Major Communication Breakdown During Chinese Live-Fire Exercises in Djibouti – 11/28/17

On 23 November, the Chinese military conducted live-fire exercises with ZTL-11 amphibious assault vehicles at the Maryam Training Area in the Republic of Djibouti. These exercises were closely followed by Western militaries based in Djibouti. This is not because these militaries currently see the Chinese military as an immediate threat in the region. Rather, it is because they view the Chinese military as another force with which they have “to share a common operating space.” Western militaries therefore perceive that it is in their strategic interest to keep a close eye on any Chinese military activities on the continent. 

In this context, it is perhaps not surprising that reports of what actually transpired during the live-fire exercises are beginning to trickle out. Yesterday, foreign military officials revealed that they were not only surprised that the Chinese military conducted the exercises outside of the normal hours at the range. They also felt that the Chinese military did not have the proper authorization to conduct the exercises in the first place. This led to intense speculation over what statement the Chinese military was trying to make with these exercises.

Earlier today, new information came to light that casts a shadow over these concerns. According to a foreign military official, the Chinese military was provided authorization to conduct these exercises by the Djiboutian Government. Afterwards, the Djiboutian Government attempted to notify the French military prior to the exercises. However, there was a “technical issue that delayed the reception of the fax.” So, the French Forces in Djibouti were not aware that the Chinese military had the authorization to conduct the exercises until the last 24 hours. This was problematic. The French Forces in Djibouti are ultimately responsible for overseeing the Maryam Training Area. So, other Western militaries were in the dark about whether the Chinese military had the authorization to conduct the exercises until this morning.

If the latest reports are true, then this coordination problem not only provides a powerful indictment of the current status of the range coordination process. It also exposes the day-to-day challenge of trying to coordinate the military activities of the many foreign military forces operating in Djibouti. It is therefore in the best interest of the Djiboutian Government and the overseas military bases in Djibouti to start working toward developing a new mechanism for addressing these problems. Of course, this will be difficult in light of the many competing interests of the foreign military forces in Djibouti. The Djiboutian Government and the overseas military bases in Djibouti will therefore need to be extremely creative when trying to work out a legally valid solution to these problems.

Michael Edward Walsh is a Research Fellow for African Studies at The Johns Hopkins University SAIS. This article is derived from his ongoing research project on counter-piracy operations off the Horn of Africa and Southern Arabia.

Image Credit: compacflt via Flickr CC

Reported Unauthorized Use of Djiboutian Range Fuels Speculation on Chinese Intentions in Africa – 11/27/17

Last week, the Chinese military conducted live-fire exercises at a range in the Republic of Djibouti. News of these exercises made headlines across China and around the world. Images of the soldiers and tanks participating in the exercises were also widely shared on social media

According to media reporting, Chinese military officials maintain that the purpose of these exercises was to put their strategies to the test. They also point out that these exercises are consistent with their stated commitment to ensure that their soldiers stationed in Djibouti conduct regular military exercises on par with their colleagues stationed back home. Meanwhile, Chinese military experts suggest that these exercises were not just a way to showcase the Chinese military on the world stage. They may also be a prologue to more complex drills to be carried out later this year.

Any live-fire exercises by the Chinese military will be closely followed by Western militaries in Djibouti. This is not because Western militaries see the Chinese military as an immediate threat in Eastern Africa. Rather, it is because Western militaries view the Chinese military as “an opposing force” with which they have “to share a common operating space.” It is perhaps not surprising then that reports of what actually transpired during the live-fire exercises are beginning to trickle out. For example, a foreign military official recently revealed that the Chinese military was observed using the range outside of their scheduled permit for use. According to the foreign military official, this may have been an intentional affront to the French military who manages the ranges. If so, then the Chinese military may have been trying to make the statement that they have effectively replaced the French military as the dominant military force in the country.

In an opinion article for the Global Times, Su Tan suggests that last week’s live-fire exercises aroused concern because of “persistent speculation over China’s intentions.” Unfortunately, the Chinese Government has done very little to assuage concerns over the intentions of the Chinese military in this part of the world. Moreover, the People’s Liberation Army Security Base in Djibouti remains shrouded in secrecy since it opened in August. And, the Chinese military has been aggressive in their interactions with their American counterparts since their first live-fire exercise in September. In this context, last week’s live-fire exercises were bound to fuel further speculation over China’s intentions in the region. The reported use of the range outside of their scheduled permit of use only adds more fuel to that fire.

