James Bridger interviews Marko Hekkens on the EU project to build partner capacity in Africa and fight piracy- EUCAP NESTOR.
This piece was written in response to the Presidential address on ISIL and as part of our Strategic Communications week.
13 years ago America woke up to the Long War. September 10th was a sadly appropriate time for the President to address the continuation of the conflict: ISIL – the message of the speech was that this Long War will continue to be so.
As a piece of strategic communication, the speech laid out something best said by .38 Special:
The president’s intent was to explain the threat of ISIL, then walk the fine line of both destroying ISIL and avoiding the entanglement he sees in America’s thirteen years of ground war. In short, America will destroy ISIL, but America will not be the one to destroy ISIL – America will look to Arab partners, the Iraqi military, and the Syrian opposition, with the support of American advisers and airpower.
Let’s go into the details of looking at this speech, not for the policy, but as a piece of strategic communication.
ISIL Is a Threat & Will Be Destroyed
While we have not yet detected specific plotting against our homeland, ISIL leaders have threatened America and our allies. Our intelligence community believes that thousands of foreigners, including Europeans and some Americans, have joined them in Syria and Iraq. Trained and battle-hardened, these fighters could try to return to their home countries and carry out deadly attacks.
This was considered by many the President’s moment to explain, particularly to the American people, explicitly the threat posed by ISIL, which he did by drawing the thread between opportunity, capability, and intent: the proven brutality and capability of ISIL, the stated aims, and their ability to get people of bad intent to us. This was likely aimed at European audiences as well.
I have made it clear that we will hunt down terrorists who threaten our country, wherever they are… This is a core principle of my presidency: If you threaten America, you will find no safe haven.
That message and its purpose probably doesn’t need any explanation.
To Middle Eastern Actors in General :
We’ll Be Holding On Loosely
This is not our fight alone. American power can make a decisive difference, but we cannot do for Iraqis what they must do for themselves, nor can we take the place of Arab partners in securing their region…
…This counterterrorism campaign will be waged through a steady, relentless effort to take out ISIL wherever they exist, using our air power and our support for partners’ forces on the ground.
Whether we can rely on the emergence of an enemy’s enemies coalition or an inclusive Iraqi government is to be seen, but this speech was likely meant as a final signalling to those in and around this cross-border conflict that the US will not be the one to “contain” this situation, and that the ongoing proxy war may threaten to consume all of them. The thinking may be that regional actors, once realizing the US will not “swoop in” will turn upon this conflict’s most disturbing symptom rather than each other.
No particular partners are mentioned other than the new Iraqi government, Kurdish Forces, and the vague “Syrian opposition” – the particulars of a specific Syrian opposition group, Iran, Turkey, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and many of the gulf states who choose to playing a part in extending this crisis are left out. This is likely on purpose, requiring no explanations of whose name was said, left out, or why.
Iraqi and Kurdish forces.
This is a side note to the more general trend, but the division of Iraqi and Kurdish forces should be recognized in the language. This could be a natural result of the bifurcation of the two forces’ effort in fighting and the desire to recognize the enormous contribution of the Kurds or a more subtle political intent.
But We Won’t Let Go
We will degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL through a comprehensive and sustained counter terrorism strategy.
That the US is now firmly aimed at ISIL and alot of resources, thought not troops, will be aimed in their direction. This not surprise to anyone – more importantly, the president communicated two specific points to Congress: he needed not seek their specific approval, but wanted to engage them & desperately wishes for them to expand their engagement in Syria.
I have the authority to address the threat from ISIL. But I believe we are strongest as a nation when the president and Congress work together. So I welcome congressional support for this effort in order to show the world that Americans are united in confronting this danger…
…It was formerly al-Qaida’s affiliate in Iraq and has taken advantage of sectarian strife and Syria’s civil war to gain territory on both sides of the Iraq-Syrian border.
This is pretty clear – some have speculated the president would seek Congress’s approval. He, fairly safely, presumes to tacitly have it amidst the unclear debate some are having on whether he needs it explicitly. Likely, this is also why he mentioned ISIL’s association with al-Qaida.
