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Sea Control 35 – RADM Foggo and Developing Strategic Literacy

seacontrol2RADM Foggo, Assistant Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Operations, Plans and Strategy, joins us to discuss the creation of strategic literacy within the Navy’s officer corps. discusses the Current Strategy Forum, a strategy sub-specialty, education, and the mentors that engaged his interest in strategy.

Sea Control 35- RADM Foggo and Developing Strategic Literacy

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Troubles Of Our Own: Why 2014 Is Not Like 1914 (But Is Scary Anyway)

It has become fashionable, on the eve of the centennial of the outbreak of World War One, to ask, or worry about, whether it could all happen again. This vague sense of anxiety – this sense of how good we have it now, and how it could all be gone tomorrow – is perhaps fitting, given that it has become an accepted (if debatable) point of history that neither the decision-makers nor the publics of the various European powers expected a prolonged and civilization-devastating war. Such anxiety has a long pedigree: Kipling, writing a poem for Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee a mere decade and a half before the war broke out, chose to quietly shelve his now-infamous imperialist tribute, “The White Man’s Burden,” for another occasion, in favor of publishing the more sombre and (at the time) jarring “Recessional,” which reminded its reader that all glory is fleeting and God alone is permanent (“Far-called, our navies melt away/On dune and headland sinks the fire/Lo, all our pomp of yesterday/Is one with Nineveh and Tyre…”).

In fact, the war’s outbreak and subsequent course probably were predictable in advance, and if anything reflected what we would now call a failure of analysis, either on the part of the leaders of the European states, or on the part of their people. The prescient military analyst Ivan Bloch had warned that carnage, stalemate, and industrial exhaustion were practically inevitable in modern warfare; the general staffs on what were to become both sides were at least dimly aware of this reality. Diplomatically, Europe had bounced from crisis to crisis in the preceding decade. Its people were all trained for war and (particularly, but not only, in Germany) cheered their respective militaries and military leaders with a fervor now reserved for football fans. One would have had to be blind not to see it coming.

Millions were. Millions paid.

In that spirit, it would be foolish indeed to believe that major war is now a thing of the past, or that a terrible catastrophe could not befall us. Indeed, the belief that such catastrophes are a thing of the past appears to be a prerequisite for their occurrence. And the rise of other military powers relative to the U.S. should indeed give us pause: this is the sort of time when we should be worried.

But for all that, there are key differences between the modern world and the world of 1914. They suggest that, at a minimum, the kind of wars we have seen in the past are unlikely to repeat themselves. Something altogether different awaits us. This in itself is ominous, because there are no recent historical models to guide us or point the way; avoiding repeating the past is not as simple as learning from a mistake. This, too, is a lesson of the past: World War One did not resemble the Napoleonic Wars, and Europe in 1914 did not resemble Europe in 1789. But understanding the present in light of the past is necessary all the same.

I therefore submit, for consideration, some key differences between 1914 and now.

1. We have nuclear weapons now, and we don’t make light of them. Two points must be understood. In the first place, invading the home territory of an adversary in a modern war between great powers will sooner or later (and probably sooner) result in the destruction of both. Notwithstanding innumerable debates about when, exactly, it would be “rational” to employ nuclear weapons in self-defense, the presence of nuclear weapons places an upper limit on warfare between the major powers. Marching on Paris (or Beijing, or Moscow, or Washington, or Brussels) is less an inevitable goal of military operations than an exercise in playing with fire (or plutonium). And, in the second place, this point is understood by most of the decision makers involved: the carnage on the Somme was a distant hypothetical in 1914; the devastation of Hiroshima can be viewed online.

Of course, decision makers can miscalculate. Just as the European political leadership in 1914 and after were apparently unaware of how to stop what had been started or how bad things could get, so too it is difficult in a crisis for modern decision makers to know where the lines are. That, of itself, may point the way to where things will (may?) someday go wrong. The possible future addition of other nuclear states to the mix will merely make things more complicated.

