COM MARCOM Remarks on MARCOM Addressing Contemporary Maritime Security Threats
Remarks to the German Council on Foreign Relations
Vice Admiral Clive Johnstone, CB CBE
May 22, 2017
The Role of Allied Maritime Command in Addressing Contemporary Maritime Security Threats.
Good Afternoon, thanks to Chair Doctor (Henning) Riecke for inviting me today and to Mister (Sebastian) Feyock for his hard work setting up this event. Great honour to be in the German Council on Foreign Relations, to see you all hear, and to represent the Maritime Voice.
I am here to speak about NATO’s role in maritime security today, in particular what Allied Maritime Command has been able to accomplish with the support of 29 Allies.
Let me begin by locating this conversation in the great debate over cooperation and isolationism that has dominated our lives over the past year.
INTO THE DEBATE
From its inception, NATO has been one of the great multilateral institutions of the world and a central pillar of a rules-based international order. At the Munich Security Conference in February, Chancellor Merkel robustly defended multilateral approaches and structures against the danger of parochialism. She was too right!
Although reform is needed in NATO, success will rely on our common efforts. NATO exists to provide that common institutional framework for the defence and security of its members.
I say this because the need is especially acute on the seas. When operating in or over national territory, there is more clarity on sovereign control.
Operating in the freedom of the High Seas, we absolutely rely on rules and structures to provide safety in navigation and to combine our operational efforts.
Unity of effort and concentration of force are two principal axioms of military strategy and this is especially true at sea. Delivering this for maritime NATO is the task of my command.
Delivering this to you – Germany – as I deliver it for all Allies is the very heart of what I do. I AM YOUR ADMIRAL – YOUR MARCOM.
As Chancellor Merkel said at Munich, the world has changed greatly since the end of the Cold War. Again, I agree, but I would like to stress how much has changed even in the last few years.
Supreme Allied Commander Europe, General Scaparrotti, describes our emerging challenges as his ‘Four R’s’ – Russia, Refugees, Radicals and Rhetoric (the assault on the integrity of truth). I know he is also worrying about Relevance (which is directly related to the last point and toxic politics) – we must keep the value of NATO strong and make it valuable to nations and the unity of the alliance.
Most threats are evolving in front of us - No one would have predicted in 2015 that NATO warships would be operating in the inner leads of Aegean islands to help stop illegal migrant trafficking; and that we would have regular engagement with EU security actors like FRONTEX and Operation Sofia.
Or that we would be facing Russian missile and other systems in several seas, along with the return of the Russian Navy as a blue water force promoting Russian objectives in Syria and Libya, amongst others. Indeed, few would have predicted that the North Atlantic would again become an area of intense Allied security interest. Or, that MARCOM would become the coordinating hub for Alliance-wide surveillance of Russian naval activity.
These are important changes and I believe this to be a pivotal time for maritime security over the arc of the NATO JOA. So much has changed so quickly that just about anything written about us more than 2 years ago is out of date. These changes redefine what we mean when we talk about maritime security, or deterrence and collective defence.
To put it bluntly, we are moving away from a NATO oriented toward individual out-of-area crises, and have rotated back towards a NATO focused on core comprehensive challenges.
Following Russia’s actions in Ukraine, NATO altered its strategic focus toward the defence of Europe and assurance of its Allies.
The NATO Response Force was strengthened and Force Integration Units were established in Eastern Europe. At Warsaw in 2016, we enhanced our Allied Forward Presence with NATO brigades that act to deter Russian adventurism.
The main development since Warsaw has really been driven by operational reality: the NATO Response Force was conceived as a force to combat one crisis in one place at the time. Even in our deterrence posture after 2014, it was assumed that a conflict would threaten on only one front. We now appreciate that to credibly deter aggression, NATO must demonstrate its ability to respond simultaneously across multiple domains of conflict. That means not only concurrent geographic challenges - in the Baltic, North Atlantic, Mediterranean and Black Sea – but also in the domains of cyber warfare, disinformation and fake news.
We are also waking up to the difference between containment, control, and deterrence.
