All posts by Felix Seidler

What Should Be in the New European Maritime Security Strategy

(Correction: This was published under the editorial account originally. Apologies to Felix; your grasp of strategy is superior to ours of WordPress)
Maritime great power politics is back and here to stay. Hence, the EU needs to adapt and rediscover geopolitics in developing its new European Maritime Security Strategy (EMSS). Although hard power matters most, Europe’s naval decline is likely to continue: less money, less navies. To be nevertheless a serious player, the EU has to adapt a smart-power approach. Most important is that the EU says what it does and does what it says. 


Time to Leave Strategic No Man’s Land
 
The European Council’s December session on security policy offers only one remarkable result: In June 2014, the EU will endorse a new European Maritime Security Strategy (EMSS). After years of economic crisis, geopolitical decline and military constraints, an EMSS could give the EU a new push to adapt to the evolving security environment. Such a push is more than necessary. Ten years after the European Security Strategy (ESS), Europe drifted from large ambitions into a strategic no man’s land: as seen in the Middle East and East Asia soft power has become more and more irrelevant, while great power competitions and geopolitics are back on the stage. In consequence, nobody is talking about a more secure Europe nor about the EU building a better world.
 
However, in the maritime domain Europe could come back on track. Therefore, the EMSS must address three key points. First, it has to define Europe’s strategic-maritime aims and set out the means to implement them. Second, due to its capabilities, there has to be a clear work-sharing with NATO, because the Alliance is much stronger in maritime security than the EU. Third, the EMSS must outline how the EU wants to adapt to a geopolitical/strategic environment that will not only develop to Europe’s disadvantage, but also to the advantage of other powers.
 
In the EMSS’ development, there is no need for a long debate about security challenges, risks and threats, because the problems are well known: Terrorism, piracy, proliferation, organized crime, energy security, choke points, critical infrastructure, disaster relief and so forth. Not war-fighting or deterrence, but rather military operations other than war (MOOTW) are likely to dominate the operational agenda. What changed, in contrast to ESS 2003, are not the security challenges, risks and threats, but rather the players and theaters.
 
Relevant Heaters: The Arctic, the Indo-Pacific, and the Med
 
Source: EUISS Report No. 16, p. 17

As the EMSS is about “security”, the Baltic and the North Sea do not matter (when Russia tries to provoke, so what?). These are NATO/EU inland seas and, therefore, only subject to regular politics and not to military considerations. What should concern Europe are the Arctic, the Indo-Pacific, and primarily the Mediterranean. The Gulf of Guinea is an area of operational, but not of strategic concern. Piracy can be tackled by regional actors with international support.

The Arctic’s emerging geopolitical relevance is stressed by the relatively high number of applicants for observer status in the Arctic Council. In May 2013, the EU suffered a serious defeat, as Brussels’ application was rejected, while China, India, Italy, Japan, South Korea, and even Singapore became observers. For the EMSS it has therefore to be said, that there is no military role for the EU in the High North. Sweden and Finland are Arctic Council members, but without direct access to the Arctic waters. What matters for the EU are trade routes and resources. Thus, an EMSS should define how the EU can contribute to safe and secure Arctic shipping lanes and how Europe’s resource interests can be preserved. After the rejection, however, it is clear that EU will not be one of the major players in the High North. Instead, other theaters should receive more attention.

Indian Navy show its two carriers (Source: WiB)

The Indo-Pacific should be of great concern for the EU. Due to China’s and India’s naval rise along with the growing seaborne trade, the Indian and Pacific Oceans have to be seen as one theater. Moreover, there is an emerging Asian power web made by bi-, tri-, and multilateral maritime security partnerships among Indo-Pacific states. The EU’s interests in Indo-Pacific security are primarily motivated by economics. In 2012, the total value of goods shipped from Europe to Asia was 816 billion Euros. While the EU can and should play a role in the Indian Ocean, the EU will hardly become relevant East of the Malacca Strait. The EU has been rejected three times as an observer at the East Asia Summit. Thus, an EMSS has to put a strong emphasis on the Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf, but it also has to accept that EU will remain irrelevant between Singapore and Vladivostok.

Only France and Britain could make themselves relevant in maritime East Asia. However, while current budgetary constraints remain they will only choose to go there in case of a major incident. During its disaster relief operation on the Philippines, the Royal Navy demonstrated that the UK is still capable of acting East of Malacca. However, the British posture also showed the Royal Navy’s limits. Moreover, it can be ruled out that Paris and London develop some kind of EU maritime security altruism and make an expeditionary EU presence a national priority. Instead, both will allocate their expensive warships to operations concerning their national interests, but not to EU (or NATO and UN) tasks.

Hence, the EMSS has to outline what European states want to do together in the Indo-Pacific and what not. It does not make any sense to write high expeditionary ambitions into a strategy, when it is clear from the beginning that those who have the means for implementing have no interest in doing so. But less can be more. The EMSS should contain realistic and credible ambitions in the Indo-Pacific, making the EU an actor who says what it does, and does what it says. Otherwise, the EU is doomed to irrelevance East of the Suez. In addition, the EU has to withstand the seduction of new free-riding with maritime stability and security provided by Asian powers. There is no guarantee that those powers will remain friendly to European interests.