Michael Edward Walsh is a Research Fellow for African Studies at The Johns Hopkins University SAIS. This article is derived from his ongoing research project on counter-piracy operations off the Horn of Africa and Southern Arabia.

Note: This article was re-distributed by the DefenceWeb – Africa’s Leading Defence News Portal.

Image Credit: unmissmultimedia via Flickr CC

The Expansion of the Japan Self-Defense Force Base in Djibouti – Michael Edward Walsh

Last year, Japanese officials revealed that the Japanese Government would lease additional land to expand the Japan Self-Defense Force Base in Djibouti. According to media reporting at the time, the expansion of the base is intended to serve as a counterweight to the expanding strategic footprint of China in Africa and the Middle East. The Japanese Government still plans to lease additional land to expand the Japan Self-Defense Force Base in Djibouti. In fact, the Japanese Government hopes to finalize a lease on the additional land within a week or so. However, the Japanese Government does not intend to build on this land until the next fiscal year. This is due to cyclical budgetary constraints. Once the lease is finalized, it will be interesting to see whether the expansion of the base will lead to a further expansion of the functions of the base. At the end of the day, the Japan Self-Defense Force Base in Djibouti serves as an important mechanism for advancing the normalization agenda of the Abe Administration. The expansion of the base therefore not only provides an opportunity to further expand the functions of the base. It also provides an opportunity to further reform Japanese security policy.

The Japan Self-Defense Force Base in Djibouti

The Japan Self-Defense Force Base in Djibouti is the first Japanese overseas military base since World War II. Opened on 5 July 2011, the base is located on the northwest side of the Djibouti-Ambouli International Airport. Unlike the French Naval Base of Djibouti, the Japan Self-Defense Force Base in Djibouti does not provide docking for naval ships. It is also considerably smaller than the American and French expeditionary bases at Djibouti-Ambouli International Airport. However, the base does provide the Japan Self-Defense Force with direct access to a joint civilian/military-use airport. It also provides the Japanese Self-Defense Force with easy access to the American, French, and Italian expeditionary bases. This is useful in supporting multinational operations.

Overseas Military Bases at Djibouti-Ambouli International Airport (Source: OMBAI)
The Function of the Japan Self-Defense Force Base in Djibouti 

The Japan Self-Defense Force Base in Djibouti was specifically designed to support counter-piracy operations in the immediate vicinity of the Gulf of Aden. The primary function of the base remains to provide support for counter-piracy operations. However, the Japanese Government now supports counter-piracy operations beyond just the immediate vicinity of the Gulf of Aden. In fact, the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Forces regularly conduct counter-piracy operations in a block of the Indian Ocean south of the island of Socotra Island, Yemen and east of the Puntland State of Somalia. These operations are in support of Combined Task Force 151 (CTF-151).

Approximate Location of Expanded Japanese Counter-Piracy Operations South of Socotra Island, Yemen (Source: OMBAI)
The function of the base has also expanded beyond support for counter-piracy operations. In recent years, the Japanese military has used the base to support peacekeeping operations in South Sudan. The Japanese military has also used the base to support the emergency evacuation of Japanese citizens from South Sudan. More recently, the function of the base expanded to support for multilateral non-combat exercises. In fact, the base was used to a joint-nation noncombatant evacuation operation (JN-NEO) exercise less than two months ago. This exercise was initiated by the Japanese Government. And, it marked the first time that the base has supported this kind of activity. 

The Expansion of the Japan Self-Defenses Force Base in Djibouti

The Japan Self-Defense Force Base in Djibouti was not designed to support current operational demands on the base. That is one of the main reasons why the Japanese Government is pursuing the lease of additional land that can be used to expand the base. According to foreign military officials, the Japanese Government has already identified an approximately 3-hectare parcel of land that they intend to lease. This land is part of an empty lot adjacent to northeast side of the current base. The Japanese Government has largely settled on the terms for the lease. In fact, the Japanese Government is close to finalizing the lease with the Djiboutian Government. The Japanese Government hopes to be able to do so in the next week or so. However, the Japanese Self-Defense Force is not in a position to immediately build upon the additional land due to cyclical budgetary constraints. For this reason, it is unlikely that the base facilities will be expanded before the next fiscal year.

