Partnering to Safeguard the Seas

By Commander Sean R. Schenk, U.S. Coast Guard


  • Provide U.S missions abroad with concrete guidance for building support with host governments, key private-sector partners, and the general public abroad.
  • Establishing Cooperative Training Centers (CTCs) to maintain core competencies derived from U.S. training and expand the host country's ability to share operational knowledge on a regional basis would effectively meet all Outreach Plan objectives. There are three clear advantages to building capacity this way.

    First, the co-establishment of CTCs by the United States and a host country is a commitment for the long haul. Creating them provides partners an unambiguous demonstration of good faith from the United States in terms of funding, resources, and dedication to a goal. It also sets the clear expectation that the host country will meet and maintain U.S.-established training standards. Second, the host nation establishes itself as an operational expert from whom neighboring states can learn. Finally, CTCs re-emphasize the need to find local solutions to local problems, encouraging neighboring countries to achieve mutually beneficial outcomes through training and joint operations. Such centers potentially can reduce developing countries' reliance on larger states as enforcers of order in their territorial seas, shifting the bilateral dynamic in a more independent and equitable direction.

    That final point is critical, because training centers can accelerate the development of joint capabilities in countries with limited resources and numerous, insulated bureaucracies that limit operational effectiveness. CTCs dissolve historical mistrust between competing agencies by demonstrating the real benefits of working together with fellow maritime officers, whether it is border police, navy, customs, or natural resource conservation units. This outcome is well documented in the country of Malta, where counter-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden with the Dutch navy and counternarcotics operations with Maltese police were facilitated by its own international maritime training center.

    Malta and Kenya in the Vanguard

    Because resources are always scarce for foreign engagement programs, site selection must be based on U.S. maritime security interests. Decisions should be guided by geography, regional political influence, and the host-nation's working relationship with the United States.

    Malta's strategic position in the Mediterranean Sea preserves its historic role as an island nation bridging two continents. Since the CTC is a cooperative enterprise, knowledgeable and reliable professionals from the host nation have to be available to conduct daily management of the center, including continuous outreach to participating countries. Malta has a small but effective and well-equipped armed force with a history of professionalism, including the excellent track record of its world-renowned Search and Rescue School. Most of its core competencies are maritime, because the Armed Forces of Malta has decades of significant expertise in maritime law enforcement and humanitarian missions. Participating countries feel comfortable learning from the Maltese, because they conduct similar-scale operations, are fluent English-speaking trainers, and their country is a perceived as a peaceful, law-abiding state.

    Partners should establish a charter with the regional combatant command focusing on areas of operational experience. That will ensure quality training in fields that are familiar to host-nation instructors, provide a venue to introduce and evaluate new subjects of instruction, and reduce pressure to take on topics outside an area of expertise. In 2009, the European and Africa commands encouraged Malta to establish a training center focusing on maritime safety and security issues. It responded with a proposal to teach courses on countering illegal immigration, narcotics smuggling, and terrorist networks at sea, with specific focus on non-EU countries in the Mediterranean and Black Sea regions.

    The resultant Maritime Safety and Security Training Center in Malta was inspired by the successful Search and Rescue School, which had been established in the 1990s with assistance from the U.S. Coast Guard and European Command's Counter-narcotics Trafficking Division. After training its own personnel, Malta began offering search-and-rescue and maritime-security courses to other Mediterranean countries in 2002; the European Command provided scholarships. To date, more than 60 students from 20 countries in Europe, Africa, and the Middle East have attended Malta's Search and Rescue School. 6 Malta and the United States are now are capitalizing on that success by expanding the program into a comprehensive Cooperative Training Center, which now includes courses in law enforcement, search and rescue, intelligence, operational law, port security, and emergency response. Starting in 2014, the CTC annually will offer 13 courses for 260 students.

    Using Malta as an example, a notional curriculum for a fully functioning maritime CTC might look as follows:

    An excellent, comprehensive document regarding the organization and governance of a model CTC already exists. After an initial study by the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa and other partners in 2006, a Maritime Center of Excellence (MCE) was proposed during annual East Africa Southwest Indian Ocean Security Conferences. 7 An agreement between Kenya and the Africa Command established the Maritime Center of Excellence at the Kenyan Port Authority's Bandari College in June 2009. 8 The curriculum was developed by the Global Maritime and Transportation School of the U.S. Naval War College and Bandari College. Civilian professors and naval officers from the joint task force and the Kenyan navy are instructors. The center's co-director, a U.S. Navy commander, has said that the center's purpose is to promote stability and security in Africa. He noted that pilot courses of instruction provide training at the operational level for mid-grade maritime officers and their civilian counterparts. Overall, the goal is to help build relationships among African nations through maritime partnerships. 9

    Africa Command's program meets nearly all requirements for a successful and effective CTC. The significant additional needs are more focused on junior-level student groups and course topics that provide tangible skills in maritime trades, i.e., small-boat seamanship, maritime boarding-officer qualifications, search-and-rescue coordination, and instructor development. The MCE expects an evolution of the curriculum over time, as African nations' maritime-safety and security needs and interests become more apparent. 10 The CTC model emphasizes a curriculum that relies on a professionally trained coastal force equipped with reliable platforms maintained by skilled technicians. A formal assessment (incorporating the desired outcomes of State Department and Central Command's plans) should guide the nascent institution toward building a program that focuses on long-term, sustainable capabilities. Experience shows that such an effort can focus the combatant command's budget-prioritization process: Linking training dollars to specific security outcomes helps the center secure highly desired out-year funds.

    Our nation's international maritime security goals require creation of an enduring and self-sustaining capability in partner nations to maintain safe and secure seas. The National Maritime Strategy establishes "cooperative partnerships and alliances," through "a coordinated and consistent approach" as a fundamental requirement for that security. Presidential directives establish the State Department's leadership role. But the combatant commands' history of engagement and "deep pockets" mean they will continue to play a predominant role in implementing the Outreach Plan's maritime-security strategies. As illustrated in Malta and Kenya, U.S. sponsorship of host-nation, regional training centers make CTCs a powerful and constructive concept. They are a cost-effective and productive way to develop a country's ability to sustain effective maritime operations and facilitate cooperation and trust among countries operating in a shared maritime domain. They are worthy of long-term funding and support.





    5. "The Africa Partnership Station A New U.S. Approach to sub-Saharan Engagement," The International Institute for Strategic Studies (Vol. 14, Issue 6, August 2008).

    6. The complete list of countries is: Albania, Algeria, Bulgaria, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Croatia, Cyprus, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Israel, Cote d'Ivoire, Kenya, Libya, Montenegro, Mauritania, Nigeria, Tunisia, Ukraine, Saudi Arabia and the UK.





    Commander Schenk is currently deputy commander of Coast Guard Sector Lake Michigan, based in Milwaukee. He was stationed in Malta from 2007 to 2010 as the only diplomatically accredited Coast Guard attach





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