Most important for the EU is the Med. Not only due to the refugee issue, but also by the new great power plays in the Eastern Med. Russia has returned as a serious naval actor with its largest expeditionary operation since 1991. New conflicts about offshore gas will emerge. Moreover, the growing instability in North Africa from Tunisia to the Suez Canal demands EU action. Therefore, Brussels’ main challenge will be to define in the EMSS how the EU wants to cooperate further with its Med partners. In addition, the EMSS has to say how EU aims to contribute from the maritime domain to stability ashore. Although terrorism, proliferation, human trafficking, illegal migration, and organized crime are subject to the EU’s maritime agenda, the solutions are to be found on land, not on the waters.

Dealing with New Maritime Powers

After the USSR’s collapse, only the United States and EU countries, in particular Britain and France, possessed the monopoly on long-range power projection. Up to now, there has been no other country able to go for Falklands War-style missions. This is going to change. While France and Britain are struggling to keep their capabilities alive, others – especially China, Russia and India – are preparing themselves for expeditionary missions, such as Russia’s expeditionary Med deployment. In terms of expeditionary power projection, Australia, Brazil, Japan, and South Korea could become more capable players, if their governments decide to pursue that track. Rather than focusing on security challenges, EMSS has to address how Europe wants to deal with emerging naval powers. Of course, cooperation for promoting common interests, like safe and secure sea-lanes or mutual trust-building, should be a top priority. However, Brussels tends to see the world too much through pink glasses, where the world becomes good by itself as long as there are talks about multilateralism and global governance. Although the maritime environment could remain friendly to EU interests, due to great power politics this cannot be taken for granted. Therefore, the EMSS has to address how the EU will react (it will not take the initiative) in case of fundamental state-driven changes to a maritime environment that are hostile to European interests.

Thus, advancing partnerships with like-minded democracies like India, Japan, Australia, and South Korea has to be an EMSS priority. Other potential partners include Singapore, Indonesia, and New Zealand. Cooperation with China is likely to be more difficult as recent Chinese actions (ADIZ) showed that Beijing’s approach continues to become much more assertive.

EU’s Aims

Defining realistic and achievable aims for the EU is that simple: stability, security, safety, and prosperity. Stability is the most important of all aims. It enables the flow of trade and the opportunities of doing non-hard power related politics. However, stability requires security and safety. Those three lead to the fourth aim: prosperity by the maritime domain as an area that provides trade lanes and resources. For the EU, it does not matter who owns what. However, Europe’s interest is the absence of conflict. Hence, an EMSS has to outline an increased portfolio of cooperation and trust-building programs.

Europe’s Means 

Europe’s soft- and hard-power continue to suffer seriously from the monetary and economic crisis. To be effective and efficient, the EU has to follow an approach of smart power. The latter means the combination of civilian and military means. However, as navies are costly, the EU’s focus should generally be on civilian capabilities, where necessary accompanied by military assets. In the case of hard power, there will be no European comeback. Recent celebrations about countries leaving the economic rescue mechanisms ignore that the old mechanism became irrelevant because there is a new unofficial rescue mechanism called European Central Bank (which does not include any submission to “Troika” obligations). The crisis has been managed, but it has not been solved. As Europe has not left the debt track, Europe’s armed forces will face further cuts.
 
As hard power goes, the navies matter most, because that is what is needed to pursue the EU’s interests on the high seas and there is no soft power equivalent. Hence, it is important for Europe that the Royal Navy commissions both new carriers and that France, Italy, and Spain preserve their flattops. Moreover, with an eye on the Med and Indo-Pacific theaters, LHDs and LPDs will be needed for MOOTW. Of course, this requires a balanced fleet with destroyers, frigates and submarines. For long-range power projection, the British and French SSN remain very relevant. Moreover, although extremely unpopular, Europe has to maintain a credible sea-based nuclear deterrent. That is also why Britain should throw all alternatives in the bin and build four new SSBNs. To implement maritime smart power, coast guard vessels and patrol aircraft are needed along with partnership teams on land. Especially in the Med, police enforcement capabilities are necessary. Challenges like migration and organized crime are not military issues. Moreover, research ships and new policies for fishing and energy are of great concern.

NATO vs. EU? How to Deal with the US?

