Thursday, April 30, 2015

Not Deterred In The Least

By now, you’re undoubtedly aware that Iran has seized a Marshall Islands flagged merchant ship (1).  The reason is unclear although it seems to ComNavOps that it is in retaliation for the US using a carrier group to turn back the Iranian convoy bound for Yemen.

The rationale for the action doesn’t matter.  What matters is the US’ nearly non-existent response to the seizure of a US protected vessel.  The Navy is doing nothing more than monitoring.

“In response to the taking of the ship on Tuesday by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy patrol boats, U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) has ordered a Navy guided missile destroyer and three Cyclone-class patrol craft to monitor the situation.

Marshall Islands is an American protectorate and the U.S. is responsible for its defense and the defense of vessels under its flag.”

Navy supporters continually make the argument that forward presence is required to deter potential enemies.  However, time and time again, the Navy (and US military, generally) stands aside as unfriendly countries abuse the boundaries of acceptable behavior right up to, and including, acts of war.  We have allowed the force-down and seizure of electronic surveillance aircraft and ships, harassment of US forces, and many other acts constituting war.

The point of this post is not to debate responses but to point out that if we are completely unwilling to use military force to respond to these incidents then there is no point and no justification for maintaining those forces forward deployed.  They aren’t deterring anyone.

The Navy can’t have it both ways.  If they want to make a case for a given force level based on forward deployment and deterrence then they have to use the forces for that purpose.  If they have no intention of using the forces then they don’t need the forces and certainly don’t need them forward deployed.  A strongly worded letter is just as effective as unused force.

(1)USNI, “Pentagon Unclear Why Iran Seized Maersk Tigris; U.S. Destroyer, 3 Patrol Craft Nearby”, Sam LaGrone, April 29, 2015,


  1. CNO;

    The Marshall's are a sovereign nation with a Compact of Free Association with the US. There are specific military obligations under that agreement but they apply to the islands themselves and NOT the general protection you would expect as a protectorate.

    I do not believe we should be defending sovereign nations without explicit treaty obligations. Otherwise these folks get their cake eat it, and never have to pay.

    However, I agree with you that the deterrence is missing in this case. However the Iranians may have deliberately picked this country as a proxy for the US for propaganda reasons, knowing there is no legal basis for us to intervene.

    Check out the COFA at:

    1. Actually, reading the agreement, the defense portion is basically the same as a protectorate. Basically, we are the entirety of the RMI defense force. The exact wording is "in OR RELATING to". AKA, we are on the hook here (unless you thing an RMI flagged vessel isn't related to the RMI which would be at odds with international law). And to complicate matters, we effectively, due to other provisions of the actual agreement, have to run things WRT this. AKA, RMI can't do or say anything in this matter without our express agreement.

      In fact, the government of RMI is prevented from having their own defense forces by this very treaty as we have the right and responsibility for defense.

      So by the COFA we actually have treaty obligations related to this incident. Basically, the way the COFA works is we have fully military authority within and to the COFA signatories in exchange for having exclusive access to their territories for military purposes. The signatories have full domestic controll and international control except in such cases of direct conflict which are done/entered into via mutual agreement of both parties.

    2. Exact text for those interested:

      Section 311
      (a) The Government of the United States has full authority
      and responsibility for security and defense matters in or relating
      to the Republic of the Marshall Islands.
      (b) This authority and responsibility includes:
      (1) the obligation to defend the Republic of the Marshall
      Islands and its people from attack or threats thereof as the
      United States and its citizens are defended;
      (2) the option to foreclose access to or use of the Republic
      of the Marshall Islands by military personnel or for the military
      purposes of any third country; and
      (3) the option to establish and use military areas and
      facilities in the Republic of the Marshall Islands, subject to
      the terms of the separate agreements referred to in sections
      321 and 323.
      (c) The Government of the United States confirms that it shall
      act in accordance with the principles of international law and
      the Charter of the United Nations in the exercise of this authority
      and responsibility

    3. Notice it says "defend the Republic of the Marshall Islands... from attacks or threats as the United States ... are defended"

      Basically we are bound to treaty to treat an RMI flagged ship that has been hijacked as we would treat a US flagged ship that has been hijacked.

  2. Unrelated news, it looks like USN might get the new SSBNs funding outside the normal procurement budget....makes you think the other services might try the same thing on some of their pet projects and it sure makes it easier for contractors! no more worries about how to hide cost overruns!

    1. Of course, the DoD budget is fixed. If money is provided for a dedicated SSBN fund then some other program(s) gets shorted unless Congress appropriates additional funding - something they have thus far been reluctant to do.

      The fund is set up but it's not funded, as yet.

  3. I think it’s probably an exercise “for internal consumption”. The Iranian leadership have effectively been forced into a treaty recently. The bucked and drew it out and generally gave the US jip. Iran is known and almost respected for standing up to the big boys. In concept if not in actuality.

