NEWPORT, R.I. - Participants at a symposium held June 22-25 at the U.S. Naval War College discussed the U.S. government’s timeline for Afghanistan, coastal areas as hotbeds for piracy and how militaries must be adaptable to 21st century threats.
Ninety U.S. and foreign government, military and academic officials discussed groundbreaking theories on irregular warfare and evaluated security threats. Hosted by the Center on Irregular Warfare and Armed Groups (CIWAG), the conference presented 10 panels and keynote speakers on various topics.
CIWAG was founded in 2008 to meet the military’s vital need of a research body dedicated to irregular warfare. This year’s symposium had about twice as many participants as last year, and was designed to foster collaboration between civilian and military thinkers and discuss how to bring cutting edge research into classrooms.
The meeting also promoted curriculum development for security challenges posed by armed groups and irregular warfare across a range of environments.
“The whole purpose is to disseminate information,” said CIWAG co-director and co-founder Dr. Marc Genest, a faculty member in the Strategy & Policy Department at the NWC. “We’re trying to create a synergy between academics and operators.”
Rear Adm. Philip Greene, Director of the U.S. Navy’s Irregular Warfare Office, gave a keynote speech about the Navy’s vision on challenges from irregular warfare and the importance of coastal areas, which can lead to piracy issues.
Partnerships can help ease these security concerns, Greene said. “Building Partner Security Capacity is about enabling others to solve their own maritime security challenges. In the end, it is about creating net contributors to regional maritime security rather than net consumers,” he said.
In a panel focusing on Afghanistan, Todd Greentree, a State Department official, said there is frustration among government institutions about a timeline in Afghanistan. Involved parties know what needs to be done, he said, but the timeline for events is relatively uncontrolled.
In a panel titled “Irregular Warfare in the Modern Domain,” panelists offered analysis of the changing role of naval forces in the oceans.
Maritime scholar Dr. Martin Murphy discussed tactical differences between traditional militaries and armed groups. Murphy said insurgents are more able to use the element of surprise in warfare, but must be picky about battles.
“Because irregular forces are militarily weak they must, if they wish to be successful or even survive, only accept battle at times and in places where they can reduce range, deny information and limit opportunities for the use of firepower,” Murphy said.
Dr. Andrea Dew, CIWAG co-director and co-founder with Genest, said navies must be ready to respond to both the threat and opportunities in irregular challenges; "We have to focus on minimizing threats and maximizing opportunities," she said. "This emphasizes the need for strategic and operational cooperation between all the government agencies involved in addition to cooperation with allies."
However, she noted, "There is a warfare aspect to irregular warfare that we must not overlook and need to put educational and training resources towards. We can't neglect our strategic and operational responsibility to the war fighter and their needs."
Furthermore, traditional approaches to irregular warfare on land and at sea by state militaries can mire operations in complex logistics and legalistic requirements, but insurgent groups can be more spontaneous. "Although we artificially draw lines between different domains, armed groups do not, and in fact they exploit our seams," Dew said. "Armed groups try to lure states into over reacting and they bank on being more flexible and quicker to react." The key to victory against them, Dew argued is "understanding their vulnerabilities, disrupting their networks, and exploiting their seams."
A panel of businessmen discussed the effects of maritime piracy on the global economic system. Though they agreed that maritime trade is important to the economy, the consensus of the panel was that piracy does not have significant effects on the global economic system.
“Many in my industry are more worried about poor policy than we are about maritime piracy,” said Gordon Van Hook, who works for a maritime supply company.
Rick Calhoun, who works for a shipping company, said piracy can be avoided. Other board members said piracy is concentrated in specific areas. “Vessels can go to different places…the market will figure this out,” Calhoun said, explaining that companies consider piracy in their cost calculations, and factor it as a risk. “The market will, and always has, priced risk.”
By Tyler Will, Naval War College Public Affairs