While much has been said above about emerging naval powers, the world’s largest seapower, America, will remain Europe’s most important naval partner based on common interests and capabilities. That is why NATO has a great maritime relevance, because it links the U.S. Navy to Europe. As the EU does not have any formal naval links with the United States yet, the EMSS has to clarify the relationship between the EU, NATO, and the United States. What we do not need is a beauty contest, but what we do need is clearly defined and coordinated work-sharing. 
Standing NATO Maritime Group 1 (Source)

There was never a real reason why both NATO and the EU had to have maritime operations in the Gulf of Aden. But both organizations wanted to be part of the international maritime beauty contest. In the future however, Europe cannot afford two organizations doing the same thing. Therefore, work-sharing between the EU and NATO should look like this: while the EU is good at civilian missions and smart power, NATO has decades-old naval hard-power experience. Hence, the modus vivendi should give the EU the softer and civilian tasks, while NATO gets the hard power jobs; Europe will likely become less capable in hard power anyway and only NATO provides access to the needed U.S. assets (and maybe British assets, too, if the UK leaves the EU) and NATO’s Standing Maritime Groups.

However, NATO’s real maritime worth is that the alliance links Britain, Canada, Turkey, and Norway to European security. The UK is drifting apart from EU, but the Royal Navy will remain the most capable of all European navies. Meanwhile Turkey is an indispensable partner in the Med, as are Canada and Norway in Arctic. All four countries continue to invest in their naval capabilities.

In the U.S.-NATO-EU triangle, the EMSS has to address who does what and where. While the United States will carry most of the maritime burdens in the Indo-Pacific, also relying on coalitions of the willing, NATO’s concern should be hard power missions in the Med and Indian Ocean. In such a work-sharing arrangement, the EU’s job would be to tackle the civilian and softer issues in the Med and the Indian Ocean; maybe in the South Atlantic, too.

Dealing with Decline

Chinese frigate Yangcheng in Limassol, Cyprus (Source)

To secure the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons, China’s navy is now operating from Cyprus, an EU member state, in the Eastern Med. Yes, it is only access to a port for supplies and it is only on a tactical level. Nevertheless, it is remarkable that while the EU is not taken seriously in Asia, China shows the flag in Europe’s homewaters. Never before has a non-Western power conducted tactical operations from an EU member state.

In addition, in 2012, Japan’s premier minister Shinzo Abe invited Britain and France to come to the Asian maritime security theater. Nine years after the ESS endorsement it was quite humiliating for the EU that it was not the Union herself, but rather two nation states that were asked. Due Europe’s economic and demographic problems, European (maritime) decline is real and it is likely to continue.

To 2030

Up to 2030 the competition for resources and economic growth will increase the global sea-lanes’ importance, foremost in the Indo-Pacific, and be matched by the relevance of navies will go along with that. Moreover, by 2030 China, India and Russia (and perhaps others) will operate navies capable of medium- and long-range power projection. China then could posses the capabilities to fight (and win) Falklands-style wars.

Economically, China will have surpassed the United States as the world’s largest economy, and European economies will have dropped back in the global economic hierarchy. The consequence will be that Europe will not be able anymore to conduct operations like Libya 2011. Moreover, European power projection will be balanced by the emerging naval power of others. Thus, it essential that the EU enhances its partnerships with the United States and NATO and, moreover, creates new partnerships with like-minded democracies, in particular India.

Digitization and robotics will lead to the fact that coming generations of naval systems can do even more than today, however, they will be even more complex and therefore more expensive in procurement and maintenance. Europe’s budgetary situation will make the joint development, procurement and operation of new naval system a necessity. If this does not happen, Europe will simply disappear from the maritime domain as a serious, capable actor. In addition, it is likely that emerging navies, in particular China, will have the financial means to generate new high-end warfare assets, which will negatively affect Europe’s power.

With France on the march into an even worse economic mess, the EU’s maritime power projection will largely depend on Britain – as long as the UK remains an EU member. Britain’s coming carriers and other high-end warfare capabilities (SSN, SSBN, Type 26 frigates) will be critical for Europe to be capable and taken seriously in international maritime power politics. In this regard, the worst that could happen is that London decides to sell the second carrier to an emerging navy (e.g. Brazil). For the maritime balance of power, the second carrier must remain British (or European in some way) or, if it is sold, it has to be given to a like-minded country (e.g. Japan or Australia).

After 2030, China is likely to and India could maybe reach the naval power status of the Soviet Union in the 1980s. This means the capability of global power projection and the ability to conduct at least one high-intensity operation. We will see scenarios where emerging navies conduct expeditionary power projection operations, while Europe will be incapable of doing anything if there is no reversal of current trends.

Imagining the EU as a capable global, geostrategic, and maritime security player is hardly imaginable for the decades to come. Hence, though it is not a popular idea, Europeans will have to re-discover the transatlantic partnership and NATO – a maritime alliance by nature. No matter how far Asian navies rise, the U.S. Navy will remain the most capable of all. Although its dominance of the international maritime order will be challenged more and more, America is likely to recover through the shale gas boom and a Europe in decline is well advised to seek close cooperation.

What to Do?

For the EMSS’ implementation, preserving and renewing capabilities is essential. Countries like Germany, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Poland in the north; Portugal, Spain, and Italy in the south have to create new mechanisms to integrate their navies. Jointly operated LPDs or submarines could be a start. Joint task groups of coast guards, police services, technical and environmental experts (and others) are a necessity. Whatever is agreed in the EMSS it matters more that words are followed by actions. In a time of new maritime great power politics, Europe must say what it does and do what it says. Otherwise, the EU will not be taken seriously and the EMSS can just be dumped in the bin.

