All posts by Paul Pryce

Dire Straits: ASEAN and Piracy

IndonesiaAmid reports of hijackings and narrow escapes by merchant vessels in the Gulf of Guinea, West African piracy has begun to capture international attention. Meanwhile, NATO’s Operation Ocean Shield and the EU’s Atalanta maintain presence with other international partners in the Gulf of Aden, securing a crucial trade route against the threat of Somali piracy. However, the waterways of Southeast Asia are now almost entirely absent from the Western media narrative regarding the threat posed by piracy to international trade. This comes as some surprise, since piracy in this part of the world is very much on the rise.

According to the International Maritime Bureau (IMB), 57 attacks were reported in Southeast Asia during the first six months of 2013. Of the 297 pirate attacks that took place in 2012, 81 were perpetrated in Indonesia’s coastal waters alone, surpassing the 75 attacks that occurred in the Gulf of Aden the same year. This resurgence of Southeast Asian piracy is placing significant stress upon the shipping industry, generating new expenses and placing human lives at risk.

Malaysian special forces abseil onto a vessel from a police helicopter during an antipiracy demonstration in the Strait of Malacca (Jimin Lai / AFP)
Malaysian special forces abseil onto a vessel from a police helicopter during a counter-piracy demonstration in the Strait of Malacca (Jimin Lai / AFP)

It is little wonder that this region has become the latest hot spot for pirate activity. It is estimated that approximately one-third of global crude oil and over half of global liquefied natural gas pass through the Strait of Malacca and the South China Sea each year. In fact, roughly one-third of global trade passes through the Strait of Malacca, making it one of the most vital waterways to the world economy. Yet despite its strategic significance, there have been only limited efforts to secure the flow of goods and fuel through the Strait. In 2004, an informal arrangement was established between the naval forces of Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, and Singapore to cooperate on counter-piracy operations. In 2006, when Indonesian authorities expressed concern that they lacked the capabilities necessary to patrol Indonesia’s own territorial waters, the Indian Navy and Indian Coast Guard agreed to contribute vessels and crews to counter-piracy efforts on a limited basis.

For some years, this multinational arrangement saw success in reducing both the frequency and intensity of regional piracy, particularly in the Strait of Malacca. Unfortunately, these successes, rather than motivating further security cooperation, seem to have contributed to a certain degree of complacency. In April 2011, the Chief of the Malaysian Defence Forces was quoted claiming that the multinational collaboration had brought a complete end to piracy in the Strait. This does not mesh with the aforementioned increase in attacks over recent years.

An Anchorage off Singapore
The Singaporean anchorages, plump with potential piracy victims.

The current situation presents both a powerful motive and an opportunity for pirates to prey on shipping in the Strait of Malacca – the value and volume of shipping is considerable, and the lack of a formal counter-piracy framework in the region leaves patrolling disjointed. In place of the current multinational collaboration, an intensive counter-piracy program on the part of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) might better discourage pirate activity. ASEAN, whose membership comprises ten countries, has embarked on an effort to establish a functioning political-security community by 2015. The lack of an effective ASEAN response to a conflict in the Malaysian region of Sabah during the early months of 2013 has cast some doubts as to whether the necessary level of security integration can be achieved by the 2015 deadline. But regardless of whether the ASEAN member states can fully realize their integrationist ambitions, the attendant reform process may present the perfect setting in which to adopt a shared counter-piracy strategy, exchange best practices, and commit to a plan that will see the Strait of Malacca consistently and effectively patrolled by the naval forces of ASEAN member states.

Southeast Asian governments have been striving to position their region as a major economic hub, and the success of these efforts will depend in large part on whether international audiences see ASEAN integration as credible. Piracy in the Strait of Malacca is precisely the kind of challenge ASEAN can address through collective action, demonstrating that needed credibility. Continued complacency, on the other hand, will only contribute to a deepening crisis, undermining ASEAN once again and harming prospects for regional economic growth by fueling organized crime. With an ASEAN Summit set to take place in Brunei Darussalam this October, it is imperative that piracy make it onto the agenda.

