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EM War

Developing a Strategic Cadre in the Information Dominance Corps

“The EM-cyber environment is now so fundamental to military operations and so critical to our national interests that we must start treating it as a warfighting domain on par with – or perhaps even more important than – land, sea, air, and space.”

-Admiral Jonathan W. Greenert
Chief of Naval Operations
Proceedings Magazine, December 2012 (Vol 138/12)

EM War

The U.S. Navy has embraced the electromagnetic (EM)-cyber domain as a core warfighting domain, combining critical Navy communities in Information Warfare, Intelligence, Information Professional, Meteorology, Oceanography and Space Operations into an “Information Dominance” Corps. A series of policy statements and guiding documents have been recently published governing how the Navy will approach this domain, including the Information Dominance Roadmap (2013-2028), the Navy Information Dominance Corps Human Capital Strategy (2012-2017), and the Navy Strategy for Achieving Information Dominance (2013-2017). [1] These have been followed by the CNO’s Navigation Plan (2015-2019)  [2], which identifies combat maneuver capabilities in the EM-cyber domain as critical to the operating tenants of warfighting first, forward operating and readiness.

These all represent important steps in addressing the critical challenges we face globally as a Navy, especially from state and non-state actors who can complicate the ability of naval forces to move into a theater (anti-access) and maneuver within the theater (area-denial). We no longer occupy the “information high ground” in the EM-cyber domain, and our most advanced forces and weapons systems are held at risk not only by technologically advanced anti-ship missiles but also by inexpensive and readily available A2/AD strategies.

What is missing, however, from this plan of action is the development of a “strategic cadre” within the Information Dominance Corps, who can meet the CNO’s vision. The Human Capital Strategy identifies as its fourth goal “Create a Warfighting Culture,” which is certainly admirable and necessary. This goal is supported by two objectives: orient the “total Navy workforce to the IDC mission” and “leverage kill chain concepts (integrated fires) to depict and communicate the process through which the ID discipline contributes to the delivery of warfighting effects.” This implies an ID corps which is tactically proficient and the need for the Navy to recognize how it fits within warfighting. But it seems to skirt too close to suggesting the ID corps – and EM-cyber – enables the delivery of warfighting effects rather than delivering those effects itself. Weaponized cyber code is no different than a Tomahawk fired from a ship or submarine or a JDAM dropped from an F/A-18.

But to truly develop a warfighting culture, the IDC must have a strategic cadre within its community that develops tactics, operational concepts and strategies that blend kinetic and non-kinetic effects meeting combatant commander objectives. Surface warfare officers learn first how to “fight the ship,” and later how to “fight the Fleet.” The Information Dominance corps must learn to do the same.

maori-warriors
To become a strategic thinker, one must practice the art of strategy. Traditionally, this does not become a focus in the Navy until the more senior officer and enlisted ranks. Recently, I had the opportunity to discuss the state of Navy strategic thinking with other junior officers in the unrestricted line and land warfare communities. These brilliant young Navy and Marine Corps officers made a number of key points that apply as much to the nascent Information Dominance Corps as they do to traditional Navy warfighting domains:

• We are a Navy that emphasizes training over education. Training teaches you to fight the expected fight, but education teaches you to fight the unexpected fight.

• Administrative competency cannot replace the Clausewitzian “Genius for War” – the coup d’oeil that embodies the natural strategist. Mastering the endless checklists and standard operating procedures, while necessary, are the beginning of the journey to strategic thinking, not the culmination.

• We cannot “surge” strategic literacy, or even operational level thinking. If the talent is not there beforehand, it will not be there when we need it.

The Information Dominance Corps must take these lessons to heart and incorporate the development of a strategic cadre within the IDC. Currently the IDC emphasizes the technical skills and systems understanding to perform the individual tasks necessary to meet mission requirements. We must go a step further, cultivating the knowledge to not only operate the equipment but understand how to employ it to attack critical adversary vulnerabilities as part of the Joint Force.

Some items for consideration might be:

• Development of an Advanced Maritime EM-Cyber Operations Course, designed for junior officers who have completed their first tactical operations tour. By this point in his/her career, the young officer has qualified in their respective designator, qualified as an Information Dominance Warfare Officer and completed a forward, tactical operations tour (PCS Afloat, Direct Support, etc.). This course should provide the JO with an advanced understanding of the electromagnetic environment and how use it in various tactical and operational situations in wartime scenarios. The emphasis here, however, it not on the technical or scientific knowledge, but the employment of EM-cyber weapons during conflict. This perhaps could be the EM-cyber equivalent of a “Top Gun” school.

• Integration of EM-cyber warfare as a core component of Joint Professional Military Education (JPME) Phase I and the Naval War College / Naval Post-Graduate School programs.

• The Navy is considering the establishment of a formal Naval Strategic Enterprise to develop a cadre of naval strategic thinkers. At present, this program is only open to unrestricted line officers. Members of the Information Dominance Corps still remain restricted line officers and are ineligible to participate. The Navy Strategic Enterprise should be opened up to members of the IDC.

• Traditionally under the Composite Warfare Concept, the role Information Warfare Commander has been filled by an individual ship commanding officer. [3] This role should be redefined with an IDC officer principally assuming the IWC role.

To fully adopt a warfighting culture and treat the EM-cyber environment as a warfighting domain equivalent to, or more important than land, sea, air and space, the Information Dominance Corps must do more than develop tactical expertise in the use of specialized equipment. It must cultivate a new crop of strategic thinkers who are experts in the creative exploitation of the electromagnetic environment and blending of kinetic and non-kinetic fires to achieve warfighting effects. These new strategists must be grounded both in traditional military theory and history as well as the emerging operational concepts of fighting across the entire EM spectrum, in space and in cyberspace. Without strategic thinking, information dominance becomes impossible.

Author

LT Robert “Jake” Bebber USN is an Information Warfare officer assigned to the staff of Commander, U.S. Cyber Command. He holds a Ph.D. in Public Policy from the University of Central Florida. He is supported by his wife Dana and their son, Vincent. The views expressed here do not represent those of the U.S. Navy, U.S. Cyber Command or the Department of Defense. He welcomes your comments at jbebber@gmail.com.

References

[1] All of these documents are available at: http://www.idcsync.org/documents.

