Tag Archives: UK

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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UK “ready and able to mobilise in support of Asia Pacific allies friends and partners”

The Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond gave a speech on the UK in Asia Pacific at the S.Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Singapore.

The full text of the speech can be read here.

Here are a couple of extracts:

Our partnerships in Asia rest on three pillars:

  1. strong people-to-people links and deep bilateral relationships across the Asia Pacific region;

  2. a shared vision of free trade and economic openness; and

  3. common recognition of our responsibilities to maintain the rules-based international system which protects our shared interests.

The UK has an important stake in Asian security…As a nuclear power with one of the largest defence budgets in the world and membership of the P5 and United Nations and of NATO;…and as a trading nation, conscious that £3 trillion worth of trade passes through the South China Sea each year; Britain is also a party, alongside Singapore, Malaysia, Australia and New Zealand to the Five Powers Defence Arrangements – still the only formal multilateral defence arrangements in South East Asia. That means we are ready and able to mobilise in support of Asia Pacific allies friends and partners…


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The UK’s new Asia policy: a ‘multidimensional’ and independent pivot

Hugo Swire, UK minister of state at the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office with responsibilities for the Far East, Southeast Asia, India, Nepal, Latin America, the Falklands, Australasia, and the Pacific.

Hugo Swire, minister of state at the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office with responsibilities for the Far East, Southeast Asia, India, Nepal, Latin America, the Falklands, Australasia, and the Pacific.


President Obama’s ‘Pivot‘ or ‘re-balance to Asia’ policy stimulated a lot of thinking, including among European countries on how they ought to respond. In an earlier post to this blog, I divided their reactions into three categories: backfillers (leave Asia to Uncle Sam, and help by shouldering more of the burden of security in Europe’s neighbourhood), ‘me-too’- ists (let’s have our own ‘pivot’), and skeptics (Europe doesn’t ‘do’ security, and certainly not as far away as Asia). The British Foreign Office Minister of State for Asia Hugo Swire gave a speech that leaves no doubt about where the UK sits on this. Entitled “The UK in the Asian Century“, Swire’s speech at the Carnegie institute in Washington DC (on July 15) laid it on the line, not sparing his American audience. These are the messages and themes I noted:

1) Independent. This is not a policy of support for the US Pivot and the UK has no intention of leaving Asia to its American allies. This is a policy about UK interests in Asia, which Swire groups into three areas: prosperity, security and values (note the order). The speech began with a lot of history to drive home the point that the UK interest in Asia is deeply and firmly rooted. There is no antagonism with the US Pivot, though. The theme of independence was tempered by a recognition that the US and UK have a ‘shared interest’ in Asian stability and prosperity, and indeed cooperation could strengthen trans-Atlantic ties. However, there was no mistaking the tone of ‘we would be doing all this even if we had never heard of your pivot’.

2) Multi-dimensional. UK policy towards Asia will consist in cross-regional relationships, nurturing old friendships and developing new ones. Bilateral relationships like that with Japan, and multi-lateral like that with ASEAN – and through the EU. UK interests lie in three dimensions (a) Prosperity and Economy– free trade, exports, FDI, G8 and EU trade deals, bilateral trade deals. (b) Security– ‘make a contribution’ directly. That sounds like military deployments  (Brunei, 5 Power Defence Agreements, Naval HADR), but it can also be measured in diplomacy and support as in Mindinao and Myanmar. Bilateral defence and security cooperation, e.g. with Japan. Diplomacy: ideas, expertise ad capacity. (c) Values: Human Rights, Democracy and Rule of Law. ASEAN is particularly attractive as a driver of change on these lines. Values can also promoted through defence engagement, e.g. with Myanmar and now Thailand. And don’t forget, Hong Kong and DPRK.

3) Open to cooperation on UK and US common interests which lie in regional stability, open trading arrangements, Human Rights and freedoms, and the rules-based international system.

Mr Douglas Paal (moderating for Carnegie) focused on two areas of possible dissonance between UK and US policy. (i) British cooperation (with ships!) with US efforts to uphold Rule of Law in dealing with China? Swire pointed to ASEAN as the focus for the solution, which is ‘local’.  (ii) Tibet – is the UK going soft on Human Rights there? Swire says the position is not changed, and the issue is best handled through the bilateral relationship with China.

