Prize Essay 1972
SECOND HONORABLE MENTION
“. . . We are at the end of an era. The postwar order of international relations—the configuration of power that emerged from the Second World War—is gone. With it are gone the conditions which have determined the assumptions and practice of United States foreign policy since 1945.
“No single sudden upheaval marked the end of the post war era in the way that the World Wars of this century shattered the prewar orders of international relations. But the cumulative change since 1945 is profound nonetheless. . . .”
The quarter of a century that began with the end of World War II and extended roughly to 1970 was an era of virtually unchallenged U. S. supremacy in international power. The foundations of that power—which facilitated the accomplishment of both U. S. national security and foreign policy goals—were threefold: nuclear war military supremacy, economic and technological supremacy, and a global military presence. Each of these functioned not only to further U. S. interests throughout most of the world, they also constituted the underpinnings of confidence and mutual commitment which upheld the Western alliance system, sheltering America’s allies until the prosperity and vigor that had been lost as a result of World War II was restored. That era of unchallenged U. S. world power leadership is passing. Each of the three foundations cited above is now under severe stress.
Soviet “parity” in strategic weaponry for general nuclear war is being conceded and legitimized via the Strategic Arms Limitations Talks (SALT). The U. S. global military presence is eroding faster than many will admit—but not fast enough for some Senators who insist upon America’s unilateral withdrawal from Europe. And—while America’s economic and technological strength remains preeminent—it is being challenged on a broad front by friend and foe alike. This pre-eminence, particularly in the vital military technology area, is not assured in the indefinite future.
The Soviet parity in strategic nuclear weapons and much of the erosion of the U. S. global military presence have occurred because of the evolution of circumstances partially beyond our control, but some of these circumstances—the U. S. stand-down in strategic deployment during the past eight years and a growing American indifference to our global military positions—are also of our own doing. The result is a world in which, as the President has said, U. S. foreign and defense policy must rest on a new set of premises.
Under the “sufficiency” criterion of the Nixon Doctrine, nuclear general war deterrence forces are maintained at levels which guarantee that, even should the enemy attack first with his total strategic nuclear forces, the United States would have sufficient survivable strategic nuclear forces to deliver a counterattack that would inflict equally intolerable consequences upon the attacker. It is evident that in this formulation, weapon survivability is a critical aspect of sufficiency, and this has led—albeit belatedly—to a more widespread recognition of the advantages to be gained by sea-based nuclear deterrent systems.
In his 25 February 1971, “State of the World” report to the Congress and to the American people, the President listed a number of nonmilitary manifestations of the new era in the order of international relations: for example, the regained economic vitality, social cohesion, and political self-assurance of the nations that came out of World War II in a shattered condition. The President emphasized that this regained economic vitality is particularly true of Western Europe and Japan, both of which are now capable of doing more in their own defense. In addition, many new nations have gained independence and growing self-confidence. It is noteworthy that these new nations seem to want to face neither East nor West ideologically. (One might observe that their most consistent ideology is nationalism.) Finally, as the President observed in his “State of the World” report, the nature of the monolithic Communist challenge which America and other Free World allies faced in the 1950s has been transformed. It is no longer monolithic and the direction or target of “Communism” is now more ambiguous. As the President reported to the Congress in February 1971: “In the era of Communist solidarity, we pursued an undifferentiated negotiating approach toward Communist countries. In the new era, we see a multipolar Communism marked by a variety of attitudes toward the rest of the world.”
At the same time, the U. S. global presence in the form of bases, forces, and aid and sympathy is being withdrawn, reduced, repudiated by the recipients or the U. S. Congress, and otherwise permitted to expire throughout much of the world. Nevertheless, on the basis of the historical record, serious students of power politics are likely to conclude that there will continue to be situations calling for U. S. global involvement on behalf of our own interests and our remaining commitments to loyal allies—however much America’s current crop of neo-isolationists may wish it otherwise.