[1] http://www.navy.mil/submit/display.asp?story_id=82851

[1] The Free Library. S.v. Developing a new model for maritime tactical information dominance..” Retrieved Aug 23 2014 from http://www.thefreelibrary.com/Developing+a+new+model+for+maritime+tactical+information+dominance.-a0273903363

Yellow: Attacks
Red: Open Extremist Conflict
Orange: Getting Close
Skull: Who do you Think?

Re-Post: Al Shabaab Is Only the Beginning

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

Yellow: Attacks Red: Open Extremist Conflict Orange: Getting Close Skull: Who do you Think?
Yellow: Attacks
Red: Open Extremist Conflict
Orange: Getting Close
Skull: Who do you Think?

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.

Bottom Line

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… although he wishes they did.

(L-R) HMS Duncan, HMS Dauntless and HMS Dragon

The Future of British Foreign & Defence Policy: A Case for a Maritime Focus

(L-R) HMS Duncan, HMS Dauntless and HMS Dragon
(L-R) HMS Duncan, HMS Dauntless and HMS Dragon (Source: www.royalnavy.mod.uk)

The 2010 British Strategic Security and Defence Review (SDSR) begun with an unambiguous statement of intent; ‘Our country has always had global responsibilities and global ambitions. We have a proud history of standing up for the values we believe in and we should have no less ambition for our country in the decades to come’. It then goes on to outline how this might be achieved. Britain must be ‘more thoughtful, more strategic and more coordinated in the way we advance our interests and protect our national security’[1]. But since 2010 the record has not reflected these aims. If anything, it seems the British government is becoming less and less clear about what it wishes to achieve in the international arena in service of British national interests. Written in the light of recent adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan, the document admits that Britain’s ‘Armed Forces – admired across the world – have been overstretched, deployed too often without appropriate planning, with the wrong equipment, in the wrong numbers and without a clear strategy. In the past, underfunded spending pledges created a fundamental mismatch between aspiration and resources’[2]. The murderous march of Islamic State (previously ISIS) through Iraq, the ever present and resurgent Taliban threat in Afghanistan and the declining civil order in Libya all demonstrate the damaging consequences of ill-conceived and ill-planned military intervention. Professionalism, success and sacrifice at the tactical level have not translated into success at the strategic level, largely due to the simple fact there has been no overarching strategic direction, set at the political level, guiding operational and tactical planning. The consequences of Britain’s twenty-first century interventionist wars are yet to be fully felt, but they are unlikely to lead to the stability and peace in the Middle East, and security at home, that was envisaged.

The key reason for defeat in these campaigns was a failure of British policymakers to fully appreciate the military, political and cultural dimensions of the regions and conflicts in which they were getting involved. This inevitably led to an inability to develop a singular strategic aim and appropriately plan for contingent outcomes, leading to confusion around how to respond both politically or militarily to evolving contexts. Ultimately, this bewilderment was an predictable consequence of fighting the wrong conflicts, conflicts that did not directly serve British or indeed, global interests, or in fighting them in the wrong way (as in Afghanistan where limited intervention led to strategic creep – ‘nation building’ – and a blurring of aims and means, and in Libya where short term kinetic intervention has led to long term instability). For these reasons, Britain and her allies could never secure long-term victory. If London did not set criteria for victory, how could it possibly achieve it? As the British naval thinker Admiral Sir Herbert Richmond once cautioned in his 1946 study ‘Statesmen and Seapower’; ‘If the statesman misinterprets the nature of national defence or the ultimate object of a war, or fails to make the necessary preparations; if, in war, he misdirects the strategy employed for the attainment of the object; the results will be far more injurious than those of errors in minor strategy or tactics: for they are more far-reaching’[3]. These words have acquired fresh resonance.

The campaign in Libya and the lobbying for intervention in Syria still demonstrate that the incumbent UK government, despite the promises made in the SDSR, does not understand what national security means and how the application of force might serve to uphold it. If the UK government seriously decides that it is in the UK’s national interests to involve itself in wars such as have been fought or proposed in recent years, then it must first write a coherent foreign policy to justify this approach, then develop a defence strategy reflecting this approach, providing ample financial and military resources in order to deliver it. If however, it considers such increases in defence spending as impracticable, and prolonged ground wars as impracticable, then a sober refocusing and apposite downsizing of our national ambitions and strategy is required. Based on the recent record the latter is perhaps more palatable; the more a nation engages in conflicts that they do not understand, both in the long and short terms, the more likely they are to lose credibility in the eyes of their potential enemies, emboldening and perhaps multiplying them. Military capability must match the politicians rhetoric. It is in this, that the soft and hard-power capabilities afforded by flexible and numerous maritime forces present themselves. For a nation such as Britain, who wishes to retain global influence but contain defence spending, a well resourced maritime force can offer a cheaper, more effective, less invasive and more flexible means of meeting the basic security requirements demanded of an Western government[4].

Where the SDSR does start to talk sense is in its clear contention that British ‘national security depends on our economic security and vice versa’. Stemming from her island status, Britain’s economic health is dependent on the sea. 90 – 95% of British imports and exports are dependent on the sea and UK based shipping contributes £10bn to GDP and £3bn in tax revenues and after tourism and finance, is the third largest service sector industry in Britain. In 2011 the Centre for Economics and Business Research (Cebr) forecasted that globalisation is simply increasing British dependence on maritime trade. After adjustments for inflation, seaborne imports are projected to grow 287% over the next two decades, and exports delivered increasing by 119%. The value of British imports in 2010 stood at £345bn and is expected to reach £1.95tn by 2030. In the same twenty-year period export values are expected to rise from £233bn to £1.63tn[5].The SDSR however fails to grasp such facts. A maritime focus for foreign and defence planning is critical. It has been through shrewd exploitation of the maritime realm for global influence, trade, diplomacy and war fighting, that Britain had forged and refined successful foreign and defence policy postures framed by her seapower status. But such is modern Britain’s general lack of understanding of the role of the Royal & Merchant navies in shaping British history, that the efficacy of this foreign policy posture is poorly understood. Thus it is unsurprising that Britain is now struggling to develop a coherent national strategy that serves her interests and not the whims of vote-winning, short-termism.

As a result of the SDSR of 2010, the UK armed forces are getting smaller, meaning Britain must be more discriminating about its utilization of hard power. To achieve this aim, Britain must develop a coherent and focused national strategy, structured around its reliance on the sea. A strong Royal Navy can deliver defence of trade, conventional deterrence, counter-narcotics operations, counter-piracy, upholding the rule of law at sea, diplomacy (‘showing the flag’ missions), global air-power projection, support of operations ashore[7], and of course maintaining the at-sea nuclear deterrent. There is great utility in such a force that can deliver all these things at proportionally little cost.

