Midshipmen have a hunger to learn and to exert ourselves intellectually. We want our lectures to simulate the level of in-depth analysis that will be expected of us in the Fleet.

We are second-class midshipmen at the US Naval Academy who, after eight combined semesters of 20-credit course loads, want more out of the Academy’s academic mission. We believe that the academic curriculum should remain challenging, but that it can be tailored with an emphasis on developing midshipmen into problem solvers. We understand there is currently a conversation in the upper echelons of Navy leadership about reenergizing the Naval Academy curriculum. We offer our opinions to provide experience-based input into these discussions.

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The Naval Academy’s “Tecumseh Court”

Consider what many midshipmen perceive as one of the most mundane courses at the Naval Academy: navigation. Imagine if instead of passively listening to the lecture, our weekly assignment includes perusing the New York Times, selecting hotspots around the world that will likely elicit a US Navy presence. What Numbered Fleet claims responsibility for this area?
What capabilities do we have to respond? Logistically, how is the response executed? What grand strategy is associated with this response? What are the responsibilities on a junior officer level? Lessons are most engaging when the instructors are able to incorporate their own Fleet experiences to illustrate the relevance of the course material. The navigation instructors have the experience to take our thinking to the next level.

Integration of practical skills, professional knowledge, and complex international relations is key to engaging midshipmen in a productive manner. The majority of students sulk through the seamanship and navigation program uninspired and apathetic. Let’s revitalize these core classes to provoke thought and excitement about their future responsibilities as Navy and Marine Corps officers.

This renaissance can extend to the entire core curriculum, to include not only social sciences but also courses in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM). The academic culture of the Academy is currently no different than any other civilian college or university, where the core knowledge is learned in order to pass the class and to graduate. As future officers, these courses have the potential to not only give us baseline proficiency in the sciences, but to develop us into better problem solvers. Our objective is not to simply learn the material, but to practice a way of thinking representative of Navy and Marine Corps officers. Our core classes ought to have deeper value: developing an analytical thought pattern that will be applied to our future careers. The core does not need to be dry; it should be there to encourage critical thinking in all realms. Both the strategic implications of a surface warfare mission, as in navigation class, and the way we solve our physics problems are related in how we approach a situation.

Academics represent something more than just a grade; they are a critical proving ground for developing the way future officers solve problems and communicate ideas. Instruction at the Naval Academy must challenge midshipmen to think, to ask us the unanswerable questions and require us to defend our conclusion. There is a symbiotic triad between students, faculty and the institution that needs to exist for this atmosphere to be achieved. It is just as much the midshipman’s job to become individually invested in the material as it is for the faculty to stimulate productive discussion and the institution to revamp the curriculum to match the intellectual expectations of the Fleet.

We understand that there is a balance between time demands, quotas from the Fleet, logistical considerations of the curriculum and the egalitarian nature of the Naval Academy. We are not suggesting a heavier academic workload, or that the solution rests with a single group. Our goal is to spark a discussion on how to better foster a culture that produces critical thinkers which is collaborative between midshipmen, faculty, and the institution. By offering an opinion from a midshipman’s perspective, we hope to draw others into the conversation. The first step towards an environment conducive to this culture shift is a dialogue about how to maximize our four years in Annapolis.

Junior officers are expected to be professional problem solvers. The mission of the Naval Academy is to produce the most competent officers. Allow us to better uphold the mission by integrating this mentality into the classroom. To be proficient in this skill set, we need to practice now. Challenge us to think, to learn, and to take a vested interest in our futures as Navy and Marine Corps officers. We will match your level of intellectual intensity.


I encourage you to spend forty-eight minutes of your day listening to author Karl Marlantes talk about war. Many of you are already familiar with his work. For those who are not, here is a short bio: Marlantes is a Yale graduate and Rhodes Scholar. After a year at Oxford, he left, joined the Marines, and was then in some of the worst fighting of the

US Marines fighting in Hue, 1968.

US Marines fighting in Hue, 1968.

Vietnam War. He was awarded the Navy Cross for assaulting a hilltop bunker occupied by the NVA. Here is a part of his citation:

“While continuing to function effectively in his primary billet, First Lieutenant Marlantes skillfully combined and reorganized the remaining members of two platoons, and on 6 March initiated an aggressive assault up a hill, the top of which was controlled by a hostile unit occupying well-fortified bunkers. Under First Lieutenant Marlantes’ dynamic leadership, the attack gained momentum which carried it up the slope and through several enemy emplacements before the surprised North Vietnamese force was able to muster determined resistance. Delivering a heavy volume of fire, the enemy temporarily pinned down the friendly unit. First Lieutenant Marlantes, completely disregarding his own safety, charged across the fire-swept terrain to storm four bunkers in succession, completely destroying them. While thus engaged, he was seriously wounded, but steadfastly refusing medical attention, continued to lead his men until the objective was secured, a perimeter defense established, and all other casualties medically evacuated.”

Years later, he wrote Matterhorn — a fictional account of his experiences as a platoon leader in Vietnam. I read his second book, What It Is Like to Go To War, while deployed in 2011. After reading it, I handed my copy to our senior chaplain. As a chaplain that spent considerable time with Marines in Iraq, and seeing some of the worst combat of Operation Iraqi Freedom, I thought he would get something out of it. Two days later he came up to me and asked me if he could keep my copy. He ended up buying me a replacement copy when we pulled into Singapore. It not only spoke to the power of his book, but it was a reminder that books can make an incredible gift.

