The Global Maritime Coalition

By Lieutenant Commander James Stavridis, U. S. Navy

Obviously, there is no formal governing mechanism, and disputes between members (such as Britain and Argentina) are not infrequent. The members often take opposing positions in international maritime fora, such as the Law of the Sea Treaty discussions or International Maritime Organization (IMO) deliberations. Yet all are generally held together by a shared desire to foster a policy of freedom on the high seas, maintain strong defensive forces to deter aggression, and keep sea lines of communication (SLOCs) open. Figure 1 depicts the general outline of the global maritime coalition.

Much of the direction of the structure is provided by the United States, via multilateral and bilateral negotiations and treaties. Overall, however, the global maritime coalition is more a state of mind on the part of Western planners than anything else. There are two primary purposes for the coalition. First, the most important, the concept allows Western planners a strategic framework to consider in planning contingencies to respond to Soviet aggression or action by radical developing countries (Iran, Iraq, Libya, Vietnam , North Korea, Syria, etc.). Second, the coalition provides a means for U. S. planners to assess readiness and work toward integrating its members into a more cohesive and better prepared operating force.

Geographical-Naval Contributions

Perhaps the single greatest contribution of the Free World navies in the broad strategic sense is their geographic position. Although the United States operates at the center of this informal global maritime coalition, it is a geographically isolated island-state. Likely areas of conflict, whether against the Soviet Union or radical developing states, are generally a considerable distance from the United States. Although the forward-deployed naval strategy is designed to allow U. S. involvement at great distances, the Free World navies are critical in many situations, either as a first line of response/defense or as reinforcements.

As the "Navy League's 1984-85 Resolutions" point out, "The Soviets have gained foothold access to the world's shipping choke points-the Suez Canal, Southeast Asia, Panama, and Southern Africa-and have established military strength in positions where they could deny free world access to critical resources in the Persian Gulf, Africa, and Southeast Asia. 2 Beyond the looming geographical threat of the Soviet Union, many radical developing states are capable of holding U. S. interests at risk in the global periphery. Only credible allied naval forces operating as part of a global maritime coalition will be capable of responding to a wide diversity of simultaneous threats. A number of examples illustrating this fact follow.

Europe: From a geographical standpoint, the forces of the global maritime coalition in the European NATO regions will be important in opposing any Soviet invasion on the continent. Even in a cold war situation, "they provide a geographical arrangement of the greatest importance for surveillance forces." 3 This surveillance function includes underwater acoustic listening stations, high-frequency/direction-finding sites, bases for their own and U. S. surveillance aircraft and ships, and radar sites. In any threat scenario, such early warning will be essential to solid mutual defense. Beyond surveillance, the on-station capabilities of European NATO forces will be significant in any U.S.-Soviet confrontation. Of particular importance will be the following:

  • Antisubmarine warfare (ASW) efforts in the Greenland-Iceland-United Kingdom Gap, the North/Norwegian seas, the Baltic Sea, and the Danish Straits, as well as the Sea of Marmara, the Black Sea, and the eastern Mediterranean choke points to the south. These ASW efforts will include long-range maritime patrol aircraft and surface ship efforts, as well as some ASW submarine efforts. Most of the European NATO countries have such forces.
  • Antisurface warfare (ASUW) operations to attrite the Soviet naval forces as they sortie, conducted by high-speed patrol craft firing antis hip cruise missiles, diesel submarines in an ASUW role, and land-based air. The forces of Germany in particular, with the Bremen-class frigates, "Type-206" coastal submarines, and "Type-143A" fast attack craft, will be important. Norway's northern frontier, of course, is located only 80 nautical miles from the Soviet Northern Fleet bases. Much ASUW action might be based in that region.
  • Minelaying and mine clearance operations in both the northern and southern theaters will fall largely to allied European NATO naval forces. Belgium's bases, including Ostende, will be critical, and the lowland navies will participate in such operations effectively.
  • Support for the European land flanks may be conducted with European NATO forces, particularly if U. S. carrier battle groups are occupied in other strategic missions. The U.K. and French forces can provide such supply support, naval gunfire support, air strikes, and jamming.
  • Atlantic operations will be aided considerably by the use of Portuguese forces. Geographically, Portugal will be of immense importance to the maritime coalition. This results from the importance of Lisbon as a port, as well as the Azores and Madeira island bases.
  • In the eastern Mediterranean, Greece and Turkey will hopefully be able to lay aside their differences and face a mutual defense problem consisting of possible land invasion from their northern borders and a sortie of Soviet forces into the Mediterranean. Their contributions to the maritime coalition will be significant given their position astride the choke points of the eastern Mediterranean. With eight modem submarines and numerous missile boats, Greece and Turkey can attrite Soviet forces in the region with considerable effect.

