Navies of Chile and Argentina Combat Crime in the High Seas in Tabletop Exercise

The Chile-Argentina Bilateral Crisis Game serves as a forum to promote mutual understanding of operational procedures.
Felipe Lagos/Diálogo | 13 July 2018

International Relations

Members of the Argentine and Chilean navies gather every year since 1998 to address theoretical scenarios of maritime security. (Photo: Chilean Navy)

The exercise didn’t involve warlike actions, but a rather misunderstood transnational crime: illegal fishing. Under this theme, the navies of Chile and Argentina met to explore how to carry out a combined operation against this crime on the high seas.

The Chilean and Argentine navies conducted the tabletop exercise, known as Bilateral Crisis Game, at the Chilean Naval War Academy (AGN, in Spanish), located in Viña del Mar on the Chilean Pacific coast. Delegations of officers and professors from AGN and the Argentine Naval War College (ESGN, in Spanish) took part in the 20th edition of the exercise. Representatives from the ministries of Foreign Relations and Defense of both nations, as well as personnel of the Southern Cross Joint and Combined Peacekeeping Force—made up of service members from both countries—also participated.  

The goal of the 20th Bilateral Crisis Game: examine the decision-making processes of both navies in the planning and execution of combined operations to oversee maritime areas. The exercise, conducted in May, established a maritime insecurity context near the territorial waters of both nations.

“Its design and development create an academic forum to exchange ideas and knowledge for situational planning, analysis, and resolution of international crises,” Argentine Navy Rear Admiral (ret.) Julio Alberto Graf, War Games coordinator at ESGN, told Diálogo. “The experience is, without a doubt, enriching and instructive, not only for those who design and conduct these games, but also for those who play them in the various roles.”

Transnational Organized Crime

According to the report, Stretching the Fishnet: Identifying Opportunities to Address Fisheries Crime 2017 of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), illegal fishing is a complex and nonlinear activity that attracts transnational criminal organizations involved in other illicit activities, such as trafficking of maritime resources, money laundering, as well as drug and human trafficking. Illegal fishing also threatens the sustainability of the marine environment and the economy of various countries.

One of the main concerns with illegal fishing, the report indicates, is that many nations think of the action as a fishing management issue rather than a crime. The worldwide economic loss, however, is estimated to be between $10 and 23 billion annually. The crime, UNODC indicates, should be confronted internationally with combined and interagency operations, hence the importance of the 20th Bilateral Crisis Game.  

The Chile-Argentina 20th Bilateral Crisis Game consisted of planning and carrying out a combined operation against illegal fishing. (Photo: Chilean Navy)

“At an international level, illegal, unprotected, or undeclared fishing moves the highest amount of money after drug trafficking,” Chilean Navy Captain Juan Andrés Helmke Ruiz, commandant of AGN, told Diálogo. “The Chilean government recently ratified the [Fish Stocks] Agreement that implies the right of inspecting fishing vessels on the high seas […], which is an important development that should be implemented through shared procedures from the personnel of state vessels that will carry out the inspection.”

Known as the Fish Stocks Agreement, the Agreement for the Implementation of the Provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea relating to the Conservation and Management of Straddling Fish Stocks and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks entered into force in 2001. Chile ratified the agreement in 2016. Argentina is a signatory but didn’t ratify the accord before the United Nations. The Fish Stocks Agreement sets the principles for the management of fishing resources that migrate or travel through vast areas, as well as general criteria that encourage international cooperation to conduct high seas inspections—including when fishing vessels aren’t part of the agreement—among other provisions.

Useful Conclusions

During the five-day exercise, participants took different roles. At an operational level, some players planned and conducted the simulated operation, while others interacted with political authorities of the ministries of Defense and Foreign Relations at a strategic level.

“[Roles] are of crucial importance to create the realism necessary to reach conclusions that will be useful in times of crisis,” said Capt. Helmke. “These games allow us to understand the few matters on which we do not agree or cannot agree due to national legislation, which should always be abided by, whether we operate in a multilateral or bilateral context.”  

The bilateral games are held annually with each country taking turns hosting. In its two decades, the exercise addressed many maritime security issues, including the fight against piracy, international cooperation during natural disasters, as well as humanitarian assistance, which were beneficial in recent years, Capt. Helmke said. The Argentine Navy will host and conduct the 21st edition.

“The abundance of rules, agreements, conventions, and laws usually complicates the decision-making process for navy commanders and land officials,” Rear Adm. Graf concluded. “What’s most important and significant about the use of force at sea is that decisions made or not made in a particular situation will have a direct impact on the government of the country carrying out the action.”

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