However, if Britain continues to fail to appreciate its historic relationship with the sea and how it has been utilised, in war and peace, in the defence of her interests, it will remain ignorant to the potentialities of the maritime realm in the modern day. It is my contention, that if exploitation of the sea for influence, prosperity, security, and military effectiveness, continues to be sidelined as a core strategic function, by continued under-investment in maritime forces, then Britain’s credibility as a global power will atrophy. Herbert Richmond explained that a State’s ability to deliver decisive military action rests on that state’s strength, whether it has appropriate and well-maintained arms to pursue the objective and ‘whether they have been kept sharp or blunted by ill-considered policy, surrender of territory, of interests, or of rights concerning their use’[8]. Britain’s ‘ill-considered policy’ of the past decade has arisen from a misplaced sense of purpose and strength and it has repeatedly ignored the sources of its power and thus failed to deliver lucid thinking on national strategy. The SDSR failed to interpret British interests, and the threats to them, in the longer term. In putting terrorism as a core focus of British defence efforts, the authors have shown a collective failure to understand that terror does not present a long term menace to the prosperity and security at home that Britons have come to expect. Therefore terrorism should not be a phenomenon that shapes a nation’s foreign and defence policy posture. A nation’s armed forces should remain flexible to respond to and prevent acts of terrorism, but should not be focused on them.

To highlight terrorism as a top priority of British defence planning suggests that Britain, despite the lofty rhetoric of the SDSR, is still doing defence, security and indeed strategy, wrong. Britain’s recent failure to fight wars in support of clear foreign policy goals would appear to draw this out. For instance, its reliance on the purported efficacy of foreign aid is perplexing, when in reality the value of its use is far from certain. The money would be better spent on a maritime force capable of delivering tangible security, tried and tested over hundred of years. These views are shared by Dr David Betz of King’s College London, who in a recent unequivocal post on the War Studies Department Blog argued that ‘For three hundred years… a cornerstone of British policy has been the maintenance of a very good, at times world pre-eminent, navy–even through the 20th century during which its relative power progressively diminished… On current trajectory, presently we shall have a not very good navy at all with serious gaps in capability and depth’[9]. Betz’s final point is perhaps the neatest exposition of what this writer believes needs to happen; ‘If it were up to me every damned penny currently earmarked for overseas aid would be redirected to the Royal Navy permanently. There’s nothing better for lifting poverty than trade’[10].

Britain is a de facto seapower. But its failure to appreciate this is the greatest threat to its long-term security. The scrapping of Nimrod Maritime Patrol Aircraft (MPA), the Harrier fleet and the current aircraft carriers before replacements were in commission and the delivery of only 6 Type-45 Destroyers instead of the proposed 12, all show a lack of appreciation by government officials of what a flexible naval capability requires. Such a high proportion of the future fleet will be required to protect the new carriers that it will be unbalanced and hard choices will have to be made about whether other critical routine operations can be maintained. Either that or more time will be spent at sea with implications for moral (another focus of the SDSR), retention and maintenance. When reading the SDSR document, it fails to account for the unpredictability of the world and the lessons of history. For instance, it stated ‘in the short term, there are few circumstances we can envisage where the ability to deploy airpower from the sea will be essential. That is why we have, reluctantly, taken the decision to retire the Harrier aircraft, which has served our country so well’[11]. Within the succeeding 4 years, air strikes were launched against Libya from bases in the UK and Italy – even the Italians flew their missions from the Giuseppe Garibaldi - at exorbitant cost and prominent officials were lobbying for a similar intervention in Syria. Only in the last fortnight America has begun launching airstrikes against IS in Iraq. The UK may provide similar support but only enabled by the fortuitous location of her base in Cyprus. Future events will undoubtedly once again throw the gap in Britain’s maritime capabilities into sharp relief. But until this elusive moment of clarity, London must begin to refocus foreign policy aims to directly service the nations interests and do this by beginning to acknowledge the nations historic and tested credentials as an effective seapower.

The world is becoming more fractious, unstable and to boot more nations with bright economic futures – some with values divergent from those of the West – are pursuing naval programmes. It is not good for a nation such as Britain, so dependent on the security of the world’s seas, to realign its defence focus to terrorism (and the sources of it), put so much faith in dubious international aid payments whilst neglecting its duty to upholding the security of the world’s oceans. Despite the dreadful consequences of individual terrorist acts, they will regrettably never be eliminated and the threat they pose to the wider security of Britain remains disputed. The defeat of terrorism and the instability that feeds it, through foreign aid and armed intervention, is an illusory aim and the pursuit of it will inevitably continue to lead to future embroilment in costly and ineffectual foreign adventures that do not safeguard Britain’s interests, or its security. Instead, the upcoming SDSR of 2015 must refine Britain’s global ambitions and be selfishly realistic in what it can and cannot achieve vis-à-vis defence and security, instead of pursuing nebulous and discredited aims such as the defeat of terrorism. This post, in addition to the last 400 years of British history, has demonstrated that the UK should pay proportionally more attention to events in the maritime realm and must invest to maintain a strong, flexible maritime armed force (this means numbers not just technologically advanced platforms). The Royal Navy has proven through history to be adaptable, delivering security, prosperity and influence through business-as-usual global operations; able to respond to a broad array of contingencies with finesse or force. London must re-engage with the history of the Service that facilitated its rise to world power status and focus not just on what its armed forces can deliver in war but also what they can deliver in peace. Only in doing this will it truly re-learn the importance of the Royal Navy and the utility of seapower.

Simon Williams received a BA Hons in Contemporary History from the University of Leicester in 2008. In early 2011 he was awarded an MA in War Studies from King’s College London. His postgraduate dissertation was entitled The Second Boer War 1899-­1902: A Triumph of British Sea Power. He continues to write on naval history and strategy and in 2012 he hosted the Navy is the Nation Conference, in Portsmouth, UK. The aim of this event was to explore the impact of the Royal Navy on British culture and national identity. His is organising a second event entitled Statesmen and Seapower, being held in partnership with the National Museum of the Royal Navy, Portsmouth on 17 & 18 April 2015.

