participate in a series of key naval exercises with a variety of partners in the Indian Ocean, the South China Sea and the Pacific – i.e. the Indo-Pacific. Its commander, Jonathan Earley, oversaw six ships and over 1300 personnel, making it the largest coordinated task group from Australia to deploy to the region since the early 1980s.

The immediate purposes of the exercise were given by the Australian Department of Defence as two-fold; namely soft security “focused on demonstrating the ADF’s Humanitarian and Disaster Relief regional response capability, as well as hard security “further supporting security and stability in Australia’s near region.” The latter was described as demonstrating “high-end military capabilities such as anti-submarine warfare.” Geopolitically this reflected what the Defence Minister Marise Payne called “heightened interests in the Indo-Pacific” for Australia, with frequently recurring China-related considerations.

China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not comment on the Indo-Pacific Endeavour 2017 deployment. However, the Chinese state media was certain on Australian motives, running articles like “Australia-led military drills show tougher China stance” (Global Times, 7 September). In the article, Liu Caiyu argued that “Australia’s largest military exercises in the Indo-Pacific region show it has toughened its stance toward China, especially on South China Sea issues.” The People’s Daily wondered, pointedly, given this deployment into the South China Sea and East China Sea, “What does Australia want to do with the largest military exercise encircling China in 30 years?

It was revealing that Indo-Pacific Endeavour 2017 was explained by the Australian Department of Defence as enhancing military cooperation with some of Australia’s “key regional partners”; specifically named as Brunei, Cambodia, the Federated States of Micronesia, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, the Philippines, the Republic of Korea, Singapore, Thailand, and Timor-Leste. Politically the absence of China as a partner was deliberate but accurate, and in which the range of other countries represented a degree of tacit external balancing on the part of Australia.

The Itinerary

The naval group was led by HMAS Adelaide, Australia’s largest flagship, commissioned in December 2015. HMAS Adelaide was joined at various moments by HMAS Darwin (guided missile frigate), HMAS Melbourne (guided missile frigate), HMAS Parramatta (anti-submarine/anti-aircraft frigate), HMAS Toowoomba (anti-submarine/anti-aircraft frigate), and HMAS Sirius (replenishment ship). These units highlighted Australia’s unique Indo-Pacific positioning given it faces both oceans, as units from Fleet Base East at Sydney (HMAS Adelaide, HMAS Darwin, HMAS Melbourne, and HMAS Parramatta) and from Fleet Base West at Perth (HMAS Toowoomba and HMAS Sirius) participated.

The task force’s first engagement activity announced on 8 September was for HMAS Adelaide to conduct aviation training with USS Bonhomme Richard, a large American amphibious assault ship, on the east coast of Australia. HMAS Adelaide then completed further amphibious landing craft and aviation training with the Republic of Singapore’s amphibious ship, RSS Resolution while deployed further up the east coast of Australia off the coast of Townsville.

The first external port call was carried out on 20 September as HMAS Adelaide, HMAS Darwin, and HMAS Toowoomba steamed into Dili, the capital of East Timor, to deliver a portable hospital ahead of Exercise Hari’i Hamutuk. This engineering exercise involves Australian, Japan, U.S., and East Timor’s military forces working side-by-side to build skills and support East Timor’s development. This set the seal nicely on their reconciliation over claims in the Timor Sea, achieved when the two sides reached agreement at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague.

HMAS Parramatta proceeded northward to conduct joint patrols from 22-26 September with the Philippine Navy in the Sulu Sea, as part of the annual Lumbas exercises running since 2007. HMAS Parramatta sailed eastwards to Palau for a three-day stop from 22-24 September. Significantly Palau recognizes Taiwan (ROC) rather than Beijing (PRC) as the legitimate government of mainland China. A further extension saw HMAS Parramatta visit Yap on 27 September. Its stay at Yap included cross-deck training with the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) Patrol Boat FSS Independence, an Australian-gifted Pacific-class Patrol Boat. Both stops showed Australian naval outreach into the so-called “second island chain” (dier daolian) which Chinese naval strategy has long shown interest in penetrating, as with deployments of underwater survey vessels around the Caroline Islands in August 2017.

