As President Trump signals that he wants to expand the nation’s nuclear arsenal, two experts at a Harvard forum argued Thursday that some of the touted advantages of being a nuclear power have been overstated.Speaking at the Harvard Kennedy School, Matthew Fuhrmann and Todd Sechser said nuclear weapons deter aggression, but they questioned the common view that they are also useful as a coercive tool against adversaries.“We found very little evidence actually that nuclear weapons have been successfully used in a coercive role in the past, even though countries have tried many times to do it,” said Sechser, an associate professor of politics at the University of Virginia.Sechser and Fuhrmann, an associate professor of political science and Ray A. Rothrock ’77 Fellow at Texas A&M University, spoke as part of the Project on Managing the Atom seminar series offered by the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.The co-author with Fuhrmann of a new book, “Nuclear Weapons and Coercive Diplomacy,” Sechser noted that the United States launched a nuclear weapons overhaul three years ago. He said President Trump has indicated he will continue the program, citing a tweet in which he said the nation must “greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capabilities.”“But before we spend $1 trillion buying new and more capable nuclear weapons, it’s worth taking a step back and asking, what is all of that money bringing us?” Sechser said.As far back as Presidents Harry Truman and Dwight D. Eisenhower, Sechser said, American leaders and academics have argued that nuclear weapons can be instruments of coercion as well as deterrence.In contemporary debates, he said, the argument has been used “to justify very aggressive responses to nuclear proliferation, including the use of military force, to stop countries like Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, and to argue against further nuclear cuts in the United States.”“It’s compelling, it’s simple, it’s straightforward,” he said of the theory. “There’s just one problem: It’s not true.”Sechser said he tabulated 210 instances from 1918 to 2001 in which nations tried to coerce other countries, and found that nuclear states achieved their ends 20.4 percent of the time, while non-nuclear states had a 32.1 percent success rate.“What this analysis shows is that nuclear weapons just don’t seem to be playing the big role in coercive diplomacy,” Sechser said.The speakers argued that nuclear coercion does not work well because it lacks credibility: Target nations do not believe the aggressor nation will actually deploy the weapons, for reasons that include the likely international political consequences.Fuhrmann said opposing scholars often claim nuclear powers can overcome the credibility problem by engaging in brinkmanship, through actions such as putting their nuclear forces on alert to “raise the risk of an accident or something catastrophic happening that will lead to a nuclear disaster.”But Fuhrmann said that in actuality national leaders are not likely to want to take steps that would run the risk of an accidental nuclear war — and even if they did take such steps, there is no guarantee the action would be clearly understood by the target nation.“In practice, foreign policy signals are garbled all the time,” he said.Fuhrmann said an analysis he and Sechser undertook of actual episodes of nuclear brinkmanship since 1945 shows little evidence of usefulness. Of the 19 cases they documented, nine were unsuccessful because the nations engaging in the coercion did not achieve their ends. In the remaining cases those ends were realized, but Fuhrman said a closer look casts doubt on whether the brinkmanship played an effective role.Applying their findings to the new U.S. administration, Fuhrmann said that Trump “seems to really embrace brinkmanship. He has said publicly multiple times that he sees unpredictability as an asset and that by cultivating a reputation for being capricious and unpredictable and a little bit crazy he can gain concessions from his opponents.”While Trump hasn’t explicitly invoked nuclear weapons in that context, “it doesn’t take too much imagination to think that he might … believe that based on the logic of unpredictability, nuclear weapons would be useful for coercive diplomacy,” Fuhrmann said.But Fuhrmann said history shows that it is “exceedingly dangerous to use nuclear threats to gain concessions … even if you embrace unpredictability. So the prospect of the United States gaining concessions because of its nuclear arsenal moving forward, we see as quite dim.”
Sunday’s violent pirate attack – in which shots were fired and Boskalis’ heavy transportation vessel was hijacked – was most likely an act committed by Nigerian pirates. Luckily, there were no casualties as the crew locked itself in the citadel and waited for the rescue to arrive.Blue Marlin; Image by the Spanish NavyIn a statement read out on Equatorial Guinea’s state radio on Tuesday, Vice President of Defense and Security, Teodorin Nguema Obiang, claimed that 10 pirates had been arrested.“Thanks to the swift intervention of our armed forces, (we) managed to save the crew on board and arrest ten pirates,” he said, adding that their presumed nationality was Nigerian.Wanting to learn more about the event itself and the environment in the Gulf of Guinea that the vessel operators are facing, Offshore Energy Today spoke to Jake Longworth, a Senior Intelligence Analyst at EOS Risk Group.Longworth told Offshore Energy Today that the attacks in Equatorial Guinea’s waters were yet another significant development for West African piracy this year.“Attacks in Equatorial Guinea’s waters are incredibly rare, despite proximity to the severe piracy risk areas south of Bonny Island, Nigeria.”Longworth added that the last confirmed attack of note in Equatorial Guinea’s waters occurred over five years ago, with attacks only rarely taking place to the east of Nigeria’s maritime boundary (EEZ) with Equatorial Guinea and Cameroon.Asked if he believed the attack was indeed conducted by Nigerian pirates, as presumed, Longworth said: “EOS has dealt with a numerous kidnap and hijack cases in West Africa and we maintain close links with interested parties from the shipping, legal and financial industries, as well as relevant government authorities. All West African piracy cases we have been involved in or briefed on had roots in the Niger Delta. We have conducted investigations that reveal the occasional involvement of one or two pirates from other nationalities, such as the odd Beninese or Ghanaian national, especially during tanker hijacking for oil theft attempts, but the attack groups are predominantly Nigerian.”