INTERVIEWER (NATO): We are here today with Vice-Admiral Roberto Cesaretti, the Commander of Maritime Component Command Naples and Commander of Operation Active Endeavour. Welcome.
As the Commander responsible for NATO's Operation Active Endeavour, what has been your biggest challenge so far and can you please give us some examples of the issues which you deal with on a daily basis?
VICE-ADMIRAL ROBERTO CESARETTI (Allied Maritime Component Commander Naples, Commander of Operation Active Endeavour): Like all the Commanders of an operation, I have to balance every day the resources I have with the need of an increased need of security, maritime security operation, and this is the most challenging aspect of my job. And at the same time, I would underline the fact that everyday I need to choose the proper position and the best employment of limited resources I have trying to achieve the best... the mission I receive and accomplish all the tasks I have to do.
INTERVIEWER: How many member nations and partner countries are part of Operation Active Endeavour and can you please tell us how does the co-operation between partner countries work in practice?
CESARETTI: Right now we have 31 different countries participating in Active Endeavour. Of course, not all in the same way and with the same amount of resources. All the 31 - and I hope in less than two weeks 32, because Jordan will be part of the Active Endeavour - all the 31 are participating and contributing in terms of information exchange. I mean all the information related with the merchant vessel traffic in the Mediterranean. Some others are participating in terms of assets. They are contributing with surface ships, submarine and maritime patrol aircraft.
The second part of your question is related in which way some of the partners are contributing to the Active Endeavour and I would like to underline the fact that Russia and Ukrainian have provided surface assets to the Operation Active Endeavour. Just a couple of weeks ago Russia completed the second deployment in the Mediterranean flying the flag of NATO on one of their frigates. In less than two weeks, we will have the second Ukrainian ship working with us in the Mediterranean operating under the operational command and control of NATO.
INTERVIEWER: Operation Active Endeavour focuses on counter-terrorism operations throughout the Mediterranean. Can you please explain what specific tasks are included?
CESARETTI: Okay. The activity is very complex of course and it's mainly focused on a presence at sea and to perform tasks related with the surveillance and sometimes some of the targets need to be followed and taken under direct control, shadowing some of the targets. In some cases when we need to clarify the situation, we perform the so-called compliant boar dings. We have a special team on board of the ship participating to the Active Endeavour and they move on board of the merchant ship to check, for instance, what is the number and the identity of the crew members, what kind of things they are moving across the sea and so on. These are mainly the tasks they perform.
INTERVIEWER: What would the average day for a ship participating in the operation consist of?
CESARETTI: This is the typical example of the activity of the ship. They stay at sea normally 70-80 percent of the time and moving in a specific area. They take under control the area and report all the targets to the MOC (the Maritime Operational Centre). And here in the MOC we have the chance to verify the correspondence between the data they got from the ship at sea with the data we have in our database. A relationship with the result of this analysis we are able to order further investigation or to consider it clear the merchant ship.
INTERVIEWER: When you leave today after briefing the North Atlantic Council, what will be your key task for the immediate future?
CESARETTI: The immediate task for the future is to continue to improve the level awareness we have throughout the Mediterranean Sea and to improve our capability to perceive what is the so-called bad behaviour or the behaviour against the international law of some of the targets. And finally, if it is necessary, we act against this activity, informing the nation involved on this kind of illicit traffic.
INTERVIEWER: Thank you very much for coming.
CESARETTI: Thank you very much to you.
Vice Admiral Roberto Cesaretti examines how NATO has been combating terrorism in the Mediterranean since October 2001.
Allied Forces Maritime Component Command HQ Naples (CC-MAR Naples) controls the operation through the Maritime Operations Centre, which works around the clock. This Operations Centre, which has close ties and exchanges information with national agencies of several NATO countries, is located close to the NATO Maritime Intelligence Coordination Centre. Another important source of information is the experimental Joint Information and Analysis Centre (JIAC). This is structured as a fusion centre to collect all available information and effectively collate, analyse and then disseminate data as actionable intelligence to the appropriate command. It is located in NATO’s Joint Force Command Naples and monitors the whole area of functional responsibility. Together, these agencies provide the information and analysis that allow me as commander of Active Endeavour to direct limited resources as efficiently as possible.