Philippine Chief of Naval Staff, Rear Admiral Allan Ferdinand Cusi and his staff with their host, Commander Joint Task Group 661.1, Captain Jonathan Earley RAN on the flight deck of HMAS Adelaide as it sails into Manila Bay for a visit to the Philippines during Indo Pacific Endeavour 2017. (Australian Ministry of Defense photo by LSIS Peter Thompson)

Meanwhile, HMAS Adelaide and HMAS Toowoomba paid a port call to Jakarta from 24-26 September. It was significant that this brought to an end a previous period of coolness between the two governments, at a time when Indonesia was becoming more assertive in its own claims over maritime waters in the South China Sea, renaming waters around the Natuna archipelago (which also fall within China’s 9-dash line) as the North Natuna Sea.

HMAS Adelaide and HMAS Parramatta then rendezvoused at the Malaysian port of Port Klang from 1-5 October to carry out joint Humanitarian and Disaster Relief exercises and demonstrations on 4 October. Relations with Malaysia have remained strong, anchored through the Australian presence at Butterworth Airbase under the Five Power Defence Agreement (5PDFA) and the bilateral 25-year old joint defense program between Australia and Malaysia.

 Australian naval units then retraced their steps and entered the South China Sea. These waters are mostly claimed by China within its 9-dash line, which includes the Spratly Islands (disputed in varying degrees with Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei, Philippines and Vietnam) and with Beijing in control of the Paracels (disputed with Vietnam) since 1974. China viewed the arrival of the Australian Navy in the South China Sea with some unease, with the state media warning that the “Australian fleet must be wary of meddling in South China sea affairs” (Global Times, 24 September).

Having paid then a friendly port call to the small, oil-rich state of Brunei from 30 September to 2 October, HMAS Melbourne then moved up with HMAS Parramatta to Japan, where they arrived on 9 October to take part in the bilateral Nichi Gou Trident exercise with the Japanese Navy off the coast of Tokyo. The ships practiced anti-submarine warfare, ship handling, aviation operations, and surface gunnery. This exercise has been alternatively hosted between Australia and Japan since 2009. Security links with Japan have been considerably strengthened during the last decade since the Joint Declaration on Security Cooperation was signed in March 2007.

Simultaneously, further deployment into the Indian Ocean was carried out by HMAS Toowoomba which carried out a four-day goodwill visit to Port Blair from 12-15 October. Port Blair is the key archipelago possession of India dominating the Straits of Malacca and the Bay of Bengal, and the site for India’s front-line Andaman and Nicobar Command. Various joint exercises were carried out between the Indian Navy and Australian Navy. This reinforced the strengthening naval links between Australia and India, flagged up in the Framework for Security Cooperation signed in November 2014, and subsequently demonstrated with their bilateral AUSINDEX exercises in June 2017 off the western coast of Australia and in September 2015 in the Bay of Bengal.

Meanwhile, HMAS Adelaide and HMAS Darwin proceeded to the Philippines for a further goodwill visit from 10-15 October. Maritime links have been further strengthened of late with the donation of two Balikpapan-class heavy landing crafts by Canberra in 2015, and nominal-rate sale of three more in 2016. Australia’s concerns had been on show in Defense Secretary Marise Payne’s discussions in Manila on 11 September. These have been partly to bolster the Philippines against ISIS infiltration into the Muslim-inhabited southern province of Mindanao, but also to bolster the Philippines’ maritime capacity in the South China Seas against a rising China. With regard to the South China Sea, Australia has called for China to comply with the findings of the UNCLOS tribunal in July 2016, in the case brought by the Philippines, which rejected Chinese claims in the South China Seas.

HMAS Adelaide and HMAS Darwin then re-crossed the South China Sea to pay a port call at Singapore on 23 October. This maintains the regular appearance of Australian military forces at Singapore, which have been an ongoing feature of the 5 Power Defence Forces Agreement (5PDFA). While HMAS Darwin returned to Darwin, HMAS Adelaide paid a friendly port call at Papua New Guinea’s main port of Port Moresby on 11 November. Papua New Guinea is Australia’s closest neighbour, a former colony, and (like East Timor) the subject of Chinese economic blandishments.

