All posts by Matthew Merighi

Sea Control 141 – The Law of the Sea with John Burgess

By Matthew Merighi 

Join us for the latest episode of Sea Control for a conversation with Professor John Burgess of the Fletcher School about the Law of the Sea and its enduring effects on maritime security. This interview was conducted as part of the roll-out of the Fletcher School’s recently released primer on the Law of the Sea.

Download Sea Control 141 – Law of the Sea with John Burgess

A transcript of the interview between Professor Burgess (JB) and Matthew Merighi (MM) is below.

MM: And we’re back as I mentioned at the top I’m here with professor John Burgess of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. Professor Burgess thank you very much for being with us on Sea Control today.

JB: It’s my pleasure.

MM: As is Sea Control tradition, please tell us a little bit about yourself. Tell us about what are the main formative experiences you’ve had that brought you from where you were to where you are today.

JB: Well, I’m a Professor of Practice at the Fletcher School and that’s after having worked in law firms for about 35 years. But I did always have an interest in national and maritime security. I took a sabbatical and worked for the U.S. State Department in the area and I’d say the majority of my published articles were in the U.S. Naval Institute’s Proceedings, so moving towards maritime security and Law of the Sea as part of the courses I taught here was a pretty natural progression for me.

MM: I guess I’ll probably start the podcast off by mentioning the fact that you have a very robust library of maritime books. I’m curious, you’ve done maritime work but what got you interested in maritime law in the first place? Was it a personal experience or was it kind of discovering it by happenstance through your legal work or what brought you into maritime law?

JB: Well, of course a place like Fletcher been interested in international law and it’s interesting the way fashion works sometimes. The Law of the Sea, as we’ll talk later about the principal Convention, was adopted back in 1994. The course at Fletcher was taught for a while but then dropped out of the curriculum and the more I looked at the issues the more odd that seemed because the Law of the Sea, as embodied in the Law of the Sea Convention, is one of the most comprehensive pieces in international law that exists. And it covers obviously 90 percent of the planet and it raises all the classic issues of international law: how nations work together, how disputes are settled, how resources and rights are allocated, and it crystallizes all of those issues and we face the questions and disputes and developments every day. And so that led me to really want to focus on it in a systematic way. And, of course, here at the school of the international relations, it was a great venue to be able to apply the law to a very rapidly developing set of global situations.

MM: Let’s talk then about the historical underpinnings that have led us to where we are now before we get too far into the current issues. So, the Law of the Sea: tell us a little bit about it. What is it? You talked a little bit about its effects but what is it functionally at its core, why does it exist, what’s the history behind it, and how did it come to be?

JB: To summarize concisely, for the Law of the Sea, one of the reasons that it’s so interesting is that it’s both very old and it’s newest today. When nations began trading, gradually maritime custom and maritime law developed governing those relationships and by the 17th century, international legal thinkers were beginning to think about the ocean as a separate legal space that was not owned by any nation or controlled by any nation, but was a common; shared for commerce and navigation among the world’s nations. And that concept has evolved as part of customary international law for centuries.

After the second World War, in a more complicated world in some ways, with increasing numbers of nation states and  technology permitting greater exploitation of oceanic resources, nations began to focus on that system of customary law and whether it should be embodied in a treaty or treaties. And back in 1958, under UN auspices, preliminary group of treaties was adopted, but the scope was limited. And that led to a desire to address, on a comprehensive basis, the issues of Law of the Sea.

Over 10 years, dozens of nations in a conference of Law of the Sea worked to evolve what has become today, the Law of the Sea Convention: a treaty regarding the Law of the Sea, which became effective in 1994. And it is very, very detailed and very broad in its scope. It did several revolutionary things. It defined on a systematic basis a series of maritime zones; parts of the ocean over which states had different rights. And particularly, introduced the concept that we can spend a few more minutes on later, of an Exclusive Economic Zone, the right of coastal states to exploit the living and nonliving resources of the adjacent waters out to 200 nautical miles. It also crystallized in a written form the rights of maritime nations to freely navigate.

That idea that there is an element of the commons that is available for free navigation, the conduct of trade, the conduct of naval operations and at one level, the 1994 treaty of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea is a great compromise that assures developed nations and maritime nations the traditional rights and access of navigation. And developing nations and others have the right to exploit neighboring living and nonliving resources in the sea. Of course, for some countries it’s both; the United States draws great value from its economic zones off its oceans in terms of fishing, mineral, petroleum, other resources and as the world’s leading naval power, it’s critical to the United States to be able to exercise the rights of navigation that are embodied in that treaty.

MM: Before we go into some of those areas and get into the specifics, I was wondering if you could tell us since many of us already know customary international laws but I’m sure there are some people out there that haven’t worked in international relations in the legal space, but walk us through what is customary international law and if that is a form of law, why then would there need to be a treaty and then a Convention to institutionalize that in paper?

JB: Customary international law is sets of practice that are adhered to by the international community as evidenced by state practice, what nations do, as evidenced by the supporting actions of international courts, the adjudication by these commentators, that isn’t written down in a law book, but which by reason of practice over the course of time and the acquiescence of the international community, takes on the nature of law and that is an historic element of international law and is relevant to the Law of the Sea to this day.

The issue with customary international law however is it’s neither comprehensive, things can develop technological enabling or security issues that the law hasn’t addressed before, and you can’t rely on the accumulation of custom to address. And its interpretation is limited in scope but comes up as academic commentators write articles, as courts interpret decisions and with somethings as complicated as the governance of the world seas, something more comprehensive, something that was more up to date in many respects was critical.

I’ll just throw one example and that relates to environmental issues. For protection of the oceanic environment for a variety of reasons, there was no substantial body of customary international law on that topic, and it could’ve taken decades or longer for it to evolve. And by then environmental issues in the 20th century to respect to the world’s oceans could be critical. So, one of the thing that treaty does is systematically set up a regime for addressing those questions. You can’t do that customary international law, you need a treaty.

MM: Let’s start going through the treaty then. You mentioned there’s a number of different areas, but you mentioned first and foremost the fact that the ocean is divided into different zones.

JB: Yes, that is correct.

MM: So, walk us through those zones, what are they, how are they determined, and what can states do in those different zones?

JB: I’m going to walk through it beginning close to land and heading out to sea. And in principal, the rights of a coastal state are highest, this makes sense, closest to land, and are more limited as you go out to sea. Internal waters which are the waters on the landward side of the low tide line are, sovereign territory; those waters are fully subject to the laws of the state, and if you’re on the Connecticut river, you’re under U.S. and Connecticut law as an internal water. But then, on the other side of that baseline, that’s created to determine the outer limit of internal waters, you’re in what’s called the territorial sea, the territorial sea has a breadth of up to 12 miles. States can define it, and most do, out to 12 miles and states, in essence, are sovereign over the territorial waters along their coast as well. They have the full ability to legislate and enforce their laws in those waters. Subject to one very important right that we can talk about later which is a right of innocent passage by third party states to traverse the waters, subject to limitation, but that’s it.

That’s really the only exception or limitation on the coastal states sovereignty. The next key zone is the one I described to you, the one that really was created under the Convention of the Law of the Sea and that is an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). That goes out all the way to 200 miles and it says that the coastal states have the exclusive right in that zone to exploit the living and nonliving resources. The seabed, what’s under the seabed, petroleum, fish, mineral rights, but those otherwise are part of the high seas, they can’t restrict navigation in the way they can in territorial waters, and their rights are therefore limited as opposed to territorial waters.

Once you get beyond 200 miles, it is the high seas, a commons that the world continues to have rights to navigate in. Below the surface, after 200 miles, there may continue to be rights to exploit minerals, under the extended continental shelf. That continental shelf set of rights can extend depending on the geology, it’s a complicated equation of a coastal state, out beyond 200 miles but typically not beyond 350 miles as an outer limit. And beyond that the seabed again becomes part of the common. It’s open to exploitation by all nations, whether they have access to the coast, whether they are landlocked or not, under the separate regime established under the treaty.

MM: So, it’s pretty intuitive then in terms of the rights of different zones and how they’re allocated for large bodies of land, so say for example knowing how far the end of California is from 200 miles, that’s pretty easy.

JB: It is, yeah.

MM: But they’re also notions of a place where there’s a lot of other features, I guess is the technical terminology from there and I think one of my favorites from the Law of the Sea Convention is the difference between islands and rocks. So, I was wondering if you could walk us through the differences between those two features are and how they play into the Law of the Sea?

JB: Yeah, I’m always reminded of the old Simon and Garfunkel song, “I am a rock; I am an island,” but it’s actually a legal concept here, not a musical one, and the key point is that, as you described, if you’re along a continental coastline, it’s pretty intuitive, you get 12 miles and then you get 200 miles. It’s a small percentage relative to the size of the continent, but how do you treat an island? And an island is defined under the Convention as a body of land surrounded by water that’s above sea level at high tide, and it actually creates a territorial sea and an EEZ as well, so if you’re looking at the Florida Keys individual islands that remain above high tide, they have the potential to create, a territorial sea and an EEZ all on their own.

So, I’m going to indulge for a second if it’s okay in a little geometry, let’s say you’re in the middle of the Pacific and you’ve got an island that is a mile wide. Well, it can create a territorial sea and an exclusive economic zone. I’m not great at geometry but I think the area of the circle is πr squared. So, 200 miles and square it: 40,000 miles, multiplied by pi; a one-mile island can create a tens of thousands of square miles of exclusive economic rights. Interestingly enough, that would mean that the nation that has the largest EEZs is the United States because of the range of the islands principally that are United States territory in the Pacific. Surprisingly enough, the next one is France.

MM: France?

JB: To understand that, you need to go look at a map and go “oh yeah French Polynesia or the islands that France controls in the Indian sea, Indian Ocean rather.” And how did they get so big? Because of this leverage and the drafters of the Law of the Sea Convention, they kind of knew that, they said we have to safeguard the abuse of that status so only one kind of island gets those rights. There’s a subset of islands that we’re going to call rocks. And those are islands that can’t sustain human habitation or economic activity. They don’t have to be literally rocks; they could be a sand spit, they could be a coral reef, but if they lack the capacity to support human habitation in a meaningful way or meaningful economic activity, then they do not generate an EEZ. And it eliminates that ability to leverage, so dramatically, the territory of an island to an essence to create very, very significant and valuable oceanic zones. So, they thought of it, but it’s still an issue in today’s law.

MM: So, let’s talk about that a little bit, because obviously the incentive for a country that owns a rock, you know, if it’s not the size of Oahu which has Honolulu on it, but is kind of the cartoon depiction of sort of a person on a tiny deserted island with a palm tree on it.

JB: Yeah with the palm tree on it (laughs).

MM: But the incentive I’m sure for a country with that in order to gain those exclusive economic rights is to say, “oh well, that can sustain human habitation.” So, I was wondering how then is it determined whether a piece of land in the water is an island or a rock? You have this sort of the definitions, but how do you define then human habitation, well, human habitation is pretty easy, but economic activity seems to be kind of fuzzy?

JB: Well, actually both of them are a bit tricky and as typically happens, the treaty doesn’t give you a lengthy piece of guidance on how to do that. And many nations including the United States have, I’ll use the phrase, been liberal in their interpretation whether a feature is an island, for the reasons you described. But in the last year, last summer, an international tribunal on the South Seas, which adds South China Sea in particular, which we’ll talk about, looked at that question and provided some more detailed interpretation and it said a few things.