Operation ACTIVE ENDEAVOUR is a fulfilment of a NATO commitment in support of the US following the terrorist attack against them in September 2001. It is also, though, an important contribution to the preservation of peace, stability and security of all Alliance member Nations and of the Mediterranean area as a whole. Operation Active Endeavour comprises 4 separate elements:
• In the Eastern Mediterranean, we focus our activity on deterrent presence, surveillance and inspection of suspect vessels in international waters.
• Preparatory route surveys, carried out by the Minehunters of the MCM Force South in the choke points, the most important passages and harbours of the Mediterranean Sea.
• Escort of designated vessels transiting the Strait of Gibraltar.
• Enhancement of the ongoing Mediterranean Dialogue programme.
Nations’ prosperity depends upon international trade, which is conducted only in peacetime. As U.S. naval historian, ALFRED THAYER MAHAN, said: ”those who are deriving the largest good from commerce, will be most anxious to continue and develop it, and, as commerce thrives by peace and suffers by war, it follows that peace is the superior interest of those countries which approach by the sea”(1) . More than 80% of goods are transferred by sea, simply because: ”transit in large quantities and for great distances is decisively more easy and copious by water than by land”(2). Therefore, the sea, “the great medium of circulation established by nature”(3) was naturally the arena where NATO Nations were most vulnerable, and this vulnerability – as shown by the local increase of insurance rates – was particularly evident in the Eastern Mediterranean, where illegality was at its peak. Taking into account that the role of navies now has a lot to do with prevention, the logical conclusion drawn by NATO was that a naval force had to be deployed there.
To prevent, to dissuade and to deter is, in fact, one of the historically consolidated tasks for the navies. “A Navy, whose primary sphere of action is war, is, in the last analysis and from the least misleading point of view, a political factor of the utmost importance in international affairs, one more often deterrent than irritant”(4) , according to Mahan. The fact that this power of dissuasion is applied against transnational identities, instead of being used in a dispute among States, is a complete novelty, though. It may be said that the West faces “asymmetric threats”, we can declare that today’s struggle is against international terrorism and criminality, but the real fact is that we are facing something unprecedented, not directly connected with States, albeit some of them may be seen hiding behind the curtains. The difficulty is that the human mind has limitations: “The old order was yielding to the new, but the process was signalised by the usual slowness of men to accept events in their full significance.”(5)
The novelties found in Operation Active Endeavour have been numerous. What has, in fact, NATO found out in almost two years of the Operation? From the very beginning, it became apparent that some vessels at sea had a very limited – or no – watch-keeping capability during the night. When one of such vessels did not respond to hailings by radio, NATO ships took a collision course, until a voice, clearly from a panting person, was heard on Channel 16. But this malpractice, involving roughly 10% of the trading vessels, was only the first of many findings. After a few months it was also apparent that illegal immigration from the Levant toward Western Europe was greatly reduced by the simple presence of NATO ships just outside the Territorial Waters of the Countries concerned. In addition, the nighttime sensors of the few available maritime patrol aircraft (MPA) were able to record numerous transhipments, through small boats, of all sorts of merchandise. The vessels involved were quickly added to the list of suspects and kept under visable control. Even more important, we found that some suspect vessels were regularly trading between the Black Sea and Levant harbours, spending the majority of their time in that basin, where the biggest stocks of used weapons lay.
When NATO started boarding vessels for inspection, it became quickly apparent that networking among traders was quite effective. Some ships coming from the Black Sea were in fact already aware about this change of policy, and this happened immediately after its inception. Others, known to misbehave, resorted to legal trafficking, and carefully avoided some well known harbours. “To interrupt trade produces derangement of functional processes”(6), and this applies to the illegal activities as well as to the enemy’s trade in case of war. It can be safely said, therefore, that this part of the Operation works. “Commerce prevention, through the use of seapower” has shown its value. “No form of war indeed causes so little human suffering”(7), but, albeit procuring very few medals to the sailors on the front line, it really works.