HMAS Melbourne and Parramatta and a P-8A submarine hunter aircraft moved across from Japan to the Korean peninsula for an extended stay from 27 October – 6 November. This included their participation in the biannual Exercise Haedoli Wallaby, initiated in 2012, which focuses on anti-submarine drills with the South Korean Navy. This also reflected a reiteration of Australian readiness to deploy forces into Northeast Asia amid heightened tensions surrounding North Korean nuclear missile advancements. Naval logic given by the Task Group commander, Jonathan Earley was that “as two regional middle powers that share common democratic values as well as security interests, Haedoli Wallaby is an important activity for Australia and the ROK.” Wider trilateral activities were shown with the Melbourne and the Parramatta then carrying out anti-missile drills with U.S. and South Korean destroyers in the East China Sea on 6-7 November.

Australia’s Strategic Proclamations as Context

The general context for the Indo-Pacific Endeavour 2017 deployment was the explicit focus on the “Indo-Pacific” as Australia’s strategic frame of reference stressed in the Defence White Papers of 2013 and 2016, and rising concerns about China’s growing maritime presence.

This strategic context for the Indo-Pacific Endeavour 2017 deployment was elaborated at length by the Defence Minister Marise Payne at the Seapower Conference in Sydney on 3 October. Payne’s speech contained strong messaging on Australian assets, deployment, and the Indo-Pacific focus of Australian defense strategy.

With regard to assets, Payne announced and welcomed “the most ambitious upgrade of our naval fleet in Australia since the Second World War” to create “a regional superior future naval force being built in Australia which will include submarines, frigates, and a fleet of offshore patrol vessels.” She also noted her own pleasure in commissioning Australia’s “largest warship” (HMAS Adelaide, commissioned on 4 December 2015) and “most powerful” air warfare destroyer (HMAS Hobart, commissioned on 23 September 2017). Australia’s second air warfare destroyer, Brisbane, began sea trials off the coast of southern Australia in late November 2017. This current naval buildup could be seen as demonstrating external balancing, but of course this raises the question of external balancing against whom – to which the unstated answer is China.

With regard to deployments, Payne enthused on decisive opportunities for a fifth generation navy:

“Altogether these and those future capabilities will transform the Australian fleet into a fully operational, fifth generation navy. The RAN will be able to deploy task groups equipped with a wide range of capabilities, from high-end war fighting to responsive and agile humanitarian assistance … To envisage that future, high-end war fighting to humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, we also only need to look at the ADF’s Joint Task Group Indo-Pacific Endeavour 2017 that’s currently underway in the Indo-Pacific region.”

Finally, the whole Indo-Pacific nature of Australian maritime strategy was stressed:

“From the Malacca, the Sunda and Lombok Straits to the South and East China Seas, many of the most vital areas of globalisation and sources of geopolitical challenge are in our backyard. If the twenty-first century will be the Asian Century, then it will also be the Maritime Century. Just as surely as the balance of global economic and military weight is shifting in the Indo-Pacific, so too is it focused on the waters of the Indian and Pacific Oceans. With established and emerging maritime powers across the region rapidly expanding their naval capabilities, the waters to Australia’s north are set to teem with naval platforms, the numbers and the strength of which has never been seen before […] In a crowded and contested Indo-Pacific maritime sphere, Australia must present a credible deterrent strategy, and to do our part in contributing to the peace, stability and security, and to good order at sea […] Our naval capabilities will therefore be integral […] to the preservation of the rules-based global order, and safeguarding peace in the maritime Indo-Pacific.”

China was not specifically mentioned but was the unstated reason for much of these Indo-Pacific challenges that Australia felt it had to respond to, with its behavior in the South China Sea frequently the subject of the strictures on maintaining a “rules based” order.

The South China Sea issue was on public view at the Australia-U.S.-Japan trilateral strategic dialogue (TSD) meeting on 7 August 2017 where Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop joined her Japanese and U.S. counterparts in expressing “serious concerns” over “coercive” actions and reclamation projects being carried out and urged China to accept the ruling against it by the UNCLOS tribunal. Finally they announced their intentions to keep deploying in the South China Sea, into what they considered were international waters. In June 2017, Australia had already joined Japan, Canada, and the United States for two days of military exercises in the South China Sea.

