Archive for the 'Russia' Tag

MatrixBluePillRedPillWhen you’ve worked on a problem for a long time and cannot make progress in a direction that is in your favor, and the harder you work the more on the problem the more difficult it becomes – then perhaps it is time to look for fresh ideas and perspectives.

There is a good chance that you have identified both the problem and the possible solution incorrectly.

In this case, let’s look at Syria and Iraq through Part 1 of an exceptional bit of work by the pseudonymous Cyrus Mahboubian over at WarOnTheRocks. The whole article deserves a thorough reading and covers both Iraq and Syria, but let’s just look at the Syria portion.

Why just Syria? Mostly because is aligns well a topic I’ve covered both here and my homeblog; outside the Kurds (who have no desire to take control of the national government), we are backing the wrong people for the wrong reasons. In a lineup of bad actors, some are less bad for strategic national interests as others, that is just a face. If you must choose – and there is always the option not to – then just make sure you pick for the right reasons. In the case of Syria, that is Assad.

Though the author does not directly address the Russians, we have also been ill-served by our kneejerk reaction that if the Russians support X, then we must oppose X. X, of course, is radical Sunni Islamism in Syria that is threatening Assad’s government. ISIS is just one of those groups – but we’ve already covered this in prior posts. Let’s get back to Mahboubian.

The best part of his article? He smashes a lot of talking points about the Shia/Sunni divide in Syria. Agree or disagree, but you have to consider his facts next time someone trots out the usual tropes;

Sunnis are heavily represented at all levels of leadership in Assad’s government. The territory it controls at this point in the war and at all points past is majority Sunni. And the Syrian armed forces are still majority Sunni. Alawites may be overrepresented in the security forces, but all that means is that they get to die more than others. It if it is an “Alawite regime,” isn’t it odd that includes and benefits so many non-Alawites?

Some American analysts have accepted the shrill claims of those who purport to represent the Sunni Arab world, such as Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Jubeir. They have accepted the sectarian victimization narrative as articulated by Syrian insurgents and their spokesmen — as if these voices represented the majority of Syrian people or even most Syrian Sunnis. …The Saudis’ only appeal to other Arabs is the money they have to offer. The Syrian rebel spokesmen represent only a fraction of Syrian Sunnis. The self-appointed Iraqi Sunni leaders control neither men nor territory. The United States is listening to the wrong Sunnis. When President Obama or Gen. David Petraeus or others repeat the myths of disenfranchisement these voices propagate, they reinforce and legitimize a dangerous sectarian narrative that should instead be countered.

The alternative ideology to the self-proclaimed Islamic State, whether in the Middle East, in Europe’s slums, or the former Soviet Union, is not to promote a Sunni identity — what the Bush administration pursued with its mantra of “moderate Sunni allies.” Instead, a counter-ideology should promote citizenship and secular states. This is the model that the West helped destroy in Egypt after Gamal Abdel Nasser died and the model it is currently destroying in Syria.

We have all seen the photos of Cairo University as it has regressed through the last few decades, as just an example. Only a trend back towards secularism in the region is in our national interest in this part of the world – if that is even possible. By joining in with the sectarian mindset – are we not just feeding the beast that is after our throat?

In Syria, a majority-Sunni military force exists. It represents the only national institution remaining in a state that does not make nearly as many sectarian distinctions as its opponents seem to think. Yes, I am talking about the Syrian armed forces. The majority of Syria’s state employees, government officials, and soldiers are Sunni, even today. The majority of the still-powerful urban capitalist class is Sunni. As someone who has been been interacting with people on every side of the civil war for its entire duration, I have learned that even some of Assad’s top security chiefs are Sunni, such as Ali Mamluk, the head of national security who supervises the other security agencies. Colonel Khaled Muhamad, a Sunni from Daraa, is in charge of securing Damascus for the feared Department 40 of the Internal Security. Deeb Zeitun, the head of state security, and Muhamad Rahmun, the head of political security, are both Sunni, as are the head of foreign intelligence, the minister of defense, senior officers in air force intelligence, the minister of interior, the head of the ruling Baath party, the majority of Baath party leaders, and the president of the parliament. The commander of the National Defense Forces (N.D.F.) in Daraa is a Sunni man of Palestinian origin. The commanders of the N.D.F. in Quneitra, Raqqa, and Aleppo are likewise Sunnis. One of the regime’s leading anti-ISIL fighters who receives support from all regime security branches is Muhana al Fayad. He leads the large Busaraya tribe between the Derezzor and Hassake areas and is also a member of parliament. Even some pilots dropping barrel bombs on insurgent-held communities are Sunni. Many heads of military intelligence branches are also Sunni.

All may not quite be what many believe in Syria and Iraq.

Poor data feeds bad advice. Bad advice informs bad policy. Bad policy brings about bad results.

