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21st Century Naval Strategy Based on Global Partnerships

04 April 2007

U.S. Admiral Mullen says partnerships can lead to 1,000-ship "fleet in being"

Washington -- In an interdependent world where 90 percent of all goods move by sea, emerging U.S. naval strategy is focusing on global partnerships to create a more secure maritime environment, says Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Michael Mullen.

Mullen spoke to a Brookings Institution audience April 3 on the need to revamp U.S. naval strategy to meet challenges like "radical jihadists" in regions like the Horn of Africa.

"We have many dangerous challenges across many domains … and the seas are part of the connective tissues of nations.  Without mastery of the seas … and we are a maritime nation … we cannot protect trade, help those in peril, provide relief from natural disasters, and intercede when whole nations are torn asunder by slavery, weapons of mass destruction, drugs and piracy," Mullen said.

With many of the U.S. Navy's 276 ships and personnel committed to the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, Mullen said the United States alone cannot secure the seas, or "global commons."

Instead, he suggested the strategic concept of an international "fleet in being" or a 1,000-ship naval protective force -- an idea Mullen said he raised at a symposium on sea power held at the Navy War College in Newport, Rhode Island. Representatives from 72 nations attended, including 49 chiefs of navies.

Since then, he said, "this concept of a fleet in being that focuses on global partnerships recognizing common challenges … like weapons of mass destruction, a lot of which travels by sea … has taken on a tremendous amount of both energy and interest."

He said the plan is popular in the Pentagon because it "leverages" U.S. sea power at a time when U.S. forces are stretched to capacity.  Foreign governments are interested because the fleet in being "would not be bound by an organization, charter or treaty.  The membership would be voluntary."

As a result, the idea has been discussed at naval symposia in places like "the Mediterranean [region], Indonesia, Malaysia and in Africa," he added.

Africa is growing in strategic importance, Mullen said, because "there is a great potential for lots of things to happen both good and bad there."  It is an area struggling to implement good governance and economic reform, but at the same time has vast resources. The United States imports 15 percent of its total oil needs from the continent, which also has "a large maritime coast," he said.

As a result, the U.S. Navy has been "heavily engaged" helping Africans counter fisheries violations and human trafficking.  That engagement, as with the 1,000 ship fleet-in-being concept, is based on respect and partnership, which "honors territorial waters," Mullen said.

There is also a "free-form" advantage to the fleet in being, Mullen said, citing the hurriedly arranged evacuation of people from the conflict in Lebanon in 2006.  There was no international plan for the evacuation, he explained, but "navies from 17 nations showed up, got organized and successfully evacuated people."

The U.S. Navy also had no plan for the deadly tsunami tidal wave that struck South Asia in December 2004, he said.  But "We organized a [relief] infrastructure at sea from many nations" that effectively gathered to meet the crisis and then disbanded.

International relief operations and building and maintaining relationships with other countries increasingly are becoming a part of "the skill and mission set" of U.S. naval forces, Mullen added.

In 2006, he said, the hospital U.S. Navy hospital ship Mercy returned to Indonesia -- scene of the greatest tsunami devastation -- where it provided services to more than 61,000 patients there and in Bangladesh and the Philippines. (See related article.)

In 2007, he said, "We're going to do the same thing by sending the hospital ship Comfort down to South America for a period of time." (See related article.)

The Mercy operation involved representatives from 11 nongovernmental organizations and "there is great interest" in working more closely with them in the future, Mullen said, adding "more NGOs will join us in the deployment of the Comfort."

Later in 2007, a U.S. ship also will be sent on a humanitarian mission to the west coast of Africa and western Pacific, he added.

(USINFO is produced by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site:

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