Maritime Strategy in an Age of Blood and Belief

By Vice Admiral Sandy Winnefeld, U.S. Navy

Success in this diverse region of old threats in new forms and new threats in old forms calls for active yet nuanced approaches that account for a complex blend of partners, competitors, and interests, as well as new realities in the way America is perceived in the world. Maritime forces will play a prominent role in the emerging Euro-African security landscape, a maritime domain that includes over half the world's countries and a quarter of its coastline. Achieving strategic objectives in this area will test the full span of capabilities, capacities, and competencies envisioned by our nation's Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower .

A tour de horizon , deriving maritime implications from emerging strategic realities, reveals a mosaic of challenges and opportunities that will place additional stress on the demand side of our nation's already-constrained maritime security resource equation. Let us begin with the biggest change in Europe: the emergence of a new Russia with many of the same ambitions as the old Soviet state. 

An Evolving Riddle . . . Mystery . . . Enigma

The contemporary European political discourse in Europe toward Russia is reminiscent of Winston Churchill's famous quote—"I cannot forecast to you the action of Russia. It is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma; but perhaps there is a key. That key is Russian national interest." 1 One of the first things observers detect today is a profound anxiety, especially in Europe and the West, over Russia's re-emergence strategically. But whereas the Soviet Union was a military powerhouse but backward economically, the new Russia wields the energy club as much as, if not more than, its limited military clout.

A Russia in which democracy is in retreat in favor of authoritarian capitalism speaks decisively in stark contrast to the European Union and NATO, which are hindered by the need for consensus that is the essential entropy of democratic institutions. As a result, Moscow operates easily inside the Western decision cycle.

Current Russian strategy appears to have two fundamental tenets. The first is to divide a Europe eager to avoid conflict and maintain its energy supplies by employing an angry rhetorical drumbeat of Western encirclement and the use of energy as an economic weapon. The Kremlin's actions are clear and consistent: 

  • Suspension of the Conventional Forces in Europe treaty 
  • An acrimonious speech in Munich by Vladimir Putin in 2007 condemning U.S. security policy 2  
  • Opposition to a missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic that poses no real threat to Russia 
  • The unhelpful reaction to Kosovo independence
  • Bluff and bluster over Ukrainian and Georgian membership in NATO in the run-up to the 2008 Bucharest Summit


Other fissures between the West and Russia—such as competition over new energy resources and trade routes made newly accessible by climate change—are looming, probably accompanied by similar rancor.

The second tenet of Russian strategy is to buy time for energy profits to project the illusion of global power when it is not yet there—a "walk loudly and carry a small stick" approach. Russia has a number of vulnerabilities, including weak demographics, declining public health, a hollow conscript military, endemic corruption, and a widespread international perception that it has overplayed its political and economic hand. Europe currently needs Russian oil and gas less than the Russian economy's near total dependence on Europeans' buying it, though this will change to Moscow's advantage. 3 And recent Russian military muscle flexing, including naval operations such as the winter 2007-2008 deployment of the Kuznetsov strike group, seem risk averse and carefully scripted to generate respect while hiding all the old flaws.

Russia Watch

Near-term Russian actions in support of this strategy convey a troubling long-term intent. Russia is too powerful to ignore and—given its new global economic orientation in an energy-hungry world—unlikely to be contained. A successful Western strategy will therefore speak to the Russian governing elite in the only language to which it has ever responded positively: principled cooperation backed by strength. This demands a dual strategy of engagement for change while hedging our bets, including in the maritime arena.

Engagement relies on working together where interests are shared. Such action is highly popular in Western capitals as evidence of growing good will and Europe's future as a post-tragic society, but it can be easily manipulated by a nimble and opportunistic Russian government. Nevertheless, there are signs, at least at the operational level and below, that the Russian Federation Navy (RFN) truly wishes to engage with Western counterparts. The U.S. Navy and its partners will continue to embrace the RFN through cooperation in NATO's counter-terrorism Operation Active Endeavor, a solid program of staff talks and ad hoc encounters, as well as hoped-for high-level visits and bilateral and multilateral exercises. Such engagement with the RFN can be highly beneficial, but can also be frustrated when held hostage to Russian ministry-level bureaucratic whims and political squabbles.