I look forward to Part-2.

Please join us at 5pm (EDT) on 17 July 2016 for Midrats Episode 341 “Russia in 2016 with Dr. Dmitry Gorenburg

From the sacking of the Baltic Fleet leadership, fighting in Syria, to developments from Central Asia to the Pacific – Russia in 2016 is on the move.

To discuss the who, what, where, and why of Russia in 2016, our guest for the full hour will be Dr. Dmitry Gorenburg, Senior Analyst, CNA Strategic Studies, an Associate at Harvard’s Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies, an author, and host of the Russian Military Reform blog.

Dr. Gorenburg focuses his research on security issues in the former Soviet Union, Russian military reform, Russian foreign policy, ethnic politics and identity, and Russian regional politics. He is also the editor of the journals Problems of Post-Communism and Russian Politics and Law and a Fellow of the Truman National Security Project. From 2005 through 2010, he was the Executive Director of the American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies.

Join us live if you can or pick the show up later by clicking here or later by visiting our iTunes or Stitcher pages.

RS-GIUK-gapThe world keeps waking up from history – in this case a quarter century nap it seems.

During the Cold War, the maritime choke points between Greenland, Iceland, and the UK were key to the defense of Europe. This “GIUK gap” represented the line that Soviet naval forces had to cross in order to reach the Atlantic and stop U.S. forces heading across the sea to reinforce America’s European allies. It was also the area that the Soviet Union’s submarine-based nuclear forces would have to pass as they deployed for their nuclear strike missions. In response, the United States and its northern NATO allies spent considerable time, money, and effort on bolstering anti-submarine warfare capabilities and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance in the region. Maritime patrol aircraft from the UK, Norway, and the U.S.(Navy P-3s, flying from Keflavik) covered the area from above, while nuclear and conventional submarines lurked below the surface. The choke points were also monitored by an advanced network of underwater sensors installed to detect and track Soviet submarines.

But after the Cold War ended, the GIUK gap disappeared from NATO’s maritime mind. U.S. forces left Iceland in 2006, and the UK, facing budget pressures, retired its fleet of maritime patrol aircraft fleet in 2010. (The Netherlands did the same in 2003.) Anti-submarine warfare and the North Atlantic were hardly priorities for an Alliance embroiled in peacekeeping, counter-insurgency, and fighting pirates in far-flung Bosnia, Afghanistan, and the Horn of Africa.

That appears to have come to an end;

Russia’s growing sub-surface capabilities are coupled with an apparent political will to use them. Its recently revised maritime strategy emphasizes operations in the Arctic, along with the need for Russian maritime forces to have access to the broader Atlantic Ocean. And that access will have to be, just as during the Cold War, through the GIUK gap.

Now the United States is pivoting back to the region; witness the Obama administration’s recent announcement that it intends to spend part of the proposed 2017 European Reassurance Initiative budget on upgrading facilities at Keflavik.

And the U.S. is not alone. Britain recently announced that it will seek to rebuild its maritime patrol aircraft fleet, probably by buying P-8s from Boeing. Norway is also considering its options for the future of its maritime patrol aircraft, and is also looking to buy a new class of submarines. Norway also recently upgraded its signal intelligence ship with new U.S. sensors, and the ship is primarily intended for operations in the vast maritime spaces of the High North.

Of course, history has been busy while everyone else was distracted. Time for a little catch-up.

The UK is without an indigenous maritime patrol aircraft capability following a decision in 2010 to axe its fleet of Nimrod aircraft for budgetary reasons. However, that has widely been viewed as a mistake, and November’s Strategic Defense and Security Review (SDSR) included a decision to procure nine P-8 aircraft to reinstate that capability.

Those planes will not be operational until 2019, at a time when the increasing presence of Russian nuclear submarines in the North Atlantic has spooked some in London.

Several possible sightings of Russian boats in the approaches to the Royal Navy’s nuclear submarine base at Faslane, Scotland, have resulted in US and other NATO allies drafting in maritime patrol aircraft to mount a search for the vessels.

British crews have been training on US Navy P-8’s and other maritime aircraft following the Nimrod program cancellation.

The program, known as Seedcorn, is aimed at maintaining British anti-submarine and anti-surface warfare skills. As many as British 20 crew have at any one time been embedded with the USN on P-8 operations.

Dunne also confirmed that the United Kingdom still plans to operate US weapons on its P-8 fleet when the planes first come online, before potentially transitioning to British weapons in the future, the nation’s head of military procurement has confirmed.

The equipment on the UK P-8s will “initially” be the same as the US Navy operates, Dunne said. “On the P-8, we are looking at essentially an off the shelf, [foreign military sales] purchase. It’s a [commercial off-the-shelf] capability. We are looking at acquihiring the same suite of capability as the US Navy operate.

