Late last month the U.S. Navy formally reconstituted the Cold War-era Second Fleet to counter an increased Russian naval presence in the Mediterranean Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean, and this week commanders from the Second and Sixth Fleets met to discuss strategy moving forward.
The threat: Russian vessels, while nowhere near as numerous as during the Cold War, are nevertheless more capable today, with weapons that have the ability to keep U.S. Navy and NATO vessels away during wartime operations.
Meeting in Italy, Vice Adm. Lisa Franchetti, who commands the Sixth Fleet commander, and Vice Adm. Andrew Lewis, commanding the Second Fleet, noted that the “security dynamic” in both bodies of water has changed significantly in recent years, making reconstituting the Second Fleet — which was decommissioned in 2011 — an operational necessity.
“Our fleets will operate in a dynamic security environment, and the establishment of U.S. 2nd Fleet will help the U.S. Navy and our nation to meet these challenges head-on,” Franchetti said, according to American Military News.
Both commanders met as Russia was announcing a major naval exercise in the Med.
“The U.S. Navy has a routine presence in the Mediterranean Sea and throughout the world’s waterways,” said Cmdr. John Perkins, spokesman for Naval Forces Europe and Africa, as reported by Stars and Stripes. “We expect that Russian ships operating in the Mediterranean Sea would conduct themselves safely and professionally, in accordance with international laws and customs.”
Enhanced and increased Russian naval presence in the Med and the North Atlantic made re-commissioning the Second Fleet an operational necessity, Navy officials said — which is also part of President Trump’s desire to beef up the Navy’s size.
“Although deeply consequential, the meaning of this establishment can be summarized simply as a dynamic response to a dynamic security environment — a security environment clearly articulated in the National Defense Strategy,” said Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson.
“We first need to understand this competitive security environment and why it demands every ounce of our tenacity, ingenuity and fighting spirit. Then we can focus on the mission and how best to accomplish it; 2nd Fleet will enhance our capacity to maneuver and fight in the Atlantic, and as a result, help to maintain America’s maritime superiority that will lead to security, influence, and prosperity for our nation,” he added, noting that the Second Fleet was vital during the Cold War and will be needed again to counter Russian expansionism.
“You do get a sense of the gravity of this moment,” he said aboard the USS George H.W. Bush.
Analyst comment: Russia, like China, is a revisionist power, and according to Thucydides’s Trap, revisionist powers wind up causing wars about 75 percent of the time, according to the historical record. Rising powers most always challenge existing powers, and there’s no question that Russia (and China) is challenging the existing U.S.-led global order after decades of being relegated to regional-power status following the collapse of the Soviet Union.
“This phenomenon (Thucydides’s Trap) is as old as history itself. About the Peloponnesian War that devastated ancient Greece, the historian Thucydides explained- ‘It was the rise of Athens and the fear that this instilled in Sparta that made war inevitable.’ Over the past 500 years, these conditions have occurred sixteen times. War broke out in twelve of them,” writes Kevin Rudd, in a review of Graham Allison’s book, “Destined for War.”
It’s not clear whether Putin is a student of history or if he’s just a master at learning geography, but the Russian president has already begun positioning his country for a potential run at Europe, should he deem it in his best interests at some point in the near future. By becoming more deeply involved in spreading Russian influence in the Middle East, Putin not only undermines U.S. leadership in the region but he also sets up Russian forces well in exposing Europe’s “soft belly of the Mediterranean,” as Winston Churchill once said. The first major wars involving U.S. expeditionary forces did not occur on the European continent, but rather in North Africa and the Middle East after Allied leaders determined an invasion of France was simply not possible in 1942.
Russia is also taking advantage of the wave of humanity banging on Europe’s doors from war-torn countries throughout the Middle East. Massive migration of mostly-Muslim men and women into Europe has dramatically changed the geopolitical dynamics of the continent, leading to Right-leaning political movements that are distinctly pro-Russian in nature, tearing at Europe’s post-war liberal order.
And at least one NATO member, Turkey, is very likely further in Moscow’s camp than that of its alliance partners. In addition to Syria and Turkey, Russian influence is steadfast in Iran and is growing in Egypt, which is taking advantage of Russian offers of high-tech weapons without any “human rights record” pre-conditions such as those imposed by the U.S.
And let’s not forget Russian energy ties to Europe, which are growing via the Nord Stream 2 pipeline project.
Re-commissioning the Second Fleet is, in large part, meant to counter rising Russian presence in the Mediterranean and Atlantic Seas, but also to check Russian influence in the regions by sending another strong signal that Washington remains committed to European security. But beyond that, the Second Fleet serves as a potent picket line protecting the U.S. mainland as well.
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