On the other hand, hedging our bets will require setting aside the assumption that any stagnation in Russian military capability will continue. Moscow's conversion of soaring energy profits into proposed military recapitalization includes nearly $50 billion for the RFN over the next seven years to modernize existing forces and build new classes of submarines and surface ships. Russia may even begin construction of a new class of aircraft carrier beginning as early as 2012, with an ultimate goal of five or six. 4 According to First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov, "The problem now is not lack of money, but how to optimize production so that the navy can get new ships three, not five, years after laying them down." 5

Who knows how good this new navy will be? While RFN current capability and intent pose no immediate danger, we would be wise to remember that China wasted no time in translating its conversion-to-capitalism affluence into a navy that poses a serious challenge to U.S. influence in the Western Pacific. Russia will not ignore that example. Nor should we. Keeping our strong maritime edge will demand continued awareness of and pacing with RFN capability and capacity in both maritime and cyber domains.

Further, with Moscow's demonstrated intent to use its energy resources for political intimidation, and the increasing dependence of Europe and the United States on imported energy, a new threat calculus will draw increased attention to protection of energy sources and infrastructure. 6 While Europe generally seeks a market-based solution for this growing concern, NATO is beginning to discuss a potential military role, which must include a significant maritime dimension across the theater.

The fragile corridor of the Caspian Basin, Caucasus, and Black Sea is hemmed in by states jealous of their prerogatives, covetous of energy resources and flows, and suspicious of growing alignment with the West. This volatile region has several crises in varying degrees of incipience that demand too much space to describe here. However, while remaining observant of the concerns of key regional states, the U.S. Navy has played and is playing a role in supporting U.S. and NATO interests by contributing to maritime security in this region.

Together, these dynamics forecast a demand signal for a larger and more capable maritime presence in the Atlantic and the Mediterranean in the mid-to-long term. However, other regional imperatives argue for increased U.S. maritime presence much sooner.

The Inner Sea

To the south and east of Moscow lies the persistent area of conflict bordering the eastern and southern littorals of the Mediterranean Sea. The simmering Middle East—with a continuing fractious political climate in Lebanon, an increasingly isolated Syria, enduring and bitter Palestinian resentment characterized by the Hamas takeover in Gaza, continued tension on the West Bank, and an Israel deeply divided over its own destiny—has no peaceful future in sight. While modern terrorist networks may have been born elsewhere, some of their most active proponents live on Mediterranean shores.

Weapon smuggling by Iran and North Korea to Syria and Hezbollah openly flaunts the weak UN Security Council Resolutions that prohibit it. Iran's clearly stated intent to "wipe Israel off the map" is backed by the threat of irregular warfare waged by its Hezbollah surrogate as well as Tehran's growing arsenal of ballistic missiles that in the future may carry nuclear weapons.

Around the corner, a fragile Egypt and Maghreb Coast are becoming both a target of and a seedbed for terrorists, threatening to destabilize North Africa. 7 Illegal immigration, the drug trade, and unhindered movement of extremists add to the dangerous activity in this environment. Meanwhile, although the Mediterranean only represents 7 percent of the world's open sea area, 30 percent of the world's maritime traffic (including 27 percent of its oil traffic) passes through these waters. 8

The centerpiece of any tangible effort to shape, deter, defeat, or stabilize crises in this region will be operations on and from the sea. This requires meaningful presence, not merely units transiting through on their way to or from another theater. The U.S. Navy and its Allies must be habitually in the neighborhood with the right capabilities to develop deep understanding and supporting relationships and to provide tailored deterrence and enforcement. Moreover, the ability of maritime forces to influence this sub-region cannot be underestimated. The mere announcement of the presence of the USS Cole (DDG-67) in the eastern Mediterranean in March 2008 rippled through the region with an effect disproportionate to the ship's capability.

Yet, unlike other theaters where continual and robust presence is the norm, current U.S. maritime presence in the eastern Mediterranean is binary—it is either there or it is not. Mostly, it is not.

The Mediterranean has long been ripe for crises in which the expeditionary capabilities inherent in major U.S. naval forces could be called upon on short notice. These range from a non-combatant evacuation, to rescuing a beleaguered UN mission, to a major direct intervention. Such forces do not have to actually be used to be effective when combined with diplomatic, economic, and information efforts. But they need to be at hand. The near-continuous absence of Marine Expeditionary Units in the Mediterranean since 2003 represents a tangible risk to U.S. interests—risk that has been reluctantly accepted given the calculus of supporting vital ongoing work in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, as circumstances permit redeploying Marines from those two operations, the Mediterranean should be the first place to which they return in Expeditionary Strike Groups.