Equally, NATO and Europe face a daunting terrorist threat and arc of instability across its Southern Flank in Syria, Yemen and Libya. This is activity less to be deterred than to be actively countered.
But whether it is comprehensive deterrence or countering terrorism, we are drawing on the same limited set of forces, capabilities and headquarters.
So the challenge in 2017 is to work out how we most effectively combine our resources in order to provide for our security across the spectrum and the vectors of our challenges. During the Cold War we coordinated our military postures, production and activities more closely than we do today. That need has come again.
In my case, Maritime decidedly over 300 degrees.
In three days the Allied Political leaders will meet in Brussels to chart the Alliance's path in 2018 and beyond. The broad outlines of that path are becoming more clear.
I expect that the total commitment of all Allies to Article V deterrence and collective defence will be strongly affirmed.
Equally, there will be a collective resolve to provide the Alliance with the national capabilities required under Article 3 of the Treaty, what today we call NATO defence planning and the 2% of GDP defence spending commitment. There may be a mechanism whereby national progress in reaching that commitment is better measured and discussed.
There is also likely to be a re-assertion of NATO's focus on terrorism and threats to the South, challenges as central to NATO's relevance as challenges from Russia.
Finally, there may be further efforts after the Meeting to improve the NATO organisation and its Command Structure to make it fit for purpose against the concurrent range of threats we now face.
Maritime NATO has equities in all three of these efforts and I will touch on them.
DETERRENCE AND MARITIME CAPABILITIES
First deterrence and collective defence. NATO fundamentally seeks to deter conflict by being well prepared for it and by demonstrating that resolve every day.
It is NATO’s core calling, but for years’ deterrence seemed to be a lesser priority, possibly even unnecessary as against a peer competitor. That situation has changed, particularly at sea. For the first time since the end of the Cold War, NATO is again focused on a Russia that challenges our collective defence and alters the rules-based security paradigm. New Russian Federation Navy capabilities such as cruise missiles submarines, frigates and helicopters, along with better trained crews, mark their steady recovery as a tool of national policy on a hemispheric scale.
Through their deployments, harassing activity and static defences, Russia is attempting to establish zones of exclusion that are challenging nations’ legal and historic freedoms. The Russian deployment to Syria and elsewhere has extended their missile and other capabilities to the Eastern Mediterranean, as well as Black and the Baltic Seas
In response, we have been maintaining oversight of Russian Navy in the North Atlantic and Mediterranean as never before, most recently illustrated by our hugely effective surveillance of the Aircraft Carrier Kuznetsov and its associated Battle Group. (Indeed, the surveillance efforts of the past year were a powerful example of Alliance burden sharing where the vast bulk of effort was carried out by non-US forces).
Of course, Russia has the right to build and sail vessels and aircraft within the limits of international law, as do we. There is no intent on our part to harass or exclude any nation's naval assets from international waters and legitimate activity. And Russia is not an enemy, although it is a very big problem – it feels threatening and secretive to me. We need dialogue and we need transparency on both sides, but we also need to be prepared and to be ready.
NAVAL FORCES IN DETERRENCE AND REASSURANCE
Since the Wales Summit, NATO has worked to strengthen the maritime component of NATO’s deterrent posture, enhance key war fighting skills, reassuring Allies and signalling Alliance resolve.
We know that speed is of the essence in a crisis. The Standing Naval Forces that MARCOM commands play a key role in the NRF force package and are NATOs first responders with a notice to move usually hours and never more than a day or two. The time it takes the Standing Forces to arrive at a crisis scene is often shorter than it takes other assets to depart from their static locations.
The Standing Groups also represent the benefits of multilateral cooperation. Working together, we create a more powerful naval force than most Allies could field on their own and at far less cost to each supporting navy. I currently command 11 surface combatants and 9 mine countermeasures vessels. Those are currently deployed assets, fully certified and ready. A single navy fielding a sustainable deployed force of that size would need more than 30 surface combatants and 27 MCM vessels in its inventory. When the SNF is well manned, it is a potent force so long as it is well trained and unified with effective command.
