Tag Archives: France

Enforcement Coordination Cell – the “5 eyes +” hidden gem of Indo-Pacific security cooperation

As speculation simmers about the coming together of alliances or coalitions to counterbalance, deter, or confront the People’s Republic of China (PRC), such as an Asian NATO, a Quad plus, or a possible invitation to Japan to join the long-standing Anglo-Saxon “5-eyes” intelligence club (consisting of the US, UK, Australia, New Zealand and Canada), a new multilateral institution bringing together resident and outside powers for mutual security action has been largely overlooked.

Tucked away in North East Asia for the last two years, the Enforcement Coordination Cell (ECC) is a multilateral staff headquarts that includes Japanese, South Korean and French navies with their Australia-Canada-New Zealand-UK-USA “five eyes” counterparts and may be considered a hidden gem of Asia-Pacific security cooperation. So why has hardly anyone heard of it?

The ECC coordinates the collection and fusion of information on violations of UN sanctions on North Korea (DPRK). The cell is based on the US Navy 7th Fleet ship USS Blue Ridge, but draws on data collected by the ships, planes and other surveillance platforms and mechanisms in a coalition that could be called an Asian ‘Five Eyes + 3”. According to US government officials “The effort is primarily focused on illicit North Korea exports of coal and refined petroleum” and looks at trans-shipments of fuels aimed at getting around sanctions. Here is how the ECC was described in the 2019 US Indo Pacific Strategy Report

An important example of partnerships with purpose is the Enforcement Coordination Cell (ECC) in Yokosuka, Japan. Commanded by USINDOPACOM and executed by U.S. Seventh Fleet, the United States is working sideby-side with South Korea, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, France, and the United Kingdom at a single headquarters to enforce the UNSCR sanctions regime against North Korea and the illicit transfer of oil and ship-to-ship transfers in the East China Sea and Korea Bay. The ECC allows us to work closely with our allies and partners to manage, coordinate, and de-conflict our efforts and is an importantfacilitator of transparent collaboration betweenour allies and partners at sea and in the air.”

The ECC is a curious animal, though. It does not fit neatly with any of the normal categories or criteria of coalitions, and in some ways it bucks the received wisdom on the limits of what is politically and operationally possible in this region.

1. It is a multinational mechanism that is not framed by a treaty or explicit diplomatic framework. Its purpose is to monitor UN sanctions, and so you might think it would come under the UN rear command that has been based in Japan since the 1950s, when the Korean War ended. But it doesn’t. It is not even clear from reading reports to the relevant UN sanctions committee that the information it collects goes to the Security Council. For whatever reasons, this is a case where adhocracy may be more operationally successful than it might be in a formal diplomatic framework like an ‘Asian NATO’, a ‘Quad’, or even the full United Nations Organisation that provides its rationale.

2. Japan and the Republic of Korea (ROK) have their differences. Territorial disputes over islands, rancor over the history of the ‘comfort women’, and most recently a legal dispute over forced labour from the WWII era that has spilled over into toxic threats on trade and investment, as well as adding an irritant to important diplomatic, intelligence and security ties. And yet, in the ECC, Japanese and Korean armed forces cooperate on monitoring sanctions on the DPRK.

3. The ECC demonstrates how many countries from outside North East Asia are willing to commit to security in the region. This is not a NATO mission, but it includes officers from the UK, Canada and France. Australia and New Zealand are also taking part in the cell as well as providing advanced platforms for surveillance. There has even been speculation that a German navy vessel that is planned to sail to the region in 2021 might take on the enforcement monitoring role for a spell.

4. Perhaps as or more significant than the countries who are in this multinational force are those who are out. UN Security Council Permanent Members China and Russia – who after all voted for the sanctions on DPRK – are not only outside the ECC structure, some of their behaviour at sea suggests that they do not welcome the presence of a multinational force in the region.

