Maritime Security, Seapower and Trade

Speech – US State Department

Remarks Tom Kelly Acting Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Political-Military Affairs U.S. Naval War College Newport, Rhode Island March 25, 2014Maritime Security, Seapower and Trade
Tom Kelly
Acting Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Political-Military Affairs
U.S. Naval War College
Newport, Rhode Island
March 25, 2014

(As Prepared)

Reflections on Maritime Strategy

It’s a great pleasure to be back in Newport. I’m proud to say that my family has roots in Little Rhody. My mother grew up 20 miles from here in Barrington, and she first met my father down the road from here on Bellevue Avenue when they were both performing as actors in summer stock theater here. My grandparents retired to Little Compton, so I’ve been coming up to this area ever since I was born. I want to welcome this evening’s Little Compton contingent, including my Uncle Chris and Aunt Suzie Burns, as well as their friends Captain Ron and Jane Bogle. Chris and Suzie were kind enough to allow me to officiate, as a seven year-old on the lawn of our rental house in Little Compton, at a make-up wedding event for those who weren’t able to attend the real thing. I’ve always considered this my first official public event, and I want them to know that I’m available if they need some vows renewed.

This is my second visit to the Naval War College. Last summer, I had the honor to attend the Joint Force Maritime Component Commander Course, or JFMCC, to spend a week being taught by the Navy’s leadership, with many of the Navy’s up-and-coming leaders as my fellow students. I can honestly say that I was awed by all of the talent that surrounded me. All of these folks were experienced warriors with cool nicknames like “Bull” and “Tree,” and they also happened to be brilliant and thoughtful. Our nation’s naval security really is in the hands of our best and brightest. It made me even more proud that my nephew and godson was experiencing plebe summer at the Naval Academy at the same time that I was in JFMCC.

Now, I didn’t always know what was going on in the JFMCC. As a career diplomat, I speak foreign languages, but I don’t speak Navy. So there were some things that I didn’t really understand. Some of them, I could figure out. The fifth time or so when someone commented that they were “out of Schlitz,” I wasn’t sure exactly what it meant, but I have some acquaintance with beverages, so I concluded that the expression meant something bad, as in “it is lamentable that I no longer have a beverage.” So I worked my way through as much Navyspeak as I could. But there were some that I just could not figure out. Some were so bizarre to me that I wrote them down. Here’s my personal favorite. In the classroom, all of the participants nodded sagely when the presenter put that up, while I sat there looking even more bewildered than usual. Is it significant that the addition sign is underlined? I don’t know. I still have absolutely no idea what it means… maybe my nephew will be able to translate for me next time I see him.

So even though I am still a novice on Navy lingo, I am very interested in the work that the Navy does, and what that work means for our nation’s security and foreign policy.

One of the great strategic advantages of the United States is that, as “America, the Beautiful” reminds us, our nation stretches from “sea to shining sea.” The oceans have been part of our identity – and our protection – since the founding of the country. They have been the path through which we became both a great commercial and a great military force. I may be a diplomat, but I believe in naval power. It makes my job easier. I grew up on the shores of the Pacific Ocean. My professional background is in trade. So it’s very natural for me to see the oceans and our maritime security as essential to our continued prosperity.

Defining Maritime Security

Ninety-percent of world trade is conducted on the oceans. Our food, our fuel, our imports and exports all travel on these global economic highways. Maritime trade is our nation’s life blood. Keeping the oceans free for commerce – in two words, maritime security – is key to our national security.

How important is maritime security? Ask the Greeks. They faced odds of about three to one at the Battle of Artemisium, the sea side of the Battle of Thermopylae. They survived, due partly to good luck, and lived to fight another day at the Battle of Salamis, where they defeated the invading Persians for good. The Greek ability to secure their maritime domain may have saved western civilization as we know it today.

Alfred Thayer Mahan

I know that every invited speaker to this institution must genuflect to Alfred Thayer Mahan. I thought I would take care of that early in my speech.

Mahan, the most important American strategist of the nineteenth century, helped an earlier generation of Americans to understand the meaning of maritime security for the United States. His concept of sea power was based on the idea that countries with greater naval power will have greater worldwide impact. This concept had enormous influence in shaping strategic thought of navies around the world. Mahan set the stage for the American Navy to become the most powerful in the world.

