When Secretary of the Navy Gates issued the latest revision of the “Key West Agreement”* in 1959, he stated: “A thorough study of the ‘Functions Paper’ ... by all officers is necessary for the proper understanding of the role of naval forces in our national defense.”
Recently I asked a large number of lieutenants how many of them had read the Functions Paper. Not a single man raised his hand. A group of commanders and captains did very little better. It is apparent from this and other evidence that naval officers in general do not have an appreciation of what the Key West Agreement is and how it affects all of us.
A wider knowledge of the Functions Paper is necessary to present understanding of the role of naval forces in our national defense, as Secretary Gates stated. But it is also vital to those concerned about the Navy’s future. I believe it is not enough for us to confine ourselves to articles and speeches extolling the virtues of seapower, pointing out that “the world is 70 per cent water,” and so on. This tends to smack of “preaching to the converted”—much too easy a task. What we need is a planned campaign to establish these virtues in the minds of our national leaders: political, military, and civilian. To those who will conduct this campaign I say this: Study the Key West Agreement; your efforts to advance the cause of seapower will inevitably become concerned with the philosophy behind this document. For here is concentrated the very essence of service positions, struggles for power, maneuvers over the budget, and opposing views on national strategy.
The most persuasive argument that the Key West Agreement needs revision comes from considering its background. When James Forrestal, the first Secretary of Defense, dragged the reluctant Joint Chiefs of Staff down to Key West with him in 1948, he had no intention of freezing the services into a form which could not be altered. He demanded agreement then and there on roles and missions because he was worried about the international situation. Almost alone among the government leaders, Forrestal saw trouble ahead. He was anxious to get his three services into some sort of shape to be usable immediately.
It must be admitted that for Forrestal’s purpose the Key West Agreement worked reasonably well. But the procedure he used could only result in agreement on the least common denominator level. It should not surprise us that the Chiefs finally issued a text consisting in the main of a recitation of the capabilities each service had displayed in the lately ended World War II and pointed at fighting another such war against our most likely enemy—the U.S.S.R. Subsequent testimony by the Joint Chiefs during the so-called “B-36 Investigation” supports this view. All eyes were on the chosen antagonist. It was the proper doctrine, the reasoned estimate, the thing to do. What actually happened was the Korean War. It is disappointing that the Key West Agreement gives validity to the often-heard criticism about the military always preparing to fight the next war like the last one. More important, this evident failing of the Agreement—standing uncorrected year after year—is an open invitation to tinkering by “experts” outside the services. True, there have been changes, most notably in 1958. But the basic pattern of Key West is still there.
Unquestionably, Forrestal would have thoroughly disapproved of this situation. In the original Agreement there is a paragraph which I like to think came from the Secretary himself. It was an admirable statement of the necessity of keeping roles and missions on a flexible basis. But it is disturbing that it somehow disappeared during the revision of 1958. Paragraph six of the section entitled “Principles” read as follows:
6. Technological developments, variations in the availability of manpower and natural resources, changing economic conditions, and changes in the world politico-military situation may dictate the. desirability of changes in the present assignment of specific functions and responsibilities to the individual services. This determination and the initiation of implementing action are the responsibility of the Secretary of Defense.
Who would deny that every condition mentioned above has changed since 1948? Yet the Key West Agreement remains essentially static. There is no doubt that it is not suited to limited war, coalition strategy, nuclear holocaust, or advanced strategy growing out of nuclear stalemate.
How does one go about revising the Functions Paper? It is not just a matter of what each service wishes to do. Too many people do not realize when they talk of roles and missions for the services that much more fundamental questions are involved. A revision is meaningless until it has come to grips with these basic problems.
To begin with, it is fundamental that roles and missions should be in consonance with the strategic concept they are expected to carry out. The fact that the Key West Agreement is necessarily unclassified prohibits explicitly stating the strategic concept within it. Nevertheless, the concept is there. A good deal of discussion on the subject, particularly in public print, suffers from failure to appreciate this point.
Another principle is that strategic concepts should stem from national objectives. Thus we are led immediately to the heart of the matter—where we see that much more is involved than service positions. What are our national interests and objectives? Or rather, what will they be in the future? Books have been written on this subject; it is much too large to go into here. But ideas about revision of the Agreement must be guided by a statement of national interests and objectives. Differing statements of national objectives will require their own revisions of the Functions Paper. This is a most important point. Revisions of the Key West Agreement or proposals for reorganizing the Department of Defense are never complete until they have shown how they support the national interests and objectives.