First of all, when we evaluate whether an island can sustain human habitation or economic life, we’re going to look at the island in its natural state, so for starters, if the Chinese or somebody else build a huge structure or transform the island, you can’t look at that, you have to go back historically, see what it looked like before human intervention transformed it. Secondly, you’re going to look at the ability to sustain human life without massive outside intervention. If you fly in lots of people, you fly in water, fly in food, it’s clear that those external interventions again aren’t the test, you have to look at what is there on the island. And interestingly enough, it doesn’t necessarily have to have a human population. The question is “is there water, are there resources to supply food whether its vegetation or animal or fish that could or does sustain a human population?” And not on a transitory basis, people coming through for two months a year to fish doesn’t count.

Secondly, in the tribunal they also took a hard look at what economic activity or life would mean, and underscored that it couldn’t be merely extractive. You know there are islands that were made of bird dung, guano, and in the 19th century, people would go and mine these islands, well that’s just extractive, that’s not economic life, there has to be some set of resources that would permit economic activity on an island, and that could be mining, it could be fishing, but it can’t simply be mining that cannot sustain and does not sustain a local population. That still raises lots of factual questions in every case, but it does make clear that an island has to be something more than just a palm tree and someone waiting for the ship to come, to qualify. And that’s going to have implications for nations like the U.S. and France and others who have significant island claims.

MM: So, we understand a bit about the zones, how they’re built, how they’re projected out, and some of the controversies surrounding this which we’ll get into the specifics in a bit, but to set up the ground work for everyone out there in our audience, tell us a little bit about what you alluded to earlier, about innocent passage and freedom of navigation. What is it, how does it function, and how does the Law of the Sea Convention define those different kinds of activities? What are the rules of the road?

JB: And those are critical elements because really the Law of the Sea is a balancing of interests of states, the coastal states want to control as much as possible, as far as possible and obviously maritime and commercial states wish to be able to conduct trade and activities without interference by coastal states, and those compromises are reflected in a couple of different concepts.

The first is the concept of innocent passage. As I mentioned a few minutes ago, the sovereign coastal state has a lot of power and authority in the territorial sea, subject to one exception and that is the vessels of third parties can traverse the territorial sea to make a transit or to enter into the ports of the coastal state under the doctrine of innocent passage. The coastal state cannot forbid that kind of transit or activity, and when you think about it that’s pretty critical to commerce, a cargo ship proceeding along the U.S. coast in order to trade in order to access U.S. ports in order to efficiently transit is going to enter territorial waters, and this right of innocent passage allows it to do so, but it’s a very limited right. The passage has to be continuous, it has to be expeditious, you can’t anchor off a coast for a week, absent an emergency set of circumstances, so it’s got that test, and it has a variety of other tests that are designed to assure that innocent passage isn’t exploited to take advantage of the coastal states’ resources or military security.

For example, you can’t fish on innocent passage, because that is in conflict with the rights of the coastal state. You can’t operate military systems, you can’t take on or land aircraft or launch aircraft. Submarines have to proceed on the surface which kind of spoils the whole purpose of being a submarine precisely to avoid provocative threats to the security and safety of the coastal state. So that’s the balance its achieved.

Transit rights relate to a very specific kind of territorial water, and that’s international straits. Straits of water that connect bodies of the high seas or economic zones and you could think of lots of examples: the Straits of Gibraltar, the Straits of Malacca, places which are narrow waterways, that would be the territorial waters of the contiguous states, but this special set of transit rights are granted. It’s rather like innocent passage, but because international straits are so critical to global security and commerce the rules are more relaxed.

I mentioned submarines couldn’t proceed on a submerged basis in innocent passage. They can in transit rights. The number of restrictions on activities in transit rights is much more limited than for innocent passage. And aircraft have transit rights as well as vessels in innocent passage, only surface vessels and submarines have that right. So, this is to the more liberal regime, which is a critical regime to assuring global access to those straits that are fundamental choke points in the conduct of global commerce.

MM: There’s also a concept inside the Law of the Sea called sovereign immunity.

JB: Yes.

MM: I was wondering if you – since that’s at least tangentially connected to innocent passage and freedom of navigation rules – walk us through what is sovereign immunity? What does that mean?

JB: Well, it’s more than in the Law of the Sea; it’s really more of a doctrine of international law that states will not conduct criminal or adversarial actions against other states. And when you think about it, it’s an element of comity and we won’t go on with France interfering with U.S. military aircraft and ships and France similarly does not want us doing the same with theirs. But its significant with the Law of the Sea in that many of the provisions in the Law of the Sea exempt vessels that are subject to sovereign immunity or aircraft that are subject to sovereign immunity. For instance, the anti-pollution provisions don’t apply to a U.S. warship or a French warship for that matter.

In innocent passage, it’s an interesting dynamic because it basically says that if a ship that has a right to sovereign immunity violates the ground rules for innocent passage, the coastal state has the right to take steps to ask it to cease the passage. What that means isn’t entirely clear, it is in fact very likely that there’s no right of force or coercive ability to force the sovereign immune vessel to change its course and conduct, so implicit of that is risk of standoff and certainly the rights against the sovereign immune vessels are more limited. And state interference with those kind of vessels is a very serious breach, not just of Law of the Sea but of international law, which was why when the Chinese picked up a drone operated by the U.S. vessel, which is subject to sovereign immunity, it was a U.S. government vessel although not a naval ship as such, that raises implications of a breach of sovereign immunity.

MM: So then let’s talk about some of the specific examples since you mentioned China, since that’s the one that probably most of the people out here are familiar with. Walk us through the South China Sea, why is the Law of the Sea a part of the disputes happening there? What does it say about the disputes that have been happening and how is it generally guided the developments that have happened in that region?

JB: Well, in some ways it’s a textbook example of the importance of the Law of the Sea because the South China Sea is fraught with conflict. There are small islands: the Spratlys, for instance, and the Paracels that are claimed by the multiple adjoining states. The claims with respect to economic zones and extended continental shelf create issues of overlap and conflict. And, this is in a region where suspicion and friction between the neighboring states is high, so the ground rules of the Law of the Sea are critically important element in helping to resolve the frictions that are embedded in the issues I just described to you. And one of the key elements has been the tension between the Chinese view of its rights with respect to the South China Sea and those of the adjoining states.

The international tribunal decision at the permanent court of arbitration in 2016 that I mentioned earlier, really arose out of that and some other related disputes, but the principal core was with respect to China’s view of its rights over the South China Sea. China has asserted that it has broad sovereign rights within an area defined by the so-called 9-dash line, and that expression comes from the fact that the map that originally included it had nine dashes, the number of dashes varies from time to time, that doesn’t matter. What does matter is that the line embraces the great majority of the South China Sea. It comes down close to Indonesia, Vietnam and to the Philippines. And the line conflicts with the Exclusive Economic Zones of those nations. China’s never defined precisely, and certainly not in the context of the Law of the Sea, what it means by the sovereign rights under the 9-dash line, but both verbally and in action, has asserted rights that would be in conflict with the Law of the Sea for instance, the access of Filipino fishers to living resources within the South China Sea has been restricted by the Chinese on the basis of the 9-dash line.The tendency of China to increasingly enforce or assert the 9-dash line was triggered when Vietnam and the Philippines began oil exploration in the South China Sea.

The tribunal took a hard look at the 9-dash line, and it unequivocally said that, this line which China asserts has its origins in ancient historic rights to the sea is in conflict with the Convention of the Law of the Sea and hence is legally of no effect. The tribunal said that when China signed the Convention, it gained great rights including to the EEZ around China that didn’t exist before, and in doing so, also lost any more vague and historic claims. And that was a very important decision both legally and geopolitically. It’s no question that legally it was the right decision. This kind of broad, inchoate historic right to great reaches of water doesn’t exist anywhere in the Law of the Sea. And in addition, it was a firm message that, from a political standpoint, China’s position was an overreaching assertion of sovereign rights, which is one of the reasons why the Chinese have so bitterly denounced the decision.

MM: So, let’s talk about the other end of this, since we’ve talked mostly about the economic rights, let’s talk about freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, because you mentioned the drone seizure, what then does the Law of the Sea say should be happening in the South China Sea and what is the position of China, how they’re acting, and how do they contrast with one another?

JB: Yes, the tribunal did not address that set of issues, but it has been an escalating and critical source of friction as well particularly although not exclusively between the U.S. and China. And it has two elements, the first relates to innocent passage. I’ve described that before, it’s the right for the continuous and expeditious crossing of territorial seas, innocent passage is available to warships as well as civilian vessels, but a certain number of nations including China have asserted that it’s necessary to provide notification and to obtain consent to conduct innocent passage. The U.S. position, which is consistent with the Convention, is that that consent is not required.

That war honestly has been more one of words than of action perhaps fortunately. The U.S. conducts what it calls freedom of navigation exercises from time to time to preserve those rights. It’s complicated in the South China Sea because those navigation exercises have sometimes been ambiguous, the U.S. has sailed within 12 miles of certain of these small maritime features and it’s been unclear whether the U.S. is in fact asserting innocent passage and conceding there’s a territorial sea around the feature, or is the U.S. asserting that there’s no territorial sea, and is simply a high seas transit right, and that ambiguity continues. China protests those exercises, we periodically conduct them, as I said the struggle has largely been one of words, but it is important and as a security matter for the United States, the assertion of the right of innocent passage within the South China Sea is very important.

The other and more broad question is, whether there are any limitations on the conduct of military surveillance, reconnaissance, or activities within China’s EEZ. And China also interprets its rights there very broadly. It asserts that the EEZ can only be used for peaceful purposes and that reconnaissance flights, this is beyond the 12 miles remember, it’s out beyond that zone, or military exercises are inconsistent with its interpretation of the Convention. And that has led to serious difficulties.

More than a decade now ago, there was a collision between a Chinese interceptor aircraft and a U.S. reconnaissance aircraft, the Chinese pilot was killed and his plane crashed, the U.S. aircraft was forced to land on an emergency basis on a Chinese airbase. And unfortunately, with the last couple of years, nothing that serious has occurred, but there have been recurring games, for the lack of a better word, of international chicken between Chinese interceptor aircraft and U.S. reconnaissance aircraft. And the risk of an incident there is real. And again, arises from the U.S. goal of assuring, particularly as a major power in the region and as a leading naval power, that its high seas rights are preserved. The erosion of that would be a serious blow to U.S. security interests, and China’s assertions that at least within the EEZ, conduct of that nature is not allowed of absent Chinese consent.

MM: So, lest our audience assume that basically every tension over the Law of the Sea somehow involves the United States and China or let’s be honest, sometimes just China and its neighbors, tell us a little bit about the United States and Canada and its disagreements on freedom of navigation.

JB: What could be friendlier than the United States and Canada? But things do happen when the issues are ones critical to open navigation to the principles of Law of the Sea and to access resources and that’s shown up between the United States and Canada on an abiding disagreement regarding the fabled Northwest Passage, the sea route through the Canadian island chain, that once upon a time explorers hoped led directly to El Dorado, but now with melting arctic ice may offer a way through the great circle route to significantly reduced transit time between the U.S. east coast and Asia. 