Questions came from the audience on North Korea and rights, democracy in China, stability in Pakistan. Swire pointed to the ability of the UK to get information into NK (via its Embassy and British Council activities). UK does not resile from commitments to Hong Kong. UK is sensitive to peace and stability in Pakistan because of the UK’s Pakistani diaspora and the risk of links to jihad in Afghanistan and also Syria. Speaking of Hong Kong, Paal noted how gratifying it has been to see Britain NOT dropping its interest in Asia after the return of the colony to China.

So it all ended on a friendly note. However, there was no mistaking the tone of the message: The UK has permanent interests in Asia and regardless of what other countries or organizations decide, it has a strategy – including a military component – for achieving its objectives.

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Hugo Swire on UK’s Asia policy ‘far beyond China’

Screen Shot 2014-07-13 at 11.15.11 PM

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang’s recent visit to London was widely hailed as a great commercial success, leading to energy and finance deals worth billions. Yet the UK’s future in Asia extends far beyond China. Going beyond mutually beneficial bilateral relations, the UK is focused on reinforcing a multi-faceted approach encompassing business, security, and values.

The Rt Hon Hugo Swire, MP, minister of state at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, addressed the UK’s Asia-Pacific policy and explained both the UK’s current involvement and future aspirations in the region. Carnegie’s Douglas H. Paal moderated.

See the following link for a transcript of the speech:

“The UK in the Asian Century”

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uk-japan[ekm]300x155[ekm]Japan, Britain to sign cross-servicing pact

Details are emerging of what Abe’s visit to Europe has in store for the ‘new type’ of alliance relationship.

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April 30, 2014 · 5:57 am

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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Australia and UK agree measures to cement UK pivot to Asia

Hague bishop 

At the latest annual ‘two plus two’ Australia-UK (AUKMIN) meeting on March 11, there were more signs confirming the UK pivot to Asia.

According to the UK Foreign office website, a “critical element of these talks will be opportunities for collaborating on defence engagement in the Asia Pacific region”.

Here are the highlights based on a subsequent report

  1. When the Australian Minister of defence was asked about the possibility of a permanent UK base in Australia, he extended a broad invitation to British forces. “It will not be a basing, it’s an opportunity for them to utilise our facilities.“(And) we welcome such a similar utilisation at every opportunity for the Royal Navy or any other of the services from the United Kingdom to come to Australia and to interoperate with us, to train with us and to do things that are mutually beneficial.”
  2. UK Minister of Defence Hammond confirmed the UK is ready: “As our focus increasingly turns to the Asia Pacific, I would expect us to send ships more regularly in future into the Pacific, but I wouldn’t envisage at the present time basing ships in the Pacific. Extending visits on a more regular basis is likely to be our immediate objective.”
  3. The four ministers also launched a new dialogue on Asia, based (according to the UK Foreign Office website) on “a partnership between the British Ditchley Foundation and the Sydney-based think tank, the Lowy Institute for International Policy”. The first meeting will take place at Ditchley Park in June. “Its aim will be to promote our common interest in a stable and prosperous region.”
  4. The two governments signed a new agreement on diplomatic network co-operation that will see the Australian embassy in Baghdad move into the British embassy building to cut security costs.“This is about identifying the synergies that make our respective diplomatic efforts more efficient and effective,” UK Foreign Secretary William Hague said.

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UK Defence Engagement in Myanmar

UK Defence Engagement in Myanmar


Is this more evidence for the vigour of the UK Pivot to Asia? Myanmar’s President Thein Sein is visiting the UK and France. The  headlines about the visit to France refer to cooperation on energy and warnings on human rights. Is the UK alone in Europe in engaging with Myanmar on security issues? Or is Paris just being more discreet about such issues so as not to raise hackles in Beijing?

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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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British Army to create ‘Adaptable Brigades’ for deployment to Asia

Defence Chiefs of the FPDA member countries taking questions during the joint press conference held after the FDCC          This blog has pointed out that European nations can hardly expect to be taken seriously on issues of Asian security and defence unless they have a greater military presence there. This may be about to change.

British Chief of the Defence Staff (General Sir David Richards) spoke on 17 December 2012 at RUSI (full text here, or watch him here), and let slip a detail on the future of the British Army that is of interest for those concerned with European involvement in Asian Security. Continue reading


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