China continues to expand and subvert the international rules-based infrastructure that has maintained peace since World War II ended, said Navy Adm. James G. Foggo, Commander, of Allied Joint Force Command Naples/U.S. Naval Forces Europe/U.S. Naval Forces Africa.
In a webinar sponsored by the International Institute of Strategic Studies, Foggo said China’s whole-of-government approach is reaching beyond the Indo-Pacific region into the Arctic, Europe and Africa, where it has been conducting unsafe intercepts of aircraft and ships and threatening nations. They have established an overseas military base in the Horn of Africa and are looking to control many other ports.
Adm. Foggo told the webinar China is “purchasing news outlets and entertainment companies to push its propaganda and erase any criticism against its government.”
Chinese leaders are meddling in elections across the world, “restricting information about the coronavirus and donating equipment and personnel, even in Europe as a way to show that it is a world leader.”
“One Belt, One Road”
The Chinese “One Belt, One Road” initiative is combining economic, diplomatic, military and political arms to change the international rules-based architecture. This is happening, especially in Africa, where China offers financial relief and opportunities and uses their influence with the governments. In Africa, China is controlling energy mines, railroads and ports, in a comprehensive approach to controlling primary resources and gaining new markets for its products.
“This type of influence is a security concern, and it could be used to restrict access to key seaports and airport facilities while providing access to sensitive government and military information through the technology of state-owned and state-controlled enterprises,” Foggo said.
Africa also cannot be ignored, as it is an important, complex continent. There is a lot of poverty, but there is a vast amount of natural resources, with thirty of the top 50 most fragile states being in Africa.
NATO Security experts are working with partner nations and organizations like the African Union and the U.S. to build security capabilities in nations of the continent. They work to promote connectivity among the nations of the continent and intelligence sharing.
“I think we’re making a difference in Africa,” Foggo said. “We saw that with the development of the 2013 Yaounde (Cameroon) Code of Conduct signed by 25 Western and Central African nations as they collectively sought to address matters such as piracy, illegal fishing and illicit maritime activity. The Code of Conduct framework established objectives and improved inter-regional coastal relationships and joint capabilities. The resulting joint efforts have already reduced illegal activities in the Gulf of Guinea.”
The Strategic Landscape
Over the past ten years, the strategic landscape transformed. Previously it was possible for U.S. officials to envision working with both China and Russia.
That was before Russia annexed Crimea from the Ukraine and before China began building and fortifying islands in the South and East China seas. Before both nations began a huge military build-up, began conducting cyber operations against other nations and meddled in domestic politics.
China has also labeled itself a “near Arctic country” which complicates an already complicated situation as the new sea lanes of communication open in the North.
Foggo continued, “NATO can no longer ignore China’s activities in Europe. Things like 5G — the Trojan horse. Buying port infrastructure, and the One Belt, One Road initiative.”
The large area that Foggo is responsible for spans from the North Pole to South Africa, from the middle of the Atlantic to the Mediterranean, Black, Barents, Caspian and Baltic seas.
There are 93 countries in this region with 23 percent of the world’s population.
Ice coverage is diminishing in the Arctic, causing an increase in competition in the small area. The US has been an Arctic nation, as it was U.S. Navy Rear Adm. Robert Peary who led the first expedition to reach the North Pole.
The High North is now attracting global interest with its abundant natural resources. With the ice melting, new maritime routes are opening that were not navigable before.
Russia is aggressively pursuing its interests in the Arctic region. They are building new ice breakers armed with offensive weaponry and re-occupying old Soviet era bases. Strong navies are needed to protect the common interests in the region, ensuring the timely flow of trade.
Foggo believes that NATO is involved with the Fourth Battle of the Atlantic. With the first battle during World War I, the second World War II and the third being the Cold War.
In 2019 unclassified sources indicated there were 10 Russian submarines underway in the North Atlantic, significantly more than Cold War sailings. While the US retains a competitive advantage undersea, Russia is still good at their tradecraft.
The North Atlantic is a critical piece of NATO’s collective security. Whoever exerts control over that region can protect or threaten NATO’s northern flank, making the North Atlantic synonymous with security and sovereignty.
The Trident Juncture Exercise in the North Atlantic and the High North was, in part, a demonstration to the Russians of the capabilities the alliance has and can deploy to the area. Last month U.S. and British ships also cruised in the Barents Sea to reinforce this point.
In the Black Sea international law is being upheld as American and NATO warships routinely conduct patrols in the Black Sea. There were around 240 days of presence in the Black Sea last year.
The Eastern Mediterranean “is becoming one of the most kinetic places in the world,” Foggo said. Russian forces are propping up the Syrian regime. They have submarines in the region capable of hitting European capitals with little warning, he said. “Routine violations of sovereign airspace and dangerously … unsafe intercepts have become standard operating procedure for Russia,” the admiral said.
Moving forward in the entire region, the United States needs to maintain and build the relationships from the High North to the Cape of Good Hope the admiral said. “You can’t surge trust, it has to be developed over time. We also need to reevaluate our force structure, and we need to champion what we have here in the theater.”
A re-evaluation of NATO’s maritime strategy also needs to happen. The last time it was reviewed was in 2011, prior to the resurgent Russia and a newly active China.
“Our collective strength, that ability to project power with the help of our capable NATO allies and partners is what enables us to confidently state that there truly is no competition in this era of great power competition that we cannot overcome,” said Foggo.