Inspecting My Naval

A Three-Way Approach to Modern War

2009 has so far proven to be the year in which I start meeting and speaking to people working and writing in the field of strategic studies. This recently resulted in my wrangling and cajoling a free ticket to the Maritime Security Africa symposium held in Cape Town. Given the relatively huge price for delegates, being able to attend was a rare opportunity to see who the practitioners in the field are, and how they go about their business.

Aside from being easily the youngest person there, the three day conference gave me a better understanding of the sheer contrast between academic and military approaches to the field. The first day essentially held speakers from the Navy, Raytheon (military tech company) and government. From this lot came the pointy end of security in Africa; the advocacy of what’s needed and how much it might cost. Furthermore, these admirals and captains all stressed the relatively passive nature of our defense force. Ironically, it was the American Vice Admiral Moeller (advisor to AFRICOM’s chief) who dealt principally with the importance of uplifting African maritime capabilty to the point where it can take a role in counter-piracy operations in both the Gulf of Aden and the Gulf of Guinea. Our local guys were rather subdued and reluctant to acknowledge this responsibility.

The second day saw mostly professors and doctors of politics, international relations and such take to the podium and discuss the notion of what our security policy should look like and why, together with the emerging threats such as terrorism and whatnot. Most importantly was how the SA Navy’s response to the need for a counter-piracy mission was that sending a frigate to fight pirates is contrary to “ubuntu” and other generic copout responses. Considering the brass from which this statement was issued from, it’s rather disturbing to note the difference in mindset between the sailors and the thinkers. For one thing, where was ubuntu while Somalia was ripping itself apart in the 90’s? Back then it was fine and dandy to let the Pakistanis and Americans do all the legwork. Indeed, when piracy has become such a problem, how can the SA Navy now invoke this tired old canard in order to shirk any manner of responsibility. African solutions for African problems my left nut! Lastly, when one considers that it was originally the World Food Programme who requested we send a vessel to escort them, the excuse that we can’t be seen to be fighting fellow Africans becomes especially useless. After all, escorting a WFP humanitarian mission is completely in accordance with any country’s jus ad bellum, and our taking part would, at the least, free up an existing one to take a more active counter-piracy role. The entire dissonance in thinking within the Navy after this conference is frustratingly myopic. That being said, several academics’ presentations were themselves terribly shallow and didn’t contribute overly much to the conference as a whole. I could have thought of several excellent folks at Wits alone, as well as perhaps at the ISS, who would have been able to contribute far better. Esentially I left realising how different the academics think to the admirals, and likewise how very terribly young I am in contrast to this lot.

Nonetheless, the conference was a fantastic opportunity to gain more information for my own thesis, as well as gain a far more intimate understanding of the functions and processes behind the Navy. Likewise, the sponsors were sure to festoon upon us branded bags and stationery, as well as feed us terribly well, so the whole thing was quite freaking awesome!

Cape Town itself wasn’t so bad either, although I did see precious little of it. Each day saw me coming back full of resolve to copy my notes onto electronic format, but then collapsing in an exhausted heap after so much as checking my email! Likewise, after two days of stunning weather, the entire peninsula was engulfed in seriously horrid wind, storms and cold. Springtime my ass!

Music of the day: A Perfect Circle – The Noose

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