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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

NATO's Partners at Sea

Earlier this month, off the coast of Newport, Rhode Island, a trilateral war game was held involving American, Russian and British warships. Based on a hypothetical scenario, the three sides successfully extracted a contingent of UN peacekeepers and foreign nationals from a country suddenly embroiled in a conflict with its neighbor. The war game has raised two questions. First, how can the achievements of the games be exploited in real situations? This is important considering the many recent instances in which such techniques could be used to save lives. Second, what specific naval arrangements should be included in NATO's Partnership for Peace, or PFP, program? The current plan provides only general guidelines for the development of cooperative relations with NATO for joint planning, training and exercises in the areas of peacekeeping, search and rescue, and other humanitarian operations. Naturally, the PFP program does not yet contain any naval specifications. Last summer in the Baltic Sea and again this March in the Barents Sea, several NATO and PFP nations, together with Russia, conducted joint naval exercises in which they practiced techniques of communicating, maneuvering and jointly operating at sea. Both exercises were evaluated positively, and there is a general feeling among the naval establishment and foreign-policy planners in Moscow that such operations should continue. They believe that, at a time when the navies of many nations are becoming increasingly involved in international missions, such exercises can provide an effective mechanism for increasing security and stability. That is why it is important to define the naval aspect of the PFP initiative. The final document should incorporate further navy-to-navy contacts between partner-states, including more frequent and more sophisticated naval exercises practicing evacuation and humanitarian operations, implementing embargoes, minesweeping and air, surface and anti-submarine defense operations. The logical first steps toward strategic partnership and, eventually, a real alliance are: Advance mutual understanding in cooperative naval security concepts and deployments; harmonized standard naval procedures of force deployments and development of joint operating procedures between the navies of partner nations; the practice of mutual logistical support and replenishment between ships at sea; and clarification of newly developed naval terminology and abbreviations. Therefore, NATO must either develop new interoperability signals at sea or share the Allied Tactical Publication, or ATP, with the partner states. An unclassified version of the ATP could be distributed to non-NATO navies as the first step toward familiarizing them with NATO doctrines, procedures and rules of engagement. In a number of upcoming exercises involving Russia and NATO, it would be practical to start developing the capability of operating under a unified command system. The partner navies should immediately work to harmonize their rules of engagement with those of NATO, especially in combat areas and during peacekeeping and evacuation operations. It would also be expedient to conduct exercises to enhance cooperation and coordination in matters of logistical support, even if the partner navies are not operating under the NATO umbrella. Partner nations must also agree how to best train liaison officers and interpreters, since they will bear great responsibility in maintaining clear communication between commanding officers of joint naval task forces. So far, 18 nations have signed the PFP project. Unfortunately, Russia is lagging behind. It should sign the PFP program first and then negotiate further agreements on closer cooperation. Among these agreements, a naval cooperation accord is the most promising. Positive experience in this area will lead to greater mutual understanding and should help minimize threats to regional and global security. Vladimir Kozin is a Moscow-based foreign policy commentator. He contributed this comment to The Moscow Times.