Leveraging the Lowcountry Veteran and Military Community in Pivot to Asia – Brent Thompson

The White House announced a “pivot to Asia” in November, 2011, as part of a strategy to strengthen its economic, military, and diplomatic role in the area.(1) Since that time, President Obama has visited Asia and the Pacific nine times to demonstrate the United States’ commitment to a “rebalance” in the region.(2) The United States is clearly shifting its strategic attention to an area of the world containing “nearly half of the earth’s population, one-third of global GDP, and some of the world’s most capable militaries.”(3) How can the Lowcountry take advantage of this rebalancing effort toward Asia?

One potential answer is for the Lowcountry to leverage its substantial military and veteran community to make inroads across Asia and the Pacific. The military is already leading the way in the region as part of the overall rebalancing strategy. American armed forces have had a significant presence throughout Asia and the Pacific Islands for over seventy years and have been instrumental in contributing security assistance, ensuring freedom of navigation and the seas, and providing humanitarian aid and disaster relief. Undoubtedly thousands of servicemembers with Lowcountry ties have served, and continue to serve, throughout the region.

South Carolina is home to eight major military installations with over 74,000 personnel and nearly 58,000 military retirees, many of whom reside in the Lowcountry. The military is an economic driver within the region, creating an annual commercial impact on the community of approximately $19.3 billion.(5) Importantly, the state contains installations from every major service and component (Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps, plus National Guard and Reserve stations), and the bulk of them are in the Lowcountry.(4) Servicemembers from these stations live and serve in the Lowcountry—and then many of them deploy abroad or are subsequently stationed overseas. Military members thus create a link between the Lowcountry and the larger world.

Military veterans are more likely to pursue public service careers.(6) While many factors influence a veteran’s post-military employment choices, the desire to serve the larger community often plays a key role. Veterans are also more likely to volunteer in civic organizations and serve their communities.(7) Many veterans become business leaders, innovators, and entrepreneurs.(8) The Lowcountry would benefit from creating ties with these future business and community leaders, especially as they travel to Asia and beyond.

How can the Lowcountry network with these young leaders before they step out into the world? One way to connect with those who are entering the service is through enlistment recognition ceremonies, which recognize high school students who will enlist in the armed forces after graduation.(9) Enlistment recognition ceremonies are a powerful way to thank young men and women for their service and establish lasting bonds between servicemembers and their community.

For those who are already serving in military bases throughout the region, Lowcountry leaders can establish mentorship programs and interest groups for those who are interested in Asia and the Pacific Islands. Lowcountry leaders should also look to the incredible resource of the Citadel Military College—and other local university ROTC programs—which will create future military officers for all services.

By establishing relationships with its military personnel and veterans, the Lowcountry can leverage a powerful diaspora of servicemembers with Lowcountry ties as they live and work across Asia and the Pacific Islands. These future leaders can enable the Lowcountry to maximize its influence in the Asian shift.

Author: Major Brent W. Thompson is a military attorney, currently stationed at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii. He wrote this essay in his personal capacity. The views expressed are his own and do not necessarily represent the views of the Department of Defense or the United States Government.

Note: This article was awarded first prize in the Lowcountry in the Asian Century Essay Competition


(1) See, e.g., Lieberthal, Kenneth, “The American Pivot to Asia,” Foreign Policy, 21 December 2011, at http://foreignpolicy.com/2011/12/21/the-american-pivot-to-asia/
(2) The White House, “Fact Sheet: Advancing the Rebalance to Asia and the Pacific,” 16 November 2015, at http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2015/11/16/fact-sheet-advancing-rebalance-asia-and-pacific
(3) Ibid
(4) Von Nessen, Joseph C., “The Economic Impact of South Carolina’s Military Community: A Statewide and Regional Analysis,” University of South Carolina Darla Moore School of Business, January 2015, at http://www.scmilitarybases.com/sites/default/files/u7/DOR_MBTF_FD2.pdf
(5) Ibid
(6) See, e.g., U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Employment Situation of Veterans—2015,” 22 March 2016, at http://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/vet.pdf
(7) Klimas, Jacqueline, “Veterans more likely to volunteer, vote, serve community than civilians,” The Washington Times, 30 April 2015, at http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2015/apr/30/veterans-more-likely-to-volunteer-
(8) U.S. Chamber of Commerce, “Five Reasons So Many Veterans Succeed in Business,” Free Enterprise, 20 June 2016, at https://www.freeenterprise.com/military-success-in-business/
(9) One example is Our Community Salutes, http://www.ourcommunitysalutes.us/, a national non-profit that assists communities in planning and resourcing enlistment recognition ceremonies

The views expressed represent those of the respective contributors. Alternative viewpoints are always welcomed. Please send any responses to pr@islandssociety.org. Our editors will consider any and all responses for future publication.

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Climate Change in the Caribbean: Crisis Diplomacy for Small Island Developing States – Conner Fitzpatrick

Sea levels are rising globally, threatening the world’s coastal and island communities. According to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, small island developing states (SIDS), despite being “among the least responsible of all nations for climate change… are likely to suffer strongly from its adverse effects and could in some cases even become uninhabitable.” And, SIDS have been designated as more susceptible to a number of economic, social, and ecological crises, such as “external economic shocks, including to a large range of impacts from climate change and potentially more frequent and intense natural disasters.”

Islands in the Caribbean are rendered particularly vulnerable, as some of the region’s primary industries – tourism, fishing, and agriculture – rely heavily on the stability of its ecosystems. Those ecosystems are now at risk of degradation due to rising water levels, increasing sea temperatures, and unpredictable weather patterns brought about by climate change. In the face of these emerging threats, island nations and territories in the Caribbean must consider their subnational identity in order to develop microregional solutions to global crises impacting the region.