“There may be some communications stuff that we need to introduce but as far as the capability is concerned it’s coming sort of as is, fully formed,” he added.

Asked if there was a timetable for when UK equipment might end up on the P-8, Dunne simply said “no.”

That is a nation in a hurry. They slow-rolled this to the point they cannot even defend the approaches to their strategic deterrence in their territorial waters.

Imagine having to call Australia and France to help us look for Russian submarines off Seattle and Kings Bay. Yep.

As the West returns to ASW, it will be at a smaller scale. Things are a bit different now. Russia, while something to contend with, is not the Soviet Union. She is also not the supine Russia of 20 years ago.

Unlike the height of the Cold War, she does not need to get her SSBNs to their designated “Yankee Box” in the middle Atlantic. They can deter from the pier if they need to. They no longer have the Red Banner Fleet, they have assets that if they want to show the flag, they need to get out of the North Sea. To get out of the North Sea, they have to make it through the GIUK Gap. If the Most Dangerous COA takes place and they find themselves in a war – they must threaten shipping and NATO warships in the Atlantic. NATO must prevent that. That is the driver.

They have more than legacy Soviet systems. The Russians are building some impressive modern kit, but in smaller numbers – as are we.

NATO’s military does not have the capacity to do ASW like it used to, so we are lucky. ASW is a numbers game, and you have to have enough hunters to match the game. The days of the Norwegians and other folks getting cracks at them before Bear Island, then you had all sorts of SSK and SSNs from European NATO nations that could create issues, not to mention the flightlines full of USA, CAN, GBR, NOR, NLD and other nations Maritime Patrol aircraft that had regular almost daily real world ASW experience – throw in USNS and USN/NATO RW and surface forces too … and on a good day we were all over them, and that was before the Soviets even got through The Gap.

If the Russians want to come out to play again, then we will have to join them. How much? Hard to tell, but we don’t want to be where the British have found themselves.

So, it is time to return to old stomping grounds and to break the adhesions of intermittent real world ASW prosecutions.

Now, how to fund it? FRA, NLD, DEU – I’m looking to you. NOR and GBR look to be stepping up. ESP, POR, and ITA, we’ll bother you next if the Russians insist on coming through the STROG to bother everyone through the Malta escarpment.

An aerial view of the ramp areas and facilities of the 57th Fighter Interceptor Squadron, with other facilities in the background.


USS Ross (DDG-71) transits the Bosphorus Strait June 3, 2015, after completing routine operations in the Black Sea. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Robert S. Price).

USS Ross (DDG-71) transits the Bosphorus Strait June 3, 2015, after completing routine operations in the Black Sea. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Robert S. Price).

Many of you are familiar with the popular Navy recruiting poster that showcases one of our big-deck carriers and the caption: “90,000 TONS OF DIPLOMACY.” Warships send a strong message of resolve and by their very presence–they deter conflict. Nowhere is this more relevant than in the Black Sea, where our freedom of navigation operations, reassurance measures, and annual exercise plan contributes to the safety, security and prosperity of the Black Sea Region. However, under the terms of the Montreux Convention, an international treaty, a 90,000 ton aircraft carrier is prohibited from transiting the straits into the Black Sea, so we use our Forward Deployed Naval Forces (FDNF) in Europe and other deployed units to fill the void.

Despite how some nations in the region might behave, the Black Sea is in fact a body of international water, no different than the Mediterranean Sea or Baltic Sea, and is subject to customary international law and the provisions of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea defining the rights and obligations of both coastal states and non-coastal states — chief among these are the high seas freedom of navigation and overflight and the right of innocent passage through the territorial seas of a coastal state. Ever since the citizens of Troy guarded the entrance, the straits and sea have been a major thoroughfare for international trade and we must ensure that they always remain so. In 1936, the Montreux Convention was agreed to by all the Black Sea nations, to include the former Soviet Union. It ensured the continued freedom of navigation through the straits and in the Black Sea; while giving Turkey the right to some control over traffic through the Dardanelles and Bosphorus and putting in place a set of tonnage limits on both non-Black Sea and Black Sea nation naval vessels, to include a restriction on all aircraft carriers. Less than ten years later, but a whole world war apart, the shores of Crimea would host the Yalta Conference, an expression of the Great Powers’ desire for peace following the second war to end all wars. How ironic that Yalta, once a gathering place of world powers who would determine how to rebuild post-war Europe is now in “occupied” territory . . .

USS Donald Cook (DDG-75) is moored near Ukraine ship Hetman Sahaydachny (U-130) in Odessa for a reception during Sea Breeze 2015. (Personal photo by Vice Adm. James Foggo).

USS Donald Cook (DDG-75) is moored near Ukraine ship Hetman Sahaydachny (U-130) in Odessa for a reception during Sea Breeze 2015. (Personal photo by Vice Adm. James Foggo).