200px-Matterhorn_(Karl_Marlantes_novel)_cover_art

Recently, Marlantes came to the US Naval War College to speak to the students about war, ethics, his work, and many other topics. He was funny, insightful, and refreshingly honest. One of my friends, when leaving the auditorium, said, “That was one of the best Q&A’s I’ve heard this year.” Marlantes touches on some pertinent yet divisive topics that many of us are debating today: Should there be a draft? How do veterans assimilate back into society? Is it too easy for policy makers to use the military? And many others.

Take some time — watch it.

 

 

 


Midrats on 31 May 2015 at 5pm EDT U..S. is Episode 282: Summer Kick-off Free For All in which we discuss the sea services and other matters in 2015 so far and do a little prognostication about the future. Listeners who may actually know about such things are invited to call in or join us in the chat room. Come on along, it’s just for fun and to educate the hosts.

At the time of this post, the actual show page was not up, but if you click on the link here before show time, it should be there. UPDATE: Link to actual show page is here.

As always, if you can’t listen live, all our shows are available in the Midrats archives here or on iTunes here.


The fifth season of the HBO hit-series Game of Thrones is here! I’m excited, as are millions of die-hard fans across the country. To prepare for the imminent launch, I re-watched all four of the previous seasons, episode by episode. In that first season, an interesting event takes place, where a young man, Jon Snow, is given his duty assignment. He is about to take an oath to serve for life in the Night’s Watch. He has prepared for years to be a Ranger – a fighter and swordsman. Instead he is assigned as a Steward. Jon Snow is crushed. He hasn’t taken the oath of service yet, and he contemplates leaving the Night’s Watch to avoid a life of inglorious servitude as a steward. His friend Sam convinces him to stay, reminding him that service is about more than his own selfish desires. Jon Snow takes the oath later in the episode.

Graduation OathIt brought me back to my own service selection. I dreamed for years and years of becoming a Marine Corps Officer. At the Naval Academy that fateful day in November of 2009, I received troubling news – I had been selected to become a Surface Warfare Officer. Over the years since I have often been asked if I wanted to become a SWO. My standard reply is that it was one of my top six choices. The humor gets me through the moment, and the conversation moves on.

I’m working now at the Academy, preparing to take over as a company officer this summer, just in time for the Plebe Class of 2019 to arrive for I-Day. I am a proud Surface Warfare Officer and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I have been to more overseas ports than I can count over two deployments, have navigated tens of thousands of miles at sea, and served with some of the bravest, smartest and most loyal Sailors the world has ever seen.

Much of the conversation within the walls of the Academy frequently turns to an age-old symptom of the institution – cynicism within the Brigade. Midshipmen sometimes complain that they aren’t treated like future naval officers and that they aren’t doing real work to prepare themselves to become the leaders of those fine Sailors and Marines. “I’m going to fly jets, why do I need to learn about buoy systems in the Western Rivers” is just one example. In teaching leadership on the yard, we strive for every class to fight that mentality, to prove to these young Midshipmen that their training is exceptional and that they will be well prepared to lead upon commissioning. Sometimes I fear that we aren’t doing enough, that the Midshipmen are right, and that we are sending our future junior officers to the fleet without the preparation needed to fulfill their duties. For the graduating Midshipmen, winter is coming, and many aren’t ready to handle a sword.

I don’t know entirely where the cynicism comes from, but I have a theory. Everything for these Midshipmen centers around one key event – service selection. Competition is fierce within the Brigade. Classmates vie for position and jossle for rank as if they were in Westeros, the fictional land of Game of Thrones. There are only so many slots for SEALs, Marines, Submariners, Aviators, and today even SWOs. Midshipmen study diligently to get good grades, so that their order of merit is high enough to get the service selection they want. Many spend more effort on good grades to earn that service selection, but in doing so disregard the very skill sets required to be successful naval officers – pro-knowledge is an afterthought and weighted minimally when compared to calculus and chemistry. The drive for service assignment goes beyond academics, of course. They perform with vigor on the PT fields to notch themselves up for the same purpose. Those wanting Marines join the Semper Fi Society, those seeking to become SEALs test themselves and compete against their classmates in arduous screeners.

That day in November, the Firsties learn their fates. Most are overjoyed – a good thing, no doubt. A few feel despair. These are the ones we should worry about. These are the examples that feed the cynicism – working hard may not be enough. These are the few who enter the fleet sullen, downcast and doubtful. These are the ones most unprepared for their future roles, having spent all of their efforts learning about fire team movements and squad assaults instead of honing their shiphandling skills on the YPs. These are the few who, in my opinion, are the least likely to commit themselves to a full career of service and will leave at the earliest opportunity.

Even those who earn their top choice are too hastily prepared for the training to be effective, meaning that the Chief’s Mess, Department Heads, and Commanding Officers are burdened with teaching junior officers skillsets and professional knowledge they should have mastered at the Naval Academy. The unit leadership should be focused on advanced training – on defeating multiple threats simultaneously, mastering complex engineering systems and conditioning our new Ensigns and Second Lieutenants to become outstanding naval leaders. Instead, they are too busy teaching standard commands, basic maintenance protocols and general military socialization.