Tonight, I again call on Congress, again, to give us additional authorities and resources to train and equip these fighters. In the fight against ISIL, we cannot rely on an Assad regime that terrorizes its own people — a regime that will never regain the legitimacy it has lost.
Here the President is extending the discussion from earlier discussions on involvement in Syria – this is a point he does not plan on giving up, though in this speech it was buried in the larger narrative of his over-arching strategy. Having previously discussed the brutality of ISIL, he wishes to show how Assad cannot be a partner in their defeat – having already shown the same brutality. Realists would debate this point – but the president illustrates throughout the speech an intent to engage soft power and counter ideology. This will be something he will continue to push in the future.
To the American People:
Won’t Cling Too Tightly, and Lose Control
The president is trying to establish certain foundational points here with the American people for their support:
As I have said before, these American forces will not have a combat mission. We will not get dragged into another ground war in Iraq…
…I want the American people to understand how this effort will be different from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It will not involve American combat troops fighting on foreign soil.
1.) The US will not go full-bore into this conflict, “returning” or being “dragged” back into what they’ve been used to for a decade. This was the great fear when the Syria debate arose, and one the President would like to avoid. This is likely meant to “cut off at the pass” the likely debate of mission creep, or at least hold off discussion and a potential negative consensus if it does happen.
We can’t erase every trace of evil from the world and small groups of killers have the capacity to do great harm…
…It will take time to eradicate a cancer like ISIL.
2.) Keeping expectations realistic. The strategy laid-out is, indeed, a long one – and the statement that “we can’t erase every trace of evil from the world” is an acceptance that many more like-threats will come in the future. The President likely wishes to avoid any sense of triumphalism or expectation of a quick victory that will later be dashed and undermine support for the mission.
…any time we take military action, there are risks involved, especially to the servicemen and -women who carry out these missions.
3.) This is to set up the expectation of risk – with personnel in-theater and aircraft overhead, any discussion of this being “low risk” would immediately undermine the mission if/when our people are killed/kidnapped by ISIL or if an aircraft were to go down. The reality-check on the longevity and risk of this conflict up front may not create the initial surge of support, but will create a more sturdy and realistic appreciation for what we’re doing that may last longer.
To Middle Easterners & Potential Western ISIL “Converts”:
Middle East has America to believe in,
But whole lot of space to breathe in.
As stated throughout the speech—the United States is committed to the region, but the dialogue of “airpower”, standoff “counter-insurgency”, and advisors is to push the narrative that the US will not be occupiers again. This is likely a long-shot attempt to communicate to those on the fence about ISIL or worried about “western imperailism.” Part of that denial of a “imperialist” or “holy war” narrative is also the continued emphasis the United States is placing on ISIS not being “Islamic” and the United States not being at war with Islam. It is unlikely that this message would reach anyone in the conflict zone.
It may, however, be for those in Western Nations or more stable neighbors to the conflict who would follow ISIL’s new social media campaign into the maw of jihad, as Anwar al-Alwaki convinced some westeners to do.
Some will argue with the strategy itself, as well as the accuracy/value of allusions to Somalia and Yemen (as I sit here watching talking heads on CNN), but as a piece of stand-alone strategic communication for the plan being put forward, the speech was a straight-forward. It clearly illustrates the reasons the US is engaged with ISIL and the commitment of the US to its own safety, as well as a commitment to allies -willing- to commit to their own safety,
Few communications are more “strategic” than those that come from the Bully Pulpit, and this was a solid piece of that kind of communication. Whether this 80’s classic of “Hold on Loosely, But Don’t Let Go,” is right plan for the US? That is for us to argue and, as time goes on, see.
Matthew Hipple is CIMSEC’s Director of Online Content and an officer in the United States Navy. His opinions do not necessarily reflect those of the US Government, Department of Defense, or US Navy – but sometimes they do.
As Boko Haram declares its own caliphate, we re-post this article from 7 OCT 2013.
On the Run, or Running Somewhere New?