He argued that naval power, control of the seas, was the key to success in international politics: the nation that controlled the seas held the upper hand in modern warfare. For Mahan, a strong Navy was important to the conduct of commerce.

Broadening Our Definition of Maritime Security

Many things have changed since Mahan was teaching here. One is our definition of maritime security. It has broadened a lot. Today, this phrase encompasses a complex set of issues, including both public and private activities, sometimes with diametrically opposed interests. The maritime domain faces threats from nation states, terrorists, unregulated fishing, natural and environmental disruption, mass migration, and organized criminal activity like smuggling and piracy.

I would note that it is not always military might that provides or denies security in the maritime domain.

Mother Nature reminded us that she still controls some aspects of maritime security. Navies could not have stopped the tsunami in Japan or the typhoon just a few months ago in the Philippines. Leaking oil from ships and tankers that ran aground pollutes the oceans. Oil and mercury from damaged vessels endangers the food supply chains in both fresh and salt water bodies.

Climate change is affecting the Arctic. As the ice cap shrinks, old shipping lanes are expanding and, in some cases, new ones are opening. Opening these Arctic lanes to commerce and keeping them free will be important. As the lanes open, we’ll see more demand for access to the Arctic’s natural resources, which in turn may raise the stakes on territorial disputes.

Off the east coast of Africa, it is not nature but mankind causing the biggest problems. Restoring safe transit for shipping off the coast of Somalia has been a particularly daunting challenge, but it’s also an area where we have had significant success. Navies have been part of the solution, but not the whole story, which I’ll discuss in a few minutes.

It’s not just the virtuous who think about maritime security. It’s probably on Vladimir Putin’s mind, too, as Russia acts in the Crimean peninsula. The Crimean peninsula has been Russia’s warm water outlet to the west since the eighteenth century. From Sevastopol, the Russian fleet has relatively easy access to the Mediterranean, and from there, the Atlantic Ocean.

So, Alfred Thayer Mahan was on to something.

U.S. Government Partners in maritime security

Today, I will talk to you about three ways that the U.S. government is promoting security at sea. First, we teamed up with governments, NGOs, industry, and civil society to deal a blow to pirates off the coast of Somalia. Second, we created a common language for partners at sea to use known as the Maritime Security Sector Reform guide. And third, we at State crossed the Potomac River to work with our DoD colleagues to build partner capacity in the Asia-Pacific.

Those of you who have read my bio know that I work at the State Department in “PM,” or the Bureau of Political Military Affairs. We like to say that we’re the connective tissue between State and Defense. And indeed, in the past five years, we are seeing more interaction, more coordinated engagements, and more personnel exchanges than ever before.

The Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia

I am proud of my bureau, but I have to admit that we’re very, very small compared to DoD. Pol Mil currently has five people working full time on maritime security. They are a microcosm of the Pol-Mil cooperation of which I just spoke. We have two former Navy Captains, who know the military side of things, and two Foreign Service Officers, with expertise in political and diplomatic issues. We also have an active duty Coast Guard Captain on detail to us.

That small office has led U.S. efforts to eradicate piracy and its causes. Piracy is one of the world’s oldest professions. Most of you know that piracy was one of the key factors that led our young republic to build the famous “six frigates” that served as the backbone of the U.S. Navy in the early nineteenth century. And you know that some of our navy’s first engagements were against the Barbary pirates who preyed on American shipping in the Mediterranean.

Back in late 2008, Somali pirates were as much of a problem as the Barbary pirates two centuries earlier. Somali pirates roamed an area as large as the continental United States in their search for new victims. In addition to the threat posed to innocent mariners, pirate activity was costing the global economy an estimated 7 billion dollars a year.

The way we responded as a government is a blueprint for how our nation should respond to tough, international challenges. The U.S. military couldn’t have solved this problem by itself, and neither could U.S. diplomats. But working together, we did solve it. Here’s what we did. In 2009, the United States helped to establish the Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia. It now includes more than 80 nations, non-governmental and international organizations, and industry and civil society groups working together to take the fight to the pirates.

Through the Contact Group, the members of the international community have coordinated multi-national naval patrols and helped to disrupt the pirates’ illicit business model. The U.S. Navy was naturally at the center of that effort. At the same time, we worked with industry and foreign ports to enable on-board privately contracted armed security teams to protect vessels in dangerous waters. No ship with a privately contracted armed security team embarked has ever been hijacked.

