The Case for the Oceanic Strategy

By George E. Lowe

A second controversy involves the nature and utility of nuclear weapons systems, follow-on strategic systems, and the eventual configuration of the anti-ballistic missile system. A third political-military disagreement concerns the nature and degree of American overseas commitments and their relation to American foreign and defense policies.

And enormously complicating this great political-military policy debate is "a crisis that won't go away": the quality of life in urban ghettos. The question of new domestic strategy is evident here, too. Vice President Hubert Humphrey has called for a multi-billion-dollar Marshall Plan for the great cities; others recommend an urban TVA. The Swedish social scientist, Gunnar Myrdal, estimates that the cost of an urban New Deal will be trillions of dollars. Senators of both parties suggest stopgap aid of billions, and nearly everyone is convinced that a massive re-ordering of priorities is necessary.

The tremendous competition for finite resources that this essentially infinite task of reordering national priorities will necessitate implies a new Grand Strategy for America, a strategy that will protect America at home, her vital interests overseas, and, at the same time, will free the necessary resources to reconstruct American society. Unless a new grand strategy is developed that synthesizes and resolves the conflicting resource claims into one coherent and interrelated whole, America will witness unprecedented lobbying and jockeying for scarce and limited funds on the part of all the vested and special interests created by three wars, one great depression, and a quarter century of unparalleled prosperity. It is an open question whether the American political system is flexible enough, or inventive enough, to cajole, channel, and institutionalize the special interests of American society into reconstructing the heart of American civilization: our great urban centers. If these resource dilemmas are not resolved, they could rip apart the very fabric of the American society and bring an alien ideology to power in the United States. A new grand strategy for the last third of the 20th century is clearly called for.

Grand strategy has been defined as taking "the longer and wider view from the higher plane," a plan where political, economic, psychological, and moral factors are all taken into consideration, rather than the purely military ones associated with traditional military tactics and strategy. Grand strategy is the province of statesmen and politicians, whereas generals and admirals are the guardians of military tactics and strategy. In times of great crises or wars, democracies abound with a reversal of roles; generals are tempted to make grand strategy and opposing politicians become armchair generals and advocate specific military adventures. Pericles had his Alcibiades; Lincoln his McClellan; Truman his MacArthur; Eisenhower his Walker; and Johnson his Twining.

In the post-World War II period, we have had three examples of attempts to formulate a new grand strategy. Faced with the collapse of Western Europe, the near bankruptcy of Great Britain, and a militant Soviet Russia, Harry S. Truman devised a grand strategy—Containment. Dwight Eisenhower, saddled with an unpopular limited war on the Asian continent, pledged to cut the defense budget in half, and, hypnotized by the strategic possibilities of nuclear weapons, adopted the grand strategy, Massive Retaliation. Confronted by the failure of both Containment and Massive Retaliation, John F. Kennedy formulated a new grand strategy, Flexible Response, essentially a synthesis of Containment and Massive Retaliation.

It is Lyndon Johnson's fate to be the inheritor of elements of all three past presidents' policies, their successes and failures, both domestic and foreign. And it is President Johnson's great misfortune to have been unable thus far to devise a grand strategy that successfully squares the circle. Yet, the pressure is inexorably building up to do something about Vietnam, the ABM, the new strategic systems, and our smoldering cities.

What can President Johnson or any new administration do? What are some of the possible alternatives or options? The three most discussed alternatives are Neo-isolationism, Pre-emptive Nuclear War, and National Interests Strategy.

Neo-isolationism is really an updated Fortress America concept. Eventually it would lead to a frantic attempt to find total security through the world's highest underground standard of living and would necessitate building advanced continental-based weapons systems including a "thick" ABM, new land-based ICBMs, new manned bombers, new long-range interceptors, and auxiliary equipment, such as blast and fallout shelters to armor our people, cities, and industry. Neo-isolationism, prompted by a general disillusionment with ungrateful foreigners and untrustworthy allies, would degenerate quickly into a massive technological reaction as America attempted to rely primarily on her own technological solutions to the political, economic, and social problems of the ugly world outside our borders. Unthinking liberalism, with its simplistic attitudes toward political-military policy, unwittingly would have helped fuel the reactionary fires latent in American society. And within a decade, the new class of technocratic experts would be leading a totally militarized America, "reformed" along the lines of Seven Days in May or 1984.

