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NATO’s Maritime Moment: A Watershed Year in Alliance Sea Power

Speech by Vice Admiral Clive Johnstone, CB CBE, Commander Allied Maritime Command on the occasion of the Allied Ambassador’s Lunch, 16th January 2017, at the Residence of Belgian Ambassador HE Guy Trouveroy

Your Excellences, Ladies and Gentlemen, Good Afternoon. 

I am very grateful to Guy and the Belgian Embassy for hosting this event and all of you for coming. 

I am honored and I suppose reassured that you are prepared to give me time to speak and hope that – in return - between the starter and the main course I don’t give you indigestion

I will use the next 15- 20 minutes to update you on NATO’s maritime dimension; the role of my headquarters (based at Northwood in North London), identify some key issues – perhaps to highlight why 2016 and 2017 are so pivotal in the maritime arena.

I will try to be brief – questions are normally much more interesting for everyone.

I said a moment ago that MARCOM was my headquarters, but it is actually your headquarters and I serve as Your Maritime Commander.

I serve for you - given this - I think it really important to explain what we are doing and demonstrate the value that MARCOM and the Allied Navies are offering towards our collective security.

As you all know, NATO is indeed a Maritime Alliance: the seas and oceans connect us all. 

They allow for trade and communications – and perhaps, in this modern era, most vitally the internet via deep sea underwater cables.

It is an area of cooperation, certain competition and potential conflict and a domain where the Alliance (just about) holds a strategic advantage. 

If this seems military babble; then perhaps think Aleppo, The Aegean, The Gas fields in the Eastern Mediterranean, Migration, refugees and Russian submarines in the North Atlantic, including the North Sea, English Channel and Baltic.

All have a focus at sea or influenced by it.

It is also an area – let’s consider our future - think of growth and prosperity - of opportunity, trade, relaxation and tourism and resource as well as stability – an echo chamber - for our populations and society

I feel for NATO the sea and the maritime domain is an indicator of confidence, authority and assurance.

With this as an opener – let me make three quick capping points – which I will develop as I go on.

• The first is that Allied Maritime Command is now more capable, credible and busier than it has ever been; forged by the threat and global environment, and fashioned by its three tasks:  
o Maintaining the Standing Naval Groups,
o Delivering long term operational advocacy and oversight;  and
o Commanding immediate live operations
• …..all, as I have said before, from a Maritime Operations Centre in North London. (I hope you might visit us – together or as your diary allows).  
• Second that the world needs a strong maritime NATO. 
o Russia may not be an enemy but it is a fierce and uncompromising competitor – and playing the strategic game better than us – and not with our values, rules or objectives. 
o Radicals – or DAISH – won’t forever remain in Mosul, Raqua or the desert – I fear terrorism is coming home and will use the sea to manoeuver and resupply.
o And finally, I suggest that our migration issues are only just starting. Today there are 250,000 people camped in Libya waiting for the weather to ease. This month Algeria has declared a state of emergency (a reaction to terrorism on its Tunisian border and worries about migration) and all over Africa social, environmental and security factors are driving a restless population.  There is a Portuguese study that talks about hyper-migration. More than a million people on the move on any one day …. Imagine that!
• Third, that we all need to try harder; Nations need to understand the Wales and Warsaw pledges; I must energize the maritime enterprise more than ever before and we all must start thinking, listening and understanding.  Last week Air Chief Marshall Sir Stuart Peach, the head of UK’s military, noted that "we are no longer in an era of change but in a changed era”. 

• I suspect we need to get off the policy treadmills and think how we can face a world where adverse conditions are outpacing us. 

• Indeed, I note that SACEUR (General Curtis Scaparrotti) often talks about the West not being at peace.  He senses the tensions better than almost anyone.

I wonder if the solution is in front of us - NATO – International by Design.


By way of revision I hope, let me first address the role of my Headquarters in North London.
MARCOM is your Standing Maritime Command and we act as the Principal Maritime Advisor to our Supreme Allied Commander (General Scaparrotti). 