The Canadian position is that they are internal waters and if you recall, internal waters are equivalent to sovereign territory, there are no rights of third party nations and the rights abide exclusively with the coastal state. And in some ways, this has become a key psychological element to the Canadians, the Northwest Passage being truly part of the “Canadian north” or the “Canadian arcti”c, however you define it. The U.S. perspective is rather different. It is that the Northwest Passage is in fact an international strait, a way to connect two sets of high seas, and is subject to the transit rights available to third party nations under international law. And that therefore for example, a U.S. ship could proceed through the northwest passage without consent or notification, provided that it abided by the rules applicable to transit passage.

This disagreement remains more theoretical than real in the sense that traffic obviously through the Northwest Passage is limited. The two states have agreed to share information regarding such passages without the United States in anyway acknowledging that Canadian waters are internal and without Canada acknowledging in any fashion that the Northwest Passage is an international strait. And part of the disagreement turns on what an international strait mean. What does it mean to be used to permit passage between two sets of high seas or EEZs? Does “real use” constitute part of that definition? Because historically transit to the Northwest Passage relative to most other international straits has been very limited.

The U.S. view is that it can be used and it has been used whether or not it’s a large number of times and hence it’s a strait. The Canadian view is that that’s not the case because usage has been highly limited and doesn’t correspond to what has been historically associated with international straits. There are ironies to the position on both sides, I will note that it’s not entirely clear that it would be a geopolitical victory for the U.S. if it is an international strait, because for example, that means that Russian reconnaissance aircraft are free to fly down the straits under rights of transit. On the other hand, from the U..S standpoint, the principle at stake is critical because if there is any evolving body of law that erodes the definition of international straits, it’s a clear detriment to a leading maritime and a naval nation like the United States, so it does matter.

MM: So, the Canada issue and the strait versus internal water alludes to the fact that the ocean is changing and that as a result of the changes in the ocean, it is also then driving changes in the Law of the Sea, if not the law itself, but in terms of evolving issues that are coming up. So, besides the Canada strait versus internal waters issue, what other issues do you see coming down the pike for the Law of the Sea?

JB: Well, the issue you just alluded to is one of them. And as you also mentioned it goes well beyond the question of the northwest passage. As we’ve talked about before, the definition of the low tide line is a very important marker, one of the key ways, not the only way, but one of the key ways that the baselines from which the maritime zones are measured is defined. We had a discussion about the difference between a rock and an island.

Well imagine if as it seems to be the case, global sea levels are rising, there are currently islands that are a meter or two above sea level. Given another 50 or a 100 years, if current trends continue, that could fundamental impact on the definition of maritime zones. They may be retreating landward. There are islands which would disappear, eliminating EEZs, or territorial seas associated with those islands. And there’s no resolution today about whether the baseline should be frozen and the way the borders are defined today is embedded, at least for some period of time, or whether they’re ambulator: the legal word for walking around, whether they reflect adjustments in sea level. 

There are groups under the International Bar Association and U.N. auspices looking at it and it’s a real question. Let alone dealing with the broader question which is not purely a Law of the Sea question of what becomes of island states, small nations in the Pacific or the Indian Ocean, it’s not simply a question of maritime borders disappearing, but of a country disappearing. And what is the status of a country’s sovereignty and what happens to its population? So it’s a good thing that it isn’t going to happen in the next five years, because it’s going to take a lot longer to resolve issues of that depth and complexity.

MM:  So, as is Sea Control tradition since we’re approaching the end, please walk us through what it is that you’re reading right now. You obviously have a very interesting and diverse background in terms of you know your education. So, tell us a bit about what you’ve been reading lately, whether its Law of the Sea-related or maritime-related, even if it’s something fun you found online recently.

JB: Yeah, well I think I describe two things. One is kind of a pure Law of the Sea book, but it covers a bit different topics then we’ve been discussing but one that the audience might be interested in is and that is a book by Natalie Klein on maritime security and the Law of the Sea that talks about issues we really couldn’t talk about today, including piracy and weapons of mass destruction and issues of intersection of security issues and Law of the Sea. And I’ve also been reading a book on the Barbary pirates which is a kind of a classic set of questions that relates to the history of U.S. frigates but also these, some of these issues were present at the beginning of the United States, issues of control of piracy, freedom of navigation. If the Barbary pirates were anything, they were dedicated to limiting freedom of navigation and exploiting the sea in a way that was at odds with freedom of commerce and of security.

MM: Wonderful, well thank you very much again professor for being with us on Sea Control and best of luck with all of your work. And hopefully we’ll be able to welcome you back on again at some point in the future

JB: My pleasure, thanks a lot.

John A. Burgess is Professor of Practice and Executive Director of the LLM Program at Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. He teaches courses on international finance transactions, international securities regulation and cross-border mergers and acquisitions.

Matthew Merighi is the Senior Producer of Sea Control and Assistant Director of Fletcher’s Maritime Studies Program.

Sea Control 140 – The U.S. Coast Guard with Admiral Charles Michel

By Matthew Merighi 

Join us for the latest episode of Sea Control for an interview with Admiral Charles Michel, the Vice Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard, for a discussion about his service’s unique role in ensuring international maritime security. From his vantage point at the intersection of military force and law enforcement agency, he discusses some of the emerging threats in the maritime domain, how cyber challenges affect the Coast Guard’s mission, and the enduring importance of protecting global supply chains.

Download Sea Control 140 – The Coast Guard with Admiral Charles Michel

A transcript of the interview between Admiral Michel (CM) and Matthew Merighi (MM) is below.

MM: We’re here with Admiral Michel, the Vice Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard. Admiral Michel, thank you for joining us on Sea Control today.

CM: Thanks for having me, I appreciate it.

MM: As is Sea Control tradition, please introduce yourself, tell us a little bit about your background, how you came to be where you are now, and what were the main events that happened along the way.

CM: Sure I’m the Vice Commandant of the Coast Guard, so I’m the number two person at the Coast Guard. I assist the Commandant. We’re in this great organization called the U.S. Coast Guard which has about 40,000 active duty members, plus reserve, plus a cadre of auxiliaries which help us out. Really, we are an agency with global responsibilities so the Commandant needs somebody like me to run this entire enterprise.

I’m the chief operations officer and also the chief acquisitions officer, and a bunch of other things that make this the world’s best Coast Guard. I think I’ve got an interesting background, and I know you have a naval officer audience, but the Coast Guard is kind of unique in that we can become specialized officers but also retain our line credentials at the same time. So I’m a lawyer for the Coast Guard as well as an operator. I spent about half of my pre-flag officer career afloat and the other half as a lawyer which is kind of unusual now. I’ve been able to work all the way up the organization. According to my bio I’m the only 4-star officer in all the armed forces who’s also a career Judge Advocate (JAG) which is kind of an unusual thing, just a consequence of what I do. So I’ve got kind of a unique background with operations afloat and legal, and I’ve done some other things for the Coast Guard.

MM: So let’s talk for a minute about your role since you mentioned you’re the only four star JAG who has managed to make it to that level. But you’re also the first 4-star Coast Guard officer who is not the Commandant. So in terms of your day to day role, in doing acquisitions and operations, how have you transitioned the role of the Vice Commandant to being a 4-star? Have you noticed it being different or how has that gone?

CM: It’s different and in a good way. I think Congress chose to elevate this position from what has traditionally been a 3-star to a 4-star in recognition of the Coast Guard’s prominence and the need for another senior officer for all the diplomatic and representational duties we share. I know you mentioned the COO and the acquisition officer which have external aspects, but our work with all the elements of the defense establishment, the 4-star elevation gets you into different levels of engagements than as a 3-star. Same on the international scene. Bringing a 4-star on the table has a different flavor. I know to junior officers there doesn’t seem to be a difference between a 1-star and a 2-star, but there’s a big difference between a 3-star and a 4-star in a lot of events and I think it’s a reflection of the prominence and the credibility of the Coast Guard within the congressional leadership.

MM: So let’s talk then about your work with the other services. What is the Coast Guard’s role in the maritime security space, particularly how it organizes and how it works with the other services? Also how does the Coast Guard pursue its unique mission set of being a military service and law enforcement agency?

CM: For your listeners who aren’t familiar with the Coast Guard we are a member of the armed forces at all times but at the exact same time we have the responsibilities of a law enforcement, regulatory, humanitarian, environmental protection, navigation, and communication agency and much more. These are all things we bring to the fight at the same times. So when you are talking about the world of threats we have an oar in the water on the symmetric threats such as nation state actors and on any given day a number of our ships are chopped to combatant commanders.

Today, without giving the numbers, we have a number of ships with U.S. Southern Command in a detection/monitoring mission. We have six patrol boats in the Persian Gulf who are chopped to CENTCOM. A lot of times we have an icebreaker chopped to PACOM for deep freeze missions. We participate in RIMPAC and other exercises with DoD. We’ve got responsibilities on the symmetric side and on any given day there are Coast Guard people on every continent. Some small boat units and some major units. We are required by statute to operate as a specialized service in the Navy during time of war when the president directs. So our equipment is interoperable with DoD partners. Many aspects of our operations are woven together.

At the same time the Coast Guard has the job of law enforcement agency, regulatory and many other things. A lot of our effort is engaged in that, regulation of shipping, making sure cargo entering the nation’s ports is secure, making sure inland waterways, which is a whole highway vital for economies to operate, works together. We deal with the navigation on the Great Lakes, we conduct polar operations, protect fisheries, you’ll probably see us on the Weather Channel rescuing people in storms and other things. And we’re a unique agency that operates in the whole threat spectrum from symmetric actors, to terrorists, to criminals, to regulator violations to mom-and-pop boaters getting in trouble, to natural disasters, hurricanes, earthquakes, and oil spills. All with 40,000 people, smaller than the New York Police Department.

MM: That’s obviously hard to accomplish with 40,000 people and a very broad mission set. One that many of our listeners know some of the aspects but not all. So from your position looking at those different challenges in maritime security and Coast Guard missions, which of those threats are the ones that interest you the most, that you think are going to be the most potent or the potential to evolve to be pressing to our national security? Is it terrorism, criminal elements, migration, what are sort of the things you’re keeping an eye on?

CM: On the symmetric side of the house, not counting DPRK, let’s take a look at the threats to freedom of navigation that are being asserted by nation states right now, whether its Russian navigation restrictions in the Northern Sea Route or things going on in the South China Sea. That increasing world of these unlawful navigation restrictions concern me quite a bit. I think freedom of the seas for national security and movement of commerce is absolutely critical. The Coast Guard plays a role in all those freedom of navigation assertions whether being the lead role of the international maritime organization where we champion these rights or others. Those concern me a lot on the symmetric side.

On the asymmetric side, we have a lot of terrorists out there doing a lot of bad things. Some of them have shown the ability to operate in maritime spaces. Maritime is also a logical route for moving goods or terrorists themselves, we monitor that extremely carefully. Post September 11th, we have established a layered security regime that involves ports, ships, and a whole network of connections as we deal with those asymmetric threats that may harm this nation. Then we have a bunch of other challenges such as competition for resources whether it’s unlawful claims to hydrocarbon jurisdiction, fisheries poaching, or a whole other world to work with. I get concerned with transnational criminal organizations in the Western Hemisphere due to their increasing sophistication. They put out semi-submersible vessels with over 3000 mile ranges. That means they can carry 7-10 metric tons of any product from South America to Africa almost undetected. Their ability to impact the lives of people in the Western Hemisphere, they create a large homicide rates, instability which is driving migration which is driving instability. I worry about that whole problem set.

