The incident also brings into focus the impact of civilian agent provocateurs on the high seas. How does a uniformed Navy deal with unarmed civilians who are taking aggressive action contrary to your mission?
Just out, but written earlier this year over at SmallWarsJournal, our buddy Claude Berube had a piece titled, What Lies Between: The Ship is the Visual, Even in the Shadow Zones.
... non-state actors (NSAs) and non-governmental organizations currently operating on the maritime commons might illustrate how their operations and assets might be used in the future by other non-state actors, by state sponsors of irregular challenges, and by belligerent sponsors themselves. The nation and the Navy need to prepare for hybrid warfare at sea where people and platforms indistinguishable from traditional non-combatants are further complicated by geographical, legal, and public relations challenges.See, nothing is new here. You just need to think, look deep, and reference. Too bad out MSM can't. Call me guys; better yet, call Claude.
Whether it is a bipolar or multi-polar world, the fundamental conditions required of state-to-state relations are the same: stable governments, systems of communication with one another, rules that guide their relations and enforcement mechanisms whether they are economic, political, or military in nature. When any one or more of those operating conditions is removed, the result is either anarchy or fault lines that pose security risks and can be exploited by irregular forces. As we have seen those circumstances on land, they might also be applied to the maritime commons.
Publicity can also lead to success for those entities whether it’s a hole in a Navy destroyer caused by a terrorist organization, television ratings by an environmental activist ramming a ship, or an abortion provider sitting a few hundred yards from a Portuguese Navy ship. All an NGO or NSA requires is to frame their fight with the right issue – women’s choice, save the whales – or even pirates who might viewed by some as victims of economic injustice. As the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff recently noted, “the battlefield isn’t necessarily a field anymore. It’s in the minds of the people. It’s what they believe to be true matters.” Influence warfare cannot be ignored, particularly in the shadow zones.
Strategic communication and mass persuasion are vital tools in the arsenal of NSAs and NGOs. James Forest, in Influence Warfare, contends that “Nation-States and Violent Non-State Actors – including terrorists and insurgents – rely on positive perceptions (at least acceptance) among key constituencies in order to muster support necessary for achieving then strategic objectives.” The media serves as their link in influencing public opinion, recruiting followers, and raising money. While some may argue that the media may be geographically restricted to land-based operations, modern technology allows for taped programs by the NGOs themselves (such as the television program “Whale Wars” taped by an on-board film crew in the middle of Antarctic waters) or immediate uploading to outlets such as YouTube. This is the democratization of the media.
The battle plan, even in the maritime environment, must include the airwaves, or the 21st century equivalent. Winning the war of ideas will be as important for maritime incidents or potentially prolonged engagements in the littorals to get the message out.