Published 07 Jun 07
by J. Peter Pham, Ph.D.
World Defense Review columnist
Securing the New Strategic Gulf
In his 2006 State of the Union address, President George W. Bush issued a call for the United States to "replace more than 75 percent of our oil imports from the Middle East by 2025" and to "make our dependence on Middle Eastern oil a thing of the past."
By one important official indicator, the most recent report of the Energy Information Administration on U.S. total crude oil and products imports, published on May 25, 2007, America has already advanced significantly in its effort to wean itself from dependency on hydrocarbons originating in the volatile Persian Gulf: this past March, Nigeria edged past Saudi Arabia to become our third largest supplier, delivering 41,717,000 barrels of oil to the desert kingdom's 38,557,000.
When one adds Angola's 22,542,000 barrels to the former figure, the two African states alone now supply more of America's energy needs than Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates combined.
This is all the more remarkable when one considers that, as I reported in this column three weeks ago, the militant activities of the relatively small Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) over the course of the last eighteen months has "had the cumulative affect of cutting Nigeria's total oil production by almost one-third."
Yet for all its global importance as well as strategic significance for U.S. national interests, the Gulf of Guinea has seen comparatively few resources poured into maritime security, a deficit which only worsens when one considers the scale of the area in question and the magnitude of the challenges faced. Depending on how one chooses to define the gulf region, it encompasses roughly a dozen countries with nearly 3,500 miles of coastline running in an arc from West Africa to Angola. While the security of the oil production facilities, both onshore and offshore, and the transport of the natural resources thus derived – especially, as I pointed out last year, since they are such inviting targets for attack by transnational terrorist groups like al-Qaeda seeking to wage economic war against the West – is perhaps of paramount concern, there are other maritime domain vulnerabilities in the Gulf of Guinea, including:
- Piracy. The International Maritime Bureau's most recent Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships Report, covering the first quarter of 2007, notes that while the number of reported attacks declined significantly compared to just one year before, the figure for incidents off the coast of Nigeria doubled. A review of data going back to 2000 shows that over the period attacks in the Gulf of Guinea region exceeded those for all of the rest of Africa combined.
- Criminal Enterprises. The Gulf of Guinea's oil-producing states have long been a plagued by "illegal bunkering," the tapping of pipelines for oil which is eventually loaded on to tankers which sell the crude to refineries elsewhere at a considerable profit. This highly-organized activity – at one point, two Nigerian admirals were implicated and relieved of their commands – has grown increasingly deadly as energy prices surge upwards and the criminal syndicates involved have acquired ever more sophisticated arms. There is also an increasing drug trade through the subregion: Nigeria is the transshipment point for approximately one-third of the heroin seized by authorities in the United States and more than half of the cocaine seized by South African officials, while European law enforcement officials report that poorly-scrutinized West Africa has become the major conduit for drugs shipped to their countries by Latin American cartels.
- Poaching. In addition to their vast hydrocarbon reserves, the waters of the Gulf of Guinea contain some of the richest fisheries in the world. Yet, according to a major 2005 report for the British Department for International Development (DFID) and Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (NORAD), the Marine Resources Assessment Group found that illegal, unreported, or unlicensed (IUU) fishing – often by large foreign commercial trawlers – cost countries in the Gulf of Guinea more than $375 million annually. In addition to the obvious economic impact of the loss of the value of the catches to the countries affected, IUU fishing also carries indirect costs in terms of losses to industries upstream and downstream from fishing itself – to say nothing of damage to the ecosystem.
Despite these vulnerabilities, security in the subregion has traditionally been focused on onshore concerns.
Even the regional military power, Nigeria, has a woefully under-resourced maritime capacity: at the time of its Golden Jubilee Change of Colors and Fleet Review at Lagos a year ago this week, the Nigerian Navy risibly boasted of more admirals and commodores in its two "fleets" than vessels. But at least the West African country has a naval component to its security sector, which is lot more than can be said for some of its neighbors.
Unfortunately, the regional organization of African states complicates rather than facilitates multinational cooperation to cover the Gulf of Guinea: the states in the area belong to three different subregional organizations – the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS/CEEAC), and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) – each with its own (land-based) geographic point of focus as well as wildly differing developed capacities.
Nor have Africa's traditional international partners filled the maritime security gap. Multilateral security efforts led by the United Nations and, more recently, the African Union have largely focused on crisis management.
Until the announcement earlier this year by the United States of the creation of a unified combatant command for Africa (AFRICOM) and the election in France of President Nicolas Sarkozy who has signaled that he wants to break free from his country's murky web of entanglements on the continent, the most extensive foreign security structure in West Africa was the one maintained by the French military, which has around 7,000 troops based in the Central African Republic, Chad, Côte d'Ivoire, Gabon, and Senegal. The French also operate some fifteen military training centers and schools for Africans in Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Gabon, Mali, Niger, Senegal, and Togo. The only one of institution focused on maritime issues, however, the Centre for Naval Instruction at Attécoubé, Côte d'Ivoire, opened only in 1999 only to be effectively shuttered by the outbreak of a civil conflict in 2001 which, as I pointed out last year, French operatives did more than foment and perpetuate.