After the massacre at Westgate, many American media outlets acted as if they were only hearing Al-Shabaab’s name for the first time. This is only the tip of the US Medias Fifth-Estate-Failure iceberg. While incidents may be reported in part and parcel, the staggering scale of militant Islam goes disturbingly unreported. While many of these movements remain separate to a point, the geographic and communicative proximity provided by globalization serves as a catalyst for a horrifying potential collective even more monstrous than anything we could imagine in Afghanistan.
Globalization of De-development
ADM Stravridis pegged this problem squarely on the head when he brought up convergence, that globalization is merely a tool. What can be used to organize communities and build stable growing economies can also help coordinate civilization’s detractors. To spread our gaze further than the recent events in Libya and Somalia, Boko Haram fights a war against the Nigerian government; this is spreading into Niger, Camaroon, and Chad through a porous border. Its militants have also been found in in Mali, where they fought and trained with both Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MOJWA) and Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb(AQIM) (MOJWA’s former parent organization). There, they fight an open war with the government. MOJWA meanwhile is also fighting in Niger. In one case, even more with al Mua’qi’oon Biddam in revenge for an AQIM leader killed by the French and Chadians in Mali. While the forces of globalization may allow nice things like the Star Alliance global airline network, it can also be harnessed to create this jihadist hydra.
With Somalia’s conflict spreading beyond its borders in the east and the coalition of chaos in the west, the center is not holding either. The Central Africa Republic sits in the middle, with potential militant Islamic rebels causing mayhem throughout the country after a successful coup… not that their neighbor is doing much better. Oh, did we mention Egypt too? No? Well… I’ll stop before I’ve totally crushed my own spirits. The tendrils of many different militant groups, often associated with, facilitated by, or directly franchised by Al Qaeda grow close together in a vast body of uncontrolled spaces.
Why the Navy?
So, it’s African Navies week, and I’ve yet to get to maritime security. You’d be correct to assume that, as with Somalia, these problems don’t have primarily naval solutions… but effective maritime security will help prevent the growth of the power vacuum and encourage shore-side virtuous cycles.
The critical importance of maritime security is both pushing back the lawlessness and increasing entry costs for illicit actors. Lawlessness builds vacuums of civil order or undergrounds paths for militant Islam to enter either the money or idea markets. Islamic Militancy isn’t just sporadic and spontaneous violence; it’s also a massive logistics and patronage system that funds militants and creates in-roads into local communities. Where al-Shabaab can utilize the Ivory trade along with the LRA (wouldn’t that be a lovely marriage of convenience), who is to say Boko-haram couldn’t find in-roads into the multi-billion dollar oil-theft market, cocaine trade, or the full-on theft of motor vessels for movement of arms, persons, or stolen goods, let alone the Nigerian piracy enterprise which now even exceeds that of Somalia. Law enforcement needs a “last line of defense.” As stolen ships, goods, and persons leave the shore, the maritime presence is that final check of a state’s strength of institutions. This not only sweeps back this vast illegal enterprise, but also makes it harder later to re-enter the market.
That strength has a virtuous effect, since a rising tide lifts all boats. The improvement of civil society is not completed one institution at a time. Professional courts require professional police require professional elected officials, etc… etc… etc… Improvements to navies and coast guards help improve other portions of military and law enforcement infrastructure. Especially as such lucrative opportunities arise as crime’s payout and connections increase, closing such temptations through capabilities and professionalism is important.
Africa is critically important to future global security. Despite its great economic growth, improving institutions, and growing innovation, the forces of terrorism so long reported “on the run” are growing and connecting at an alarming rate, even in places some thought secure. In such a vast countryside with at minimum half-dozen Afghanistan-sized poorly controlled areas, rolling back this development is of deadly importance. Maritime security, while not the primary arena, will help stay the spread of the lawless vacuum in which militancy thrives and help improve surrounding institutions to further minimize that vacuum ashore.
Matt Hipple is the Director of Online Content for the Center for International Maritime Security. The opinions and views expressed do not necessarily represent the views of U.S. Department of Defense or the U.S. Navy..
This is an article in our first “Non Navies” Series.