2. It is more difficult to hold onto conquered territory now, and less useful to do so. A mainstay of European warfare for probably two centuries or more prior to World War One had been the assumption that land could be taken for sovereign use, that a treaty at the end of the war would legitimize the winner’s gains, and that docile civilians would sit by and not care too much to whom they ultimately would pay taxes. In fact, the Napoleonic Wars (which saw the first nationalist partisans) and the Franco-Prussian War (in which German troops had to contend with irregular “franc-tireurs”) had already called this issue into question by 1914, and it is significant that Bismarck, in an earlier era, sought to avoid peace treaties that required Germany to integrate too many non-Germans. But whatever problems European states had in this area by 1914 are multiplied tenfold now.

The world is awash in cheap former Soviet weaponry, and it is all too easy for a rival power, if it decides it is worth its while, to arm an insurgent faction anywhere where government is less than perfectly stable. The tactics and strategy of insurgent warfare were perfected in the wake of World War Two by Mao Zedong, Ho Chi Minh and Vo Nguyen Giap, the Algerian FLN, and others; mass-casualty terrorism was perfected by Al Qaeda. As Thomas Hammes notes in The Sling And The Stone, modern communications technology and cheap transportation make coordinating an insurgent group much easier. Since the Arab Spring and the Euromaidan, a viable model exists for coordinating quasi-peaceful, quasi-violent opposition to a government; it is now more dangerous than ever for a government to be both weak and illegitimate at the same time, and this is the position a conquering force effectively starts from. Twitter, YouTube, and a sympathetic globalized media ensure that atrocities committed to quell a rebelling populace will receive widespread attention, even as they allow protesters to coordinate their actions. If a state does succeed in overcoming all of these problems, it is less certain now than in 1914 (notwithstanding anything else one might say) that its actions will have international legitimacy. And, needless to say, the destruction wrought by resistance to occupation renders any conquered territory inherently less valuable.

This is not to say it is impossible for a state to conquer territory in the modern world and hold it. It is to say that the costs of doing so have gone up and the benefits have gone down. This, rather than anything the international community did, may be the main reason Vladimir Putin chose to overtake parts of Ukraine by fomenting unrest and sending covert thugs rather than by force majeure: a country roughly the size of the American Midwest with 44 million people is difficult to swallow even in part, and certainly not with only a few divisions.

But it is also easy to see how these changes could pave the way for the next conflict. If invading another great power’s territory is out of the question, indirect methods may be the preferred course. Therein may lie danger.

3. There is no military conscription in most great powers today, and there are demographic and technological reasons why it is unfeasible. In Europe in 1914, every able-bodied male citizen of every great power except Britain and the U.S. performed military service upon reaching adulthood, and was subject to reserve service and periodic refresher training thereafter. Older men carried military identity cards that told them where to go if called up. This was an accepted way of life in virtually every European state, and there was even a movement in favor of conscription in Britain. It did not dampen public enthusiasm for war when war came, and may have inured the publics of the various states to war’s hardships.

Except for Russia, no great power employs military conscription today. Nor can they. As Edward Luttwak has noted, low birthrates and smaller families mean that losses are more keenly felt in wartime; this of itself makes drafting eighteen-year-olds impracticable; indeed, historically wars have been fought by states with rising populations, not populations that have plateaued or are falling. In the west, public cynicism over Vietnam and Iraq further dampens enthusiasm for any sort of civic militarism that imposes costs on the general public.

If the teenagers of the respective great powers are reluctant to serve, the militaries in question are reluctant to receive them: not only are discipline problems associated with unwilling recruits, but mass conscription of its nature implies a choice of quantity over quality – in modern, technologically reliant armies, training a soldier to use his equipment well takes more time than the average conscript would normally spend in the army, and requires more training resources than would be available on a universal basis. The Russian Ground Forces’ experience with conscription is the exception that proves the rule: draft-evasion is rampant, morale is low and discipline is often shoddy (a situation abetted by horrific hazing practices), and readiness is affected by the need to achieve technical proficiency that cannot be learned in the time available.

