Forging a Global Network of Navies

By Admiral Jonathan Greenert and Rear Admiral James M. Foggo III, U.S. Navy

GMP was a new approach to cooperation among maritime nations. It served countries with a shared stake in international commerce, safety, security, and freedom of the seas. It was also a basis for building a global consensus on policy and principles, and for undertaking common activities to address maritime challenges by improving collective capabilities. GMP sought opportunities to assist one another in using the sea for lawful purposes and legitimate commerce, while limiting use as appropriate by those who might threaten national, regional, or global security.

How Many Ships Does it Take?

Since its inception, the GMP initiative has been remarkably successful. The main focus of GMP was “partnership” and not “number of ships.” But it is worth reviewing the international ship inventory that contributes to offshore maritime security. Public-source documents show almost 12,000 ships in the service of navies around the world. About 7,700 of those ships are designated as “patrol craft” and therefore might not be considered “blue-water” capable by some. But they are still able to make an important contribution in littoral areas or coastal defense. On any given day, 685 multinational ships are under way. Clearly, this is a lot of maritime capacity to protect local, regional, and global commons. The breakdown by class and size (tonnage) of these vessels is included in the tables here. 2

By leveraging the robust capacity of navies worldwide, we are better postured collectively to face new and emerging challenges in the 21st century. There is no magic number of ships required to make coalition operations successful. What does matter is getting the right mix of capacity and capability in the right place, at the right time.

Forces Downsize, Challenges Grow

In the current economic environment, most navies are facing fiscal challenges at home, which is forcing cuts or slowing growth in developing sea power to meet their respective needs. At the same time, security challenges in the maritime domain continue to grow; for example, transnational “bad actors” continue to use the maritime domain to support illegal or illicit activity. Terrorists, insurgents, and criminals are relying on freedom of the seas to support operations. The more ungoverned or undergoverned our global commons, the more likely they will use them to foster dangerous and disruptive activities.

China’s rise, both economically and militarily, has proceeded at an extraordinary rate, creating anxiety and sovereignty challenges in the Asia-Pacific region. Further, technological advances, low-cost weapon systems, and their market availability have contributed to the development of anti-access/area-denial strategies, such as employing mines, antiship cruise missiles, and antiship ballistic missiles to deny access or restrict maneuverability of naval forces, particularly at the maritime crossroads.

Recent examples underscoring the volatility of the world we live in include the Arab Spring, Syria’s use of chemical weapons, Iran’s nuclear quest, North Korea’s nuclear-weapon program and unpredictable behavior, and the crisis in Ukraine, just to name a few. Additionally, the impacts of natural disasters such as tsunamis, typhoons, and earthquakes only add to the uncertainty.

Fiscal pressures have impacted all but a few of the world’s most capable navies. These considerations require all of us to think strategically about the investment of resources. It is a major reason why leveraging the success of GMP will be more important in the years to come. Navies must lead in promoting, and adhering to, a system of international norms and standards of behavior. Accordingly, we must look for new ways to nurture relationships and form partnerships (ad hoc as appropriate) with traditional and nontraditional maritime partners who share a stake in international commerce, safety, security, and freedom of the seas. Operating together, we must prepare innovative and low-cost ways to respond to these emerging threats to regional and global stability.

Why a Network Is Important

The international community has become an economically hyper-connected global network of independent states pursuing prosperity and security. Trade and commerce transcend borders, while globalization drives interdependence among nations. With 90 percent of global trade by volume transported by sea, shipping lanes and the freedom to navigate them have become the critical elements of the world’s economic infrastructure. 3 As a result, the security of these commons is now a core issue for all nations, regardless of size or capability. President Barack Obama put it simply: “In a world that’s more and more interconnected, we all have responsibilities to work together to solve common challenges.” 4

With the growth of globalization over the past two decades, collective security has become more vital to global economic stability. For example, recent academic studies have forecast the effects of the total shutdown of the Strait of Hormuz. If this maritime crossroad were closed, and a complete disruption of oil flow from the Persian Gulf resulted, studies predict that the global price for oil would rise 160 percent. 5

As the world becomes more complex and the oceans less secure, we are compelled to move beyond the GMP initiative and forge a “Global Network of Navies.” The value of a Network of Navies is that it provides an open and adaptive architecture for facilitating both long-term cooperation and spontaneous, short-lived collaboration. This network can allow countries with converging interests in the maritime domain to form mission-focused—often temporary—goal-oriented associations to address common maritime-security challenges. Whereas close partnerships can take years to develop, a network can rapidly support multiple “coalitions of the willing” and react quickly to changing circumstances, while simultaneously providing an enduring backbone for the growth and development of deeper cooperation.

