You and Whose Navy?

In a similar vein Seth Cropsey has an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal in which he proposes to allow Ukrainian grain shipments to leave Odessa by using a “coalition of the willing” to convoy them:

The obvious solution is to free up Ukrainian grain exports, relieving pressure on the global food supply and mitigating inflation. This would require an extensive demining and escort mission to create a corridor from Odessa to the eastern Mediterranean. It would demand a naval force large enough to deter Russian interruption.

An escort mission worked in similar circumstances during the Iran-Iraq war under Operation Earnest Will. Iran and Iraq, like Russia and Ukraine, had settled into a long-term fight. Iraq lost its port access after Iranian offensives. It turned to Kuwait to export Iraqi oil, but Iran attacked Kuwaiti ships. The U.S. responded by deploying a major naval task force to escort Kuwaiti oil tankers and conducting a handful of demonstrations of military power to deter continued Iranian pressure.

In the case of Ukraine, American deployment must be more aggressive. A nuclear-armed Russia, with clear incentives to deter greater U.S. participation in the war, may attack escorting warships. Washington can head off this possibility by employing an overwhelming naval task force consisting of small and large surface combatants with submarine and air support. Russia would be loath to intervene.

The U.S. shouldn’t conduct this mission through the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. France, Italy and Germany likely would veto it. America should instead act with an ad hoc coalition—likely Poland, Romania, Bulgaria and possibly the Baltic States, Sweden and Finland—to mitigate NATO divisions.

To his credit and unlike most pundits recommending similar actions, although he doesn’t mention the Montreux Convention directly he does nod to it:

Turkey need not participate actively. But it must allow this coalition force to operate in the Black Sea. It is therefore imperative that the Biden administration gain Turkish consent. Ideally Washington would offer to allow Turkey’s participation in the F-35 program and purchase of F-16s, the greatest point of tension between the U.S. and Turkey and the best, low-cost way to ensure Turkish acquiescence.

It would be interesting to see if Turkey rises to the bait. For one thing I think they can strike a harder bargain than that. How badly do we actually want Sweden and Finland to join NATO?

Nonetheless my previous question remains. Do we actually have the ability to accomplish the mission he proposes? The Black Sea and the Persian Gulf are roughly equivalent in terms of ease of navigation but neither has the ease of the Indian Ocean. The Persian Gulf is too shallow for submarines; I presume he meant submarine operations in the Indian Ocean.

Odessa is up there in the “less than 200 meters” depth area. I’m not sure that submarines would be particularly useful.

5 comments… add one
  • steve Link

    I dont like the idea of the US doing this. Too much risk of an “accident”.


  • I don’t think it would be an accident. I think it would be fomenting a War of Jenkins Ear.

  • bob sykes Link

    I read Cropsey’ essay just this morning. He is either woefully uninformed on the matter, or he is lying. There is no need for any naval intervention, because Russia is not the problem, Kiev is.

    Russia is NOT blockading grain shipments. Some left Mariupol yesterday. In fact, Russia has offered safe passage for any grain ship leaving any Ukrainian port.

    The problem with the Ukrainian ports is that Kiev has mined them to prevent a Russian amphibious assault. While is perfectly understandable, the mines work both ways. Ukraine is resisting creating mine-free channels, evidently as a bargaining chip of some sort.

    The Wall Street Journal is an unreliable source for just about any foreign policy issue. All of their articles are written by people who are extreme Russophobes, like Cropsey.

    Any naval intervention would consist of an attack on the Russian’s Black Sea Fleet, and, of course, that means war. Cropsey believes that when confronted Russia will run away.

    There is also the issue of Turkey and the Montreux Convention of 1936. Turkey would likely prevent the entry of US/NATO warships regardless of what flag they fly.

    Turkey will not be a participant in any war with Russia. It is even reconsidering its aid to Ukraine.

    Anyway, the critical issue this week is how will Russia respond to the Lithuania partial blockade of Kaliningrad. Kaliningrad is a seaport, and heavy goods like coal could enter the oblast by sea. That might require some modification of the port facilities.

    PS. $1 equal P54.25, up from 53.91 earlier today. The dollar has lost about 30% of its value against the ruble compared to last year.

  • The problem with the Ukrainian ports is that Kiev has mined them to prevent a Russian amphibious assault. While is perfectly understandable, the mines work both ways. Ukraine is resisting creating mine-free channels, evidently as a bargaining chip of some sort.

    That’s certainly what the Russians have been saying about the situation.

  • CuriousOnlooker Link

    Wikipedia states the Montreux convention that non-Black Sea states cannot transit submarines and places strict limits on the size and total number of surface ships that do transit.

    To me; if Montreux is followed; that makes a US-Navy led attempt to break the blockade very risky — they either bluff the Russians, or take down the Russian Navy and not be taken down by anti-ship missiles located in Crimea (less then 200 miles from Odessa).

    There’s an alternative of incentivizing Turkey to revoke Montreux; but Montreux is favorable to Turkey; under the Law of the Sea, Turkey would have less control over it. And the “incentive” Mr Cropsey are brandying is far too low; if I were Erdogan, the ask would be a multi-hundred billion swap line with the Federal Reserve (Turkey has 70% inflation and inflation is the primary risk to Erdogan’s rule).

    Indeed, all this discussion may lead to a very negative result — giving Russians another reason to make a serious push for Odessa. Crimea and secure access to the Black Sea has been a goal of Russia for centuries and multiple wars.

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