If we are concerned with future national interests and objectives, then roles and missions also should be pointed to the future; they should be aligned to the future role of force in international affairs. This wording is chosen advisedly. Roles and missions of the Armed Forces should not be aligned to a policy of “deterring aggression,” or “defending the United States and the Free World,” or “retaliation against any aggressor.” Such phrases are more suited to the politician than to the military strategist.
I find no basis for hope that force will not continue to be a major factor in international affairs. Situations of conflict have not diminished; rather does the evidence point to increasing tensions. For example, the growth of populations is almost certain to cause clashes. And the conflict between the “haves and have-nots” will increase in intensity as the less fortunate peoples press harder for a share of the world’s resources, now so largely used by only a few nations. Violence in this area becomes more probable as the resolution of the Western peoples who now command these resources declines.
In the field loosely called “ideology” lie the seeds of possible conflict unless one side or the other loses its conviction of the superiority of its system. Hope is often expressed that Communism will undergo modification as the defects of its obsolete doctrine become more apparent to an evolving Soviet society. But it is possible to argue that the West will be the side to abandon its convictions in this matter. If neither of these eventualities comes about, a clash becomes certain. The blood that flowed in Hungary makes this clear. Some day we ourselves will have to stand up and be counted.
If the use of force in the future is probable, what form will it take? The realities of the nuclear age are fundamental to this question. It is certain that nuclear armaments will evolve in the direction of “invulnerable nuclear retaliatory capacity of devastating scope.” If nuclear capacity is truly invulnerable, and this is the key word, an atomic exchange inevitably results in devastation for both sides. One can scarcely escape the conclusion that such a situation may very well increase the use of force in international affairs.
Clearly, if a nation knows that the use of massive atomic attack against an enemy will result in devastating return fire, such use becomes impossible except as an extreme act of desperation. Hence, the use of force in international affairs at a level calculated to be well below that which would drive an enemy to the wall becomes completely free of the risk of retaliation. It is clear that the Free World must place itself in a posture to take advantage of this situation and not let it go by default to our enemies. Already there are ominous signs that the Soviets have commenced feeling their way into this era of strategy ahead of us.
It is obvious that the evolution of major nuclear armaments is making such weapons less and less usable as instruments of policy in any situation short of national desperation. While realization of this fact is becoming more widespread, there is considerable reluctance in certain quarters to accept the deductions to be drawn from it. A great deal has been written about these matters. Here I can state only the policies that are undoubtedly needed for the future:
1) Our policy must be to insure that nuclear retaliatory forces are not used by either side.
The second policy follows from the first:
2) Because of the danger that “tactical” nuclear use will expand to all-out exchange, we must insure that nuclear weapons are not used in any manner.
These policies do not mean atomic disarmament. Our forces must have nuclear weapons and be trained in using them. But they should be employed only as a force-in- being to serve as a deterrent against nuclear attack.
This is a reversal of present policies and arms developments. These tend to commit us to the use of atomic weapons for lack of anything else. This trend must be stopped. And saying “our policy must be to insure that nuclear retaliatory forces are not used by either side” does not mean that we can stop at a pious statement of intentions. It means exactly what it says—insure they are not used. The seeking of ways to “insure” most be active, encompassing all the tools of diplomacy, subversion, propaganda, military pressure, and any others that can be imagined.
It is important to distinguish between our approach and that of the Soviets. Nuclear disarmament is the stated goal of the U.S.S.R. Our goal should be that nuclear weapons will not be used, though remaining available as the ultimate rein on Soviet ambitions. Realistically, disarmament of any type must wait on the day when the Communist world has governments responsive to the will of the people in the manner of Western democracies. Only then can we try the great task of putting the Genie back in the lamp.
Discussion of so-called “limited war” has assumed the proportions of an intellectual fad since we suddenly and unexpectedly found ourselves involved in Korea in 1950, The trouble with abstract theories of limited war is this: contrary to such theories, we seem to have established within our own country a black and white propaganda picture that “we are against ‘war’ and for ‘peace.’ ” Taken at face value, such an attitude effectively bars the use of force to maintain our own interests in any situation short of national survival. No course of action is more certain in the long run to bring on a nuclear holocaust than this. Fortunately, our national leadership realizes that such a policy is not matched to reality: witness our actions in Korea, the Formosa Straits, and Lebanon. As far as roles and missions go, it is already past time to realign them with the policies we have followed and evidently expect to follow in the future. We must put our forces in shape to be used effectively when our national interest requires it.