What if we changed something? What if we moved service selection to the end of Youngster (sophomore) year? By that time, Midshipmen will have been able to establish their grades, competed in screeners, etc., at least enough for the Academy to choose wisely between them. We could move PROTRAMID, a fleet-wide round-robin experience to expose the Midshipmen to the various communities to the end of Plebe year, just like the NROTC currently does, to allow our new Youngsters the opportunity to see what fits them best. Most Plebes know what they want to service select before they climb Herndon, while the rest of the class would have another year to weigh the decision.

This change has several notable benefits. First, it eliminates competition amongst classmates during their junior and senior years, allowing for greater opportunity to hone leadership and professional skills in Bancroft. Second, it provides two full years, instead of a meager four months, for Midshipmen to hone their practical skills, affording them the chance to excel in tactical and technical competence from day one in the fleet. Marine selectees will have two years to practice ground tactics. Aviators have two years to pass IFS, easing the burden on Pensacola and the subsequent stashing of officers on the Yard until flight school begins. SWOs can master navigation and shiphandling before setting foot on the bridge of a destroyer. Third, if we rearrange the course loads, we can eliminate the cynicism that arises from taking courses that Midshipmen see as irrelevant, such as Marine wannabes having to struggle through seamanship and navigation courses. Fourth, and possibly most importantly, it allows Midshipmen a choice. They now know what they will be doing for their careers and if those few who don’t earn what they want choose to leave before signing their commitment papers the next Fall, the fleet will benefit from a drop in uncommitted and unenthusiastic naval officers. If a Midshipman is so disappointed in his or her service assignment, he or she doesn’t have to come back to poison the well back in Bancroft, or worse yet, carry that attitude into the fleet. Furthermore, by encouraging choice, we disrupt cynicism about being treated like children – a Midshipmen knows full-well what he or she is getting into when they sign on the line which is dotted.

Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus recently spoke to the brigade about a number of institutional changes aimed at improving talent management and retention. He mentioned that the Academy is already moving towards a system that seeks to match talent to title and is less dependent on class rank. He and his staff clearly understand that change is needed, not only for its effect on the yard but also downrange in the fleet. This proposal provides an avenue for that change, even if it is one of many. In combat, a coordinated simultaneous time-on-top attack is always preferred to a slew of single efforts and I believe that changing the timeframe for service selection is a key weapon in the fight against complacency and cynicism to ensure we maintain the highest level of combat readiness throughout the fleet. Even if our ships rust and our airframes crack, our people must remain sharp and steadfast.

Choice is nobody’s enemy. While I don’t have the same flowing locks and sword skills as Jon Snow, I empathize with his decision. I didn’t want to be a SWO, at least not initially, but my call to service outweighed my selfishness. I figured that if I was going to be a SWO, I would try my damndest to excel at it. Under this proposed change, there will still be plenty of disappointed Midshipmen who put their country before themselves and will accept what they earned with grace and humility. They will remember that service and leadership are what count, not the uniform they wear or the devices on their chest.


a96b_medieval_steel_gauntlets (1)Robert D. Kaplan over at FP is looking at the world from the Atlas to Hindu Kush and harkens back to something that no one is looking for, wants, or realistically thinks can be done;

A new American president in 2017 may seek to reinstate Western imperial influence — calling it by another name, of course.

The challenge now is less to establish democracy than to reestablish order. For without order, there is no freedom for anyone.

The article is now called, The Ruins of Empire in the Middle East – but you can still see in the web address its original title, “It’s Time to Bring Imperialism Back to the Middle East.”

Yes, the title was bad – but I am curious as to the thought process behind choosing it – … and just as bad as the idea.

I’m also not sure how a review of the present major candidates for 2016 shows anyone who wants to try to force peace on a peaceless people. There is only one effective way to do that, but piles of skulls and salted fields are not in alignment with our laws, national character, or relatively sanity.

To start out, let’s review the very accurate summary of events that Kaplan outlines in this besotted part of the world that for thousands of years has been at peace only under one system – the mailed fist;

… the region historically has been determined by trade routes rather than fixed borders. … Middle Eastern chaos demonstrates that the region has still not found a solution to the collapse of the Ottoman Empire after World War I. For hundreds of years, Sunnis and Shiites, Arabs and Jews, Muslims and Christians, in Greater Syria and Mesopotamia had few territorial disputes. All fell under the rule of an imperial sovereign in Istanbul, who protected them from each other.

… the Islamic State has brought to an end the borders erected by European imperialism, British and French, in the Levant. … the United States, remember, since the end of World War II, has been a world empire in all but name.

To that point; in two elections the American people voiced their desire to back away from that role – to give the world a chance to police itself – to “lead from behind.”

Well, we have seen the results – desired or not – of that policy.

The fall of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, Muammar al-Qaddafi in Libya, and the reduction of Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria to that of an embattled statelet has ended the era of post-colonial strongmen. … the so-called Arab Spring has not been about the birth of freedom but about the collapse of central authority,

Old school realists, and the growing cadre of neo-realists warned of this outcome, but strategically we tried another way. The fuzzy faculty room theories desiring a word of self-affirmation, ran up against the grizzled hard realities of a world governed by the aggressive use of force, religion, and the attraction of and to power.

(some nations are) geographical expressions and … with much weaker identities — and, in fact, many have identities that were invented by European imperialists. Libya, Syria, and Iraq fall most prominently into this category. Because identity in these cases was fragile, the most suffocating forms of authoritarianism were required to merely hold these states together.