Working with Allied Navies, MARCOM plays an important role in eFP. The Standing Forces contribute to maintaining Sea Lines of Communication across the Atlantic and keeping a baseline naval presence in the Black Sea. For the first time in decades, the US is seriously considering how they would reinforce Europe in a crisis. We are leading thinking alongside Strike Force NATO and Fleet Forces command on how the Atlantic Bridge can be kept secure.
Drilling down a step further in this narrative about posture, deterrence and assurance, let me talk about capability…
At the heart of this Atlantic challenge is the submarine threat. You will be aware of a recent explosion in studies on the need to protect transatlantic sea lines of communication against the Russian submarine force as a part of NATO’s credible deterrent posture.
A recent three way exercise with the US, Germany, and Norway also shows German renewed investment.
Anti-Submarine Warfare has not been a priority in NATO or National planning for many years. While restoring our full capability is a long-term challenge - only properly fixed with adequate resourcing over years if not decades - I have made the recovery a priority of my command.
To underpin this focus, especially our ability to operate in challenging threat environments, we have focused very heavily on training. Last summer Exercise Dynamic Mongoose tested our anti-submarine abilities off Norway. Mongoose involved 3000 sailors and aircrew from 8 nations. Then, last October, we conducted MARCOM’s major maritime exercise Noble Mariner off Scotland, which was fused for the first time with UK’s Joint Warrior exercise to increase the challenge to participants and be more financially effective.
It was a great success, in addition to normal training we had an opportunity to train with and against unmanned vehicles in the air, surface and sub-surface environments – a first at such scale.
These efforts supported our Dynamic Manta ASW exercise in the Mediterranean this past March and our major Dynamic Mongoose exercise off Iceland next month, the first time we will have practiced ASW in the heart of the GUIK gap in many years.
I note that the recent Italian Exercise Mare Aperto has just completed and under its excellent Fleet Commander – Daniolo Marzano – this National Invitex took ASW to a new level with some very clever ROE play and some very tough scenario evolution. I was there last week and was most impressed.
We also have deterrence challenges in the Black Sea and I was very pleased that the Council focused on Black Sea security dynamics today. I believe that the risk of misadventure is greatest there. NATO recently decided to increase its maritime Black Sea presence of the Standing Naval Forces which I employ in exercises such as BREEZE and SEA SHIELD. These improve skills – including in ASW – help Allies to operate as a tightly integrated force.
I have also been tasked to improve MARCOM’s coordination with the regional Allies. To do that, I have established a Black Sea functional team within MARCOM, who will be the experts and maintain close linkages with the regional navies. I am looking at a similar arrangement for the Baltic.
TERRORISM - OSG
The second major challenge to be addressed in Brussels is terrorism and the multiple crises that impact the Mediterranean. All of our countries have been rocked by horrific terror attacks even as ISIL continues its attacks in Syria, Afghanistan and threatens action across the Middle East and North Africa. NATO will be active in many ways against terror but one of those instruments in maritime – our new maritime security Operation Sea Guardian.
You will know that we conducted Operation Active Endeavour for many years, indeed the German Navy was a great supporter throughout the history of the mission. We we learned a great deal from it, not least how to do it better. So last year we built an entirely new and very different mission.
Sea Guardian isn’t a refined Active Endeavour – its start and its underpinning principles are completely different – urgent, relevant, scalable, tough.
Sea Guardian has more robust Rules of Engagement. Its mandate includes Counter-Terrorism but also a much wider set of maritime security challenges linked to terror like energy security, critical infrastructure protection and embargo operations.
Operation Sea Guardian uses separately resourced forces so that the Standing Naval Forces can remain focused on high-end training and rapid response. This construct also gets my HQ access into other assets and supports national funding models as well.
We also have a much more defined - geo-politically relevant - set of objectives. Rather than being out there looking for ‘terrorists’ in the abstract, we are focused on the trade flows of arms and fighters between the Eastern Mediterranean and North Africa. We are working to understand that dynamic and to be ready to act against it where we can.
