Monday, March 25, 2013

Russian Naval Expansion: Military Threat or Diplomatic Opportunity?

The high seas are instrumental in facilitating international commerce, however the combination of sheer size, limited scope of policing efforts, and less developed international governing bodies as compared to land based commercial exchange creates an environment which requires countries with global economic interests to take security into their own hands or otherwise rely upon close allies with a strong naval capacity.
A period of sustained economic growth beginning in the late 1990's has propelled Russia to a level of global economic relevance not experienced since prior to the collapse of the Soviet Union.  As Russia's international economic and political interests continue to expand, so too will its naval ambitions.  So far, the Russian Navy seems to be taking a Corbettian approach to its efforts of naval expansion, seeking to secure sea lanes of commerce rather than positioning itself to win decisive battles against other naval powers.  Russia's recently announced permanent fleet in the Mediterranean will consist of 5-6 ships (a combination of frigates, cruisers, and support ships).  These ships are equipped with a variety of armaments to include anti-ship missiles, surface to air missiles, and anti-submarine munitions, however the size and composition of this small fleet is best suited for policing vital sea lanes against malicious surface vessels threatening Russian commercial freighters rather than seeking decisive battle with competing navies.
In an era of contracting American naval presence, Russia is seeking to expand its influence around the world by reaching out to former Cold War allies to establish naval bases that will expand Russian influence in South East Asia, Africa, and North America. Currently, the only base outside of Russian sovereign territory is in Tartus, Syria, a facility with a questionable future given the ongoing civil war in the host nation. Russia has entered into talks with Cuba, Vietnam, and Seychelles (an island off the east coast of Africa) about possibly establishing naval facilities in each of these host nations that would effectively expand Russian naval influence beyond its regionally focused capacity to a limited global reach.
Given the composition and limited scope of Russian naval expansion, the American Navy has little to fear in the form of a Russian challenge to its control of the seas.  Furthermore, cooperative efforts between the Russian Navy and the American Navy in combating the common enemy of piracy and jointly responding to international crises and humanitarian assistance opportunities may create efficiencies for both navies that could relieve some of the added budgetary pressures facing the American Navy as well as establish a common interest between the two nations that could serve to repair relations that have so far deteriorated in the 21st century.     

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