Empty Lot Partially Sought by the Japanese Government (Source: OMBAI)

The Politics of the Japan Self-Defenses Force Base in Djibouti

If the expansion of the Japan Self-Defenses Force Base in Djibouti moves forward, it will be interesting to see whether the expansion of the base will be followed by an expansion of the functions of the base. As pointed out in a separate article, Japanese military activities in Eastern Africa are a significant element in Abe’s “historical mission” to amend the Japanese Constitution. In recent years, the Abe Administration has used counter-piracy operations in the Western Indian Ocean, peacekeeping operations on the African continent, emergency evacuation operations from Africa countries, and multilateral exercise in Djibouti to advance incremental changes in Japanese security policy. The Japanese Self-Defense Force Base in Djibouti enables these kinds of activities in Africa and the Middle East. The base therefore serves a higher political purpose. It is an important mechanism for advancing the normalization agenda of the Abe Administration. In this light, the expansion of the base not only provides an opportunity to further expand the functions of the base beyond support for counter-piracy operations. It also provides an opportunity to further normalize Japanese security policy beyond the reforms that have already taken place.

Michael Edward Walsh is a Research Fellow for African Studies at The Johns Hopkins University SAIS. This article is derived from his ongoing research project on counter-piracy operations off the Horn of Africa and Southern Arabia.

Note: An edited version of this article was re-published by DefenceWeb – Africa’s Leading Defence News Portal.

A Fieldnote on How the American Military Views the Chinese Military in Djibouti – Michael Edward Walsh

The Chinese military on August 1 formally opened its first overseas military base in Doraleh, Djibouti. According to the Chinese government, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) base in Djibouti will be used to support peacekeeping and humanitarian missions in Africa and the Middle East. However, there are strong indications that the base will also be used to facilitate surveillance activities across the region and beyond. The Chinese base therefore raises significant operational security concerns for U.S. military officials stationed at U.S. military installations in Africa and the Middle East. Some even worry that the Chinese base “could provide a front-row seat to the staging ground for American counterterror operations in the Arabian Peninsula and North Africa.” Nevertheless, officials stationed at Camp Lemonnier—the U.S. naval expeditionary base in Djibouti—do not appear to view the Chinese military as a strategic threat to the U.S. military in the Horn of Africa, and see it in a more nuanced light.

The Current Situation

Over the past three months, I have been conducting field interviews with U.S. military officials stationed at Camp Lemonnier as part of my doctoral research on counter-piracy operations off the Horn of Africa. Those interviews reveal that, rather than a strategic threat, those officials view the PLA as an opposing force with which the U.S. military has to share a common operating space. The U.S. military is therefore trying to find ways to increase cooperation with their Chinese counterparts. However, little progress has been made to date. To some extent, this is because Chinese military officials have been overly aggressive in their interactions with their U.S. counterparts. Until that changes, U.S. military officials express doubt that they can make much progress on achieving that increased cooperation in the Horn of Africa region.

The Short View

Over the past few months, U.S. military officials acknowledge that there have been a number of interactions between officials at Camp Lemonnier and Chinese military officials at the PLA base in Djibouti. However, these interactions have been strictly limited to the most senior officials. On the U.S. side, they have typically been limited to three senior military officials. Because of the aforementioned aggressive behavior, the U.S. military now requires two or more senior U.S. officials to be present during any interactions with their Chinese counterparts. In addition, according to the interviewed U.S. officials, Chinese military officials have also been responsible for a number of unspecified “probing attempts” against the U.S. base. These attempts have significantly increased since the first live fire military drills at the PLA base a few weeks ago. Based on these observations, U.S. military officials are doubtful that their Chinese counterparts are interested in promoting increased cooperation with the U.S. military in the Horn of Africa region.

The Long View

Based on my field interviews, it appears that U.S. military officials are genuinely committed to finding ways to promote increased cooperation with their Chinese counterparts. However, it also appears that the officials are increasingly frustrated by the way that Chinese military officials approach their interactions with their U.S. counterparts. It therefore appears unlikely that there will be a major breakthrough in military-military cooperation between China and the United States in the Horn of Africa region in the near-term. Nevertheless, such cooperation could be possible in the long-term if Chinese military officials demonstrate less-aggressive behavior.

Note: This article was first published by the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative at the Center for Strategic & International Studies.

Djibouti: Renewed Interest in Maritime Security Facility Next to Chinese Base – Michael Edward Walsh

Thanks to millions of dollars in funding from the government of Japan, the Djibouti Regional Training Center (DRTC) opened its doors two years ago. However, the facility has gone largely unused since then. That may be about to change.

In recent weeks, the government of Djibouti has expressed a renewed interest in making use of the facility as a meeting space for events related to the Djibouti Code of Conduct. If this happens, the facility’s potential will finally start to be realized.

