This volume shares with a wider audience some of the research, debates, and findings from a very timely advanced research workshop entitled “Building trust to enhance maritime security”. Organized jointly by Coventry University’s Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations (CTPSR), and the Small Arms Survey—and supported by NATO’s Science for Peace and Security (SPS) Program—the workshop was held in Geneva in November 2014. While it focused on contemporary issues that are generating a growing international sense of the importance of maritime security, the workshop also drew attention to the simple fact that the security of the maritime domain is utterly essential to the freedom and the broader security of all nations.
2. NATO’s Approach to Maritime Security
Seas cover seventy percent of the planet. Ninety percent of the world’s trade and ninety-five percent of all military logistics still go by sea, and three quarters of this trade has to pass through international chokepoints like the Suez Canal, the Straits of Gibraltar, and the Bosphorus Straits. Even in today’s world of instant communication, the global community is still heavily reliant on sea-based transportation. The high seas also remain places where great power politics are played out, and concerns about maritime security have unfortunately taken on renewed importance in recent years. In light of recent events in Ukraine in particular, NATO has been forced to re-examine some of its fundamental assumptions about the post-cold-war security environment. The maritime domain has always been one of NATO’s key strengths, as its name—the North Atlantic Treaty Organization—suggests. NATO has amassed maritime experience through operations that have reached out from the Atlantic and the Mediterranean to the Baltic and the Black Seas, and even into the Indian Ocean; it also draws on four decades spent defending NATO allies on the high seas during the cold war. Since then, its maritime role has broadened to include crisis management operations, and it also undertakes work with non-NATO partners and organizations to meet new security challenges.
The importance of the maritime domain was stressed by NATO heads of state and government in the Declaration issued at the NATO Wales Summit in September 2014. The Declaration states that “the geopolitical and economic importance of the maritime domain in the 21st century continues to grow”, a fact that cannot be understated. In a troubled and uncertain world, the stakes involved are high. Maritime security today is concerned with tackling a number of often interrelated threats, from piracy, armed robbery at sea, and boundary disputes, to illegal fishing, drug smuggling, and human trafficking. In a bid to meet these diverse and complex challenges, NATO is fundamentally rethinking the way it deploys its naval capabilities, and this rethinking marks the latest stage in a process that began as far back as 1984 when NATO’s first Maritime Strategy was launched. Heavily couched in the language of the cold war, this strategy was geared substantially towards ensuring readiness for a peer-on-peer conflict on the high seas, but after the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, and following the terrorist attacks on the USA in 2001, it became apparent that the 1984 strategy would have to be adapted to deal with a new international security environment and its significantly different threats.
A new and much broader Alliance Maritime Strategy (AMS) was produced in 2011 and it established four situations in which NATO must be ready to conduct maritime operations. The first three involve NATO’s “core tasks” as set out in the 2010 Alliance Strategic Concept: deterrence and collective defense, crisis management, and cooperative security. The fourth involves the support of maritime security more broadly. A document providing the conceptual framework for maritime security operations was also prepared in 2011 as a complement to the AMS, and it established the seven types of maritime security tasks NATO should be able to undertake. Firstly, NATO must support Maritime Situational Awareness, which involves knowing what is going on under, above, and on international waters. Secondly, the organization is charged with upholding freedom of navigation for all. It must also conduct maritime interdiction, combat the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and protect critical infrastructure. NATO is also tasked with supporting counter-terrorism efforts, and contributing to maritime security capacity-building.
These two documents delineated NATO’s strategy and the concept that underlies it, and so from 2011 the key elements were in place for a reinvigoration of NATO’s maritime capabilities. The Alliance Maritime Strategy is comprehensive and ambitious, and the concept is clear and focused, but if they are to be of any value and deliver concrete outputs, both must be implemented. Early in 2014, the Allies decided that it was high time to put their strategy into action and to ensure that NATO has the right tools to fulfill its important maritime tasks in the years ahead. The heads of state and government at the Wales Summit took the 2011 concept as a basis and endorsed the so-called operationalization of the AMS which weaves together the different strands of work that NATO already undertakes in the maritime domain. The AMS operationalization concludes by establishing short-, medium-, and long term targets along six main strands, with the first goal being to reinvigorate the four Standing Naval Forces.