    The leader ship is going to comply with the treaty, they know what will happen if they don’t. But the need to be seen by their people as still strong. The need an act - to go with all the spin they are undoubtedly deploying back home.

    They will basically hold on to it for a week or two, until pressure mounts and \ or their spin has served it purpose. And then graciously hand it back.

    It’s their MO.

    They are experts at judging how far to go without going JUST TOO far with us.

    If it gets the nuclear deal without Israel acting and turning the whole thing into a war we really don’t want right now. It’s probably worth it.

    I suggest USN knows this. I A.B destroyer and some cyclones is a message alright. A message they intend to let this particular act pass.

    I’m not sure we can imply too much from this.


    1. Ben, the issue is not so much what message we can take from this particular issue but, rather, what message we can take from all the incidents over the last decade or so. I won't bother listing them but the pattern is clear. We are not using our forces so they serve no purpose. No one is being deterred.

  4. What I'm wondering is why they haven't deployed any LCS for these operations. This is basically what they were designed for (swarms of low tech small boats in shallow waters).

    1. Because there's only 2 or 3 of them seaworthy at the moment, they're still testing them in mostly friendly/neutral waters, the ASuW module (the anti-swarm module) is vaporware, and none are in the area?

      ...Or were you being sarcastic? If so, good job, you got me.

      - Ray D.

  5. ComNav

    Here is a good article that explains a little more about the why of the hijacking.

    Basically sounds like Iran hijacked this ship because they didn't like the settlement and so intend to extort a US company. Regardless it is act of piracy if not act of war and to see the weak hollow response from the US is just disgusting.

    That is pitiful the marshal islands is a US protectorate which for the US to go back on its obligations at that level is just insane. A high school student could handle understanding that a protectorate is going to have a treaty obligation that is higher than any ally nation without even reading the language as which I believed was spelled out clearly above.

    If we lived in a sane world great leader O would have instead of making statements about freedie gray, made a statement to Iran that freedom of the seas is US principle. Resolution of maritime/trade disputes are to be taken peaceably through international courts. As such Iran has X number of hours to release said ship and crew. Sadly we don't even get a statement but instead some underling quislings who know better out trying to say we don't even have legal obligation to protectorate nations. WTF

    1. Please keep the pure political comments out of the discussion. This is not a political blog. Thanks.

    2. I get the dream but it doesn't jive with reality.

      You cannot dog mouth the navy which is beholden by the ROE and direction of the executive branch i.e. "commander & chief" without discussing the "political" aspect of said executive. Would a Romney, Bush, Clinton, Reagan, Carter (yes), Ford, Nixon, Kennedy, allow such? We are talking about a US protectorate nation and we have white house quislings claiming we have no legal obligation? really?? The "commander & chief" cannot be bother to even sound bite how the US will NOT ACCEPT disruption of freedom of navigation of OUR OWN NATIONAL FLAGS SHIPS no less? But can get the time to intervene on a a local city issue?

      I get your gripe but sit in some shoes as a naval leader you have limited resources, politicks are determined to make peace with a avowed self proclaimed enemy, asresult we are ordered to get between a confrontation of our wished ally and our real living admitted ally. During which redeploy our wished ally responds hijacking a US civilian ship no less, do you really blame X naval leaders? We have assets in the Gulf what were they ordered to do? Like benghazi the assets were there they were in range what was the orders? Can military leaders go over the commander in chief? History has a clear president answer for such that tried.

      I am all for pounding Naval leaders for such things as the recent disasters that are the new weapons systems, maintenance, etc... but this issue is a political 1st issue, a naval issue 2nd, sorry. I got money that says X ship captain called home and local US forces could have responded if so directed. Hell even if no naval units were in range there is more than enough air power to fly by if so order had been given to ensure captain understood X aggressor ships would be meeting davy before they boarded. Hell we even had a trial run earlier that sounds like X captain had a little more swing in his sack and so escaped.

    3. Romney, Bush I, Clinton, Carter, Ford, Nixon, Kennedy all would of likely done what is happening now, intense negotiations behind the scenes. Who knows what Nancy would of done.

      99% of USN issues are of the USN's own makings. They've repeatedly done things behind the backs of both congress and the president. Deferring maintenance. Retiring ships early. Poor planning. Running programs poorly. Etc. ALL ON THE NAVY.

      There is really no reason we should be retiring pretty much any of our major ships at this time. Its massively cheaper to do a full refit of a CG than to build a new one at this point. Same with DDG, we can do a low end refit to actual destroyer standards for basically the cost of an LCS and have a much more capable ship. And the refit will keep the shipyards open as well.

  6. The BBC story after the Maersk Tigris was released seems to indicate that a very small settlement was owed by Maersk, even though they won the bulk of the legal case, and they had not paid the small court judgment.


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