Our diplomatic efforts played a critical role. For example, we worked with partner nations to deter piracy through the prosecution and incarceration of pirates and their networks. Today, over 1,400 pirates are in custody in 20 countries around the world.

The results of all of these efforts is what I think is one of the most important multilateral success stories of this young century. For almost two years now, the pirates have had as much success against the Navy as Army’s football team. Thanks in large part to the combined naval efforts in the Gulf of Aden, there has not been a single, successful attack against major commercial vessels in the Indian Ocean in almost two years. Pirates today do not possess a single, seaworthy, hijacked merchant ship. A few years ago, pirates held over 600 hostages. Today, they hold only a few dozen, and we’re doing all we can to facilitate their release.

We should remember that piracy has flourished off the coast of Somalia because of the inability of Somali authorities to provide security in coastal regions and deny safe havens the pirates require to operate. The recent histories of countries like Somalia and Afghanistan is a solemn reminder to the U.S. of the cost of allowing failed states to develop and fester. Knowing that our collective gains against Somali piracy are fragile and reversible, our challenge is to maintain our concerted efforts to suppress piracy until Somalia is able to deliver security to its citizens – and to the world’s merchant seamen – on its own.

Maritime Security Sector Reform

The success of the Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia has led to closer cooperation between the United States and the European Union when it comes to defining maritime security.

In consultation with our European partners, the United States developed a framework to help define maritime security in the context of security sector reform. In December 2010, the Bureau of Political Military Affairs published the Maritime Security Sector Reform Guide, the second way we have responded to the expanding definition of maritime security.

The MSSR Guide, as we call it, is an attempt to develop a common lexicon for the maritime sector when we discuss security. It emphasizes the interdependency of the Maritime, Criminal Justice, Civil Justice, and Commercial sectors in maritime security.

The MSSR guide is the only comprehensive attempt to establish agreed upon terms of reference relating to maritime security. The U.S. and EU are working together to achieve internationally-accepted Terms of Reference to facilitate our efforts to build institutional capacity in African states so that we can eventually re-task our respective navies from the Gulf of Aden to other areas where their capabilities are required. This isn’t going to be easy. African nations don’t tend to invest in their navies. But we need to help them build their capacity – helping them will help us.

We should remember that outside the domestic waters of the United States, securing our own maritime security depends on our foreign policy. Our security assistance programs – which are run out of my bureau – can be a critical tool to support states trying to build their security capacity – which feeds into larger foreign policy objectives beyond achieving peace and security – such as promoting economic growth, democracy, and human rights. By investing in our partners to help them take on greater security responsibilities at sea, State and DoD are working together to build partner capacity – particularly in the Asia-Pacific region.

The Financial Tools Available To Us and the Rebalance to Asia

As the Departments of State and Defense develop ways to cooperate on maritime security, we might consider the thoughts of John Maynard Keynes: money is a link between the present and the future. The Departments have two primary financial links.

Section 1206 Authority

The first link is Section 1206 Authority. Under this program, State and DoD work together to create proposals to train and equip security partners for counterterrorism missions or missions in which U.S. forces are participating like Afghanistan. The funding for 1206 resides in DoD, but the Secretary of State must approve any expenditure.

Global Security Contingency Fund

The second financial tool is the Global Security Contingency Fund or GSCF, a four-year pilot project authorized by Congress in Fiscal Year 2012 to help us carry out security, counterterrorism, and rule of law training in hot spots around the world. GSCF is new, and it’s going through some growing pains like any new government program. State and DoD can use GSCF to bring the breadth of the U.S. government’s consolidated capabilities to bear on an emerging problem. In what is perhaps the first real step toward a national security budget, the GSCF requires State and DoD to fund, formulate, plan, and approve all proposals in a completely joint manner.

Under the GSCF, the Departments of Defense and State pool funds. We split it 80/20 because DoD is much bigger than us. This requires us not only to fund and implement together, but to plan and shape engagements together – from day one. This approach could be a model for our security assistance going forward – recognizing we need a holistic approach to problems, and addressing them comprehensively.