Of late, the Black Sea Region has been through some tumultuous times. A nasty border war between Georgia and Russia took place in 2008 causing significant setbacks to the Georgian economy, military and infrastructure. The United States was the first to come to Georgia’s aid. In 2014, Russian illegally annexed Crimea in Ukraine, occupied its main port of Sevastopol and confiscated over 50 percent of Ukraine’s Navy. Throughout the conflict, which continues today, the United States has maintained its support for Ukraine, especially in the Maritime Domain. In fact, we are currently in the detailed planning phase for the next multi-national Sea Breeze exercise, hosted by Ukraine and involving other NATO and Black Sea nations in 2016.

ADM Mark Ferguson and I have made several visits to the Allies and partners in the Black Sea Region. We arrange our visits to coincide with exercises and events that occur in Fleet concentration areas and we always receive a warm welcome from our Black Sea partners. Just recently, however, we tried something different. We brought five of the six Black Sea nations to our Headquarters in Naples, Italy for the first-ever Black Sea Forum. The CNOs of the Romanian, Bulgarian and Ukrainian Navy, the Commandant of the Georgian Coast Guard and the Chief of Staff of the Turkish Navy were all in attendance. They were joined by me and ADM Ferguson, Vice-Admiral Clive Johnstone, Commander, NATO Maritime Command (MARCOM), and Flag and General Officers from the European Command (EUCOM), U.S. Marine Corps Forces Europe/Africa (MARFOREUR/AF), and U.S. Army Europe (USAREUR). The Black Sea Forum was a first-of-its-kind event to discuss maritime security in the Black Sea region which faces growing threats from terrorism, massive migration flows and asymmetric threats from the Russian build-up of Anti-Access/Area Denial systems in the Crimea, to include plans to homeport six new Russian Kilo-class submarines in the Black Sea (two of the six have already arrived). The coalescence of all these allies and partners at the Black Sea Forum speaks volumes about their desire for increased security cooperation in the region.

Black Sea Maritime Security Forum

Senior leaders who attended the Black Sea Maritime Security Forum, in Naples, Italy, Feb. 26, 2016. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Daniel P. Schumacher).

Our aim in bringing these nations together into one room was to create an opportunity for meaningful dialogue on how to proceed as maritime nations to secure the Black Sea in the face of a rapidly changing security environment. We were able to stitch together a program that allowed each nation to address the forum with their views of the region. All of the nations agreed that the sea afforded them the benefits of commerce, economic prosperity, and energy independence. They further agreed that increased Russian military presence in the region was a serious concern and potentially destabilizing. We concluded that operating together at-sea and in the air, with common systems and operating procedures, to build capacity and capability was the first step in ensuring we maintained that stability.

Ships from various countries steam in formation during Sea Breeze 2014. Sea Breeze is a multinational maritime exercise with naval forces participants from Ukraine, Georgia, Romania, Turkey, Latvia, and the U.S. (U.S. Navy Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class John Herman).

Ships from various countries steam in formation during Sea Breeze 2014. Sea Breeze is a multinational maritime exercise with naval forces participants from Ukraine, Georgia, Romania, Turkey, Latvia, and the U.S. (U.S. Navy Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class John Herman).

I have written frequently in this forum about the importance of partnerships in maintaining maritime security. From my posts about the revision of the Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower (CS-21R), to my experiences during BALTOPS 2015, and my travels in an around this complex and increasingly important area of operations, I have stayed true to the notion that the presence of strong navies afloat across the globe underwrites the safety and security of the international system. With the CNO’s “Design for Maritime Superiority” now hot off the press, building the global network of strong partnerships necessary to realize those aims is a priority. The idea of a global network, though, does not imply that each member has to view their own interests in a global sense. The network is comprised of individual navies whose contribution is, more often than not, regional. By fostering regional cooperation, however, we can make inroads that will have global impacts.

In Europe and Africa, we are building this network on a regional level in exercises like BALTOPS in the Baltic Sea and the Express Series Exercises around the continent of Africa. The Breeze and Sea Breeze exercises accomplish the same broad objectives in the Black Sea region. The Symposium in Naples last month was just another data point of how we are helping to build cooperation between the navies that call the Black Sea home. The goal of stability within the region cannot be reached by one navy or one nation alone—we are indeed stronger together.



2000px-Emblem_of_the_Военно-Морской_Флот_Российской_Федерации.svgWhat should be on every navalist’s “Top-5” list for 2015 should be the re-awakening of the Russian Navy to the international stage.

It has been building for awhile, but it took Syria to have it break above the ambient noise for many.