Individual navies can “plug in” to nodes of the network when it serves their interests, and then expand, contract, or otherwise alter their participation when it suits them. An advantage of a network is that the individual participants immediately gain the benefit of capabilities and capacities of all the other members of the network, and can rapidly leverage the resources of the network to provide force multipliers and extend the reach of their own capabilities. As such, the Global Network of Navies provides the opportunity for countries to more effectively meet the challenges of insecurity in the maritime environment in spite of resource constraints. The only requirements are a willingness to collaborate and the creation of a network that is scalable, durable, responsive, flexible, and interoperable. This makes the Global Network of Navies key to the collective future security of all maritime nations.

Global Network Already Under Way

There are those who may say that we cannot, and should not, rely on coalitions or partnerships to solve all of our problems. We have to “go it alone” because coalitions or partnerships are not enduring or binding, and they are sometimes limited by differing perspectives on authorities, rules of engagement, and national caveats. But a Global Network of Navies already exists. No singular response to crisis is ever the same. A network construct must be flexible and adaptable to different circumstances. Not all nations with the requisite maritime capacity or capability will always see it in their best interests to participate. That is their option, but there is compelling evidence that when like-minded nations get together, the whole of their contributions is always greater than the sum of their parts. Several vignettes illustrate how this network is already confronting common threats to our collective security around the globe.

In these examples the leadership and interrelations of various maritime networks are flexible. Leadership on the seas hinges more on the willingness and capability of participating nations, and the trust they engender from one another, rather than the sheer size of a nation’s navy. In areas like the Gulf of Aden, for instance, multinational forces rotate through leadership roles as they have in Combined Task Force (CTF)-151 for the last five years of its mission to combat piracy in the waters off Somalia. Commanders of CTF-151 have included officers from Thailand, Turkey, Singapore, Pakistan, Australia, New Zealand, Denmark, and the United States. Likewise, the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) Maritime Task Force (MTF) also consists of multinational forces that rotate the lead country in support of the Lebanese navy in monitoring its territorial waters. The MTF has been led by Germany, Italy, France, Belgium, and Brazil since first deploying in 2006. CTF-151 and UNIFIL MTF are models for preplanned partnership operations and are two examples that we offer for your consideration in the seven vignettes that follow.

CTF-151 Conducts Counterpiracy in the Gulf of Aden: The international community’s response to piracy is an example of nations uniting against a common threat in the global maritime commons. Shipping lanes from the Indian Ocean to the Somali coast, up through the Gulf of Aden and into the Red Sea are some of the busiest in the world. They also provide an endless supply of ships to pirates who, by mid-2005, were being organized and funded by highly developed transnational criminal organizations. That year the International Maritime Bureau, a department within the International Chamber of Commerce that deals with maritime crimes, reported an “alarming rise” in the number of pirate attacks and hijackings in and around Somalia.

Piracy emanating from Somalia presented a real problem for the international community—non-state actors in a strategically essential location threatening a vital artery of the global economy. This clear and present threat in a large swath of ocean compelled independent nations to reclaim sea space from Somali pirates. The United States and its allies, recognizing their vital stake in the matter, used existing resources to establish CTF-151. The strategic scope of this security issue also attracted new countries to the region. Nations with considerably less experience operating forward, such as Japan, India, and China, were involved in finding a solution.

In the years that followed, the standard in the Gulf of Aden became a diverse, non-allied makeup of 30 vessels from 20 different countries patrolling sea-lanes and denying pirates the opportunity to seize international shipping assets. This uncommon group of ships led to new opportunities to cooperate. 6 In 2012 the United States rescued an Iranian-flagged merchant ship under pirate attack. In 2013 the USS Mason (DDG-87) joined the Chinese destroyer Harbin to conduct a series of evolutions, including counterpiracy drills, live-fire proficiency, and aviation operations. All were aimed at enhancing military-to-military interoperability in the region and beyond. These examples demonstrate how a Global Network of Navies can respond to a broad range of threats to collective security and drive even the most diverse nations together under a common cause.