Iran's Ballistic Missiles

Perhaps most worrisome of the threats in the region is Iran's increasing ability to quickly launch ballistic missiles in an attempt to overwhelm Israel's organic defensive systems. This is, in my opinion, by far the most likely employment of ballistic missiles in the world today, and it demands our immediate attention in the event of a need for a U.S. or NATO response. This unpredictable adversary could be provoked by an isolated, and perhaps seemingly unimportant, event. Deploying land-based defensive assets is a necessary option, but it is costly and time-consuming. Meanwhile, sea-based missile defense has proved its capability, flexibility, and responsiveness in this arena. While U.S. Navy missile-defense capability need not be on-station all the time, it needs to be present in the theater conducting other missions, ready to respond quickly as needed. It would be wise for several of our very capable European partners to consider achieving this capability as well for their own defense against this threat.

Interdicting illegal or terrorist activity in this complex environment not only requires the presence of forces; it is utterly dependent on Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA)—a comprehensive understanding of the vessels, people, and cargo that occupy the maritime commons and the ability to detect what is going wrong. 9 Substantial progress in this area is aligned around several key elements, including:

  • Unclassified data and information sharing, which is widespread and growing
  • Development of regional, cross-regional, and interagency partnerships
  • Building MDA capability and capacity among our partners
  • Agility and economy in development of linked software tools
  • Fusion of data and information across security domains
  • Forceful integration of intelligence and operations in the headquarters


Regarding the last item, wherever we integrate operations and intelligence we get an enormous payoff in improved effectiveness. We should acknowledge that locating theater maritime intelligence efforts away from the center of gravity of maritime operations does not work. Rather, these disciplines should be fully integrated at the maritime component commander's headquarters, while at the same time we continue to strengthen our reach back to national centers in the continental United States.

While our capable and highly valued maritime partners are present in the Mediterranean on a daily basis, there is a broad disparity among them regarding the threshold for action before or during a crisis. However, farther south lies an area with great promise for coalition maritime action.

Into Africa

No longer a strategic backwater, Africa finds itself rich in resources, yet breathtakingly poor. The continent is coping with dysfunctional borders, struggling democracies, a few ruthless tyrants, and a diverse array of suitors in the aftermath of colonialism. It brims with both despair and hope. In an age of globalization, African success or failure is amplified to the outside world now more than ever. The potential to help Africa help itself is enormous, but it will be a long journey best taken with strong and reliable partners.

Africa's maritime environment—rife with illegal fishing, human trafficking, the drug trade, piracy, and oil smuggling—is a key stepping-off point on such a journey:

Sub-Saharan Africa loses nearly $1 billion per year to illegal fishing, which amounts to 1-2 percent of Gross National Product per year for these littoral nations, far more than they spend on defending against it. 10 Researchers have found a significant inverse relationship between lost fishing revenue and the maritime governance level of a country. 11 Some 600,000 to 800,000 people are trafficked per year, and 60 percent of this occurs in Sub-Saharan Africa. Substantial numbers are trafficked by sea.

Western Africa has become a center for Colombian cocaine cartels moving their product to Europe, mostly from Nigeria, Guinea Bissau, Senegal, Mauritania, Cape Verde, and Benin. There is a close parallel between drug traffic routes through West Africa and regions of rising terrorist activity. 12

Violent crime and piracy are growing rapidly in the Gulf of Guinea, with Nigeria now ranked as the world's number one piracy hot spot. 13 Groups such as the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) operate with virtual impunity both ashore and at sea.

Illegal oil bunkering in the Niger Delta is worth $3 million per day. Of U.S. crude oil imports, 18 percent originate in West Africa, and Niger Delta oil production will increase 40 percent by 2016.

To help address these interlocking moral and security problems, the U.S. Navy has launched an international effort known as the Africa Partnership Station (APS) in West Central Africa underpinned by the following logic:

  • Stability and prosperity in Africa are good for Africans and a globalized world.
  • A well-governed maritime environment will contribute to overall African stability and prosperity.
  • African littoral natio ns should develop their own ability to govern their territorial waters and exclusive economic zones.
  • A persistent international effort is key to such development, yet it must be provided on African nations' terms.