Why are funds like these important? Well, State and DoD may have been able to prevent or at least better respond to the bombing of the USS Cole in October 2000 had we worked more closely to enable foreign maritime security forces to perform counterterrorism operations. As funds like these institutionalize collaboration and cooperation between State and DoD, and the Defense Attaché at post meets with the Political Counselor, our diligent action officers throughout the national security establishment start to identify opportunities for these programs. As we talk more about the security of our sea lanes, we see bigger, broader strategic trends.

The Rebalance Toward Asia

Consider the Asia-Pacific region, home to many of the world’s most heavily traveled trade and energy routes. Twenty-first century capitalism cannot function unless these sea lanes remain secure. Our 555 billion dollars in exports to the Asia-Pacific last year supported 2.8 million jobs here in America. The security and prosperity of the United States are inextricably linked to the peaceful development of the Asia-Pacific, including in the maritime domain. You don’t get trade with Asia without open sea lanes.

As an example of our commitment to strengthen maritime capacities in Southeast Asia, on December 16, Secretary of State Kerry announced that the U.S. will provide 40 million dollars (in GSCF money by the way) to the Philippines in new regional and bilateral assistance to advance maritime security capacity building in the area. The GSCF money will complement a 32-and-a-half million dollar regional assistance package that will help Southeast Asian nations protect their territorial waters.

The Secretary’s announcement builds upon the United States’ longstanding commitment to support the efforts of Southeast Asian nations to enhance security and prosperity in the region. Existing programs include efforts to combat piracy in and around the Malacca Strait; to counter transnational organized crime and terrorist threats in the tri-border region south of the Sulu Sea between the southern Philippines, Indonesia, and Malaysia; and to expand information sharing and professional training through the Gulf of Thailand initiative.

In a few weeks, I’ll travel to Chittagong, Bangladesh, where the Bangladeshi Navy will show me the Somudra Joy, formerly the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Jarvis, which enables the Bangladeshi Navy to promote maritime security. This transfer has achieved real results by contributing to a seventy percent reduction in piracy and smuggling in the Bay of Bengal.

Let me just add two things about the rebalance to Asia. First, the provision of this security assistance doesn’t mean the U.S. has abandoned our commitment to human rights. In Vietnam, Secretary Kerry said recently that we want to improve our security partnership. The Secretary added that Vietnam “needs to show continued progress on human rights and freedom, including the freedom of religion, the freedom of expression, and the freedom of association.” In both Vietnam and Bangladesh, I’ll encourage governments to improve in these areas, even as we seek closer security partnerships.

The second item I want to address is China. I know that there are some who think our rebalance to Asia is part of a broader American effort to contain China. Let me be clear: that’s not the case. On the contrary, the United States wants to build a cooperative partnership with China. We understand that China will play an important role in critical global challenges like fighting climate change, wildlife trafficking, and countering proliferation. We welcome that role: those problems won’t get fixed without China’s help. And we recognize that our two economies are deeply intertwined. We consistently seek to engage with China on all levels on a wide range of issues. We want to do more with China in many areas, including economic relations. National Security Advisor Susan Rice recently said that the United States welcomes China and any other nation interested in joining and sharing the benefits of the Trans-Pacific Partnership so long as they can commit to the high standards of the agreement.

The United States seeks to build healthy, stable, reliable, and continuous military-to-military relations with China. We maintain a robust schedule of military-to-military exchanges and dialogues in pursuit of that goal and to encourage transparency. In addition, U.S. military, diplomatic, and defense officials participate in a range of combined civilian-military dialogues with the Chinese in which we work to build mutual trust and understanding. I’ve participated personally in some of them, both in Washington and Beijing.


That brings us back to maritime security. My argument is that phenomena like typhoons and tsunamis, climate change, and man-made problems like piracy have all broadened the way we look at maritime security. The U.S. government has attempted to take on our many new challenges at sea through closer cooperation between the Departments of State and Defense. At the Political Military Bureau, State-Defense cooperation is all that we do.

While we may have expanded the definition of maritime security, let’s give old Alfred Thayer Mahan some credit. The heart of his theories still holds true: global maritime security is an essential element of American security and prosperity. And that’s why, after the passage of two centuries, we’re still fighting pirates.

No doubt this year will bring new maritime challenges, and the Departments of State and Defense stand together, ready to meet them.

Thanks for inviting me to speak here in Little Rhody. I’m always happy to be here.

I would be happy to take questions.

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