UNIFIL MTF: Deployed since October 2006, UNIFIL MTF supports the Lebanese navy in monitoring its territorial waters, securing the Lebanese coastline, and preventing the unauthorized entry of arms or related material by sea into Lebanon. The MTF was deployed at the request of the Lebanese government within the mandate of U.N. Security Council resolution 1701. This is the first naval task force ever to take part in a U.N. peacekeeping mission. The deployment of UNIFIL MTF after the Israel/Lebanon conflict of July–August 2006 was a landmark move that prompted Israel to lift its naval blockade of Lebanon. A total of 15 countries have contributed to the MTF: Bangladesh, Belgium, Brazil, Bulgaria, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Indonesia, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, and Turkey. UNIFIL-MTF is currently led by Brazil and comprises naval units from Bangladesh (two ships), Brazil (one ship—flagship), Germany (two ships), Greece (one ship), Indonesia (one ship), Italy (one ship), and Turkey (one ship). It is both notable and commendable that these capable navies have undertaken the peacekeeping and maritime-security mission with an enduring commitment. All nations benefit from the enhanced security provided by UNIFIL in the Eastern Mediterranean. 7

Counter-Drug Operations in the Western Hemisphere: Illicit drug trafficking has long plagued the United States and other countries in the Western Hemisphere. In fact, most narcotics destined for black-market sale in the United States travel through the maritime domain. Understanding the multinational nature of this issue, President Bill Clinton established the Joint Interagency Task Force South (JIATF-S) in 1993. JIATF-S is a U.S.-led interagency task force charged with supporting U.S. and partner-nation security through drug interdiction in Central and South America. Not only does the task force coordinate operations between the U.S. Navy, Coast Guard, and law-enforcement entities such as the Drug Enforcement Agency, but it also engages multinational partners seeking to eliminate illicit trafficking throughout the region.

Twenty years after its establishment, this maritime coalition continues to thrive. In 2013 the efforts of 14 Western Hemisphere and European nations seized over 131 metric tons of cocaine valued at approximately $3 billion. In addition, this coalition has had the opportunity to blend physical resources—in early 2014, an armed U.S. helicopter launched from a British auxiliary ship and seized over $37 million worth of cocaine. 8

JIATF-S is a profound example of how nations faced with a common security threat can establish deep maritime partnerships rooted in trust and cooperation. The task force’s success proves how the world’s navies can join together to confront common threats and shows how nations can succeed in achieving a strong level of interoperability.

Mitigating the Mine-Warfare Threat in the Strait of Hormuz: Since the Shah of Iran was overthrown in 1979, relations between Tehran and many Western nations have been tense and unfriendly. The strain of this relationship recently came to a head when, in 2009, the United Nations passed sweeping sanctions targeting the Iranian economy in order to modify Iran’s behavior. Iran responded by issuing a volley of threats, stating that it would take action to block the Strait of Hormuz, essentially halting the flow of oil from the Middle East, if it perceived any future threats from foreign powers.

The prospect of cutting off Middle Eastern oil to the rest of the world—perhaps achieved through the covert deployment of sea mines—reverberated throughout the international community, with a variety of reactions and concerns. The United States took this opportunity to align support and coordinate an international response. After weighing options, U.S. Central Command hosted 29 countries in a comprehensive, wholly defensive minesweeping exercise, named the International Mine Countermeasures Exercise (IMCMEX). Conducted in two phases, the exercise encouraged the exchange of ideas among senior military leaders in 2012. During the second phase in 2013, 35 ships trained together in a task force in order to improve tactical performance and interoperability, mine hunting, helicopter mine-countermeasure operations, and multinational explosive-ordnance disposal. 9

In January 2014, General James Mattis, the commander of U.S. Central Command, said: “We didn’t make an anti-Iranian exercise, we made an anti-mine exercise . . . the Iranians looked at it and realized they were actually creating an international coalition against them that was brought forward by the only navy in the world that could have done it.”

A coalition of 29 countries operating in an international exercise sent a clear message to Iran. This coalition’s success underscored Iran’s isolation in the Persian Gulf, and combined with diplomacy and sanctions, assisted in fostering a temporary deal in 2013 so negotiations on the future of its nuclear program could take place. 10

Response to Typhoon Haiyan: On 8 November 2013, Super Typhoon Haiyan struck the central Philippines, killing an estimated 5,000 people and affecting another 13.7 million.