As Vice Admiral Tim Barrett, Australia’s Chief of Naval Staff, noted in his speech on “Law of the Sea Convention in the Asia Pacific Region: Threats, challenges and opportunities,” despite “the increasingly aggressive actions taken by some nations to assert their claims over disputed maritime boundaries …[…] the Navy will continue to exercise our rights under international law to freedom of navigation and overflight.Australian commentators were quick to point out its significance. In effect China was in mind as a threat and challenge. Although Australia has not taken a formal position on rival claims on South China Sea waters, it had strongly criticized Chinese reclamation projects and military buildups in the South China Sea, hence Global Time articles like “South China Sea issue drags Sino-Australian ties into rough waters” (20 June 2017).

Australian naval chief of staff Vice Admiral Tim Barrett (L) and Chinese naval chief of staff Admiral Shen Jinlong shake hands during an engagement in December 2017. (photo via ABC.net.au)

Even as Indo-Pacific Endeavour 2017 units ploughed across the Western Pacific, Australia officials joined their U.S., Japan, and Indian counterparts on 12 November in a revived Quad format on the sidelines of the ASEAN summit. Australian concerns, shared with its partners, were clearly expressed by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT): “upholding the rules-based order in the Indo-Pacific and respect for international law, freedom of navigation […] and upholding maritime security in the Indo-Pacific.” The official Chinese response at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was minimal, “we hope that such relations would not target a third party” (14 November), followed by sharper comments in the state media on Australian participation being unwise (Global Times, “Australia rejoining Quad will not advance regional prosperity, unity, 15 November). The so-called Quad had emerged in 2007 with meetings between officials on the sidelines of the ASEAN summit, with Australia joining in the Malabar exercises held in the Bay of Bengal by India, Japan, and the U.S. Australia subsequently withdrew from that format, though continuing to strengthen bilateral and trilateral naval links with these other three partners. This renewed Quad setting is likely to see Australia rejoin the Malabar exercises being held in 2018.

It was no surprise that this Indo-Pacific setting was reinforced with the Foreign Policy White Paper released on 23 November with its listing of “Indo-Pacific partnerships” in which “the Indo–Pacific democracies of Japan, Indonesia, India, and the Republic of Korea are of first order importance to Australia” as “major partners.” China’s absence from this listing of Indo-Pacific partners was revealing. Balancing considerations were tacitly acknowledged in the White Paper:

“To support a balance in the Indo–Pacific favourable to our interests and promote an open, inclusive, and rules-based region, Australia will also work more closely with  the region’s major democracies, bilaterally and in small groupings. In addition to the United States, our relations with Japan, Indonesia, India, and the Republic of [South] Korea are central to this agenda.”

China was again absent from this listing, which was no surprise given how the White Paper noted that “Australia is particularly concerned about the unprecedented pace and scale of China’s activities. Australia opposes the use of disputed features and artificial structures in the South China Sea for military purposes.” In China this was immediately rejected by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as “irresponsible remarks on the South China Sea issue. We are gravely concerned about this…” and also in the state media (Global Times, “China slams Australian White Paper remarks on South China Sea,” 23 November). This explains the extreme sensitivity China had shown over the Indo-Pacific Endeavour 2017 deployment into the South China Sea.

Conclusion

Consequently 2017 ended by palpable Australia-China maritime friction, when China’s Ministry of Defense gave details of discussions between China’s Navy commander Shen Jinlong and his Australian counterpart Vice Admiral Tim Barrett. The Chinese statement said that “in the last year, the Australian military’s series of actions in the South China Sea have run counter to the general trend of peace and stability. This does not accord with … forward steps in cooperation in all areas between the two countries.” In retrospect Australia’s maritime strategy shows itself to be primarily Indo-Pacific oriented, with its increasing concerns over China generating a response of external balancing through naval exercises and cooperation with India, Japan, the U.S., and a multitude of other partners, and with an increasing focus on restraining China in the South China Sea. China has been upset.

David Scott is an independent analyst on Indo-Pacific international relations and maritime geopolitics, a prolific writer and a regular ongoing presenter at the NATO Defence College in Rome since 2006 and the Baltic Defence College in Tallinn since 2017. He can be contacted at davidscott366@outlook.com.

Featured Image: HMAS Adelaide sails the Timor Sea to deliver a mobile hospital to Dili, Timor Leste, as part of a multi-national Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief exercise. (Australian Ministry of Defence photo by LSIS Peter Thompson)