Some of the best writing has been of the curious and interested variety with a raised eyebrow or two, but unfortunately, some in the general press has been a bit alarmist. Though I don’t blame him for the title, David Axe’s article at the DailyBeast, U.S. Fears Grow of a ‘Newly Awakened’ Russian Navy, is a more benign example of the type;

A new report from the U.S. Navy’s intelligence branch paints a sobering picture of Putin’s increasingly aggressive fleet—and its deadly international shows of force.

For the first time in 24 years, the U.S. Navy’s intelligence branch has published an unclassified report warning against a rapidly rearming and increasingly aggressive Russian fleet.

And while the report—which the Navy intends for public consumption—has been years in the making, recent events have underscored just how serious its findings are. It’s becoming clearer by the day that, with the strong backing of President Vladimir Putin, the Russian navy is making a serious effort to challenge the world’s preeminent maritime power—the United States.

David makes some good use of folks from the USNI cadre, Norman Polmar and David Wertheim, and the tone of the article is mostly calm – but the choice of the headline is important.

Though much of us in the national security chattering class have always kept an eye on Russia, a large segment has not. They have been focused on the Long War and not much else besides a glance across the Pacific. For them, a returning Russia to the international stage in force has upset their table and is messing with their preconceived notions of what this century should be about.

No reason, at least from the maritime side of the house, to “fear.” Be curious, be watchful, but really nothing to fear. One thing we should do is to continue to watch, write, and discuss where Russia is going. By doing so, the conversation will keep people informed.

Mostly, people only fear the unknown. That is where we come in – let’s study and write about Russia more. Some of us miss her anyway, and who knows – maybe she can give us some ideas we can use to improve our own navy.

M-60 main battle tanks are lined up in the staging area at the Dundalk Marine Terminal after being offloaded from the vehicle cargo/rapid response ship USNS ANTARES (T-AKR-294). The tanks were used by the 32nd Separate Infantry Brigade (Mechanized), Wisconsin Army National Guard, during Exercise Reforger '86.

“Hey 1980s! The second decade of the 21st century is on the POTS line, and they are wondering if they could make some copies of your stuff in the vault.”

As history shows, most times you don’t pick a war – a war picks you.

Of course, in a way, all wars are wars of choice. When faced with aggression, a people can always decide to surrender without a fight – or only after a token resistance. War is a test of national wills on many levels – big wars often result when one side misreads the national will of another.

In the 21st Century, could there possibly be a situation where we would, once again, have to fight our way across the Atlantic to support another entanglement in a European war? As 2016 arrives, are the odds of this greater or lesser than they were 1, 5, or 10 years ago?

Julian E. Barnes and Gordon Lubold at WSJ have a little required reading for you. From their article, NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander, General Philip Breedlove, USAF put out this call that should have all navalists sit up and notice;

“For two decades we haven’t thought about the fact that we are going to have to fight our way across the Atlantic.”

Let’s pull that thread a bit. Don’t bother on how you get there, just start with waking up one day and getting the D&G that you need to ready a sustained opposed crossing of the Atlantic.

For those 45 and older, this should sound familiar.

NATO countries are discussing increasing the number of troops stationed in members bordering Russia and putting them under formal alliance command. The next talks on that idea are likely to come in early December, when foreign ministers gather and begin discussing proposals to be formalized at a Warsaw summit in July.

The Army currently has two brigades—of about 3,500 soldiers each—based in Europe. It has assigned one additional brigade in the U.S. to serve as a regionally aligned force that will rotate into and out of Europe. Gen. Milley said he would like to add more brigades to those rotating to Europe, and add attack helicopter units, engineering teams and artillery brigades.

Throughout the later years of the Cold War, the U.S. military conducted a massive exercise called Reforger, that practiced moving tens of thousands of troops from the U.S. to Europe quickly. While there is no need to revive the exercise on that same scale, a new kind of drill that echoed the old Reforger operation would be helpful, Gen. Milley said.

“Nobody wants to go back to the days of the Cold War,” Gen. Milley said. “We don’t need exercises as big as Reforger anymore. But the concept of Reforger, where you exercise contingency forces … that is exactly what we should be doing.”

Technology has changed, but geography has not. There are some constants from the 1st and 2nd Battles of the Atlantic in the first half of the 20th Century that still apply a century later. Some will repeat, some with rhyme. Some will surprisingly not be a repeat factor, some new factors will show up unexpectedly. There will also be new technologies that no one should talk about that will change the odds greatly in favor or one force or the other. There will also be new technologies that on one should talk about that one force or the other thinks will be “war winning” but once put in to operational use will be a complete dud.

Here are some things that have a high probability of being true in a 3rd Battle of the Atlantic if it happens in 2016 or 2026 or 2056.

