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During the latter days of 1979, an exceedingly divisive debate—heretofore conducted exclusively within the confines of U. S. Government offices— erupted into public print. The central issue, which was first broached in a syndicated newspaper column by Rowland Evans and Robert Novak (Washington Post, 8 October 1979, p. 21) and subsequently expanded by widespread comment in much of the nation’s press, encompassed a fundamental tenet of existing U. S. national strategy. This debate addressed a long-held U. S. plan to shift substantial American military forces from the Pacific Ocean area to the Atlantic theater in the event of a war between countries belonging to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and those of the Warsaw Pact.
Significant differences of opinion surrounding this so-called “swing strategy” center on the fact that it involves basic considerations of U. S. national security: a continuing Soviet military buildup; the position of the People’s Republic of China (P.R.C.) in the international power equation; assured Western access to indispensable raw materials; the political alignment of vital U. S. friends and allies in the Western Pacific; the likely course any NATO-Warsaw Pact war would take; and the structure of the U. S. Navy.
Some of the reports appearing in the press date the origin of the concept to the early 1970s, suggesting that it derives from the reorientation of U. S. national strategy undertaken during the administration of President Richard M. Nixon. To be sure, the swing concept fit nicely with the shift from a “two- and-a-half war” strategy—the ability to handle simultaneously a major war in Europe, another in the Pacific region, and an acute crisis somewhere else in the world—to the “one-and-a-half war” posture which emerged under Nixon’s leadership. Despite this coincidence, the swing strategy genesis lies much further back in time.
When Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNart13^ laid hands on the reins of the Pentagon, he irn mediately set his newly organized systems analyst t0 work seeking means to make the American arme forces “cost-effective,” thereby identifying opportU nities to effect economies in the nation’s defe0^ budget. These bright young men quickly theonze< that wherever military elements could be postured °f positioned to serve a dual purpose, the sought-after savings would necessarily manifest themselves. ^ne of the first targets they trained their sights on ^ amphibious lift for the Marine Corps. They reasone that with two marine divisions based on each of c e American coasts, the United States required only sU ficient amphibious shipping to transport half of ^ force (either the East or West Coast divisions) some international hot spot where it might needed. Thus, should a crisis develop, half c ^ shipping—normally split between the Atlantic an the Pacific—could be “swung” through the Panl1 Canal to the appropriate coast where it would he' lift those two divisions to the objective area. Hav'n^ done that, the combined group of ships could t*1 be returned, via the canal if necessary, to the ot coast, where it would be ready to move the balnn of the Marine Corps to some second critical reg‘o(> Being the capital-intensive investments which c assuredly are, amphibious warfare ships would thefe fore provide significant savings if their nuifP could be reduced and their future construction Pf<^ grams cut back. To those analysts, the marine ^ mula clearly held great promise for bringing ^ j similar economies in other branches of the afl1^ forces as well.
At that time, for example, Senator Mike Mans ^ was exerting heavy and continual pressure in ^°t'i gress to reduce the number of American tr°°j stationed in Europe. Extension of a similar tasking” concept to these combat units offered en
f6 ‘swing strategy”—shifting substantial military forces from the Pacific £ t^>e Atlantic in the event of a war between NATO and Warsaw Pact forces- ^ltls to look very much like a prescription for disaster.
forces from Korea. The political scar tissue generate by that initiative, even though the plan was ul0' mately placed in limbo, would be abruptly wrench? loose by any open U. S. admission that as much ilS half of all its military strength in the Pacific—whi? is primarily naval—would head for the Atlantic >n the event of an active Soviet threat to NATO. It ^eS little imagination to perceive the political upheav3 such action would create among America’s allies 1(1 the Far East.
There is, of course, another side to the coin:
tional security in this power-political world, th?^
is a course of action that ought to be pursued, testimony of at least one major commander,
Atlantic—a prospect inherent in the svVl strategy—he would be compelled to ignore Am can commitments in the Western Pacifc and ad°P wholly defensive posture if his remaining forces
ing prospects of like reductions in the cost of maintaining America’s commitment in Europe. It is not surprising, therefore, that the next major initiative in these years featured “dual basing” of some U. S. military forces earmarked for assignment to NATO.
The idea was surfaced in NATO councils, then implemented by extracting two brigades of the 24th Division (two thirds of its strength) from Europe and “redeploying” them to the continental United States. Along with this shift came a concurrent withdrawal of several U. S. Air Force squadrons in what was also advertised as a redeployment. The notion herein was that these forces—“dual based” in the United States and Germany—would be instantly ready to return to Europe in the event of any crisis which threatened to escalate into a NATO-Warsaw Pact war. An unstated, but nevertheless important, U< S. consideration was the fact that they would also strengthen America’^ much diminished strategic reserve^As a guarantee of their commitment to \ATOvhowever, the brigades left their heavy equipment and combat supplies stored in Germany, and the aircraft squadrons stocked fuel and ammunition at their bases to ensure their readiness to receive aircraft in the event they had to return. To demonstrate the feasibility of the plan, periodic exercises were to be conducted in which the dual-based forces would be flown to Europe and reunited with their prepositioned equipment and supplies.