It is evident to students of geopolitics that the momentous changes now underway in U. S. foreign policy—propelled both by the Nixon Doctrine and a national disillusionment with global politics—portend an era in which the role of seapower is likely to become more critical to national security and foreign policy interests. The dynamics of this situation have focused attention upon America’s ability—or deteriorating ability, as the case may be—to provide for its national security and foreign policy needs on a global scale that is both within the economic means of this nation and consistent with domestic and international political realities.
The Nixon Doctrine. America’s new foreign policy has been characterized in many ways, ranging from “a return to isolationism,” manifested by charges of withdrawal from commitments, to “a reinvigoration of the Cold War and Containment of the Soviet Union” under a new policy name. A few have suggested that the Nixon Doctrine means surrender to America’s enemies of the past two decades. Some, of course, assert that our new foreign policy is little more than a public relations gimmick.
None of the above explanations are very perceptive. The fundamental break with America’s foreign policy in the recent past, as contained in the Nixon Doctrine, is its emphasis upon the more realistic assumption that foreign policy should be pursued primarily on the basis of national self-interest as perceived in terms of national security and survival, rather than in terms of ideological missionaryism.
“National security and survival” is, in itself, a very broad concept that should encompass all elements of national power, such as economic soundness and strength, technological leadership, political, diplomatic and psychological (national willpower) viability, and, of course, the military dimension. American foreign policy has always been more or less cognizant of these interrelated factors. But the important fact to note here is the departure which the Nixon Doctrine represents from America’s historic foreign policy obsession that it was essential to America’s national security to remake the rest of the world in our own image and convert all peoples to our own system of government. There are many flaws in this historic presumption, not the least being that such a policy has failed to further America’s national security and survival prospects. It should have been evident, long before the U.N. vote on China membership, that America’s policies were creating more antagonism against the United States, or at best disinterested ho-hums on the part of allies who now feel secure, than have these policies actually advanced the “free-world” concept which ideologically governed America’s postwar foreign policy through 1968.
The Nixon Doctrine attempts to come to grip with this condition on a more realistic basis. It is not afraid to view the world in “balance of power” terms rather than the “good guy”/“bad guy” perceptions of the past 25 years. It recognizes that we now live in a world where virtually all ideologies, except perhaps chauvinistic nationalism, have lost much of their previous force. It is a dynamic world with much potential for the shifting of allegiances as national and regional power centers vie for access to the world’s human and material resources. This writer suggests that “victory”—i.e., survival—in such a world is likely to be governed by this “access” criterion.
As one would expect, in this balance of power world of shifting allegiances, international competition loses much of its bipolar character. The number of competing global power centers is on the increase, and the readiness of weaker states to cross ideological lines for political, military or economic gain (self interest) is also more evident.
A balance of power foreign policy world heightens the opportunities for imaginative and creative diplomacy. Indeed, it renders imperative such diplomacy. This kind of diplomacy, in turn, calls for alert and open-minded public support; predicated on a thorough understanding of the balance of power national interests involved.
The President’s China policy, which has generated so much interest of late, is a case in point. Most Americans are aware that China is a nation of considerable importance to the peace of Asia today, but the important fact for all Americans to understand about China is its potential for power and influence not only in Asia, but also throughout the world in the future. We do not yet know the exact goals of the President’s China policy, but one can surmise that they ultimately will include the achievement of a U. S.-China relationship emphasizing shared interests rather than excessive concern over differing governmental systems.
Opportunities for similarly creative diplomacy under the Nixon Doctrine are evident elsewhere—the arms control scene, for example. The Nixon Doctrine emphasizes that this is an “era of negotiation,” setting forth the hope that the present decade may lead to genuine detente between East and West. The negotiation portion of the Nixon Doctrine is a consistent extension of the balance of power realities cited earlier. We seek greater participation by other countries—particularly, but not exclusively, our allies—in the formulation of policies affecting the peace of the world and the enrichment of human life via the development of the world’s human and material resources. Perhaps the latter clause should now define the Free World. Such a definition, for example, could include Yugoslavia, Romania, perhaps China, and many others, as well as the traditional Free World grouping of the past.