Middle East: The presence of various Free World naval forces in the Persian Gulf, Suez, and Red Sea areas will be geographically critical to maritime defense for many scenarios. The small but growing naval forces operated by the Saudis and other gulf states include excellent missile-firing platforms such as the French-built "F-2000" frigates, Badr corvettes, and Al Siddig fast attack craft. 4 The Egyptian and Israeli navies might work together in missile operations, limited ASW, and mine clearance/laying in the Suez-Red Sea waterway. The Omani Navy is growing in capability under U. S. and British guidance and support. Together, these forces might serve as a counterweight to radical developing state naval forces (Iran, Iraq) in the area if U. S. and other Western assets were employed elsewhere.

Indian Ocean: Often overlooked in the Indian Ocean region are the significant assets maintained by the French. With a flotilla and frequent rotations of aircraft carriers into the region, the French have a significant naval presence. Their geopolitical capabilities, given such former French colonies as Reunion, Madagascar, and the Ascension Islands could be important. In addition, Thailand and Malaysia both operate small but capable naval forces in the eastern Indian Ocean that might serve as a counterweight to possible anti-U. S. action by India or the Soviet Union.

Pacific Ocean: From a geographical standpoint, the United States is blessed with well-placed allies in the Pacific region. Seated in the heart of the western Pacific, the Philippine Islands provide bases that are even more important since the fall of Vietnam and the pending return of Hong Kong to the Chinese. The Japanese geographical position, blocking the sorties of Soviet forces from Pacific bases, is likewise critical, and the capable Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force is preparing for expanding missions in SLOC protection, attrition of Soviet forces, and ASW operations in local waters. Such platforms as the Hatsuyuki guided-missile destroyer and Yushio-class submarines will be important. The South Korean Navy, though focused on North Korea, can be a significant asset in western Pacific operations.

The northern Pacific, a region of increasing strategic attention for U. S. planners, will require geographical support from Japanese and Korean locations. The southern Pacific also includes several maritime coalition members of some importance. Small but capable, the Australian and New Zealand navies are important players in many Pacific operations and in SLOC defense.

South America: The South American forces operate under the Rio Pact alliance, but they also operate as part of the maritime coalition. The Unitas cruises are indicative of the ongoing U. S. participation and interest in naval affairs in the region. As the threat from radical developing states in the region (Cuba and Nicaragua) grows, the value of such regional powers as Brazil and Venezuela will continue to grow. The Brazilian Niteroi- classfrigates (produced jointly with the United Kingdom) and the Venezualan "Lupo"-class frigates (Italian construction) will be important considerations for U. S. planners in this volatile region. In many scenarios, especially where U. S. carrier battle groups must be involved in European or Southwest Asian defense operations, the South American naval forces might be critical to maintaining South Atlantic SLOCs and keeping order in the Caribbean basin.

Indeed, a New York Times article stated that the U. S. Navy is conducting discussions about “operating together to protect sea lanes of communication, watch for submarines, and intercept infiltrators along coastlines.” 5 Both Venezuela and Colombia were mentioned specifically in the article. The Chief of Naval Operations will host a conference in Norfolk, Virginia, in May 1985, "where Latin navy chiefs will be asked to discuss mutual support, communications and threat warnings." 6

Africa: Although the growing controversy of any country developing close relations with South Africa (because of its apartheid policy) precludes its full participation in the global maritime coalition, it remains a fact that the country sits on a critical global choke point. South Africa continues to expand its naval forces. As a counterweight to radical developing countries on the central-southern African plains, however, South African forces might make a de facto contribution to U. S. interests. The growing Soviet basing structure on the African continent (particularly in West Africa) may be balanced to some degree by the South African presence.

Both with forces on station and in providing critical forward basing rights, the Free World navies will make valuable contributions to the global maritime coalition. Forward-based allies will likely be a necessity if the United States is to be prepared to conduct capable forward maritime defense in the global periphery. These allies can provide war-fighting forces as a first line of defense or in a critical reinforcement role, sites for forward storage of supplies, ammunition, and petroleum, oil, and lubricants, repair facilities, and recreation and relaxation ports.

Geographically, the importance of such U. S. naval complexes as Subic Bay (at the hub of the western Pacific), Diego Garcia (in the southern Indian Ocean), Naples (in the heart of the Mediterranean), Bahrain (in the Persian/Arabian gulfs) cannot be understated. In the face of continued Soviet expansion to new bases in Southeast Asia, Western Africa, Central America, and the Pacific, the importance of these installations will continue to be critical.

Political-Economic Contributions

The Free World naval forces also make a political-economic contribution to the global maritime coalition. Although space does not allow an in-depth analysis of the total political or economic ramifications of the Free World naval contributions, some of the most important and more tangible follow.

Intelligence-Gathering and Sharing: Early warning and intelligence-gathering have significant political ramifications. The need to gather intelligence in countries difficult for U. S. agencies to penetrate (because of cultural differences) is obvious. Much of the information provided by the Israelis, for example, is enlightening and useful and would not be available through other channels. U. S. joint-sharing of intelligence and information with other members of the global maritime coalition helps keep the coalition working together.