Operation Sea Guardian operates in two ways: First, the task group makes several surge deployments a year into intel-driven focus areas in the Mediterranean. The group will monitor patterns of life, track vessels of interest and conduct boardings on suspicion of illicit activity but also for training. The most recent focus op of this year recently completed a patrol in the Central Mediterranean and we learned a great deal about the pattern of activity off the Libyan coast.
The second mode is rapid response. We have on-call national assets that are ready at very short notice to conduct interdiction operations at sea should an intelligence trigger event occur. The Greek Navy has generously offered special forces support out of Souda Bay for which I am most grateful, and I have the provision of Turkish tankers and other support. We also have many assets in Associated Support. These remain under national control but support our situational awareness. Between the on-call assets and the task group deployments we have 24/7 readiness to act against a rapidly emerging maritime security threat.
So we have the naval tools; we now need the information that will make OSG a success. Navies and nations hold the key to a safer Mediterranean in the information and intelligence they can obtain and are willing to share. OSG does not need your entire intelligence plot which is always nationally sensitive. But a small amount of relevant intelligence or maritime shipping information transforms our ability to bolster maritime security in the Med if everyone provides it.
Finally, allow me to address MARCOM's role in helping to counter migrant trafficking. As you know, we were directed in Spring 2016 to stand up a maritime surveillance mission in the Aegean to help the Greek and Turkish Coast Guards and FRONTEX stop illegal migrant trafficking. We had SNMG2 on station in the area in 2 days, a good example rapid response the Standing Groups are capable of. There was then a longer period of negotiation to establish operating areas and procedures. This was difficult, and I know it was politically difficult for both Greece and Turkey, but the cooperation achievement was unprecedented.
German political but also military leadership was vital to the success of this undertaking. I am really grateful for the leadership of Admirals Jorg Klein, Kay-Achim Schoenbach and Axel Deertz who commanded or are commanding SNMG2 since the activity was launched and for the excellent vessels that German Navy Chief Admiral Andreas Krause has provided over the past year.
Soon after the NATO effort was launched migration rates across the Aegean collapsed, driven also by the EU-Turkey agreement and the closing of borders in South East Europe. But I think the SNMG2 deployment played its part as an element in the complex chemistry that ended the massive flows to the islands. The steady hand and high professionalism that your navy brought to bear in the Aegean was critical to our efforts.
One of the breakthroughs of 2016 was MARCOM's cooperation and information sharing with EU FRONTEX, something politically off the table until then. That cooperation has opened a wider door to work maritime security issues across the Mediterranean if required.
The future of the Aegean deployment is largely a political decision. In the interim, we are watching the area closely for changes to migrant flow paths and any Indications or Warnings of a new surge.
In the Central Mediterranean, Operation Sea Guardian presents excellent opportunities to deepen NATO’s cooperation with the European Union counter-migrant trafficking mission Operation Sophia. NATO and the EU have agreed that NATO will support Op Sophia with logistics and information, with further areas of cooperation being discussed in Brussels. I am in very regular contact with Rear Admiral Enrico Credendino who is conducting a stressful and arduous operation, brimming with human tragedy and high political interest. Operation Sea Guardian is not a migrant trafficking mission, but there can be value for Operation Sophia in what we learn from our counter-terrorist maritime security operation. And vice versa.
MARITIME GOVERNANCE AND FUTURE NATO
Let me bring my speech towards the close with just a couple of points – ones which I believe to be very important for the future of the Alliance and our security.
As I’m sure you will have noted, all of these operations and activities require close inter-Allied cooperation. We are greatly aided by a new mechanism called Alliance Maritime Governance. The idea behind this is simple - that navies voluntarily coordinate their efforts via MARCOM when their national tasking can be made more effective by doing so, such as our recent coordination of the track of the Kuznetsov Carrier Group. And also that the navies help MARCOM maintain a clear picture of Allied forces at sea and their readiness, so that I can advise SACEUR of his practical options in a crisis. Allied Maritime Governance is working well, but I hope to make it more useful to everyone in the months ahead.
One way I am doing that is by linking MARCOM more closely to national or regional Maritime Operations Centres in a robust Hub and Spoke relationship.