A Royal Canadian Navy frigate – the HMCS Ottawa – and a Royal Canadian Airforce surveillance aircraft participate in Operation NEON, the multinational effort to enforce United Nations sanctions against North Korea, October 2019.
Source: Department of National Defence, Canadian Armed Forces Combat Camera

Canada refers to its contribution as “Operation NEON“, and seems set to maintain a long term commitment. “During 2019 and 2020 and into 2021, Canada will periodically deploy military ships, aircraft and personnel to conduct surveillance operations to identify suspected maritime sanctions evasion activities, in particular ship-to-ship transfers of fuel and other commodities banned by the United Nations Security Council resolutions (UNSCR). This contribution will bolster the integrity of the global sanctions regime against North Korea.” On Opeation NEON Canada deploys a naval frigate, a supply vessel, and long range patrol aircraft. The surveillance platform CP-140 Aurora, crew and supporting personnel operate from Kadena airbase in Japan and The Canadian Armed Forces “may also provide up to three permanent liaison officers to the Enforcement Coordination Cell, a multinational staff headquarters” in Yokosuka.

In an innovative twist, the Canadian operation is linked to an information fusion project run by the oldest UK thinktank, RUSI. RUSI’s “Project Sandstone“, is an effort to systematically analyse and expose North Korean illicit shipping networks using open source data-mining and data-fusion techniques to spot activities of interest without reference to classified data. According to the Government of Canada “an unclassified set of Canadian data is transferred to Global Affairs Canada, who have contracted the Royal United Services Institute to conduct a deep analysis of the data using open-source information. The Royal United Services Institute prepares and releases reports to Global Affairs Canada that highlight and identify networks and individuals that may be involved in activity that supports sanctions violations (e.g. financing, insuring, etc.). Some reports have been shared with partner nations, and the intent is to further share a consolidated report with the UN.”

The ECC has recieved only limited exposure outside the specialist defence media, with this September 2018 WSJ article proving the rare exception. Does it deserve more attention?

With no end in sight to the stand-off between the DPRK and the UN over the DPRK’s nuclear weapons program, the ECC is becoming a more or less permanent fixture in the region. If it were to collect more members and aquire more tasks, that would not be the first time an ad hoc mechanism has evolved to a permanent feature shaping the security landscape and altering the calculus of regional actors. Meanwhile, it provides a platform for cooperation among a set of “like minded” nations to build up interoperability, regional situation awareness, and a reason to maintain a presence in the region should other contingencies arise.



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Japan, France sign defence equipment agreement at two-plus-two meeting

France JapanFrench Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, left, and French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, second left, join hands with Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, seond right, and Japanese Defense Minister Gen Nakatani during a Japan-France two-plus-two meeting in Tokyo, Friday, March 13, 2015. Japan and France signed an arms transfer agreement Friday, paving the way for developing drones and other unmanned equipment together as Japan seeks to play a greater military role internationally. (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara,pool) The Associated Press

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Abe visits Europe, May 2014 – some suggestions

Shinzo Abe

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is due to visit Europe in May (link). What should he be getting out of this trip?

  1. The idea is to strengthen relations with the European Union , sign a few free trade agreements and finalize the Japan-EU Economic Partnership Agreement. Considering Japan’s desire for a more strategic relationship with Europe, why not go a bit further? PM Abe has talked about making some changes in policies that will lead to Japan becoming even more proactive in global peacekeeping efforts, and so far there is little to show for it. UN Peacekeeping is one option, but why not kill two birds with one stone (peacekeeping and Euro-Japan concord) and agree to pursue a Framework Partnership Agreement with the EU that would allow Japanese civilians and members of the Self Defence Forces to participate in EU crisis management missions and operations? Korea is on track to do so, then why not Japan? Approximately two thirds of CSDP efforts are civilian missions, so well within the ‘human security’ paradigm MOFA has supported through the UN. Also, following the NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan (an alliance apparently in no hurry to do anything similar again), the EU is still launching missions left, right and centre, and may offer more opportunities for Japan to bond with a European security platform.
  2. To gain international support in light of territorial disputes with China and South Korea and deflect critical remarks from both countries over historical issues, Japan has to start thinking outside the box. This visit is an opportunity to change the narrative from Yasukuni and sex slaves onto something more positive. Abe could counter China’s propaganda offensive by organizing an event in the UK to showcase post-WWII reconciliation between Japan and Great Britain. What if Abe and Cameron together attend a screening of the recent movie based on the true life story of Anglo-Japan reconciliation “The Railway Man”? Abe can give a speech about how Britain and Japan managed to squarely face up to the tragedies of that war and become, united by common values, allies once again. This would have two advantages: (1) refute the image of Abe as being in denial about Japan’s past; and (2) showcase an example of how Japan has managed to rebuild its international relations with an important ally.
  3. Abe is also planning to meet with French President Hollande. This will be interesting because Japan and France have been working hard on their relationship, which is elevated to a 2+2 meeting with a roadmap for security cooperation. This offers a chance to get an indication of which basket (UK, France, EU, V4, NATO) Japan is putting most of its eggs, or if it will continue to distribute them rather evenly across this set.
  4. Abe is set to participate in the Ministerial Council Meeting of the OECD in Paris on May 6 – 7. Events in Ukraine will probably set the atmosphere for this. Russia will be out of the G8. It is a shame for Abe, who wanted to settle the northern islands dispute with Russia and secure an alternative source of hydrocarbon energy supplies from Russia. However, Vladimir Putin has gone too far in Ukraine. Abe has to take a stand on this because (1) that is the essence of his narrative about values (rule of law, democracy, free speech, free market); and because (2) Japan has to back up the present world order in case China starts to feel the rules have changed. OECD is about economies, so maybe hopefully there will be more to talk about than handling the fallout from sanctioning Russia.