Thus, however reluctantly, the United States, which – Commodore Matthew Calbraith Perry's Cape Verde-based transatlantic slave trade-interdicting Africa Squadron in the 1840s being a notable exception – historically deployed naval forces to the region only to rescue stranded expatriates, has had to step in. In 2005, America's National Strategy for Maritime Security declared:
Assisting regional partners to maintain the maritime sovereignty of their territorial seas and internal waters is a longstanding objective of the United States and contributes directly to the partners' economic development as well as their ability to combat unlawful or hostile exploitation by a variety of threats. For example, as a result of our active discussions with African partners, the United States is now appropriating funding for the implementation of border and coastal security initiatives along the lines of the former Africa Coastal Security (ACS) Program. Preventing unlawful or hostile exploitation of the maritime domain requires that nations collectively improve their capability to monitor activity throughout the domain, establish responsive decision-making architectures, enhance maritime interdiction capacity, develop effective policing protocols, and build intergovernmental cooperation. The United States, in cooperation with its allies, will lead an international effort to improve monitoring and enforcement capabilities through enhanced cooperation at the bilateral, regional, and global level.
This commitment has been served as guidance for the engagement of the U.S. European Command (EUCOM) and its naval component (NAVEUR), the Sixth Fleet, with regional partners the last two years (until AFRICOM is fully stood up, the Gulf of Guinea falls in EUCOM's area of responsibility). In late 2005, the dock landing ship USS Gunston Hall and the catamaran HSV-2 Swift conducted five weeks of joint drills with forces from several West African nations, including Ghana, Guinea, and Senegal.
In early 2006, the submarine tender USS Emory S. Land deployed to the region with some 1,400 sailors and Marines to boost maritime security and strengthen partnerships, calling on ports from Senegal to Angola. And last November, the Department of State and the Department of Defense co-sponsored a ministerial-level conference in Cotonou, Benin, on "Maritime Safety and Security in the Gulf of Guinea" which included representatives of eleven Gulf of Guinea countries as well as delegates from the U.S., Europe, Senegal, South Africa, the African Union, and regional and international organizations.
In her keynote address to the meeting, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi E. Frazier, underscoring that "the lack of Maritime safety and security in the Gulf of Guinea has had a negative impact on stability, human security, and economic development in the region," pledged:
The purpose of American involvement is not to impose our policy vision, but rather to alert you to our willingness to support well-conceived plans reflecting your government's policy commitment and resources. Toward that end, the United States and other donor partners are committed to providing support for this initiative in the form of seminars, training, and equipment. The U.S. government intends to support African institutions as they develop political buy-in for regional maritime security cooperation, whether that involves the AU, ECOWAS, CEEAC, Maritime Organization of West and Central Africa (MOWCA), the Gulf of Guinea Commission, or any others.
The U.S. is already stepping up support to some of the regional member states, as they make marine resources management a priority. We hope that this Ministerial will help us all focus on the challenges ahead and the tools available to meet them. We hope to be part of a coordinated effort that seeks to address these challenges.
As part of America's continuing efforts in this area, last week NAVEUR's commander, Admiral Henry G. "Harry" Ulrich III, announced last week that a U.S. Navy ship will deploy to the Gulf of Guinea for six months later this year as part of a multinational maritime-security-and-safety initiative that partners with West African countries. The not-yet-designated vessel will carry 200 to 300 sailors, as well as U.S. Coast Guard personnel who will train teams from eleven Gulf of Guinea nations, helping them to build their maritime-security capabilities, especially in the rather fundamental area of maritime domain awareness (MDA): you cannot police, much less secure, what you do not know. As Admiral Ulrich was quoted as explaining in an Armed Forces Press Service report, "Security means that there's governance. And, where there's security and governance is not where people who we describe as terrorists like to go. We're trying to eliminate voids [of law and order]."
Admiral Ullrich was cautiously upbeat about the prospects of this new engagement: "I'm really, really optimistic that this is going to be the tipping point for us and move this whole initiative of maritime safety and security ahead." In a subsequent interview, the officer noted that "if you look at the direction that the Africa Command has been given and the purpose of standing up the AFRICOM, you'll see that [the Gulf of Guinea initiative] is closely aligned," saying that "we hope, as they stand up, to fold into their intentions and their planning."
Thus, while the course ahead for the both the United States and for the countries of the Gulf of Guinea will not be without its meanderings – to say nothing of perils – at least now the passage appears to be, at long last, plotted.
– J. Peter Pham is Director of the Nelson Institute for International and Public Affairs and a Research Fellow of the Institute for Infrastructure and Information Assurance at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia. He is also an adjunct fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies in Washington, D.C. In addition to the study of terrorism and political violence, his research interests lie at the intersection of international relations, international law, political theory, and ethics, with particular concentrations on the implications for United States foreign policy and African states as well as religion and global politics.
Dr. Pham is the author of over one hundred essays and reviews on a wide variety of subjects in scholarly and opinion journals on both sides of the Atlantic and the author, editor, or translator of over a dozen books. Among his recent publications are Liberia: Portrait of a Failed State (Reed Press, 2004), which has been critically acclaimed by Foreign Affairs, Worldview, Wilson Quarterly, American Foreign Policy Interests, and other scholarly publications, and Child Soldiers, Adult Interests: The Global Dimensions of the Sierra Leonean Tragedy (Nova Science Publishers, 2005).
In addition to serving on the boards of several international and national think tanks and journals, Dr. Pham has testified before the U.S. Congress and conducted briefings or consulted for both Congressional and Executive agencies. He is also a frequent contributor to National Review Online's military blog, The Tank.
© 2007 J. Peter Pham
NOTE: The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author, and do not represent the opinions of World Defense Review and its affiliates. WDR accepts no responsibility whatsoever for the accuracy or inaccuracy of the content of this or any other story published on this website. Copyright and all rights for this story (and all other stories by the author) are held by the author.