Some of the factors driving the trend towards professionalism and away from military conscription might be reversed, while others are more permanent – but the kind of national mobilization that was part and parcel of early twentieth century warfare is not possible at the moment. What applies to manpower applies to machines as well: as is readily apparent in observing the procurement process for ships and aircraft, the replacement of lost equipment will be a more complicated matter in any future war than it was in 1914.

It is ambiguous what this might mean for great power war in the future. On the one hand, it is indicative of a more pacific-minded public; on the other hand, it means that the costs of such a war will be borne by a few until they are borne by many.

4. The great powers are broke. With the possible exception of Russia, all of the major powers are carrying huge loads of public and private debt – including national debts, provincial and municipal debts, and private debt. (Yes, this includes China; it’s just that in the latter case the figures are more carefully hidden, which is in itself terrifying.) Economic growth is slowing across the developed world, including, most ominously, in China, which relies on double- or high-single-digit growth to appease its restive population and provide jobs for its surfeit of young men (the combination of the One Child Policy and traditional sexism having run its logical conclusion).

In financial terms (and solely in those terms), the world today more closely resembles the world before World War Two than it does the world before World War One. This is not necessarily reassuring.

5. Finance is globalized. The great powers’ national debts are publicly traded. It is tragically amusing to note that a war with China would mean the U.S. would have to find a new foreign creditor, and quickly. This is in stark contrast to the financial world of 1914, in which governments overwhelmingly owed money solely to their own citizens, and the purchase of government debt in wartime could be sold to the public as a patriotic duty or contribution.

6. And finally: people are older, richer, more heavily taxed, more heavily subsidized, and more cynical. It’s quite obvious, but it must be said: a prolonged war today would require financial sacrifice from the publics of the various great powers that they would not easily make. Government spending and taxation relative to private income is stratospheric compared to 1914 levels, and in the West the overwhelming majority of this spending is repaid to the public at large via entitlements. The percentage varies from great power to great power (it is higher in Europe), but it is high across the board. All of the great powers have aging populations that are, on average, much older than in 1914. All of their populations, in a period of prolonged great power peace, have structured their lives (particularly, the size of their houses and the size of their debts) on the assumption that current levels of income, taxation, and benefits will be roughly stable. The sacrifices necessary to pay for a war (even the economic damage caused by a disruption of trade in the event of a war) might be less severe than in 1914, but would be felt more keenly by publics that are not only used to comfort but in fact rely on it. (One cannot make one’s house smaller and easier to pay for, magically reduce one’s mortgage, or easily accept early twentieth century levels of medical care.)

Such sacrifices are bearable if a war is about something. But whereas in 1914 the publics of the European powers believed in all too many cases that the nation was an end in itself, modern publics are less idealistic. Particularly in Europe, but also in the U.S. and to some extent in China, if only because of the experience of two world wars, let alone the more recent experiences of Vietnam and Iraq, calls to sacrifice for the nation when there is money to be made and a comfortable life to be lived will ring hollow, particularly if the war is not about anything. The levels of nationalism that drove the world to war in 1914 are not only absent today, but are often the subject of derision.

This is not to say that war is impossible for this reason, either. As was the case before World War Two, we may yet decide that war is not worth fighting only to find ourselves in a situation where we have no choice. Cynicism and complacency are rarely wise.

But it is to say that today is not yesterday. Those who fear that 2014, or the coming years, will be like 1914 can probably rest easy. Today’s problems are not like yesterday’s.

They are different.

Martin Skold is currently pursuing a PhD in international relations at the University of St. Andrews, with a dissertation analyzing the political strategies of states engaged in long-term security competition.