I need to just establish that at Northwood I have three smaller HQ’s operating under my broader command.  COMSUBNATO – my link for submarines.  COMMARAIR – my link to the air world and finally – and of note; the NATO Shipping Center.  Unique – and my link with the broader shipping and maritime industries.
I command NATOs four Standing Maritime Groups as well as Operation Sea Guardian, Counter Migrant Trafficking activity in the Aegean, support to the EU in the Central Mediterranean and extensive surveillance and situational awareness missions across the NATO region. 
We work in close partnership with Allied Navies and their Fleet Commanders; the US Sixth Fleet VADM Chris Grady, the EUMEDFOR Commander Admiral Enrico Credentino and the 5 Maritime Force Headquarters that provide the Higher Readiness Force Maritime. 

I also work hand in glove with partners especially Finland and Sweden as well as others in the Mediterranean and other seas.

This isn’t a summary of a NATO wiring diagram but an engine room …. An enterprise determined on respect and friendship, operational focus and improvement.
Our focus (as highlighted by the Warsaw Summit) is to provide deterrence, strategic foresight and to project stability.
As I pursue this agenda, I have five main concerns as the maritime commander:
• the Russian challenge and its 360 degree complexity - perhaps not an enemy but certainly a big problem;
• the complex security challenges of Syria and the Eastern Mediterranean; 
• uncertainty in the region surrounding the Black Sea;
• the deepening instability of the Southern Mediterranean, including Libya;
• and finally, and as important as any,  a new and deeper understanding of the North Atlantic (The High North, North Sea and Baltic) and its relevance to Alliance security. 

Let me just work through these, though perhaps not in this order.  I will try and combine threat and geography where I can.


Starting in north perhaps
NATO’s concerns over Russia and its behavior are front page news.

The Russian challenge at sea is omni-directional and is threatening of our freedoms and of our infrastructure, whether you see them as an enemy or not.
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 regions security paradigm. New capabilities such as cruise missiles submarines, frigates and helicopters, along with better trained crews, mark the steady recovery of the Russian Navy as a tool of national policy.

Through their deployments, Russia is endeavoring to create zones of exclusion that already are challenging nations legal and historic freedoms. The Russian deployment to Syria and elsewhere has extended their area denial capabilities to the Eastern Mediterranean, as well as Black and the Baltic Seas

Our response is that we need to be strong, united and determined. 

Focused on deterrence, a balanced posture and activity that deters provocation and chance misadventure. 

Pleasingly, MARCOM has been recognized as the hub for multi-national efforts, combining the NATO Standing Naval Forces other NATO Commands and national capabilities.

To that end, over the past year, 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, as I speak, this operation is ongoing – and I must thank you all for your extensive support.

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 I stress there is no intent to get back to a Cold War and we do need to find a way to talk to Russia, and not always cast her as the enemy. 

But life is different – and Russia does not follow our values nor our aspirations.  We need to be exceptionally wary, in my humble opinion.


I have a particular concern in all of this,  and this the submarine, or under water warfare challenge;  particularly given the shape of the Russian order of battle and because this topic has not been a priority in NATO or National resources and training for many years.
While this is a long term test - only properly fixed with focus and adequate resourcing - I have made this a priority of my command that we are singularly focused in this area.  [Indeed my lead for the subject – the excellent submariner - Admiral Matt Zirkle is sitting here in the Audience – I would like you to talk to him].
We have had excellent conversations with a range of countries and we are just starting to see an upswing thanks to our collective efforts; just look at investment UK made in the 2015 Defence Review – and other nations are equally seized.
We are seeing this revival of interest because of the recognition that sea lines of communications, transatlantic reinforcement of Northern Europe and the Baltic region and forward presence are inextricably linked to the North Atlantic and the freedom of navigation. 

BUT … there is so much more to do and I need your help. 

Before you get out your dingy we aren’t being idle.
To underpin this focus, especially our ability to operate in a 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
We built a demanding program to hone tactics in deep water.  A great deal of good training and (vitally) learning was achieved. 
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 will feed the exercise series planned this year, including for the first time a major multi-national anti-submarine exercise off Iceland, building on what will be a virtuous cycle of training, experimentation and reform. 

Let’s move to warmer climes and the south.



Russia is not the single challenge that pre-occupies us.

We face multitude of stimuli all sitting to the south and south-east. Indeed, General Scaparrotti talks of the three R’s - Russians, Radicals and Refugees as his foci of effort.

This requires us to balance our efforts to strengthen the security of the Alliance in all directions.
Lining the Southern Mediterranean and just beyond, we clearly experience fragile States, political instability, poverty, civil war, terrorism and the resulting environmental, social and economic upheaval. 
Following the NATO Defence Ministers' decision, in the spring of 2016, to deploy ships under my Command into the Aegean, we quickly established our presence to provide maritime surveillance support to the Greek and Turkish Navies and Coast Guards.