History of the Djibouti Regional Training Center (DRTC)

On October 29, 2011, the foundation stone for the DRTC was laid by the president of the Republic of Djibouti and the director of the Maritime Safety Division at the International Maritime Organization (IMO). Funded through the IMO Djibouti Code of Conduct Trust Fund, the new facility was intended to promote successful implementation of the Code of Conduct Concerning the Repression of Piracy and Armed Robbery Against Ships in the Western Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden. Specifically, it was intended to provide a meeting space for events related to the Djibouti Code of Conduct and office space for coordinating similar events across the region.

On November 12, 2015, the $2.5 million facility was officially opened by Djibouti’s minister of equipment and transport. Although not in attendance, the IMO secretary-general addressed the attendees by way of video. According to him, the facility “should be an asset to Djibouti and to the region for many years to come.” However, the IMO secretary-general recognized that the government of Djibouti would need “to be imaginative in its use of the new building and to be proactive in maximizing its potential, for the benefit of the whole region” in order to realize the facility’s full potential.

Since the ribbon-cutting ceremony, the facility has gone largely unused.

Although the facility boasts one of the best conference auditoriums in the country, it has only hosted a handful of events. According to some experts, this is because of a lack of funding for events and basic infrastructure problems at the facility. According to others, it is because of serious limitations placed on access to the facility during the construction of the Chinese military base next door. Whatever the reasons, the facility has not played the “key role in regional capacity-building initiatives under the Code of Conduct” originally envisioned by the IMO.

Conference on the Djibouti Code of Conduct (DCoC Conference)

On October 29, 2017, the DCoC Conference was held at the DRTC. It included delegations from Djibouti, the European Union, France, Japan, the United States and Africa’s Intergovernmental Authority on Development. It also included speakers from the IMO and the Interregional Maritime Safety Institute, among others.

If the DRTC becomes useless, it would not just harm the reputation of the government of the Djibouti as an aid recipient: it would also harm the reputation of the IMO as an aid organization.

Although most of the presentations focused on specific regional maritime security issues, the conference included a presentation on the facility’s potential. After these presentations, the DRTC director took attendees on a guided tour of the facility. During the tour, she noted that the government of Djibouti was interested in putting the facility to greater use, but it lacked the funds to do so. So, she appealed to attendees to find ways to fund future programming at the facility.

The DCoC Conference is a sign that the government of Djibouti is interested in more fully realizing the potential of the DRTC. It also shows that the government is willing to make use of the facility as a meeting space for events related to the Djibouti Code of Conduct. This is an important development because the facility has hosted only one other major event over the past two years and none since completion of the Chinese military base, and some experts have started to question whether the government of Djibouti is at all interested in making use of the facility now that the Chinese base is next door.

Future of the DRTC

There is an old Afar proverb that goes, “A son can be difficult in three ways. Either he isn’t born, or being born dies, or grows up and becomes useless.”

If the DRTC becomes useless, it would not just harm the reputation of the government of the Djibouti as an aid recipient: it would also harm the reputation of the IMO as an aid organization. For this reason, many will welcome the news that the government of Djibouti is interested in more fully utilizing the facility as a meeting space for events related to the Djibouti Code of Conduct.

However, it will take more than just an expression of interest to more fully utilize the facility as a meeting space. As the DCoC Conference shows, the government of Djibouti will require additional funding from foreign donors to support programming at the facility, and these foreign donors will need reassurances that the government will make proper use of those funds to deliver that programming.

It therefore remains difficult to predict what the future holds for the DRTC. For now, the IMO can only hope that the DRTC will become an important asset for Djibouti and the region in the years to come.

Note: This article was first published by the CPD Blog of the Center on Public Diplomacy at the University of Southern California.

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
(2) The White House, “Fact Sheet: Advancing the Rebalance to Asia and the Pacific,” 16 November 2015, at
(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
(5) Ibid
(6) See, e.g., U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Employment Situation of Veterans—2015,” 22 March 2016, at
(7) Klimas, Jacqueline, “Veterans more likely to volunteer, vote, serve community than civilians,” The Washington Times, 30 April 2015, at
(8) U.S. Chamber of Commerce, “Five Reasons So Many Veterans Succeed in Business,” Free Enterprise, 20 June 2016, at
(9) One example is Our Community Salutes,, 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 Our editors will consider any and all responses for future publication.

Image Credit: Marine Corps via Flickr CC

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 Our editors will consider any and all responses for future publication.

Image Credit: anonymonk (Flickr CC)

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 Our editors will consider any and all responses for future publication.

Image Credit: fkhuckel via Flickr CC

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 Our editors will consider any and all responses for future publication.

Image Credit: Royal Navy via Flickr CC