Algeria, also an artificial state, essentially invented by the French … Jordan, too, is a vague geographical expression, but has enjoyed moderate governance through the genius of its ruling Hashemites and the overwhelming economic and security support this small country has received from the United States and Israel. Yemen may also be an age-old cluster of civilization, but one always divided among many different kingdoms due to its rugged topography, thus ruling the territory as one unit has always been nearly impossible.

Totalitarianism was the only answer to the end of Western imperialism in these artificial states, and totalitarianism’s collapse is now the root cause of Middle East chaos.

The Ottomans disintegrated, the French and British were exhausted, and the Americans seem to be trying to shrug off the burdens history gave it.

Kaplan is not alone in this train of thought, looking for some solution to a rapidly deteriorating region, and when you look at what has become of the Muslim world in the last half-decade plus, it is easy to despair at what has oozed out of the tube – but what has happened has happened.

You cannot have imperialism without imperialists, and in a world bereft of those seeking that title in a benign manner – what can the West do that is in line with both its national security interests and its modern sensibilities?

Most interested parties would agree that if nothing else, the events of the last few years should largely put an end to two neo-imperialist concepts; Responsibility to Protect (R2P) on the left, and the Wolfowitz Doctrine on the right.

How do we, the West in general and the USA in particular, respond? What are our options besides neo-imperialism? Let’s set out a few planning assumptions.

1. There will be no more nation building or coercive democracy injected in places that do not create it organically or desire it. It doesn’t work, and there is no popular call or political will to try it again.
2. Libya was the low high-water mark of R2P internationally. Today’s Mediterranean drowning pool is Ref. A. on the international community’s preferred answer to R2P.
3. Economics and demographics will drive the virulence of secular pressure to export strife outside existing or natural borders of nation states. As these borders deteriorate and if pressures build, so will your ability to contain undesired effects on the cheap.
4. Forward deployed, global reach, long dwell, deep strike. If you are not training, manning, and equipping your military forces bounded by these essential concepts, you are doing it wrong. If you are not prepared for scalable, quick infiltration and exfiltration of boots on the ground, you are doing it wrong. Hedge big heavy; light and mobile gets priority.
5. China will continue to build, reinforce, and prepare to defend critical nodes on her new land and sea “Silk Road.” She is and will continue to be a growing, global, mercantile power – one without Western sensibilities.
6. There is only one significant power that is showing actual expansionist imperial desire; Russia. Watch her closely in the former Soviet republics to see where she either takes physical land as in Ukraine, or expands her constellation of sad little satrapy such as Belarus.
7. No matter how hard we shrug, we are and will remain for this century the indispensable nation. We are the imperial republic, in a waning phase of desire for now – but with no other suitable global replacement, we will still be look at to help keep the chaos at bay.

What could we do now, even with the political, economic, and diplomatic restraints and constraints – to at least partially answer Kaplan’s call?

The first step, not shocking for a maritime nation, should start at sea. Use the template of NATO’s standing naval forces. We should help build standing naval forces in the Indian Ocean. The core is already there off the Horn of Africa – why not work to make something a bit more established from CTF-150, 151, the EU’s ALALANTA and the other patchwork nations who are there?

Why not have one fom WESTPAC? USA, Canada, Japan, South Korea, Australia looks like a good core. Singapore, New Zealand, Vietnam, and The Philippines would play now and then. Feeling cheeky – invite Taiwan for a time or two.

There is low risk and high reward for this minimal step – keep the open seas … open. Give space and capability to inject power and influence when needed, without finding yourself staked to the ground – and provide flexible options for future leaders who may face different global realities that have yet to appear to the present eyes.

If the goal is to try to bring order, in the 21st Century, the Western democracies do not have the desire to play the game of empire wholesale. It isn’t profitable, it isn’t appreciated, and to be blunt – it is probably a fool’s errand.

Contain, influence, and help those who help themselves? Sure. Soak the sands of the Middle East with blood from Ohio, Essex, New South Wales, Burgundy, Maastricht, and El Salvador for failed theories of the past? To tilt at the windmill one more time?

No, no time soon.


American-Flag-Memorial-Day

The American flags whip in the wind as the sun creeps over the grassy horizon. The charcoal sits in reused plastic grocery bags at the end of the driveway. The grass beneath them is soft with early-morning dew.

In parallel, across the country this morning, American flags fly, too. Flowers placed on hallowed graves flutter slightly in the breeze. Mementos of the lives of brave American servicemen and women who paid the ultimate price are still in place on headstones, surrounding the heroes, keeping them company.

Yesterday, as it does by law every year, enacted in the last century, on the last Monday in May, America celebrated Memorial Day. This recognition stems from the Civil War, when compassionate groups of citizens would decorate the graves of soldiers who had died fighting for their cause. It has grown into an annual recognition of all our honored war dead, and a federal holiday that gives many a reprieve from the workweek.

Many use the day for celebration of the freedoms we enjoy, especially as the holiday coincides with long-awaited warm weather in much of America’s broad latitude. They use it as a day to reflect on family and friends, to fill their lives with familiarity and warmth.

Few of us can comprehend, though, the silent heartbreak of those whose loved ones have felt the pain of ultimate sacrifice. Their experience on Memorial Day is markedly different, but it is right and genuine and pure. To love a warrior is the sweetest tragedy; to live their memory the highest privilege.