Within hours of the storm, multiple disaster-relief efforts were deployed. U.S. military support needed to be coordinated in concert with various countries, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and other contributors. Traditional information silos created a challenge for responders who did not have access to the same data. The United States launched the Typhoon Haiyan Response Group on the All Partners Access Network to provide organizations and the military forces of diverse countries, foreign governments, and NGOs a centralized location to share information, increase situational awareness, and decrease response time.

The United States, however, was not the only country to recognize the need to respond. In the aftermath of the storm, 57 nations contributed almost $350 million in aid, with approximately 20 others mobilizing military ships, aircraft, and ground support to transport aid workers, provide aerial reconnaissance, deliver relief supplies, clear roads, and evacuate those affected. This response, in the form of a spontaneous coalition, was the result of a humanitarian crisis that threatened regional stability and economic prosperity.

During the crisis, China was publicly criticized for its muted response. The lack of substantive action can be traced to the ongoing territorial disputes between China and the Philippines in the South China Sea, where tensions have risen, particularly in and around the Scarborough Shoal and the First and Second Thomas Shoal. China took note, however, of the outpouring of international cooperation that put enormous pressure on the Chinese to respond more robustly. As a result, China increased its financial contribution and also deployed a naval hospital ship, the Peace Ark, to join multilateral efforts at sea. The spontaneous, very public show of support for the Philippines that included the formation of a Global Network of Navies to help in providing supplies and rescue assistance caused China to rethink its policy of holding humanitarian assistance hostage over political differences with the Philippines. 11

The Elimination of Chemical Weapons in Syria: In 1997, 98 percent of the world’s nations signed and ratified the Chemical Weapons Convention, making the use of chemical weapons an egregious violation of international law. The goal of this arms-control treaty, which has its roots in the 1925 Geneva Protocol, is to eliminate an entire category of weapons of mass destruction by prohibiting the development, stockpiling, or use of chemical weapons. 12

Following the Syrian government’s use of chemical weapons on its own population in August 2013, the threat of use of force by the U.S. Navy enabled a diplomatic solution to the crisis. In a U.N.-brokered deal, the Assad regime agreed to surrender its stockpiles of mustard gas and nerve agents to the international community. The agreement was hailed as a breakthrough, with all five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council voting in favor of the expeditious destruction of Syria’s chemical-weapons stockpile. Syria’s actions facilitated the formation of uncommon partnerships. Like the IMCMEX, a spontaneous coalition of nations including Norway, Denmark, Italy, Germany, China, Russia, and the United States came together to respond on behalf of the international community. This loosely formed coalition includes ships from five countries and also relies on the maritime-port infrastructure of Italy and Germany to facilitate the eventual destruction of Syria’s stockpile. 13

Search for Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370: The most recent example of navies coming together for a common purpose is the search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370. A Global Network of Navies, partnering with air forces and coast guard assets from 12 different nations—the United States, Australia, China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam—conducted an international search-and-rescue (SAR) operation east and west of the Malaysian mainland. Warships, maritime-patrol craft, helicopters, and a variety of other platforms conducted a focused search in the South China Sea, Gulf of Thailand, Malacca Strait, Andaman Sea, and Indian Ocean to locate the aircraft that disappeared on 8 March. As many as 43 vessels and 40 aircraft combined from these nations came together to form a global maritime coalition. 14

Maritime-coalition SAR operations are not uncommon occurrences, but the magnitude of support for the Malaysian airliner search and the composition of nations contributing ships and aircraft validate the concept of the Global Network of Navies and demonstrate how we are able to find ways to form relationships with traditional and nontraditional maritime partners, operate together, and produce innovative ways to respond to many different types of crises.

Growing the Global Network

These vignettes and other examples attest to the fact that a Global Network of Navies is already under way. As described earlier, this network is 685 ships on any given day. The U.S. Navy has about 100 battle-force ships under way globally, daily. Our challenge is to make this network more effective. We will need the help of other heads of navies to undertake a plan for improving this network so we are prepared to deter or limit future conflict, protect global prosperity, and provide humanitarian support when needed. Here are five areas to work on:

1. Participation. Where there is lawlessness, we must be present; when there are crises, we must respond. There is no problem too great and no contribution too small for the Global Network of Navies. Its success requires our collective participation. By pooling our resources, together we can overcome the challenges that threaten freedom and security in the global commons.