 

[1] ‘Securing Britain in an Age of Uncertainty: The Strategic Defence and Security Review’ https://www.direct.gov.uk/prod_consum_dg/groups/dg_digitalassets/@dg/@en/documents/digitalasset/dg_191634.pdf accessed 13/08/14

[2] ‘Securing Britain in an Age of Uncertainty: The Strategic Defence and Security Review’ https://www.direct.gov.uk/prod_consum_dg/groups/dg_digitalassets/@dg/@en/documents/digitalasset/dg_191634.pdf accessed 13/08/14

[3] Richmond, H. ‘Statesmen and Seapower’ (OUP, 1947) p.vii

[4] Discussion of the cost-effectiveness of warships was discussed in an earlier post.for this blog http://cimsec.org/learning-from-history-british-global-trade-and-the-royal-navy/7145

[5] Osborne, A. (2011) ‘Britain’s reliance on sea trade ‘set to soar’’ http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/transport/8696607/Britains-reliance-on-sea-trade-set-to-soar.html accessed on 19/08/13

[7] It must however be stressed that a strong tri-service arrangement is a pre-requisite for effectiveness ashore and must be nurtured in tandem.

[8] Richmond, H. ‘Statesmen and Seapower’ (OUP, 1947) pv.iii

[9] D. Betz, ‘Britain’s Naval Moment’ http://kingsofwar.org.uk accessed 13/08/14

[10] D. Betz, ‘Britain’s Naval Moment’ http://kingsofwar.org.uk accessed 13/08/14

[11] ‘Securing Britain in an Age of Uncertainty: The Strategic Defence and Security Review’ https://www.direct.gov.uk/prod_consum_dg/groups/dg_digitalassets/@dg/@en/documents/digitalasset/dg_191634.pdf accessed 13/08/14

 

75ft_Coast_Guard_Patrol_Boat

Post-Prohibition Rum Running

The following is a dissertation sample provided as part of Border Control week.
The case of American Prohibition is often deployed in the rancorous debates that surround counter-narcotics policy.  Unfortunately, it is generally deployed (to my thought, abused) without an adequate understanding of what Prohibition actually looked like.  This is especially true of rum-running, which is generally retold something along these lines:

Phase 1)  Bill McCoy founds Rum Row.
Phase 2)  ?
Phase 3)  Repeal! (and rum smuggling magically ends.)

The actual Rum War at Sea was a story of two dueling adaptive networks.  Until 1924, the Prohibition Bureau ran their own ‘Dry Navy’ of a handful of sub-chasers – this whole enterprise was entirely a disaster, due to poor personnel polices, wholly inadequate imagination, and total ineptitude at sea.  In 1924, the Coast Guard (somewhat unhappily) took on the task.  They managed to field a substantial, aggressive, and most importantly highly adaptive force built of everything from speedboats to destroyers.  Within a few months, they shuttered Rum Row.  Soon after, they chased the rum-running networks down to Florida (1925-1927) and then across to the Great Lakes (1928-1930.)  The Coast Guard fought the remnants of the rum-fleet to a stalemate through the early thirties, even after their budgets were cut.  The rum trade came back in force one year after repeal, and a recapitalized Coast Guard fleet ended organized alcohol smuggling in 1936.

In the course of this chase, Captain Charles Root founded US Coast Guard Intelligence, established HUMINT networks in Canada, Cuba, and a score of other rum ports, hired the legendary codebreaker Elisebeth Friedman, designed and fielded the first American SIGINT trawler.  The Coast Guard chief engineer Hunnewell filled the coasts with two hundred patrol ships within less than a year, and then proceeded to reverse engineer the fastest of the rum-runners and field them too.  Commandant Billard founded interagency and international task forces, which ultimately resulted in full tactical integration with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, including positive hand-offs and radio intelligence cross-cue.  By the end of the case, the Coast Guard could fix a rum-runner by their radio transmission, send a patrol aircraft along the bearing line, visually acquire the craft and orbit overhead until the a boarding ship could make the intercept.

The Rum War built the Coast Guard, founded only a few years prior from the Revenue Cutter Service and the Lifesaving Service.  It also advanced technologies critical to the Second World War – small craft (PT Boats – basically rum-runners with torpedoes, Higgins Boats – crewed by both Coastguardsmen and ex-rumrunners), codebreaking (Friedman’s USCG cell broke the Japanese merchant codes prior to the war) and radio direction finding.  This case deserves more study, both as a maritime border control campaign, but also as a contest between two highly adaptive flat network.  The Coast Guard achieved an enviable victory over bureaucracy at the outset, which allowed them to keep pace with their well-funded adversaries.

As a teaser, I submit the following account of the post-repeal suppression campaign, excerpted from my forthcoming dissertation.
I also include two animated infographics of capture records and intel reports, respectively.  I hope that it will challenge standard conceptions of the Rum War, and entice the reader to read further.  For further reading, I recommend the standard Coast Guard account, Rum War at Sea, by CDR Malcolm Willoughby.

All Captures GIS – Medium

New Animation – Medium

Repeal, 1933.  Franklin Delano Roosevelt was elected on a platform that included the repeal of that act.  He delivered on this promise in the early part of 1933 – the 18th Amendment prohibited ‘intoxicating liquors,’ while the Volstead Act defined ‘intoxicating liquors’ as anything 0.5% Alcohol by Volume.  As the 21st Amendment worked its way through the system, the Cullen-Harrison Act reset the Volstead definition to 3.2% ABV and thereby legalized light beers.  This saw a brief drop in liquor traffic, though the trade rebounded quickly.  Rum-running had almost returned to 1932 levels, at least off of New York, when the 21st Amendment drove rum-running to an absolute low during the case.  This lasted for about six months.

An period newspaper article entitled “Rum Runners Want Repeal, U.S. Informed,”[2] explains the rumrunners’ optimism toward their post-repeal prospects.  Both Canada and Finland attempted their own forms of Prohibition, and both experienced major smuggling problems following repeal.  Rumrunners expected the same to be true of the United States, due to a combination of high expected liquor taxes, reduced enforcement expenditures and diminished legal leverage following repeal.

The country would want a ‘peace dividend,’ which meant less money going to the Coast Guard.  Additionally, the Coast Guard would now need to establish the origin of alcohol, rather than just its presence, in order to arrest a rumrunner in US waters.  Once the liquor was ashore, it now became far easier to transport.  Therefore, that rum-runners no longer needed to concentrate at urban centers close to the point of demand, and the Coast Guard would need a “less concentrated and more wide-flung patrol of the coasts.”[3]  These reduced the opportunity cost of smuggling, and so long as there was enough of a margin in the liquor taxes to make money, there was no reason to stop running.