Then when is the next black swan event such as an oil spill or a major hurricane or earthquake which we have responsibilities for. It really is a world of threats and it requires a very agile agency to have the capabilities and capacities and authorities to deal with this range of threats. Whether symmetric nations, law enforcement challenges, terrorists, and then the big one in my wheelhouse that surprised me the most is cybersecurity. You wouldn’t think the Coast Guard wouldn’t be that involved but we are. We are a member of DoD Information Network, so we have own cyber defense challenges. We also explore how to use cyber to better enable our mission sets. And lastly, we are the agency charged with the regulatory responsibility for an increasingly automated port and shipping industry.

You may have seen that we had a major attack on Maersk shipping and ports that shut them down for a while. The entire delivery chain was subject to a cyber attack and that concerns us because that industry is a model of efficiency; because it is reliant on the internet and all the goodness of that. And every time you bring in a new navigation, communication system, etc. that replaces a human which you plug into the internet, it creates vulnerabilities. That is probably my most challenging task to create an agency that can operate in that space while that space is an active operational battlespace.

MM: Let’s dive deeper into the cyber issue. When I was doing some research before coming here, I saw you had given some talks on cyber and it surprised me just as much as it did about how crucial that realm is to the Coast Guard. Can you walk us through what happened to Maersk, it was Petya right?

CM: Yes, it was a Petya variant.

MM: So walk us through what happened, not just the basics but how the Coast Guard got involved and what you learned about how the Coast Guard needs to prepare for and how you’re going to get in front of it.

CM: First of all, we’ve got a good partner in Maersk. We do have authority to mandate reporting from certain partners, but they are a responsible party who brought this to our attention. They actually sit on a lot of our Area Maritime Security Committees (AMSCs). The Coast Guard Captain of the Port for each of the nation’s 361 major ports is designated as a Federal Maritime Security Coordinator. He chairs a committee that brings together all federal, state, local and private entities to deal with maritime security because ports are very integrated. If you deal with one portion of the port it will impact another. So getting a holistic approach to this problem set is critical. Most AMSC’s perform that function.

So this report was brought through the AMSCs. We took a look at it from a security perspective with Maersk. This was not a government-owned system. It was privately owned. The Coast Guard has mandatory security regulations on the physical security side, such as access control. On the cyber side we have some voluntary guidance but we have no imposed standards for shipping or port facilities. So we are operating against that kind of legal backdrop. But we reached out to help Maersk as much as we could, to try and get their arms around what kind of attack they were dealing with, what kinds of systems, business, or industrial control systems. Without going into great detail, a large portion of their remediation was done by their business people.These were their business systems by and large. But that split between what is the responsibility to a nation from cyber attack is really complicated.

For example, for a Maersk port facility, they have certain requirements for access controls. And typically those are to keep trespassers off their property or maybe a terrorist or a criminal or something like that. But it’s typically not to keep out nation states. If a nation state wanted access to that port facility, we do not require them to hold off nation states. But think about this from a cyber perspective. That exact same security posture for that Maersk port facility. If a nation actually attacks their cyber infrastructure, who has the responsibility to defend against that? A private citizen, the government, an insurance or regulatory problem? There’s a bunch of ways to skin that cat, we’re gonna have to get our arms around this, where on the physical security side we have that pretty much covered.  We know what territoriality is, we know what a nation state attack is, we know what international law is on that. It has a physicality aspect that were comfortable with and cyber is a different animal.

Every time you turn on your cellphone it’s not just your friends and family; it’s hacktivists, criminals, nation states, all types of different actors, and what is your level of responsibility for that access system. It’s much broader, but as a lawyer I can tell you what I think will make a difference is creating common definitions and defining terms in this space then we can develop the norms we have in the physical world and get those into the cyber side. But we’re building this plane as it’s flying, there are real operations occurring in this space, good and bad.

The Coast Guard is kind of unique on this side, I think we talk from a position of not a large organization but authority-rich and when the Coast Guard was created it was not only for symmetric threats, i.e. nation states; the Coast Guard has been in every single war in the U.S., since the founding of the country, that has had a maritime component. But we also have this basket of other authorities that deal with law enforcement and regulatory and insurance challenges and all these other things. And you’re going to want to convert that same type of flexible nimble organization to cyber because when you get a cyber attack, where is it coming from? In the past if we knew it was from a nation state you know what the authorities were, if it was a criminal you know what the authority was. But now many times you get ambiguous threats. So when you need to align your authorities or responsibilities, you need a nimble agency like the Coast Guard, or the National Guard who also has nimble authority to deal with these types of threats. I know that Alexander Hamilton founded the Coast Guard in 1790, but in many ways he was very cyber aware because he founded an organization that was very nimble with all these authorities.

MM: So a parallel challenge to that that you alluded to in the cyber domain which is the Coast Guard has a role in is protecting supply chains. There’s the cyber dimension but there are also similar challenges to physical aspects too. Tell us a little bit about what the Coast Guard’s role is now and will be in the future for U.S. supply chain security

CM: So it’s related to what I said before. We built this wondrous supply chain that is the marvel of the world, and it gets better every day, with the just-in-time delivery of products, all overseen by this integrated IT that makes all this stuff happen. Monitoring containers from the time it’s loaded, where it gets on, where it’s trans-shipped, all the way here. Its sequenced to get on the automated truck that carries it to the rail yard. The Coast Guard doesn’t own that entire supply chain. We basically own the part where it gets loaded and where it gets off and we have responsibilities for a certain amount reaching the port.

When you look at negotiation in international ship port facility security code at the International Maritime Organization (IMO), it was revolutionary for the IMO to reach off of the ship onto the port. Bringing that port infrastructure into the security realm and our domestic legislation does the same thing. But other agencies such as Customs and Border Protection (CBP) with their lading rules and their electronic manifesting, cargo tracking, container security initiative, CTPAT, basically a partnership against terrorism that is voluntary and allows shippers to become trusted shippers. It’s a combination of things that’s going to protect this security chain. A lot of it resides on the side of the shippers but part of it is the government too. Where they are ladened on the ships, what the security arrangement at the port, on the ship and on the other end, how it reaches its intermode of transportation, all of which has a cyber element because it is all on network IT. So it’s a combination of both physical and cyber security.

I deal with issues like, should all containers be physically opened? I think if anyone who has asked that question has never been to the port of L.A.-Long Beach (LALB) and seen the vastness of the operation, and the majority of it brings goodness and essential economic strength, and what I will say is  reduction techniques can be used to decrease the amount of physically going in and opening containers. But you can smartly address risk in that system through some more sophisticated methods.

MM: One of the most unique things I’m seeing about the Coast Guard is that you are referencing actions from private organizations and international partners which are done seamlessly with your own work. So what does the Coast Guard do that makes it able to effectively operationalize these public-private partnerships and international cooperation?

CM: First of all, the Coast Guard from its design in the very beginning, was made to operate with others. It started out as an anti-smuggling organization, but even then it was reaching to people on shore and to international components, so we have a great organizational reputation. Each one of our Coast Guard folks here has as part of their organizational DNA a natural bent to work with partners. We want to leverage our partners and I think it comes down to us being such a small organization with a lot of responsibilities. Authority rich with great people but not a lot of Coast Guard to go around. So we aren’t afraid to get our hands into cooperation at all.

Rarely do we reach for a fully organic Coast Guard solution which I think is rarity in government. Most government organizations say how are we going to build this, how much is it going to cost, etc. The Coast Guard mentality is: who can we work with to fulfill our goals? We’re more than comfortable with working with people. We have Coast Guard people in small numbers scatter around the government and around the world and they bring that organizational DNA of connecting with others. They bring that basket of authorities and they bring that organizational reputation of being a good organization and partner.

Private industry loves it. Many times they don’t want regulations; they want assistance and they want a level playing field so that they can remain competitive. Many times they want to shoulder that responsibility themselves. In cyber, I think many of the solutions are going to come from private industry with government guidance. And I think that softer approach is how the CG solves problems and thats the way we’ve been from the very beginning. We’re a natural integrator and typically our first grab is not to build our own organization, which is unusual for a regulatory organization.

MM: One of the challenges I’ve seen personally, one which Admiral Stavridis at the Fletcher school has talked about and the Stimson Center has been doing some work on, is the role of illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing as an economic and national security threat. Walk us through what you see the future of fishing enforcement will look like and what the Coast Guard’s role will be.

CM: For many people, protein from the ocean is their main source of food. And I can tell you when people can’t eat then bad things happen. For a lot of countries it is an existential threat, especially these small Pacific island nations that rely on fishing for sustenance. This is a huge challenge and I can tell you there is a huge competition for resources.

Fisheries is just one example. Fishing technology has advanced so fast that boats can clean out all the protein they need and then get out of dodge and sell their products with no eye on sustainable fisheries, which really is a tragedy of the commons. Part of the reason they can do this is that there is no eye in the sky on oceans with maritime awareness. So it is a governance challenge too, the legal regimes. And legal regimes have been put into place. In fact, Congress recently took some action. One of the unique challenges of IUU fishing that makes it particularly difficult to deal with is you have to have a viable at-sea enforcement regime. You can’t deal with it through ports. A fisherman can choose where to put his catch or where he wants to trans-ship it, so by the time it gets to a port official, it is hard to be able to take action. I’m not saying port enforcement officials don’t have that in place; but if you don’t have that enforcement presence at sea to catch them in the act, take their boat, take their catch, you’re just not going to get there. There’s not enough law enforcement assets, so it’s a awareness challenges. I think that is where you’re going to see some of the most innovative things done will be in maritime domain awareness.

So the use of commercial overhead is something we’ve talked about before with sophisticated sensors to alert law enforcement regarding closed areas. To provide countries with some ability, even if it’s a shared ability, to do at-sea law enforcement. Some will get together to share an asset or maybe use a ship-rider program which we’ve done before to spread their authorities. I think that in combination with a smart look of the space itself is going to be a major way forward. I think transponders offer a lot too; to use transponders to sort out legitimate fishers from illegitimate fishers, deal with dark vessels and non-emitters, which we’re getting better at every day with sensors becoming cheaper. That is something else that we can do.

I’m of two minds of this thing. There are lots of countries where their fishers are doing illegal activities and I’m not convinced that all of them are doing everything they can to police their fishing fleet. At the same time, I’m optimistic about technology, more sophisticated law enforcement regimes that may balance this. And I think there is a place for port enforcement on this, although as I said you really can’t completely deal with it without at-sea enforcement.

MM: Since we’re reaching the end of our interview, we will conclude with the same conclusion with most of our episodes. Tell us about what you have been reading recently, what are the main articles and books that have caught your eye.

CM: This is going to sound pretty boring, but I’ve been reading a lot of energy-related publications because I believe the world is undergoing a geostrategic shift in the balance of power in energy and related products. Although it wasn’t covered very well in the press, President Trump mentioned not only energy independence for this country but also energy dominance. I would encourage people to examine that topic because that is super important.

This country has been energy dependent, in varying degrees, on lots of different players in the past, but it may not be in the future. We have liquefied natural gases leaving this country in export quantities both through the expanded Panama Canal to Asian nations which are consuming that. President Trump in his speech to Poland highlighted that a cargo of U.S. liquefied natural gas was delivered to Poland for the first time, which has huge geopolitical ramifications in regards to Russia. The combination of two simple technologies, horizontal drilling and fracking, has the potential of becoming a major energy supplier which will impact the world geopolitical climate. Whether it’s countries in the Middle East or South America who’ve relied on their own version of energy dominance, I see that being chipped away.