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UK, France / Japan leading on Euro-Asia Security cooperation?


The Shogun Tokugawa Yoshinobu in French military uniform, c.1867.

This blog has paid close attention to the UK-Japan ‘strategic partnership’ (here, here, here), not least because it is starting to look like the most salient feature of Europe-Asia interaction on security.  In the recent Chatham House conference (opening their five-year UK-Japan Global Seminar), British MP Hugo Swire called Japan Britain’s ‘closest partner in Asia’. His counterpart at the Conference, Hiroaki Fujii, had earlier called the UK Continue reading

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Europeans at Shangri-la dialogue achieve Woody Allen’s 80%

scarlett-johansson-woody-allen04Woody Allen said that 80% of life is showing up. By that standard, the various European security actors (EU, NATO, a couple of sovereign states) made the grade at this year’s Shangri-la shindig on Asian security.

EU: Cathy Ashton went (first time) and gave a speech in plenary. It was Continue reading


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Japan invites European comeback to Asian Security role, and seeks to join FPDA

Shinzo Abe--621x414Now Japan’s Prime Minister (again), Mr Shinzo Abe is inviting a European security ‘comeback’ to Asia (full text can be read here ©2012/Project Syndicate) –

“I would also invite Britain and France to stage a comeback in terms of participating in strengthening Asia’s security. The sea-faring democracies in Japan’s part of the world would be much better off with their renewed presence. Continue reading


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How does Asia feature in preparations for France’s 2013 Defence White Paper?

200px-Parmesan_Pannacotta_-_Amuse_Bouche_-_Lake_House_Restaurant,_DaylesfordPrior to the release of France’s new White Paper on Defence and National Security (DWP), the General Secretariat for Defence and Security has released an amuse-gueule: “The International and Strategic Evolutions Faced by France“. What does it have to say about Asia?

  • First, it confirms one of the findings of the 2008 DWP, that there is a “progressive shift in the strategic centre of gravity towards Asia”, but notes that this shift has accelerated. Asia “has become the epicenter of the strategic scene”, Continue reading

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A French accent to the European voice at this year’s Shangri-La Dialogue

Three European nations – those referred to as ‘the big three’ in the corridors of the EU – spoke for Europe at the recent 2012 Shangri-La Dialogue. The UK sent the Minister of State for the Armed Forces, and Director-General, Security Policy. Germany sent their Parliamentary State Secretary for Defence. The most significant showing was France’s  Minister of Defence, Jean-Yves Le Drian, who used a speech on Emerging Risks to Global and Asia-Pacific Security to communicate the intention of France, representing Europe more broadly, to step up its involvement in Asia-Pacific security.

France’s rationale was placed in the context of the rising economic importance of the region, the US ‘pivot’, and the inter-dependence of European and Asian security. France’s historical involvement and ongoing ‘territorial and military presence’ were noted to remind the audience that France had never left the region. Then the high rhetorical tone was brought down to earth by an honest acknowledgement that all this had been said before, but now it was “… high time to transform words into action“.

What kind of action does the Minister have in mind? I found three main lines of note: Continue reading

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