Vice Adm. Henry G. Ulrich III, commander, U.S. Naval Forces Europe (CNE), spent time early this year in Ghana, Gabon, Angola and South Africa looking for military partners, offering security assistance and searching for ways to create new military coalitions with networked communications.You know, read the whole thing. It explains a lot.
Ulrich also has cast his eyes — and his forces — eastward, building relations with nations in the Black Sea region, including new NATO members Bulgaria and Romania, as well as Russia, the Ukraine, Georgia and Azerbaijan.
Meanwhile, he has continued the efforts of his predecessor to reduce the Navy’s footprint in the Mediterranean to a fraction of its level of a decade ago, when naval forces totaled about 25 warships, including several submarines. Today, two ships are permanently assigned to the Sixth Fleet, the U.S. operational command in the Mediterranean, normally augmented by four warships and one or two submarines from the Atlantic Fleet. The dedicated naval aviation presence there comprises four P-3C maritime patrol aircraft plus a few utility helicopters and transports, a stark contrast to the 15 or more P-3Cs in the region just a decade ago.
The U.S. naval presence in Europe and the Mediterranean is diminished to the point that it often is difficult for commanders to make ships available to train with longtime U.S. allies in Western Europe, said Cmdr. Craig Anderson, desk officer for international security strategy in Northern Europe and NATO for the chief of naval operations.
After 60 years of intensive focus on Western Europe and the Mediterranean regions, U.S. naval forces in Europe are in the midst of fundamental reform to deal with a rapidly changing strategic environment shaped in part by military concerns about terrorist activities across in Africa, more demanding U.S. maritime security requirements and a growing U.S. dependence on West African crude oil.
U.S. military leaders have pointed to Africa as an incubator for terrorists. Gen. James L. Jones, NATO commander, told Seapower in 2004: “In Africa, there are clear signs of fundamentalists taking root and fomenting all kinds of problems for the future.”
Adm. Mike Mullen, chief of naval operations, said in January: “We’ve captured what we believe are some pirates off the Horn of Africa. There is piracy in lots of places. There is drug trafficking. There is weapon trafficking. There’s illegal immigration. … It’s the full spectrum.”
This is particularly worrisome, said Ulrich, because, “A lot of shipping is coming from … Africa, either around the Cape [of Good Hope] or originating in Africa.” One of his goals is “to have better awareness of where that shipping is coming from [and] what it’s doing, and to be able to provide that information back to the East Coast of the United States.”
Achieving that end will require partnerships with nations in the region. Ulrich is working with “the maritime forces on the west coast of Africa” to improve their security, surveillance and policing capabilities “so they know what’s going through their waters and what’s originating from their ports.”
For most of the nations in the region, “their big focus with maritime safety and security is economic,” said Cmdr. Mark McDonald, spokesman for CNE. Petroleum, vital to the economic development of the region and to the U.S. economy, is of particular interest. Gabon, for example, is concerned about attacks on, and pilfering from, oil wells at sea, he said.
“Fishing is, in many cases, critical to their survival,” he said. Piracy, smuggling and illegal fishing are serious problems in the region, as is human trafficking.
He noted two advantages of crude from West Africa.
“It is very easy to load up to a tanker and pop straight across to the [U.S.] Gulf Coast market, one of the most important crude markets in the world. West African crudes have become a swing crude between the Atlantic and Pacific basins. Wherever the prices are best, the crude can flow either way, east or west,” Qureshi said. “It tends to be high-quality crude, it’s easier to process, it produces more of the clean products we need more easily, so it’s more valuable.”
Illegal pilfering of oil is a problem, especially in Nigeria.
“Generally, all sorts of pirating is going on,” Qureshi said. “A lot of puncturing of pipelines. About 20 percent of Nigeria’s crude production right now is offline because of ethnic and criminal unrest going on in the Niger Delta. The communities in the Niger Delta are extremely unhappy about the distribution of revenues within Nigeria, and we’ve seen increasing willingness to express that though violence directed specifically at the oil industry.
“If significant volumes are taken offline in Nigeria, that can affect the price [of oil], especially if the market is tight anyway from other factors around the world,” he said.
UPDATE: While you are at it, read the interview with Admiral Fallon, commander Pacific Command which also reveals the challenges faced on that side of the world:
Some states in the region — such as the Philippines — are breeding grounds for what Fallon calls a “worldwide terror network … pretty much focused in Southeast Asia.” Other Pacific nations long have been known for anti-American sentiment stemming from the days when the United States supported dictators such as Indonesia’s Mohammed Suharto, who limited personal freedoms, allied with the West and built a fortune for himself and his family by controlling large swaths of the nation’s economy.
Fallon is improving communications with China’s military as a means to create a more transparent relationship and build mutual confidence. Special Operations Forces under his command provide antiterrorist training to several countries dotting the Pacific, and he’s determined to build on the goodwill generated by the U.S. forces that sped to the aid of nations devastated by the 2004 tsunami. PACOM’s hospital ship, the USNS Mercy, returns to the region this spring for an extended tour to provide medical services in Indonesia and elsewhere.