The Coast Guard attempted to calculate this margin.  Shortly following repeal, Gorman estimated that imported liquor in the New England area cost $9.90/gal, $9.30 of which was composed of State, Internal Revenue and Customs taxes.[4]  The smuggler, paying the same price for liquor, could land liquor for $1.10/gal.  The price they would expect to receive on the beach was $1.90/gal in Maine, $2.50/gal in Massachusetts, and $3.25/gal in New York.  This yields a margin of more than two dollars per gallon.  A September 1934 calculation found legal liquor selling for $8/gal, with bootleg at $6/gal.  Even with this premium for licit drink, the rumrunner still had margin of about one and a half dollars per gallon.[5]

Profits were lower than during Prohibition, but the risk was lower as well due to diminished enforcement leverage.  Making matters worse, Americans thirsted for aged whiskey, and none would be available domestically for quite some time.  Since the rumrunner bases at St. Pierre had a great deal of capital tied up in smuggling, there was no sense in dismantling the industry quite yet.

‘Peace Dividend.’  Even before repeal, the Intelligence Office noted in 1933 that:

Vessels formerly in the rum running traffic, which had been laid up for months and in some cases years, are now being outfitted and rushed back into the illicit traffic.  Recent official reports from Canadian sources indicate during the past month a resumption of activity comparable only to the situation which existed several years ago before the Coast Guard was organized to effectively combat smuggling.  International rum syndicates are quite evidently under the impression that law enforcement will be more lax than formerly; that penalties meted out for violations of the Customs laws will be much lighter and that in general there will be less risk and more profit in liquor running…

It therefore appears to this office from a study of smuggling conditions in foreign countries and from knowledge of the present activities of the rum-smuggling rings, that there can be no curtailment of Coast Guard anti-smuggling operations until the international smuggling organizations now operating are put out of existence, and it can be said almost with certainty that this will not occur within the next two years.[6]

Institutional militaries try to minimize the inevitable drawdown that follows the end of a war, and these gloomy predictions must have sounded like that familiar chord.  Policy analysts from early think tanks broadly agreed, estimating $50 Million per year lost per year to liquor smuggling.[7]  This was more than 10% of the expected alcohol excise tax income.  Still, increasing enforcement of liquor laws during the Depression in the immediate wake of Prohibition was too politically difficult.  From a 1934 account, “repeated requests of the Coast Guard for funds, necessary to carry out its duties, particularly to control smuggling, and to protect the revenue of the Government, have been denied.”[8]  The Coast Guard would draw down.

Destroyers departed the force entirely, with the last of them returned to the Navy by 1934.  The ‘six-bitters’ took a major hit, dropping from 58 in 1934 from 203 in 1931.[9]  The cruising cutters, and larger patrol boats retained most of their force.  Picket boats were halved from 195 to 109.  The number of lifesaving stations remained stable, but the suppression-oriented section bases fell from nineteen to three.  Aircraft inventory and the number of 165-foot patrol boats continued to grow through July 1934.  These two types of craft partially offset the patrolling vacuum left by the destroyers.  The patrol craft and bases were not offset at all.

The manning situation was worse.  According to a 1934 memo, “Not only has the Coast Guard felt these losses of men and units, but the drastic, quick retrenchment occasioned thereby, has been a serious blow to the morale and, therefore, the efficiency of the remaining force… funds for the payment of enlisted personnel for the current year are inadequate, and unless the situation is relieved, it will be necessary to discharge or disrate, or furlough without pay, additional men.”[10]  The memo’s author, likely the Commandant, asserts “such a step would be a serious reflection upon the Federal Government in breaking faith with men of long and faithful service to their country… a breach of implied contract on the part of the Government.”[11]  This was a disheartening time for the service.

In some cold solace, the dour predictions of resurgent smuggling proved correct.  By the summer of 1934, there were as many boats hovering off of New York as in 1928 and climbing fast.  An estimated $30 Million of revenue was lost in 1934, and if unchecked, 1935 promised to double that number at least.  Since the Canadians had been losing something in the range of $30-45 Million per year under similar conditions, this should not have been a surprise.[12] The form of this smuggling was familiar – the trade picked up where it left off with the same radio-linked swift stealth ships.

Rebuilding.  Given that the Coast Guard ‘peace dividend’ was only $10 Million per year, the government began to see the reduction in forces as a bad investment.  The half-sized, demoralized force could be swarmed and defeated, especially without its scouting destroyers or an adequate number of replacements.  The second half of 1934 saw a reversal of the decline and a re-capitalization of Coast Guard forces.  This buildup registered primarily in the new large patrol boats and in Aviation, and it allowed the Coast Guard to complete a restructuring it began in 1930.

Admiral Billard launched a service reorganization project during his last year as Commandant.[13]  Admiral Hamlet carried it through to completion as the drawdown set in, doing away with the various overlapping lifesaving, patrol and cruising forces and consolidating regional divisions under single commanders.  Henry Morgenthau, the new Secretary of the Treasury, asked Coast Guard to take the lead of all Treasury organizations in these districts – having one clear commander who curated diverse capabilities aided interagency coordination.

The divisional structure also worked well with the growing intelligence and aviation capacities, provided the relationships within these divisions were as flat as the Commandant’s guidance intended.  Notably, when these organizations were run hierarchically, these special units did not do as well.  Commanders that directed actions from the top, yet lacked the technical knowledge to grasp these capabilities, failed to make effective use of these cells.  Case in point – Wheeler and the aforementioned breakdown with his Intelligence Lieutenant in the California Division.[14]  In general, though, this structure allowed the diverse technical capabilities developed over the course of the campaign to be smoothly brought to bear at the front lines.

The return of funding put substance on the divisional framework.  By the beginning of 1935, 18 Thetis-class 165’ patrol ships were operational.  This was up from nine half a year prior, and six as of 1932.  These were Wheeler’s replacement for the Destroyers – six knots faster than the ‘buck-and-a-quarters’ and designed with a tight turning radius, they could stay with the new generation of fast rum ships at a fraction the cost of a Destroyer.  They performed this task well, and along with the still-new Lake-class fast cutters, the remaining half of the patrol fleet, and the still-rapidly-advancing SIGINT capabilities.