CIMSEC Elections 2014

You may have noticed a tab appear on our homepage over the past couple of days. It leads to a page announcing the upcoming election for CIMSEC’s officers for the 1-year 2014-2015 term. If you haven’t seen it, here it is quoted below:

CIMSEC will accept nominations and hold elections for its officer positions over the next several weeks. We here at CIMSEC are an all-volunteer force, so we especially rely on the commitment of our officers to carry out the day-to-day functions of the organization. If you are interested in taking on additional responsibilities to help us succeed in our mission of encouraging intelligent discussion about the maritime issues facing the world today we strongly encourage you to consider running for a 1-year term in office.


Interested persons may nominate themselves or others. All members will receive an email with further instructions on the nomination process during the week of 18-24 May. Check back on the elections tab for more details on how to nominate during the week.


– Must be general members at the start of voting (email membership@cimsec.org if in doubt to determine).
– May be members of the Board of Directors
– May run for more than one position
– Must accept their nomination and upon acceptance confirm they have read CIMSEC’s By-Laws and conflict of interest policy
– Will be asked to provide a statement for voting members to read regarding their qualifications, their goals, and, if an incumbent, their accomplishments.
– Need not reside in the DC Area nor be U.S. citizens

Click here for a list of voting officer positions. We also have non-voting officer positions not subject to election, if you area interested in assisting with one of these, please contact the Chairman of the Board at director@cimsec.org.

Click here for a list of CIMSEC area chapters. We are looking for motivated members to lead chapters in geographic areas, who will be elected by those members in their geographic area. If you don’t see one in your area, we welcome you creating one with the stipulation that you hold at least one informal event over the next year.


Voting on nominees will be conducted from 26-31 May by general members of CIMSEC. More to follow.


18-24 May: Nomination period open
26-31 May: Voting on nominees
01 June: Winners announced
07 June: Winners take office

West Africa: More Dangerous Pirates, Less Adequete Security

West Africa is home to the world’s most violent pirates—who are now proving capable of overwhelming armed guards. Last month pirates killed a crewmember during an attack on German-owned oil tanker. Instead of fighting off the pirates, the embarked security team retreated to the ship’s citadel safe room.

For the shipping and insurance worlds, the widespread adoption of armed guards aboard vessels essentially ‘solved’ Somali piracy, as no vessel employing them has been hijacked by pirates. An attempt to transfer this panacea to the pirate-prone waters of West Africa, however, has proven inadequate and ill-suited to local conditions.

On the night of April 29, pirates attacked SP Brussles 35 nautical miles off the coast of Nigeria. Local security forces guarding the vessel were unable to prevent the pirates from boarding and retreated to ship’s citadel along with the crew. The guards did not emerge until the following morning, only to find that the ship’s chief engineer had been killed and another crewmember injured as they failed to reach the citadel.

This incident and others like it highlight three important issues that distinguish West African from maritime crime in other parts of the world.

First is the distinctive operating environment in which international naval patrols are absent, the response capacity of regional security forces is limited, and the use of foreign armed guards is prohibited.

Second, is the uniquely violent nature of Nigerian pirates and their propensity to engage in shootouts with security forces.

Finally, are the multiple shortcomings of using local armed guards aboard vessels and the inherent danger the shipping industry faces in being overly reliant on this measure.

Getting Around the Neighborhood

Piracy in the Gulf of Guinea is a Nigeria-centric problem that primarily occurs within 100 nautical miles of the coast and targets the ships plying the regional oil trade. Local naval forces have provided a modicum of security for transiting vessels, but their ability to respond to pirate attacks outside of territorial waters and secure anchorages is limited. The pirate’s proximity to shore coupled with local concerns over state sovereignty has prevented international naval operations from deploying as they have off Somalia.

