Blog Analysismaritime piracy

NATO is looking for a new battle, at sea

(BRUSSELS2) (updated) NATO is therefore looking for new areas of action. The most coveted is the anti-piracy operation off the Somali coast. Easy terrain. Stopping pirates is less complicated than defeating rebels in Afghanistan. And so much more popular.

The Alliance is therefore sparing no effort. We know that she had tried, from the start, to get her hands on the operation (1). Alas, most European states, including Norway (a member of NATO and not a member of the EU), preferred to put their “marbles” into a European operation, more comprehensive in their opinion. As for the Americans, they had decided, very quickly, to set up their own operation (the CTF 151) in which the Turks and the British participated... (2) Conversely, the Danes, although members of the EU, cannot participate in the European operation (Danish opting out required) and after having provided their assistance to the CTF 150/151 participate in the NATO operation. Go figure! Today, as the conference of generations of forces for the renewal of Operation Atalanta approaches, NATO is seeking to catch the Europeans by surprise, in an attempt to regain control of its two “competitors”. It is counting on its two SNMGs, NATO maritime permanent groups (which are “permanent” only in name), by convincing certain member countries to join it. But she's a step behind.


Where Operation Atalanta (EU) permanently has 6 to 8 ships (or more) and 2 to 4 planes, Operation Ocean Shield (NATO) only has 3 to 5 ships and 0 planes… And, above all, it has the “power” of the EU: its lawyers, its diplomats and… its checkbook. For the first time, the “global” approach – so emphasized in speeches – is coming into practice… The “smart strategy” as Hillary Clinton would say (3). When it comes to bringing pirates to justice, NATO has no agreement to bring pirates to justice and must rely on “goodwill”. Concretely, it stops a little and frees a lot. At balance sheet carried out by Bruxelles2, it displays one of the lowest rates of handing over suspects to justice: less than 1 in 10 compared to 3 or 4 in 10 for the EU!

…or communication

To catch up, NATO is therefore counting on winning the battle of communication and on political leaders. It has thus set up a fairly comprehensive website for the merchant navy, which “competes” (there is no other word) with the site set up by the European Union with the merchant navy, the MSCHOA. There are also quite comprehensive documents detailing the methods of escorting ships, documents stamped “European Union”. NATO does not skimp on resources. She also had a documentary produced by CAPA Press presenting her action. Very well made documentary which, of course, highlights the Atlantic Alliance (watch here). And a communications consultant hired to draw the attention of journalists and diplomats to this action. She did not hesitate to contact the office of the High Representative. Element of a strategy which aims to convince certain political leaders to “change sides”…

Mismanagement at a time of budget shortage

This little speed race appears in complete contradiction with all the speeches stated so far, to avoid duplication between the two organizations. And it responds more to a political necessity than an operational one. Certainly, on the ground, the different ships cooperate without too much difficulty: the sailors generally get along well (they participate together in the same exercises), several of them also serve alternately on the two operations. But the competition is more at the higher, more political levels. It is explained, in large part, by the desire of the General Staffs who have the need, today, to justify their existence and their sustainability as a new restructuring of the Atlantic Alliance begins (4).

For public opinion, however, it is totally incomprehensible, and unjustifiable, that three forces, which fulfill identical objectives and functions, which recruit globally in the same Member States, continue to coexist, where only two would be enough: one to European vocation which has the advantage of “firepower” and a global approach; the other with a more global vocation which could bring together the South Koreans, the Turks and the Americans… While budgetary resources will still be limited tomorrow, why does NATO not concentrate its efforts on other areas – the Gulf of Guinea for example – or other threats. There is no shortage of them…

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Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).