The Navy’s “Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower” is a year old, setting the sea service on a new course. The Navy’s Cold War focus has been overtaken by a fresh global mindset that stresses engagement, partnerships and capacity building with maritime countries around the globe. But many obstacles stand in the way.
The new strategy acknowledges that the Navy must still be able to fight and win a major conflict in the “blue water” open ocean environment. Although there is no contentious peer competitor today, strategic planners are still watchful as rising powers aspire to larger and more capable fleets. Since the start of the Cold War, longtime allies — such as NATO members — have banded together to secure their vital strategic sea lines of communication. Many of them have blue-water navies. However, the numbers of these forces have been dwindling in recent years as costs to keep big fleets at sea escalate and the phantom of large-scale naval conflicts looming in the future becomes harder to imagine in a globalizing world. Indeed, the U.S. Navy faces a similar challenge with regard to recapitalizing its own force. The new strategy acknowledges that the likelihood of a major blue-water conflict is smaller than a conflict or incident in the littoral or coastal waters of the world — at least for now.
Winning wars is still important, the new strategy says, but now preventing them is just as important. Plus, there is a new sense of urgency to be able respond to disasters and provide humanitarian assistance, as well as assure maritime security around the world.
Answering these new challenges, the Navy is looking beyond its traditional allies. It is seeking to build an even broader base through cooperation with nontraditional maritime partners. Growing appetites for scarce resources and the need for secure global markets are reshaping the strategic landscape. The interests of many countries have become ever more intertwined in the world economy. No nation, no matter how far away from the ocean, is unaffected by global seaborne commerce. At the same time, piracy, drug running and other seaborne crime, once contained as local problems, are on the rise.
With everything increasingly connected to everything else, local maritime security challenges, even in the most remote regions, are having far-reaching repercussions — an observation not lost on international terrorist groups. The maritime strategy puts dealing with these effects squarely in the fore of the maritime services’ missions. Building new partnerships is at the core of Navy international efforts to bring order and stability to the world’s ungoverned and undergoverned seas. Security cooperation activities are an essential means to this end.
The Defense Department broadly defines “security cooperation” as those activities conducted with allies and friendly nations to:
Build relationships that promote specified U.S. interests.
Build allied and friendly nation capabilities for self-defense and coalition operations.
Provide U.S. forces with peacetime and contingency access.
Foreign military sales (FMS), training and cooperative development programs have been around for a long time. Looking across the globe, many of the weapons and platforms developed for the U.S. Navy can be found in allied navies around the world. In terms of volume, more than 90 percent of international spending on U.S. Navy equipment and services is done by just 15 percent of the countries who buy their maritime defense articles from the U.S. These countries have the means to buy the most modern capabilities available and, in many cases, they have been doing so for a long time. In addition to the benefit of a reliable, interoperable network of capable allies, the economies of scale achieved by producing for this market have helped sustain the U.S. defense industrial base and America’s technological edge for many years.
An example of how this market benefits the U.S. is the Harpoon anti-ship missile program. The Navy has not bought a new Harpoon missile for itself in more than two decades. However, with 27 other countries buying Harpoon missiles over the years, the production lines are still open. Now, as the Navy embarks on a new program to build an updated Harpoon Block III, it will have a hot production line for that program to start on. The Aegis combat system that forms the core of the Navy’s most capable cruiser and destroyer force is another good example. Japan, Korea, Norway and Spain have adopted the system for their own frontline ships, with more countries to follow. Likewise, the Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile program is the result of a cooperative development effort. Each of the 11 partner nations has contributed in some way to realizing large cost savings through economies of scale, and shared development and production costs. In another cooperative effort, the U.S. and Japan are funding the development of Ballistic Missile Defense capabilities for their Aegis ships, something neither country would likely have done on its own. Through years of working together, large bodies of policy and experience have evolved to support growing relationships and in-depth cooperation with these traditional partners.
As evidenced by the rising prominence of security cooperation programs in U.S. theater engagement efforts, foreign military sales and training are especially well-suited to growing security relationships. They build capacity, improve interoperability and provide a basis for professional relationships which lead to mutual understanding and respect. However, developing security cooperation relationships with nontraditional partners has proved to be challenging. These countries come in two categories: regional powers such as India and Brazil, and strategically significant nations such as Nigeria, Indonesia, Djibouti and Yemen that are limited by resources and equipment.
