By Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Kyle Steckler
Military leaders from across Europe, Africa, and the United States completed a three-day senior leadership symposium (SLS) in Lagos, Nigeria, as part of exercise Obangame Express, March 21, 2019.
The symposium was hosted by the U.S. Naval War College and featured speakers from the highest levels of military leadership as well as panels on subjects including maritime legality and framework, naval forces and interagency integration, and regional threat assessment.
Nigerian Rear Adm. BEE Ibe-Enwo, chief of policy and plans for the Nigerian Navy, was the keynote speaker and said that symposiums like the SLS are essential for effective multilateral cooperation among regional partners. He emphasized that cooperation would go a long way in addressing the maritime security challenges in the Gulf of Guinea.
Another of the symposium’s speakers, professor Sean P. Henseler, deputy dean of the College of Maritime Operational Warfare at the U.S. Naval War College, agreed with Enwo, adding that though the regional partners in and around the Gulf of Guinea are early in the process of combatting their specific maritime challenges, tackling those challenges in an organized and systematic way is essential for building trust between allies.
“[Leaders] are the focal point for that sharing of information and intelligence with everybody else,” said Henseler, speaking about a joint and interagency partnership between partner nations. “It’s not easy to do, as you’re finding out. You’re just now starting to implement some standard operating procedures. What you’re going to find is that it takes time to work with other agencies, because they have their own procedures. They lack trust in you, you may lack trust in them, and they lack trust in each other. So to build that trust over time, it’s not going to happen just because you published some standard operating procedures. It takes a lot of time.”
The common theme of “trust” was prevalent throughout the symposium. Rear Adm. Nancy S. Lacore, director of Maritime Partnership Program at U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa/U.S. 6th Fleet and vice commander, U.S. 6th Fleet, said that one thing she encourages naval leaders in attendance to take away from the SLS and joint exercises like OE19 are personal relationships with their counterparts.
“I hope that those relationships facilitate better regional cooperation when dealing with maritime threats,” said Lacore. “I also think that they’re going to leave with tangible options for increasing political will to support maritime security in their nations.”
Lacore stressed the importance of conducting senior leadership conferences in conjunction with larger exercises like Obangame Express, which included participation by more than 30 countries.
“It’s really important to do these kind of events in conjunction with exercises, because it’s tying that strategic-level decision making and thought process to actual operational execution of the exercise,” said Lacore. “So when these heads of Navy Forces are thinking about how they want to do things differently, it can remind them that the changes they make are actually affecting operations on the water.”
Obangame Express is one of three annual U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa facilitated regional exercises and is part of a comprehensive strategy by U.S. 6th Fleet and AFRICOM to provide collaborative opportunities among African forces and international partners to address maritime security concerns.
U.S. 6th Fleet, headquartered in Naples, Italy, conducts the full spectrum of joint and naval operations, often in concert with allied and interagency partners, in order to advance U.S. national interests, security, and stability in Europe and Africa.