Small navies – important considerations for European security

How relevant are small navies in comparison to much larger powers such as the United States or China? When they are used in the right context, they can be extremely relevant. This is highlighted in an interesting book, edited by Robert McCabe, Deborah Sanders and Ian Speller.

Even in the context of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, maritime security remains an important topic. While the book has already been published several months ago, it offers good reading in relation to issues around the globe.

In the Gulf of Guinea, piracy and armed robbery at sea have been a major concern for the shipping industry for many years. In the Persian Gulf, regional rivalries between Iran and Saudi Arabia have led to a tense situation. In Libya, European forces have started to engage in Operation Irini to enforce the arms embargo.

Responses by small navies

None of the small navies covered in the book will be able to deal with any of the aforementioned crises alone. Nevertheless, they have a lot to contribute. As the book description states:

The majority of Europe’s navies are small, yet they are often called upon to address a complex array of traditional and non-traditional threats. This volume examines the role of small navies within the European security architecture, by discussing areas of commonality and difference between navies, and arguing that it is not possible to fully understand either maritime strategy or European security without taking into account the actions of small navies. 

Morever, the book includes several case studies which explore how European countries seecurrent security challenges. In almost every country, naval policy has seen significant changes during the lifetime of existing naval assets – or even during the planning stages of large procurement decisions. 

Even before the economic crisis that is likely to follow the coronavirus pandemic, naval planners had to deal with a limited number of assets. This situation is unlikely to change in the near to medium term. At the same time, an increasing number of potential tasks requires the involvement of small navies. In the coming years, European states will therefore have to do more with less in the maritime environment.

The book “Europe, Small Navies and Maritime Security: Balancing Traditional Roles and Emergent Threats in the 21st Century”, edited by Robert McCabe, Deborah Sanders and Ian Speller, is available here.