History has seldom recorded the continued survival of two great powers standing in close proximity and in open competition with each other. The conclusive accession of the Greek world resulted in the destruction of the Persian Empire by Alexander the Great. Similarly, it was the final destruction of the African city of Carthage in the Third Punic War that resolved the question of Roman supremacy in the then “known” world. In modern times, the dictum of the victorious Allied Powers that Germany must succumb to “unconditional surrender” was but a further expression of the historical truth that the method whereby the victorious power or powers assure survival is through the deliberate destruction of the enemy’s competitive status, if by competitive status is meant a nation’s ability to wage war on terms equal or superior to those of any possible adversary.
In any event, the issue in the contest between two such competing powers eventually becomes a question of survival. As such, the ultimate elimination of the competitive position of the vanquished is implied. That is, each of the protagonists must have as its objective the destruction, or elimination, of the competitive status of the other. Friedrich Ratzel, a German professor at the University of Munich who was among the first to present the world with a systematic treatment of political geography, summarized the doctrine of survival in this absolute manner: “There is on this small planet sufficient space for only one great state.”
The great power which fails to recognize and accept this historical possibility as a premise of its defense policy places itself at a decided disadvantage by surrendering the initiative in world power considerations to its adversary. Since 1945 the United States has come more and more to the realization that it is engaged in such a struggle of survival with the Soviet Union. Ultimately, either the United States or the USSR may be compelled to succumb, one to the other—implying, in fact, an acceptance of a reduced status, a concession of will, and a reduction or complete loss of freedom of action.
At this point we have the three distinct qualities, or capabilities, which the United States military machine—national defense system—must possess if it is to be ready to accomplish what may be expected of it: (1) the capability to win an all-out war of survival, and not only to win such a war involving the destruction of the competitive potential of the enemy, but also to prevent the destruction of the United States, (2) the capability to win positional wars and thereby promote or preserve the relative power status of the United States and the Free World, (3) the deterrent capability sufficient to discourage Soviet military aggression.
Additionally, we have recorded that the United States is committed to a policy of meeting the competitive status of its enemy— assuring U. S. survival—by peaceful, nonbelligerent means. This requires that we, the professional military, dedicate ourselves to the development of a national defense system —war-winning capability—which the enemy cannot and will not challenge.
The Missile Age
In this context, we proceed to examine the probable nature of strategic military force in the Missile Age. The Intercontinental Ballistic Missile represents the culmination of a Soviet program which was designed to circumvent United States sea and air supremacy in the strategic warfare arena. It is a weapon which was created to strike directly at the United States’ competitive potential and to undermine the Free World alliance system. Its mission is to frighten us and to frighten our allies. If we fail to recognize the essential purpose and nature of this challenge, we surely stand to lose what remaining power advantage we have and thereby forfeit the survival struggle. The issue in the Missile Age then becomes: how shall the United States cope with this threat?
A recent report made by Panel II of the Rockefeller Special Studies Project, International Security, the Military Aspect, provides the following clue:
“Within a very short time, a major role in both offense and defense will be played by missiles. It will be possible to produce missiles of almost any desired range, from very short distances analogous to traditional artillery to intercontinental ranges of five thousand miles or more. Because these weapons require less extensive installations than airplanes, it will be possible to disperse and protect them more easily and they will therefore be less vulnerable to surprise attack. . . .
“Submarines, already extremely powerful weapons, will be even more important as nuclear propulsion comes to play an ever greater role. They can imperil our harbors and our sea communications with friendly nations. As a platform for missiles they can pose a constant threat of a sudden, devastating blow from unpredictable directions.
“These are not dreams of the far distant future. Many of these weapons are in existence now; even the most remote among them is attainable within the time frame of this report by both the U.S. and the Soviet Union.”