The existing two Standing NATO Maritime Groups and two Standing NATO Mine Countermeasures Groups, under NATO command and control, remain an essential maritime requirement for the Alliance. They are part of NATO’s maritime response capacity, and provide the means by which the Alliance engages with partners. Both Standing NATO Maritime Groups are currently being used to conduct ongoing operations and they rotate deployments and commands every six months. When they are not engaged in any operations, the Standing Naval Forces conduct exercises as well as port visits to NATO and non-NATO countries. These forces also contribute to regional maritime security capacity-building within their means and capabilities.
In the last five to ten years, the Standing Naval Forces have been used for operations that nations were not prepared to resource with surface, subsurface, and maritime air power capabilities through the normal force generation process. The lack of assets was mainly attributable to reduced budgets and less attractive schedules of operations. At the Wales Summit, Allies sought to remedy this problem, and expressed their willingness “to reinvigorate NATO’s Standing Naval Forces (SNF) by making their composition and the duration of national contributions more flexible” . The Allies also committed “in principle, [to] no longer using them for protracted operations or for operations with low-end tasks.”  This shift means that forces will be better able to fulfill their core task which is to provide a ready, effective, multinational standing maritime capability that the Alliance can use in periods of crisis and conflict.
The second strand of work for the operationalization of the Alliance Maritime Strategy involves the improvement of education, training, exercises, and evaluation of the maritime component. The primary aim is to ensure more coordination and better alignment between NATO’s training and exercises, and those of individual allies; another goal is to devise a program of exercises and training that will encourage nations to participate in NATO exercises, prioritizing this involvement over the creation of individual and costly exercises, especially at a time of dire budgetary constraints. These training and exercise programs will be explored as a means to contribute to the reinvigoration of the Standing National Forces, and may also add to NATO’s capacity to deploy follow-on forces, including those at the higher end of the combat spectrum. This is critical work that will have to be done, with all of the necessary granularity.
The third strand focuses on the improvement of the Allies’ capacity to deploy follow-on maritime forces, but it is evident that this can only take place after work has begun to reinvigorate the SNFs. The question of force generation for these follow-on forces can only be tackled once the SNFs themselves are properly resourced. Only then will the Allies consider practical, realistic, and cost-effective ways to improve their capacity to deploy follow-on maritime forces in operations. These follow-on forces need to be available, trained, evaluated, improved, and effectively commanded in order to relieve the maritime portion of the Immediate Response Force after initial deployment in NATO operations. High-end maritime assets are scarce and are mainly committed to the conduct of national tasks as fully-formed, nationally-trained task groups. NATO authorities are currently considering different options for assembling, training, and exercising these follow-on naval forces under NATO command.
The fourth strand deals with the impact that the adaptation and evolution of NATO’s current operations is having on NATO’s Maritime Strategy. Presently, NATO is conducting two maritime operations: Operation Ocean Shield and Operation Active Endeavour. Off the Horn of Africa, NATO has been supporting counter-piracy efforts since 2008, first with Operation Allied Provider and Operation Allied Protector, and then in 2009 with the launch of Operation Ocean Shield which takes a broader approach to counter-piracy and includes a regional capacity-building element. In Wales, the NATO countries agreed to extend Ocean Shield until at least the end of 2016 through a focused presence. As part of this continuing support, assets could be deployed during inter-monsoon periods, or at other times if needed; when surface units were absent, links to—and the support of—Maritime Situational Awareness systems would remain in place. The extension of the operation is welcome news, as any cessation of NATO’s efforts now could compromise the progress that has been made to date in countering piracy.