The Caribbean, characterized by the territories bordering or fully encompassed by the Caribbean Sea, is often difficult to think of as a unified entity. While institutions such as the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) promote integration in economic and foreign policy, in practice there is limited international cooperation relative to other globally significant regions in the area of climate change. Part of the challenge is that the Caribbean is stratified by a diverse set of peoples differentiated and simultaneously connected by their cultural, linguistic, and political ties. While connected in some aspects, the various nations and territories of the Caribbean are divided by their expansive maritime boundaries. Overcoming physical and cultural barriers through public diplomacy at the subnational level is a crucial step toward addressing climate change at its pressure points.

The Caribbean is highly fragmented by its differences. One of the most stark is financial. For example, while The Bahamas is an upper-middle income country with a GDP per capita of $25,600, Haiti’s is merely $1,800, making it the poorest country in the Western hemisphere and one of the poorest nations in the world. Similarly, population sizes range from over 11 million in the case of Cuba to just over 50,000 in Saint Kitts and Nevis.

Varying geopolitical statuses also define the region – while there are 13 sovereign island states in the Caribbean, 13 territories are categorized as dependencies of other nations, together with others (such as Bonaire and Guadeloupe) that have been fully integrated into the countries governing them from abroad. A few territories – such as the British Crown Dependencies, the French Collectivity of Saint Martin, and Puerto Rico, among others – have no acting legislative representation nationally or internationally due to the nature of their relationships. These varied political statuses limit their equality of voice in public diplomacy on the global stage.

Language both connects and divides the region. While Spanish is the primary language of millions of people in Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico, English is also spoken by millions in the Bahamas, Jamaica, Barbados, and numerous other Caribbean territories. French, Dutch, and a number of indigenous and creole languages are similarly spoken throughout the region. The existence of diverse languages sometimes serves as an additional barrier to achieving a cohesive regional identity between the Caribbean’s many islands.

While linguistic, cultural, economic, cultural, and geopolitical diversity are no doubt valuable in a global context, they also fragment the Caribbean in its efforts toward regional cooperation. For example, because of the region’s financial disparities, “adaptive capacity is uneven across and within countries,” limiting the ability to implement a comprehensive regional strategy in an area already divided through its insular nature.

Take, for example, the case of climate change. Climate change is largely seen as an environmental issue – but its predicted economic impacts in the Caribbean are tangible. According to the Inter-American Development Bank, “projections indicate that losses could total US$22 billion annually by 2050,” a figure that represents approximately 10 percent of the total Caribbean economy. Additionally, sea levels are rising at a rate of about two to four centimeters each year, putting further pressure on freshwater resources and throwing the region’s fragile ecosystems out of balance.

Of course, there are a number of international organizations aiming to curb the adverse effects of climate change in the Caribbean. The United Nations Environmental Programme’s Caribbean Environment Programme (UNEP-CEP), the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR), the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA), and the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre (CCCCC) provide resources to enhance regional policy decisions and make communities more resilient to natural disasters. CARICOM also provides a forum for member states to voice their concerns regarding crises impacting the region. However, because of the fragmented governmental structures that exist in the Caribbean, not all territories are adequately represented in the policymaking process, as they often lack the resources necessary to take part in global or regional policy discussions.

This gap in representation must be filled by a third option, namely nongovernmental organizations. Nongovernmental organizations must be equipped to serve as a platform for stakeholders at the micro-regional level to voice their concerns macroregionally. For effective consensus-building to take place, Caribbean stakeholders must reconsider their national identities in favor of subnational ones to ensure that all those involved have an equitable role in driving solutions to shared regional challenges. The focus needs to shift toward local insight and what connects a region as a whole, not what divides it.

The islands of the Caribbean are rendered particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Through their many linguistic, cultural, institutional, and geographic divisions, Caribbean islanders often lack the ability to contribute fully to international dialogue on the policies that impact their communities. By driving public diplomacy through a model centered on subnational identity, small island developing states will gain an inclusive, collaborative approach to addressing regional and global crises such as climate change.

Author: Conner Fitzpatrick is the Managing Director of the Caribbean Society.

The views expressed represent those of the respective contributors. Alternative viewpoints are always welcomed. Please send any responses to pr@islandssociety.org. Our editors will consider any and all responses for future publication.

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Addressing German Energy Security Through Public Diplomacy: The Need for German Engagement with Baltic Sea Islands – Theebika Shanmugarasa

Over the course of history, Germany’s relationship with the Baltic Sea region has oscillated between support and collaboration on one hand, and hesitancy and reluctance on the other. While Nordic states have long recognized the need for transnational cooperation with Baltic States and islands on common interests such as economics, energy, transport and defense, Germany’s policies towards this region have lagged behind for various reasons – reasons that are best understood in historic, geographical and political terms. Given the growing strategic importance of the Baltic Sea Region for Germany, it has become more crucial than ever for Germany to more fully engage the region through public diplomacy initiatives, with Baltic islands emerging as a prime target audience.

The unification of Germany in the aftermath of the Cold War in 1990 gave rise to an emerging major European power, politically and economically. In his paper on ‘German policy toward Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania since 1991 as an element of the Baltic Sea region-building,’ Kamil Markiewicz explains how the shift in geographical location of Germany, i.e. the creation of another German coastal region Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, raised the unified state’s attention to cooperation with other littoral states in the areas of energy, ecology and security.

Despite this, a security and economic logic driven Eastern policy (Ostpolitik) appears to have prolonged the presence of the ‘Moscow factor’, prevalent in German policies towards the Baltic Sea region during the Second World War. In his chapter on ‘Germany’s Security Policy in the Baltic Sea Region,’ Axel Krohn, a security policy expert and former Senior Advisor to the Council of the Baltic Sea States, incorporates the Russo-German relationship as one of the six factors that amount to German non-policy in the Baltic Sea region. Germany’s preoccupation with NATO enlargement and the extension of the EU is described as another factor that hindered Baltic Sea cooperation so as not to aggravate relations with Russia. Although the current German chancellor, Angela Merkel, does not seek out close personal ties with Russia’s political leaders, she has continued to pursue this Ostpolitik.