The fundamental national interests are usually stated as the security of the nation and the preservation of our way of life. The fundamental national objective, then, is to protect these interests. These statements are open to the objection that they sound purely defensive. Is there a basis for proposing a more positive program? I believe there is.
The possible sources of conflict in the world of the future have already been referred to. There appears to be no doubt such conflicts will occur unless forward-looking, forceful programs are undertaken to deal with the roots of the trouble and keep it within bounds. Such programs require leadership. What country will provide it? For an American there can be only one answer; it must be the land dedicated to freedom and the dignity of the individual, not the land where man is the slave of a dictatorial state. This is the real basis of the conflict between the United States and the U.S.S.R. Simply stated, it is either we or they. The national objective given above seems insufficient without adding a positive program for asserting U. S. world leadership and reducing the power and influence of the Soviet slave empire.
I cannot escape feeling that the fundamental cause of much of the dissatisfaction with the organization of the Department of Defense and the roles and missions of the services is a widespread realization that much of our present effort is misdirected. Our political situation and our prevailing climate of opinion may cause us to withhold unequivocal statements of national purpose like that recommended. In spite of these difficulties, our planners should be free to proceed with a clear picture of the nature of affairs. It is the Soviet Union that has generated the present struggle. We have every right to take any and all measures to frustrate their designs and to insure their future inability to carry out such schemes.
It should be noted that the suggested change in national objectives is not a call to arms, an advocacy of preventive war, or any such action. Rather it is a call for a realistic assessment of the weaknesses of the Soviet position and a resolute exploitation of these weaknesses, using all parts of our strength in their appropriate roles. It may well be that the planned action will indicate emphasis on economic rather than military strength, or suggest actions more appropriate to the Central Intelligence Agency. Such planning will recognize the realities of the situation. The spectrum of conflict now goes on at many levels, with no precise delineation between peace and war. In this murky situation, where the main antagonists never clash directly, where moves and counter-moves may make sense only years later, we must be able to use all the tools of modern conflict. Subversion, “liberation armies,” “volunteers,” covert forces, indigenous forces—all these may be needed, along with bold diplomacy, instantly- ready armed forces, exploitation of our economic power, exploitation of our command of the seas. And always in the background would be the restraining force of the ultimate weapons. It is a large program. But anything less will surely lead to our own decline as the Red Star climbs higher.
The conclusion is inescapable that the whole range of future use of force divides itself into two tasks, as follows:
1. Provide a nuclear striking capability which is sufficiently invulnerable to surprise attack by an enemy to retain the capability of devastating that enemy’s homeland if ordered to do so.
2. Under the shield provided by the presence of invulnerable nuclear capability of devastating scope, provide forces which can be used to support the national interests and objectives as required in action short of general nuclear war.
A somewhat similar thought is contained in current analyses of the situation which recommend that forces be divided into “strategic” and “tactical” groupings along fairly rigid lines. But the semantics of this problem have been misleading commentators on strategy for years. Clearly there is nothing strategic about killing a man by dropping a bomb on his head; much less by doing the job sitting in an underground “silo” and pressing a button. Such a procedure is purely a tactical matter in execution. It would be well if everyone understood there is no connection between “strategy” and the artificially-created definition of “strategic air warfare.”
I think that a different approach than the strategic/tactical split is more useful. Such forces are not specifically aligned to uphold the national interests; the national interests are upheld by performing military tasks. The two major tasks given above have the nature of basic principles. They are not suited to breaking down into service assignment in this form. Let us separate them into two categories: defensive tasks, and offensive tasks. Then let us expand these into a form suitable for assignment as major responsibilities of the separate services. It should be emphasized, lest old habit cause trouble, that this assignment is not one of “primary interest.” Rather it is a list suited to guide the Secretary of Defense, to co-ordinate research and development programs, to select unified and specified commanders, and to establish major budget priorities within each service. Indeed, it can be seen that none of the tasks can be performed properly without inclusion of elements of other services. Provision for doing this must be made in the detailed text of the Key West Agreement.