It is increasingly clear to the Alliance that terrorists’ weapons are not acquired through a registered contract including payment of TVA, any more than they are available at a supermarket on a city’s street. In addition, the easiest way to escape attention is to stay in the middle of a large crowd. Terrorists are shuttled more safely to the Western Countries amidst 100-200 illegal immigrants than separately through other arrangements. To complete the overview, drugs are a well-known means to raise money for all warmongers’ scopes, aims and ambitions. The stove-piped approach adopted initially had therefore to be abandoned in favour of a more holistic approach, but without losing focus of the most important factor, terrorism.
Is NATO doing the right thing? As Professor M. PUGH noted, some years ago: “When redeployed outside their area of jurisdiction, with the consent of the littoral states and as part of a complex reaction operation, maritime forces can act as a support of civilian (police) organisations for the international non-military security.” (8) Police forces in Mediterranean Nations’ territorial waters and coastlines need support from a forward line of defence, and only navies deployed for this purose can achieve that. NATO efforts are not fruitless and do not fall into the “militarisation of non-military constabulary problems”(9) which, not only in the opinion of this Author, should be avoided.
This is why NATO is enhancing contacts with law enforcement agencies, in pursuance of a multi-agencies approach that will allow better synergies among all those involved into the present struggle against maritime illegality and terrorism.
How long must this effort be pursued? We must not forget that Nations have let their own merchant navies virtually disappear, overwhelmed by flags of convenience, and this blind attitude (the Catholic Church calls it “sins of omission”) has continued throughout the last 20 years. As an example, a nation like Marshall Islands has a larger merchant fleet than Japan. Luckily, the private-owned enterprises are more fragile than States, and the disruption of an economic network, due to the combined pressure of maritime “commerce prevention” (to use Sir Julian CORBETT’s words) and of Nations’ police activity, takes only a few years. Considering that boarding by NATO units has started only two months ago, we can reasonably assume that in two to three years at the latest, the “end state” will be close at hand. The increasing influence of NATO in the Black Sea, where the largest weapons’ depositories exist, will also play an important role to shorten the duration of our present commitments.
The Strait of Gibraltar is an extremely busy area; a terrorist boat is like a needle in a haystack. A visible escort made by Frigates, ensuring deterrence and overall coordination, plus a mix of air assets and Fast Patrol Boats (FPBs) have been the response to that threat, and the experience has corroborated this approach. It is worth noting that both in Operation Enduring Freedom and in NATO’s Active Endeavour, FPBs have found a key role as the best asset for ensuring the security of transits in restricted waters. Assertions about the uselessness of FPBs, without looking at the complicated features of world’s geography, have proven to be utterly wrong.
It is worth highlighting another aspect of this escort in the Strait of Gibraltar. The escorted vessels belong to almost all NATO countries, apart from a few ships flying flags of convenience, even if the material transported do belong to very few NATO nations. Taking into account that an attack against a vessel is de facto an aggression against its flag state, the escort is, therefore, a defensive measure to the benefit of the entire NATO community. To use the words of the Moroccan President of the Cjamber of representatives: “We want to dialogue because NATO is interested in development and in the fight against crime, drug and terrorism. Morocco is also interested in that and we want to cooperate. We can re-unify the Mediterranean Sea in a new form, based upon freedom, democracy and prosperity.”(10)It is worth noting that, until recently, the Mediterranean Dialogue programme had progressed slowly, albeit steadily. After several seminars and port visits, the Dialogue had made, only one year ago, a first step forward by the embarkation on board of NATO Units of Junior Officers/Non Commissioned Officers. This year there will be a second similar event, to be complemented by additional “Passage Exercises” (or PASSEXs in NATO slang) and some Mediterranean Dialogue participation to Partnership for Peace exercises. Naval diplomacy is once again under the spotlight.
Also, NATO is developing an experimental networking system to enable all Mediterranean Nations to exchange information about the merchant traffic in the basin more effectively. Once approved by the highest NATO fora, and implemented, the degree of control over illegal activities will be enhanced. The resulting “white picture” will help police forces as well as NATO in the blue waters, to act decisively against this plague. Once the plea of Moroccan Parliament’s President has been heeded, the Mediterranean Dialogue will acquire its political dimension and, possibly transform itself into a Mediterranean Partnership.