To this end, regional cooperation seems to be undermined by concepts of national self-interest and power politics. An argument could be made, however, that it is actually in Germany’s best self-interest to further its integration in the Baltic Sea region through public diplomacy initiatives aimed at island communities. Primarily, this could help Germany diversify its energy resources, focus on alternative energy projects on Baltic islands, and become less dependent on Russian oil imports. Recognized by the European Union (EU) in its Energy Security Strategy, “prosperity and security hinges on a stable and abundant supply of energy” (European Energy Security Strategy, 28 May 2014) –a sentiment that holds particularly true for Germany, which along with Italy, constitutes the largest recipients of Russia’s gas exports.

Partly due to an awareness of this dependence and partly due to the aim of protecting the climate and environment, the German government has proposed “aggressively expanding its renewable energy use with the purpose of making green energy 60% of the country’s final energy consumption by 2050” (Carrera, 26 September 2013). The passing of the Renewable Energy Sources Act 2012 (Erneuerbare Energien Gesetz – EEG) further serves to encourage the development of sustainable energy, the protection of the environment and the decrease of energy supply costs.

In admitting the need to reduce energy dependence, Germany cannot ignore the ever increasing importance of the Baltic Sea region in energy security and diplomacy. Russia’s oil and gas projects of the new millennium, which aim to bypass Ukraine and Belarus, have pushed the significance of the Baltic Sea region, as a link between export and import countries, to the forefront: the 1,224 kilometers-long Nord Stream pipeline links Russia’s Baltic Sea coast near Vyborg with Germany’s Baltic Sea coast of Lubmin, near Greifswald serves as one such example. These projects present opportunities for the Baltic Sea regions to shed the passive role taken on in the past and to exert their influence, as Russia will have to engage with the Baltic Sea region on issues, such as environment protection, in order to keep export revenues flowing into Moscow.

Arguably, German energy security has already shifted its focus on the Baltic Sea region, using public diplomacy and an array of networks, which provide a platform for multilateral activities between Baltic Sea States and other subnational actors within a cooperative security framework. Intergovernmental forums, such as The Council Of The Baltic Sea States Secretariat’ (CBSS), which promotes regional intergovernmental cooperation, and the Baltic Sea States Subregional Co-operation (BSSSC), which brings together regional authorities below the national level, provide a platform for transnational cooperation and a voice for subnational groups on issues of energy security and defense.

While cooperation of this sort is commendable, more active engagement in the Baltic Sea region is needed by Germany if it wants to attain its ambitious goals on alternative energy sources and reduced energy dependence. Aligned to its own goals of successful alternative energy projects are those of the Baltic islands. Cooperation on these would encourage more regional integration and unity, which in turn would protect energy security for all the parties involved.

The Swedish island Gotland, the largest Baltic Sea island, provides a good example. Like Germany, it has set itself ambitious targets, aiming to have a fully climate-neutral (100% renewable energy balance), efficient and economic energy supply by 2025, which also contributes to sustainable growth and the development of local business (Vision 2025, adopted by the Regional Council). The island relies on reaching its goals through the renewable energy sources potential that wind, biomass, and solar energy provide (European Islands Network on Energy & Environment: Gotland, Sweden, 2009).

Outlined in the ‘Sustainable Energy Action plan for Gotland’, the mentioned targets are to be implemented through an action plan that is coordinated by the Regional board. This board supports the local advisory board, which consists of representatives from the regional administration, the county administration, university and regional energy stakeholders –a case in point for subnational cooperation, but also multilevel governance since the action plan has been developed within the framework of the EU project Isle Pact.

Gotland’s Municipality is also a signatory to a partnership declaration with the European Commission, which incorporates it as one of the 100 Renewable Energy Communities, outlined in the Campaign for Take-off (ManagEnergy, European Commission, 8 March 2016). The partnership declaration outlines Gotland’s objective “to have a 100% renewable energy balance by 2025 and to work towards the realization of a sustainable society”. Since Germany has aspirations to increase its share of renewable energy, which fall under the EU’s 2020 Energy Strategy, the supranational platform seems to provide mutually beneficial opportunities for cooperation between Germany and islands like Gotland.

While the Energy Action Plan for Gotland focuses on development of local businesses, foreign firms have seized the opportunity to collaborate on local energy projects. Smart Grid Gotland, prides itself as the ‘smartest electricity network in the world’ currently under development and led by the local energy company GEAB, together with Vattenfall, ABB, Energimyndigheten, Svenska Kraftnät, Schneider Electric and KTH. The project uses modern technology to integrate large quantities of renewable energy sources into the grid, while improving cost efficiency and preserving quality –a business model and philosophy that will certainly appeal to German businesses. German energy companies such as Enercon should seize the opportunity to collaborate on local projects, which will pave the way for regional cooperation and sharing of best practices on alternative energy sources.

This could further lead to academic collaboration. Germany’s focus on research and development as well as innovation within the area, means it would benefit from engaging with Gotland University, which specialises in ecologically sustainable development, and the role which energy consumption holds in it, offering courses on wind power-related subjects. This includes studies on the development of wind power from a social science perspective, planned anchoring processes for offshore wind power as well as planning and acceptance for wind power.

Despite these evident benefits of focusing Germany’s energy security strategy on Baltic islands, traditional hesitancy in fostering bilateral relations with the Baltic Sea states puts into question the likelihood of more active future cooperation. While Germany has preferred addressing ‘soft security’ issues within the framework of multilateral structures, such as within CBSS, it has –despite participation –opposed far-reaching institutionalization of the CBSS due to its fear of regionalization within the region, which favors the ‘Nordic’ integration model. Rather than viewing this as a threat, Germany could take an example of Nordic countries’ engagement with Baltic islands, which equally benefit the parties involved.

