Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Darwin Williams fires a shot line from the USS Sterett to the USNS John Ericsso in the South China Sea on May 6, 2017. (Navy photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Byron C. Linder)

‘More Insecurity Than Security’ in Maritime Domains as ‘Sea Blindness’ Reigns, Warns Admiral

The former commander in chief of the German Fleet said that maritime security needs to be viewed with the same complexity and interconnectedness as one would view the world wide web, which “makes it really urgent to really look into these huge domains from a regional perspective.”

“In my experience, the maritime domain has changed a lot, but a lot of people are still looking into the maritime domain with a different, if I may say so, old-fashioned perspective,” retired Vice Adm. Lutz Feldt, onetime commander in chief of Germany’s naval staff, told a Center for International Maritime Security Sea Control podcast posted this week.

“If something is happening in the North Sea, this has influences on other regions immediately. And we have some examples for that. If something is happening in the South China Sea, the impact is eight to ten days later in Europe as well. If we are knowing that, perhaps we can think about it, and perhaps we can create some kind of awareness, and we will not always be surprised with that,” Feldt said. “Therefore, I think that to think globally but act regionally is of utmost importance again.”

The admiral, who served as president of the German Maritime Institute in Bonn, said “sea blindness” is a major challenge with limited understanding among the general public and politicians about maritime issues and implications.

“The people living ashore are so much depending on very secure sea lines or lines of communications, the highways of the sea as we call them, we are so heavily dependent that we cannot live on with the sea blindness,” Feldt said.

“I can tell you there is another aspect, of course this is something more political process, I can see in the global context that two or three big countries, for example such as the Russian Federation and China, they have recognized that if they want to live in a safe and secure environment, they have to overcome the sea blindness and they have taken a lot of steps to do that. Western nations are very reluctant to understand that, and this concerns me.”

Studying maritime domains, the admiral said, revealed “more insecurity than security.”

“We are not only talking about European oceans and seas, but we are talking about other areas as well, where the insecurity comes from the lack of willingness to cooperate and to coordinate. To be able to cooperate and coordinate you need a well-functioning information exchange system or mentality. This is something which takes a long time,” he said. “We need a mindset change going from what we need to know to need to share, where need to share is something different from need to know. We can even go a step forward and say there is a responsibility to share critical information not only within your fellows in the navy or customs or fishery protection. We need a better information exchange that includes all maritime services. And of course it is the responsibility of every community.”

Feldt cited crimes such as piracy and human trafficking that affect countries far from where illegal activities occur offshore.

“The risk assessment, it’s different from region to region. If you ask the people in Greenland what their greatest threat is, they will say oil spill. If you go to other regions, it is terrorism. Now for Europe, a big risk, and if we do not handle it the right way, is human trafficking and illegal immigration which is something that can endanger the stability of our nations as well. My point is we have to handle this in the right and appropriate way in line with all of our human rights and interests,” he said. “Narcotics and arms trafficking is a real big deal and will continue to be. And I have to say, some years ago perhaps I wouldn’t have said, we have to look to the navy-to-navy engagements at small- to medium-sized fleets as well. That is something of a real concern.”

Bridget Johnson is the Managing Editor for Homeland Security Today. A veteran journalist whose news articles and analyses have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe, Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor and a foreign policy writer at The Hill. Previously she was an editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and syndicated nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. Bridget is a weekly columnist for the New York Observer and a senior fellow specializing in terrorism analysis at the Haym Salomon Center. She is a Senior Risk Analyst for Gate 15 and Washington Bureau Chief for PJ Media. She is an NPR on-air contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, National Review Online, Politico, New York Daily News, The Jerusalem Post, The Hill, Washington Times, RealClearWorld and more, and has myriad television and radio credits including Al-Jazeera and SiriusXM.

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