Nick Adde, Seapower
13 April 2015
NATIONAL HARBOR, MD – With the understanding that seaways around the globe increasingly are beset with threats to stability, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert and a panel of his peers from the U.S. Coast Guard and six allied nations discussed the common ground it takes to maintain maritime security.
The group, representing France, Japan, Australia, Colombia, Singapore and Romania, eschewed the normal table-and-name card custom during their April 13 International Leadership Panel discussion at the 2015 Sea-Air-Space Exposition. Even though they opted for less formal upholstered chairs, the eight senior sea service leaders touched upon subjects worthy of their highest priority.
“Different countries, different navies, different political background if you will,” said Greenert, as he introduced panel, which included: Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft; French Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Bernard Rogel; Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force Chief of Staff Admiral Tomohisa Takei; Royal Australian Navy Chief of Navy Vice Admiral T.W. Barrett; Colombian Navy Commander Admiral Hernando Wills Velez; Republic of Singapore Chief of Navy Rear-Admiral Lai Chung Han; and Chief of Romanian Naval Forces Rear-Admiral Alexandra Mirsu.
“We all face some very clear common challenges around the world, keeping this global economy thriving as we keep the sea lines open. What that means is ... transnational criminal organizations, dealing with natural disasters, search and rescue, and terrorism,” Greenert said.
Challenges bring opportunities, Greenert said, including the fostering of new collaborative ways to deal with such issues.
The panel’s discussion expanded on ways the representative nations came to agreements during the International Seapower Symposium held last September. No one nation can overcome the myriad of challenges alone, Greenert said.
Wills alluded to the “critical point” in Colombian history, in which the country is in the final steps from signing an agreement with the FARC terrorist organization, thus ending 50 years of internal struggle. Colombia already has begun to enhance military presence internationally into Central America and the Caribbean.
The change has brought results, Wills said. Colombian naval vessels, combined with the nation’s Marines, now are apprehending as much as 60 percent of all illegal drug traffic that smugglers have been trying to move northward. As much as 900 tons of drugs moved out of the country in recent years. That figure now is down to 300 tons, he said. Drug money, he added, provided the “main financing for FARC.”
They are sharing this information with allied navies, he said.
Mirsu addressed his nation’s naval role in providing security in the increasingly volatile Black Sea region, spurred by Russia’s seizure of Crimea from Ukraine. “Last year, the illegal annexation of Crimea turned this peaceful area into a ball of instability,” Mirsu said.
The Black Sea forms NATO’s eastern border, with three member nations (Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey) and three non-member nations (Ukraine, Russia and Georgia).
The climate has degenerated to one of “a pure Cold War example,” Mirsu said. To curtail Russian aggression, Romania and its Navy will stand “shoulder to shoulder” with their NATO allies, he said.
Military buildup among Asian countries is “less transparent,” Takei said, with the region more closely identified with international trade.
While most Asian states are stable because of their relatively strong economies, Takei said, “Maritime security becomes more essential” in ensuring that such stability is maintained.
Recent agreements among allied nations in the Western Pacific established protocols for better communications among their navies, Takei said. Two networks among these nations’ Coast Guards have enhanced law-enforcement capabilities as well, he said.
France’s Rogel noted that his nation now has 3,500 sailors deployed in the Indian Ocean alone, including crews of 10 ships ranging in size from offshore patrol vessels to the carrier Charles de Gaulle. French sailors there have conducted missions ranging from airstrikes against ISIS targets in Iraq, countermine measures, amphibious warfare, and counterterrorism, he said.
If navies are to increase efficacy, Rogel said, it would require “keeping the right competency in the right places.”
Barrett noted how Australia – relatively small in population, particularly when compared with its nearest neighbor Indonesia – nonetheless is responsible for search-and rescue missions in 54 million miles waters that span three oceans.
“Our digital data comes from sub-marine sea cables, not satellites,” Barrett said.
Australia’s military – including the Navy – is undergoing what Barrett described as very necessary recapitalization. The Navy is getting new amphibious assault ships, AEGIS destroyers, Sea Hawk helicopters, a frigate, submarines, and offshore patrol vessels.
Like other nations, the upgrade is taking place with an eye on cost. Australia will have to negotiate the “tension between balancing national security and defense,” Barrett said.
Zukunft alluded to the 61 bilateral agreements that affect the Coast Guard. Of them, he said, 41 relate to counter-drug operations.
The Coast Guard offers one of the only “good news” stories about relations with Russia, Zukunft said. The two countries’ coast guards regularly share information relating to international law enforcement in the waters of the Arctic Ocean and Bering Strait.
He also alluded to the role the U.S. Coast Guard is able to play in providing a show of maritime strength, without displaying a potentially ominous presence. Some nations would rather see a white Coast Guard cutter than an Aegis cruiser, he noted.
Lai said Singapore “fully supports the cooperative strategy articulated by the U.S. sea services, and pointed out that the littoral combat ship USS Fort Worth is operating out of the country’s ports.
International cooperation thrives when based on three critical areas, Lai said – information sharing, building trust, and leadership.
As far as the latter is concerned, “There is no substitute for the global role the U.S. Navy plays,” Lai said.