As a Coast Guardsman this is hugely relevant, because if energy is being exported by any means other than pipelines, it is moving by water and through the sophisticated shipping industry that moves products around in a global market. Once again, a just-in-time market, and we get movement of energy products in this country on inland waterways, offshore, arctic, you name it. These energy trends have the potential of reshaping the geopolitical globe that I grew up with. And I’m watching it very carefully and the Coast Guard is right in the middle of it because a lot of these products, unless they go by pipeline, move by water. And when you talk about products moving by water, you have the Coast Guard right in the middle of all that stuff.

MM: Thank you so much for your time, Admiral Michel. Best of luck with all of those diverse security challenges you have to deal with, and we’re all rooting for you.

CM: Great, proud to serve. Semper paratus.

Admiral Charles Michel is the 30th Vice Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard.

Matthew Merighi is the Senior Producer of Sea Control.

Sea Control 139: What Does It Mean To Be A SMWDC Warfare Tactics Instructor?

By Matthew Merighi 

The Naval Surface and Mine Warfighting Development Center (SMWDC) is a critical element of the Navy’s Surface Force Strategy: Return to Sea Control.The command’s four lines of operation are advanced tactical training and tactical guidance development, operational support to combatant commanders, numbered fleet commanders and task force commanders, and capabilities assessments, experimentation, and future warfighting requirements. A critical supporting element in each of these focus areas are the men and women who are trained as Warfare Tactics Instructors (WTIs). 

In this interview, Sally DeBoer (SD) spoke with four WTIs who are on the cutting edge of the cultural shift taking place in the surface Navy. Our guests are Lt. Tyson Eberhardt (TE), who is an Anti-Submarine Warfare/Anti-Surface Warfare Tactics Instructor (ASW/SUW), Lt. Brittany Hubbard (BH), who is an Amphibious Warfare Tactics Instructor (AMW), Lt. Benjamin Olivas (BO), who is an Integrated Air and Missile Defense Warfare Tactics Instructor (IAMD), and Lt. Damon Goodrich-Houska (DGH), who is an ASW/SUW WTI. Read the transcript or download the audio below. 

Download Sea Control 139: What Does It Mean To Be A SMWDC Warfare Tactics Instructor?

SD: Welcome back! On this episode of Sea Control, our guests today are four Warfare Tactics Instructors from the Naval Surface and Mine Warfighting Development Center (SMWDC) in San Diego, CA. Thank you all so much for taking time out of your schedule to join us today. Let’s begin by getting a little background on each of you. What did you do prior to coming to SMWDC, and what drew you to the command?

TE: I was the ASWO officer and navigator on USS Preble as a division officer, I really enjoyed the tactical aspect of getting to meet sonar technicians and finding submarines. As a division officer, the opportunity on shore duty to expand my knowledge base and help other ASWOs drew me to the command.

DGH: I served on USS Reuben James and as the training officer on the USS Rushmore, part of that tour was going through a training cycle where you get the crew and all the watchstanders up to the level they need to be to deploy. With that experience, I got to conduct drills, run through scenarios, and train sailors. What drew me to SMWDC was the opportunity to learn and implement advanced tactics, then train warfighters on how to fight more effectively, I really enjoy ASW especially.

BH: I spent my first division officer tour on the USS Green Bay, and then I moved to a destroyer, the USS Lassen, as the damage control assistant. What interested me in SMWDC was going back to my roots as an amphibious sailor. A lot of the mission sets we conducted with the Marine Corps taught me how to be a liaison and work on the relationships between sailors and our USMC counterparts. That is what interested me in joining this program.

BO: Before I came here, I was the communications officer on USS Paul Hamilton and then I was the training officer on USS Michael Murphy, both out of Pearl Harbor. I served as air warfare coordinator and I came from a background where most of my captains knew this domain really well; I truly enjoyed that billet. Working with sailors and teaching people was something I also found enjoyable. When I heard about SMWDC, I thought what better way to use all this knowledge I have accumulated, pass it on, and make a difference?

SD: What impact do you see from the work you have done at SMWDC

DGH: One of the biggest things I have seen is a culture shift, and one of the main aspects is the PBED (Plan, Brief, Execute and Debrief) model. If you look at elite athletes, they don’t just go out and do their event, they will study, watch videos of themselves doing the actions, look over the minute details to improve, as well as watch competitors to adapt techniques and methods.

So we go out and do Surface Warfare Advanced Tactics and Training (SWATT) and have WTIs on each ship and, after doing various events, we will actually show the crew and the watchstanders a replay of the event, including voice recordings of reports. Walking through that, we start with the WTIs doing the majority of the presentation with the watchstanders and crew jumping in here and there, but by the end of the training, the watch teams are running things on their own and identifying issues themselves. So, seeing that training change hands from the WTIs to the ship’s crew, to where they are able to conduct their own training and self-improvement, is really great.

TE: We also conduct training ashore, so my primary job as an advanced sonar instructor is to provide this advanced tactical instruction to officers that will go out and conduct training. This classroom training is another important part of our mission. Getting to work with officers before they go to sea is another exciting part of our mission here.

BO: We tend to pride ourselves on not just conducting training but also building knowledge. One of the things that we have done is try to apply the same type of teaching approaches we learn from our counterparts. We put them through the ringer here in terms of making them go up and do a brief, do it well, and do it repeatedly to the point where they’ve put in so many hours, done so much research, taken and internalized these techniques…this goes for all of the schools here. So when you see a sailor give a brief, you know you will get a certain product because it’s been tailored a certain way. Since we have been doing it this way, we’ve seen a great payoff.

SD: How does the reported success of the WTI program in improving tactical proficiency translate to future training development for the Navy’s SWOs?

BH: I think that the three different schoolhouses that we currently have provide a good baseline for how we expect our future SWOs to participate in developing tactical proficiency. We take an elite cadre of junior officers and we put them through these schoolhouses and then, as we complete our production tour, which is anywhere from two or three years, those same officers then go back out to the fleet as department heads that will eventually be XOs and COs. So we are bringing our tactical proficiency to a new standard.

DGH: Another point is that as we develop new tactics and doctrine, we get a chance to take it out to sea with real world watchstanders to test it out and make sure that it is up to par, that it’s effective, and if not, we can make adjustments very rapidly.

SD: Is the emphasis more on teaching rigid existing doctrine or on allowing WTIs to develop and pursue new, original ideas?

DGH: It’s a little of both. We do rely on doctrine, but we also take our WTIs and ensure that we apply rigor, academic rigor, to our doctrine and tactics to make sure they are in fact reliable, and if there are issues, then again we identify them, correct them, and ensure the WTIs are empowered to enact changes and improve things.

TE: I think to Damon’s point, we have WTIs out at sea who have a responsibility to know the doctrine and the guidance, but have the opportunity to think critically and bring new ideas to the organizations. We’ve taken a more active role in events like the SCC (Submarine Command Course) where we have a chance to try out new tactics and see how effective they can be, then feed that back into formalized doctrine.

BO:  One of the good things about being able to test out new TTPs and doctrine is also being able to apply those things earlier and develop that muscle memory. The more we internalize tactics, the more they are applied and become part of the ship. Out there on the water where officers are asked to make quick decisions, this muscle memory represents a force multiplier for the entire fleet.

SD: How do you see yourselves speeding up and improving the Navy’s ability to field new thinking and capabilities?

 BH: A lot of what we do when we go out to ships and in the schoolhouse is not only study current doctrine but also evaluate new ways of utilizing that doctrine. We receive immediate feedback from the ships, and then we conduct workshops and working groups that take a really hard look at what we are currently teaching and make sure it is the best way to conduct that event.

BO:  The other thing we’ve hit on in terms of improvement is the impact that we see in the classroom, the way we teach. Being able to sit down and listen to briefs and take them in has created a much better experience for the students, they take on a lot of what we’ve done and they “get it.” We have created these lessons so when they walk away from classrooms they’re ready to use what they have learned. We use the ARCS (attention, relevance, confidence, satisfaction) approach – we see that as a feedback loop for the students. Once we have their attention, we present relevant information. Confidence means that they can walk away feeling like they “get it,” and satisfaction (S) means they can go to their ships and into combat or an exercise and satisfactorily apply the things we’ve taught them. 

DGH: To add on, in operational environments, the more we get WTIs out to the ships as DHs, especially once we hit that critical mass where there’s one WTI per ship, we will have already created a network of WTIs that all know how to get in touch with subject matter experts (SMEs) in various areas. Much of that reach back comes here (SMWDC HQ), and we have good communications with the aviation and undersea communities, etc.

As things change and real world events occur, we rapidly take in feedback and develop new tactics and doctrine as needed. We can model new systems going into the fleet, and any feedback from doctrine and tactics used in the real world can be brought into the classroom to make sure that the next set of WTIs that head out to train others have the most up-to-date information. We are not teaching out-of-date stuff, we are teaching the latest and greatest.

SD: What kind of collaboration and integration do WTIs have with one another and different communities (aviation, undersea, etc.)?

BH: So, one way that we do this is anytime we have a course that we are trying to teach or area of interest we need more information on, we reach out to that community. For example, we are participating in an SCC (Sea Combat Commander) course for various DESRONs and PHIBRONs working through training cycles. We recently reached out to the aviation weapons schools for input and participation to make sure we are as tactically proficient in the relevant areas we are teaching as they are.

TE: Along those lines, an important part of what WTIs do is that broad reach. While we train WTIs here at SMWDC, others are working for various other schools and groups and counterparts that have a specific focus. That allows us as a community of WTIs to try and foster cross-domain thinking about problems that don’t just affect one area, but affect the whole spectrum of naval warfare.

SD: How can you work to keep your skills current in an age of rapid change? 

DGH: We have a lot of WTIs here that are traveling, going out and doing various events, training aboard ships, and getting a lot of great experiences, such as live fire events, things that previously were something an officer might get to do once or twice in a career, we have WTIs doing multiple times a year.

What we ended up starting was what we call “Tactical Taco Tuesday,” which we hold multiple times a month. It is a long working lunch where we cross-train between domains, IAMD folks, ASUW, ASW, and amphibious folks. We also pull in other warfare areas as well, such as CW or Intelligence, and get some good cross-training in a less formal environment that allows for really good quality discussion and in-depth questions – plus everyone brings food so it builds an esprit de’corps that keeps the WTI network strong.

When we go on to our next tours, we know who to talk to and who the experts are. The more formal way we do this is that when WTIs come back to the schoolhouse, which we call Re-Bluing, we conduct refresher courses where the latest and greatest TTPs are taught.

SD: What do you think is next for SMWDC and the WTI program? How do you envision WTIs being utilized five or ten years down the line?

BH: I think that as WTIs, this is simply a two or three year tour, but when we leave this production tour, we do not take off our patch, it is still up to us to continue remaining as tactically proficient as our patch would designate us to be. So in 5-10 years, the goal is to be DHs, XOs, and COs, all the while continuing to build that knowledge base that we started back during a WTI production tour.

DGH: As we have more and more senior leadership who are WTI-qualified, it’s going to push an overall culture change, much like the phrase “a rising tide raises all boats,” it’s that idea that as increasingly more senior leadership has experience as WTIs, they will maintain that emphasis on being the best, drilling hard, working on doctrine and tactics, and that will really shift our focus.

