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Cooperative Security in the Maritime Domain and MARCOM's Vital Role

Rear Admiral Giorgio Lazio (Italian Navy) ,Chief of Staff NATO Maritime Command, recently sat down with NATO Allied Maritime Command (MARCOM) Deputy Public Affairs Officer, Lt.Cdr. Tayfun AYDOGAN (TUR N) for a brief interview about the Cooperative Security and MARCOM’s involvement in it.

Admiral, cooperative security features high both in the NATO Strategic Concept and in the Alliance Maritime Strategy. In your experience, is it relevant in the maritime domain today as it was 4/5 years ago when these two capital documents were delivered?

The maritime domain is naturally well suited to be exploited in the cooperative security framework. For centuries Navies have acted as ambassadors of their countries in any corner of the globe. The Alliance Maritime Strategy takes advantage of this inherent capacity by cooperating maritime forces to foster and sustain a mutually advantageous relationship. I was in Brussels when this capstone document was approved back in 2011, but I’ve had the chance to read it again recently and I have appreciated how relevant and modern it remains as a strategy.  Four tasks are identified, of which three are directly derived from the current NATO Strategic Concept: Collective Defence, Crisis Response and Cooperative Security. The fourth one is domain exclusive, Maritime Security. Combining these four roles there is a clear recognition that there can be no security for the Alliance, nor international security, without the widest possible engagement.

The reality is that cooperative security in the field, or I would better say at sea, has transcended the boundaries of being a stand-alone element within the Alliance Maritime Strategy to being an integral part of the other elements, from operations to preparedness and responsiveness.

How is cooperative security achieved today?

It is all about making cooperation more practical and substance-driven, offering a "toolbox” of mechanisms and activities for the individual partners to choose from. The Partnership Interoperability Initiative (PII), launched at the Summit in Wales, is the most innovative strand, designed to ensure that any international security effort at sea – which would see NATO ships and aircrafts operating with partner ships and aircrafts – would achieve the best effect. Interoperability is the means to translate decisions into actions.

Since operations and interoperability remain our focus, in MARCOM we play a pivotal role in the implementation of the Operational Capabilities Concept (OCC) [Evaluation and Feedback] Programme, used to develop and attract partner land, maritime, air or special operations forces seeking to operate at NATO standards.

For example, in 2013 this program allowed the effortless integration of Ukrainian ships into the two NATO maritime operations MARCOM is running in the Mediterranean Sea and in the Indian Ocean. NATO is the pivotal permanent international organization able to integrate multiple national force packages in an effective manner (mind you, I said integrate, not cooperate with).

Exercising together is another fundamental enabler in order to develop and maintain interoperability. NATO encourages partners to participate in the NATO Military Training and Exercise Programme (MTEP) which, with a five-year planning horizon, provides a starting point for exercise planning and the allocation of resources.

Nonetheless implementing the Alliance Maritime Strategy implies a much wider effort than training together. It entails a complete revamping of NATO’s maritime forces’ engagements with non-NATO forces. No country is immune and no single country can deal with the complex security challenges of our time alone, particularly during an era of declining budgets.

Sir, given this landscape of challenges and opportunities, what kind of resources do you exploit in your contribution to cooperative security?

We at MARCOM put a lot of resources and effort in planning and executing as many activities in the OCC framework as possible and I must say we are rewarded by the extreme professionalism we meet in our Partners and the results so far achieved. From my arrival at the HQ, that is from 2013 to date, MARCOM has performed 21 Advisory visits and 16 Evaluations of vessels and amphibious units belonging to cooperating partners.

In a wider perspective MARCOM, as the sole Allied Maritime Command, makes the most of every opportunity; we do this mainly through the Standing Naval Forces and the two maritime operations we command from Northwood. I run a cross-functional effort within the Headquarters, where all the divisions operate in a coherent way to produce the effects we would like to achieve. MARCOM Staff also actively participate in the effort led by NATO HQ to prepare Programs of Work with the individual partners who hold stakes in the maritime domain.

Admiral, you mentioned Standing Naval Forces and operations among the enablers or actors in cooperative security. Can you help us better understand?

The four Standing Naval Groups’ primary role is to ensure readiness and responsiveness for the Alliance, but their value goes well beyond. They are a powerful interoperability integrator and a unique cooperative security enabler. As part of a series of engagements, last month I visited the Chief of the Algerian Navy, facilitating an advanced interaction between one of the NATO Standing Groups and the Algerian Navy, where for the first time we, MARCOM and the NATO Special Forces Headquarters combined our efforts to provide an opportunity for enhanced training in the maritime domain.

But while the Standing Naval Forces provide the face-to-face engagement and interaction with our partners, the generation of cooperative security goes beyond the relationships of the forces at sea, and involves the maritime HQs as well. This is seen in the two operations we run, which are the other natural - and quite successful - conduit to develop our relationships with partners. The keyword in our effort is "need to share”. Operation Active Endeavour was launched in 2001 against the terrorist threat in the Mediterranean Sea and it is still very relevant. Over the years, the Alliance has adapted its posture and the operation has evolved in accordance with the changing environment, becoming today what we call a "network based” operation, mainly focussed on collecting and processing information coming from a plethora of sources: ships at sea under NATO flag, NATO and Partner’s Maritime Operation Centres and ships not directly under NATO command but providing information to MARCOM, which operates as the NATO hub to build Situational Awareness.  The network of connections and linkages is where Partner’s involvement can really make the difference in enhancing our ability to build a robust Maritime Situational Awareness, while benefiting from the information NATO is able to provide them to enhance their understanding of the maritime environment.  Needless to say maritime security is not a NATO business only, we are just one of the actors and there is a huge potential for all stakeholders to better exploit the vast range of information available.

This has also been the case for Operation Ocean Shield in the Indian Ocean. As you will have heard, back in 2009, when NATO launched its operation against pirates, many other actors were joining the fight: the European Union, the US led Combined Maritime Forces (CMF) based in Bahrain, many nationally deployed task groups and the shipping industry. Only few weeks ago the NATO ship which has just finished her deployment in Ocean Shield, the Danish frigate Absalon, conducted exercises at sea with the Japanese Destroyer AKIZUKI in the Internationally Recognized Transit Corridor and with the South Korean ship ROKS CHUNGMUGONG and the Chinese Navy DDG LIUZHOU in the Gulf of Aden.  The Indian Ocean was initially a very atypical environment, with many forces deployed, non-military stakeholders involved, a common interest in combating piracy but no practical common means to interact.  The solution at that time came from the tactical level with the creation of the well-known Shared Awareness and Deconfliction mechanism, SHADE, an open forum for all stakeholders to voluntary contribute to sharing information and coordinating the effort. The success of this model goes beyond the Indian Ocean and represents a format of choice wherever different maritime forces operate with different missions in the same theatre to achieve combined effects.

Operation Ocean Shield also offered the opportunity to boost the NATO Shipping Centre role as the Alliance’s interface with the shipping industry. The Centre grew from supporting the counter piracy effort into a full-fledged hub for the dialogue between NATO and the global commercial shipping industry.

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