These same confines have restricted Private Maritime Security Companies (PMSCs) from operating in the region as national laws prohibit foreign guards from carrying weapons within the 12nm limit of territorial waters. For embarked security, shipowners are forced to rely on armed guards contracted from littoral states. These guns on deck, drawn from national police and naval forces, are often poorly trained and undermanned, making them ill equipped to match the threat they face.


A recent UN report found that pirate attacks in West Africa from 2006 to 2013 have been proportionally more severe (involving vessel hijacking, hostage taking and violent acts towards crew members) than those in the Western Indian Ocean and South East Asia. West African pirate attacks have also become more violent over time, the report notes, particularly from 2011 onwards. International Maritime Bureau data records show more crewmembers were injured and killed off Nigeria than other country from 2012 to first quarter of 2014.

Regionally distinct pirate ‘business models’ partially explain this phenomenon. When Somali pirates hijack a vessel, they must ensure that the hostages are kept alive so that ransom negotiations for the return of the entire crew and ship can proceed smoothly.

West African hijackings, by comparison, are usually “extended duration robberies,” in which the crew and vessel are only held hostage until the ship can be pumped of its petroleum cargo. When maritime kidnappings occur, pirates take only the most valuable (usually Western or Asian) officers for ransom while leaving the rest of the crew and vessel behind. Under both scenarios, the majority of the crewmembers hold no value for the pirates and are thus considered disposable assets.

Armed to the Teeth

West African pirates are also better armed and trained than other maritime criminals, reportedly wielding heavy machines guns, such as M60s, and RPGs. Many of these weapons are ‘legacy firearms’ circulating from previous African conflicts, while others are sold or rented from corrupt security forces.

This heavy armament is a product of the pirate’s proximity to their onshore bases in the Niger Delta, which allows them to carry more weight in weapons and ammo and less in fuel and water than their Somali counterparts. Nigerian pirates also display military-grade tactics, explains Kevin Doherty, Owner of PMSC Nexus Consulting, “they know how to skillfully maintain and fire their weapons, they ambush security forces, and they board vessels with tactical precision.”

The weapons and tactics displayed by the pirates are often superior to those of the security personnel hired to protect vessels, notes a report from the counter-piracy think tank Oceans Beyond Piracy. As a result, local soldiers contracted to guard ships have reportedly hidden during pirate attacks. “They hide, just like that,” exclaimed a regional seafarer, “When we ask them why they hide, their answer is simple, ‘The weapons of rebels and pirates are stronger.’” An alternative, often anecdotally reported explanation is that naval guards have colluded with pirates in exchange for a share of profits.

Nigerian pirates are often undeterred by onboard security forces and willing to use deadly force to achieve their objectives. While shootouts between pirates and embarked security are exceedingly rare in the Indian Ocean, they are becoming increasingly common in the Gulf of Guinea, resulting in multiple casualties.


Fatal Nigerian Pirate Attacks 2012-2014*
Date & Location Incident Details Casualties
February 13, 2012100 nm South of Lagos, Nigeria Pirates fired on, boarded, and robbed a drifting bulk carrier, MV Fourseas, off the coast of Nigeria. The pirates killed the ship’s Master during the robbery, while Chief Engineer died from injuries sustained during an attempted escape. Master and Chief Engineer killed.
August 3, 201245nm SW of Bonny Island, Nigeria Pirates armed with AK 47s overpowered the Nigerian naval personnel guarding an oil barge, Jascon 33, and kidnapped four crewmembers for ransom. Two Nigerian guards killed, two guards injured, four crewmembers kidnapped.
December 13, 201225nm SW offshore, Bayelsa, Nigeria Pirates armed with machine guns attacked an offshore supply vessel, PM Salem, and engaged in a 20-minute firefight with onboard security guards before retreating. One Nigerian guard killed, one guard injured.
February 4, 2013Lagos Anchorage, Nigeria Pirates attacked and boarded an anchored chemical tanker, Pyxis Delta, conducting STS operations off Lagos. The onboard naval security returned fire and eventually repelled the attackers. One crewmember died from injuries sustained during the firefight. Two pirates were also killed.
February 5, 2013Near Angiama, Niger Delta waterway, Nigeria Gunmen ambushed an Indian-owned oil barge as a Nigerian military detachment escorted the ship through the Niger Delta. Two Nigerian soldiers killed, one crewmember killed, three crewmembers wounded.
April 29, 201435nm W offshore Bayelsa, Nigeria Armed pirates boarded a product tanker, SP Brussels, underway. The onboard security forces fired at the pirates before retreating to the citadel along with most of the crew. Chief Engineer killed, Third Officer wounded. Two pirates were also killed.