Yet the great, silent measure of a nation is its remembrance of its heroes on all the other days of the year; not as a boastful measure of bellicose pride, but as an eternal example of highest achievement. Selfless service has long been idealized in words and opinion polls, now manifest in Facebook posts and Instagram memes, but we must do the hard work of living that notion and encouraging our children to live it through our own actions.

To honor and to serve; both are active verbs.


RTabTesm_400x400Billy Hurley discusses his time at the Naval Academy, his best moment in the U.S. Navy navigating the Suez Canal, his strong ties to his PGA sponsors and fellow players who support the military.

To the 2015 graduating class, “It’s just beginning now…as a Division Officer on a ship…how can you lead them…inspire them…how can you improve them?”

Did he hit golf balls off of a ship?


Photo taken by author

Blue isles along the coast of Lagos, Nigeria

On a muggy and overcast day this past March, I set out to the Gulf of Guinea with members from the U.S. State Department in Lagos, Nigeria. It was just past sunset. Our pilot, an athletically built Nigerian with dark skin and a shaved head, greeted us on the pier and welcomed the delegation aboard his Boston Whaler. All of us were overdressed in suits and sweat was noticeably percolating through our shirts.

That time of day is particularly charming in Lagos. The water and the sky interweave in a deep cerulean palette, transforming the landscape into a wondrous countryside.

The smell of stagnant petrol consumed us as we sailed past bulk freighters and crude carriers loading cargo. Containers slammed onto chassis on the adjacent piers and oil sheens along with garbage and debris saturated the waterway. Throughout the channel, campaign billboards promoting President Goodluck Jonathan’s reelection were omnipresent

VOTE JONTHAN FOR EQUITY, INTEGRITY AND GOOD GOVERNANCE.

I ASSURE YOU OF FRESH AIR IN NIGERIA – VOTE FOR ME.

And the most dubious promotion of all: #BRINGBACKGOODLUCK2015, which was a campaign slogan based off #BRINGBACKOURGIRLS. This one did not resonate well in northeast Nigeria.

Off our port bow, donned in orange life jackets, were locals taxiing home together in motorized canoes. They stared at us uneasily as our boat sprinted past their starboard beam. A few yelled in detest when a member in our delegation snapped off a photo with his iPhone.

On the other side of the river, directly across from the commercial shipping terminals were residents of Lagos’ notorious floating slums. Many of the lagoon’s inhabitants are immigrants, who earn less than $2 a day and use the river to dump trash, excrement, and everything else they cannot keep on their makeshift homes. Our guide told us that the people along the sprawling bamboo community subsist largely as fishermen and workers in the nearby sawmills, cutting up timber that floats regularly into the city. They, too, looked perplexed when a boat full of whites drove by at 30 knots.

Image by © GEORGE ESIRI/Reuters/Corbis

Floating slums in Lagos

It took fifteen minutes to reach Takawa Bay at the southern entrance of Lagos harbor. We gazed southeast and saw scores of anchored ships dotted along the horizon like a cityscape at dusk. Our boat idled for a few moments, swaying to and fro in the trough of the seas and all of us were silent. A sea breeze kicked up and the cool air felt good. It was as if at that moment we could sense all of Nigeria’s potential in the idle ships a few miles distant, waiting offshore to deliver cargo and with it, a better future for the people ashore.

Our pilot turned sharply to starboard, sped up and headed back toward Lagos. My shock in Nigeria was total.

Over the past two decades, Lagos and several other ports along the Gulf of Guinea have evolved into a major hub for global energy supplies for North America, Europe, and Asia. With several natural harbors throughout the region – from Cape Verde to Angola – and a coastal terrain rich in hydrocarbons, the countries along this fertile coastline have flourished.

This uninterrupted growth had not come about by accident. Many West-African governments have enhanced their infrastructure, liberalized trade policies, and reduced barriers to emerging transcontinental businesses. As a result the Gulf of Guinea increasingly relies on the seas for their economic prosperity. After all, it’s their only lifeline to remain competitive in the global marketplace.

This transit hub and facilitator to the world, however, is threatened. Despite West Africa’s continuing economic boom, three years ago the Gulf of Guinea surpassed East Africa and became the region with the highest number of piracy attacks in the world. Nigeria is said to be losing a staggering $2 billion to maritime insecurity each year. Maritime experts agree that the nation loses $800 million yearly to unchecked poachers who come to take away fish from Nigeria’s Economic Exclusive Zone (EEZ), in addition to about $16 million to oil theft and $9 million to general piracy.

Given the limited number of ships providing security off the West African coast, narcotics traffickers are using West African ports to smuggle and then distribute drugs in Europe. Oil theft and illegal bunkering also continue to rise uncontrollably. According to the Africa Center for Strategic Studies, Nigeria loses between 40,000 and 100,000 barrels a day due to theft.

These attacks also tend to be violent. Unlike Somalia, where pirates attack ships transiting through the region, West African pirates typically prey on ships berthed or anchored waiting to berth. These attacks typically occur within twelve nautical miles. The International Maritime Bureau (IMB) and the Oceans Beyond Piracy Group have shown that more seafarers were killed in the first nine months of 2014 than the whole of 2013, when over 1,200 were affected.

This is a conservative estimate. IMB reported last year that about two-thirds of all West-African piracy attacks go unreported.