In spite of the hard realism bespoken by the Nixon Doctrine, vestiges of America’s missionary-like foreign policy remain. As this essay is being written, in November 1971, the U. S. Senate is engaged in a debate over the future of America’s foreign aid program. One block of Senators—some of the same who undercut U. S. policy in Vietnam—now argue that their particular standards and opinions, concerning the policies and political systems of U. S. aid recipients, should be the controlling criteria.
Their standards would rule out some of America’s most steadfast allies. This is a retreat from the realities of the present world environment. The application of this kind of a morality test to foreign policy is a luxury only affordable by nations clearly mandated—in terms of power as well as righteousness—to impose as well as judge the national policies and political systems of other sovereign states. This presumptuous, albeit altruistic, approach cannot govern America’s international posture in the decades ahead. If it does, we may find ourselves with few allies and a great many enemies.
The Soviet Doctrine. A brief examination of the Soviet view of the present world is instructive. In a comprehensive discussion of “socialist” foreign policy, appearing in the Soviet Journal Soviet Law and Government, Russia’s foremost American expert, G. A. Arbatov, is explicit. Writing about what he describes as “the era of transition from capitalism to Sovietism,” Arbatov tells us that Washington’s past “global political strategy” is untenable. He cites as the main evidence for his thesis the U. S. experiences in Vietnam, which he calls “U. S. imperialism” and describes as a socialist victory. While predicting further progress for the world’s socialist forces, Arbatov advances the thesis that “imperialism” is able to go “only so far as it is permitted to go—permitted by the objective situation and by the strength of the resistance of its adversaries.”
Then he states:
“It is precisely this understanding of political reality that underlies the tactics of the communist movement and of all anti-imperialist forces at the present stage, (p. 146) . . . The matter at issue is essentially that of further limiting the freedom of action of imperialism—above all, U. S. imperialism.” (p. 147)
Aside from the usual polemics—his Marxian hypnosis with the “imperialism” bogeyman—Arbatov has told it straight. The coming decades mark a period in which Soviet strategy towards the West appears to be aimed mainly at “limiting the freedom of action” of the United States.
In Between Two Ages, Professor Zbigniew Brzezinski of Columbia University has summarized the future U. S.-Soviet rivalry thus:
“American-Soviet rivalry is hence likely to become less ideological in character, though it may become more extensive geographically and more dangerous in terms of the power involved. Increased direct contacts between the two nations, restraints imposed by mutual recognition of the destructiveness of present weapons systems and lessened ideological expectations for the Third World could make American-Soviet relations more stable. Nevertheless, more and more areas on the globe could become the objects of moves and countermoves if the growth in long-range Soviet military forces, particularly conventional air-sea-lift capabilities, extends American-Soviet rivalry to areas previously considered beyond the Soviet reach.”
Pursuit of a policy by the Soviets aimed at “limiting the freedom of action” of the United States—the ongoing Soviet naval buildup and deployment is perhaps the best signal of their intentions—would in effect mean continued conflict between East and West in the lower regions of the spectrum of conflict, i.e., limited/cold war, where the issue is access to the world’s human and material resources. In short, continued Soviet insistence upon an “era of transition from capitalism to Sovietism” does not bode well for détente. Such insistence ultimately would also be expected to undermine that portion of the Nixon Doctrine which seeks an era of negotiation.
The foregoing observations do not argue that the United States should abandon its efforts at negotiation. They do suggest that negotiation, too, must be pursued on a realistic “balance of power” basis. Realistically we might recognize, for example, that even negotiation can be aimed at “limiting freedom of action.” The Soviet party leader, Leonid Brezhnev, recently hinted that such is his goal, by suggesting that the U. S. Navy should withdraw from the far oceans of the world:
“But at the same time American politicians consider it normal and natural that their 6th Fleet is constantly in the Mediterranean—next door . . . to the Soviet Union—and the 7th Fleet off the shores of China and Indochina. We have never considered, and do not now consider, that it is an ideal situation when the navies of the great powers are cruising about for long periods far from their own shores, and we are prepared to solve this problem, but to solve it, as they say, on an equal basis.”