WTIs are supposed to be warriors and thinkers and teachers, so when we get out and stand tactical watches, those same WTIs will be thinkers and work on doctrine, tactics, and improving existing processes as well as developing new systems and ideas, while also serving as teachers, in that they will train watchstanders, crews, and even strike groups. Ultimately, this will improve our warfighting ability.

BO: One of the things that we really hammer home is that this command is primarily O-3s and O-4s, which in the grand scheme is very junior in rank, but we are the ones doing the homework and teaching people in ranks above and below. Ultimately, I think what we are trying to get at is that the tactical experts will be the gatekeepers and have the breadth of knowledge to build something great.

TE: The WTI program is an effort to put warfighting first among SWOs. As SWOs we have so many things we have to be proficient at, but the bottom line is we need to be warfighters, and this requires an advanced understanding of tactics. And by building this cadre of WTIs, for years down the line as DHs and beyond, we will be making an impact by bringing that to the fleet

SD: What is your message to aspiring surface warfare officers who are interested SMWDC

TE: I think what most excites me about getting to be a part of this command is that the Navy is investing in my level of knowledge and in my ability to go out and lead sailors in the future. It is exciting to train others, to do these exercises. The bottom line is that every single day I come to work I learn something new, and the organization is committed to training me to a higher level of knowledge that will pay off for years as I have come to a whole new appreciation for expertise in surface warfare.

DGH: For aspiring SWOs, as a JO, as a non-qualified SWO working toward that pin, you have much to learn and focus on, but number one I would encourage young SWOs to learn as much as you can and focus on tactics, but communicate early with your chain of command that you’re interested in the WTI program if you have a passion for tactics and training. Of course, work on your qualifications and do your job well, but there are many opportunities to become qualified in warfare areas as a JO, whether it’s ASWE for a second tour or various air warfare qualifications on an Aegis platform. Focus on those and work toward being the best tactician you can in whatever position you are in – strive to be the “go-to” guy or gal in that position. So when you do apply to be a WTI, those recommendations will really help.

BH: For SWOs looking to come here, this is probably going to be a once-in a-career type of opportunity. Every day when I come to work, my job is to take research, take what we’re doing, take a schedule, and make it the best that I can for the fleet, event, or scenario. There wasn’t a time in the first four years of my career where someone asked me to research tactics or to figure out a problem – but for all SWOs this is your time. You’re two to three years out of your career that you can spend just focusing on making the warfare areas better, building relationships, and networking. In that way it is different from many tours you could do otherwise.

BO: Looking back on everything, I think all of us are close enough to our JO tours to realize that being a junior officer onboard a warship is not an easy task. It is a lot of sustained hard work that keeps you up many nights studying. We understand how hard you’ve worked for your pin. The shore tour is a time when many look to take some gas off the pedal and regroup. Here we have an opportunity to do that, but we also have a lot of work to do, but it’s good work. It is something that is going to make a difference.

Quite frankly, of all the people I have worked with in my career, there is no one I would rather work with. The people here are trying to make a difference, and that work will echo in the Navy for many years to come. My takeaway to you is, if you’re qualified in an area, pursue it rigorously, look at the pubs, talk to the watchstanders, and ask as many questions as you can, because one day you may be the one teaching others to do that and it is going to matter. That is why we were created.

SD: Thank you all so much for taking time out of your day to join us here on Sea Control and for leaving our listeners more informed about the work you’re doing and the mission of the Surface and Mine Warfighting Development Center. We hope you’ll join us again! For our listeners – this has been another episode of Sea Control. Thanks for listening!

Lt. Benjamin Olivas is a native of El Paso, Texas and earned his bachelor’s degree in history from the United States Naval Academy in 2011. He received a commission in the Navy and was selected to be a Surface Warfare Officer. Olivas is an Integrated Air and Missile defense Warfare Tactics Instructor (IAMD WTI), and currently serves as the Standardization Officer at the Surface and Mine Warfighting Development Center (SMWDC) in San Diego, CA.

Lt. Brittany Hubbard is a native of Grand Chain, Illinois and earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology from University of Illinois in 2012. Hubbard is currently at SMWDC Sea Combat Division as an Amphibious Warfare Tactics Instructor.

Lieutenant Damon Goodrich-Houska graduated from Indiana University in 2010 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Public and Environmental Affairs. Damon earned his commission through Officer Candiate School in 2010. Additionally, he earned his master’s degree in Cyber Security from National University in 2016. Lieutenant Goodrich-Houska is currently assigned to Navy Surface and Mine Warfighting Development Center as N5 Anti-Submarine Warfare Assistant, N5 Doctrine & Tactics Branch. Damon completed the Legacy SuASW WTI course at the top of his class, and completed the ASUW/ASW WTI Pilot Course as the honor graduate.

LT Tyson Eberhardt is a native of Seattle, Washington and earned his bachelor’s degree in from Princeton University in 2008. He holds a master’s degree in education from the University of Pennsylvania. Eberhardt earned his commission through Officer Candidate School in 2013. He is currently an ASW/SUW Warfare Tactics Instructor at SMWDC Sea Combat Division specializing in active sonar systems and tactics. During his time at SMWDC he also served as the uniformed lead for SHAREM 188 with the ROK Navy.

Sally DeBoer is an Associate Editor with CIMSEC, and previously served as CIMSEC’s president from 2016-2017. 

Matthew Merighi is the Senior Producer for Sea Control. 

Sea Control 138: CAPT Klaus Mommsen (ret.) on Russia’s Navy: Potemkin or Power Projection?

By Matthew Merighi

Join the latest episode of Sea Control for a conversation with Captain Klaus Mommsen (ret.) of the German Navy to talk about the Russian Navy and its latest developments.

Download Sea Control 138 – Russia’s Navy: Potemkin or Power Projection?

The transcript of the conversation between Captain Mommsen (KM) and guest host from the University of Kiel, Roger Hilton (RH), begins below. This transcript has been edited for length and clarity. Special thanks to Associate Producer Ryan Uljua for helping produce this episode and Assistant Producer Valtteri Tamminen for creating the transcript.

RH– Hello CIMSEC listeners and readers, my name is Roger Hilton, a nonresident academic fellow for the Institute for Security Policy at the University of Kiel, welcoming you all back for another Sea Control episode. Before diving into our material today, it is my pleasure to introduce our listeners to the Kiel Seapower Series, with a wealth of information and resources, be sure to visit their website at kielseapowerseries.com for all your information on maritime security.

If you are an enthusiastic follower of international relations, or even a fair weather observer, it is hard to ignore the success being heaved on Russia’s current foreign policy, and of course it’s grandmaster, President Vladimir Putin. From their cyber prowess, to their acute intervention in the middle east theater, it seems the Kremlin is unbeatable at the moment. Amidst the blitz of publicity, any survey of Russia’s power projection would be incomplete without a survey of their naval forces.

Here with us today is retired German Navy Captain Klaus Mommsen, who will help us establish if Russia’s navy is a force to advance their great power aspirations, or merely a Potemkin projection. His contribution in the Routledge Handbook of Naval Strategy and Security provides a succinct description of Russia’s naval history, as well as an analysis of its strengths and weaknesses.  

Captain Mommsen is a graduate of the Military Academy of the German Armed Forces as well as the Canadian Command and Staff College, after which he spent most of his career in naval intelligence, both as an analyst and in leading staff functions. He has also contributed to Marine Forum, the monthly magazine of the German Maritime Institute for 25 now. Finally, he’s also the author of a book on the history of Israeli Navy. Klaus, it’s a pleasure for you to be with us today.

KM– Good morning Roger, thanks for having me on your podcast.

RH–  Based on their impact and growing geopolitical influence abroad, your piece in the Routledge Handbook contrasts this with a sobering perception of their naval capabilities, both in piece and war time, and frankly provides a bleak outlook for the future. History confirms that Russia’s stage prop is a mixture of a siege mentality perception toward foreigners and the need to dominate their near abroad to guarantee their security. Which is manifested with the use of hard power tactics as we’ve seen recently in Georgia and Ukraine? And before diving into more detail, could you briefly describe how the current military maritime order is divided?

KM-Well the Russians can certainly navigate beyond the green water which means inland waterways or brown water which means coastal waters, to the blue oceans, so they have a blue water capability that makes them a blue water navy. They can send task groups or forces all around the world, even come back to combined exercises with friendly navies such as India. So they have a global reach but they do not have the capabilities for power projection. Russia in my opinion, and to my definition, is not a sea power, not using the navy to protect its global trade routes, its sea line of communications outside its regional borders, and with the exception of Syria, has never used the sea beyond mere presence and to actively intervene in conflicts abroad.

RH– When you talk about pure power projection, obviously the only country that has true global reach is the United States. But within this different category you have multi-regional power projectors, like Russia, India, Italy, Spain, and Brazil. Could you go into a little bit more detail about multi-region power projection?

KM– The Russians are forced to be a multi-region power projector because Russia spans several regions, but the are not connected regions. Some people would argue that the recent deployment of the carrier Kuznetsov, was a power projection from the sea. It was not. It was totally redundant. Ground based aircraft did the work. They flew much over 10,000 sorties over Syria, but the Kuznetsov only a couple of hundred during the whole three months.

Just take the sortie rates of other navies, aircraft carriers, the new U.S. Navy carrier Ford will allow for a sortie rate of up to 207 sorties a day. The Nimitz in one exercise managed 197, the French carrier Charles de Gaulle is capable of 100. The Kuznetov, some analyst say that they might generate up to 30 sorties a day and not on a sustained level.

Other navies are operating globally and are also during power projection, the French do it, the British Royal Navy does it, the Indian Navy is just a regional navy, they are not really operating out of region. The same goes for some navies in South America which have blue water capabilities just because they have to deal with large areas of the Southern Atlantic or the pacific. That is not for the region, and not for the Russians.

RH- Klaus, thank you so much for actually distinguishing that a lot of their power projection in Syria was as a result of their Air force sorties and not their naval capabilities. It is often lost in the discussion. Can you quickly get into the organization of the Russian Navy? Specifically what are its priorities and areas of interest, and its current capabilities?

KM– It is currently organized into four fleets. The Northern Fleet in the Kola Peninsula, the Baltic Fleet based in the Gulf of Finland and in the Kaliningrad oblast. The Black Sea Fleet focused on Sevastopol, in now Russian Crimea and Novosibirsk and the Pacific Fleet in Vladivostok and Petropadstok. And then they have a fifth fleet which basically is a flotilla, they call it the Caspian Sea Flotilla, which is locked in the caspian sea. There are some inner water ways where they can transfer ships back and forth, but it is basically not out of region. The current focus is on the Arctic, with its vast resources, and on Western Europe and NATO. And in the southwest with the Black Sea being a jumpboard to the Mediterranean and the Middle East. That is also the only area where Russia sees wide possibilities to strengthen it political or military influence.

RH- With that goal in mind of strengthening its influence, what kind of hardware and capabilities do the four fleets and the Caspian flotilla utilize right now to pursue their objectives?

KM– They have very old warships and weapons systems, and very modern ones. Most of their arsenal is more or less outdated with many ships 30 or more years old. Modernization efforts are underway with emphasis on blue water capable vessels, such as frigates and submarines, which also are useful in regional waters.

The future sees new destroyers, cruiser refurbishment and even a new aircraft carrier, but we are talking decades to come. Progress is slow. The weapons systems are being modernized, currently they have new missiles in their arsenal. We all noticed the test firing and demonstration of their Kalibr cruise missiles from the Caspian sea or the Mediterranean to Syrian targets.

