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Graduating Class - Ensuring connectivity, building relationships and trust
Remarks to Hellenic National Defence College
Vice Admiral Clive Johnstone, CB CBE
31 March 2017
Ambassador, Dean Tzokas, Generals, Air Marshalls, Ladies and Gentlemen - Good morning.
Thank you for inviting me to join in the Graduation ceremony and deliver a few remarks. It is a very great honour indeed.
To the class, I know I stand between you and your certificates so I will try to be useful – and short.
As the Allied Maritime Commander I work for the Nations. I take my guidance and direction from all the countries of the Alliance and therefore, my relationships and understanding is essential.
As an old Dartmouth graduate, I am very pleased to see the Dartmouth Centre for Seapower and Security involved in today's event. I greatly appreciate the link that Plymouth University, BRNC Dartmouth and the Hellenic Defence College have forged and the benefits this will have for both the Royal Navy and the Greek Armed Forces.
To the class, I want to congratulate you on completing the course. This is a significant milestone in your military career. You already knew how to be operators, that is why you were sent here. But courses like this invite you to be thinkers, strategists, change managers. Every service needs people who can do that - NATO needs people who can do that.
Actually - before I get to the substance of this speech please let me address you graduates – please listen for just this one bit. We are facing a very uncertain world just now. People are acting out of fear from vulnerability and from ignorance and this is a real concern. So take your wonderful new found learning and understanding and use it. Listen before you speak, avoid stereotypes and the indiscipline of the media.
Act – Like wonderful Greeks of old, as the messengers of wisdom – Never has your role been so important, whoever you are, and where ever you will end up serving.
It is an honour to be speaking so near to places like Marathon, Salamis and Plataea. Battles that determined the direction of the Western world and ensured the Periclean Age with its contributions to art, philosophy and politics that are still so important in shaping how we think and what we aspire to.
As a sailor, I have a particular interest in the battle of Salamis. It stands as the classic example of a small, allied but unified force acting boldly to defeat a much much larger, clumsy and disorganised opponent. Indeed with the need to protect civilian populations Salamis has echoes of the complexity of hybrid war that we face today
It is a powerful lesson and one that influences our efforts to foster an interoperable, unified and proactive Allied naval force.
Of course, much has changed since the time of Themistocles and his Triremes. But actually, much has changed even in the last few years. I believe this to be a pivotal time for European and for transatlantic security. So much has changed so quickly in maritime NATO that just about anything written about us more than 3 years ago is out of date.
No one would have predicted in 2014 that NATO warships would be operating in the inner leads of Lesbos and Chios to help stop illegal migrant trafficking; or that we would have regular engagement with EU security actors like FRONTEX and Operation Sofia.
Or that we would be facing Russian area denial networks in several seas, along with the return of the Russian Navy as a blue water force promoting Russian objectives in Syria and Libya. Few would have predicted that MARCOM would become the coordinating hub for Alliance-wide surveillance of Russian naval activity, – and with a growing demand for a more powerful voice – a Joint Force ‘Maritime’ commander as it is sometimes put to me.
Let me turn to the threats - to the context:
SACEUR, General Scaparrotti describes our current challenges s 4 Rs: Russia, Radicals, Refugees and Rhetoric. They are all in play in the Mediterranean. Approaching them in slightly the wrong order -
It would be presumptuous of me to lecture you on the refugee crisis but it is so important I want to come back to it in a moment....
Turning to Russia... Russia is not an enemy but it is a big worry; Russia is not only a challenge in the North Atlantic or Baltic. Moscow appears to have ambitions to deepen its influence and its military posture across the South and East of the NATO JOA.
Their opportunity is instability and there is a lot of that in NATO's South and East as well the potential for it. Thus we saw their hosting of Libya's General Haftar on the Kuznetsov in January, deepening their involvement in factional conflict. I think we must think deeply about Radicals (code for terrorists).
As ISIL is suppressed, at least for now, as a territorial force in Libya, they are shifting into a more distributed terrorist posture and likely looking for their next opportunity in the region, including an increased threat to warships and commercial vessels. There is much free space for them and pockets of fertile , unhappy populations. I sense more work with the Mediterranean Dialogue Partners is required.
The final R is for Rhetoric, that assault of half truths and overpowering incomplete messaging. The biggest challenge we may face today is the battle for the home front, for our society. We military officers must recognise that the biggest battle might be for the hearts and minds of our own people. Challenged as they are by their uncertainty; a loss of hope and endless financial challenges. If our society looses cohesion and unity we offer fertile ground to our enemies.
In late May this year the Allied Political leaders will meet in Brussels for a NATO Summit that will chart the Alliance's path in 2018 and beyond. The broad outlines of that effort are coming into focus. I expect there will be a further effort to reassure Allies of the total commitment to Article V collective defence. 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% GDP defence spending commitment.
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 to bolster the NATO organisation and the Command Structure to make it fit for purpose against the range of threats we now face and the danger that NATO may have to act in several regions at once.
It is all underpinned by the decisions in Wales in 2014 and Warsaw in 2016.
So, with changing times, and challenging ones, and with the Summit as a backdrop, let me explain what we have achieved in MARCOM, the direction we are headed and how I believe this fits into the future of NATO.
Since the Wales Summit, NATO has worked to strengthen the NATO Response Force, enhance key war fighting skills, reassure Allies and improve our deterrent posture. The maritime plays a key role in all of this.
We know that speed is of the essence in a crisis. The Standing Naval Forces in our inventory are NATOs first responders with a notice to move usually of 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 base locations.