A second option, really a corollary of Neo-isolationism, is Pre-emptive War. Those disillusioned Pax Americanists, American Centuryists, globalists, and super-hawks would counsel their bankrupt policy openly, as they have done secretly for 20 years, once America had become relatively defended by the NIKEX ABM system and the necessary accompanying "civilian defense shelter measures" had been constructed. This strategic option envisages a Pax Americana through the pre-emptive nuclear liquidation of world Communism in all its varieties at a specific time or our own choosing, when American casualties could be held down through allegedly "defensive" systems to the lowest reasonable level: around 10 to 20 million citizens.

The staid Wall Street Journal, on 3 August 1967, speculating on agitation for a new "nuclear build-up," predicted a "huge rise in spending for strategic forces," giving as one of the reasons the "growing evidence that nuclear war between the super-powers, the United States and Russia, may not be as unwinnable as was once thought." The Wall Street Journal then quoted one strategic analyst who said, "Until recently, it was widely assumed that a nuclear attack would be suicidal. But now, because of some major technological breakthroughs, you can't be so sure." Article after article in the technical-military press drums out the same message: "Technological warfare" will win in Vietnam and save us everywhere. The technological determinists of areospace power continually assure us that if we would only' "unfetter our vibrant technology," we could "regain and ... maintain world-wide military technological superiority."

A third and preferred grand strategy would be to develop a National Interests Strategy. First, a hard, realistic reappraisal should be taken of the entire American crazy quilt of post-World War II commitments, and the elements of vital national interests should be determined. Once they have been discovered and identified, policies should be devised and the military force levels developed to back them up. The problem is easy to diagnose but difficult to carry out because of vested military, economic, intellectual, and political pressure groups. This has been accomplished only twice in American postwar history, during the late 1940s and in the summer of 1953, in National Security Council Studies 68 and 162. Conventional rearmament and Containment grew out of the first study and Massive Retaliation out of the second. Spurred by the nuclear weapons insecurity of the mid-1950s and triggered by Sputnik and the Russian ICBM, the Gaither Committee and the Rockefeller brothers reports of the late 1950s undertook to re-examine American strategy. Unfortunately, they lacked the broad, grand-strategic aspects of the two earlier official studies, but the concept of Flexible Response adopted during the Kennedy Administration had its genesis during the strategic debate of the 1950s.

Supposing President Johnson were to empanel a blue ribbon committee to study the requirements of a National Interests Strategy, what would be the broad general aims of their strategy for the remaining third of the 20th century? Any new grand strategy must address itself to and be capable of fulfilling the following objectives:

  • Deter World War III .
  • Preserve the homeland.
  • Keep limited war limited and local war local.
  • Protect the territorial integrity of those nations wishing to be protected.
  • Preserve American vital interests overseas.
  • Protect the world's oceanic trade routes.
  • Improve the quality of American civilization and help attain the promise of American life.
  • Offer humanitarian assistance in helping others help themselves.

Given past strategic committees of this sort, it can be predicted that one of the least likely alternative systems that any presidential commission would examine, yet one promising the greatest payoff, is an Oceanic Strategy. Let those who will, defend a purely Technological Strategy; the case for a blue water oceanic policy follows.

How can the weapons systems and defense philosophy associated with a total oceanic system accomplish these eight national aims and purposes? The fundamental mission of strategic nuclear forces since 1945 has been to deter World War III. In this they have been eminently successful, and the key role of strategic forces in the decades ahead will be the same: to deter by their presence World War III. For 23 years it has been basic American policy to rely on the “defensive” aspect of strategic offensive deterrent weapons systems. In other words, America has pledged never to be the nuclear aggressor and strike first in either a preventative or preemptive thermonuclear war. This national policy, proclaimed by our last five presidents, is reinforced by the fact that even a first-strike nuclear attack would not lead to a meaningful victory, because the enemy’s hidden and invulnerable deterrent, despite ABM deployment, would get through, according to the Pentagon’s Director of DDR&E, John S. Foster, and “dozens of their warheads would likely explode in our cities.”

No matter how hard the proponents of a “war winning” capability for our strategic nuclear forces try to sanitize thermonuclear war and devise weapons systems to bring total and final victory home to the American people, it is no longer possible. Thermonuclear weapons and invulnerable ballistic missiles have finally made irrevocable the long obscured distinction between the deterrent mission of strategic forces and the “war winning” aspect of those forces. Advocates of the Technological Strategy are blinded to this truth, preferring instead to pursue the mirage of total victory through ever-more-wondrous products of science and technology. Final technological victory is always just around the corner, they maintain.

Typical of the thinking of these technological warriors is, “Where, in the doctrine of war, is there a rule that a weapon must explode, or make a noise, or raise a lot of rubble? A weapon of the future could, in fact, affect only the climate. Or communications systems. Or the mind. Or the nervous system. Or the reproductive process.”