The U.S. defense industry has a strong incentive to support partnership-building efforts, especially in the case of the emerging regional powers. India and Brazil are coming of age as their economies reap the benefits of the global marketplace. With expanding interests and growing defense budgets, they aspire to larger maritime security roles in their regions. There are unprecedented opportunities for policymakers to advance America’s security objectives by actively seeking ways for them to fill larger roles in the maritime security community. In terms of security cooperation, the Navy can support their efforts to build up their maritime capabilities by providing them access to modern systems and engaging them in exercises and training to build proficiencies. But first things first.
U.S. security cooperation with India has only recently been resumed after a falling out over nuclear testing, for example. The lack of historical precedent and experience saps enthusiasm and momentum from efforts enabling such relationships. Trust and mutual understanding are built up over time, with one thing leading to the next. Unfortunately, in the case of emerging regional partners, the process for approving technology transfers needs work. The existing system grew over time from the need to protect individual interests across the Defense Department and the interagency. A more holistic approach, with scalable scrutiny and equal treatment of policy implications, would be more powerful and agile. A process is needed that can flexibly consider the relevant factors in cases involving technology transfer and make determinations expeditiously by balancing risk and policy objectives. At the end of the day, our goal should be deep and meaningful relationships with these countries, based on shared interests.
Efforts to build maritime partnerships with countries such as Nigeria, Indonesia, Djibouti and Yemen are a different matter and carry different expectations. Security cooperation can help align local and global maritime security interests. Nigeria is central to efforts to preserve safe access for shipping to the resource-rich Gulf of Guinea on the west coast of Africa. Indonesia, Djibouti and Yemen flank choke points along vital sea lines of communication for global shipping. These countries are constrained by scarce budget resources for maritime security. But small investments can yield major gains. These countries don’t want Aegis weapons systems or F/A-18 Super Hornets, nor do they need these capabilities to do their part. They need coastal radars and automated tracking systems, and small boats and patrol craft to provide for their own security and to prevent the use of their territorial waters and exclusive economic zones by terrorists, smugglers, poachers and other criminal elements. Despite their relatively low costs, the high-volume boat and small-craft market is adding up to an almost $2 billion business for U.S. industry. These investments by the countries and a range of U.S. assistance programs are improving maritime domain awareness around the globe and are making enormous strides toward enabling global maritime partnerships as envisioned in the Navy’s maritime strategy.
A variety of programs, such as the authorization by Congress of National Defense Authorization Act Section 1206 funds, are providing needed resources to get friendly countries off to a good start when they lack the resources to build up capabilities on their own. So-called Section 1206 funds give theater commanders the tools they need to build partner capacity quickly to conduct counterterrorism operations, support stability operations and build the capacity of international partners’ maritime security forces to conduct counterterrorism operations. Congress authorized $350 million for fiscal 2009, an increase of $50 million over last year.
This money is working to good effect. In the case of the small nation of Djibouti, strategically located at the straits between the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden, the Djiboutian Navy now has two 55-foot boats to patrol that critical choke point. Djibouti understands its big role in defending the Bab el Mandeb, agrees to do its part and simply needs the tools to do the job. In the new security landscape, providing a small boat to a country trying to do its part for regional security and stability may be just as important as selling an Aegis weapon system to a longtime ally.
Judging by the large and growing number of requests for FMS equipment and services, training, and exchange programs from countries aspiring to play a greater role in their own security, the effort to promote global maritime partnerships is making headway. But the process of doing business with the U.S. can be complicated. For nontraditional partners, there is too much red tape, too much bureaucracy and too little consensus between policy and acquisition communities about what we should be doing with our new partners.
Most solutions to these issues lie beyond the Navy’s authorities, involving stakeholders throughout the Defense Department, the interagency and Congress. The Defense Security Cooperation Agency, charged with management and execution of the department’s security cooperation policy, oversees a patchwork quilt of interagency processes, many of which have their roots in the Cold War. Although high-priority efforts are often “fast tracked” by senior leadership, international customers still frequently voice concerns about the speed of the U.S. bureaucracy. Streamlining this system will be a major challenge for the next secretaries of state, defense and the Navy if we are to fully realize the value maritime partnerships with nontraditional countries can bring to our security.
A new paradigm is needed. From industry to policymakers to war fighters, we all need to change our ways of thinking to meet the maritime security challenges that lie ahead. The maritime strategy lays out the course. Now we need the policy and program reforms to get our security cooperation programs moving smartly in this new direction.