The Secretary of the Treasury built a seven-fold plan for the renewed campaign.  From a 1935 memo recounting the strategy, “the measures undertaken included:

a)           Provision of funds to permit of increased activity by the Coast Guard and stimulation of effort on its part as the marine patrol agency.  [NB: Support.]

b)          Determination of the sources of supply of contraband and negotiations to obtain the assistance of other governments in checking the illicit traffic.  [Diplomacy.]

c)           Coordination of the efforts of all Treasury Department law-enforcement agencies having any connection with the problem by means of regional coordinators and the establishment of a ‘law-enforcement’ council or committee at Washington, composed of representatives of the various agencies.  Frequent conferences at Washington and in the field contributed to this coordination.  [Interagency Fusion.]

d)          A study of the legal deficiencies hampering effective efforts against the smugglers and the drafting of a bill strengthening enforcement powers, for presentation to Congress.  [Legal, Anti-Smuggling Act of 1935.]

e)           Stimulation of sources of information to permit of intelligent action being taken.  [Intelligence.]

f)            Vigorous prosecutions where cases could be made.  [Courts, a major prior deficiency.]

g)           Close cooperation with agencies of the Canadian Government, which has a problem of like character.  [NB: International Fusion.][15]

These were all the result of costly lessons learned.  With this strategy in place, the last major campaign began.

 

 

The combination of a recapitalized patrol fleet, robust intelligence capabilities, and a burgeoning air fleet formed the final model of the rum war.  The Commandant explained this fusion of sea, air and intelligence in a 1934 tactics bulletin:

The Intelligence boat (or any unit suitably equipped) detects black radio traffic and obtains a radio bearing.  The air station of plane (standing by) is notified of the bearing of the “black.”  The plane takes the air and flies to the position of the patrol boat and passes over her on the course (corrected navigationally) corresponding to the bearing.  Upon reaching the black the radio-equipped plane circles overhead and calls for radio bearings from all direction-finder units… The bearings are transmitted by units taking them together with the latter’s positions to a designated patrol unit, and the plot places of the position of the “black” which can then be sought and trailed.

If the rumrunners abandoned their radios, the aircraft could still search for them.  There was no way to outrun or hide from an aircraft, other than inclement weather.  And the circling aircraft could call a cutter at its convenience.  This rumrunner-hunting model offered no ready counter.

Remarkably, this model parallels the “Find-Fix-Finish” approach of counter-terror fame.[1]  In order to beat this approach, the rumrunners would have had to re-boot their entire business model.  This would have been costly.  Social support had begun to turn against them following repeal – no longer romantic outlaws, legal alcohol had made the rumrunners just outlaws.  From an intelligence memo in 1935:

Unmentioned previously herein is the effect of a changed public attitude following Repeal.  This has been very helpful in contributing to control.  Many who were hostile to enforcement efforts during Prohibition are today either indifferent or openly favorable.[2]

Therefore, they could no longer recoup losses or recapitalize the way they once had.  A reboot was impossible, and the end of the large-scale illicit liquor trade was just a matter of time.

Only $6.5 Million was lost from the treasury due to liquor smuggling in 1935, around 20% of the 1934 number.  The last spike of the rum trade was in the early summer of 1935, and it fell precipitously from there.  From the same 1935 report:

As a result of the cumulative effect of the efforts expended by the Government the organizations and individuals promoting smuggling have suffered a severe blow.  Efforts are being exerted by them to develop new methods of supply such as chartering vessels to transport cargoes from Europe for delivery on the high seas to smaller vessels or to run directly into large ports where maritime traffic is great and there is the possibility of slipping in as a legitimate vessel not subject to routine inspection.  This is an effort on the part of those to whom ‘easy money’ has been the fondest recollection of the heyday of the smuggling traffic.  There will always be smuggling in some form and amount but liquor and alcohol smuggling as evidenced during the last fiscal year is declining as a major problem under the pressure exerted by the Government.[3]

What little of the trade remained had fizzled out by 1936, with the liquor ships melting back into the Nova Scotia fishing fleet, or in a few cases, hardening into opium or migrant smugglers.  Coast Guard Intelligence ceased tracking suspected Rumrunners entirely on account of irrelevance by 1939.  Operational life returned to traditional lifesaving missions and routine law-enforcement by 1936 with the end of organized rum-running.

 

[1] Charles Faint and Michael Harris, “F3EAD: Ops/Intel Fusion ‘Feeds’ The SOF Targeting Process,” Small Wars Journal, 2012, http://smallwarsjournal.com/author/charles-faint-and-michael-harris.

[2] Parker (?) memo.  RG 26, NARA.

[3] Ibid. 

 

[1] Bruce Yandle, “Bootleggers and Baptists-The Education of a Regulatory Economists,” Regulation 7 (1983): 12.

[2] Unidentified Clipping.  RG 26, NARA.

[3] Gorman Memo.  RG 26, NARA.

[4] Cost Calculation Memo.  RG 26, NARA.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Intelligence Memo.  RG 26, NARA.

[7] Newspaper Clippings.  RG 26, NARA.

[8] Memo.  RG 26, NARA.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Lawlor, Rum-Running.  93.  ‘The customs revenue went down between $70 and $90M in two years’ – it is unclear whether this is per year or total, but I assumed the former.  Since the 1930 US Dollar was 2.07 Canadian dollars, dividing by two accounts for the currency conversion.  Depending on the estimate, this could be cut in half once more if the $75-90M was an aggregate number.  Either way, there was some non-trivial sum of smuggling losses.

[13] Billard Memo.  RG 26, NARA.

[14] Wheeler CA memo, 1934 (?).  RG 26, NARA.

[15] Parker(?) 1935 Memo.  Reflected verbatim in Waesche 1938 Memo. RG 26, NARA.

Coast Guard, sheriff's office work hand-in-hand

Border Control Behind the Scenes: Maritime Operational Threat Response Plan

By Guest Author LCDR Craig Allen Jr., USCG for our “Border Control Week”

Border security presently headlines national policy discussions following the influx of child and teenage immigrants fleeing poverty and violence in Central America, the outbreak of Ebola in Western Africa, and warnings from the commander of U.S. Southern Command, General John Kelly, that the activities of transnational criminal organizations operating in the Western hemisphere pose an existential threat to the United States. The confluence of events has reinvigorated scrutiny of our border control programs, including the effectiveness of our deterrence and interdiction capability and the balance between humanitarian, law enforcement and national security interests at stake.