In the past, as new weapons have become available to our national arsenal, it has been the practice to add them to existing structures of our defense force and to use them in more or less traditional ways. If we continue to adhere to that practice in implementing the missile into our national armament of military force, there is a grave danger that we shall fail to obtain the full value of that weapon. Long range, five thousand-mile missiles, to be launched from sites based in the U. S., are not the answer to the Soviet ICBM threat! It is the first thesis of this essay that a full scale marriage of seapower and missiles, strategic as well as tactical, will provide the United States with the best system of military force in the Missile Age. . . a system that will possess the fullest capacity for the accomplishment of the three roles outlined at the close of the preceding section, and a system that, as we shall see, our enemy is hard-pressed to challenge. Specifically, I suggest that the U. S. national defense system in the missile age should utilize sea-based missile power as the base of its strategic deterrent force.
(1) Sea-based missile power can provide the force that will win a full scale war of survival by destroying the competitive potential of the enemy. Sea-based nuclear warhead missile carrying platforms (ships), surface and subsurface, can roam the seas ready to strike at the very heart of the Soviet Union in the event of such a war. This capability will not be just an important tactical fact, it foretells a revolution in the traditional concepts of strategic warfare. Under the impact of sea-based missile destructiveness, exerted directly against the heartland of continental land masses, the very cornerstones of traditional geopolitics crumble. The United States must stand ready to adapt its military force system accordingly.
(2) It would be an exaggeration to assert that seapower of itself can win positional wars. Nevertheless, due to the U. S. island geographic situation, it is valid to observe that the positional wars which we may be called upon to fight in the furtherance of national objectives can only be won provided that our sea communications are maintained intact. This once again places the emphasis upon sea- based power in the second role or capacity which is required of the military force system of the United States.
(3) As to the third role, the deterrent requirement, it is axiomatic that if a deterrent force is to sustain its capability, it must be a force of such a nature that it could not be wiped out by a sudden, all-out surprise attack. No other military force system now realistically foreseen can satisfy this requirement as adequately as sea-based missile power. It can possess not only the necessary destructive capability but can be made virtually immune to surprise attack.
Before moving on to a more detailed analysis of the application of seapower in the missile age, let it be noted that the significance of missile age seapower has not escaped the Soviets. The following summary, taken from the previously cited report of Panel II of the Rockefeller Committee, is illuminating:
“The Soviet Union now has the second largest navy in the world and since World War II has produced more vessels of every type, except aircraft carriers, than the United States. The Soviet Union has long concentrated on submarines. A fleet of well over 400 is already in operation. This number is greatly in excess of the German force which severely menaced Allied surface shipping during the early years of World War II. There is no doubt about the capacity of the U.S.S.R. to develop naval atomic power plants, or to adapt ships and submarines to launch short- and medium-range missiles; in fact, Soviet leaders have pointedly discussed the vulnerability of the United States to such attacks. The magnitude of the threat becomes clear when it is realized that 43 of our 50 largest cities and 85 per cent of our industry are located within 500 miles of our coasts. Missile launching submarines are the Soviet equivalent of our overseas air bases.”
In this report, we are given clear warning that the Soviet Union cannot be expected to sit complacently by while the United States makes use of the sea as a means to defeat her. The United States is indeed being challenged for control of the seas. This brings us to the second, and final, thesis of this essay: with the advent of the missile as the primary method of delivering the destructive force of the atom, command of the seas will become the most significant single factor in world power-relationship considerations.
Sea-Based Missile Power
The U. S. decision in the atomic age to base its retaliatory force on land-based aircraft of the Strategic Air Command was logically predicated on two of the cornerstones of modern day geopolitical theory: (1) that sea-based airpower could not operate effectively against the interior of the great continental mass of Europe-Asia and (2) that land-based air power was inherently superior to sea-based.
Against those two considerations, let us investigate the nature of sea-based missile power as we can expect it to evolve in the missile age. Present indications are that its synthesis will be a result of the combination of three post World War II technological advances: (1) the atomic or hydrogen bomb, (2) nuclear-powered launching platforms, and (3) nuclear warhead-carrying missiles of intermediate and intercontinental range.