Piracy in West Africa are different from those associated with East Africa in a variety of ways. First, unlike Somali pirates who attach ships in transit, pirates operating in and around the Gulf of Guinea prey on ships berthed or anchored within territorial waters. As noted by the Oceans Beyond Piracy Group, this changes the character of operations tremendously. Pirates have access to infrastructure and robust intelligence ashore, which provide them with the content and structure of ships operating in the area. It is thought they have access to information shared with the maritime sectors in the region.

Ghana Navy Moves to Counter Piracy and Drugs Smuggling in Gulf of Guinea

Ghana Navy Moves to Counter Piracy and Drugs Smuggling in Gulf of Guinea

Robbery, kidnap and ransom, and oil theft are the three main piracy models being monitored in West Africa. Pirates hijack vessels and often force ship captains to navigate the vessel to an unknown location where the cargo is lightered to another vessel or a storage facility shore side. Eventually, the oil finds its way to the black market or in some cases, back into the mainstream supply to be sold domestically or in the global marketplace.

If threats of piracy are left unchecked, the economies of West Africa will suffer. The waters off Nigeria, Togo and Benin are deemed a “war risk area,” thereby pushing up insurance costs and deterring maritime traders from even entering ports.

Most scholars and military planners would agree the root of the problem in Nigeria stems from state corruption, lackluster job creation, and a hollow security force. With only a couple dozen ships and a poorly trained military facing Boko Haram on their eastern flank, it seems unlikely that Nigeria and the surrounding nations will be able to control this problem alone. Regional actors are taking promising steps, but their coordination efforts are not developed enough to thwart terrorist networks.

Nigeria received two 1700 ton P-18N offshore-patrol vessels in 2014, which are based on the Chinese Type 056 corvette. Built in China and fitted out in a Nigerian shipyard, the 312-foot warships complement the Okpabana and the Thunder, former US Guard WHEC class cutters transferred in 2014 and 2011, respectively.

The revised Cooperative Strategy in the 21st Century (CS-21R) aptly points out that the sea services must continue working alongside partner security forces to combat terrorism, illicit trafficking, and illegal exploitation of natural resources through initiatives such as the African Maritime Law Enforcement Partnership and the Africa Partnership Station. We should not delay in executing this blueprint – the moment is ripe for changes to West African maritime security. On May 29th, Muhammadu Buhari will succeed Goodluck Jonathan as the President of Nigeria. The election of Buhari has created a potential breakthrough for American diplomacy and with it, a chance for us to work hand-in-hand with the largest nation and economy on the continent. Through public-private partnerships, along with interagency work by USAID, America has the opportunity to establish a better long-term relationship with Nigeria’s incoming executive government.

Amphibious Ready Groups (ARGs) or destroyers are not needed to assist our partners in Africa. Afloat Forward Staging Bases, coupled with Joint-High Speed Vessels, Patrol Craft and Littoral Combat Ships can fulfill this mission with ease and bring the necessary equipment to the inshore zones that need the most attention. Utilizing UAVs like ScanEagle and Firescout will help discover patterns of piracy and provide security for oil platforms and anchored vessels throughout the region.

Navy SEALs and Special warfare combatant-craft crewmen (SWCC) should liaise with the Special Boat Service (SBS), a special operations unit of the Nigerian Navy. Their mission is focused on littoral and riverine operations, including reconnaissance and surveillance; covert beach reconnaissance in advance of an amphibious assault; recovery or protection of ships and oil installations subject to hostile state or non-state action; maritime counter-terrorism; and offensive action. In order to strengthen partnerships and protect international interests in the region, this must be done year-round.

If we don’t step in, then expect China to dominate the region with short-term investments that will fail to lift African nations out of poverty and conflict. The imbalance in trade is staggering. According to John Burnett of U.S. News and World Report, China made $75 billion in investments from 2000 to 2011 compared to our $14 billion. Given the number of natural resources throughout the region, it would be foolish for American business to sit out as the needs of economies throughout West Africa grow. But security is paramount for potential investment from the West.

Ensuring secure littoral sea lines of communication within Nigeria’s territorial seas require trust and over time we can help alter West Africa’s perception of the West. Like Americans, Nigerians are proud and stubborn. They want to solve problems on their own. Unfortunately, more than anything, West Africa needs a naval presence to help shore up their ongoing problems with piracy. Our Navy can and should do more, especially with an incoming president bent on ending corruption and improving Nigeria’s security.

This will be a war of attrition, but it’s a fight worth undertaking. After all, success in Nigeria means potential success for Africa, which translates to economic benefits throughout the continent.


PrintTake a moment and look at this map, what do you see?

At first glance, what you see is an invasion. That is exactly what it is.

Throughout human history, masses of people have been pushed out of one area, or attracted in to another. Trying to escape a more determined foe, a homeland that can no longer support its population, or simply attracted by a weaker neighbor that inhabits more desirable territory – people move.

Small scale migrations are always happening – what moves history are large scale migrations.
There are three things that need to exist in order to trigger large scale migrations; (a) a drive to leave a present home; (b) a more attractive location to move to; (c) a manageable barrier of entry that is less of a concern than the forces producing the drive in (a).

If (a+b)>c, then you have then entering arguments set to trigger a migration. The greater the magnitude of a & b, the stronger flux of the migration.

That is the reason that North-Central Asian Finns, Estonians, and Hungarians now reside in Central Europe. Why the Goths from Southern Scandinavia wound up taking a long route to North Africa. Why the people of Madagascar are ethnically closer to the people of Indonesia than right across the channel to mainland Africa. That is why you have Englishmen in the North Pacific, Germans in the South Atlantic, and every soccer team in Asia has someone related to Genghis Khan.