Felix Seidler is a fellow at the Institute for Security Policy, University of Kiel, Germany, and runs the site Seidlers-Sicherheitspolitik.net (Seidler’s Security Policy). This post appeared in its original form here.

Follow Felix on Twitter: @SeidersSiPo

Singapore: German Subs’ Strategic Value

Congratulations, Singapore! In 2020, the city-state will operate the Indo-Pacific’s most advanced, non-nuclear-powered submarines. For China, these submarines present a challenge, however for Germany the deal provides the potential for greater security policy access to maritime Asia.

Type 218

Type_214_1
The Type 214, predeccesor to the Type 218SG

In early December, German shipbuilder Thyssen announced that Singapore’s navy had contracted two Type 218SG U-boats, a variety previously unknown. While the Type 216 concept has been in public discussion Type 218 had not. As it seems, Type 218SG is an improved version of Type 214, adjusted to Singapore’s specific needs, thus the “SG” suffix. Given its size and operational profile, Type 214/218SG subs are very well suited for operations in coastal waters, such as those around Singapore. Thyssen’s offered Type 216 concept is would have been too large.

Thanks to the air-independent propulsion (AIP) fuel cells the U-boat operates almost noiselessly like a nuclear-powered submarine, but without the heat signature caused by the reactor. In consequence, by 2020, Singapore will receive the most advanced non-nuclear-powered submarines in the Indo-Pacific.

Why Singapore Needs U-boats

Lately, international attention has largely been on aircraft carriers and, through China’s ADIZ, with air forces. However, Asia’s arms race takes pace underwater as much as it does on the surface. China is expanding its fleet of nuclear and conventionally powered attack submarines in quality and quantity and the U.S. will commission even more new Virginia-class nuclear subs.

Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, Indonesia, Australia, the Philippines, and Pakistan all maintain programs to start, modernize, or expand their submarine fleets. South Korea has already been a customer of Germany’s submarines. Especially small countries, who are missing the resources and capacities for large expeditionary fleets, will respond to China’s increasing capabilities by expanding of their submarine forces.

The U.S. and Britain will favor ally Singapore’s procurement of top-of-the-line German U-boats, but the purchase will certainly not please China’s navy. All Chinese warships underway to the Indian Ocean by the far-most economic route have to pass the shallow waters around Singapore, thereby coming in range of the barely detectable 218s.

The purchase of a German product also helps keep Singapore’s fleet interoperable with Western navies. For the West this is advantageous in the event that continued Chinese “assertiveness,” spurs the formation of new coalitions in Southeast Asia. Japan is already pursuing that track. Given China’s desire to establish an ADIZ in the South China Sea, at least one aircraft carrier would have to transit to the south of the South China Sea to enforce it. China’s fighter jets lack the range to launch from the mainland and aerial refueling capabilities are too immature. Thus, Singapore’s Type 218s would pose a serious challenge to any Chinese carrier task force.

How far China has advanced in sonar techniques and submarine detection is hard to say. If German Type 212s can make their way through the anti-sub-defense of a U.S. aircraft carrier, the even more advanced 218s should have no major difficulty embarrassing the Chinese navy.

Yet just two 218s will not be enough because Singapore’s navy also has an Endurance-class LPD and surface warships to protect. One rule applies to warships as well as submarines: one at sea, one in the yard, and one developing its readiness. Of course, the Singaporeans know that. Thus, given a successful program development, we will likely see an order of a second tranche.

Strategic Value for Germany

The announced deal is also a win for Germany. Besides the good deal for the German defense industry, the secured jobs, and the revenue, the deal’s strategic value must also be examined. By purchasing amphibious landing ships, new frigates and the F-35, Singapore, with its central geo-strategic location, is on the way to become a military powerhouse. It is therefore in the interests of a maritime trade-dependent nation like Germany, to have good relations with Singapore, as it inhabits one of the world’s most important ports.

Germany has not yet had any maritime security access east of the Malacca Strait in Southeast Asia. Even its role in the Indian Ocean has remained unusually limited. With the further pace-taking maritime arms-race in Southeast Asia, Germany now has a bright foot in the door. In addition, Singapore will become dependent after 2020 on German spare part deliveries.

It should be noted that a submarine deal with South Korea, to this day, has not produced any immediate strategic value or results in practical security policy. Through two customers instead of one that could change, especially as Germany pursues additional export deals in the region.

In addition to the potential for these lucrative arcontracts, Germany has an interest in a stable, peaceful maritime arc running from Singapore and Vladivostok. China’s re-armament, coupled with a more assertive military doctrine, and its aggressive enforcement ensures the opposite. Since one can doubt U.S. resolve thanks to the Obama Administration and the federal budget, the countries of the region must be able to balance China’s rise, at least partially, by themselves. Therefore, German-built subs can surely do their share.