For the last ten years, ever since the advent of the ICBM, strategic nuclear forces gradually have become more deterrent in function and less war-winning in nature. And the global conflicts that have taken place have become less conventional and more guerrilla in nature. Indeed, these two phenomena—nuclear deterrence and global conflict resolution—are inter-related in one evolving great world system of deterrence.

The case for oceanic basing of future strategic systems seems overwhelming, because for nearly all political-military contingencies modern oceanic technology has made all land systems and potential targets reachable from the Great Ocean. Oceanic systems are mobile; they are located away from the homeland and are technologically advanced. Furthermore, since they are “almost invulnerable to countermeasures,” they are ideal weapons systems for a national pledged never to launch the first strike. By moving future strategic systems (offensive and defensive) to sea (whether based on or beneath the surface of the sea) the United States will continue, in former Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara’s words, “to have in the future the capability of absorbing a deliberate first strike and retaliating with sufficient strength to inflict unacceptable damage upon the aggressor or any combination of aggressors.”

With the great deterrent sea-based, tens of billions of dollars would be saved by making the clear choice to displace land-based bomber and missile systems, which by their fixed addresses make the American homeland the world's most tempting target. America leads the world in oceanic-based strategic systems. Why not continue exploiting and developing seven-tenths of the world's surface—the ocean—for our deterrent's base rather than the 6 per cent of its land surface—continental United States—where 70 per cent of Americans currently live on 1.3 per cent of our land?

Furthermore, does it really make sense to pollute a nation with radioactive fallout in a vain attempt to defend it? Or to build a "defensive" system that pre-ordains nationwide blast and fallout shelter systems as well? Or make inevitable massive changes in our social system, government, and everyday life? Or, by creating a false sense of security, tempt militarist-minded officers or civilian officials, befuddled by the heady dreams of total victory and Pax Americana, to launch a first preemptive strike against our tormentors, real or imagined?

I t might make sense if there were no other alternatives and our nation were driven to it by enemy strategic decisions. However, it would make precious little sense if there were an unused or largely overlooked option that changes the rules of the nuclear game and makes defense of the homeland feasible with out massive dislocation of our democratic-republican form of government implicit in the NIKE-X antiballistic missile system. The U. S. Navy's seaborne anti-ballistic missile intercept system (SABMIS) is such an alternative. Navy planners maintain that SABMIS "could do for defense what the Navy's Polaris submarine fleet has done for offense." By placing the ABM in ships off the Soviet and Chinese coasts, SABMIS could intercept enemy missiles shortly after they are fired and before they have "time to break into a shotgun scatter of real and decoy hydrogen bombs," thus destroying the enemy missiles "before they get anywhere near the United States and release their multiple warheads, each of which would be aimed at an individual target." The great oceanic deterrent coin would then possess two faces: offensive (the Polaris-Poseidon and deep submergence systems) and defensive (SABMIS).

Another potential advantage of a seaborne defense system is that it would be sufficiently mobile to prevent an enemy from using ICBMs against it. Thus, the deployment of SABMIS would require our adversaries to develop and build a new class of weapons, rather than merely building additional ICBMs, which is the easy, cheap, and logical response to a land-based missile defense system. Still another advantage is that SABMIS would also permit us to offer missile defense to our allies. Such a missile system would have obvious arms control potential, or it would tend to stabilize the deterrent system and vent the pressure for nuclear proliferation. Together the Polaris-Poseidon and SABMIS could continue the era of prolonged deterrence into the 21st century without turning America into a concrete fortress by a land-based Maginot Line of NIKE-X ABMs and underground shelters. And this could be accomplished for much less (about $3 billion) than comparable ABM systems ($5 to $100 billion).

Besides deterrence, the function of an oceanic strategic system is to preserve and protect American strategic or vital interest overseas. This includes keeping any limited war limited that threatens to disturb the balance of power on the Eurasian rimlands and preserving and protecting the world's oceanic trade routes so that the raw materials and markets so vital to American (and all modern nations') industry are not denied us. To accomplish this goal will be difficult and is much more demanding (because it is so political) than the other basic function of the oceanic system: deterrence in its offensive and defensive aspects. The protection of overseas interests involves the rejection of globalism and the adoption of a peripheral or littoral set of tactics. Obviously, if this is to be done, it will necessitate the matching of American general purpose forces with the international realities that are now crystallizing.