This is more than partnership building and humanitarian assistance, and it is a great deal more than simply making the United States look good. This is about African solutions to African problems on African timelines. As Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen has stated, "By building partner capacity, we are, in fact, building global capacity to meet modern challenges. 14

It takes time and patience to build trust in this exceptionally diverse environment. The Nigerian expression, "slowly, slowly catch the monkey" is apropos. Much depends on ongoing efforts to address lingering African angst over the nascent United States Africa Command (AFRICOM). This includes countering deep regional suspicion over factors such as events in Iraq, the coincident timing of our efforts with rising oil prices and growing Chinese influence, past heavy-handed fostering of democracy, or neo-colonial aims to establish military bases on the continent. Moreover, African leaders, who understand that developing their own maritime capabilities will take time, have been disappointed in the past with short-lived promises of assistance.

Despite these obstacles, the partnership station is operating successfully as a subset of the Chief of Naval Operations' concept of Global Fleet Stations with an international flavor. With the USS Fort McHenry (LSD-43) as its most recent flagship, the Africa Partnership Station provides Maritime Sector Development assistance requested by a number of African nations. The approach consists of four developmental pillars—maritime professionals, maritime domain awareness, maritime infrastructure, and maritime response capability—supporting the overarching goal of African nations building their own mechanisms for regional cooperation.

The international nature of APS is driven by the magnitude of required resources and the vital regional expertise brought to bear by our African and European partners, including the recent contributions of Ghanaian, Cameroonian, British, German, French, Portuguese, Spanish, and other nations' staff members. The effort has also benefitted from U.S. Coast Guard staff participation as well as close links with several non-governmental organizations.

The Importance of Diplomacy 

In addition, the diplomatic element has been indispensable in West Africa at the operational and tactical levels, with U.S. embassies quickly recognizing APS objectives and warming to the task. However, U.S. naval attaches are present in only seven African nations, only one of which, Ghana, is in West Africa. 15 We clearly need more. Fortunately, the Navy Reserve's Maritime Partnership Program provides vital liaison on the ground. Moreover, the Coast Guard has dedicated one deployment per year to Western Africa, with supporting presence in the Sixth Fleet Maritime Integrated Operations Center.

Our African partners have quickly grasped the significance and sincerity of our efforts, perhaps best expressed in the words of Cameroon Navy APS staff member Lieutenant Commander Clement Fru Fron, when discussing APS engagement with Senegal:

I have seen the amount of knowledge that has been given to the African navies. I have seen the amount of humanitarian assistance that was donated to the local communities; I must say Africans are happy. They are happy about it because after our first visit, the countries ask for more training and it shows that they like it. . . . The Senegalese navy will be able to use this training to better secure their waters, and the safer the Gulf of Guinea is, the safer the world will be.16

Progress in this program is measured by a nation's willingness and suitability for engagement, and where it stands on its journey toward maritime safety and security self-sufficiency. Solid progress is evident but fragile, being most vulnerable to a potential loss of persistence. Lieutenant Commander Fru Fron added: "This is the first APS deployment and it is good for Africa, because if this is the first and the last then we have wasted our time, but I am very sure that there will be many APS deployments in the future and Africa is ready for that."

While APS is an economy-of-force mission, the Navy is beginning to apply fiscal resources in the form of program dollars toward this type of partner training (as well as humanitarian relief). This mission also demands capabilities that must somehow fit within a force structure designed for the high end of warfighting. The ideal platform is the dock landing ship because of its shallow draft; ample berthing for ship riders and classrooms for students; organic connectors such as utility and medium landing craft; capable machine shops for direct assistance; and space to carry humanitarian-assistance material. While the use of these valuable (and relatively scarce) platforms competes directly with Marine Corps needs that form the principal basis for their procurement and maintenance, innovative approaches are allowling off-cycle platforms to support these missions. The impressive performance by the High-Speed Vessel Swift in this type of mission also indicates a potential future role for a suitably configured Littoral Combat Ship.

It is not necessary for the effort to have an American face, and APS would benefit from any of a number of highly capable amphibious platforms from European navies. Indeed, the recent coincident deployment of the French ship Tonnerre alongside the Fort McHenry and Swift provides a perfect example on which to build future cooperation.

Additional needs include specially tailored pre-deployment training, Sailors with language skills, more interagency presence in higher headquarters and on board APS platforms, continued work on agile information networks that can accommodate coalition partners, and greater ability to fill demands for ancillary humanitarian-relief supplies. APS has already worked closely with the Marine Corps, using the Navy's new lighterage system to transport humanitarian assistance to Liberia, and the nascent Marine Corps "Security Cooperation Marine Air Ground Task Force" promises to expand this synergy.

