Book Reviews

Because the submarine reconnaissance program remains very secret, no reviewer can say just how accurate this book is. Certainly it was obvious for years that some sort of program was proceeding. For example, from about 1950 on much of Western antisubmarine warfare was based on a technique, LOFAR, which distinguished submarines based on their acoustic signatures. Someone had to collect the signatures of new submarines as they emerged from Soviet yards; only submarines could perform this mission. Similarly, throughout the Cold War, the submarine force placed special stress on not revealing the details of submarine masts—which clearly carried radar and radio intercept antennas. It was even public information that the later Sturgeon (SSN-637)-class boats had a special radio intercept space. In 1975 there was a limited disclosure that these submarines were often used to collect radio and radar data off Soviet shores. Much later an National Security Agency employee, Ronald W. Pelton, was arrested and convicted for disclosing to the Soviets that the U.S. Navy had tapped the undersea cable from Kamchatka to Vladivostock. Finally, in 1994, Dr. John P. Craven disclosed a heretofore secret U.S. capability to retrieve objects covertly from the deep sea bottom, in hopes of maintaining continued congressional support for that program.

This book fleshes out these disclosures, but it misses some important points. First is a misunderstanding of the essence of deterrence: that the other side comes to believe that it cannot win a war. Successful U.S. submarine penetration of Soviet waters, and the even more successful trailing of Soviet submarines, almost certainly helped convince the Soviet Navy that it was unlikely to win the undersea part of World War III. Also the authors miss the fact that the Soviets as well as the Americans intended to negate the underwater deterrent by trailing and sinking ballistic missile submarines as soon as possible after the outbreak of war. American deterrence rested partly on convincing the Soviets that their plans were unlikely to be successful, while convincing them that our plans probably would succeed. The authors miss the likelihood that the Soviets adopted the bastion strategy (to protect their ballistic missile submarines) because they became convinced of U.S. superiority; that adoption was a major U.S. success, not an unsettling development.

A second major point the authors leave out is the extent to which the submarine force covered its operations. During the Cold War there was a widespread belief in the naval community that submariners played little part in peacetime operations, that they took few risks (because of a mentality fostered by Admiral Hyman Rickover), and that they had little tactical competence. There were stories, for example, of tactical experts who rode submarines as they deployed, simply to teach the officers how to conduct attacks. If the content of this book is accurate (and there is no reason to imagine otherwise), all of this was a gigantic deception. Submarine commanders were anything but timid; they competed in taking risks and possessed considerable tactical ingenuity. The risks in turn would have helped convince the Soviets that they ought not risk going to war. Note, incidentally, that it actually helped that the Soviets sometimes detected submarines reconnoitering their waters or trailing their ballistic missile submarines; otherwise, the deterrent message would not have been driven home.

The authors properly compare the submarine program to the U-2, but they miss the point. The U-2 was risky because the Soviets might think that an airplane detected overhead was carrying more than cameras and radar-intercept gear. They could have decided to launch their own bombers. In fact, they understood that no single airplane—and no single submarine—was a major threat. Both sides used what President Eisenhower had extolled—their common sense. None of the Cold War reconnaissance programs on either side was likely to risk destroying the world. In fact, Cold War air reconnaissance was far more dangerous than its undersea counterpart, with more than 100 U.S. airmen killed or captured.

Probably the most important point of all, which the authors certainly do make, is that the reconnaissance conducted during the Cold War points to the submarine service's most likely post-Cold War mission. The submarine's stealth still allows it to linger in areas otherwise denied to the United States, to collect information that we desperately need to understand the perils we face. The service's misfortune has been general public ignorance of its continuing value at a time of budgetary crisis. This book may help awaken the defense community as a whole to what submarines can (and do) really accomplish for the country, in a dangerous peace as well as in war.

Unfortunately, probably because submarine security is so good, details are often thin, and the book is padded with irrelevancies, like the well-worn stories of Rickover's abrasive style, or the losses of the Thresher (SSN-593) and Scorpion (SSN-589), neither one of which was on a reconnaissance mission at the time of its loss, Nor are gruesome Soviet submarine accidents—of which there were many—really germane. They have been listed and described elsewhere (and, incidentally, in an extensive Russian-language literature which the authors have not referenced at all). Many of the published references are decidedly stale, such that parts of the book seem not to have been revised since the early 1990s. Nor do the authors help their credibility by some of their technical references: e.g., to submarine conning towers in later nuclear submarines (the last conning towers, pressure-proof enclosures inside a floodable superstructure, were in Seawolf [SSN-575] and Triton [SSN-586]).

The Navy has been less than enthusiastic about the book, for obvious reasons. Whether or not release of the information in this book might be beneficial, no official release has been made. The Navy argues, moreover, that the release of details of submarine patrols may well inadvertently reveal details of tactics and technology, which might either benefit a foreign submarine force or might make the U.S. force more vulnerable. The basic issue is how to control information. Everyone will probably agree that some information ought not to be made public. It is impossible to allow everyone to be his own declassifier; some degree of control is essential. The danger in this book, as in other major leaks of information (such as the H-bomb design secret in 1979) is not that national security is compromised directly, but rather that the leak may encourage further leaks—which could make an already bad situation much worse. For example, when the H-bomb secret leaked in 1979, the argument was made that the Soviets and the Chinese already knew. Third World governments interested in the H-bomb probably did not, however. Now they did. Once the central secret was out, much more leaked. For the Navy, and for the government as a whole, the question is what information to safeguard. An attempt to safeguard virtually everything, which is what the Navy seems to be trying to do in this case, often fails because those within the system see no distinction between important and patently unimportant information. Some of them develop a contempt for very necessary security—which is most unfortunate.

