With Submarines against Pirates

BERLIN | | somalia

BERLIN (Own report) - German government advisors are pleading for using submarines in the war on piracy at the Horn of Africa. Thanks to their "highly modern sensor technology," German submarines are not only capable of "covertly observing the pirates' vessels" and following their course, but also of "observing the pirates' potential bases both day and night," according to a statement just published by the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP). The bases could therefore be attacked with greater precision, as the EU decided Friday - in spite of warnings that this could lead to a further escalation of the conflict in Somalia. Geostrategic considerations are at the core of the militarization projects, being promoted by the Bundeswehr. The Indian Ocean has become extremely important in global policy and it will play a pivotal role in future conflicts with China. Under no circumstances should the "new momentum in the greater region of the Indian Ocean" be neglected, warns the director of the SWP. Military strategists are underlining the importance of a strong naval presence in the ocean between Africa and Southeast Asia.

In Violation of International Law

The appeal of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) for new militarization projects corresponds to the decision taken by the EU's foreign ministers last Friday, to combat piracy also on shore in the future. According to this decision, not the pirates themselves, but their weapons, vessels, fuel and even food supplies should be attacked and destroyed. This should be permitted "on shore," but the military seeks to avoid clarifying, what exactly is meant by "shore," and what is being targeted. The Federal Cabinet plans to endorse these new regulations on Wednesday and the endorsement by the German Bundestag should follow as soon as possible. Experts had explicitly warned against the extension of the mandate, fearing an uncontrollable escalation of the conflict. (german-foreign-policy.com reported.[1]) Even parliamentarians of the opposition, who, in principle, support the war on piracy, point to the illegality of on shore military attacks on pirates. Reinhard Buetikofer (Green Party) reminds that pirates are "criminals and not enemy combatants." To "attack them on land, without them posing a direct danger, is simply in violation of international law."[2]

Combat Unit "Berlin"

These regulations are of particular importance to Germany, not only because of the endorsement by Berlin's foreign minister, but also because of the prominent role the Bundeswehr is currently playing in the EU Operation Atalanta. The Bundeswehr had just dispatched its combat unit logistical support vessel "Berlin" to the Horn of Africa - "not as a logistical support vessel, but as a combat unit," the German Armed Forces underlined.[3] The "Berlin" is therefore carrying more personnel than usual - military police and a so-called boarding team, but also two "Sea King" helicopters. These helicopters are equipped with machine-guns, to be used against alleged piracy infrastructures, in line with the EU's decision. "Particularly the Bundeswehr, at this point" can launch these attacks, writes the press, "because it has the appropriate helicopters in the theater of operations."[4]

Very Experienced in Surveillance

SWP is now proposing another militarization project for the Horn of Africa and calls on the German government to dispatch German submarines to the Somali coast. The crews of the submarines are "familiar with deployment in shallow waters and reconnaissance missions." Thanks to their "highly modern sensor technology," the submarines are not only capable of "keeping potential pirate bases under surveillance day and night with great perseverance (...) and rapidly signaling the surveillance results." They are also capable of localizing pirate vessels and following their course. Other warships, or their board helicopters, could open fire, if Berlin still seeks to avoid the deployment of special forces.[5] The current official EU position does not permit ground troops to engage the pirates on shore. The SWP author, who, during his career in the Navy had served as a submarine commander as well as a fleet command operations officer, points out that submarines, unlike helicopters and reconnaissance aircraft, can operate "undercover" - they are undetectable by the pirates. The German Navy has extensive experience. "For years it has been participating in NATO's undercover surveillance operations in the Mediterranean."

Geostrategic Competition

These militarization plans are certainly not a reaction merely to considerations of how to combat more effectively piracy off the coast of Somalia, but to geostrategic considerations as well. For example, last year Volker Perthes, Director of SWP, pointed out that the "interests" behind the countries' sending their naval vessels to the Horn of Africa are not "limited to the war on piracy." Perthes explains that, over the past few years, the importance of the Indian Ocean, where piracy is being fought in its western sector, has enormously grown. "One third of the world's maritime trade" crosses this route, with the trend rising rapidly. Particularly East Asian countries, especially China, are making large infrastructure investments in the bordering countries - port facilities or transportation means -, which are "also elements of the geostrategic competition." It is, after all, "it goes without saying" that China and even India have "an interest in protecting their maritime links." Even though the United States "will remain the strongest maritime power in the Indian Ocean, for the foreseeable future," it will soon "no longer be the sole maritime power." Perthes warns that "the new momentum in the greater region of the Indian Ocean" should not be neglected and one must also be involved.[6]

The Decisive Maritime Region

Parting from this premise, military experts are emphasizing the need for the strongest possible naval presence in the Indian Ocean. "With the growing geostrategic significance of the Indian Ocean region, the influence also grows for those, participating in the political military architecture of the region," according to a military policy analysis published last year in a renowned Austrian military review.[7] "A gigantic power struggle is currently taking place in the Indian Ocean," a high-ranking Swiss officer is quoted saying. "The navies of China, Japan, India, the USA, the Europeans, the NATO, and the EU are taking up positions, ports are being built, and naval forces are being equipped." The officer sees world historical upheavals. "For the first time since the 16th Century," he writes, "we are seeing the downfall of a western maritime power in this decisive maritime region."[8] The military activities in the Indian Ocean, even at the Horn of Africa, will determine who, in the future, will predominate over an ocean, characterized by the former director of the German Combined Chief of Staff in the Defense Ministry, ret. Vice Admiral Ulrich Weisser as the "decisive region for the seas of the world" and characterized it as "decisive for the future power structure in Asia." (german-foreign-policy.com reported.[9]) This is the context, to be considered, if one wants to take up the proposal to station German submarines in the western sector of the Indian Ocean.

Further information about Germany's war on piracy can be found here: A Real Pirate Movie, Navy on Permanent Mission, Sink Immediately, Arbitrary - Upon Suspicion and Key Maritime Region.

[1] see also Strandkrieg
[2] EU bekämpft Piraten jetzt auch an Land; www.handelsblatt.com 23.03.2012
[3] Blog: Aus dem Atalanta-Einsatz; www.bundeswehr.de
[4] EU beschließt Piratenbekämpfung an Land; Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 24.03.2012
[5] Sascha Albrecht: Pirateriebekämpfung an Land: maritime Optionen Deutschlands; www.swp-berlin.org 21.03.2012
[6] Volker Perthes: Der Indische Ozean ist ein neues strategisches Kraftzentrum; Neue Zürcher Zeitung 23.02.2011
[7] Henrique Schneider: In der Mitte der Welt. Der Indische Ozean als geostrategischer Raum und doktrinäre Herausforderung, ÖMZ-Online 3/2011
[8] Hearings zum Sicherheitspolitischen Bericht 2009. Div. a.D. Dr. Hans Bachofner, ehem. Stabschef für Operative Schulung: Transkription der Stellungnahme vom 3. April 2009
[9] see also Key Maritime Region and Europas Lebensblut