In addition to assisting and facilitating our African partners, the United States has a direct maritime security role to play so that it can protect its own interests, including an embryonic initiative to assist regional nations in interdicting the drug flow between South America and Africa. Such activity, which will require increased legal authorities for AFRICOM naval forces and expanded use of the U.S. Coast Guard, could help break the link between the drug trade and terrorism. It is also a good way to help our partners—to say nothing of the fact that harming a drug cartel anywhere in the world contributes to our own counterdrug efforts at home.

A Subtle Shift in Focus

Other key European and African sub-regions where America's maritime capability could play a key role include:

  • The Balkans, where the reverberations of the end of the Cold War are not completely attenuated
  • Southern and southeastern Africa, with major strategic players who remain wary of involvement with the United States
  • Eastern Africa, where lack of governance both ashore and at sea have created perhaps the most unstable region on the planet.


These sub-regions as well as the maritime dimension of our participation in the NATO alliance, with its challenges as well as its enduring strengths, including the superb capabilities within its members' navies, deserve a more detailed discussion than this article can accommodate.

These additional topics only lend weight to the premise that, while Europe and Africa have been economy-of-force theaters for America's maritime forces for some time, there is a clear and compelling argument for their return to significance in America's maritime discourse. America's maritime forces saw their first action overseas in Tripoli in 1805, followed in later decades by Matthew Calbraith Perry's effort to interdict the African slave trade. More than two centuries later, in an age dominated by blood and belief, the need is rising again for a more robust set of U.S. Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard forces to operate in these vast and complex regions. Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Gary Roughead alludes to this challenge in his 2007-2008 guidance: "Anticipate changes in global naval forces, discern changes in operational and strategic patterns, and adjust Navy posture, positioning, and operational tempo accordingly."17 Indeed, it's time to recognize the vital and growing role America's maritime forces are playing in Europe and Africa—one that spans the missions contemplated by A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower .


1. Delivered by Winston S. Churchill in a radio broadcast in 1939.

2. Speech delivered by Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin on 10 February 2007 to the Munich Conference on Security Policy;

3. See Paul Gallis, Congressional Research Service Report "NATO and Energy Security", page 2, 15 August 2007,

4. "Russia to have 5-6 aircraft carriers by 2060", RIA Novosti, 4 April 2008.

5. Nikita Petrov, Russian News and Information Agency (RIA NOVOSTI), July 31, 2007,

6. See Paul Gallis, Congressional Research Service Report "NATO and Energy Security," August 15, 2007, , p. 2.

7. See Gilles de Kerchove, EU anti-terror coordinator, as quoted by Agence France Press, April 7, 2008.

8. RADM (ICG) r. Roberto Patruno, OSI Senior Policy Advisor for the Mediterranean Cartagena Conference, .-8 February 2008,

9. NATO and the EU label Maritime Domain Awareness "Maritime Situational Awareness," in part because of a characteristic desire to be slightly different from U.S. doctrine, but more likely because of the European view that counter-terrorism is a law enforcement activity.

10. British Department for International Development, "How much do African countries stand to gain if illegal fishing was eliminated?";

11. Marine Resources Assessment Group Ltd, 18 Queen Street, London, United Kingdom, , "Review of Impacts of Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing on Developing Countries" July 2005, Page 7.

12. Presidential Determination No. 2007-33, Presidential Determination on Major Drug Transit or Major Illicit Drug Producing Countries for Fiscal Year 2008, may be found at . See also "The West Africa-South America drug route," International Relations and Security Network, , 28 Feb 2008.

13. As ranked by the International Maritime Bureau, reported by Associated Press, 16 April 2008;

14. Testimony before House Armed Services Committee, 15 April 2008.

15. The seven nations in Africa with a U.S. naval attache are Tunisia, Morocco, Ghana, S Africa, Kenya, Egypt, and Madagascar.

16. "Africa Partnership Station Returns to Senegal," African Press Organization, 2 April 2008.

17. ADM Gary Roughead, "CNO Guidance for 2007-2008," 25 October 2007

Vice Admiral Winnefeld leads the U.S. Sixth Fleet, NATO's Allied Joint Command Lisbon, and Strike Force NATO.




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