Tag Archives: security cooperation

Boats, Budget, and Boots: The Colombian Navy’s Challenges in International Cooperation

Regional Strategies Topic Week

By Rafael Uribe Neira

Introduction

In recent years the Colombian Navy has undergone a well-planned but less-than-well executed modernization to exert sea control and counter regional threats in both the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean. After significant changes in doctrine and procurement, the institution still struggles to contribute to regional security despite being a key U.S. partner in the region. More than a decade of doctrinal transformations and a more determined role in international cooperation and defense diplomacy runs the risk of losing momentum and clarity. At least three issues speak of the encroaching challenges the navy must face in order to consolidate itself into what it calls a “medium regional force projection navy.” Serious problems in the procurement of new frigates, budgetary issues, and an oversized force structure are working against the navy’s ambitions. Because of the Colombian security forces’ resilience, and particularly the navy’s institutional capabilities, the country’s military has the potential to creatively adapt its scarce resources to provide security against common threats, but it is facing a string of obstacles along the way.

Colombia’s Success Story and the Role of the Navy 

The Colombian Navy has engaged in maritime security cooperation since the early 1990s through the signing of understanding agreements with the U.S. and regional navies to fight drug trafficking. By the mid-2000s, the value of international cooperation was institutionally acknowledged in the Naval Strategic Plans, but second to the need to counter domestic insurgencies and their sources of income. As with the other branches of the Colombian military, the actual value of international cooperation was mainly seen in the reception of security assistance rather than providing security in the international arena.

This trend, however, changed in 2008 with successes the security forces achieved against the insurgencies within the country. By 2009, the Ministry of Defense (MinDefensa) acknowledged the increasing value of the capabilities Colombian security forces gained in the fight against drug traffickers and guerrillas and its potential to offer solutions to similarly crisis-ridden countries worldwide. This has led to the acknowledgement that the Colombian Navy is not only a recipient of military aid, but also a net security provider and exporter. This has spurred its maritime ambitions. Through the Plan Estratégico Naval 2015-2018 (Naval Strategic Plan 2015-2018) and the Plan Naval de Desarrollo 2030 (Naval Development Plan 2030 or NDP 2030), the navy articulated for the first time the purpose of consolidating itself as a “medium regional force projection navy.” This plan, among other changes, devised a vision of the navy able to exert defense diplomacy, to take part in peacekeeping missions, and to export security in the form of training courses utilizing experience earned in longstanding internal conflicts against insurgencies.

Along with the continuing formulation of security and foreign policy, the Colombian Navy takes part in international naval exercises to signal its willingness to interact in multilateral security fora. Colombia has participated in in multinational exercises such as SIFOREX, UNITAS, RIMPAC, TRADEWINDS, and PANAMAX for years. The deployment of the offshore patrol vessel 7 de Agosto to the Horn of Africa to support the multinational force Atalanta and NATO’s Operation Ocean Shield between 2015 and 2016 (although not officially part of it) marked a turning point. These deployments constituted a robust step to qualify Colombia as a NATO “Global Partner” in 2018 and establish the country as a reliable partner capable of providing counterterrorism and maritime security support.

Sailors from Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam handle mooring lines from the Colombian navy corvette ARC Narino (CM-55) during its arrival for a scheduled port visit. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Tiarra Fulgham/Released)

Many of these transformations can also be understood as the result of sustained investment of U.S. security and economic aid. Since the late 1990s, plans such as Plan Colombia, now renamed Paz Colombia (Colombia Peace) and most recently Colombia Crece, (U.S.-Colombia Growth Initiative) this year have helped to train and modernize the military forces to the point of being considered a success story, whose results should and can be replicated in other parts of the region and the world. In this sense, Colombia stands as a reliable regional actor for U.S. foreign policy to provide security solutions in both the Caribbean and the Pacific Ocean. However, such trends are not exempt from challenges and strategic uncertainty in the short and medium term.

Between Big Ambitions and Serious Drawbacks: Major Combat Vessels  

Colombia’s expansive ambition to assert itself as a capable regional security actor also meant a reevaluation of current and future naval assets. Since 2015, the Plan Orion, Plan Puente, and Plan Faro (Plans Orion, Bridge and Lighthouse) intended to replace Colombia’s aging major ships. As a result, the navy acquired two second-hand German Type 206A submarines from the German Navy in 2012 to replace the old, Italian SX-506 submarines, and modernized the two existent Type 209/1200 submarines. Additionally, it built three offshore patrol vessels (OPVs) in Colombia with a license provided by the German shipyard Fassmer. Plan Faro also initiated what many consider the “crown jewel” of the Colombian Navy: the PES program.

The PES program stands for Plataforma Estratégica de Superficie (Strategic Surface Platform). It calls for the construction of up to eight frigates displacing 5,000 tons to replace the four German-made frigates of the Almirante Padilla class (FS 1500 – Howaldtswerke-Deutsche Werft, Kiel) currently in service.