Paul Pryce is a Junior Research Fellow at the Atlantic Council of Canada. With degrees in political science from universities on both sides of the pond, he has previously worked in conflict resolution as a Research Fellow with the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly and as an infantryman in the Canadian Forces. His current research interests include African security issues and NATO-Russia relations.

The Finnish Exception

Finnish Rauma-class missile boat FNS Porvoo
         Finnish Rauma-class missile boat FNS Porvoo

A consistent challenge for NATO has been the issue of involving non-NATO partners in its interoperability and capability boosting activities. When NATO undertakes important operations at the behest of the UN Security Council, non-members have contributed forces – for example, Japanese and the Republic of Korea vessels have participated in Operation Ocean Shield, NATO’s response to piracy in the Gulf of Aden. The Partnership for Peace and similar initiatives also go some way toward enhancing political cooperation. But when it comes to training and the development of best practices, non-members have been reluctant to engage with the Alliance.

The Finnish Navy is the exception to the rule. Despite its lack of NATO membership, Finland has for many years participated in the work of the NATO Centre of Excellence for Operations in Confined and Shallow Waters (COE CSW). Coordinated by Allied Command Transformation, the Centres of Excellence are multinational institutions that, according to NATO, “train and educate leaders and specialists from NATO member and partner countries…” and assist in expanding the Alliance’s capacity to operate in varying environments under diverse conditions. Many of these COEs take the form of research hubs, with experts spending time not just training personnel from NATO and its partner countries, but also working on policy and technological solutions to specific challenges currently facing the Alliance. There are currently 17 accredited COEs, though another three are awaiting accreditation.

Based in Kiel, Germany, the COE CSW is concerned with a number of issues relevant to naval operations, such as anti-submarine warfare, mine countermeasures, as well as force and harbour protection. Aside from the Finnish Navy, participants include Germany, Greece, the Netherlands, Poland, Turkey, and the United States. It must be noted that not only is Finland the only non-member to participate in any NATO COE, but the COE CSW is also the only Centre in which Finland participates. Why is this?

A possible explanation is that the Finnish Navy has a demonstrably strong interest in operations related to confined and shallow waters. Illustrative of this, in previous years Finland has led the organization of Northern Coasts, annual large-scale naval exercises that involve several countries and take place in various parts of the Baltic Sea. The explicit objective of these exercises is to improve interoperability in confined and shallow waters among participating units and countries. By way of contrast, Finland has not participated in any of NATO’s annual Steadfast Jazz exercises, which involve all branches of military forces and also take place in the Baltic region. Aside from wishing to preserve cordial relations with the Russian Federation, Finland’s policy of abstaining from Steadfast Jazz may have a lot to do with the exercises’ lack of simulated operations in confined and shallow waters.

There are valuable lessons that can be drawn from the Finnish example. If NATO seeks to intensify engagement with partner countries, it will be necessary to identify the security interests of those states and then market NATO’s relevant capabilities to them. The activities of the COE CSW are appealing to Finland because of that country’s particular security interests. Had Finland instead been approached to engage with the NATO COE in Cold Weather Operations, it is less likely Finland would have agreed to participate, in part because the Finnish military would have contributed much expertise in exchange for comparatively less benefit.

Understanding that the Finnish Navy participates in the COE CSW because it views it as a net benefit for Finland, NATO’s Allied Command Transformation (ACT) – charged with promoting interoperability – could advance NATO’s external relations by carefully marketing NATO COEs to relevant partners. For example, with the Ukrainian government actively seeking to achieve energy independence from the Russian Federation, it could be worthwhile to seek Ukrainian participation in the newly accredited NATO Energy Security COE in Vilnius, Lithuania. Practical cooperation through these centres could build momentum toward greater political cooperation. With the diverse array of expertise and specializations represented by the accredited NATO COEs, the possibilities to engage partners are endless.

Paul Pryce is a Junior Research Fellow at the Atlantic Council of Canada. With degrees in political science from universities in both Canada and Estonia, he has previously worked in conflict resolution as a Research Fellow with the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly. His research interests include African security issues and NATO-Russia relations.

This article was cross-posted by permission from and appeared in its original form at the Atlantic Council of Canada. Any views or opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the authors and the news agencies and do not necessarily represent those of the Atlantic Council of Canada.