Felix Seidler is a fellow at the Institute for Security Policy, University of Kiel, Germany, and runs the site Seidlers-Sicherheitspolitik.net (Seidler’s Security Policy).

Follow Felix on Twitter: @SeidersSiPo

Germany Needs a Permanent Naval Presence in the Indian Ocean

The call for more German engagement in international security is not misguided. There are core interests to protect between Gibraltar and East Asia. As politics by other means, this includes showing the flag East of Suez.
Maritime Core Interests
Recently, James Rogers argued that European geostrategy in the Indo-Pacific is not European, but rather only British and French. He was right. However, with both countries’ political, social and economical travails, it is doubtful Paris and London will be able to accommodate their ambitions. In the name of European interests, other European states have to get involved; this applies in particular to Europe’s present economic powerhouse: Germany.
The Baltic, North Sea and North Atlantic are NATO/EU-inland-seas. Since 1991, they are not subject to military considerations and are therefore relatively safe. Germany’s maritime core interests are located in a corridor from Gibraltar through Suez and Malacca to the Ports of East Asia. Stability in the maritime arena is almost entirely provided by the US. However, a bankrupt America is unlikely to provide additional free-rides to the Europeans.
It’s For the Interests
The German Navy needs to contribute to stability and security in the Indian Ocean, because the world’s fourth largest economy is heavily dependent on exports and global trade. In 2012, the total value of all goods shipped from Europe to Asia was 816 billion Euros (Holslag 2013: 157). No doubt, Germany’s industry has done its share of this total value. Andrew Erickson, in addition, has outlined why the Indian Ocean is so important for Europe:

“The Indian Ocean is not just a source of raw materials; it is also a vital conduit for bringing those materials to market. Most notably, it is a key transit route for oil making its way from the Persian Gulf to consumers in Europe and Asia. Seventeen million barrels of oil a day (20 percent of the world’s oil supply and 93 percent of oil exported from the Gulf) transits by tanker through the Strait of Hormuz and into the western reaches of the Indian Ocean. (…) In terms of global trade, the Indian Ocean is a major waterway linking manufacturers in East Asia with markets in Europe, Africa, and the Persian Gulf. Indeed, the Asia–Europe shipping route, via the Indian Ocean, has recently displaced the transpacific route as the world’s largest containerized trading lane.” (A. Erickson: Diego Garcia, p. 23)

German vital interests, shared by its European and global partners, are therefore safe and secure sea-lanes. Needed are stability ashore and the absence of state and non-state sea-control, which could become hostile to German interests. Combating piracy and terrorism as well as contributing to disaster relief and mutual trust building are therefore security challenges Germany must tackle in the Indian Ocean to pursue its interest of geopolitical stability.

Source and legend: Int. Seabed Authority

In addition, Germany has also resource interests in the Indian Ocean. Its deep sea is blessed with metal resources and Berlin is already working on gaining exploration rights. German research ships pay regular visits to the Indian Ocean. In the coming run for deep sea resources, Germany will not stay absent. When the deep sea mining starts (probably after 2020), the expensive ships are easy to target and very vulnerable. Due to Rare Earths, Manganese and Cobalt, mining in the Indian Ocean could become of extreme economic importance. Blue-water operating ships need blue-water protection, otherwise pirates, terrorists, criminals or even other states may conclude that the German ships are easy to capture.

Of course, the Indian Ocean’s resources will be subject to international diplomacy. However, diplomacy needs a backbone; often that is an economic, but sometimes it has to be a military one. If all you get from Berlin is words, nobody will pay attention to its interests. Showing the flag is therefore a way to make oneself heard.

Finally, Germany has an interest to sell its arms to the world’s most emerging defense market – Asia. Thus, an Indian Ocean presence is also a means to advertise the products of German shipyards to potential Asian customers.
Berlin’s New Stance

It seems that minds are slowly shifting in Berlin towards more German responsibility in international security. Thomas de Maizière, defense minister and potential 2014 NATO SecGen, is arguing for an end of Germany’s “Sonderrolle” and is promoting NATO reform. Moreover, a recent SWP/GMF-report, written by a numerous think tankers and policy-makers from all parties, says that Germany must lead more and show more organic initiative to contribute to a stable international order.During the summer, there were many op-eds in the German press which criticized the government’s passivity in global affairs, with special regard to Syria, and called for a more active foreign policy. One example is a comment published by the Berlin-based newspaper Der Tagesspiegel saying that Germany’s geopolitical reluctance has become grotesque. Slowly, public debate in Germany has started to change.