If the need should arise, the United States cannot project power into Europe and Asia by land and by air as easily as can the Soviet Union. Soviet lines of communication are interior to virtually all of its “allies,” while the Western World is in essence a maritime alliance.
Brezhnev’s proposal, therefore, is a one-sided one that, if adopted, would set the stage for added Russian encroachment upon the world’s human and material resources—such as recently carried out under the “Brezhnev doctrine” in Czechoslovakia, and as historically pursued by the Soviet Union throughout Eastern Europe.
A Navy for the New Era. The readers of this journal will recognize that Brezhnev, as well as Arbatov and Brzezinski in quotations cited earlier, is highlighting a world in which the decisive edge in military power will go to the most versatile and flexible projection at the “limited” and “cold” war levels—in essence, naval power. Additionally, the Nixon Doctrine shift in the U. S. military posture worldwide—the cutback of American troops and bases overseas, accompanied by a shift in much of the military manpower burden away from the United States—places added emphasis upon naval power for the welding together and sustenance of the Western alliance.
Not surprisingly, then, the Soviet Union is now embarked upon a naval expansion program that is rapidly overtaking the United States. The Soviet submarine force—nearly three times the U. S. Navy’s in number of boats—is improving in quality, and may already pose a challenge to U. S. command of the seas, i.e., capacity for assuring the use of the seas as required by the United States and its allies. Other dimensions of Soviet naval power are also being dramatically expanded. The newest surface-to-air missile (SAM) armed Soviet surface combatants are proving that they are capable of independent operations in a moderately hostile air-war environment. Prior to the introduction of these SAM missile combatants, the Soviet surface navy had traditionally confined its operations to waters contiguous to its own shores. Simultaneously, the Soviets have gained the right to use naval and air facilities at key strategic locations in the Mediterranean and Indian Ocean regions. The rapid growth of the Soviet merchant marine, at a time when the U. S. merchant fleet is aging faster than it is being replaced, completes a total picture which suggests that Arbatov’s description of Soviet policy, as one which seeks to limit U. S. global freedom of action, is well on its way to fulfillment.
Primary military responsibility for meeting this Soviet challenge falls upon the U. S. Navy. This statement can be modified by whatever extent the Nixon Doctrine succeeds in reviving naval power elsewhere in the Western Alliance.
The U. S. Navy has begun to rebuild to meet this challenge, but it is rebuilding along the traditional lines of the past. New ships are replacing old ships of like type, better armed, many times more costly, marginally more seaworthy—still essentially on a type-for-type basis that is leading in the end to a navy that promises to look very much like the U. S. Navy after World War II.
Principal reliance for command of the seas still evolves upon carrier air power, screened by missile-armed surface units; yet it is uncertain that our carriers will confront any significant surface or air challenge. The Soviets are circumventing that challenge via their emphasis on the submarine. This prospect of a minimal surface or air challenge would be fortunate if it gave the U. S. command of the seas by default—but it does not. One to two hundred modern Soviet submarines, nuclear-powered and armed with the latest missiles, can deny command of the seas to the U. S. Navy’s surface forces. This appears to be the direction the Soviets are taking. The Soviet Navy now has some 400 submarines, and they are building—both SSNs and SSBNs—at a rate surpassing present U. S. submarine construction capabilities. The majority of present Soviet submarines are not “modern.” Only a few are equipped with the advanced missiles. Thus, there is still time. But many readers will share the uneasiness felt by this writer and expressed by the question: Will the navy we are now building prove to be ill-conceived, in terms of its force configuration, for meeting the Soviet challenge cited above?
The investment in new destroyers will not meet that challenge. Yet destroyers continue to be designed and produced on the basis of, and charged with, the primary mission of countering the forthcoming Soviet submarine force. A recent, now famous, article appeared in this journal and brought to light some serious misgivings about the ASW inadequacies of the U. S. Navy’s most modern destroyers and destroyer escorts. Possibly that author dwelt upon the wrong issue. He might better have asked: Why are we building destroyers for ASW?