The atomic bomb was admittedly a product of World War II; however, its impact as a strategic weapon in world power relationship has taken place since World War II. For that reason it is appropriate to consider it along with other postwar developments. In addition, the above conclusion does not limit sea- based missile-carrying capabilities to weapons of intermediate (1500-2000 mi.) range. Weapons now in development, including the much publicized Polaris, are reputed to be of such an “intermediate range”; however, it is contrary to the normal historical pattern of weapon development to conclude that sea-based missiles, perhaps grandchildren of the Polaris, will not eventually carry as much pay-load in destructiveness, as far, as fast, and as deviously, as their land-based brothers. In short, it is to be expected that as operational missiles of intercontinental range come into being, they will be adapted for launching from the sea as well as from the land. Such a capability foretells the day when sea-based missile power will not be confined in its effectiveness to the peripheral seas around the great continental land mass of Europe-Asia, but will be able to strike directly against the heart of that land mass from the vast expanses of the Pacific, Atlantic, and Indian Oceans!
Observe, however, that it is not necessary that sea-based missile power possess every capability of the land-based counterpart. It is only necessary that it possess sufficient capability to carry out its mission—the destruction of the competitive potential of the enemy. Concede, if you choose, certain limitations upon the nature of sea-based missile power, such limitations do not diminish the fact that missiles already in development hold out the promise of being able to accomplish that mission. Polaris-armed submarines, operating in the peripheral seas—Arctic, Sea of Okhotsk, Sea of Japan, and even the Baltic— will have the capability to strike directly against the important strategic targets of the Soviet Union. The United States has yet to acknowledge fully this application of sea power.
Under the impact of sea-based missile destructiveness exerted directly against the heartland of continental land masses, the first cornerstone of traditional geopolitics is repudiated!
Turning now to the second cornerstone—it is submitted that sea-based missile power possesses certain inherent advantages over land-based missile power:
(1) Sea-based missile power possesses a higher degree of immunity from sudden, calculated, enemy surprise attack.
(2) Sea forces are generally less vulnerable to enemy sabotage and espionage. In our wide-open democracy, this is becoming increasingly important.
(3) Land-based missile power cannot be directed against the sea as effectively as sea-based missile power can be directed against the land. This is merely to observe that the land-based nuclear warhead missile is much less efficient when turned against moving targets, if, indeed, it can be turned against them at all.
(4) Mobility: The sea continues to provide the cheapest and easiest means for transporting heavy and large loads. Land-based missiles, regardless of size, can never incorporate the degree of mobility and concealment which is possible at sea. Indeed, the mobility- potential of the sea covers 70% of the surface of the earth. This, in itself, is a degree of dispersion which cannot be duplicated by the combined facilities of the entire Free World—or the Communist World. To this mobility advantage is added the natural concealment which is afforded the ace in the hole—the submersible launching platform—the submarine! And, dispersal at sea is not dependent upon the acquiescence of others.
(5) The last, and the most important, advantage of sea-based missile power: the elusive launching platform which moves about, on and under the sea, does not invite enemy attack upon the homeland—that which is being defended from destruction—as do missile sites and air bases that are land-based in the United States or on the soil of America’s allies.
The gain to the United States and the Free World alliance system which can be realized under this last advantage is almost unlimited. Any political administration is duty bound to take this factor into account when establishing national policies and assigning military missions. Political or military leaders who ignore or avoid the problem of preventing unnecessary destruction of the homeland may expect that they will ultimately be rejected by those whom they would defend. The dangerous fact is that this rejection may not be brought about until the crisis of full-scale nuclear war becomes imminent, thus producing a last minute rejection of the established land-based missile armament with a corresponding loss of the power advantage.
When this notion is carried over further into a consideration of the attitude of our allies who, to a large extent, are expected to provide bases for U. S. land-based deterrent power, the possibility for great gain through a sea-based deterrent force becomes even more apparent. How much stronger would be an alliance system which is based upon a mutual dedication to strengthen the Free World through the maintenance of a mobile, geographic, sea-based deterrent force; rather than a system which is vulnerable to the destruction that would result should the enemy choose to strike at the land-based missile sites or air bases. The difference is as the difference between taking a negative or a positive approach to defense. For, in the final analysis, the Soviet competitive status is dependent upon its ability to convince the rest of the world that it can survive a nuclear war against the United States and still have sufficient strength remaining to be able to turn toward world domination. Sea-based missile power can guarantee the world that the Soviet war machine would not survive such a war.