However, written words do not mean that things get done. Nevertheless, it is remarkable that Emily Haber, State Secretary in the Federal Foreign Office, gave a speech about Germany’s interests in the Indian Ocean. With a strong geopolitical and geo-economic emphasis, Mrs. Haber outlined that “the Indian Ocean will be the new center of the international limelight”. Due to the contrast to what you normally get from many German voices, Mrs. Haber’s speech is definitely worth quoting to show why the Indian Ocean is an area of German interests:

“What is Germany’s interest in that region? Just as China is connected to the Indian Ocean on its Eastern side by the Strait of Malacca, Germany and Europe are connected to it by the Suez Canal on its Western side. Neither China nor Germany is a rim country, but as the world’s strongest export nations we both have an eminent interest in open sea lanes of communication and free trade. (…) If we look at the economic data, Germany is – just like China – a strong trading partner for the Indian Ocean rim countries. Trade and economy hinge on security and stability. We realize that. (…) But when we state our interest in secure and stable conditions for trade and cooperation with Indian Ocean rim countries, and beyond, we believe it goes both ways. After all, we are the world’s largest and arguably most innovative free trade area, and the Indian Ocean is your pathway to it.” (Link)

Source: EUISS Report No. 16, p. 17

We see Germany has significant interests in the Indian Ocean. Moreover, these are not in solely national interests, but rather shared with Berlin’s European and American allies and also with Indo-Pacific countries. (Sadly, different   from other global capitals, the term Indo-Pacific is not used frequently in Berlin, yet. Even in the academic landscape, watching Asian geopolitics with an Indo-Pacific focus is rare.) It is time that Europe’s present economic powerhouse does its share to contribute active- and globally to a stable international order and to a peaceful use of the global commons. To be taken serious, German foreign policy must deliver more than calls (without consequences) for disarmament and arms control.

Djibouti or Diego Garcia?

Many Germans will scream out loud at the idea of a permanent naval presence in the Indian Ocean. However, widely unrecognized, such a presence already started in 2002 (Operation Enduring Freedom 2002-10, Operation Atalanta 2009-present).In addition, German ships took part in NATO-SNMG port visits in the Indian Ocean. Bi-annually, the German and South African Navies hold joint exercises. After the 2004 Tsunami, a German supply ship went to Indonesia for disaster relief. Most notable, two times German frigates, Hessen in 2010 and Hamburg in 2013, operated in the Arabian Sea over several months in real(!) deployments of US carrier strike groups.

German LHD? Maybe? (Source)

Worth mentioning is also the Hansa Stavanger incident. In April 2009, Somali pirates captured the German cargo ship and took the crew as hostages. From the US Navy LHD USS Boxer, German special forces (GSG 9) planned an assault to free the hostages. The mission was cancelled by Washington, because the Americans were fed up from political troubles in Berlin about the mission. However, Hansa Stavanger provides two maritime lessons to learn for the Germans. Number one, they need their own LHD/LPD or at least permanent access to one. Number two, a naval presence in the Indian Ocean is necessary not only to protect their interests, but also their fellow citizens (and those of allies and partners). Next time maybe the US Navy will not provide one of their expensive LHDs. The overstretched French and British could be incapable to help out.

Thus, the case for a permanent German naval presence is less spectacular than it seems. This article argues to extend what is already happening since more than ten years. The German Navy should operate one frigate or corvette based in Djibouti, if possible in cooperation with the French and other on-site navies. Submarines, SIGINT ships, surveillance planes and supply ships could be send whenever necessary. As Germany considers buying one or two LPD and developing amphibious cooperation projections with Poland and the Netherlands, a joint German-Dutch-Polish expeditionary task force might be an idea worth discussing.

Location of Diego Garcia (red)

Instead of Djibouti, the US naval and air base Diego Garcia is a considerable location. Having already cooperated with the US in the Indian Ocean, Germany could base a frigate there. Such a move would strengthen its relationship with its closest non-European ally. Moreover, the US base is more reliable and safer than Djibouti. There is no terrorist threat on the island or the possibility of a government kicking the Germans out. From a strategic perspective, there is no reason why the United States should not welcome a German presence on Diego Garcia, because Europe is much dependent on the Indian Ocean than America.

“However, as noted previously, many of America’s allies and key trading partners in Europe and East Asia are highly dependent on the Indian Ocean for energy. Similarly, with respect to the goods trade, the Indian Ocean is also a far more important conduit for the nations of East Asia and Europe than it is for the United States. Thus the strategic importance of the IOR to the US is not based on its direct impact on America, but on its importance for key US allies and partners. In so far as developments in the IOR affect key allies and partners in Europe and East Asia, who depend on the region energy and trade flows, they are of importance to the United States.” (A. Erickson: Diego Garcia, p. 24)

Any US reluctance to give access to Diego Garcia should be countered with the argument, that it was Washington which was calling for more European and German global engagement. Now, when Germany wants to do something, America should not close the door.

The location in Djibouti is much closer to the vital sea-lanes, while Diego Garcia offers greater flexibility. Therefore, if the German Navy should seek for access to both bases. Diego Garcia is closer to the deep sea claims. However, there will be no German naval operations to secure claims by force. Nevertheless, Germany should be able to act in areas of its interest, to protect its vessels against pirates, and to conduct search and rescue missions.