The U. S. Navy’s investment in air ASW is only marginally more hopeful. The well known CVS (ASW carrier) issue is perhaps enough of a dead horse that it need not be flogged further here. But, in that matter, also, the issue is the same. The present state of air and surface ASW technology, combined with pressing cost considerations, raises uneasy feelings and grave questions about the inordinate portions of our limited rebuilding budget and manpower resources which are being invested in such marginally effective programs.
The point here is not to point the finger of guilt at some hard-working and much maligned project officer—or at any of the Navy’s vested interests. We are all in this Navy guilty of refusing to abide by the dictum of the most intolerant taskmaster of all—the technological state of the art. The well known fact is that the advance of submarine technology (operating characteristics, armament and sonar capabilities) since World War II has put the modern submarine out of combat reach by known or foreseeable surface and air ASW techniques. This conclusion may still be disputed by some, but the record—of futile and costly surface and air ASW programs—is a lengthy one that speaks for itself.
Naval warfare has been so dramatically altered by the advance of submarine technology over the past 25 years as to have essentially reversed the role of the submarine from one primarily of interdiction to that of representing the ship of the line in terms of command of the seas. The modern, nuclear-powered, fast, quiet, long-endurance, deep-diving, perhaps cruise missile-armed attack submarine not only promises to drive from the seas those surface units that dare to oppose it; the submarine is also proving to be the best of all platforms for ASW.
Is it going to take a war at sea to prove that the U. S. Navy’s capital ship—the aircraft carrier, though defended by its costly retinue of escorts and umbrella of manned aircraft—is ill-suited to contest command of the seas against challenges emanating from the capital ship of the Soviet Navy, the attack submarine? The history of warfare confirms the dictum that technology cannot be defied with impunity. As a consequence of World War I, the French learned that the élan of attack—the offense—was not adequate to overcome the technology of the then dominant defense—the machinegun. Applying that lesson to their policies between the wars, the French came to rely for their national security primarily on the defense fortifications of the Maginot Line. But, in the meantime, the technology of land warfare had changed. The offense had become dominant in the shape of the fast, armored warfare which comprised blitzkrieg. This misplaced French confidence, in a technology of warfare that was out of date for its task, led to Vichy.
The U. S. Navy could be making a similar mistake. We won command of the seas at Midway, the Coral Sea, and the Philippine Sea with the aircraft carrier task force. We opposed a similarly configured navy, and there was no doubt that naval carrier air warfare was the dominant reality of that time. But carrier air warfare is not the dominant reality of present naval warfare, and the U. S. Navy is being challenged by a foe whose navy is not similarly configured. On the contrary, the Soviets are building a navy which is in closer conformity with the prevailing dominant reality of naval warfare—the combat superiority of the submarine.
There is a case to be made for carriers and destroyers in our naval program, but it is not the one most often advanced, and it doesn’t support the “Cadillac” versions of those ships the U. S. Navy now seeks, certainly not so long as the higher priority, submarine, “command of the seas” requirement is unfulfilled. (It may also make a better case for the Marines and the “amphib” Navy than is currently in fashion.) It is the cold/limited war case as articulated above by Brezhnev, Arbatov, and Brzezinski.
While the cold/limited war scenarios of East-West conflict are not the worst case assumptions, the mutual balance of terror that makes general war a non-option, leads rather obviously to the cold/limited war scenarios being the most probable kinds of conflict. That is where the action is almost certainly going to be. The issue is access to the world’s resources; and the contest is, first, one of command of the seas, and second, projection of power and influence in the Mahan tradition when political decisions so dictate. Ultimate victory can be lost or won without a general war ever taking place.
Given current fiscal limitations, the latter dimension of naval planning may require greater compromise than the command of the seas (submarine) role vis-à-vis “ideal” ships and hardware. Remembering that nuclear general war has become a non-option through mutual deterrence, the command of the seas task will merit next highest priority, for it preserves survival against the ultimate limited war challenge—the physical isolation of America from its allies.