– You do not have enough escorts. Those escorts you do have do not have enough ASW or AAW weapons.
– Those ASW and AAW weapons you are going to war with, in addition to not being adequate in number, there is a very good chance that one bit of that kit does not work and cannot kill anything. Hopefully you have a backup for the pointy end of the kill chain. If not, you are going to have a bad first year.
– Higher HQ is asking for too much information from deployed forces, and as a result, deployed forces are talking too much. As a result, the enemy has a better idea of your location than you think, and may have cracked your code.
– Your allied forces that on paper look good? Many of them aren’t what your N2/3 think. Some of them won’t even deploy. Some of those that do won’t engage the enemy to an effective degree.
– The threat from the air will be easier to counter than the threat under the water, though in the early stages, the threat from the air may be a larger concern than you planned.
– This is a game where “body counts” actually matter. If something is being sunk faster than it can be replaced, you need to change what you are doing.
– It will be seductive to think attacking bases will be a shortcut. It will help, but will not be a magic bullet.
– Finally, the war will go on much longer than you think. Though you may think that it is industrial capacity that is going to be your greatest challenge, it may actually be your ability to find competently trained personnel fast enough.

War, if it came, would be very much a come as you are event. We do not have a huge mothball fleet to reactivate. We do not have a huge Naval Reserve to recall. We do not have a diverse industrial capacity to quickly build up, nor, unlike the period right prior to WWII, do we have a few years headstart in new construction.

So, think about it. The geography is the same, technology and enemy different, but the mission is the same; a sustained, opposed crossing of the Atlantic.

Good Sunday morning of Women in Writing Week! This article originally appeared at CIMSEC. It is cross-posted here with the author’s permission.

On August 4th, the Russian Federation’s Foreign Ministry reported that it had resubmitted its claim to a vast swath (more than 1.2 million square kilometers, including the North Pole) of the rapidly changing and potentially lucrative Arctic to the United Nations. In 2002, Russia put forth a similar claim, but it was rejected based on lack of sufficient support. This latest petition, however, is supported by “ample scientific data collected in years of arctic research,” according to Moscow. Russia’s latest submission for the United Nation’s Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf’s (CLCS) consideration coincides with increased Russian activity in the High North, both of a military and economic nature. Recent years have seen Russia re-open a Soviet-era military base in the remote Novosibirsk Islands (2013), with intentions to restore a collocated airfield as well as emergency services and scientific facilities. According to a 2015 statement by Russian Deputy PM Dmitry Rogozin, the curiously named Academic Lomonsov, a floating nuclear power plant built to provide sustained operating power to Arctic drilling platforms and refineries, will be operational by 2016. Though surely the most prolific in terms of drilling and military activity, Russia is far from the only Arctic actor staking their claim beyond traditional EEZs in the High North. Given the increased activity, overlapping claims, and dynamic nature of Arctic environment as a whole, Russia’s latest claim has tremendous implications, whether or not the United Nations CLCS provides a recommendation in favor of Moscow’s assertions.

Academic Lomonsov under construction. Please click on the image for its source.






The Claim:

Russia’s August 2015 claim encompasses an area of more than 463,000 square miles of Arctic sea shelf extending more than 350 nautical miles from the shore. If recognized, the claim would afford Russia control over and exclusive rights to the economic resources of part of the Arctic Ocean’s so-called “Donut Hole.” As the New

A depiction of the "Donut Hole."
A depiction of the “Donut Hole.”

York Times’ Andrew Kramer explains, “the Donut Hole is a Texas sized area of international waters encircled by the existing economic-zone boundaries of shoreline countries.” As such, the donut hole is presently considered part of the global commons. Moscow’s claim is also inclusive of the North Pole and the potentially lucrative Northern Sea Route (or Northeast Passage), which provides an increasingly viable shipping artery between Europe and East Asia. With an estimated thirteen percent of the world’s undiscovered oil and thirty percent of its undiscovered natural gas, the Arctic’s value to Russia goes well beyond strategic advantage and shipping lanes. Recognition by the CLCS of Russia’s claim (or any claim, for that matter) would shift the tone of activity in the Arctic from generally cooperative to increasingly competitive, as well as impinge on the larger idea of a free and indisputable global common.

The Law:

As most readers likely already know, the United Nations’ Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) allows claimants 12nm of territorial seas measured from baselines that normally coincide with low-water coastlines and an exclusive economic zone (EEZ)

A depiction of universal claims afforded by UNCLOS
A depiction of universal claims afforded by UNCLOS

extending to 200 nautical miles (inclusive of the territorial sea). Exploitation of the seabed and resources beyond 200nm requires the party to appeal to the International Seabed Authority unless that state can prove that such resources lie within its continental shelf. Marc Sontag and Felix Luth of The Global Journal explain that “under the law, the continental shelf is a maritime area consisting of the seabed and its subsoil attributable to an individual coastal state as a natural prolongation of its land and territory which can, exceptionally, extend a states right to exploitation beyond the 200 nautical miles of its EEZ.” Such exception requires an appeal to the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS), a panel of experts and scientists that consider claims and supporting data. Essentially, the burden is on Russia to provide sufficient scientific evidence that its continental shelf (and thus its EEZ) extends underneath the Arctic. In any case, as per UNCLOS Article 76(5), such a continental shelf cannot exceed 350 nm from the established baseline. Russia’s latest claim is well beyond this limit; the Federation has stated that the 350 nm limit does not apply to this case because the seabed and its resources are a “natural components of the continent,” no matter their distance from the shore.