Regardless of these past reluctances, current atmosphere in the international relations systems requires Germany to proactively engage Baltic islands in its energy security ambitions and projects on alternative energy sources. Incidents such as the Ukraine crisis and the Russo-Georgian war demonstrate the unpredictability of Russian behavior and risks of energy dependency on Russia and the consequent threat to energy security for importing states. Decreasing oil prices and its predicted impact on global stability further reaffirm the need for sustainable energy and security of energy supply. Moreover investment and regional cooperation in alternative forms of energy with an eye toward sustainability are critical in addressing climate related security concerns for all parties involved.

As the newly established focus on Baltic islands indicates, subnational actors play a more significant role in energy security and sustainability than they are credited for. If Germany is to fully appreciate this importance of the Baltic islands, the same logic should be applied to its own internal subnational actors. Northern regions of Germany have traditionally favored more cooperation with the Baltic states. The existing twinning arrangements and consequent relations between individual German towns and districts with those of the Baltic states should also be exploited for the purpose of cooperation on sustainable energy and energy security. Using transnational cooperation of subnational communities, Baltic islands should work together with perhaps, initially the German coastal regions along the Russian pipelines, which could then foment greater regional cooperation.

As states, regions and communities realize the scarcity of the natural resources available, sustainability will play an ever growing role not only in Baltic islands such as Gotland, but also for big economic powers like Germany. Regional cooperation at a subnational level is therefore essential to learn from each other and work together to achieve sustainable energy supply and safeguard energy security.

Author: Theebika Shanmugarasa is a Non-Resident Fellow at the Center on Island Diplomacy. She is also a Community Engagement Specialist at the Baltic Islands Society.

The views expressed represent those of the respective contributors. Alternative viewpoints are always welcomed. Please send any responses to pr@islandssociety.org. Our editors will consider any and all responses for future publication.

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Islanders of African Great Lakes Should Embrace Identity – James Carroll

Effective management of the African Great Lakes is paramount for sustainability of the area’s natural resources in the years ahead. For example, consider the transboundary waters of Lake Victoria. They pose interrelated challenges that lead Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, as well as international actors, to struggle in their quest for lasting solutions. At the forefront of this struggle is the question of how to manage the resources in an inclusive and participatory manner, while promoting sustainable development. One approach that could prove to be a viable solution is to engage key demographics — specifically, populations living on the islands of Lake Victoria.

A Better Approach Needed

Lake Victoria faces a range of issues that vary in complexity and magnitude. It already supports over 30 million people in three East African countries, and their populations are growing rapidly. The challenges facing Lake Victoria are well documented, ranging from unplanned urban growth to climate change. Some of these issues require governments to take leading roles, while others require innovative approaches due to their transboundary nature.

The challenge of finding solutions lies with how governments and large organizations engage key demographics and organizations around Lake Victoria. Too often, governments and international actors are detached from local populations where they are actively working. This disconnect between the two parties prevents governments and international actors from properly understanding the complexity of issues. These challenges have led governments and international actors to recognize the need for better approaches to the management of Lake Victoria’s resources.

Using Public Diplomacy as a Tool

Several institutions have been established by the East African Community (ECA) for international water governance of Lake Victoria. These include the Lake Victoria Basin Commission (LVBC) to promote sustainable development of the basin region and the Lake Victoria Fisheries Organization (LVFO) for the collaboration in development and management of the fisheries of Lake Victoria. While these organizations are working toward the aforementioned goal, both the LVBC and the LVFO would benefit from working closely with organizations that engage populations at the sub-national level.

One organization with which the LVBC has collaborated is the East African Communities Organization for the Management of Lake Victoria Resources (ECOVIC). ECOVIC is reestablishing the link amongst ethnic groups around Lake Victoria. Their tasks include strengthening and fostering greater participation of stakeholders in the sustainable management of Lake Victoria as well as giving formal participation to stakeholders in decision-making. ECOVIC is filling an important role for governments and international organizations by working with populations based on an identity other than nationality. Through the shaping of a shared identity amongst different people, actors who engage in public diplomacy will be able engage those populations more effectively.

Subnational Identity of ‘Lake Islanders’

An analysis of the Lake Victoria region conducted by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA) states that “most people would probably define their primary identity as something else than Kenyan, Ugandan or Tanzanian.” Echoing this approach is the African Ministers Council on Water (AMCOW). The AMCOW identified that working at the transboundary and sub-national level is one key strategy toward basin planning.

One key population that governments and organizations could engage at the subnational level are the people that reside on islands throughout Lake Victoria. There are several thousand islands that span the coastlines of the three countries. The populations that live on these islands are at the forefront of many of the issues facing Lake Victoria. Both the people that identify as Lake Islanders, as well as governments and international organizations, would benefit from forging the subnational identity of ‘Lake Islander.’

In the first place, when governments and organizations work at the subnational level, they are better placed to understand the needs of the communities they serve. Through giving these Islanders a platform, governments and international actors can better understand the challenges and needs of these populations, regardless of nationality or ethnicity. By empowering marginalized voices that lack participation in decision-making, more effective policies and initiatives can be developed to meet the challenges of environmental problems.

Secondly, those who identify as Lake Islanders will find that when they engage governments and organizations collectively, they will have a stronger position to negotiate. This stronger position will allow them to participate in policymaking and become stakeholders in regional governance. As fishing stocks decrease, for instance, the need for transnational cooperation between populations is crucial for sustainable fishing. Through the formation of a shared identity, the increase of regional integration between populations that depend on the resources of Lake Victoria will have a higher degree of cooperation for the management of the resources.

Thirdly, the forging of a subnational identity will allow for the creation of a common identity between populations that might otherwise feel a lack of shared connection. This will allow for international integration between members of the same identity. For example, by identifying as Islanders, the populations that live on the islands of Lake Victoria share a common identity with the populations of the littoral states (Austria, Germany, and Switzerland) of Lake Constance in Europe. While the nationalities and backgrounds of these two subpopulations may be different, they face similar challenges and have similar aspirations. Islanders of Lake Victoria will find that identifying as such could be beneficial to achieving various objectives. One instance is that building transnational ties potentially leads to an increase in foreign aid.