West Africa: An Ounce of Prevention

AMLEP in action: A joint U.S. and Sierra Leone law enforcement boarding team talk with the crew of a cargo ship.
AMLEP in action: A joint U.S. and Sierra Leone law enforcement boarding team talk with the crew of a cargo ship.

After a series of high-profile stand-offs with Somali pirates, the international community has directed a great deal of resources toward securing the Gulf of Aden. But with an increase in piracy and other criminal activities in the Niger Delta and the Gulf of Guinea, some of which may be linked to terrorist networks, what role can the Atlantic community play in securing the coasts of West Africa?

On the one hand, the United States and European partners are making an important contribution in terms of equipment. In particular, vessels provided through the U.S. military’s Excess Defense Articles system have bolstered the capabilities of naval forces in the region. A recent example is the acquisition by the Nigerian Navy of a former U.S. Navy survey ship and a U.S. Coast Guard cutter, due to be delivered by early 2014. These donated vessels will go a long way to boosting capabilities, especially as at this time the Nigerian Navy is largely dependent on Seaward Defense Boats commissioned from the Indian shipyard Garden Reach Shipbuilders and Engineers. The Indian Navy itself has decommissioned its own complement of Seaward Defense Boats because these vessels generate a disproportionately large maintenance overhead – the materials and method of construction leave the patrol craft with very low corrosion tolerance.

More than vessels and equipment, however, the naval forces of West African countries require training assistance. In this area, some training and joint exercises are being conducted by NATO and EU member states, but much of this is carried out on a bilateral, case-by-case basis. In April 2013, French and American military advisors provided training to Liberian Coast Guard personnel, including such topics as non-compliant vessel boarding, search and seizure tactics, weapons familiarization, and hull sweeps for mines and smuggling compartments. All of this mentorship and training was limited to a four-day port visit by a French frigate to Monrovia, the Liberian capital.

Other training opportunities take place intermittently. U.S. Naval Forces Africa (NAVAF) has introduced the Africa Partnership Station (APS) program, through which U.S. Navy and Coast Guard crews carry out mentoring initiatives similar to the Monrovia visit described above. The Africa Maritime Law Enforcement Partnership (AMLEP) sees personnel from the U.S. Coast Guard and relevant African institutions operating alongside one another for a slightly more sustained duration. Under this latter program, a U.S. Navy or Coast Guard vessel patrols the territorial waters of the African host country, carrying both an American boarding party and a boarding party from the host country, enhancing that country’s counter-piracy capabilities while also exposing the partner country’s personnel to U.S. Coast Guard best practices.

Although AMLEP benefits from a greater duration and depth of interaction, the exchanges are still too brief to develop naval forces that can operate independently in West Africa. More must be done in this area in order to avoid a scenario in which piracy interferes with shipping in the Gulf of Guinea to such an extent that NATO and its partners must field an intervention of the same scale and extent as Operation Ocean Shield, which continues to this day in the Gulf of Aden. To reduce reliance on Ocean Shield, the European Union has since 2012 mounted an ambitious training assistance mission, known as EUCAP NESTOR, with the objective of providing consistent and intensive training assistance to the maritime forces of such countries as Somalia, Djibouti, and Kenya. The mission has 45 full-time staff members working in the countries – primarily Djibouti – and a planned capacity of 137. Begun with a mandate of two years, EUCAP NESTOR could be renewed until these East African states are able to take charge of policing the Gulf of Aden, replacing Ocean Shield.

Whereas EUCAP NESTOR was introduced in East Africa as a response to a full-blown crisis of pirate activity, a similar mission could be launched in West Africa as a preventative measure. The lessons that could be provided and the connections that could be forged in a two-year mandate would likely surpass what can be achieved in a four-day port visit. Whether such a training mission would be better carried out under the auspices of the EU or NATO is a matter of political debate. From a practical standpoint, however, committing resources to the sustained development of the Nigerian Navy, the Liberian Coast Guard, and other regional partners would be more cost-effective than the eventual alternative: the deployment of an Ocean Shield-style mission to the Gulf of Guinea.

Paul Pryce is a Junior Research Fellow at the Atlantic Council of Canada. Having previously worked with the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, he has an active interest in both ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ security issues.