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Operation Aspides: The European Union’s Response to the Red Sea Crisis

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In response to escalating Houthi attacks on maritime vessels in the Red Sea and northwestern Indian Ocean, the European Union launched EU Naval Force Operation Aspides on February 19. 

Named after the Greek word for "shields," Aspides is a defensive operation aimed at safeguarding maritime security and stabilizing global supply chains.

Since October 19, 2023, the Houthi militia in Yemen has targeted shipping routes, disrupting seaborne trade and causing global supply chain disruptions. Despite initially claiming to target Israel-bound vessels, the attacks have impacted vessels with minimal or no connection to Israel.

Leading global shipping companies have diverted vessels to the Cape of Good Hope route, increasing transportation costs and voyage times to European ports. The crisis has more than doubled average Shanghai-Europe container spot rates, highlighting its far-reaching economic impact.

Operation Aspides, headquartered in Larissa, Greece, and led by Commodore Vasileios Gryparis, aims to provide close protection to merchant vessels, improve maritime situational awareness, and engage in defensive kinetic actions against threats to freedom of navigation. The fleet, consisting of warships equipped with advanced weapons systems, has downed hostile drones and conducted self-defense operations against Houthi threats.

Operation Aspides aligns with Europe's broader naval and diplomatic engagement in the Arabian Peninsula, building on initiatives like Operation Atalanta and the Coordinated Maritime Presence concept. While the operation has demonstrated some success, operational and political challenges remain, including ammunition shortages, confusion over command structures, and differing member state perceptions.

Despite these challenges, Operation Aspides signifies the EU's capacity and willingness to pursue its geostrategic interests independently and address maritime security threats effectively. However, addressing its shortcomings will be crucial for the EU to enhance its credentials as a reliable global maritime security provider amidst ongoing regional tensions.


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Source: The Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington