If you look around the world today, however, war fighting is not what we are doing. We talk about combat readiness; we take pride in calling ourselves warriors; and we dedicate time to training to fight. Our leaders are busy advocating costly new systems such as the New Attack Submarine, Joint Strike Fighter, and DD-21 Land Attack Destroyer to win the postulated battles of the next century. But we are not fighting those battles now.
Operations continue at a high tempo, but we have spent the past several years mired in the Balkans, trying to bring democracy to a small Third World Caribbean nation, and enforcing U.N. sanctions years after a war we thought we won. We have launched punitive strikes against terrorists and the "rogue" nation Iraq. We have responded to humanitarian emergencies and rescued Americans from places where governments had collapsed. We dedicate ships and planes to tracking smugglers in the "war" against drugs and occasionally interdict a surface shipment. We exercise with dozens of navies, sometimes for our training or to enhance interoperable coalition development, but often just to expand U.S. influence and generate goodwill. We make hundreds of overseas port visits each year; most for repair, resupply, and well deserved rest for our hard-working crews. But often these visits too are tools of "engagement," sometimes to places that our sailors would rather avoid, even if it meant just staying at sea. We even periodically send a nuclear submarine to support scientific research under the Arctic ice.
Are these the right things to be doing? With the Navy downsized to the lowest force levels in six decades, should we continue to perform these tasks? With retention down and recruiters unable to fill even our reduced billet structure, are we right to ask our personnel to work so hard and spend so much time away from home for these purposes? Are these legitimate expenditures of constrained operational funds? Are they appropriate missions for the world's finest navy?
Clearly many of our people don't think so. The five purposeful decades span the formative periods of every current Navy member. Even the youngest enlisted personnel today have spent half their lives under that paradigm. Our most junior lieutenants made the decision to enter the Navy during that era. So it should come as no surprise that so many of our people are questioning our sense of purpose, and that so many of our best are deciding that the personal sacrifices demanded no longer are worth it. We owe it to them to take a hard look at what we are doing and to ask some tough questions. If these are not appropriate missions, then Navy leaders have an obligation to their people, their service, and their country to "just say no." But if they are, then we have an obligation to better articulate their validity, and to better resource their accomplishment.
We should start by recognizing the irony that it is not the present situation but the preceding five decades that is the anomaly. For most of our history the Navy has not had a clear enemy or a single coherent mission. Today's missions have both significant historic roots and continuing legitimacy:
- Our involvement in the Balkan crisis, a conflict that does not directly threaten vital U.S. interests, is little different from a score of 19th- and early 20th-century interventions, such as China, Nicaragua, and Cuba.
- Our efforts toward Haitian democracy are descendants of both our l9th-century efforts to suppress slave trafficking and our early 20th-century interventions in that same country.
- Our periodic use of force to counter terrorism or to persuade rogue nations to comply with international norms has many historic antecedents, dating to the Navy's efforts against the Barbary Pirates.
- The Navy's counternarcotics role in the Caribbean follows from our prolonged struggle against piracy in those very waters.
- Noncombatant evacuation operation and humanitarian assistance/disaster relief are 20th-century terms, but conceptually these missions are no different from numerous earlier events. In his book Gold Braid and Foreign Relations (Naval Institute Press, 1988), David Long identifies more than 60 humanitarian activities by the Navy in the period 1798-1883 alone.
- The use of naval forces for diplomatic engagement dates to the earliest days of the Republic. Professor Long identifies more than 500 diplomatic activities by naval officers from 1798 to 1883, not counting routine port visits by forward-deployed squadrons. Although it is unlikely that modern officers will be called on to duplicate the diplomatic feats of Commodores Matthew Perry in "opening" Japan or Robert Shufeldt in negotiating the first U.S. treaty with Korea, actions such as the first port visit to China (by the frigate Congress in 1820) have direct parallels in contemporary events.
- Arctic submarine research is a direct legacy of the four year Wilkes expedition, which discovered Antarctica, and the pioneering polar achievements of Richard E. Byrd.
It is important to understand the historic basis for today's missions, but precedent alone is insufficient to justify spending the taxpayers' money or demanding sacrifices of our volunteer force. Title 10 may appear to define a limited Navy mission, but other policy documents expand our duties considerably. At the top of this hierarchy, the President's National Security Strategy establishes three core taskings for our military:
- Shaping the international environment
- Responding to threats and crises
- Preparing for an uncertain future
The strategy clearly stresses the importance of "overseas presence and peacetime engagement activities such as defense cooperation, security assistance, and training and exercises with allies and friends" in protecting U.S. interests around the world. It goes on to highlight the significant contribution military cooperation makes with "countries that are neither staunch friends nor known foes" and points out our value "as a role model for militaries in emerging democracies."
These core taskings are reinforced in the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff's National Military Strategy. Although specifically calling for the armed forces to be ready to fight and win two simultaneous major theater wars, it gives preference to "creating and sustaining security conditions globally, and in key regions, allowing the peaceful pursuit of our interests and the just resolution of international problems through political means." And if shaping fails to achieve U.S. interests, such crisis response options as "shows of force, limited strikes, opposed interventions, no-fly zone and sanctions enforcement operations, interposition or observation operations . .allow us to deter would-be aggressors and control the danger posed by rogue states."
To be credible in these tasks, we need solid warfighting capabilities. Well-equipped, well-trained, combat-ready forces are the foundation of all our efforts. But to focus exclusively on war fighting is to ignore fully two-thirds of the missions assigned to us. And ignorance is costly—if we fail to prevent conflict through adequate peacetime engagement or crisis response, the price becomes human lives rather than just dollars and family separation.
Ignorance of these missions also is costly to the Navy, because, quite simply, nobody does them better. The Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) identified key attributes the nation's military forces need to be relevant for the full range of likely operational employments:
U.S. forces . . . must be multi-mission capable, proficient in their core warfighting competencies, and able to transition from peacetime activities and operations to enhanced deterrence in crises, to war. This standard applies not only to the force as a whole, but also to individual conventional units.... Maintaining a substantial overseas presence posture is vital to both the shaping and responding elements of the strategy.... Equally essential to the shaping and responding elements of the strategy is being able to rapidly move and concentrate U.S. military power in distant corners of the globe.
One need not be a deep strategic thinker to recognize that these attributes describe our naval forces perfectly. Virtually every naval unit has a broad range of mission capabilities and a cyclic training program to ensure readiness prior to deployment. Our combination of "permanently" forward-deployed naval forces and rotational deployers supports war plan closure requirements and historic crisis response needs, yet also gives us the presence needed to sustain a strong program of peacetime engagement at a low marginal cost. And the inherent mobility and at-sea sustainability of naval forces allows them to self-deploy and operate in virtually any region of the globe—a capability unmatched by any other military component. More important, the ability to do this using the high seas makes the Navy largely unfettered by regional political constraints, which can veto ground or air force deployments.
Once we acknowledge these considerations, what are the ramifications? What else should Navy leaders do beyond current efforts?
First, we need to communicate to all of our personnel, and to their families, the continued relevance of the Navy in the post-Cold War world. Some would argue that we have done just that in texts such as "Forward . . . from the Sea," but a host of evidence ranging from retention statistics to a growing stack of Proceedings articles by frustrated officers shows that the message is not getting across. Our white papers may be circulated in Pentagon offices and posted on Navy web sites, but how many copies are circulating on fleet deckplates? How many seagoing personnel have read them? Where are the General Military Training videotapes providing clear, dynamic reinforcement of the importance of the Navy's roles to our fleet sailors? How well do we articulate to the families of service members preparing to endure a six-month separation the importance of such deployments-not only to the United States but to the global community at large? The typical educated Singaporean probably can explain the contributions that Seventh Fleet makes to Asian security better than most of the officers assigned to it can.
A solid understanding of the vital roles we play today might improve retention more than the considerable fortune in cash bonuses now being paid or anticipated to be required in the near future. And the ability of our advertising and recruiters to provide a credible sense of the Navy's importance could be far more effective in interesting America's youth in a Navy career than simply putting more salesmen out with the same old messages about learning marketable skills and earning college money. If that is all we are about, we will never be able to maintain the core of senior enlisted who comprise the backbone of our technologically sophisticated force.
To complement the general message, we need to do a better job preparing units for the specific engagement activities they undertake. No staff would allow a flag officer to go on a trip without a "read ahead" package giving background information about specific activities, objectives to achieve, talking points to raise, and issues to avoid. Yet, we routinely send Navy units to make politically significant foreign visits or to exercise with other navies with little or no advance support. Seldom do those on the leading edge know our engagement goals for a particular country, what has been done in the past, and what lessons were learned. Even knowledge of critical host nation sensitivities often is limited to the rudimentary guidelines an overworked junior officer manages to extract from someone's copy of a commercial travel guide.