“Sometimes you see a geographically unusual attack, for example in the waters off the Bakassi Peninsula, Cameroon or off Pointe-Noire, Congo and people assume local pirates are involved. But these hostages always seem to end up in the Niger Delta, particularly in the creeks around Nigeria’s Delta, Bayelsa and Rivers States. Nigerian pirate groups sometimes use ‘motherships’ and small ‘ghost tankers’ to sail around the West Africa region, similar to the tactics used by Somali pirates in the Indian Ocean. It makes them very unpredictable.”“That said, if you’re looking at the criminal incidents at anchorage or port – this is always done by locals. But if it’s a hijack, kidnap or serious attack requiring expertise, this points to Nigerian PAG involvement.”“West Africa Pirate Attack Heatmap. August 2018 – May 2019”While the incidents in Equatorial Guinea may be rare, they do occur, as seen on Sunday with the Blue Marlin vessel.According to data provided by EOS Risk Group, there have been three attacks in the space of two days in the broader area.First, on Friday, May 3, the Liberia-flagged tanker Levanto, underway from Calabar to Lagos, was attacked by armed pirates in a speedboat at 2050 hrs local time, 35nm SSW of Agbami terminal, 97nm SW of Brass, Nigeria. The vessel’s master enacted AP procedures and evasive maneuvers. Pirates fired upon vessel but failed to board.Then on Sunday morning, Nigeria-flagged tug Charis was boarded and hijacked by pirates 30nm SW of Bioko Island, Equatorial Guinea.It is believed that this vessel was used by the pirates to attack Boskalis’ semi-submersible heavy lift ship Blue Marlin which was, underway from Luba (EG) to Valetta (Malta).According to EOS, the vessel was attacked by seven armed pirates at around 1 pm local time 36nm SW of Bioko Island, Equatorial Guinea. Pirates boarded and the crew retreated to the citadel.“Pirates remained onboard overnight, attempting to access the citadel and ransack valuables. Pirates used vessel’s PA system to threaten crew to emerge from the citadel and give the pirates all cash onboard. When the Master refused, the pirates used a small hole into the citadel to fire off several rounds (likely 7.62mm). No injuries reported,” EOS said.An Equatorial Guinea Navy frigate (F073) and two helicopters responded to the scene of the attacks. Spanish Navy Patrol Boat Serviola (P71) was diverted from Nigerian waters and sped to the location at max speed.“With the presence of naval forces, pirates disembarked and fled the location. On May AM, a boarding team from the Serviola boarded the Blue Marlin and all 20 crew were later reported to be safe. The tug Charis was also declared to have been freed from pirates,” EOS Risk Group information stated.Serviola Patrol boat near the Blue Marlin / Image by the Spanish NavyOminous picture for shipping companiesIn further comment for Offshore Energy Today, Longworth also noted that several other attacks in 2019 have redefined the risk profile in the region, specifically the attack on the tanker Cap Theodora 106nm south of Lagos, the attack on tanker Advantage Summer with its freeboard of 15.9m, the kidnapping from tanker Histria Ivory offshore Togo, the attack and successful kidnap from diving support vessel E.Francis under security escort off the Niger Delta, the kidnap of crew from the cargo vessel Contship Oak at Douala anchorage and two attacks on commercial vessels on the Bonny River.Speaking about the geography of the threat, Longworth said that Nigerian pirates have operated at substantial ranges across West Africa since January 2018, “conducting attacks off Ghana, Togo, Benin, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, and the Congo. Within the last decade, Nigerian pirates have also operated in the waters of Cote d’Ivoire, Sao Tome and Principe, and Angola. This paints a very ominous picture for shipping companies operating in the region, whose vessels face elevated security risks in around 338,000 square miles of water, an area twice the size of the Red Sea.”Nigerian pirates have kidnapped 46 seafarers from vessels operating in West Africa so far this year, compared to 93 seafarers abducted in 2018.According to EOS Risk Group statistics, Nigerian pirates have kidnapped 46 seafarers from vessels operating in West Africa so far this year, compared to 93 seafarers abducted in 2018.Longworth believes that the presence of a NATO naval asset in the Gulf of Guinea, specifically Spain’s OPV Serviola (P71), is a positive deterrent, having responded to two pirate attacks since it arrived in the region in April 2019.However, he noted that the vessel is only deployed on a temporary mission spanning three months and that continued support from foreign navies was likely to be intermittent: “the Gulf of Guinea is not a strategic or economic priority for western navies, which are already overstretched on deployments in the Mediterranean, Indian Ocean, Persian Gulf and South China Sea. The shipping industry will have to continue to do what it can to mitigate the risks of operating in the region in the absence of effective state security.”According to Longworth, “informed risk assessments, safe routing, vessel hardening and anti-piracy procedures – as defined in the Gulf of Guinea Guidelines and Global Counter Piracy Guidance – remain a ship owner or Master’s first line of defence. Indeed, the Blue Marlin’s crew have demonstrated how citadels can be effectively employed as part of a layered defence system.”Beyond this, Longworth outlined several armed security solutions available across the West Africa region, involving the sub-contracting of state naval personnel and deployment of registered security escort vessels, but claimed that using these services requires professional oversight. “Security risk mitigation has to be intelligence and compliance-led. If you don’t understand the threat and you don’t understand relevant regulatory and operational limitations, it’s very easy to get things wrong in West Africa.”Offshore Energy Today StaffSpotted a typo? Have something more to add to the story? Maybe a nice photo? Contact our editorial team via email. Offshore Energy Today, established in 2010, is read by over 10,000 industry professionals daily. We had nearly 9 million page views in 2018, with 2.4 million new users. This makes us one of the world’s most attractive online platforms in the space of offshore oil and gas and allows our partners to get maximum exposure for their online campaigns. If you’re interested in showcasing your company, product or technology on Offshore Energy Today contact our marketing manager Mirza Duran for advertising options.