Despite the euphemisms "redeployment” and “dual based,” most NATO allies viewed the scheme
for what it actually was. a reduction of American military strength in Europe. Their initial unhappiness was compounded when the Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia in August 1968. It was then suddenly discovered that the U. S. Army units returned to the United States had been drawn dowrTio fill requirements in Vietnam and were no longer at full strength. Further, NATO learned that similar reductions had taken place within the Air Force units. The dual basing of American military forces was thus exposed as something of a fraud, deceiving neither the Europeans nor our prospective enemies. Nonetheless, the rationale remains which underlies dual tasking as well as the swing strategy. Moreover, today it is being applied to other segments of American military power. For amphibious lift, aircraft carriers, Air Force squadrons, Army divisions, or whatever, the siren song of those early, cost-effective days persists.
As a matter of fact, the dual tasking concept was most recently reconfirmed by Consolidated Guidance Study No. 8 of 14 May 1979, conducted by the Office of the Secretary of Defense. This study, which was surfaced by the Evans-Novak column, recommended retention of the swing strategy and sug' gested that its existence should continue to be with' held from America’s Asian allies. The reasons for the latter suggestion are relatively easy to understand Even though Asian leaders have probably been prl' vately (and painfully) aware of the plans, there can be little doubt that Washington’s public acknowledg' ment of them would convince Japan, China, d’c Philippines, Indonesia, and others that the Unite1 States has indeed decided to withdraw from the Western Pacific—militarily and politically as well- These Far Eastern countries are still acutely c°n” scious of the unwelcome reality that one of the prime thrusts of the Carter administration’s policies up0'’ entering office was the removal of American grout1
judgment of the military leadership in the llnitfi States. It is fair to assert that those who are pled?e to shoulder a gun and march off to put right dip^ matic debacles—American military leaders and r men they command—have always looked with some thing less than enthusiasm on such esoteric sche01^ when they began to permeate national security P icy. Today’s uniformed leaders still do. They re?0" nize that the real world is quite different from f neat, quantifiable environment upon which pol'c are all too often predicated.
if the swing concept is indeed viable, and if 0 c‘ be impler^ented without further degrading U. 6- n‘
ever, suggests that it cannot. The Command?1, . Chief, Pacific—under whose control rests all An1
can military strength allocated to the Pacific an dian Oceans—is reported to have informed
ington that his assigned forces are only “margin3
capable of carrying out the tasks for which he <s _
sponsible. Further, he stated that should a subs1 ^
tial fraction of that power be shifted to „
0 that the status quo in the Far East be main-
t0 survive. Presumably, this would mean drawing a tensive line from Alaska to Hawaii and then, from c'hind that line, striving to maintain essential communications between those two states and the rest of f^e nation. In light of this grim assessment, it would aPpear prudent to examine some aspects of the preseat global power balance and the imperatives affect- lng them in these early days of the 1980s.
^n ominous shift in that balance is apparent in the c°ntinued expansion of overall Soviet military prow- ^Ss- One salutary feature of the bitter struggle in the n>ted States over ratification of the SALT (Strategic Arms Limitation Talks) II treaty has been Public airing of the magnitude and pace of that extension. Of special significance is the attention that as been centered on Moscow’s conventional army, naval, and air forces. Since a sizeable share of Soviet Military power is directed at Western Europe, the ^0 nations have quite naturally watched the jjr°*th with increasing alarm. Their fears, however, ave not motivated them to undertake the necessary measures to strengthen their own armed forces. To °Se who have labored with NATO defense issues, it Seerns apparent that many Europeans long ago came rbe conclusion that if they expended additional ^ational funding on their military establishments, e United States would immediately take this as an e)tcuse to reduce its own commitment to the com- m°n defense. It is for future historians to decide if ls is an accurate assessment or if the Europeans are m^dy hiding behind that rationale in order to jus- y devoting disproportionate funds to social issues ather than properly guarding their frontiers.
"E° some extent, the shift in the balance of power putable to Soviet military expansion has been Set by the reorientation of the political and mili- ^rV outlook of the P.R.C. A significant segment of .e U.S.S.R.’s conventional military power has been Phoned off by the Sino-Soviet dispute. Troops and ^Craft which otherwise would be available for de- j yinent along the European front are now stationed I ^astern Siberia; some 50 Soviet divisions and a jr§e number of aircraft squadrons are currently tied there by Moscow’s perception of the Chinese Qj.reat- Moreover, some of the most modern elements tcbe Soviet fleet have also been moved to the Soviet sfiast in recent years. In the eyes of many Western jj ategists, these developments have transformed the into an honorary 16th member of the North Viatic Alliance. From a purely pragmatic point of it is extremely important to the defense of
et another development affecting the international scene, poorly perceived in the United States yet nonetheless inexorable, has been the growing dependence of the industrial nations of the West on overseas sources of critical raw materials, oil in particular. Here again, crucial shifts in the balance of power have occurred, this time as a result of Soviet initiatives aided by the cooperative efforts of Moscow’s Cuban and East German surrogates. The focus has been on Third World nations, where many vital raw materials are to be found.