Although the formation of a subnational identity will take time, all parties involved will find that the benefits will be innumerable. Governments and international actors will find that as participation in problem-solving becomes more inclusive, policies and initiatives will be more successful. At the same time, individuals will feel that they are part of a collective identity that shares the same outcome, thus they will be more likely to adhere to regulations beneficial to all. As Lake Victoria continues to deteriorate, major stakeholders must work quickly to ensure that all possible solutions are explored, or risk facing a major environmental disaster.

Image Credit: Ryan Harvey | CC 2.0

Multilevel Security Governance of the Baltic Sea Islands – Agne Cepinskyte

Connected by the sea, attached to different nation-states, and protected by the supranational structures, the Baltic Sea islands are at the intersection of multiple levels of governance. First, the local governments and administrations of the largest islands cooperate at the subnational level, aiming to promote common interests, exchange ideas and experiences. Second, the islands are governed by their nation-states, which in turn take part in various inter-governmental regional forums and organizations, such as the Council of the Baltic Sea States (CBSS) and the Nordic-Baltic Eight (NB8), among others. Third, the nation-states along with their islands are also members of the supranational organizations – notably the European Union (EU) and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), with the exception of Finland and Sweden with their islands of Åland, Öland and Gotland.

In recent years, heightened security concerns in the Baltic Sea Region highlighted the significance of this multi-layered governance system. The looming threat of a military attack by Russia, its increased assertiveness and provocations (especially airspace and maritime border incursions) also exposed the system’s deficiencies. Confronted with a potential danger, that in its worst scenario could have devastating consequences in the region and beyond, the concerned states started hypothesizing as to how exactly such scenario would play out. Often these mock scenarios involved the Baltic Sea islands as the primary targets of the Russian strikes. In fact, Russia itself reportedly simulated military encroachment on Bornholm in 2014, as well as Åland and Gotland in 2015. Indeed, the three islands occupy strategically important locations in the Baltic Sea, which makes them a convenient military target.

One issue that these imitation games raise is whether NATO would be able (or even willing) to provide an adequate response to Russia’s aggression in the Baltic region. The legal ambiguities of the Washington Treaty’s Article 5 aside, there is also another major problem. In a 2015 report on the Baltic Sea region’s security, Edward Lucas concludes that the Baltic region is too fragmented to properly react to Russia’s threat: the Nordic-Baltic region’s states are not in the same defense alliance (in the absence of Finland’s and Sweden’s membership in NATO), they do not ‘coordinate fully (or in some cases at all) their threat assessments, military plans, purchasing or exercises’. Lucas suggests that one has to start looking at the region ‘not in terms of countries, but in terms of links and nodes,’ otherwise both the region and NATO would likely be revealed as powerless.

Lucas’s conclusion reflects the view in academic scholarship that the traditional state-centered security governance is anachronistic. Tânia Felício argues that today security threats often cross the borders and different kinds of networks (of both state and non-state actors) are emerging in response to such threats. As a result, political landscape is transforming and states no longer play the pivotal role as protagonists in the security system. She follows Barry Buzan’s and Ole Wæver’s Regional Security Complex Theory and proposes taking a less state-centered approach to security and governance. Felício introduces the concept of Multilevel Security Governance, which shifts the focus from ‘government’ to ‘governance’ and referrs to a network of different state and non-state actors operating on different levels of security: subnational, transnational, regional and global.

In the light of the current security threats in the Baltic Sea area, it is necessary to rethink how the multilevel network of security governance in the region could be made more efficient. Would the bottom-up regionalism at the subnational level, such as the Baltic Sea islands (but also cities, border regions etc.), facilitate building public acceptance for regionalization at the higher levels? Would this contribute to creating a common approach to security issues and the culture of mutual trust, something that Edward Lucas indicated as one of the fundamental causes for the Baltic Sea region’s lack of unity? Finally, could the fragmentation at the supranational security level be at least partially fixed by tightening cooperation at the lower levels – transnational and subnational?

Transnational Nordic-Baltic defense cooperation has increased in the last decade and especially since Russia’s aggression in Ukraine. Already in 2009, the Baltic Sea countries established the Sea Surveillance Cooperation Baltic Sea (SUCBAS) to exchange the surveillance information, while strengthening common understanding on security issues in the Baltic Sea area. In September 2015, the Nordic and Baltic foreign ministers issued a joint statement on regional security, signifying the consensus on security issues in the Baltic Sea region. A couple of months later, defense ministers of NB8 committed to increase cooperation in cyber security, joint military exercises and operations, as well as in procurement of weaponry and military equipment.

Security and defense cooperation among the nation-states of the Baltic Sea region naturally affects the Baltic islands. However, subnational cooperation of the Baltic islands also has the potential to complement the transnational and even higher levels of cooperation. In fact, SUCBAS acknowledged the significance of the Baltic Sea islands partnership (the so-called B7) in 2013 and recognized their role in the region as “the real contributors to the maritime culture around the Baltic Sea.” The islands, being vulnerable targets of potential foreign invasion, are also likely to face peculiar challenges in the event of a conflict. In his extensive study on the Baltic islands and their identity formation, Janne Holmen asserts the following: in history the geographic factors of the islands determined that their experience of war often differed from that of the mainland (for instance, they were easier to occupy and were subjected to greater influxes or exoduses of refugees).

Just as security is a multi-dimensional phenomenon, its governance is as complex. Admittedly, the state-centric view in defense and security matters is arguably still more relevant than in less sensitive political, economic and social areas. The Baltic and Nordic states have already demonstrated some commitment to work together in strengthening the region on the transnational level. NATO still remains the main security guarantor in the Baltic Sea region with the strongest capabilities to deter and respond to a military threat. Nevertheless, each level of governance possesses specific resources, knowledge and experience. This could be shared trans-nationally at that same level, as well as with the higher levels of governance, thus enhancing both vertical and horizontal partnerships across this multi-layered network of security governance.