The CLCS will present its findings in the form of recommendations, which are not legally binding to the country seeking the appeal. Though Russia has stated it expects a result by the fall, the commission is not scheduled to convene until Feburary or March of 2016 and, as such, there will be a significant waiting period before any recommendation will be made.

Rival Claimants:

Russia is far from the only Arctic actor making claims beyond the 200 nautical mile EEZ. Denmark, for instance, jointly submitted a claim with the government of Greenland expressing ownership over nearly 900,000 square kilometers of the Arctic (including the North Pole) based on the connection between Greenland’s continental shelf and the Lomonosov Ridge, which spans kontinsokkel_uknearly the entire diameter of the donut hole. This claim clearly overlaps Russia’s latest submission, which is also based on the claim that the ridge represents an extension of Russia’s continental shelf. Though there is no dispute on the ownership of the ridge, both Russia and Denmark claim the North Pole. Both nations have recently expressed a desire to work cooperatively on a resolution, though a Russian Foreign ministry statement did estimate a solution could take up to 10-15 years. Also of note: this has note always been Russia’s tune on the matter (See here and here).

Similarly, Canada is expected to make a bid to extend its Arctic territory. Notably, Canada claims sovereignty over the Northwest Passage, a shipping route connecting the Davis Strait and Baffin Bay based on historical precedent and its orientation to baselines drawn around the Arctic Archipelago. The U.S. maintains that the Northwest Passage should be an international strait. Though they have yet to submit a formal claim to the UN’s CLCS, one has reportedly been in preparation since 2013. According to reports, Canada delayed a last-minute claim at the behest of PM Stephen Harper, who insisted the claim include the North Pole. If this holds true, Canada’s claim will likely overlap both Russia and Denmark’s submissions to the CLCS. If the CLCS were to recognize the legitimacy of two or more states’ overlapping claims, the actors have the option to bilaterally or multilaterally resolve the issue to their satisfaction; developing such a resolution is beyond the scope of the commission.


Likely, Russia’s submission to the United Nations is part of a larger campaign by Moscow to reassert and re-establish its influence in the international order by virtue of its status Arctic influence. Regardless of approval or rejection by the UN, Russia’s expansive claim highlights Moscow’s very serious intention to control and exploit the Arctic. As the Christian Science Monitor’s Denise Ajiri explains, “a win would mean access to sought after resources, but the petition itself underscores Russia’s broader interest in solidifying its footing on the world stage.” With much of Western Europe reliant on Russian oil and natural gas, the Arctic and its resources represent an opportunity for the Kremlin to boost their position in the international order and develop a source of sustained and significant income. Russia may be acting within the letter of the law on the issue of their claim at this time, but it’s hard to separate that compliance from the Federation’s significant investment in the militarization of the Arctic, frequent patrols along the coastline of Arctic neighbors, and expenditure on the economic exploitation of the High North. For now, the donut hole remains part of the global commons and therefore free from direct exploitation or claim of sovereignty. The burden of proof on any one state to claim an extension of their continental shelf is truly enormous, but as experts and lawyers at the CLCS pore over these claims, receding Arctic ice combined with economic and strategic interests of the claimants will likely increase the claimants’ sense of urgency.

Russian-MistralAs reported by our friend Sam last week, there is a answer to the quandry about the French sale of the two MISTRAL amphibious assault ships to the Russians. It really is the most logical and face saving option for the French. This time it was brought up by Admiral James G. Stavridis, USN (Ret.),

“France has made a good decision stopping the sale process — it would be absurd for NATO to be providing assistance to Ukraine on the one hand while selling arms to Russia on the other,” said retired James G. Stavridis — U.S. Naval Institute’s Chair of the Board of Directors — said in a statement to USNI News.

“If the [Russian] arms embargo continues, then the idea of NATO purchasing one or even two as part of a rapid reaction force might make sense… “[But] it is too soon to tell, given discussion today about ceasefires and political settlement.”

Let’s work through a few assumptions here:
1. NATO could hobble together the funding and agree to the purchase.
2. The French are willing to handle the blowback from the Russian.
3. We have a spark of imagination.

If 1-3 are taken care of, what would NATO do with them? Stavridis is close … but there is a more perfect answer, and it is closer than you would think.

The intellectual and practical structure is already in place. Let’s look at the closest enabling supports of a successful structure inside NATO that would need to be in place to make this happen. We have two.