Defensive Tasks. Under this heading I place the nuclear strike capability. Traditionalists may object to this assignment. Our nuclear striking forces have long been considered, by their partisans at least, as the nation’s prime offensive capability. But clearly this is not so. The realities of future nuclear developments will prevent their use except as an act of national desperation, as the last possible defense against final defeat. Their presence is necessary primarily to deter the enemy from using this weapon against us. To complete the picture, this concept must be made viable by realistic preparation for the awesome possibility that such forces might be used, thus confronting the enemy with a maximum of deterrent posture. The tasks and their assignment then break down into three parts:
1. To provide invulnerable nuclear cap
ability of sufficient scope to devastate any enemy country…Air Force
2. To provide . defense against major
nuclear attack against the United States…Air Force
3. To provide a military component as necessary for civil defense to insure the survival of as much as possible of the national resources in case of nuclear attack…Army
Offensive Tasks. The second of our two general tasks is labeled the “offensive” portion. Let there be no mistake about this. The strategic concept does envisage the use of armed force to uphold the national interests. It is not because the military seeks it, but because careful analysis of the future indicates very strongly that such use will be required. In particular, it may be most desirable to prevent any particular situation from degenerating into a major threat to the national existence. Our prior actions in Korea, Lebanon, and the Far East show how necessary this can be. The difficulty of implementing this concept in such a country as the Unite States has previously been commented upon. Fundamentally, it is a political problem. My concern here is to see that the armed forces are so organized that they will be ready for use when necessary. The tasks under this heading are:
1) To provide ready armed forces to
support the policies of the United States as and when required; such forces to be of a nature which makes their use as politically acceptable as possible…Navy
2) To provide Special Forces of a paramilitary nature for use as required in situations favorable to their employment…Army
3) To be prepared to control such land, sea, air, and space areas as may be necessary in the national interest.
Air and Space…Air Force
This is the point where our proposed new guidance should be used to test each present function in turn to determine what changes should be made. This is much too large an order for this article, but let me show how this would affect certain functions of interest to the Navy.
First, I believe the word “war” should be removed from the Functions Paper completely. The dividing line between war and peace now being difficult to determine, it is essential that the roles and missions reflect this view. Accomplishing this would in itself place service thinking on a more flexible basis. It is discouraging that the 1958 revision more than doubled the number of times the word “war” was used.
In the original text of the National Security Act, as well as in the Key West Agreement, each service is admonished to organize, train, and equip forces for “prompt and sustained” combat operations. I believe the words “prompt and sustained” should be deleted. The degree of readiness and depth of logistic back-up for each service should be a matter for determination by the Joint Chiefs of Staff. This is particularly true because of the great influence such matters have on the budget. At our present level of funding, all capabilities cannot be kept at their peak. For instance, the Navy has no inshore capability worth mentioning. And the Air Force is not prepared to carry out its collateral functions. The point is that when new tasks are deduced to match changing conditions, budget priorities may also change.
The words “prompt and sustained” have been used by the Army to work for provision of instantly ready forces of considerable size, a “global fire brigade.” Historically this is a new development for the Army, as is the present-day necessity of more ready forces for all services. However, I believe the Army should be relieved of any pressure to furnish the ready emergency force for the nation. As shown in the task list above, this should be a responsibility of the Navy, specifically the Marine Corps.
The key to this recommendation is found in the advocacy of a more positive strategy to counter and eventually to reduce the power and influence of the Soviet Union. Such a course may very well develop situations in which the executive branch of our government will require the prompt use of force in a limited area in a way which is politically acceptable to our own citizenry. The superior acceptability of the Navy and Marine Corps in International Law and in public opinion is well established. Historically, the massing of an Army has been the traditional prelude to war. And in the future we will not wage war: we will engage in “police actions,” “uphold the United Nations,” “come to the aid of a threatened country,” “restore order,” and the like. Think about this for a minute. Have we not already done all of these things?
What this boils down to is that the realities of the future point very strongly towards our use of “peripheral strategy” in any action to support the national interest. This is the traditional role of the Navy, and in this field it is pre-eminent. As in other major tasks, there is room for inclusion of support from the other services. But this assignment requires that the Navy concentrate its energies and abilities in this field. I feel that we in the Navy have neglected peripheral strategy in the years since World War II. There are many facets of it that need re-exploring in the light of modern conditions.
To complete this idea, the function of the Navy must be changed to remove the restriction of using Marines solely “to conduct such land operations as may be essential to the prosecution of a naval campaign.” This also requires a change in the National Security Act. I shudder to think of the arguing and maneuvering that an attempt to do this will bring about. But we must face the situation squarely. We must have usable forces. Who doubts that if we have trouble again as we did in Korea and Lebanon we will send for the Marines? Yet those actions were contrary to the Key West Agreement. I do not think it is proper that we should slide along, ignoring the Agreement when necessity dictates. When circumstances plainly point to the roles and missions being changed, they should be changed. Such is the situation in this case.