However, some of these plans have suffered increasing delays. Only three out of four OPVs have been built and the PES project has reduced its scope and suffered delays despite only having reached the design phase. As a consequence, the new frigates projected will be limited to about 3,500 tons and their number will be reduced to only five vessels. They are no longer going to be built by 2027 or 2028 and no new date has been set. By 2019, there was no progress in the development of the PES project, as stated in COTECMAR’s 2019 report. So far the navy has put into service a donated South Korean corvette and declared the need to buy two second-hand frigates to fill the created gap. Among the possible candidates are Australian, Spanish, British Type 23, and German Bremen-Class (F-122) frigates. Any decision concerning the future selected vessels should take place next year, according to informed voices in Colombia close to the procurement process.

As stated in the Plan de Desarollo Naval 2042 (Naval Development Plan 2042 or NDP 2042) released earlier this year, the navy placed the PES program under the so-called PROCYON program. PROCYON (Fleet Building and Optimization Plan) also includes the PLOTEOS program which calls for the replacement of the four submarines in the silent fleet, the building of a logistics support ship, four additional patrol vessels, two amphibious transport docks, and at least one new maritime patrol airplane.

Vital to the success of these platforms is the growing shipyard industry and particularly COTECMAR (Science and Technology Corporation for the Development of Naval, Maritime and Riverine Industry), the state-owned shipyard company. The experience collected by the local maritime industry in the building of locally-designed riverine and seaworthy vessels contributes to work on the planned frigates and other major combatants. In Colombia, COTECMAR built Patrulleras de Apoyo Fluvial (Riverine Support Patrol Ships or PAF) type ships. The PAFs are domestically designed and used by the Colombian Marines for inshore security on the rivers and inland waters of Colombia, providing a cost-efficient solution for marines in domestic security operations.

The positive experiences earned at home with the PAFs helped raise the ambitions and scale of naval shipbuilding. In this sense, COTECMAR continued through the construction of coastal patrol vessels (CPV), three already-in-duty offshore patrol vessels (OPV) built between 2008 and 2017, and more recently an oceanographic vessel with Antarctic seagoing capabilities, as well as five Golfo de Tribugá class amphibious landing crafts (680 tons each). The Golfo de Tribugá class is particularly relevant, as it constitutes an international success for the Colombian shipyard industry. As important as the domestic market is, COTECMAR actively seeks to create new sources of revenue by selling crafts for dual-use, i.e. for civil and military purposes. Strategic partners such as Central American states procured amphibious landing crafts, which can be used for military operations or humanitarian aid relief operations. In 2019 and 2017, COTECMAR delivered two intercepting speed boats (Multi-Mission Interceptor 35 or MMI 35) used to fight drug trafficking and a logistics support vessel to the Honduran Naval Force for $13.5 million, as already discussed by Alejandro Wilder Sánchez on CIMSEC. A similar support vessel was sold to the Guatemalan Navy (Armada de Guatemala) for $11.7 million in 2019.

Despite these modest achievements, it remains to be seen whether the national industry will take root and be competitive in the coming years against well-established international shipyards. Additionally, and as Sánchez also pointed out, the low volume of orders from international markets puts Latin-American shipyards in dire need of establishing a brand. For the Colombian case this means that there is still a long way to go before COTECMAR and Colombian maritime ambitions can be credible actors in the region capable of building frigates. In consonance with the imperatives of such long-termed planning, the National Development Plan uses a timeframe of 20 years or five presidential administrations to replace its main surface and submarine vessels.

Budgetary Issues, Navy Size, and Security Cooperation

A more pressing difficulty in putting into motion the plans of constructing new platforms lies in the growing budgetary issues MinDefensa has faced in the last years. Although the Colombian budget for security and defense is the second largest in Latin America after Brazil’s at $10.8 billion (2019), military spending for procurement is dwindling. In fact, $466 million or about 4.3 percent of the defense budget was allocated for acquiring military hardware in 2019. In comparison, MinDefensa still allocated 9.1 percent to procurement in 2011, a number that diminished to 5 percent by 2017, according to a report on defense and security spending by the National Office of the Inspector General. For 2020, the budget for procurement further shrank to 2.9 percent.

The navy naturally does not escape this trend. While its budget has been relatively stable at between 6 percent and 7 percent of defense spending in Colombia, the share of procurement has steadily decreased as well. According to the NDP 2042, the navy invested 19 percent in the acquisition and replacement of new material in 2011. By 2019, that number had decreased to 10 percent. The bulk of navy spending is for personnel. During the same timeframe it grew from 57 percent to 69 percent. For the Armada Nacional, increased spending on personnel means fewer resources for procurement and other vital investments, which enable the projection of capabilities in the region.