Thus the third priority, the U. S./power projection navy, is the logical area for compromise of “Cadillac” ambitions in favor of economy and more units at less unit cost—rather than to stint our command of the seas submarine forces—if funds provided by the Congress are not adequate to legitimate needs in both areas. We can take some comfort that the power projection task by surface forces is the task wherein the most support from the remainder of the maritime alliance can be expected. The Nixon Doctrine highlights that aspect as well. Imaginative programs, like the “Personnel Exchange Program” with allied navies, recently instituted by the U. S. Navy, can fortify the Nixon Doctrine on this score.
The new era of American diplomacy, the Nixon Doctrine, derives from a forthright recognition of the changes that have taken place in the world since 1945—the new realities that now govern the domestic and international political environments. America’s new naval policy must start with a clear understanding of those same realities.
In addition, America’s new naval policy must—as forthrightly—acknowledge the technological realities that now govern naval warfare, and proceed from the premises dictated thereby. To paraphrase the President’s words, quoted at the beginning of this essay: No single sudden upheaval or technological event has marked the end of the World War II era of naval warfare in the way that world wars often shatter pre-existing assumptions about warfare. But the cumulative changes in naval warfare since 1945 are profound nonetheless.
We are indeed at the end of an era—in the technology of naval warfare as well as in foreign policy. The question is: Are we now building a new navy that is as realistic as our new foreign policy?
Commander Beavers received his commission in 1952 via the NROTC at the University of Missouri. He received his M.A. in Political Science from the University of Maryland in June 1970, and is continuing his studies toward a Ph.D. His last sea duty was as Executive Officer of the USS George K. Mackenzie (DD-836). For the past three years he has been assigned to OpNav, and is presently attached to the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency in Washington, D.C.
Alter The Alterations
A week after taking command of an aging Navy landing ship dock (LSD), the new commanding officer received an official letter from his force commander: “Altogether too many unauthorized alterations have been made to your ship in past years. You will immediately restore the ship to her original arrangement.”
The new CO called for the blueprints and compared them with the ship. The charges were all too true, but to put the ship back in her original condition would be a staggering job, requiring months to complete. Worse still, the alterations had all been definite improvements, making the ship much more comfortable than when she was first built according to World War II Royal Navy specifications.
The next day, the CO called on the staff officer. “Commander,” he asked, “do you really mean I am to rearrange the ship just as she was according to these old British Admiralty plans?”
“You read the letter,” came the terse reply.
“All right,” exclaimed the CO. “Then here is my requisition for 460 hammocks to replace the bunks and foam rubber mattresses, and here’s another for eight casks of rum to go in what is now the barber shop. That was the spirits room, you know, so the crew could have its grog.” With that, he left the flabbergasted commander and returned to his ship.
Not another word was ever heard about the matter.
—Contributed by Captain Ben W. Blee, U. S. Navy
(The Naval Institute will pay $10.00 for each anecdote published in the Proceedings.)
 The President’s 25 February 1971 Report to the Congress; U.S. Foreign Policy for the 1970s (U. S. Government Printing Office: Washington, D.C., 1971).
 This thesis was expounded some 13 years ago. See Roy L Beavers, Jr., “Seapower and Geopolitics in the Missile Age,” U. S. Naval Institute Proceedings, June 1959, pp. 41-47.
 Translated and reprinted under the title “American Foreign Policy on the Threshold of the 1970s” in Orbis, Spring 1971, pp. 134-153. All page citations in the text are from this issue of Orbis.
 “We control the seas with our aircraft carriers, capable of sinking surface ships, surfaced submarines, shooting down aircraft and, with our F-14 aircraft, shooting down the missiles from any one of those enemy sources,” Admiral Zumwalt said in the 13 September 1971 issue of U. S. News & World Report.
 See Robert H. Smith, “A United States Navy for the Future,” U. S. Naval Institute Proceedings, March 1971, pp. 18-25. Captain Smith’s most pregnant observation seems to have been overlooked in the ensuing controversy: “. . . we have clung to the fiction of a primary, and even offensive, ASW role for the surface ship long after it has become obvious that it cannot fulfill that role against the modern submarine.” (p. 22)