With the exception of the Goths, the Mongols, and the more recent events in the Western Hemisphere, all the major migrations through we know of occurred in pre-history. We can guess how these went, but let’s stick to those we know.

There are three different migration themes on how migrations start.

On two extremes are:
-The Dove: the peaceful migration of the initial waves of the Polynesian through Pacific – peaceful because in their islands from New Zealand to Easter Hawaii, there were no other humans (though the second wave to Hawaii by Polynesians was far from peaceful). This is the most rare.
– The Wolf: Red in tooth and claw Mongol invasions of, well everyone. The Iberian colonization of South America. Australian colonization. Magyar invasions of Europe. This is more common, but not the majority.

In the middle, and the one that is the most common in the way it starts, is;
-The Other: economic, ecological, or political migrants; North American colonization from Europe. New Zealand colonization from Britain. Gothic/Germanic population of the Western Roman Empire.

Those are the major examples of the most disruptive of The Other. There is a subset of The Other that is minor, bur as a result are not very disruptive and mostly positive and integrative to the host nation; the Jewish diaspera; French Protestant migrations following their expulsion from France; 19th & 20th Century Italian immigration to the USA.

The Other is the most common and the most successful. It usually starts with small populations of migrants who get a foothold and then grow as the host population, for a variety of demographic, economic, cultural, or political reasons, grows weaker. More migrants come attracted to the land, or given more reason to escape from their homeland – or more often a combination of the two.

In time, one of two things happen, once a critical mass is reached, either the host and migrant cultures blend together and almost without notice become one. The previously mentioned Italian, French and Jewish examples are like this. You could also add in the 19th Century German migrations to the USA – one of the more under told stories locally.

If the two cultures for religious, cultural, or more often political reasons cannot become one – then there is conflict, usurpation, and a new host culture take control. The Germanic populations in the Western Roman Empire, the Reconquista of the Iberian peninsula, and parts of the former Yugoslavia are variations of this.

That is also why Spanish was and now English is the language of Comancheria.

There is your broad, sliding scale; from Dove, to The Other, to Wolf. Just because something starts as one, does not mean it stays there.

The N. American pattern went from Other to Wolf inside a generation. New Zealand at one point or another saw all three. The normal result of mass migration is conflict – the exception is peaceful integration.

One would think that the historical example would lead to host nations to promote integration-centric policies. Sadly, that is largely not the case.

The largest barrier to this era’s migration success is a cultural malfunction where assimilation – a process that blends people together – is not the predominate mindset in the host nation, and as a result, encourages the sectarian tendencies of large groups of The Other. It is apartness, multiculturalism, and the – to use a very accurate description of the problem – Balkanization of land and people that will warp the trends toward conflict.

This is why nations are, in different ways, pushing back against this rising tide of migration. They know where this ends. The era of plenty of open land and expanding economic resources is long gone. More people after finite resources; this social science historical dynamic is well known.

The push back is relatively weak but growing stronger in Europe – but strong and getting stronger in Asia and other parts of the world.

Now that the table is set – look again at the map at the opening of this post. As most of the news reports reflect – there is a maritime crisis in the Mediterranean. This is only going to grow, and not just in the Mediterranean.

Australia has known for a long time and now the rest of Southeast Asia are seeing the problem in Asia is also largely a maritime one.

Clashes in 2012 between the state’s Buddhist community and Rohingya Muslims, a long-oppressed linguistic and ethnic minority in this majority Buddhist country, left hundreds dead and more than 140,000 people homeless.

The United Nations estimates more than 100,000 Rohingya have fled Myanmar by sea since ethnic and sectarian violence erupted.

“I feel so sorry for them,” Kraiwut said. “It’s so different to when you see these refugees on land, and the conditions are so terrible.”

Late last week, residents on Koh Lipe Island in southern Thailand could be seen collecting food, water and clothes to take to the migrants on board the boats, but since then the military has told them not to take supplies out to the boats, or to talk to journalists about the situation.

A top Malaysian official has said the surge of migrants from Myanmar and Bangladesh seeking asylum in his country and neighboring Indonesia in recent days is unwelcome — and despite a U.N. appeal, his government will turn back any illegal arrivals.

“We cannot welcome them here,” Malaysian Deputy Home Minister Wan Junaidi Jaafar told CNN by phone last week.

“If we continue to welcome them, then hundreds of thousands will come from Myanmar and Bangladesh.”

Last night, Malaysia and Indonesia, predominately Muslim nations, have agreed to temporarily take in these desperate people, but for nations already struggling with their own ethnic conflict, and knowing the dangers of opening the door, it is unlikely to be a permanent solution.

When you look at the dual force of demographics and poor economics in the nations the migrants are coming from – and combine that with a growing “no thanks, we’re full” mindset in already overcrowded developed and developing nations – are the world’s maritime powers ready to respond to the masses at sea?

When pulses of desperate migrants surge forth as conflict occurs in these tottering and dusty edges of modernity – what will be the response as the walls grow and thicken while the oceanic commons fill with the boats and bodies of migrants?

The politicians will eventually decide on a path. Any path will require the tools of national will – military, paramilitary, legal, and police power – to respond and act. That requires training, equipment, and procedures – all done in a multinational environment.