Author: Agne Cepinskyte is a Non-Resident Fellow at the Center on Island Security.

The views expressed represent those of the respective contributors. Alternative viewpoints are always welcomed. Please send any responses to pr@islandssociety.org. Our editors will consider any and all responses for future publication.

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Mitigating Sea Level Rise on Hilton Head Island Requires New Identity – 2/27/16

Recently, the Island Packet reported that the Hilton Head Island Town Council is evaluating the community’s interest in “creating a new vision for the town.” Apparently, the Town Council feels that the participation by residents in this process might prove difficult due to “retirees in gated communities, which are like separate towns and their residents often don’t feel engaged with or mistrust local government, owners of rental properties who don’t live on the island, and younger residents in the ungated parts of town who are often the least vocal.” Of course, the Town Council should be concerned about the challenge of overcoming these factional divides to create a new identity. But, the Town Council should be even more concerned about how these factional divides are already undermining how the local community tackles complex issues that require long-term solutions. For example, consider the threat posed by sea level rise. Certainly, sea level rise poses a long-term threat to the safety and security of the local community. Unfortunately, many of the permanent residents on the island will not be around to see the long-term consequences of sea level rise on the local community. This should be a serious concern for the Town Council. Without young families with a personal investment in the long-term future of the island, sea level rise may not receive the attention that it deserves until it is too late.

Local Demographics

Local demographics confirm that Hilton Head Island is deeply factionalized. Let us consider a few statistics. First, the median age of the population has increased annually from 29.6 in 1975 to 50.9 in 2010 according to the 2012-2017 Sustainable Practices Action Plan. This stands in stark comparison with the median age of 37.9 across the state in 2010. Second, the residents of the island are geographically divided. In fact, according to some estimates, Hilton Head Island is comprised of 70% gated communities. Third, a little more than half of the island’s housing units are classified as vacant (rental properties, seasonal, second-home or for sale). In fact, the 2010 census states that of the 33,306 units, 16,535 are occupied housing units while 16,771 are vacant housing units. Fourth, many of the permanent residents do not have children. According to some reports, only 3,039 of the 16,535 households have children under 18 years. Of course, we could go on. But, the point is made. Hilton Head Island is factionalized along at least three important lines (i.e., age; residency; children) that impact the ability of the local community to tackle sea level rise and other complex issues that require long-term solutions.

Sea Level Rise

Regardless of where one stands on the politicized topic of climate change, sea level rise is an objective threat to the coastal region of South Carolina. And, Hilton Head Island is not alone in being unprepared for the growing threat. Overall, South Carolina recently received a D rating for “its below average level of preparedness in the face of an average overall coastal flooding threat.” This is because many coastal communities across South Carolina have taken little action to plan or adapt to future coastal flooding. But, there are exceptions. For example, the most populated city and economic hub of the Lowcountry, the City of Charleston, has recognized that sea level rise is a direct threat. And, they have released a strategic plan to counter this growing challenge. Hilton Head Island needs to be a leader on this issue as well.

One of the environmental strategies outlined in the Sustainable Practices Action Plan is to “reduce and mitigate negative impacts of sea level rise and global warming effects through beach re-nourishment and development regulations.” Unfortunately, both these measures do little to reduce or mitigate the long-term consequences of sea level rise. Beach re-nourishment projects are temporary solutions at the cost of millions of dollars every few years. At some point, these efforts might even prove cost prohibitive for the local community. But, that is not a personal concern for many of the permanent residents of the island. They will not be here when that day arrives. It is only a personal concern for the young families in our community. They will be the ones that will have to bear that burden.

Lack of Identity Undermines Action

While there has never been a better time to address that sea level rise is threat, Hilton Head Island is simply not in position to meet the challenge of sea level rise. And, the lack of a ‘sense of community’ will continue to hinder any future efforts to counter sea level rise. From my perspective, the local community therefore needs to shift the demographics. Hilton Head Island needs more young families who are personally invested in the same long-term aspirations and goals for their local community. Communities with a strong sense of identity are better placed to meet challenges of sea level rise. This is because they face a shared future. Research seems to support this. One study found that communities with a high resiliency to climate change have achieved it through a ‘bottoms-up’ approach where citizens feel that climate change directly impacts their homes or neighborhoods.

Now, it is well-known that Hilton Head Island is a popular retirement destination. But, a poll released by Pew Research Center on American’s views on climate change exposes that this also undermines any efforts to mitigate the long-term threat posed by sea level rise. When US adults were asked about their views on climate change, 60% of 18-29 year-olds replied that the Earth is getting warmer because of human activity compared to only 48% of 50-64 years and 31% of 65+ years. This poll demonstrates the serious generational divide on climate change. While younger generations feel that climate change will directly impact their lives, older generations do not share the same feelings.

Moreover, the number of vacation rentals and second homes paints a picture that a large number of homeowners have their roots planted elsewhere. While these homeowners may share the same concerns about sea level rise as permanent residents, they are not similarly invested in the long-term future of the community. The same goes for family households without children under the age of eighteen. These households are not similarly invested in the long-term future of the community as those with children under the age of eighteen. And, it will be difficult to change these dynamics. With a large percentage of gated communities combined with a median age above 50, Hilton Head Island simply is not in a good place to attract young families who want to become permanent residents.

Local Consequences

While the Town Council’s efforts to push for a new identity should be considered a step in the right direction, simply saying that the local community needs a new identity is not enough. We need to completely revamp the Hilton Head Island Vision 2030 so that its focus is on the long-term future of our community. That means that we need to attract young families as permanent residents. And, that in turn means that we need to get serious about tackling complex issues that require long-term solutions. Sea-level rise is just one of these issues. Others might include discrimination and income inequity. Right now. the community is not positioned to tackle these issues. And so, the community cannot attract young families. That needs to change. And, it needs to change quickly. If not, the local community will suffer in the long-term.