First, can NATO run a tactical and operational unit with personnel from multiple nations working together at a practical level? Sure, they already are. Let’s look to the air;

The E-3A Component’s three flying squadrons are structured essentially the same, yet each carries its own traditions and character. The squadrons operate the Component’s 17 E-3A Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) aircraft.

Military personnel from 16 of the 17 E-3A Component participating countries man the Component’s squadrons. Most of the personnel are aircrew on the E-3A and a few work full time in support. ….


In order to operate the complex equipment on an AWACS, the E-3A has a crew of 16 drawn from a variety of branches, trades and nationalities, all of whom are extensively trained in their respective roles.

NATO has been making it happen in the air for a quarter of a century in the air, why not the sea?

Does that structure exist? Well, in a fashion, yes;

Standing NATO Maritime Group 1 and 2

The Standing NATO Maritime Groups are a multinational, integrated maritime force made up of vessels from various allied countries. These vessels are permanently available to NATO to perform different tasks ranging from participating in exercises to actually intervening in operational missions. These groups provide NATO with a continuous maritime capability for NATO Response Force (NRF) operations, non-NRF operations and other activities in peacetime and in periods of crisis and conflict. They also help to establish Alliance presence, demonstrate solidarity, conduct routine diplomatic visits to different countries, support transformation and provide a variety of maritime military capabilities to ongoing missions.

SNMG1 and SNMG2 alternate according to the operational needs of the Alliance, therefore helping to maintain optimal flexibility.

SNMG1 is usually employed in the Eastern Atlantic area, but it can deploy anywhere NATO requires. It is made up of vessels from different member countries. Those that routinely contribute to SNMG1 are Canada, Denmark, Germany, The Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain and the United States. Other countries have occasionally contributed.

SNMG2 is usually employed in the Mediterranean area, but it can deploy anywhere NATO requires. It is made up of vessels from different member countries. Those that routinely contribute to SNMG2 are Germany, Greece, Italy, The Netherlands, Spain, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States. Other countries have occasionally contributed.

SNMG1 comes under the command of Allied Maritime Component Command Headquarters Northwood, in the United Kingdom, which is one of the three Component Commands of Allied Joint Force Command Brunssum.

Normally, SNMG2 comes under the command of Allied Maritime Component Command (CC-Mar) Naples, which is one of the three Component Commands of Allied Joint Force Command Naples.

There’s your structure – something that just needs a little modification and updating. You know what SNMG1 and SMNG2 need? That’s right – Flag Ships; standing permanent LCCesque Flag Ships. Two SNMG, two Mistral; a match made if not in heaven, then at least in Brussels.

Think about what the SNMG do, ponder a multi-national crew (even sweeten the deal by promising the French they will always have command of the SNMG2 Flag Ship), and look at what the MISTRAL Class brings to the fight. A bit larger than the old IWO JIMA LPH with a well deck to boot, MISTRAL provides;

The flight deck of each ship is approximately 6,400 square metres (69,000 sq ft). The deck has six helicopter landing spots, one of which is capable of supporting a 33 tonne helicopter. … According to Mistral’s first commanding officer, Capitaine de vaisseau Gilles Humeau, the size of the flight and hangar decks would allow the operation of up to thirty helicopters.

Mistral-class ships can accommodate up to 450 soldiers, … The 2,650-square-metre (28,500 sq ft) vehicle hangar can carry a 40-strong Leclerc tank battalion, or a 13-strong Leclerc tank company and 46 other vehicles.

The 885-square-metre (9,530 sq ft) well deck can accommodate four landing craft. The ships are capable of operating two LCAC hovercraft … a 850-square-metre (9,100 sq ft) command centre which can host up to 150 personnel. … Each ship carries a NATO Role 3 medical facility … The 900 m² hospital provides 20 rooms and 69 hospitalisation beds, of which 7 are fit for intensive care.

A little NATO common funding and we have two NATO LCC and then some. Problem solved. Understanding that it will require a fair bit of turnip squeezing to keep funded at a proper level, but there is a lot of win here – and to be a bit more realpolitic – it may be the only way to peel these away from the Russians.

seacontrolemblemSea Control discusses the Crimean Crisis, with three CIMSEC writers: Dave Blair, Viribus Unitis, and Robert Rasmussen. We discuss Russia’s aims and tactics, the Maidan movement, Ukrainian governance and passive resistance, and what this crisis means for Russia and the EU/NATO.

DOWNLOAD: Sea Control 25 – Crimean Crisis

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Chuck Hill joins Matt to talk about design, use, and possibilities of naval corvettes, reflecting on the articles from 2013’s Corvette week. From definitions, to potential employment, to interdiction operations during Vietnam… this podcast runs the gamut. Please enjoy, Sea Control Episode 18: Naval Corvettes (download).

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