Operation Ocean Shield’s success has been the result of a collective effort and has depended in great part on close cooperation between NATO, the shipping industry, national naval forces, and other international maritime coalitions such as the Combined Task Force 151 and the European Union Naval Forces (EUNAVFOR). In the past year, Ocean Shield has benefited from contributions made by two non-NATO nations— Ukraine and New Zealand—and NATO hopes to welcome other non-member nations such as Australia and Colombia in the near future. With these partners, NATO has created synergies that maximize the use of limited resources and optimize the effectiveness of collective assets. The greater use of helicopters, maritime patrol aircraft, unmanned aerial vehicles, and satellite imaging has helped improve real-time Situational Maritime Awareness and has thereby shortened response times. When this information is shared and used in coordinated action, the benefits are manifold. These united efforts have been so successful that since May 2012 no ships have been taken, and the number of hostages has decreased to thirty. Considering how different this picture is from the one just four years ago, this is a significant decrease by any measure.
The chapters in this volume deal extensively with lessons learned from a wide range of policies, operations, and situations, but from NATO’s perspective, the single most profound lesson learned has concerned the importance of efficient coordination. Structures and mechanisms have been created in these counter-piracy operations that enable a vast array of actors to work together in an efficient way, and we should further consider whether or not, and also how, we can regionalize some of these arrangements like the Shared Awareness and Deconfliction Mechanism (SHADE) with a view to increasing regional ownership. We also need to consider whether we can replicate these arrangements elsewhere in areas like the Gulf of Guinea where the level of piracy is worrying.
While counter-piracy operations at sea continue to be the focus of activity, a new element of regional state capacity-building was also developed for Operation Ocean Shield. Within means and capabilities, and targeted on areas where it provides added value, NATO’s capacity-building efforts aim to assist regional states, at their request, in developing their own abilities to combat piracy activities. Capacity-building programs include training, educational courses, participation in military exercises, and advice on security sector reform, and their goal is to enhance regional stability by strengthening partners’ abilities to defend themselves against external threats.
NATO’s other ongoing maritime operation, Active Endeavour, is currently the Alliance’s only Article Five (collective defense) operation and represents part of the Alliance’s response to the 9/11 attacks on the United States of America. It is concerned both with countering terrorist activity in the Mediterranean and with building a comprehensive picture of maritime activity in the area of operations. Active Endeavour has proven to be a very useful tool for enhancing practical cooperation and interoperability with a number of NATO’s Mediterranean dialogue partners such as Israel and Morocco. It has also provided NATO with valuable experience in conducting multilateral maritime operations in today’s security environment, and it has fostered information-sharing between various actors, including law enforcement agencies. It has also had a tangible effect on security and stability on NATO’s southern flank. Active Endeavour has evolved significantly over the years and it is now in a process of transformation from a platform-based operation to a network-based one which will concentrate on the gathering and processing of information that will help to target specific vessels of interest.
Important achievements can be credited to Active Endeavour. As the former Commander MARCOM, Admiral Zambellas, explained in a speech delivered to the NATO Military Committee in 2012, it laid out many of the foundations for Operation Unified Protector in Libya in 2011:
It was Operation Active Endeavour, through the commonality of procedures, the shared experience of interoperability, and the relationship established ahead of that crisis, which provided NATO with the framework for a rapid and integrated military response … Operation Active Endeavour represents a bank of experience, and [an] adaptable framework which can be used to do so much more. It can operationalize our common desire to transform our militaries and to match NATO’s ambition for future security. By focusing on what Operation Active Endeavour can become, we unlock strategic opportunities.”
At the Wales Summit, NATO heads of state and government agreed that “Operation Active Endeavour in the Mediterranean will continue to adapt to meet evolving security risks in an area of essential strategic interest to the Alliance.” This work is likely to take on even more importance when nations decide to terminate Operation Ocean Shield, and NATO must retain an operational framework to perform tasks involved in Maritime Security Operations.