Author: James Carroll is a local resident of Charleston, South Carolina. He is also a graduate of the College of Charleston and a former Peace Corps volunteer.

The views expressed represent those of the respective contributors and not their respective organizations. Alternative viewpoints are always welcomed. Please send any responses to pr@islandssociety.org. Our editors will consider any and all responses for future publication.

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Tsai Ing-wen: Did You Know that Taiwan is a “Country” in South Carolina? – James Carroll

Words matter in international relations. On January 1, 1979, the United States government ended diplomatic relations with the Government of the Republic of China (ROC). Since then, the United States (U.S.) has only maintained non-diplomatic relations with the “governing authorities on Taiwan.” Of course, many experts argue that this shift on the political status of Taiwan is just a matter of semantics. Under the Taiwan Relations Act, the U.S. government still maintains de facto diplomatic relations with the governing authorities on Taiwan. It does so through the American Institute in Taiwan and the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in the United States, whose representatives possess special powers that allow their offices to operate as de facto embassies. The federal government of the United States is extremely careful not refer to Taiwan as the Republic of China nowadays. That is why the recent reciprocity agreement over driver’s licenses between the State of South Carolina and “Chinese Taipei” warrants special attention.

Reciprocity Agreement

On March 26, 2015, the South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles (SCDMV) signed a reciprocity agreement  over driver’s licenses with Taiwan to facilitate international commerce and other relations between the State of South Carolina and Taiwan. Following the conclusion of the agreement, SCDMV revised its official website to account for Taiwan’s reciprocity with the state. Those changes included listing Taiwan under a chart that states “only these countries have established a reciprocity agreements” and recognizing that Taiwan requires its citizens to obtain certification letters under the agreement from a “Consulate General of the Republic of China (Taiwan).”

Diplomatic Concerns

The actions of the State of South Carolina entail serious political and diplomatic implications for both the U.S. and Taiwan. Although some experts might claim that one should not attach too much importance to the words “country,” “consulate general,” and “Republic of China” on the SCDMV website, it is likely that the PRC would vehemently disagree. And that is why the case warrants special attention.

Soft Power

To compensate for their lack of recognition at the international level, Taipei has turned to soft power and public diplomacy to meet its foreign policy goals. Over the years, the use of soft power has been utilized by both the Kuomintang (KMT) and Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) to achieve their priorities. For example, the DPP under Chen Shui-bian promoted Taiwan’s democratization as its most valuable soft power asset, while incumbent president Ma Ying-jeou and his KMT administration valued Taiwan’s traditional culture. This can be interpreted as the DPP seeing democratization as being uniquely Taiwanese to differentiate it from the PRC. On the other hand, KMT’s promotion of Taiwan’s traditional culture is in line with the idea of there being only one Chinese culture, regardless of whether one is on the mainland or the island of Taiwan.

Taiwanese Elections

The election of Tsai Ing-wen and the DPP this past month has returned the question of Taiwanese independence to center stage. During President Ma’s term, cross-strait relations improved vastly, which many contribute to his pro-PRC (People’s Republic of China) leaning. President Ma is a firm believer in the idea of “one China,” and even met with PRC president Xi Jinping this past year (the first meeting of any kind in 66 years). The United States and the People’s Republic of China both have expressed their desires that Mrs. Tsai will maintain the status quo. Chinese state-run media warned Mrs. Tsai that any deviation from the 1992 consensus would provoke turmoil. Both parties have different interpretations of the result of the meeting between the PRC and ROC in 1992. So far, Mrs. Tsai’s position on the issue remains largely unknown.

Complex Problems

Any change to the status quo would hamper regional stability and peace, something that Washington and Beijing staunchly oppose. For this reason, any U.S. state that recognizes Taiwan as a sovereign country threatens to impact where the U.S. stands with respect to China and Taiwan. The reciprocity agreement between South Carolina and Taiwan also exposes potential tension that exists in American federalism. If it is the case that South Carolina superseded U.S. foreign policy, the State Department will have to work diligently with South Carolina and other state governments to ensure that federal rights are not abdicated. Of course, this could have political blowback in the United States. Increasingly, a number of state governments are again asserting themselves as actors in international affairs. This has potential benefits and drawbacks for the State Department. There are ways that the State Department could use such initiatives to its advantage. On the other hand, the recognition of Taiwan as a country by individual states risks damaging the U.S. relationship with China. It also threatens to revise the distribution of powers between the federal government and the state governments in international affairs.

Policy Implications

As Taiwan continues to seek legitimacy, its success in South Carolina must not be overlooked by the Tsai Ing-wen administration. They could either ignore the SCDMV’s language as a poor choice of wording with no further significant consequences, or they could publicly champion it as a soft power victory for “Taiwanization.” Meanwhile, the State Department must also not overlook the long-term consequences of the reciprocity agreement. The question of whether the State Department should reign in South Carolina probably will come down to whether it is useful for South Carolina to recognize Taiwan as a sovereign country for the purposes of American national security on the one hand, and American federalism on the other. If it is ultimately useful to have South Carolina referring to Taiwan as a country, then the State Department will probably continue to look the other way. If not, then the State Department will probably push for South Carolina to revise the language. Either way, there is little doubt that Beijing, Taipei, and Washington will be watching what happens next in the Palmetto State with interest.


Author: James Carroll is the Managing Director of the Sea Islands Society.

The views expressed represent those of the respective contributors. Alternative viewpoints are always welcomed. Please send any responses to pr@islandssociety.org. Our editors will consider any and all responses for future publication.

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Note: Edits made to original on 3/2/16

Islands: At the Forefront of Baltic Security in the 21st Century – Derek Bolton

In recent years, foreign policy experts have been reminded of the strategic importance of the Baltic Sea region. Faced with a severe deterioration in NATO-Russia relations, the NBP9 states – the Nordic Five (i.e., Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden), the Baltic Three (i.e., Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania), and Poland – have been forced to reconsider their political, economic, and strategic relations with other states around the world. Those with the most at stake in Russian relations with the West are responding to this development, including the United States, Russia, and the European Union. But, their efforts have been largely shrouded from public view.