The Wrong Answer

Armed guards aboard ships in West Africa do not provide the silver bullet security solution that PMSCs have in the Indian Ocean.

A key differentiator in the latter theatre is that ship owners have a number of tools for vetting the quality and compliance of the armed security they hire.

For example, the GUARDCON contract developed by BIMCO, the largest international shipping association, provides a standard agreement between ship owners and PMSCs that covers guidance on Rules of Force and other security issues. In addition, there is the ISO/PAS 28007 accreditation that allows PMSCs to certify their compliance with appropriate regulations and best practices.

Vetting and compliance is much more problematic in West Africa as vessel owners and Masters have far less oversight over the armed guards they bring aboard. Owners can either hire security forces directly through a local agent, or engage a PMSC to act as an intermediary to employ local guards and provide unarmed logistical support and leadership. In either case, BIMCO notes, the local security forces will operate under their own rules of engagement and cannot be bound to the provisions of GUARDCON.

When a vessel contracts local security, it is the soldiers’ commander, not the shipowner, who usually controls the number of guards posted. An undermanned and poorly drilled guard team bears responsibility for the fatality aboard the SP Brussels, argues Rene Toomse, CEO of the PMSC Aburgus. “What was missing,” Toomse explains, “was a guard assisting all the crew into the citadel while others were fighting with the criminals.” The vessel had only two armed guards onboard at the time of the attack, rather than the BIMCO recommended staffing of four.

Maritime insurers and PMSC owners have privately expressed reservations that an overreliance on onboard guards is contributing to lax safety and security standards in West African waters. One source close to the London insurance market noted a particular problem of vessels with embarked security rejecting advisories to avoid prolonged exposure in high risk-areas close to the Niger Delta, opting instead to save time and fuel by using shorter routes and “shooting their way out” of any potential pirate attacks. The majority of these incidents, it was further noted, are never reported to authorities and thus contribute to a cycle of inaccurate threat perceptions and inadequate security measures.

Multiple Layers

It is very unlikely that the laws barring foreign armed guards from West African territorial waters will change, despite pressure from PMSCs and shipping organizations. Concerns over sovereignty and control understandably run deep, particular in Nigeria, and the current regime of renting local guards to foreign ships is too lucrative to give up. Unarmed PMSC advisors working with local guards offers an improved measure of security, but BIMCO still warns that the ability of PMSC leaders to effectively control their teams will be limited.

As no single defense against West African piracy is impenetrable, a multi-layered security system must be implemented. This begins with a pre-transit risk and security assessment and requires up-to-the-minute information on pirate activity and vessel vulnerabilities. Communication security is also essential, as pirates are known to select their targets by obtaining route and cargo information from open and private sources. Vessel hardening measures such as the use of citadel safe rooms are key, but it is also imperative that crews are regularly drilled for emergencies. Vessels also need a well-staffed 24-hour watch duty as West African pirates primarily attack at night.

Even with all these measures in place, the most important lesson to draw from the SP Brussels and other fatal pirate attacks is that no vessel should ever be lulled into a false sense of security.

James M. Bridger is a Maritime Security Consultant with Delex Systems Inc. in Herndon, VA. His current areas of focus and expertise address piracy, terrorism, and other irregular threats to global maritime transportation. He can be reached at jbridger@delex.com