Generally the progress of modernization is very slow, and you mentioned Potemkin. The government announces huge progress with more than 80 warships commissioned in 2016. That was meant for the Russian people, with more than 70 of those warships being auxiliaries such as harbor tugs or diver support vessels, small boats. And some tend to just mention numbers in comparing navies, say they have 11 aircraft carriers vs just one. They have 60 destroyers, the Russians have just eight, yet these numbers do not count, it is the capabilities that count.

RH– Again Klaus, an excellent observation that it is not the numbers that are important as much as the modernization and capabilities at the disposal of the Russian navy. Moving on to their naval history, anyone who’s ever visited Russia knows that it’s known for its harsh winters and frozen waterway paths which proves to be a strategic disadvantage. Could you go into detail a little bit about how the geography has vexed the composition of the Russian Navy?

KM- The whole geography makes Russia landlocked. It is only a few months where sea passage is viable. Under St. Peter, the only viable seaport was Arkhangelsk at the White Seas, accessible only a few months a year. With inland trades, very little developed, you can imagine that no one is going by horse from Moscow to the far east. Czar Peter naturally focused on sea trade. He founded St Petersburg, he saw the Baltic as an access route to sea trade. He had a large commercial fleet, and a new Baltic sea port built at St Petersburg to and to protect these new assets he established a Russian Navy. By the way that is exactly what Mahan had in mind, he said to be a sea power you have to have a commercial fleet and a navy to support it, protect it. So Czar Peter followed Mahan’s aspect.

And going further down in history, 50 years later, Catherine looked south. She secured Crimea, founded Sevastopol, and got an access to the Mediterranean. Ice free all year, though she never managed to get hold of the Turkish Strait, we will come to that later. In 1860, Vladivostok in the far east was added and became a major Asia hub for trade. And only in 1916, Murmansk, mostly ice free due to the gulf stream, was available to the Russian commercial fleet and naval fleet. All these naval fleets created at these directions, to the west, to the north, to the southwest to the east, fulfilled merely regional missions. It’s huge distances forbade any combined operations, they tried it once during the Russo-Japanese war but failed, they deployed the Baltic Fleet all the way to Japan.

RH– I mean there is no doubt that it was a cataclysmic failure for the Russian Navy in the early 20th century when they embarked on that mission. We’ve established the principal reason for the expansion of the Russian Navy was primarily financial gain under Peter. On the Treaty of Montreux which regulated the Turkish straits, could you go into detail a little bit about why this is so important and how it impacts Russian Navy posture?

KM- Some people said that the Treaty of Montreux gives the Turkish control of the Turkish straits. It controls whoever is going in or out of the Black Sea, and regulates the passage of warships. It also restricts the numbers and times that goes for non-Black Sea residents as well as those inside the Black Sea. So Russia also has limitations in deploying its fleet. For example, no submarines may pass submerged, and no aircraft carriers are allowed to pass, even Russian ones. Which by the way lead to the designation of the Admiral Kuznetsov, which was built in the Black Sea in Ukraine, as a flight deck cruiser, not an aircraft carrier. Right now, the Russians stick to the Treaty of Montreux, even though it is restricting their own moves. They see it as a tool to protect their own territory. It is more important to them to keep others out of the Black Sea than to use it for themselves for out-of-area deployments, into the Mediterranean or elsewhere.

RH– Undoubtedly Klaus, everything you mentioned is valid but it is important to also assess the redistribution of maritime power with new NATO states including Romania and Bulgaria, and obviously Georgia aggressively looking to join NATO. So it puts a lot of pressure on the Russian Navy in Sevastopol due to these geopolitical factors. One last analogy that would be interesting to listeners, is the comparison between as Rome as a land power and Carthage as a sea power. Is this an accurate comparison at all of Russia?

KM– Not really, Rome acted as a land power, but geographically it was not forced to do so. Rome had an outspoken maritime geostrategic location with the Italian peninsula dominating the Mediterranean, they could have dominated the Mediterranean but they focused on land power. Russia on the contrary is landlocked with very few access points to the open sea.

RH– It’s beneficial for you to clarify as it is an analogy that is often promoted inside of Russian media sources. Moving on to the USSR, the emergence of the Soviet Navy and its red fleet, apparently from your text did not change or waiver that much from Imperial Russia. Again what was its existential purpose moving forward?

KM– Primarily to support land forces and for securing sea supply routes and protecting the seaside flank.

RH- So like you said, even during the Soviet times, at its nascent beginning, it didn’t possess the capability to assume a more defensive posture?

KM- An offensive posture, yes, but for the navy just posture. Except for the developments of the nuclear ballistic missile submarines, the so called bastion concept, defense of the homeland was dominating and has been dominating today. Increased naval presence abroad is part of that but just that presence is not combat presence. Once in awhile they use it for political bullying.

RH- Its great you were able to bring up the bastion concept because it really reinforces Russia’s siege mentality perception of foreigners as well as their need to dominate in the near abroad. An interesting focus comes with the major changes that took place under Admiral Sergei Gorshkov who was in charge of the Soviet Navy from 1956 to 1985. Its referred to as the golden age, could you provide details or elaborate on what major reforms took place under his tenure?

KM- Some people tend to see this as the Soviet Navy, the red fleet moving from the home waters to the oceans as an offensive posture. Basically, the thought behind it was still defensive in nature, with increasing range of weapons developed, nuclear missiles, submarine launched nuclear missiles, aircraft carriers, they could not wait in home waters for the enemy to arrive there. They had to leave home waters to challenge the enemy already embarked, the enemy meaning the U.S. and NATO. This could be understood as the strengthening of offensive capabilities.

They created a deeply layered line of defense. Starting in the open Atlantic with submarines and aircraft, antisubmarine warfare aircraft and cruisers with long-range missiles. All these assets were to counter U.S. carrier strike groups and the ballistic missile submarines to keep them away, out of reach of the Russian homeland, to protect the motherland’s coasts, ports, and naval bases. The first layer out in the Atlantic, the second layer just north of the North Cape, then came the Barents Sea, and then came protection of their own ballistic missile submarines as a second strike capability, which were basically holed up in the Kara Sea in the arctic waters, out of reach for the U.S. forces.

RH– I think we would both agree that Peter the Great would be  envious of Russia’s ability at this time to create such strategic depth while encountering a much more advanced western adversary. Against this backdrop, what would you suggest is the main takeaway from the USSR’s experience at sea?

KM- Their main mission was to protect the core of Russia. They had no real responsibility for maritime offensive operations. The flank protection of land operations was dominating. Offensive concepts of operations were part of the game. Submarines had to cut off NATO’s supply lines, again with the aim to favor their own land forces in Europe. In previous operations to gain the Baltic approaches, they were meant to open up lanes to the North Sea and North Atlantic and use Baltic rear facilities for logistics and repairs for ships of the northern fleet operating there. Ships like Kiev-class aircraft carriers were to facilitate quick shifts of focus in amphibious operations, just operations off the coast.

They were not meant for power projection in other reaches of the world. The overall aim was not to expand their operations to the world oceans, they were just integrating the oceans into their own homeland defense.

RH- Klaus, the last thing as we dive back into history, as they routinely say we’re entering a new Cold War. Would you say that the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 was arguable was arguably the greatest success of the Soviet Navy?

KM- It was definitely the greatest achievement in logistics operations. 86 navy civilian ships made 183 trips, transported 42,000 soldiers, and 230 tons of cargo to Cuba. That was a logistic operation. Again, they avoided military confrontation, the navy was insufficient to challenge the U.S. at sea. Especially when far away from home. So with only the nuclear option left, tThey eventually withdrew and backed down.

RH- Moving on now to the post- Soviet Navy, obviously a lot changed with its collapse and the Russian Navy was left in a dilapidated state. With the emergence of the new independent republics came the loss of basing rights, for example. What were some of the major operational consequences that the Russian Federation had to deal with as a result of the loss of basing rights and territory?

KM- They have to just look at the map to see that they lost major parts of the Baltic and Black Sea coast. In the Baltic they were driven back to the Gulf of Finland which is the most eastern part and the Kaliningrad enclave, that is all that was left. All of the Baltic state coast was gone. The same happened in the Black Sea, the Crimea went to the Ukraine and Georgia became independent. That left Russia a small portion of the Black Sea coast focused around the Novorossiysk. For two decades they made a deal with Sevastopol leasing agreements with Ukraine so they could stay and use Sevastopol in the Black Sea. What was gone also was all the shipyards in Ukraine. That was where large combat ships, including aircraft carrier,s were built. They were gone, and Russia was financially broke. The shipyard industry had completely refocused, they had no more subcontractors in former Warsaw pact states, except Ukraine which remained the sole manufacturer for gas turbines. A serious mistake to be felt after 2014.

What augmented it was the access to western technology and lack of funds, along with neglected indigenous development. More than half of their submarines were decommissioned, and large surface ships had to be laid up. They had no money to keep them afloat, no personnel to man them. Most ship engineers came from the Baltic soviet republics. They were gone out of country. They were forced to make due with a small combat corps. Just a few ships which they put all effort into keeping them combat ready. But basically they remained merely for coastal defense.

RH- There is no doubt after reading your text that after the collapse of the USSR, their competency to build ships vanished completely. But what is more exposed today I think you’ll agree is the indigenous development program and their overt reliance reliance on foreigners for both equipment and experience. Before we get into the strategic considerations and their objectives, there was a brief moment of rapprochement of former enemies joined in multilateral naval exercises. Today this is something that seems so far fetched, but maybe you can go into detail about this initiative that was taken immediately after the collapse of the USSR.

KM- The Yeltsin Russia was wise enough to see that it had no chance to survive in continuing confrontation with the west. Confrontation with the west had ruined it financially. Reagan had said that the Star Wars program had brought them to their limits and over their limits. So Yeltsin sought to engage with the west. The navies also did some programs, combined annual exercises with France, the U.K. and the U.S., where they rotated posting these exercises through the four countries. They had polar exercises with Norway, and they even joined the BALTOPS exercise, which before had been a U.S. hosted exercise for only NATO partners. They even joined NATO counter-terror operation Active Endeavor in the Mediterranean until approximately 2008.

RH- The third section of your piece talks about the strategic reconsiderations of Russia, the Russian Navy, and their motivation to get back to the oceans. You single out two seminal moments for this reformation of doctrine. One is the March 2000 assumption of the Russian presidency by Vladimir Putin and the subsequent introduction of the 2010 Military Doctrine of the Russian Federation, which put an emphasis on transport routes for energy resources. What should be known about these two elements?

KM-When Putin came to power in 2000, he first continued the friendly relationship with the west, including all the naval programs. The 2010 military doctrine was after Georgia, which was in 2008. The doctrine puts an emphasis on the arctic. Other sea lines of communication are out of reach for the Russian Navy, at least for sustained operations under real threat. They did do anti-piracy operations off the Horn of Africa, but with the emerging Mediterranean squadron, they had to skip that due to a lack of ships. Controlling sea lines of communication until today is not a mission for the Russian navy. They do not have the capabilities to do it globally. The arctic yes, because that is off their own coastline, some chokepoints possibly, but with limits to resources.

RH-  What then was the overarching objective of the Putin regime’s strategic reconsideration?