An amusing fallout from this cavalier approach is the number of well-intentioned press releases sent up fleet chains of command mistakenly claiming the "first ever" visit to a particular port or exercise with a small foreign navy. Less amusing is the failure to extract full value from many engagement opportunities or causing unintended offense when foreign expectations are frustrated by our lack of preparedness. Equally important, an ill-prepared crew will not appreciate the importance of what they are doing, and they will miss out on valuable job satisfaction.
The logical source for background support is the fleet commanders' staffs, but despite the national-level importance placed on engagement, the Navy assigns only a handful of officers to political-military responsibilities on each major staff, and none at all below the numbered fleet level. This typically provides only enough manpower to react to the crisis du jour. Although the Navy leads the services in both the quantity and significance of our engagement activities, we lag considerably in coherent planning and management. Refocusing just a score of billets Navy-wide could improve significantly our ability to get out in front on these issues.
Modest increases in community relations and official representation funds also could pay big dividends. Even the smallest foreign navies realize the importance of "putting on a good show" and spend what it takes to entertain guests properly. The world's largest and most powerful navy, however, is also the most miserly. The lead time and effort required for fleet units to obtain even modest engagement funds are so great that few bother to seek adequate resourcing—which means these activities typically are done on such a low budget as to be inconsequential or are taken out of the pockets or mess funds of our officers and men. Neither is a recipe for success. Higher authority may require fiscal accountability, but fleet commanders still should give each unit a generous standing "advance," with the understanding that expenditures will be documented and any excess funds periodically returned.
As a longer term issue, engagement and crisis response capabilities should be considered in ship acquisition as an adjunct to the current warfighting focus in the Required Operational Capability/Projected Operating Environment process. We should not compromise warfighting capabilities, but we should identify desirable features to enhance utility across the full range of likely missions. Designers should incorporate those that prove practical.
Our continued reliance on the large cylindrical bow sonar array developed more than 30 years ago, for example, results in most surface combatants having drafts well in excess of 30 feet. This places many ports around the world out of reach, and requires anchoring out in numerous others, seriously hampering engagement opportunities. No naval officer would argue against a capable active sonar, but one might legitimately ask whether on the cusp of the 21st century we couldn't produce a satisfactory conformal array that could reduce draft requirements.
If we are serious about our responsibilities in all three mission pillars, these kinds of issues merit attention. But they pale compared to the larger responsibility incumbent on our leaders—to protect our force structure from further cuts. For several years strategic thinkers have realized that forward presence requirements for engagement and crisis response may yield naval force requirements at least equal to, if not in excess of, the postulated two major-theater-war scenario. The QDR even acknowledged this, although the bottom-line reductions it proposed look a lot like they are just fair shared across the board. Our fleet today is a bare-bones force. Any further cuts and we will not be able to execute our missions. Strident voices, ranging from junior officers, to former Secretary of the Navy James Webb, to congressmen, are critical of our leaders for accepting cuts without a significant fight.
The United States is a maritime nation with no credible military threat on our continent. Our primary security interest is peace and stability in key regions overseas. Except for a few static trouble spots such as Korea, where the Navy plays a key albeit supporting role, mobile naval forces provide the bulk of peacetime engagement and crisis response, as well as enabling follow-on warfighting efforts. Given constrained resources, there is no better use of the taxpayers' money than general-purpose naval units that fulfill legitimate missions across the range of diplomatic and military activity. It may not be politically correct in an age of jointness and consensus building, but when future cuts loom, as they will, Navy leaders must stand up for what they know to be right.
If we do not make engagement a more significant focus in what we do, from top to bottom, we soon will have neither the quality people nor the platforms that we would need to fight wars—and wars there will be if we abrogate our forward presence and global leadership responsibilities. The costs of engagement are modest, particularly in comparison to the eventual price to be paid for isolationism. Warfighting capabilities are, and will remain, a critical foundation of the Navy, but we must not fail to recognize and execute our professional responsibilities in all three pillars of the nation's security strategy.
Commander Glazier is a surface warfare officer with tours in political-military affairs on the staff of the Pacific Fleet and Seventh Fleet Commanders, as well as a Joint Chiefs of Staff internship. He has served at sea in three destroyers and a cruiser and entered the surface command pipeline in April 1999.