Part of the problem is that the major stakeholders have little incentive to be transparent about their policy approaches. Over the last year, the rise of Daesh (i.e., ISIS) has displaced public interest in Russian intervention in Eastern Europe and the Caucus. And, the recent attacks in Paris have only added fuel to the fire.

Nevertheless, the Baltic Three have publicly warned world leaders against overlooking the shift in Russia’s relations with its neighbors. As Estonian President Thomas Hendrik Ilves noted, they do so at their collective peril, “I would say that I think we all concerned about this sort of falling behind or some kind of development in which we stop paying attention to Crimea, or we even forgive the annexation because of the newer threats. We cannot allow that to happen.”

Of course, the Baltic Three are not alone. Victoria Nuland, U.S. Assistant Secretary for the State Department Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs recently stated, “Even as we focus on ISIL, we must not forget that barely two years ago, almost one million Ukrainians …demand that their government give them what we have: human dignity, democracy, clean government, justice… Now we have to help Ukraine see it through. We must maintain pressure on Russia and its separatist proxies to complete the unfinished commitments of Minsk.” And, the Ministers of Defense from Sweden, Norway, Finland, Denmark and Iceland signed on to a joint op-ed on Nordic defense cooperation that was published in the Oslo daily Aftenposten in August. In that post, they argued,

“The Russian aggression against the Ukraine and the illegal annexation of Crimea are violations of international law and other international agreements. Russia’s conduct represents the gravest challenge to European security. As a consequence, the security situation in the Nordic countries’ adjacent areas has become significantly worsened during the past year…. we must be prepared to face possible crises or incidents”

It is important to note that such calls from world leaders do not only stem from concerns about further Russian intervention in Ukraine. Consider the Aftenposten OpEd. It portrays Ukraine as a potential indicator for Russian aggression in other states, including those on the Baltic Sea. And, this is stoking debate over Russian relations among foreign policy experts across the region. For example, Wilhelm Unge of Säpo recently claimed, “Russia is the biggest intelligence agent in Sweden … they are interested in really everything — political, economic, technical and military information… It is one of the few countries that has the very broad intelligence interest in Sweden.”

Of course, Baltic Sea residents have quite a few reasons to be concerned. For example there was the incursion into the waters off Stockholm by a foreign submarine, widely believed to be Russian. And, some claim that Eston Kohver, a convicted Estonian spy in Russia, was in fact kidnapped on Estonian soil. Although he was swapped for convicted Russian spy Aleksei Dressen, that prisoner exchange did little to allay fears in Tallinn.

Moreover, Finland and Sweden have repeatedly complained of Russian fighter jet incursions into their airspace. For Finland, anxiety over these incursions are heightened by military drills along its border and the assertion of former Putin assistant Andrei Illarionov that the Russian President would, in an ideal world, like to reclaim Finland. Although regional experts largely agree that military intervention is unlikely, many in Helsinki continue to fret land purchases along their border with Russia, and close to military installations, by Russian citizens.

Whether or not these concerns are founded remains open to debate. But, they are fueling major shifts in the Nordic defense posture. In the event of a crisis, Nordic defense initiatives will need to focus on the islands of the Baltic Sea region. This was made evident during widely reported Russian war games that appeared to simulate the invasion of Finland, Norway, Denmark and Sweden. In these war games, the islands of Gotland, Åland and Bornholm seemed to feature prominently. And, analysts have concluded, “If carried out successfully, control of those territories would make it all but impossible for NATO allies to reinforce the Baltic states.”

To help explain why, let us turn to Ari Shapiro. In an early 2015 piece with Keir Giles of Chatham House, he noted, “Northern Europe is a complicated chess board and Gotland is a crucial square. Just to the east of this island are the Baltic states – Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania… the United States and the Baltics are NATO members. That military alliance says an attack on one member is an attack on all. But Sweden is not part of NATO, which means the island of Gotland isn’t either. And whoever controls Gotland has the Baltics in their crosshairs.”

While Shapiro puts the emphasis on Gotland, Åland is of equally strategic importance. As Kimie Hara writes, “The islands’ proximity to the Swedish mainland creates an obvious danger for Sweden from a military bases in the hands of a hostile power. The Islands hold the key to control of the Gulf of Bothnia, and their demilitarization and neutralization has significance for the security of not only Sweden, but also the region.”

It is perhaps not surprising then that we have already seen a shift in defence strategy across the region. For his part, Finnish Defense Minister Jussi Niinistö has called for a reappraisal of defense policy vis-à-vis Åland, claiming that Russia still does not recognize the region’s neutral status. Meanwhile, Sweden has begun to station troops on Gotland and recruiting home-guard volunteers after a 10-year hiatus. This has been coupled with further investment in naval capabilities that will be stationed out of Gotland. There are even discussions between the Nordic states of jointly purchasing a missile defense system on the island.

As Baltic islands continue to grow in importance and play a greater feature in foreign affairs and Nordic defense, it will be in the national interests of the major stakeholders in Russian relations with the West to engage local communities across the Baltic Sea. This includes investing in subnational initiatives led by subnational organizations that target sub-national identities. Fostering regional integration and ensuring voices in the Baltic Sea region are not only understood, but also represented, in foreign policy is more important now than arguably any time during the Cold War.

Derek Bolton is the Managing Director of the Baltic Islands Society. He is also a Young Leader at Pacific Forum CSIS and a Non-Resident Fellow at the Center on Island Security. Prior to pursing a PhD at the University of Bath, he served as a Research Associate at Global Co Lab Network, where he worked to foster greater international cooperation on Science and Technology (S&T) between Americans and Europeans.

Commentaries and responses on the Islands Society Blog represent the views of the respective authors. Alternative viewpoints are always welcomed. Please send any responses to pr@islandssociety.org. Our editors will consider any and all responses for future publication.

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