2. Exercise. When there is time and resources, we must exercise together to improve interoperability. In June, 23 nations will assemble in the Hawaiian operating areas for the biannual Pacific Rim (RIMPAC) multinational maritime exercise. For the first time, the Chinese navy will be full participants in RIMPAC along with a host of other Association of Southeast Asian Nations partners. We will learn much about one another, but most important, we will learn how to work together. The lessons learned and the relationships established between these maritime partners will serve to strengthen the Global Network of Navies as we face new challenges over the horizon.

3. Talk meaningfully. When opportunities arise, we must continue to meet together, either embarked or ashore, to share our ideas and provide innovative solutions to problems. The International Maritime Seapower Symposium, Western Pacific Naval Symposium, Indian Ocean Naval Symposium, and the International Seapower Symposium (ISS) are all excellent gatherings that enable the fulfillment of this goal. The U.S. Navy will sponsor the 21st ISS at the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island, in September. This year, we will endeavor to make improved maritime partnership one of the focal points of the ISS agenda.

4. Standardize. We must develop a common language. It is imperative to have a standardized way of interacting on the seas, where we can be clear about one another’s intentions and operations. Maritime data standards help ensure consistent vocabulary and processes are used to promote safety and security.

5. Exchange Ideas. We must foster navy-to-navy exchanges between our officer and noncommissioned-officer corps. And we must send our best and brightest to take part in these exchanges that build relationships and foster familiarity with one another. The Combined Force Maritime Component Commander course, now expanding beyond the Naval War College to the Fleet level, and the Personnel Exchange Program are two prime examples whereby our leaders and future leaders can meet and share lessons learned and best practices with their counterparts. We will endeavor to increase enrollment and expand access to partner nations having not yet participated in this course of instruction.

We are all facing similar fiscal pressure and rising challenges at sea, and no one nation has the ability to be everywhere all the time or to act alone. It is incumbent upon nations to work together in support of global maritime security. This goal is achievable—assuming we are committed to building trust and confidence. We must protect our interests around the world, we must promote and adhere to a system of international norms, and we must maintain stability worldwide by deterring potential adversaries from provoking regional conflicts. Achieving these goals won’t happen overnight; it is a process that takes time and enduring commitment. It is about developing and fostering relationships with our international partners so all play a role in maintaining stability and security on the sea.

As we work together to facilitate interoperability and build trust, we will all become stronger and better able to deal with the shared security challenges we face today and tomorrow.

1. ADM Mike Mullen, USN, remarks to the Government Executive Magazine Leadership Breakfast, National Press Club, Washington, DC, 1 May 2007.

2. Stephen Saunders, Jane’s Fighting Ships 2013–2014 , 116th ed. (London: Jane’s Information Group, 2013).

3. ADM Thad Allen, USCG, Gen. James Conway, USMC, and ADM Gary Roughead, USN, A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower (Washington, DC: Department of Defense, 2007).

4. President Barack Obama, remarks to the White House Press Corps, Washington, DC, 2 April 2009.

5. William Komiss and LaVar Hutzinger, The Economic Implications of Disruptions to Maritime Oil Chokepoints (Alexandria, VA: Center for Naval Analyses, March 2011).

6. Andrew J. Shapiro, remarks to the Center for American Progress, Washington, DC, 27 March 2012.

7. The United Nations, “United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon,” 25 March 2014, .

8. Charles Rabin, “Coast Guard in Miami Beach showcases $37 million cocaine haul from southern Caribbean,” Miami Herald , 28 January 2014.

9. U.S. Naval Forces Central Command Public Affairs, “41 Nations Gather in Bahrain for IMCMEX 13,” 6 May 2013, .

10. Marcus Weisgerber, “Mattis: 2012 DoD Counter-Mine Exercise Bought U.S. Time For Diplomacy with Iran,” Defense News , 27 January 2014.

11. “Typhoon Haiyan: Worse than hell,” The Economist , 16 November 2013, .

12. Thomas Lum and Rhoda Margesson, “Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda): U.S. and International Response to Philippines Disaster,” Congressional Research Service, November 2013. United Nations Treaty Collection, “Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on their Destruction,” 29 April 1997.

13. Lolita Baldor, “US Ship to Help Destroy Syrian Chemical Weapons,” Associated Press, 27 January 2014.

14. “MH370: How is the search being carried out?” BBC, 13 March 2014, .

Admiral Greenert is the Chief of Naval Operations.

Rear Admiral Foggo is the Assistant Deputy Chief of Naval Operations (Operations, Plans, and Strategy N3N5B).




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