Even if minds in Berlin have slowly started to shift, nobody should be afraid of the Germans. There will be no national operations using force to oppose Berlin’s will on other countries, due to the legal situation and political culture. Frankly, Germany will not strike Dubai to stop the money laundry. Moreover, the scope of operations is limited, due the tyranny of distance and capabilities; East of Malacca tours are unlikely. Any German presence is about showing the flag to demonstrate political will and to protect vital interests like safe sea-lanes.

How to Remove Political and Legal Obstacles

Constitutionally, present German laws for expeditionary missions are still based on the supreme court’s 1994 “out-of-area decision”. According to the ruling, Germany can send troops abroad using force only in missions of international organizations (UN, NATO, EU). National missions involving the use of force abroad are forbidden, with the exception of rescuing citizens (so done in Albania 1997). Legally, Germany is not allowed to go alone for strike missions like Britain in Sierra Leone or France in Mali.Present discussions about Pooling+Sharing and German contributions to NATO capabilities (AWACS, SNMG, staff) show the limits of this legal basis. If Germany wants more NATO/EU-cooperation to work, it must change either the laws for parliamentary approval or even the constitution. Berlin is now (rightly) seen as an unreliable partner.However, right now there is a window of opportunity to change. The coming Grand Coalition has a 4/5 majority in the Bundestag. Necessary for constitution changes is a 2/3 majority. Thus, the situation for Merkel’s government is more than comfortable. Getting the Green Party to join the vote in the second house (Bundesrat) may be the tougher, but possible job.The German constitution should be changed in two ways. Firstly, it should remove present obstacles to German contributions in NATO and EU. Moreover, it should allow permanent expeditionary basing of troops, with the use of force restricted to defensive measures and saving citizens, as long as there is no international mandate for other tasks. Bundestag should get the competence to decide about expeditionary basing, either unlimited or limited in years, but with the right to bring the troops home at any time. In addition, the Bundestag has to approve the necessary funds anyway. No money, no navy.Finally, I now expect the worrywarts to challenge my case with legal and political arguments: legally difficult, politically impossible, too US-friendly and so on. However, maybe the worrywarts should start to recognize how, as outlined above, international order and German debate are changing. Time for them and for German policy-makers to adapt to a geopolitical environment, which requires Germany to do more in global and Indian Ocean affairs.

Felix Seidler is a PhD candidate at the Institute for Security Policy, University of Kiel, Germany, and a German security affairs writer. This article appeared in original form at his website, Seidlers Sicherheitspolitik.

Post-Election German Security Strategy

This article is a part of The Hunt for Strategic September, a week of analysis on the relevance of strategic guidance to today’s maritime strategy(ies). As part of the week we have encouraged our friendly international contributors to provide some perspective on their national and alliance strategic guidance issues.

Euro HawkAfter this week’s vote in Germany Chancellor Angela Merkel is likely to govern at least until 2017. Although fundamental strategy and policy shifts are unlikely, that does not mean everything will stay the same, particularly with regards to jobs in Brussels. Moreover, Germany will face interesting arms procurement debates and may have to re-evaluate its place in Europe.

How to Read the Election Result

Security policy was not an issue during this election campaign. The withdrawal from Afghanistan is in progress and was thus no topic of concern. Hotspots like Syria, Iran, and Egypt may have occupied some time on German TV news, but did not do so in mind of the broader German public. The disaster of the cancellation of the Euro Hawk drone program affected only defense secretary De Maizière’s reputation. Therefore, security policy had no discernible impact on the election’s outcome.

While German voters actually turned right, they got a left wing majority in parliament. The CDU, FDP and the new eurosceptic AfD parties together earned 51 % of all votes. However, as the FDP and AfD missed the 5% voter threshold to enter the Bundestag, parliament now has a left-wing majority. Nevertheless, Merkel’s CDU party will keep governing. Most likely with the SPD, but maybe even with the Greens.

Programmatically, no Merkel-led coalition would face serious difficulties in security policy. The CDU, SPD, and the Greens all-support NATO and the EU’s Common Security and Defense Policy (CSDP), but have a low appetite for an active (and costly) security policy in Europe’s neighborhood let alone across the globe. After 13 years in Afghanistan, all parties will be heavily reluctant to participate in large-scale expeditionary combat missions. Thus, security policy will not be one of the controversial topics during the coming coalition negotiations.

If looking for something interesting to watch, it might be the fight for a top job for a German in Brussels next year. It is clear that Germany will claim one of the five available positions*. Which seat Germany claims and which party will send a candidate will be subject to the coalition negotiations. There were rumors that CDU defense minister De Maizière could go for Rasmussen’s job at NATO. However, it could also turn out that a Social Democrat or Green guy will run for Catherine Ashton’s position as the EU’s Foreign Affairs and Security Policy head – coalition negotiations produce all kinds of strange outcomes after all. We will see when we get there.

New Drones, Fighters and Ships?