It is in this sense that sea-based missile power assumes its full and rightful place not only as a superior weapons system, but also as a positive program of geopolitical significance which can restore the confidence of the Free World alliance system!
Missile Age Geopolitics
What of the Soviet challenge for control of the seas? We cannot ignore it, neither can we belittle it! For, the inevitable consequence of one nation’s determination to build a sea- based strategic missile system is that it will be writing simultaneously a new chapter in the history of strategic military geography—geopolitics.
From Friedrich Ratzel (1844-1904) down to the recent U. S. Policy of containment, sea- power has been accorded an indirect role in the traditional geopolitical world power considerations. That concept has evolved into two distinct uses of seapower as an instrument against the great world island of Eurasia: (1) the control of the sea for the purpose of controlling the sea commerce of the world, and (2) the control of the peripheral seas around the “world island” in order to afford mobility of action against the “rim- land” and thereby maintain at least a balance of power between the rimland powers and the heartland powers.
The Air Age has perpetuated this concept. Some would contend that it should be otherwise. Nevertheless, it is the verdict of the Air Age that sea-based air power cannot operate as effectively against the heartland of the world island as can land-based air power, and that land-based air power possesses certain inherent advantages over sea-based air power.
The missile, however, promises to be a very different “bird” from the airplane. Once it is launched, it need not be recovered. If it is to be the verdict of the Missile Age that the above two conclusions are to be reversed, as this essay contends, then we have reached a thesis that is portentous indeed. For in the face of such a verdict, he who controls the seas is afforded, the opportunity to strike with relative immunity against any square of real estate in the world. As a consequence, to the two traditional roles of seapower must be added a third: that of attacking the competitive potential of the enemy, wherever it may be, even in the heart-land of the great world island.
The facts of military and political geography greatly favor the United States and the rest of the Free World Alliance System should they choose to wage the “survival” struggle on precisely the premise contained in this new role of seapower. We enter any contest over the utilization of the seas as strategic missile-launching sites with a natural, geographic advantage over our enemy. The United States, being ideally located, possesses absolute, unlimited access to the seas of the world, while the potential enemy is landlocked, ice-bound, and further hampered by internal geographic factors. In addition, we can call upon strategically situated, sea- minded allies to assist in the objective. We can, ourselves, contribute the benefit of 175 years of sea know-how and tradition, backed up by a maritime and naval industrial capacity that is without parallel anywhere else in the world.
In order to cash in on these advantages in the Missile Age, the United States has but to embark upon a positive defense policy based upon the straightforward acquisition of an uncontestable advantage through a system of sea-based, strategic, missile power. Such a system holds out the promise of being able to fulfill each of the three requirements, or capabilities, that are demanded of it by the enemy competitive status: (1) the capability to win an all-out war of survival, and not only to win such a war involving the destruction of the competitive potential of the enemy, but also to prevent the destruction of the United States, (2) the capability to win positional wars and thereby promote or preserve the relative power status of the United States and the Free World, (3) the deterrent capability sufficient to discourage Soviet military aggression. Further, such a system possesses inherent advantages over any corollary land- based system. Finally, such a system incorporates the advantages of mobile seapower toward a realization of the full potential of man’s newest weapon of mass destruction— the strategic missile.
Historians of future generations will, no doubt, be inclined to pass judgment upon the manner in which the United States responds to the challenge of the Missile Age. From the vantage point of their perspective, unimpeded by crisis thinking and crash programs, they will, most surely, reflect with incredulity upon the behavior of an historical, geographically blessed seapower that unimaginatively adopts the weapons system of its landlocked enemy!
With the fervent hope that we are not already irrevocably committed in our national armory to the stockpiling of the wrong weapons system, the writer submits the two theses which have been developed in this essay—not on the theory that they have been proved, for perhaps only time will do that, but on the theory that they have been shown to be sufficiently plausible as to merit further scrutiny and argument:
(1) The United States has but to recognize the decisiveness of a sea-based strategic missile system and to effectively pursue such a program, in order to best answer the threat of the Russian ICBM.
(2) As the missile becomes the principal means of delivering the destructive force of the atom and as this tremendous destructive capability is married to seapower, command of the sea becomes the essential military objective in geopolitical power-relationships throughout the world.