In both of these operations—Ocean Shield and Active Endeavour—partners have played, and continue to play, important roles that demonstrate the value of operationalizing the fifth strand of the Alliance Maritime Strategy which focuses on the strengthening of our engagement with partners in the maritime domain. It is clear that neither NATO nor its partners can achieve security and defense objectives in isolation. Engagement with partners can offer valuable opportunities to prevent conflicts and develop regional security and stability through dialogue, confidence-building, and increased transparency. Engagement also contributes to building the capacity of partners, the exchange of information, cooperative security, and interoperability. The Berlin Policy for a More Efficient and Flexible Partnership, agreed by Allied leaders in 2011, recognizes maritime security as a priority area for dialogue, consultation, and cooperation with partners. With the termination of NATO’s International Security Action Force (ISAF) operation in Afghanistan, some partner nations are becoming more interested in cooperating actively and interoperating with NATO in the maritime domain, including through NATO-led operations, and wish to be more closely associated with the organization. This could lead to improved burden-sharing between all stakeholders.
The final strand in the operationalization of the AMS involves the enhancement of NATO-EU cooperation, coordination, and complementarity in the maritime domain. The NATO-EU maritime relationship should be further strengthened as time progresses, and proposals to enhance interaction should be developed for the consideration of the Allies. Coordination, cooperation, and complementarity in the maritime domain are key to enhancing the effectiveness of our mutual efforts. By avoiding unnecessary duplication and maximizing the use of available mechanisms and capabilities, the two organizations become mutually reinforcing. There are already good examples of effective NATO-EU cooperation at work. The Shared Awareness and Deconfliction Mechanism (SHADE) in Bahrain concentrates mainly on the effective coordination of military resources and operations to combat piracy in the Indian Ocean; meanwhile the Training Awareness and Deconfliction (TRADE) mechanism—a voluntary coordination forum co-chaired by NATO and the European Union Naval Forces— enables governments and organizations to provide maritime training to nations in the Western Indian Ocean region.
NATO is at the forefront of maritime security, and the organization is using innovative tools and resources to implement its Maritime Strategy. Notably, its current and future maritime operations are being conducted by a single Allied Maritime Command which is based in the UK and collocated with the EU’s Maritime Command. This headquarters provides NATO with a unique, agile, operational hub from which to plan and conduct NATO operations in which maritime forces are, or will be, the only or the main component. The kind of capability this hub provides is critical as NATO adapts to today’s complex and increasingly unpredictable security environment.
Indeed current developments, such as the Russia-Ukraine crisis, as well as events on Europe’s southern flank—particularly in the Middle East and North Africa—have highlighted the importance of credible deterrence and collective defense, to which maritime forces bring essential contributions. In September 2014, at the Wales Summit, the NATO heads of state and government addressed these issues by adopting a Readiness Action Plan with the goal of making the Alliance faster and more agile in responding to the range of threats we face today. Reinvigorated and forward-looking maritime capabilities are key components of that plan. Sea power continues to give NATO a means of acting swiftly and decisively by exploiting a domain in which our forces are able to operate without serious challenge, even in this changing security environment. The Readiness Action Plan calls for enhanced Standing Naval Forces to support maritime situational awareness and to conduct the full spectrum of conventional maritime operations, including the integration of national maritime elements to enhance the breadth and depth of the Standing Naval Forces’ capabilities.
In the current economic context, and with ageing naval capabilities in many countries, it is crucial that we cooperate and make the best use of our existing strengths and resources. When we act in concert—as we do in anti-piracy operations off the Horn of Africa—we are all more effective. The way forward lies in pursuing multinational approaches, strengthening the transatlantic compact, and engaging with our partners in a spirit of cooperation. If we aim to bolster globalization for the benefit of all, if trade at sea is to continue unmolested, and if the world is going to feed and fuel itself in the twenty-first century, then internationalized maritime security has to be understood as an obligation, not a choice. Enhanced information-sharing, civil-military cooperation, and capability-sharing—taken together—can provide the Alliance with the power to drive its transformation to meet these security challenges. Collective defense is of course the raison d’être of the Alliance, and this was reaffirmed in Wales, but we must have a broader vision and retain at all times our ability to project peace and security at sea, and from the sea, whenever and wherever our nations deem necessary.