I referred previously in the list of six major military tasks to the idea that the service assignment given there must not become a claim of “primary interest.” In fact, none of the tasks can be performed properly without inclusion of elements of other services. The Secretary of Defense should not hesitate to make such assignments when necessary. To assist him in this resolution, a function should be included in certain cases, directing that a service not named in the primary list participate “as directed by the Secretary of Defense.” This establishes a claim on service talent and funds, not to the extent the service desires, but as determined by the Secretary. This wording is chosen rather than the former phrasing: “ ... in accordance with doctrines established by the Joint Chiefs of Staff.” Of course, the Secretary of Defense would seek the advice of the Joint Chiefs. But, if they fail to agree, the road should be clear for him to settle the matter himself.
Specifically, I am referring here to Navy participation in the deterrent forces required by the first defensive task; although it applies as well to Army participation in static air defense and some other matters.
Under this concept, the Secretary of Defense is permitted to direct the apportionment of naval resources to the provision of deterrent forces. It would appear that the state of weapon development makes such an action desirable at the present time. Indeed, its developments make participation of any service in this highly important duty desirable, there should be no hesitation about making the assignment. But we must not be blind to the fact that naval involvement in this essentially static duty may well involve diversion of resources from the Navy’s function to provide ready armed forces to support the national interest. The strategic concept envisages the Navy as the active force—used as a visible and ubiquitous power throughout the periphery of the Soviet bloc. If our strategy is sufficiently bold, imaginative, and subtle, it would be the only force used overtly. Such a program is more than enough to absorb all Navy talent and resources.
Contrast the tasks assigned to the Army and Navy with those of the Air Force. The principal guideline here has been to emphasize in the Air Force those defensive tasks which depend to an increasing degree on science and technology. In addition, a function must be written for the Air Force to “operate in space as the state of the art permits, including provision of surveillance and reconnaissance for other Armed Forces and the Department of Defense as directed by the Secretary of Defense,” or words to that effect. This should serve for some years.
It is realized that no service can escape the influence of developing technology on the hardware it uses. Both the Army and the Navy will need ships, aircraft, guided missiles, and equipment of the most advanced types. Yet, except for any compromise on Army participation in static air defense, their equipment will be of the “field use” type. In contrast, the enormously complex fixed installations envisaged for inter-continental missile warfare, space vehicles, and missile defense will be concentrated in the Air Force. An increasing segment of the Air Force will thus become a static entity. I would not wish this kind of future for any member of the military profession; it would be far better if such essentially technical ventures could be contracted to private industry, as some of them are now. Even if this were practicable, there would still be a hard core of military participation required. This participation should be concentrated in one service. Logically, this will eventually lead to assigning the active functions of the Air Force elsewhere. Thus we simultaneously concentrate technical talent on the overlapping technologies of such weapons and free the other two services for a more active role in support of the national interest. Recall here the policy that nuclear retaliatory forces not be used except in desperation.
I am well aware that this recommendation poses problems. Such a concentration of terrible power and massive budget in one service can eventually become a grave political and social danger. I recommend this aspect for earnest consideration if we are to free the other services for a more positive role in national affairs.
Much more needs to be done if the Key West Agreement is to reflect properly the unique contributions seapower can make in supporting the national interest.
A graduate of the U. S. Naval Academy in the Class of 1931, Captain Beebe is also a graduate of the General Line School and of the Naval War College. He holds a master’s degree in political science from Boston University. A naval aviator, he was Commanding Officer, VB-22, and later navigator, in USS Saratoga during World War II. He has subsequently served as Executive Officer, USS Valley Forge, and Commanding Officer, USS Sitkoh Bay. He was chairman of Naval Warfare at the Naval War College, 1957-58.
Captain Beebe retired in June 1961 after a final tour of duty as Director, General Line and Naval Science School, U. S. Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey, California.
*SECNAVINST 5410.85 of 24 February 1959. The full title of this Department of Defense directive is: “Functions of the Department of Defense and Its Major Components.” As the first such Department of Defense directive was written in 1948 at Key West, it is still commonly known as the “Key West Agreement” in spite of the several revisions since that time. It is also called “Roles and Missions.”