Beginning in the late 1950s and early 1960s, accelerating nationalistic tendencies, ICBMs (which made allies and territorial, buffer zones superfluous for the protection of the great powers), international economic forces, and diminishing ideologies helped erode the bipolar configuration of the postwar world. The decades ahead will probably witness a further disintegration of the unity principle and an acceleration of the forces of diversity. This situation creates many international prizes that could conceivably tempt emerging great powers and thus become the tinder box for future conflicts. For the most part, these flash points will continue to be found in the southern hemisphere.

Who is to look after the old imperial lifelines, now the new commercial highways of the world, when England discards its role east of Gibraltar and Suez? One answer is the United States, because, as President Johnson has said, "there is no one else." But this solution is becoming increasingly unpopular and politically unfeasible because it implies Pax Americana— the United States acting as a global gendarme. Thermonuclear weapons, in the possession of Britain, Russia, China, and, in the near future, France, have made it impossible, even if we were so inclined, to attempt to create an American Century by imposing our will on an unwilling world. How ever, in the decades ahead, it would seem sensible for the United States to adopt a foreign policy objective that would harness dynamic nationalist forces and preserve cultural identities in a world made safe for global diversity pending some distant reunification of mankind.

Ideally, a realistic policy for the future should look to the past in order to avoid the mistakes of yesterday. After the traumatic Korean War, the United States decided to fight "No More Koreas," cut its army in half, and established a series of defensive pacts with Asian powers. The idea was that Asian manpower, equipped with American weapons and protected by the doctrine of Massive Retaliation, would contain Russia and Red China. But it is highly questionable how effective Asian troops and nuclear weapons will be in the new era of the revolutionary wars of national liberation that appear inevitable after the Vietnamese War is terminated.

In the acrimonious debate over Asian policy, the one overriding consideration for the U. S. military presence in Vietnam is often overlooked: the delineation, somewhere between China and India, of a frontier line between Westernized and Easternized modern industrial societies. As the Washington Post of 19 October 1967 expressed it, "Sooner or later when South Vietnam has diminished in its historic perspective, the task of reaching in Asia a peaceful accommodation between the billion Asians in China and the billion who are not Chinese must be achieved."

If the consolidation of the Asian states in the past into one unit has failed to materialize again and again, the key reason is the regularity with which, just before the moment of achievement, new powers were brought into the equation to serve as counterweights: Russia on the northern continental frontier from the Yalu to Suez since the 19th century; Britain, France, and Japan on the southern, western, and eastern marches up through World War II; and the United States on the littoral and oceanic fronts in the decades since.

A future joint discharging of the responsibility for preserving national identities by world oceanic powers or the modern nations of the Northern Hemisphere could be accomplished by a mixed team of global oceanic guardians at or off the strategic keys that still lock up the world. These joint forces would be oceanic sentinels equipped to extinguish or control rev0lutionary fires if the need arose. The MLF principle of mixed manning by multi-national crews or multi-national fleets could carry out the tasks of peace-keeping, show of force, intervention, evacuation, or even combat throughout the Southern Hemisphere. Membership in this force would be open to any nation interested in stability and order, rather than instability and disorder. Regardless of whether the Russians wish to join other modern nations patrolling the Western sea frontier and Eurasian littoral and "wet nursing" the Southern Hemisphere in its century-long drive toward modernity, such peripheral or littoral tactics would seem inevitable for the United States and like-minded nations, for history has shown that no single nation can be a vast land and oceanic power at the same time. Even a superpower as strong as the United States must make choices. If the choice is made for a peripheral Oceanic Strategy, then the proper military forces must be constructed to carry out the new and revolutionary strategy.

The decades immediately ahead are going to witness an accelerating series of border probes and great instability throughout the rural Third World of the Southern Hemisphere. The modern nations of the Northern Hemisphere can continue to maintain the encirclement of the East or in turn be encircled by the East. The United States must take the lead preserving global pluralism and diversity, simply because there is no one else at this juncture of history with the wealth, power, or expertise to accomplish the task.

It is questionable, however, whether American public opinion will underwrite indefinitely this tremendous burden. The German historian, Ludwig Dehio, predicted in 1960 that America's

most trying tests may lie ahead; the will-o'-the wisp of yesterday's isolation may still return often enough to glow seductively in the darkness. ... How hard it is for such a nation to appreciate the fact that the spasmodic improvisations of the past must be replaced with permanent exertions, systematically increased, and that the perils threatening insular existence ... menace the American way of life!

Dehio also warned of the danger of a "hegemonical power" which unthinkingly acquires the imperialist itch without really meaning to and embarks on the quest for domination "subconsciously, even somnambulistically." Hopefully, other modern industrial nations will share our burden and help us reject this tragic temptation to ride the technological tiger toward world hegemony.