Do not expect rising troop numbers. Either the Bundeswehr will remain at about 185,000 soldiers or it will shrink further to 150,000 or even 120,000. As it is, the army struggles for recruits enough anyway. Plans for drastic cuts in Germany’s federal budget have already been leaked. If implemented, the Bundeswehr will once again have to do its share. Too few recruits could be used in arguments for further reductions.

There will, however, be three interesting procurement debates. First, the drone debate will re-surface. Since the early 2000s, all governing parties supported the decision to buy the Euro Hawk. The need for drones is surely there. Thus, it is likely that there will be new UAV procurement decision before 2017.

Second, a topic not yet being discussed is the replacement of Germany’s aging Tornados. These are the Luftwaffe’s only jets who can contribute to NATO’s Nuclear Sharing arrangement. Hence, the question will be if Germany acquires a new fighter-bomber, invests money in making some Eurofighters nuclear-capable or leaves Nuclear Sharing after 2020. With an eye on the German budget and Europe’s financial situation, neither German parties nor the widely nuclear disarmament-obsessed media and public will support spending money on aircraft to carry nuclear warheads. In consequence, prepare yourself for another failure of Germany’s Alliance solidarity.

Third, the German Navy has repeatedly called for two Joint Support Ships (JSS), like the Dutch Rotterdam-class LPD. Such ships are desirable. The German Navy contributes simultaneously to NATO, EU, and UN operations, while participating in international maneuvers and conducting smaller own SIGINT operations. One or two JSS would be a boost for Germany’s power-projection ability and its contribution to international operations. However, it remains to be seen whether there is enough political will and cash to go for JSS.

The Bundeswehr’s New Missions

As said, due to Afghanistan, Germany’s political elite is very reluctant to grant the Bundeswehr new missions. The basic rule: The larger the number of troops, the farther away the operational theater, or the more combat involved the larger the German reluctance. For example, Berlin would ignore a UN call for 5,000 German soldiers to fight in the eastern Congo. Sending 50 officers for training or observation to some place close to Europe would probably get Merkel’s okay. As in Mali and Somalia, Germany’s land forces after Afghanistan will find themselves mostly in training, observation, and disaster relief missions.

Air operations other than NATO Air Policing will also find low support in the Bundestag, the parties, media and public. Only with a clear UN mandate might Germany be willing to send fighters for combat missions. One more reason to send fighters, when called, is to get rid of the image of being an unreliable ally. However, as it did before regarding Libya, decisions like this will not depend on any strategy, but rather on the political situation at home.

Silently, but steadily, the German Navy has done a lot in international operations, especially in the Mediterranean. However, few have recognized that there is since 2002, although within different mandates, a permanent German naval presence in the Indian Ocean. The piracy offshore West Africa makes it likely that we will see the German navy also in the South Atlantic. As German naval missions so far have involved little combat and are publicly not recognized, one can expect that Germany’s naval activities remain the same. Nevertheless, other than for friendly port visits or disaster relief, Berlin will not send warships or submarines east of Malacca.

EU Consensus is Necessary

We will see when the on-going fiscal crisis returns, but right now, it seems that EU’s December summit is really going to talk about security policy (although schedules in Brussels can change very quickly). This is truly necessary, because in the recent past the EU as a security actor has been plagued by disaster (Libya, Mali, Syria, et.al.). It is necessary to decide two things in December: The way for new common strategic vision and to how to increase integration of the armed forces.

For the first goal, Germany, France, and Britain would have to find some kind of geopolitical consensus. However, while Germany has a comfortable working relationship with the Chinese, Britain is reviving its alliance with Japan and talking about plans for troops East of Suez. The extent of the diverging security policy cultures between the Big Three was also seen in their approaches to Syria. In addition, a new coalition partner for Merkel will not change this, rather it could make things even worse, as the SPD is very attached to Russia.

To make EU security policy work, Paris and London would have to step back from their activism and go a bit more German, while Berlin would have to give up its muddling through and go a bit more Anglo-French. Here, a new European Security Strategy might help, but not one decided in one night by the governments. Instead, the EU should look to what NATO did in 2009-10. The Alliance started an open and public process with all member and partner states to debate its new strategic concept. The EU should take that as an example and start its own one- or two-year consensus-building process to debate and develop a new European Security Strategy.

Increased integration of European armed forces is the only way to prevent Europe from falling from part into complete military irrelevance. Germany has already started deeper military integration with the Netherlands and Poland. Moreover, CDU parliamentarians like Andreas Schockenhoff and Roderich Kiesewetter have called publicly for even deeper cooperation of the Bundeswehr with other European forces. But no matter who joins Merkel’s government now and no matter whether the Bundeswehr has 185,000 or 120,000 troops, there are no fundamental changes in sight. Expect Germany to muddle through international security as it did before.

Finally, only a left wing government by SPD, Greens, and Socialists would bring fundamental change to the German attitude towards military missions. In all other constellations, the approach will stay pretty much the same.

Felix Seidler is a PhD candidate at the Institute for Security Policy, University of Kiel, Germany, and a German security affairs writer. This article appeared in original form at his website, Seidlers Sicherheitspolitik.