The effort was remarkable as we enabled and supported levels of co-operation within the Aegean to a degree most would have thought impossible.  These collective efforts, joined with the EU-Turkey agreement and border controls, minimized migration flows across the Aegean, at least for now.
In the Mediterranean, itself, instability all along the North African littoral has also given rise to a terrorist threat to established shipping lanes as well as the states of Europe.
A key part of NATO’s response is the activation of our new maritime security mission, Operation SEA GUARDIAN which was stood up in October.
Sea Guardian is not a re-hashed Operation ACTIVE ENDEAVOUR (if you can remember that); indeed, it is a brand new mission based on a new operational credo and a drive to establish greater flexibility and effect.
SEA GUARDIAN gives greater clarity of purpose; The rules of Engagement are more robust.  Its mission set has been substantially expanded to areas such as maritime interdiction which would include fighting proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, critical infrastructure protection as well as maritime situational awareness and freedom of navigation.
I believe Op SEA GUARDIAN will be one of NATO's main platforms in projecting stability in the Mediterranean region and offering an effective linkage between NATO and EU security operations at sea.  Indeed, MARCOM and EU MED FORCE have excellent links, and complementarity between NATO and the EU Missions at sea is the guiding principle.

Now to the Black Sea. 

Russian interventions and activities in Ukraine have created an instability across the region.

The eventual stationing of six cruise missile equipped submarines with the Black Sea Fleet changes the balance of maritime power – more pronounced as Russian forces are quick to demonstrate their displeasure at Allied naval and air presence in what they see as a Russian domain. 

Of all the places we operate, the Black Sea is the area where I most fear misadventure or inadvertent conflict.
So, as you can see, the challenges are substantial. 

I have touched on what we are up to but let me just summarize the final three – Governance, Training and Partnership before I close.

The maritime domain is at the forefront of NATO thinking about the future.  Old hands tell me that they have not seen this much interest by Brussels in maritime NATO since the Cold War.

Our Standing Naval Forces are NATO’s major asset for immediate crisis response.  I am very grateful for the contribution of many Allies to the strength of the SNF, but I must ask you to press your governments for continued engagement in these pivotal forces. Without numbers, capability and deterrence withers

 Ambition to improve – to protect the Alliance and its member Nations – for indeed that is what we have – requires a framework or an intellectual structure. 

To achieve this, we have written the ‘Maritime Start Up Guide’ otherwise known as Alliance Maritime Governance Concept – recognized as an organizing principle at Warsaw - to guide our cooperation in the broader Alliance maritime enterprise.
Under AMG we are expanding our efforts to understand Allied maritime activity and readiness.
We are co-ordaining dozens of national assets in surveillance activities, providing NATO with Strategic Anticipation of potential threats.
That is Allied Maritime Governance in action.


Turning to Training. The basic maritime posture of the Alliance is strong.  It overawes any potential peer competition if (and it is a big if) the bulk of those Allied forces can be brought together quickly, seamlessly, able to interoperate as an effective fighting force.
But size alone does not prevail, MARCOM is working with Allied Command Transformation and other Commanders to help ramp up our training and readiness for our task groups at sea.  To train and not just exercise – to eke out value and deliver the best return on your precious investment.

We are also exploring how to nest maritime training and exercises smartly so that regional navies – such as Italy’s - are not forced to choose between operational training opportunities far away and pressing local missions.


The final area I would like to address – this sea journey has almost reached harbor – is how to enhance NATO operational partnership in the maritime domain with our many friends around the world.

The importance of our Partnerships runs like a thread through everything I have discussed, from the key roles of Sweden and Finland in the North,  Ukraine and Georgia in the Black Sea and Israel, Egypt, Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco in the Mediterranean.

Warsaw made clear NATO’s desire to continue to deepen our military and political cooperation with key partners, who share our values and our security interests.  Using the sea as our magic carpet and the language of mariners; we are the leaders in this field and very focused on developing warm as well as building upon more fragile relationships.

To Conclude

Three points:

• I work for you.
• The world is challenging – I need your help and we need to work together.
• You should be proud of your Navy and our people in MARCOM.

Guy – everyone – thank you.

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