 

Although the 2,000 mile land border with Mexico garners much of the recent attention, identifying, tracking and interdicting threats along more than 12,000 miles of coast line that comprises America’s maritime border poses an even more challenging endeavor. Adding to the complexity is the fact that responsibility for maritime border security is shared by several US Government federal agencies with separate, overlapping, and occasionally competing authorities, capabilities and priorities.

 

The sword designed to cut through the Gordian knot of interagency friction in the maritime domain is the Maritime Operational Threat Response (MOTR) Plan. MOTR seeks to integrate the capabilities and expertise of all USG agencies that have a role in responding to a given maritime threat to achieve a unity of effort through a process of “compelled coordination.” Although perfect synergy often proves elusive, MOTR provides an effective forum to align efforts and facilitate early resolution of interagency conflicts. The Global MOTR Coordination Center (GMCC) located in Washington, DC, serves as the nucleus by providing relevant information and connecting all concerned agencies together when an event triggers the MOTR process.

 

This photograph of Simas Kudirka was taken from his Soviet Identification card. 1972 LITHUANIAN QUARTERLY JOURNAL OF ARTS AND SCIENCES
This photograph of Simas Kudirka was taken from his Soviet Identification card. 1972 LITHUANIAN QUARTERLY JOURNAL OF ARTS AND SCIENCES

Like many cross-cutting federal policies, the impetus to improve interagency coordination that led to the present MOTR plan began with a high profile disaster. Most Coast Guardsmen are familiar with the Simas Kudirka debacle, in which a Lithuanian radio operator attempted to defect to the United States by leaping from a Soviet fishing vessel onto a Coast Guard cutter off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard in 1970. The inability of Federal agencies to agree on an appropriate response in time (and poor tactical-level decision making) resulted in Kudirka being severely beaten and forcibly removed from the cutter by the Soviets. The resulting outrage at the stain on American prestige led to several Congressional hearings, a movie, and Presidential Directive 27 (PD-27) “Procedures for Dealing with Non-military Incidents.” PD-27 required several federal departments to maintain a 24-hour watch and coordinate a USG response to non-military incidents that could have an adverse impact on the conduct of US foreign relations. The PD-27 process significantly improved interagency coordination, but the reinvigorated focus on coordinated USG response to the elevated terrorist threat after 9/11 identified a need for further refinement.

 

The MOTR Plan, approved in 2006, expanded upon PD-27 by directing a whole-of-government response to threats in the maritime domain. The MOTR process address a wide spectrum of maritime threats, including terrorism, piracy, drug and migrant interdiction, piracy, and fisheries incursions. Interestingly, there is no command and control relationship within its structure. It requires coordination and cooperation, but no agency has the ability to compel another to do its bidding. Despite its coalition nature, sometimes described as “used by all, owned by none,” MOTR has proven successful. Since its inception, it has been an effective mechanism for responding to thousands of incidents, including high-profile events such as the Somali pirate attack on the Maersk Alabama.

 

To illustrate the value of the MOTR process, consider the following fictional but plausible scenario- an overloaded vessel departs from Haiti and appears headed for the United States. So far, nothing out of the ordinary, the Coast Guard responds to similar events all the time. But suppose recently there have been reports of Ebola in Haiti and reports indicate that several possible Ebola victims are fleeing Haiti hoping to seek treatment in the US. Add to that reports from a maritime patrol aircraft that it appears that there are several children onboard the vessel. Now the interest of other agencies is piqued, including (among others) Department of State, Health and Human Services, and Center for Disease Control. From all of the interests involved must emerge a single “desired national outcome” to guide the response. Depending on where the vessel was initially located, its stability and on-scene weather, and many other factors, the timeline for coordinating and carrying out the response might range from days to hours.

 

Maritime border security is a Herculean endeavor that continues to evolve in its complexity. Threats in the maritime domain range from primitive vessels: “sail freighters” from Haiti, “chugs” and “rusticas” from Cuba, and “yolas” from the Dominican Republic- to submarines manufactured in Andean jungles that can transit from Ecuador to Los Angles while thirty feet below the surface. The nature of the threat varies widely as well- terrorism, pandemic, narcotics, humanitarian crisis, etc. MOTR is an important evolutionary lead towards enhancing the US ability to respond to these threats more quickly and efficiently.

summer-reading

A Beginner’s Naval Intelligence Reading List

summer-readingWhile the very topic of naval intelligence may seem to imply secrecy, there is a substantial literature on the topic available to the general reader. While many of the books below may be well known to many in the field, they remain a useful start for the uninitiated:

Patrick Beesley’s two books about British efforts to collect, analyze, and use intelligence, particularly in support of the fight against German submarine warfare, are the best places to start for anyone interested in the practical application of intelligence at sea. Very Special Intelligence: The Story of the Admiralty’s Operational Intelligence Centre, 1939-1945 discusses the Second World War, while Room 40: British Naval Intelligence 1914-1918 covers the First World War. In both books Beesley contrasts the performance of these organizations during the two wars (the sharing and use of intelligence was much better during the Second World War). The discussion of British Naval Intelligence’s involvement in the famous Zimmermann Telegram and the subsequent U.S. entry into the First World War is fascinating.

The recommendation of John Keegan’s Intelligence in War may seem a little too obvious and on the nose, but his chapters on intelligence during the age of sail, the First World War, and the Battles of the Atlantic and Midway during the Second World War are one of the best summations of how wireless communications largely created what naval intelligence practitioners call OPINTEL (operational intelligence). Before wireless communications navies conducted “scouting” and “reconnaissance,” but intelligence as we understand it today largely results from the wireless revolution.

Christopher Ford and David Rosenberg’s The Admiral’s Advantage: U.S. Navy Operational Intelligence in World War II and the Cold War is a flawed book, in large part because this slim volume uses the excuse of many of its sources still being classified to justify the general lack of detail and substance devoted to its subject. Having said that, it’s virtually the only source available to a general audience that explains the post-Second World War history of U.S. Navy intelligence. Among the more interesting claims it makes is that the U.S. Navy’s famous Maritime Strategy of the 1980s was directly informed by a detailed understanding of Soviet naval doctrine by American intelligence analysts.