We might as well start increasing this part of our toolbox; the requirement is only going to grow. The mission you may not want, but may get anyway.
– Will we just block, send back and watch as more ships founder and drift?
– Will we intercept, tow, and divert?
– If the pressure-valve of migration is stopped, then the stress for resources and justice in the source nations can only lead in one direction – conflict. Will we be in the consequence management business even more – or like the international fleet off Smyrna (now Izmir), just hang out and watch the bloodbath?

A final note: why not mention the issue of immigration to the USA? Different problem in both geography, culture and scale. Much easier for a diluted majority Anglo-Saxon-Germanic culture to absorb migrants from mostly Catholic Iberianesque cultures than what the rest of the world if facing. As I grew up in just that environment – I don’t see the issue. We’re fine. Also, more of a land and as a result police issue. I’ll let the Army and law enforcement side of the house address that if they wish.

I have also lived at the edges of the unassimilated masses of N. Africans, Turks, and S. Asians that are swelling in Europe – I see the huge challenge those nations will have to learn to deal with one way or the other. The trend lines speak for themselves.


Last year on National Public Radio’s “Marketplace,” host Kai Ryssdal closed many of his interviews in the Corner Office segment by asking those captains of industry to describe what their firms do in 5 words or fewer. Intel CEO Brian Krzanich came close: “We make everything connected and smart.” Most didn’t come that close.

The CNO and his maritime counterparts at the rollout of the new maritime strategy

The CNO and his maritime counterparts at the rollout of the new maritime strategy

A couple of months ago, DoD and DHS teamed up to unveil “A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower.” Admiral Greenert, General Dunford, and Admiral Zukunft got together at the Center for Strategic and International Studies with Admiral (ret) Stavridis to discuss the new strategy, and give those in attendance a chance to ask a few questions. They didn’t make it in 5 words.

The challenge for the Chief of Naval Operations: In 5 or fewer words, what does the Navy do?

To be fair, bedrock guidance for the at-sea service of a global power will probably have to flesh things out a bit, and the Cooperative Strategy certainly does: What does the Navy do? How do we aim to do it? How do we sustain those efforts into the future? Check, check and check, but at 48 pages it isn’t exactly accessible. To those of us who live, eat, and breathe Navy, it is clear and understandable. How does it resonate with the millions of Americans who do not spend their days poring over budget exhibits and JCIDS documents, but still pay taxes, vote and watch CNN?

The 5 word definition by itself is not important. The conversation is. The Navy doesn’t need this description to replace the “global force for good,” and 5 words is probably impossible. To paraphrase Ike: plans are worthless; planning is everything. It is important to our young talent pool who may choose to honor us with their service. Junior officers and NCOs will want to know why to stay. Taxpayers will want to know what they’re buying. So why 5 words? The Navy needs to hone its messages, and needs a barrier to drive creativity. Set the bar high, and force discussion, argument and compromise. In 5 words, no one will get everything they want, but everyone will have to make a strong case for it. So where does this exercise drive us?

The Navy needs champions, vocal leaders in the service, in Congress, and elsewhere to communicate a compelling vision of the value the United States Navy provides for the country and the world. Alfred Thayer Mahan’s compelling argument of the importance of Seapower left a lasting imprint on U.S. policy. He didn’t see the future in terms of hardware and tactics, but he didn’t have to. Presidents, Congressmen, and the people took note, and the United States funded and built a Navy capable of playing in a balance-of-power world. Champions of the Navy must articulate clear objectives and cogent arguments. While the QDR and 21st Century Strategy provide top-level guidance, they seem to indicate that we should be doing everything. If everything is a priority, then nothing is a priority, and we’re left with POM competition to determine our path. “Five words” discussions will force us to be brutally honest about what we want to achieve, what we can afford, and what the limits of American Seapower may be.

Another important group the Navy needs to inspire is young people, the workforce of the future. While pop-cultural generalization indicates Millennials seek out inspiration in their careers, the truth is everyone, of all generations, wants to be inspired. Everyone wants to believe that their contributions are meaningful. Access and aptitude for using technology and navigating the ever-growing web of information apparently makes Millennials more difficult to lead than the coffee house slackers and the “Me Generation” that came before them. This changes neither the Navy’s requirement to recruit and train a fighting force, nor the fierce competition with other services for talent. As economic recovery continues, recruiting and retention challenges will only continue to mount. Focus counts to anyone who considers joining the Navy.

While the economy may have taken a step forward from 2009, pressure on the national budget remains. Even though years have passed since 9/11, virtually no one will say that defense spending is not important, but increased funding for defense spending is not in the offing. Many tax payers will wonder if it is as important as it once was, and as critical as other agencies’ concerns today. The focus and debate stimulated by the 5-word question will help hammer out how best to spend limited resources. How do we put a price on readiness? How can we calculate the cost of a sufficient deterrent? We must prove to the country that we are making the most of our resources.

How would the CNO respond, in 5 words or fewer: What does the Navy do? (At best, they need to do it in 140 or fewer characters.) The answers may determine how the Navy is viewed, funded and used as a component of U.S. foreign policy, and the U.S. role in global affairs. Let’s start with the corner office challenge. How about “Deterrent and coercive force of American Foreign Policy in the Global Commons?” Twelve words. Missed out on humanitarian operations, and “coercive” seems a bit impolite. “Sea control in maritime domains?” Five words, but should the United States aspire to truly control the seas? Credit Mr. Ryssdal (a former naval aviator himself), this is a tough question.

 


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