NATO faces still further challenges however. The frigates and maritime patrol aircraft (MPA) are virtually the same used by NATO ten years ago, during Operation SHARP GUARD. These ageing assets are few, and NAVSOUTH Headquarters is always struggling to keep the percentage of time at sea below 75% for the frigates, while for the MPAs we have to use what is available. We know that a majority of the frigates and MPAs are Anti-Submarine assets, but their command and control networking capabilities, as well as their detection possibilities, making them precious resources. They are real workhorses! While the USA is giving the highest priority to capital ships, as in the early years of the 20th Century, the 15 European nations still have a combined army of 990,000 soldiers, and more combat planes than the USA. This leaves relatively little financial support for European navies.
Of course, military budgets are limited. But this is a typical feature of peacetime. MAHAN, said: “And let not the public deceive itself, nor lay the faults exclusively, or even chiefly, upon its servants, whether in the military services or in the halls of Congress. The ones and the other will respond adequately to any demand made upon them, if the means are placed betimes in their hands; and the officers certainly have not to reproach themselves with official failure to represent the dangers, the exposure and the needs…the risks from neglect, if continued, will vastly exceed those of former days.”(11)
A better balance of forces among the three components of the collective military instrument is sorely needed, because we don’t always know what sort of operation must be conducted and, most importantly, the air – land battle once envisioned in the plains of Germany is now a relic of history. Besides the relevant and much publicised expeditionary operations carried out with a major maritime component since Desert Storm, NATO has amassed six years of effective Maritime Interdiction and Stabilisation operations, always with results that exceed expectations. All these activities, though, require frigates, helicopters, MPAs and FPBs, both to escort capital ships during expeditions and to interdict or stabilise.
Western Countries are on the precipice of impotence, due to their lack of maritime workhorses. Therefore, the Navies “ask and deserve the appreciation of the states, and should be developed in proportion to the reasonable possibilities of the political future”(12), as MAHAN said.
How is NATO responding to that? The NATO RESPONSE FORCE (NRF) is the first new initiative. However, the greatest novelty is that the NRF is task-driven, not threat-driven, as far as its composition is concerned. The valuable work being undertaken by a Working Group under CINCEASTLANT/COMNAVNORTH’s leadership will greatly influence Force Planning for future Maritime Forces.
The second initiative is the Maritime Interdiction Operations’ Training Centre, to be established in Athens. It is the best possible acknowledgement of the importance of this kind of stabilising operations, outside of expeditionary warfare. After ten years of Maritime Interdiction Operations, ranging from embargo to control of trade, NATO is providing the required conceptual and doctrinal support to this kind of operation.
The future for NATO maritime forces looks promising.
(1) A.T. MAHAN - The Problem of Asia; Little, Brown and co. 1900; pg. 41-42.
(2) Ibidem pg. 125.
(3) A.T. MAHAN – Naval Strategy – Sampson, Low , Marston and co. 1911 – pg. 139.
(4) A.T. MAHAN – The interest of America in Sea Power – Little, Brown and co. 1897 – pg. 171-172.
(5) A.T. MAHAN - Sea Power in its relations to the war of 1812 – Ch. Scribner 1903 – pg. 44-45.
(6) A.T. MAHAN – Problem of Asia – pg. 54.
(7) J.S. CORBETT – Some Principles of Maritime Strategy – Brassey Def. Publ. 1988 – pg. 95
(8) M. PUGH – Maritime Security and Peacekeeping – It. Trans. Ed. Forum 2000 – pg.156.
(9) Ibidem pg. 294.
(10) Hon. Abdelwahad Radi. Statement made at AFSOUTH during the visit of the Mediterranean Special Group of theNATO Parliamentary Assembly, June 2003.
(11) A.T. MAHAN – Lessons of the War with Spain – Little, Brown and co. 1899 – pg. 20-21.
(12) A.T. MAHAN – The interest of America in Sea Power – Little, Brown and co. 1897 – pg. 172.