Missiles and Pirates
In the week ahead, I'll focus on two topics that don't always get a huge amount of attention, but are very important: piracy and missile defense. These are two key missions we are undertaking today with NATO forces and reflect the kind of trans-national threats that the Alliance must be prepared to face in this turbulent 21st century.
Let me begin with piracy.
We face a significant global problem that has caused extensive and expensive disruptions to the global maritime transportation grid. In particular, off the horn of Africa in the northern Indian Ocean, we've seen hundreds of pirate attacks and dozens of successful hijackings over the past five years. Costs to the international community are estimated to be as high as $5-10 billion per year, and hundreds of mariners have been held hostage for ransom.
Although the success rate and the numbers of attacks are down this year, we still have seven ships and more than 100 hostages held by Somali pirates on the largely ungoverned east coast of Africa.
NATO, along with the European Union and a variety of individual nations -- Russia, China, Japan, Korea, India, Iran, the Gulf States -- have maintained an average of 20-30 ships on patrol in the waters stretching from the Red Sea past the Gulf of Aden and down into the Northern Indian Ocean. These forces have captured hundreds of pirates, with 500 now in a variety of jails around the world.
The shipping industry has also responded forcefully by implementing a series of "best business practices" that include traveling in convoys, hardening defenses (such as concertina wire along the decks), posting additional look-outs, and hiring private security teams. To date, no ship with an embarked private security team has been successfully hijacked, although many have been attacked.
In London, the U.N. sponsored International Maritime Organization (IMO) will be co-hosting a conference September 24-25 that brings together many of the key stakeholders involved in the fight against piracy. That includes NATO (represented by British 4-star Admiral, Sir George Zamballas, commander of our Maritime Component Command in Northwood, UK, and myself); the European Union, represented by their senior naval commander; the heads of security for many of the world's larger shipping companies; as well as journalists, academics and other experts.
We'll share our thoughts and ideas on how to build on the successes of the past 12 months in facing this threat. Much of the conversation will center of improving private-public cooperation between the shippers and the protecting forces; as well as how we can move ashore to pre-empt pirate strikes and disrupt their bases and logistics, build local forces (i.e. coast guards), and utilize the "comprehensive approach" to reduce the attraction of piracy as an occupation.
Later in the week, I'll be turning my attention to missile defense.
The NATO center for missile defense is in Ramstein, Germany, at the Air Component Command ably led by US Air Force 4-star General Phil Breedlove, a deeply experienced airman with multiple tours in Europe during his 30+ year career. General Breedlove is working hard on putting the nascent NATO missile defense system in place.
Currently, we have a command and control system largely located in Ramstein; and advanced phased array radar forward deployed in NATO ally Turkey's southern region; and several AEGIS missile defense ships operating at sea in the Eastern Mediterranean. This provides the beginning of a missile defense system over Turkey, Greece, and parts of the Balkans.
Over time, our plan is to add additional radars and missile systems ashore, as well as to bring four additional missile defense AEGIS destroyers into the Mediterranean, to be stationed in Rota, Spain.
We will be working on burden-sharing, as many of the NATO allies have good missile defense capability at sea and ashore that can be linked into the system. Unfortunately, we still have some disagreements with Russia about the system (Russia is concerned this system may have the capability to defeat their strategic ICBM force, an assessment with which we do not agree, nor is it our intent, plan or policy to threaten their strategic force with this system, but we are working to dispel this misconception.), but that conversation continues. I'm hoping to eventually see a robust missile defense system in place that provides coverage for the entire Alliance.
Appropriately, I am spending a great deal of time on the challenges of Afghanistan and the Balkans at the moment; but there are other key issues at work facing the Alliance, and this week I'll be investing in these two areas.
Supreme Allied Commander, Europe
Commander, US European Command
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- From the Bridge
- Admiral James Stavridis
- European Phased Adaptive Approach
- Mediterranean Sea
- General Philip M. Breedlove