On balance, this book is probably good for the Navy and its submarine service, because it tells the taxpayers—who ultimately must support the Navy—that it did something important and worthwhile during the Cold War. It is unfortunate that the release of information could not have been better controlled and more accurate.

 

The Minuteman: Restoring an Army of the People

Gary Hart. New York: Free Press, 1998. 188 pp. Bib. Index. $23.00 ($20.70).

Reviewed by Commander Thomas C. Stewart, U.S. Naval Reserve (Retired)

Former Colorado Senator Gary Hart has written a challenging and thought-provoking essay about the importance of citizen soldiers to the health of American democracy. The trouble is that you have to hack your way through the underbrush of his latest book to find it. Senator Hart's repetitions, carping asides, and donnish digressions into Clausewitz, Machiavelli, and the even more remote 17th-century English philosopher James Harrington make this short book seem twice as long as it really is, while doing little to buttress his basic arguments. This is unfortunate, because Senator Hart's case for why the citizen soldier should be our country's military paradigm for the 21st century is worth reading, whether or not one agrees with all he has to say.

Senator Hart reiterates the classic arguments in favor of relying on the reserves rather than on the regular armed forces for our primary defense needs. Relying on the reserves democratizes the services, and keeps the military from becoming a separate warrior caste. It builds bridges between our armed forces and the society they defend. It strengthens the concept of citizenship. It encourages average Americans to take a thoughtful interest in defense and foreign policy issues. Relying on the reserves discourages our elected leaders from committing American forces abroad without good reason, and it encourages public support for our armed forces when they are embarked on a just cause. Senator Hart notes, for example, that President Kennedy called up the reserves during the Berlin Crisis in 1961 to demonstrate American resolve in the face of Soviet bullying, but President Johnson declined to commit the reserves a few years later in Vietnam, because public opinion on American involvement was sharply divided.

So far, so good. With the collapse of Soviet Communism, Senator Hart sees the reserves as the key to American defense policy in the post-Cold War era. He argues that the armed conflicts of the 21st century are more likely to be civil wars and guerrilla insurgencies than wars between nation-states. Hence, U.S. military involvements abroad will likely be police actions and peacekeeping missions rather than full-scale conflicts. Accordingly, Senator Hart maintains that a small elite regular force, backed by trained reserves, will be sufficient to meet U.S. defense needs in the future. Regular forces could be cut to "perhaps one-third" their present size, the defense budget reduced, and the reserves would still be available in the event of a major war.

It is a neat argument, but it assumes too much. Senator Hart's book is peppered with such easy assumptions, such as when he says that the exigencies of the containment of Communism have now disappeared, "except for North Korea." Evidently, he regards the People's Republic of China as neither a Communist state nor a threat.

In the same way, Senator Hart breezily assures us that "long-range, computerized, high-tech warfare so dear to the military-industrial complex is the least likely form of conflict in the foreseeable future." As a U.S. senator, Mr. Hart spent 12 years on the Armed Services Committee. He is properly scornful of pork barrel defense projects that produce elaborate weapon systems for no better reason than to create jobs for constituents. But at a time when rogue states such as North Korea, Iran, and Iraq are inching toward the capacity to strike U.S. targets with ballistic missiles, can he dismiss the possibility of computerized, high-tech warfare as easily as he does?

Senator Hart maintains that with regard to his overall proposal, "the devil is not in the details." As a reservist myself, who served in the Gulf War, I know better. The details are everything. The success that my squadron-augment unit enjoyed in our service in the Gulf War was owed in large measure to our high level of training and preparedness—which in turn was the result of training periodically with regular forces. For the reserves to realize Senator Hart's ideal, all reserve units would have to meet the same high standards that my own unit demonstrated in the Gulf War. The quality of training and the degree of integration between the reserves and the regulars both are important, and can by no means be assumed, along with the book's many other assumptions. The devil is very much in the details.

The reserves are part of the solution to meeting America's post-Cold War defense needs—a significant and underutilized part of the solution—but without proper training they cannot play the role that Senator Hart envisions for them. Moreover, he does not address the question of how we can shrink our regular forces while our international peacekeeping commitments continue to grow. We cannot play the role of peacemaker without the military muscle to deter aggressors and enforce ceasefires and other pacification efforts.

Senator Hart makes much of the fact that Niccolo Machiavelli, the Renaissance politician and philosopher whose name has such a sinister connotation today, was in fact an opponent of princes and a believer in republican government. Because he wished to keep his native city of Florence a republic after the city had expelled the ruling Medici family, he convinced the new government to rely on a native militia rather than on hired mercenaries. But Senator Hart neglects to mention that Machiavelli's militia was ultimately routed by an army of professionals, the Medici family was restored to power, and Machiavelli himself ended his life in exile. In his next book, Senator Hart should pay closer attention to those pesky details.

 

 
 

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