KM- To paraphrase, to make Russia great again. He does not like Russia to be called a regional power with just nukes. He does not want to be junior partner in multinational U.S.-led operations or world politic. He wants Russia accepted as a superpower, also at sea on the oceans. By the way, that was the main reason for the Kuznetsov deployment to Syria. To demonstrate they have the capabilities in a conflict, Syria, that has no maritime dimension at all. Together with the Admiral Kuznetsov, the missile cruiser Pyotr Velikiy was deployed to Syria. But it was not mentioned a single time in any general staff briefings. Even the Kuznezov after flying some initial sorties, combat sorties, was totally out of reporting from general staff briefings for two months.

RH- Klaus, everything you said is very valid, anybody who was following Russia’s naval intervention must take the deployment of their aircraft carrier with a bit of salt, as photos of it around England with a tug for in the event that it would break down really demonstrated that maybe it wasn’t such a power projection tool as we thought, and how outdated it was to shoot off its planes for its sorties. Do you have any commentary about the flotillas and their less-than permanent presence far from home bases?

KM- The new flotilla concept for out-of-area presence was announced in 2012 and said it would create permanent squadrons in several places around the world. The first one was the Mediterranean squadron to be set up and commanded and controlled from the Black Sea Fleet. They had in mind that the Mediterranean squadron would be comprised of new frigates and submarines that were under construction then and were thought to be delivered and commissioned around 2014 or even earlier. They were centered around the Syrian base of Tartus for logistics. At that time they did not see the detrimental effects of the Ukraine crisis, which only developed in 2014.

And the embargoes, which combined with homemade deficiencies in naval shipbuilding, wrecked all of their ambitions for out of area deployment. Officially they even had to use other fleets to back up for the lack of the Black Sea Fleet. Northern Fleet and Baltic Fleet units had to deploy to the Mediterranean just to act with the Mediterranean squadron which did not do any operations. They just sat there with naval presence. Even the Pacific Fleet had deployed its missile cruiser Varyag for some time to be part of the Mediterranean squadron. In official statements I do not see a limited Black Sea Fleet. For them, the required use of Northern Fleet, Black Sea, Baltic Fleet, and even Pacific ships was just another demonstration of the growing capabilities for interfleet operations.

RH- Despite all of these official statements you would assume it’s very misleading to describe them as having high operational interfleet operations though right?

KM- Yes.

RH-  It’s still another example of Potemkin projection. As you said in principle, the potential creation of the standing task force for out-o- area operations has great merit. But unsurprisingly it appears that Russia is far removed from this capability. What has contributed to this impotent initiative?

KM- The permanent out-of-area squadrons are great for political purposes including propaganda meant for the Russian people, not the whole world. Naval presence as they had exercised it in the 1960s and 1970s in the Mediterranean was again to become a tool for strengthening political influence, especially in an unstable region as the Middle East after the Arab Spring. That’s why they chose the first permanent squadron to be set up in the Mediterranean. In theory the combat capabilities don’t matter there. It does not matter if three or four or five destroyers are there or just one. The problem for the whole permanent squadron concept is that they have no sea basing concept. They need access to shore facilities and they lack, of course, the required number of ships.

RH- As you said earlier, correct me if I’m wrong, but the only permanent base that Russia has access to is in Tartus, Syria, which is essentially a vassal state now of the Kremlin. In principle Vietnam has agreed, but there are other states who are hesitant about providing permanent presence for the Russian Navy. Do you have any commentary to add to this?

KM- Vietnam is the strongest candidate and they have no problems with the Russians replenishing in Cam Ranh Bay. Only they are not interested in the sharing of sovereignty, which the Russians want. They want their own part of the port where they have full control. All permanent squadrons would need some logistical support in the region where they are to operate, so they have been courting Vietnam. They talked to Cuba, they talked to equatorial Guinea, they talked to Mozambique, they talked to Yemen, even contemplated setting out on a port on the island of Socotra. They are even looking now, in my opinion, at a possible Syrian post asset option. They even courted Cyprus which said “no, no we don’t like it.” Currently in recent weeks they focused on Libya, in Benghazi or Tobruk, and are courting the east Libyan renegade government of Field Marshal Haftar. 

RH- Obviously their mediation with the potential government in Haftar reinforces their delinquent activity in the political process about assuming peace. As you said I think it’s most likely that that might be the second best option after Tartus if Assad is able to hold on.

KM- When the Kuznetsov had ended its deployment to Syria, it even made a short stop off Tobruk to welcome Haftar on board.

RH- If I remember correctly I think he had a video link with Defense Minister Shoigu. Getting back to the countries they have been courting, it’s not exactly the most attractive list of modernized and well-funded countries.

Back in the post Georgia conflict in 2008, obviously with their intervention they now occupy 20 percent of the territory, especially in Abkhazia and the port of Sokhumi, do you have any commentary to add to that rapprochement that was officially terminated?

KM- Yes it was officially terminated, but the problem was there were not real sanctions. We said we will not exercise with you anymore and military cooperation programs were terminated. But after two or three years relations were slowly returning to normal, when Putin came to power again. After that lack of Western response to the Georgian crisis, Putin probably thought that he could get away with Crimea. He just had to overcome a 2-3 year lean period and everything would slowly return to normal. He would have Crimea and would have won.

RH- It was definitely a dangerous precedent set by the international community not responding more forcefully to the centrally annexed territory of Georgia. As we established now, financial resources are scarce in Russia, they lack competency to manage shipbuilding, and there is rampant misuse of the budget. What would you say is the current state of affairs and progress of the 2020 state-sponsored shipbuilding program?

KM- The current state is in dire straits. They lack money, they have sanctions in place, the shipbuilding industry is down, subcontractors are not working anymore. While everyone is focused on non delivery of Ukrainian gas turbines, there are many other items lacking. It goes from air conditioning, convenience items, diesel engines, they got German engines from German MTU, now they are looking for China which has been building MTU engines under a license agreement. But those engines are 1980s technological standard so nobody cares whether they get them or not.

RH- Hardly a powerhouse on the sea if they are searching for 1980s engines…

KM- Yeah. Subcontractors cannot deliver systems, but that is not sanctioned necessarily. Just recently there was a report that the commissioning of two modern frigates has been delayed because a subcontractor cannot deliver the Russian-made air defense systems for them. They lack skilled workers. The shipyard infrastructure is degrading. There is confused planning. They use overly confident data brought in to save money or to get contracts, and then afterwards have to say “we calculated all wrong” which leads to more delays. They have corrupt and incompetent bosses, managers. And the Russian Ministry is very reluctant or not at all paying for military contracts. They have no quality controls. Just today there was news that Vympel shipyard has to pay fines for delivering faulty diesel engines for interceptor craft. Once in St. Petersburg one of the most renowned shipyards had to fire its director for inability to complete 3 arctic support ships. And completing them in the other shipyard, Kaliningrad, where the situation is not much better by the way. On the other hand. The Admiralty shipyard in St Petersburg delivered all six Kilo Submarines to Vietnam on time. One reason was most probably they had been paid on time.

RH- One sliver of hope most likely in the native shipyard industry, as we said the shipyards are incapable of producing indigenous replacements that substitute for sanctions post Crimea. Despite the apparent amicability between President Trump and President Putin, it looks as if the honeymoon is over. What could they take away in terms of the shipyard industry with this relationship?

KM- They used to announce great achievements, saying that in 2017 we will have new gas turbines to build into our new frigates, but only very few indigenous systems have made it to serious production. There are year-long delays, the gas turbines announced for this year are more likely to be available in 2019. And the problem is not only to replace sanctioned goods, but lack of quality with their very own weapons systems.

RH- Klaus, the sum total of your analysis paints an ugly picture moving forward for the Russian Navy. Despite this, you stated in the book that the Navy can expect greater autonomy, flexibility with higher sea endurance, and better sustainability with out -of-area operations. Based on the given strengths, financial resources, and less-than capable industrial complex, what is the likelihood that this will be achieved?

KM- I do not see them out of the doldrums anytime soon. To the contrary, in my opinion, economic shortfalls will continue to limit defense spending and delay nearly all shipbuilding projects. Just have a look at the oil prices. They are much too dependent on oil exports and natural resource exports and energy exports. The prices are much below what they need to sustain their economy. Just recently they announced slashing the fiscal year defense budget by 25 percent compared with 2016. Certainly this is not driven by a goodwill signal for arms reduction, but by economic shortfalls. We will continue to see several year delays to nearly all shipbuilding programs, at least complex major combat ships. They will roll out small port/harbor tugs and small boats. Publicly, meaning to their own people, they will claim huge successes. In reality they will basically stay where they are.

For the Russian Navy that means that they will stay in the marginal seas, they will be defending the motherland, and that will remain the main mission. There will be out-of-area operations, but merely in the form of cruises, no power projection from the sea. Programs do not perceive a major seabasing capability, which is required for projecting power from the sea.

RH- Well Klaus, based on our working hypothesis about if the Russian Navy was either a Potemkin or power projection, it seems quite evident that it is more Potemkin than anything. If you were advising Russian President Putin, what priorities would you set, and the final operational takeaway for assessing the Russian Navy with great power aspirations?

KM- If I were Putin, I would for the Navy focus on homeland defense and marginal seas. I would stop bullying neighbors, which can only lead to an arms race that Russia has no chance to win. I would try to mend broken ties. The instruments for dialogue with NATO are still in place, and in some fields, far from public view, Russia is even talking to NATO nations. Just yesterday, in Boston in the U.S., the Arctic Coast Guard Forum which includes Canada, Finland, Greenland, Denmark, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the U.S. signed a doctrine of tactics and information sharing for operations in arctic waters. So Russia is signing a document, a protocol for combined operations with NATO nations. That is worthwhile remembering. Putin, and we all should realize that Russia is a political superpower with its role in the the UN Security Council, militarily is a regional power, spanning several regions from the Pacific to the Atlantic and to the south. It is made a global power only by nukes. Except for maybe shows of force with global deployments, you will not see any power projection from the sea by Russia.

RH- Just to clarify for readers and listeners regarding the recent contract signed with arctic powers, both Finland or Sweden aren’t NATO members. Klaus, again, undoubtedly the current Russian statecraft shows no sign of being diminished. it is critical to never overlook their Potemkin posture on the high seas. There’s a litany of facts mentioned that range from a lack of competencies, insufficient funds, and incompetent management just to name a few. Captain Mommsen, thanks again for providing such a timely description on the Russian Navy. If you want to follow up on this podcast or other pressing maritime issues, you can find the Routledge Handbook of Naval Strategy and Security online, and most importantly don’t forget to check out the official Kiel Seapower website for all the latest updates on marine security issues. As usual, listeners, I will be back shortly to discuss more maritime issues. From the Institute for Security Policy at the University of Kiel, I’m Roger Hilton saying moin moin and farewell. Thanks everybody.

Klaus Mommsen was born in 1948. In 1968, he joined the German Navy where after graduating he became a naval aviator. In 1982, he attended the Canadian Forces Command and Staff College. His subsequent career saw him mostly employed with military (both naval and joint) intelligence. In 2002, he retired as Captain (Navy) from his last posting as Deputy Chief of Staff (Intelligence) of the German Fleet. As early as 1992, Mommsen started writing for the German naval magazine MarineForum (which until today lists him as editor foreign navies) and since has become a renowned German columnist for international naval affairs. He is married and lives in Germany, near Bonn.

Roger Hilton is a nonresident academic fellow for the Institute for Security Policy at the University of Kiel.