Colonel John Hughes-Wilson’s Military Intelligence Blunders and Cover-Ups features regularly in military and academic courses on intelligence. Discussion of Indications and Warning failures include chapters on Pearl Harbor, the 1973 October/Yom Kippur/Ramadan War, and the Falklands.

“Eddie” Layton and “Joe” Rochefort are two figures considered among the founding heroes of the U.S. Navy’s Intelligence and Information Warfare communities, respectively. Layton (he retired as a Rear Admiral) was the Pacific Fleet’s intelligence officer during the Second World War (both during the Pearl Harbor disaster and the later American victories in the Pacific) while Rochefort led the codebreaking effort that enabled the American victory at Midway. Layton’s autobiography And I was There as well as the recently published biography, Joe Rochefort’s War, offer insight into how a few surface line officers in the inter-war period began to specialize in intelligence-related duties. Of note, both Layton and Rochefort participated in a program that sent them to Japan for several years to learn the language and culture first-hand, an investment that seems to have paid off.

U.S. Naval Intelligence has been one of the many elements of the intelligence community supporting the various aspects of what used to be called the Global War on Terrorism. Mark Bowden is probably the most well-known author covering the special operations world over the fifteen years. While Black Hawk Down is his most famous book, Killing Pablo: The Hunt for the World’s Greatest Outlaw offers another look at the formative years of the current U.S. Special Operations complex and how intelligence is collected and used to target individuals. He’s also written articles for the Atlantic on the 2006 killing of Abu Musab Zarqawi in Iraq, American Special Operations in the Philippines, and counter-drug operations in Colombia.

For those interested in film treatments of intelligence in support of counter-terrorism the obvious choice is probably Zero Dark Thirty. My choice, however, is John Malkovich’s adaptation of Nicholas Shakespeare’s the Dancer Upstairs, a fictionalized depiction of the hunt for Abimael Guzmán, the leader of Peru’s Marxist Sendoro Luminoso Maoist guerrillas in the 1980s and 90s (both the book and film are excellent).

Lieutenant Commander Mark Munson is a Naval Intelligence officer currently serving on the OPNAV staff. He has previously served at Naval Special Warfare Group FOUR, the Office of Naval Intelligence, and onboard USS Essex (LHD 2). The views expressed are solely those of the author and do not reflect the official viewpoints or policies of the Department of Defense or the US Government.

The Mighty Moo, USS Cowpens, maneuvering with the deftness of its heifer namesake.

The “Mighty Moo” Maneuvers Around Trouble

The Mighty Moo, USS Cowpens, maneuvering with the deftness of its heifer namesake.
The Mighty Moo, USS Cowpens (GG-63), maneuvering with the deftness of its heifer namesake.

The recent near-collision of a PLA Navy tank landing ship and the missile-guided cruiser USS Cowpens in the South China Sea represents yet another incident in a long line of instances of Chinese gamesmanship with the US Navy extending back to the March 2009 harassment of the USNS Impeccable and the 2001 downing of an EP-3. In each of these cases, the Chinese took issue with the United State conducting surveillance of Chinese military targets at sea or on the Chinese mainland (in this case, the Cowpens was conducting surveillance of the PLAN aircraft carrier Liaoning, which was for the first time conducting exercises in the South China Sea).

All three occurred in the South China Sea, although it is not currently clear from media reports where exactly the most recent confrontation took place. This could prove to be an important distinction. Previously, Beijing justified its escalatory responses to US actions by saying that they interpreted U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) to mean that military activities within the Chinese exclusive economic zone (EEZ) were prohibited without the consent of China. The EP-3 and Impeccable incidents both occurred near Hainan Island, inside the Chinese EEZ. If this most recent escalatory move occurred outside the EEZ, it will be particularly interesting to see how China justifies itself. Are they expanding their legal interpretation further by claiming that all military activities conducted in waters within the so-called “nine-dash line” must receive Chinese approval? This of course is conjecture—especially given that as of this writing it also appears from a cursory glance of Chinese-language news websites that neither the PLA nor the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs has yet made a statement. At that point this issue will require the analysis of individuals better trained in the vagaries of Chinese territorial legal disputes than I.

Also pertinent to this debate is the recent admission at this year’s Shangri-La Dialogue (by a Chinese military officer no less!) that the PLAN was itself already conducting surveillance of U.S. military installations on Guam and Hawaii within U.S. EEZs around those islands. As Rory Medcalf points out, this clearly contradicts the Chinese legal position on the matter. At what point will this hypocrisy actually catch up with the PLA and necessitate a change in China’s legal position?

Last week at an event at the Wilson Center, Oriana Skylar Mastro suggested that China’s recent announcement of the East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) fits into a pattern of Chinese “coercive diplomacy,” in which China manipulates risk and intentionally raises the risk of an accident, a view echoed by other analysts in an approach known as salami tactics. In this way, China stops just short of further escalation, and achieves its objectives of slowly chipping away at opposing territorial positions and international legal norms. This analysis is clearly simpatico with her earlier published work regarding the Impeccable incident and the most recent confrontation involving the USS Cowpens. In her paper, Dr. Mastro identified a coordinated Chinese media campaign and legal challenge that accompanied the PLA’s military provocation. She also recommended that in order to prevent further Chinese attempts at escalation, the United States should publicize these events, directly challenge the Chinese legal position, and maintain a strong presence in the area, all things which the United States is now doing (specifically in the Cowpens case, the Department of Defense broke the story).

These are sound responses to Chinese attempts to delegitimize lawful operations in international waters. What should the United States not do? In an article published by the Washington Free Beacon, Bill Gertz quotes a senior fellow at the International Assessment and Strategy Center, Rick Fisher, who suggests that China in this incident is intentionally “looking for a fight” that will “cow the Americans,” and that the United States and Japan should heavily fortify the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands in response. Aside from the fact that China certainly is not “looking for a fight,” fortifying the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands would be a terrible idea. The U.S. government does not even take an official position on the islands’ sovereignty! The U.S. response should certainly be firm in insisting that surveillance within foreign EEZs is completely legitimate and lawful; but turning this issue into about something other than surveillance in international waters would be blowing it out of all proportion. The United States should, in contrast to the ways in which China’s behavior is perceived, proceed carefully but resolutely and stick to its guns.

William Yale is a graduate student at Johns Hopkins SAIS. He has lived in China for two years, and worked at the Naval War College and the U.S. State Department. He tweets @wayale and blogs at williamyale.com.