Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

Pirate watch (II): A possible long-term answer

Pirate Watcher Herb Carmen buzzed the deck of the USS Best Defense and dropped this message from his cockpit: By Cdr. Herb Carmen Best Defense Buccaneers Beat Reporter Thanks to all who submitted comments and emails in response to our first post on piracy.  You already are giving me new ideas for future posts. I ...

Pirate Watcher Herb Carmen buzzed the deck of the USS Best Defense and dropped this message from his cockpit:

Pirate Watcher Herb Carmen buzzed the deck of the USS Best Defense and dropped this message from his cockpit:

By Cdr. Herb Carmen

Best Defense Buccaneers Beat Reporter

Thanks to all who submitted comments and emails in response to our first post on piracy.  You already are giving me new ideas for future posts. I had intended to make this post a discussion of defining piracy.  Instead, I’d like to take a detour and highlight the U.S. Navy’s Africa Partnership Station (APS) because it has the potential, over time, to build and promote anti-piracy capacity along the east coast of Africa. 

Vice Admiral Harry B Harris, Jr., Deputy Commander of U.S. Naval Forces Africa,  in a briefing with reporters a couple of days ago described APS as "an international initiative, which promotes maritime security and stability in the region."

APS began even before there was a U.S. Africa Command, when engagement with Africa was U.S. European Command’s responsibility. APS helps partners develop professional maritime forces and infrastructure through classroom and hands-on practical training and exercises.  Some of the subjects they cover include lifesaving, damage control, laws of armed conflict, search and seizure, small boat operations, maintenance, and physical security.  In previous years, APS has focused on the Gulf of Guinea region, which has led to larger participation by the Gulf of Guinea nations.

This year’s effort also includes a component on the east coast of Africa.  Describing APS East, ADM Harris said, "While still smaller than APS West, [APS East has] an international staff of 15 folks from Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique and Mauritius, and two ships dedicated to this mission. And as I speak, APS East today is in Mombasa, Kenya, training with Kenyans and other sailors from east Africa."

One of APS East’s focus areas is counter-piracy, but it’s important to note that APS East is not conducting operational counter-piracy missions.  It is working with African partners to build and improve the capability to perform that mission.

High Speed Vessel Swift (HSV 2), USS Nicholas (FFG 47), and USNS Grapple are participating in APS East.  Twenty nations have participated in APS to date, including nine European nations, numerous NGOs and government agencies. This year, a Belgian ship will participate.   In VADM Harris’ interview, he was asked if he would encourage governments to like China or Japan to participate in APS.  His response: "Yes. Sure. Absolutely, yes."

In my view, the pre-planning, coordination, and follow-through with partner nations are probably the most important aspect of the program.  Without clear expectations and coordinated execution, APS will not improve maritime security.

The goal is building capability, not measuring capability against another country.  VADM Harris explains, "So one country may have a capability in one area that is lower than another country, so that’s a country we want to focus on as we build international capacity, because we want to help the countries build their own capacity to conduct their own operations, as we saw in Benin, as we see in Sierra Leone and so on."

So if APS East is still small, what effect, if any, can it have on solving the piracy problem off the Somali coast?  The answer is probably very little in 2010, but given the way that APS West has grown since it began as simply an idea in 2005, it might not take a long before we see increased participation and read about success stories like this one in Sierra Leone.

One historical, land-centric example of collaborative exercises to build partner capability is Combined Endeavor, a series of communications interoperability workshops and exercises that began in 1995 between the United States and nine central and eastern European nations.  Today, 40 nations participate in the largest military communications exercise in the world, planned and executed by its partner nations.

The success of Combined Endeavor inspired U.S. European Command (again, prior to Africa Command) to start Africa Endeavor. Three years of planning and negotiations took place before its first event happened in 2006 in Pretoria, South Africa.  In Africa Endeavor 2010, 30 nations will participate.

What I’ve seen from the Combined Endeavor and Africa Endeavor examples and from the first few years of APS is a gradual improvement in partner capability and a rapid increase in the momentum of partner participation. 

In 2015, will we look back at APS East as a contributing factor in the abatement of piracy off the east coast of Africa?

As always, send your tips, fanmail and music videos to pirates@cnas.org

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

More from Foreign Policy

Newspapers in Tehran feature on their front page news about the China-brokered deal between Iran and Saudi Arabia to restore ties, signed in Beijing the previous day, on March, 11 2023.
Newspapers in Tehran feature on their front page news about the China-brokered deal between Iran and Saudi Arabia to restore ties, signed in Beijing the previous day, on March, 11 2023.

Saudi-Iranian Détente Is a Wake-Up Call for America

The peace plan is a big deal—and it’s no accident that China brokered it.

Austin and Gallant stand at podiums side by side next to each others' national flags.
Austin and Gallant stand at podiums side by side next to each others' national flags.

The U.S.-Israel Relationship No Longer Makes Sense

If Israel and its supporters want the country to continue receiving U.S. largesse, they will need to come up with a new narrative.

Russian President Vladimir Putin lays flowers at the Moscow Kremlin Wall in the Alexander Garden during an event marking Defender of the Fatherland Day in Moscow.
Russian President Vladimir Putin lays flowers at the Moscow Kremlin Wall in the Alexander Garden during an event marking Defender of the Fatherland Day in Moscow.

Putin Is Trapped in the Sunk-Cost Fallacy of War

Moscow is grasping for meaning in a meaningless invasion.

An Iranian man holds a newspaper reporting the China-brokered deal between Iran and Saudi Arabia to restore ties, in Tehran on March 11.
An Iranian man holds a newspaper reporting the China-brokered deal between Iran and Saudi Arabia to restore ties, in Tehran on March 11.

How China’s Saudi-Iran Deal Can Serve U.S. Interests

And why there’s less to Beijing’s diplomatic breakthrough than meets the eye.