Last year I pushed hard to make the MARCOM Maritime Operations Centre capable to dealing with our challenges: Aegean migrant trafficking surveillance, shadowing of the Russian Navy. I am also working to better synchronise NATO Black Sea deployments with national deployments for optimal presence and training benefit.
We have started on extensive refurb of an Ops Centre to underpin this journey.
This year I am widening our scope with new efforts to ensure connectivity, building relationships and build trust. Following agreement among all of the NATO Fleet Commanders in March, we will be convening an inaugural Maritime Operation Centre directors conference and instituting a monthly series of Ops Centre to Ops Centre drills to create a tight info sharing network.
FUTURE NATO STRUCTURE
But as I said at the beginning, the comprehensive nature of our challenges may demand more than modest reform as important as those might be. The slimmed down Command Structure that emerged from the Lisbon Summit was designed to support NATO’s calling in the Post Cold War Era, as an out-of-area crisis management organisation.
Ironically, that reform came at the very close of the era. Since 2013, there has been a gradual strengthening of NATO’s command and control capabilities, often out of the NATO Force Structure. Multinational Corps North East in Szczecin and MNC South East in Bucharest provided Corps-level headquarters that NATO badly needed. In the maritime, the German Navy’s plan to develop Rostock as a maritime command available to NATO to support Baltic Security shows great promise. Other Allies are also considering offers to support maritime command and control at the sub-regional level.
The greatest pressure for maritime reform is in the North Atlantic. The Norwegian government and several think tanks have called for joint force unity of effort for the North Atlantic area. There are a lot of ideas being bandied about – a revival of SACLANT in Norfolk, a greater role for MARCOM as a maritime-heavy Joint Force Headquarters, greater weight placed on NATO Force Structure assets like Strike Force NATO and the 4 Maritime Force Headquarters, as well as new roles for national fleet headquarters. Given its weight in the Alliance, I think Germany and the German Navy needs to be part of this discussion.
Those decisions are for nations to make, not me. But I would offer my sense of the principles that should govern an effective result.
The first of these is unity of command in the maritime. It is essential that there is no confusion over roles or tasks between maritime forces in a given operating area. The fog of war is thick enough in its own. War at sea, in three dimensions is the most complex of all environments
The second is the need for NATO C2 directed by an integrated Allied leadership and staff, in which all or almost all Allies are represented and in which they place trust. General Eisenhower’s model has stood the test of time. I gain great insights and strength from having a French Deputy, Spanish Chief of Staff, German head of operations and American policy advisor. My staff embodies the value of the multilateral order that Chancellor Merkel spoke of at Munich.
Third is the need for effective coordination and allocation of naval assets between theatres of operation across the NATO Area of Responsibility. I am uncomfortable when people try to separate the Atlantic and the Mediterranean - for they are linked by threat and by Allies. I see the maritime environment covering 300 degrees – from the High North to the Suez. We must maintain this perspective if we are to truly balance against the threats of Russians, Radicals, Refugees and Rhetoric. I do not think we can think about the Atlantic without thinking about the Mediterranean, Baltic, and Black Sea. Maritime 300 is important.
Fourth and finally, there needs to be the closest connection between Allied navies that are the contributors to NATO activities and operations in peacetime and conflict. Recent discussions in Allied Command Transformation are considering how nations can better Federate or associate the bulk of their forces with NATO in a contingency that goes far beyond the means of the NATO Response Force. That is an essential element of force generation in this new era, but it does not replace the need for unified and resilient command and control.
I would leave you with three points:
First, MARCOM is well into a journey to betterment for itself and our overall maritime Enterprise. We have never been busier. I think we have built a solid framework for maritime C2, in partnership with STRIKFORNATO, the Germany Navy and other NATO Maritime Force headquarters and Allied Fleets.
Second, importance of the German Navy and the excellent German Officers in my command – for which, thank you.
And finally – to maintain our operational edge – as your maritime command, I need you to recognise the importance in investing in NATO’s maritime endeavour. It is changing and as I said it is improving – with Operation Sea Guardian, the refocused Standing Naval Forces and other activities – but success is deeply dependent on our strength, resolve and unity.