Most worrisome is the fact that the navy does not seem to seriously tackle this issue in the NDP 2042. The institution puts its hopes in a budget it anticipates will increase in the future and which will result in a more competitive maritime market than the navy is currently boosting. The navy defines itself as a force, which will reduce its personnel spending by about 50 percent by 2042 without detailing how it plans to cut back and prioritize other items in the coming years. In practical terms, the navy expects the political leadership to increase its budget to put in motion the needed investments at some point in the future. Nevertheless, an economy hit with a worldwide pandemic and a resulting 15.7 percent loss in GDP makes that less than likely in the coming years.

Instead of pressing for a larger budget, it would make sense to reconsider the size and purpose of the Colombian Marine Corps, which makes up the bulk of the Colombian Navy. Traditionally used to combat insurgents, criminal organizations, and employed to extend the state’s reach in the most remote areas, the Colombian Marines do not possess relevant coastal defense capabilities or the required capabilities for amphibious power projection. When compared to similar forces in the region the Colombian Marine Corps is clearly oversized. According to a recent chapter in The Military Balance journal, the navy relies on a force of 56,400 men and women, while the Colombian Marines amount to almost half of that number: 22,250, which is larger than equivalent units such as the Brazilian (16,000) or the Mexican Marines (21,500). Offsetting this large size however is the fact that that the Colombian Navy does not use junior enlisted personnel and relies on marine conscripts for those jobs, inflating the size of the marine corps relative to the navy.

Although Colombian Marines also have the responsibility for securing all of Colombia’s considerable river system, which has over 18,000 kilometers of navigable waterways, many of their responsibilities overlap with those of the Colombian National Police and face the need to change with a transformation in domestic security. This naturally belongs to a larger discussion about the roles of the security forces after the 2016 peace agreement. Despite its disproportionate size, there is no plan to downsize the amphibious branches in the coming 20 years. The NDP 2042 mentions no restructuring other than increasing urgent capabilities.

Reducing the size of the naval infantry has the potential to free up valuable resources, which could be used to equip the force with specialized capabilities and deploy it to peacekeeping missions. Strengthening projects such as the building of two amphibious ships (LPDs) and the navy’s CENCOPAZ (Training Center for Peacekeeping) is a clear step in the right direction. CENCOPAZ co-leads the training of peacekeepers in Colombia and constitutes one of those national centers in which the Colombian security forces train to share their know-how in riverine operations, humanitarian de-mining, and anti-kidnapping.

Despite the progress in adapting the navy for more intense international cooperation, there are concerning trends it should seriously address. The projected LPDs are still in their conceptual stage and do not have the priority the PES program enjoys. Even with Colombia cooperating with NATO as a “Global Partner” as military-political enticement for international cooperation, plans to send navy peacekeepers as part of UN or NATO missions have seen little progress. Between 2014 and December 2019, MinDefensa reports 858 “certified soldiers” for peacekeeping operations out of 5,000 it originally planned to put through the training. The navy offers a slightly different number: in its 2015-2018 management report it states that CENCOPAZ trained 909 military, police, and civilian members in different courses for UN peacekeeping missions between 2015 and 2018, and points out that 687 (76 percent) come from the navy.

A Sober Look at the Future

The development of the Colombian Navy in the last decade has revealed an assertive regional naval force with the potential to evolve into a provider of regional security. This vision has materialized under the purpose of becoming a “medium regional force projection navy” with the right tools to exert sea control and cooperate with others to share what the Colombian military has learned during its historical fight against insurgencies and criminals.

All of this, however, seems to be at risk. There are at least three caveats to Colombian ambitions for international cooperation that are manifesting themselves in the navy. First, a well-structured procurement program intended to replace key combatants like frigates, has lost momentum. Second, naval defense spending leaves little leeway for the navy since manpower costs are hampering the ability to acquire the right tools to fulfill institutional missions. This, thirdly, intimately relates to the disproportionate size of the Colombian Marine Corps. They also have the potential to project the security solutions against terrorism and drug trafficking the national military is proud of, but can only be effective if they decrease in size.

In this context, the Armada Nacional should start thinking more about creating a slimmer and more effective navy in the face of political uncertainty, low budgets, and probably a long-lasting pandemic in Latin America. Otherwise, it may compromise its future of securing peace through international cooperation. 

Rafael Uribe Neira graduated in Juny 2020 with distinction from M.A. Peace and Conflict Studies at the Otto-von-Guericke University in Magdeburg, Germany. He focuses his research on civil-military relations, narratives in security aid, and lots of pop culture. Since his time as a research assistant at the Institute for Security Policy at Kiel University (ISPK) in the fall of 2018 and as an intern at the UN in Colombia in Winter 2018/2019, he developed a keen interest in the Caribbean and its global ties. Follow him on Twitter @RafaelUribeN.

Featured Image: Colombian Marines board an amphibious assault vehicle at the beach in Ancon, Peru, July 16, 2010. (Wikimedia Commons)

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)