The Standing Groups also represent a powerful warfighting force.
I currently command 11 Frigates or destroyers, 3 corvettes and 9 mine countermeasures vessels.
They are currently deployed, fully certified and ready. A single navy fielding a sustainable deployed force of that size would need 40 surface combatants and 27 MCM vessels in its inventory.
That is larger than any navy in NATO other than the US.
Capabilities matter as well. We are working to improve our ASW skills in exercises like Dynamic Manta in which Greece made important contributions.
We are exploring how to counter Area Denial networks and operate in a cyber-challenged environment.
It is vital – we … the maritime experts – plan and train again in a tight and hungry circle of improvement and development. That is why I am so grateful for Navies who push boundaries, for centres of excellence and training organisations such as FOST and NMIOTC.
Allies have also established an enhanced forward presence in North East and South East Europe. These brigades are too small to pose a threat to Russia but serve as tripwires. They will also greatly improve joint training and interoperability.
Maritime NATO plays an important role in this eFP as well, maintaining Sea Lines of Communication across the Atlantic and keeping a baseline naval presence in the Baltic. For the first time in decades, the US is seriously considering how they would reinforce Europe in a crisis. We are working very closely with Fleet Forces Command on this effort. Indeed we are leading a series of pieces of work – GRP4, eFP, Exercise TRIDENT JAVELIN which together add up to the biggest estimate of the North Atlantic that we have recently conducted.
In the Black Sea, Allies agreed at the recent Defence Ministerial to increase NATO maritime presence. I have also been tasked to improve coordination with the regional Allies. To do that, I have established a Black Sea Task Group, within MARCOM, who will be the experts and maintain close linkages with the navies nations and in the region. This is novel stuff. I am also working to better synchronise NATO deployments with national deployments for maximum assurance presence and training benefit. I recognise Greece's support and leadership here as she sits astride the Aegean.
All of these actions require close inter-Allied cooperation. We are greatly aided by a new mechanism called Alliance Maritime Governance, recently approved by the North Atlantic Council in February this year. The idea behind AMG, as it is called, is the harnessing of collective information sharing and surveillance. It is a common, stronger maritime posture - based around a hub in MARCOM - to give SACEUR visibility, understanding and awareness. And if necessary the tools to act.
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 MOC capable of dealing with our challenges: surveillance of Aegean migrant trafficking, shadowing of the Russian Navy. This year I am still pushing that, but also widening our scope with new efforts with national MOCs to ensure connectivity, building relationships and build trust. Following agreement among the Fleet Commanders this month, we will be convening an inaugural MOC Directors’ Conference and instituting a monthly series of MOC or MOC drills to create a tight info sharing network.
I mentioned that terrorism and Southern Challenges are likely to be highlighted at the Summit in May. Central to NATO's effort to project stability in the South is Operation Sea Guardian. This is NATO's new maritime security operation in the Mediterranean. We looked at the lessons of Operation Active Endeavour - learnt over many years - and built a very different mission. Sea Guardian has more robust ROE. Its mandate includes Counter-Terrorism but also a much wider set of maritime security challenges like energy security, critical infrastructure protection and embargo operations. OSG uses separately resources forces so that the Standing Naval Forces can remain focused on high-end training and rapid response.
We also have a much more defined and 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.
OSG operates in layers: First, the OSG task group will make 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 commander of the next Focussed Operation period will be a Greek.
We also have many assets in Associated Support. These remain under national control but support OSG. Here Greece has been a substantial contributor, including with submarine assets that have been a game changer for the mission.
The other layer is rapid response. We have on-call national assets that are ready at very short notice to conduct interdiction operations at sea should intelligence suggest that such an event is required. The Greek Navy has generously offered special forces support out of Souda Bay for which I am most grateful.
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, we need the skills. Here I am very happy to cite the excellent work that the NMIOTC in Crete has accomplished over many years. It has truly become the 'go-to' place for top-end training of boarding teams and interdiction operations specialists. Most of Alliance's MIO teams learnt their business in Souda Bay. With OSG, our emphasis on partner capacity building and the establishment of a new Hub for the South at JFC Naples, the demand for NMIOTC expertise and services can only grow.
Finally, allow me to address MARCOM's role in helping to counter migrant trafficking. You and I would note that migration - and its impact on societies is one of the greatest concerns of our day. As you know, we were directed last Spring 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 of the 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 Athens and Ankara, but the cooperation achieved was unprecedented. I am very grateful for the support of the Hellenic Navy Greek Navy and Coast Guard in setting up the activity and for their continuing efforts to resolve issues in a pragmatic manner.
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.
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 not clear - it will be politically driven but we must not throw away what we have achieved too cheaply. In the interim, we are watching the area closely for changes to migrant flow paths and any Indications or Warnings of a new surge.
So, you can see that we have been very busy. I would leave you with three points:
1. MARCOM is well into a journey of betterment for itself and our overall maritime Enterprise. I think we have built a solid framework for maritime C2, in partnership with others the Maritime Force headquarters and the Allied Fleets. The NCS Functional Review will help us in closing key capability gaps and enhanced flexibility, but I believe our basic structure is sound.
2. Effective coordination and unity of command have never been more important, we must protect it by using your brains and wisdom to think clearly how we reinforce maritime and NATO thinking. You now have a vote.
3. Finally, you can be very proud of the Greek contributions to MARCOM and to NATO, from excellent leaders like Commodore Andreas Vettas and the many superb officers supporting MARCOM. Also the ships in the Aegean monitoring effort, the great work of NMIOTC and your support to OSG.
Photo from British Embassy to Athens