By Emil Maine
I recently sat down with John-Clark Levin, coauthor of Private Anti-Piracy Navies: How Warships for Hire are Changing Maritime Security. For those of you interested in the subject of private maritime security, Levin’s book “is intended to provide a contextualized understanding of the historical origins, current state, and future prospects of this fast-changing sector.” Rather than simply rehash Joseph Hammond’s earlier interview of Levin, I decided to take the discussion in a slightly different direction.
EM: Some experts have argued that pirates off West Africa benefit from stable governments that provide easy access to corrupt officials and a steady stream of valuable targets. How does this complicate or undermine the effectiveness of private security contractors?
JCL: This undermines the effectiveness of private security contractors, because West African governments are generally quite hostile to foreign maritime security companies. Armed guards or escort vessels are prohibited from entering territorial waters, which introduces unnecessary hassle and danger. Merchant ships carrying armed security must stop at the twelve-mile limit and either lighter the guards off onto another vessel, or dispose of their arms. This has often forced shipping companies to hire local paramilitary groups for protection in territorial waters. This is a very bad thing, because it takes security out of the hands forces that are internationally accountable, and entrusts it to shadowy and unregulated entities. But because the arrangement is lining the pockets of a corrupt few, there’s political incentive to keep it going.
EM: Do you think that with the increasing number of prisons in Somalia, i.e. Puntland, housing together both convicted al-Shabaab militants and Somali pirates will create an even more complex system integrating terrorism and maritime piracy once they are released?
JCL: To my knowledge, that’s not something that analysts have considered much. Any time groups are housed together in prison, there is potential for links to form, and carry over outside the prison walls. But it doesn’t seem that that risk is acute enough to warrant alternative prison arrangements, given the difficulty in finding places to house pirates in the first place.
EM: Until recently one of the main prisons for pirates was in Somaliland, a relatively stable, semi-autonomous area in northern Somalia, the U.N. is now building facilities in Somalia proper because Seychelles no longer wants to imprison Somalis, how secure do you think these facilities are? Are the proposed sites secure and stable enough to survive a jailbreak attack?
JCL: I know that there’s a facility in the works in Garowe, Puntland, but I have not seen any plans for it, so can’t comment on security. In order to weather a major jailbreak attack, it would certainly have to be strongly fortified, and have a large and well-armed guard force. But I’d be more worried about pirates escaping by bribery than by a frontal assault.
EM: A single piracy case will often affect several nations. How does this complicate some of the legal issues private security contractors must face?
JCL: Whenever pirates attack a vessel, several countries can potentially claim jurisdiction over them—the flag state of the victim ship, the shipowner’s country of origin, and the home states of the crew. If there are private security personnel aboard, that may add more states to the mix, and if there is a private escort vessel, that layers on an additional flag state and shipowner country. If any of those nations cannot protect the human rights of prisoners, that could arguably give the other nations an obligation to prevent the suspected pirates from falling into that country’s hands. In practice, though, the problem has almost always been the reverse: countries trying to avoid responsibility for prosecution. Prosecuting and imprisoning pirates is an inconvenient and expensive undertaking that can last decades. The burden naturally falls on a single country, but all nations share in the benefits. It has taken years to develop agreements within which stakeholder states can share the burdens fairly.
This unruly tangle of jurisdictions can also complicate private anti-piracy operations themselves. Although there are now international licensing and accreditation standards for private maritime security companies, none of those are legally binding. Rather, countries’ domestic law takes precedence. Similarly, although there are now widely accepted rules for the use of force by private security, domestic doctrines of self-defense prevail. Thus, private security companies must take great care to ensure that they are not breaking the laws of anyone who might prosecute them if something goes wrong.
For example, if personnel aboard a private escort vessel believe themselves to be under attack and shoot civilian fishermen in error, both the flag state of the escort and the flag state of the client merchant ship may apply their own laws on self-defense and come to opposite conclusions about whether the shooters acted criminally. Because there have been very few test cases in this area, it remains unclear how such an incident would be resolved.
Emil Maine is a National Security Research Assistant at the Heritage Foundation, where he conducts independent research on U.S. defense posture. The views and opinions expressed in this article are his own.