Joint Political Operations: The best recent example of joint naval operations conducted for political reasons is the Suez mine clearance operations that followed the terrorist mining operation. The United States, France, the United Kingdom, and other global maritime coalition members all participated in a demonstration that not only served to remove the mines but also made a strong political statement about the West's resolve to keep SLOCs from the Persian! Arabian Gulf open to oil and other merchant traffic. Another ongoing political example is the annual RimPac exercise conducted in the Pacific between units from the U. S., Australian, New Zealand, Japanese, South Korean, and other allied naval vessels. Likewise, the Unitas exercises make a political statement in addition to providing training for the crews involved.

Exchanges and Training: In addition to the macro-level training conducted with units at sea, another valuable contribution of the Free World navies is that of individual exchanges and training. Many foreign officers and men visit the United States to study at a wide variety of Navy schools and training facilities. The United States, in turn, sends officers to a variety of billets throughout the Free World annually. Their observations and interaction with foreign naval personnel become informally incorporated into U. S. naval strategy in a very effective manner.

International Fora: The interaction between naval personnel involved in international fora can often lead to surprising results. Informal negotiations in the Law of the Sea Conference and the International Maritime Organization are examples.

Economics: The United States participates in a great deal of international trade and exchange that directly contributes to its economic well being and strong defense industries. America's partners in the global maritime coalition are also America's strongest trading partners. Indeed, the economic factor is perhaps the single largest common denominator among the members of the coalition, and the need to keep trade moving across free sea-lanes is a driving factor in policy and strategy.

Overall, the intelligence, intellectual exchange, political presence missions, joint exercises, and economic interaction are all important contributors to the overall maritime defense of the Free World.


Several recommendations for U. S. strategic planning can be offered that might enhance the potential for positive interaction in the global maritime coalition. These recommendations are stated from a U. S. point of view, optimizing outcomes and relationships that favor U. S. security.

Planning: U. S. national-level planning should consider the contributions of the Free World navies , in both a current and projected sense. This should be done by analyzing such contributions from geographic-naval and political-economic standpoints. The long-range goal should be to shift burdens, where appropriate, to alliance systems within the global maritime coalition, while strengthening existing relationships.

Linkage Development: The global maritime coalition consists of formal treaties, bilateral accords, statements of friendship, trade relationships, and so forth. Every effort should be made from a U. S. standpoint to develop maritime linkages with other Free World maritime-oriented states. This should be done as part of a coherent national ocean policy with a well-defined component of naval strategy. Some methods of doing this might include:

  • Continually emphasize joint operations with various regional partners within the global maritime coalition.
  • Sponsor joint building projects like naval weaponry and research and development. Mutual projects will eventually lead to better mutual support in coalition operations.
  • Develop exchange programs, not only for individuals, but perhaps for units, giving maximum operations interaction between the United States and other maritime coalition partners.
  • Sponsor nonmilitary ocean projects, involving fishing, deep seabed mineral recovery, ocean energy projects, and underwater habitat research. These could be done in a variety of regions, with beneficial flow between segments of the coalition. The research would eventually be compatible with military projects.

Conferences: The concept of U. S.-sponsored maritime conferences to discuss ocean issues among members of the coalition opens a variety of possibilities. These conferences could be attended by naval officers (possibly chiefs of naval operations), appropriate civilian officers from Department of State equivalencies, and ocean experts. Both naval-military and civilian-oriented conferences could be developed.

Technology Transfer: The sharing of appropriate technology between coalition partners, with the necessary supervision and control, would eventually lead to better coalition maritime defense with more compatible and capable coalition-wide systems.

Operations: Increased operating time between coalition members would improve U. S. and international defense against possible threats. The RimPac exercises in the Pacific are a good example of the potential for such operations. The continued development of English as the lingua nautical franca for coalition operations would be enhanced, operators would obtain training, and war gaming could be verified.


The contributions of the Free World navies are significant. As part of a loosely structured global maritime coalition, such forces make important geographical-naval and political-economic contributions to international peace and defense. U. S. planners should continue to develop contingency plans that consider these contributions. At both a political and a military level, the United States must enhance the structure of the global maritime coalition. Only by doing so can the United States help create an atmosphere which maximizes the capabilities and potential of the allied forces.

1 Robert Komer as quoted in Michael McGwire, Book Review, Proceedings. July 1984, p. 118.

2 "Navy League's 1984-85 Resolutions," Sea Power, September 1984, pp. 46-47.

3 Foreword to Jane's Fighting Ships 1984-85 (New York: Jane's Publishing Inc., 1984), as quoted in Sea Power, September 1984, p. 33.

4 ''Saudi Arabia," Conway's All the World's Fighting Ships 1947- 1982, Part II (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1984), p. 446.

5 Richard Halloran, "Latin Naval Help is Sought by U. S.," New York Times, 21October 1984, p. 6.

6 Ibid.

Commander Stavridis , a 1976 graduate of the Naval Academy, has served in the USS Hewitt (DD-966), USS Forrestal (CV-59), and the Strategic Concepts Group (OP-603). He earned his master's and doctor's degrees from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. He is currently the operations officer in the Valley Forge (CG-50).


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