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COM MARCOM remarks at 39th SHADE in Bahrain

MANAMA, Bahrain

Ladies and Gentlemen

Let me start with the key message I want you to take away.  NATO and MARCOM are not leaving this region – nor is our interest waning. Indeed I want to stress…from Afghanistan to Iraq, from the Gulf right South to the bottom of the Indian Ocean NATO is engaged, interested and supportive.  We have had to re-prioritise that is true. There are too few assets for too many tasks.  But let’s be clear where we stand.  Finally – to bring this home.  I have Operational, Media, Messaging, Partnership and command elements from MARCOM sitting in this room.  I have the NATO Shipping Centre as well.  I make the point to show NATO and my investment indeed this partnership will endure sitting under the Command of VAdm Donegan and his CMF team.  Now onward.

Thanks Admiral Donegan for those powerful remarks which I fully support.  And thanks also to my ACOS Operations CAPT Tufan Uslu for an excellent start to the SHADE forum.

This is a watershed meeting, the last that MARCOM will co-chair as a deployed operational partner in counter-piracy efforts in the Gulf of Aden and in Indian Ocean.  It also comes at a time when conflicts and terrorism have come back to sea.  So this is a good moment to consider what we have achieved together and what we ought to be doing to project stability and maritime security in the future.  In a context of challenging security threats, as Operation Ocean Shield will reach some form of end state in December, NATO intends to remain engaged in the region by other means with our fellow counter-piracy and maritime security stakeholders.

Let me first talk about piracy.  Alongside others NATO launched counter-piracy operations off the Horn of Africa in September 2008, this effort soon became Operation Ocean Shield which complimented Operation ATALANTA and CMF’s TF151 as the nucleus of the world’s counter-piracy efforts in this region.  But we were not alone – independent deployers of many nations joined the effort, along with the shipping and insurance companies, NGOs and many others.  From then until the last successful hijacking in May 2012, Op Ocean Shield conducted 116 interdictions of pirate activity involving 672 suspected pirates. 

To me there were three keys to our present success against piracy in the region.  First, the navies of the world came together and learned to cooperate effectively in this SHADE forum.  Second, the maritime shipping industry supported by the IMO raised its game by implementing Best Management Practices, altering routes and speeds, building citadels and improving procedures. Third, the UN Contact Group of nations reached out to press the pirates by fostering stability in Somalia and by making efforts to track the money made from piracy.  Together, we seem to have dislocated the business model for Horn of Africa piracy as a major threat, at least for now.

I want to thank General Magowan and Admiral Donegan and their teams as well as all the navies represented here for the close cooperation NATO has enjoyed since 2008. Thanks also to the IMO, to the several NGOs that have been at the forefront of thinking and research on how to tackle the crisis.  Op Ocean Shield was honoured to have a wide range of partner nations join the mission.

As you will all know, NATO has recently been confronted with several challenges to its core mandates of deterrence and collective defence as well as crisis management.  I think the greatest concern is that we face an uncertain security environment weakened by threats more complex than we have experienced for decades and set against harsh social environment conditions.  Whether we are at peace or war is not clear but we are certainly not at ease with ourselves.  At the Wales and recent Warsaw Summit, NATO political leaders directed that deterrence against aggression and the projection of stability become a prime focus.

To achieve this, MARCOM has concentrated its scarce assets and capabilities in the Atlantic, the Baltic and Black Seas, and especially in the Mediterranean.  We are improving our core maritime skills such as ASW and have adopted a more robust deterrent posture with naval forces.  We have also reached out to Project Stability and maritime security in the Mediterranean through our new Operation Sea Guardian, which I will address in a moment.  MARCOM is supporting efforts to stem illegal migrant trafficking in the Aegean in cooperation with Greece, Turkey and FRONTEX.  NATO is also deepening its cooperation with the EU and Operation Sophia in the central Mediterranean.  The Alliance has a lot to contend with.

Given these other calls on its core mandate, NATO decided to ease back on some of its physical presence in the Indian Ocean.  The extended lull in pirate activity and the continuing presence of capable stakeholders and partners in the region helped us greatly in re-focusing our naval efforts in the NATO Area of Primary Responsibility. In this context, Operation Ocean Shield will end in December.

Does that mean that NATO views piracy as being eradicated or the Horn of Africa as unimportant? Certainly not.  We recognise that the basic elements for a return to piracy are still in place.  The business model may be broken but it might be fixed in the future.  For that reason NATO keeps the door open to consider returning to the mission if circumstances warrant.

MARCOM will remain engaged in the region as part of the community of stakeholders concerned with piracy.  We will continue to be represented in SHADE and in the Contact Group. Our Partnership with Istanbul Cooperation Initiative countries and many other global partners that shared the burden here will continue. 

And we will continue to provide information and counter-piracy expertise when that is needed. I have tasked my headquarters to retain their corporate knowledge and their connections in counter-piracy should a serious threat re-emerge. The NATO Maritime Interdiction Operations Training Centre in Crete remains a premiere schoolhouse for counter-piracy MIO training.

But as Admiral Donegan said, the threats we face at sea are changing and in many ways becoming more ferocious.  In addition to the attack on the Galicia Spirit, we saw the Houthi missile attacks on the UAE HSV2 SWIFT and the USS MASON.  But in the Mediterranean the same dynamics are in play. I am in regular contact with the shipping world on this –who understand ship security better than anyone. I commend Commander Henning, from my NATO Shipping centre, as my ‘go to’ man in this area.

My point is that we are indeed entering a new era of violence at sea, directed against the freedom of navigation, commercial shipping and navies. 

Like 5th Fleet, NATO understands that security comes from investment far from our national borders.  MARCOM will continue to maintain its role in NATO’s engagement and outreach in the region.  We intend to keep a periodic naval presence in the Indian Ocean, focused on exercises, MSA and capacity building. 

Most urgently, MARCOM will seek to maintain and expand its information sharing links with stakeholders in the region to continue to support counter-piracy efforts as well as the wider changes to maritime security

Our key means for doing this is the stand-up last month of our Operation Sea Guardian in the Mediterranean.  OSG gives NATO a wide-ranging Maritime Security Operation focused on counter-terrorism and situational awareness, but also on freedom of navigation, maritime interdiction, critical infrastructure protection and energy security.  I hope that OSG might evolve into a framework mandate for ships flying the NATO flag wherever in the world they are. 

Sea Guardian is very different from the Op Active Endeavour that preceded it.  It is separately resourced from the Standing Naval Forces and so can focus on its core maritime security mandate, freed from NATO Response Force obligations.  It has more robust rules of engagement.  Task Group surges are being planned to explore and develop how we can best use this instrument and OSG has already deployed on its first surge. 

OSG in the Mediterranean opens the door to greater MSA on the new threats we face.  Given the presence of Da’esh and Al Qaeda in both the IO and the Mediterranean, it would be naïve to rule out links between terrorist actors across the sea regions. For that reason MARCOM will work closely with its stakeholder partners here in the Indian Ocean to share information and improve our collective MSA.  As NATO’s Principal Maritime Advisor I will be keeping SACEUR closely informed on the security dynamics in the region – aided by our continuing involvement with SHADE – and making recommendations on our future posture and efforts.

Again, thank you for the brilliant cooperation we have had in our years conducting Ocean Shield.  I look forward to any questions and to speaking with you during the day.

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