Victory through technology is an obvious, popular, and highly attractive alternative strategy, which has been advanced in one form or another since 1917. And, strangely, no matter how advanced American oceanic technology has become (and it leads the world), it is largely ignored, whereas aerospace technology is regarded as the penultimate of all American achievements.

Currently, there appears to be a coordinated campaign underway that offers technology as the solution to all our problems: from a quick and victorious ending of the war in Vietnam through air power to a nuclear war-winning strategy over China and Russia through aerospace power. The many advocates of the technological strategy guarantee that this strategy would assure "technological victory" and would give the United States "the means to control aggression .... It would end wars and threats of wars."

As a direct outgrowth of the Second Vietnamese War, this debate over grand strategy is being carried out within and without the defense community. And, as in our other 20th century conflicts, the great vested interests have begun jockeying for postwar position and dominance even before the war is over. The technologists and technocrats, who implore the United States to wage technological warfare to bring total victory home to America once more, recall Harold MacMillan's remarks to the Council of Europe Association in 1950, when the Prime Minister wisely said,

Fearing the weakness of democracy, men have often sought safety in technocrats. There is nothing new in this .... But finally the idea is not attractive to the British. We have not overthrown the divine right of kings to fall down before the divine right of experts.

The Oceanic Strategy preserves the best of our past, yet at the same time forces American science and technology to plumb the frontiers of pure and applied research. It can be argued that the Oceanic Strategy is the only strategy which can deter World War III , defend our homeland, protect our vital interests overseas, isolate rebellions, and limit war—all within a $45 billion defense budget. The outstanding implication of the Oceanic Strategy is that it can protect America and her overseas interests and do it without the tremendous expense and dislocation to American society that the Technological Strategy implies.

Because of the efficiency with which the Oceanic Strategy can operate and the economic payoffs inherent in greater use of the oceans, billions and billions of defense funds will be liberated or created to rebuild American cities and improve the quality of American life. Additional billions (upwards to 100 billion) will not be required for new continental-based strategic systems and allied shelters or associated weapons systems that the Technological Strategy would necessitate.

Somewhere beyond Vietnam and the 1968-75 time-frame the adoption of a new national strategy is inevitable. The only question is what the underlying assumptions will be. For these assumptions ultimately determine the weapons systems purchased and the foreign policy followed. Will they lead to a Technological Strategy or to an Oceanic Strategy?

President Johnson, because of the Vietnamese War, the Chinese H-bomb, the Soviet ABM, and European prosperity, is being forced to re-examine U. S. grand strategy anew. His task was tremendously compounded by the ghetto crisis of 1967. Infinite resource demands are chasing finite budget dollars.

It seems obvious that the overriding issue of the 1968 presidential campaign will be a "reordering of priorities," and the political party that comes up with a solution or grand strategy is likely to be the victor. Recommendations abound over how to escape the Serbian bog that the Vietnamese war has become. And going beyond Vietnam, the Congress and the nation are in the midst of a great debate over Asian policy and the future role of the United States in the world.

Regardless of what post-Vietnamese strategy is eventually adopted, it should be within our traditions and heritage, protect our homeland, defend our national interest, encourage our economic system, prevent bankruptcy and huge government deficits, and, at the same time, liberate the funds to allow a reconstruction of urban America and create a balanced urban-rural society.

An Oceanic Strategy can accomplish all these objectives within the limits of a finite defense budget primarily by taking advantage of the infinite possibilities of the Great Ocean—politically, militarily, economically, and socially. During this time of troubles when America is sorely tried and tested at home and abroad, more and more people are becoming convinced that we can get out of this fix "somehow by strategy," and the most obvious and greatest temptation will be to adopt the Technological Strategy.

Before rushing headlong into this tempting technocratic trap, another overriding advantage of an Oceanic Strategy should be considered: It is the only grand strategy that will preserve those liberal traditions and conservative values that make our civilization worth saving in the first place. The choice is ours and the Great Ocean beckons.

A graduate of Grove City College, Pennsylvania, with an M.A. in History from the University of Chicago, Mr. Lowe entered the U. S. Navy in 1953 via the OCS program. He attended air intelligence schools at Washington, D. C., and Alameda, California, and served in air intelligence billets until 1957 and in 1960-61. A former Foreign Service Officer and speech writer for the Na vy Department, he has also taught history and political science at junior colleges in Illinois, the District of Columbia, and at the University of Maryland.


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