Guaranteed access to these sources unquestionably lies at the heart of Western security. This is especially true of Japan and NATO Europe, and it is becoming increasingly true of the United States. The disruption in global petroleum supplies, caused by the 1978 revolution in Iran, highlighted the precarious balance which exists in the availability of this indispensable commodity. The myriad ways in which that flow can be interrupted have to be a foremost worry of every military planner on both sides of the Atlantic. It would do NATO little good, for example, to match the Warsaw Pact military buildup if Western troops had to push their tanks into battle and if their aircraft could not get off the ground for lack of fuel. The seriousness of this specific danger, df course, depends on the nature of any war with the Warsaw Pact nations.
Then there is the question of the political alignment of U. S. allies and friends in the Far East. One need only contemplate the startling changes which have taken place in the northwest quadrant of the Indian Ocean region in the past few years and what they portend for American security to perceive the latent dangers in the Western Pacific. Regional perceptions of American ambivalence and impotence in the face of the fall of Ethiopia to Marxists, the bloody coup and subsequent murder of the U. S. ambassador in Afghanistan, and the revolution in Iran clearly produced shifts in the foreign policies of other area nations—Pakistan, for instance—as the reliability of American pledges was called into question. The possibility that disenchantment with the constancy of the U. S. commitment will precipitate similar changes in the Far East is equally if not more perturbing.
No assessment of the swing strategy would be valid without an examination of the probable course a war between NATO and the Warsaw Pact nations would take. Ever since the formation of NATO, this subject has been a matter of considerable debate. In the early days of the alliance, overwhelming American superiority in strategic nuclear weapons seemed to guarantee that there would be no such war. Moscow appeared to be prudent enough to avoid risking
an American withdrawal from the Western PaCI
also would trigger the reunification of Korea on ^ North’s terms, as well as certain establishment^- Soviet hegemony over all of Southeast Asia- perhaps even greater importance, it would jeopat the entire U. S. position in the Indian Ocean ana crucial arm, the Persian Gulf. Rather than incalcU ble, as Admiral Hayward described them, the co ^ quences would be better characterized as ca trophic. The Joint Chiefs of Staff clearly believe ^ and have apparently made it clear to the Secret®^ Defense that, in their collective opinion, the only
destruction of the U.S.S.R. on the tenuous assumption that the United States would refrain from using these cataclysmic weapons. As a Soviet nuclear capability emerged and delivery systems matured, that comforting premise came increasingly into question. The American response was to deploy so-called “tactical” nuclear weapons to Europe. The reasoning behind this move held that these battlefield versions could decimate the numerically superior Soviet conventional forces long before they could overrun Western Europe. In both cases, the name of the game was deterrence. For more than three decades, it has worked.
As the Soviets steadily eroded American nuclear predominance and simultaneously expanded their own general purpose forces to their present levels, however, it gradually became evident in the West that extant strategic assumptions had lost their validity. Furthermore, increasing dependence of Western nations on overseas resources raised the specter that NATO, denied access to those raw materials, might very well face defeat without a shot ever being fired in Europe. In the wake of these developments, some observers began to question earlier assertions that a NATO-Warsaw Pact war would automatically escalate to full nuclear dimensions; that it would, therefore, be of extremely short duration; and, more importantly, that it would be confined to the European and North American regions. Consequently, the prospect of a far wider war began to materialize.
Evidence to support the “short war” theory has never been altogether persuasive. For one thing, the idea of uncontrolled escalation has not really been put to the test. It can be asserted, for instance, that the Cuban Missile Crisis constituted a realistic and hair-raising preview of national decision-making when governments reach the edge of the nuclear abyss. Moreover, it should not be forgotten that one of the most demented rulers in history, Adolf Hitler, did not resort to gas warfare—despite the abundant stockpile at his disposal—even when confronted with a national and personal Gotterdammerung. Is it so inconceivable that the same sort of reluctance will perhaps come to pervade nuclear decision-making— that major powers just might stumble into a global war and ultimately settle their differences without triggering the universally feared strategic nuclear holocaust? Under such circumstances, the possibility of widespread conventional war assumes some measure of plausibility.
Admiral Thomas B. Hayward, the Chief of Naval Operations, has argued eloquently before Congress that any war between NATO and the Warsaw Pact nations inevitably will be worldwide in scope. He maintains that such an eventuality is consistent with Soviet doctrine, and, given latter-day international geopolitical realities, Soviet and Western vital interests would inescapably clash at a number of points around the Eurasian periphery. In this context, would seem wise to examine possible ramifications the swing strategy. The first consideration, of course is the strategy’s likely effect on the direct defense the United States. As has already been noted, ^ nation’s top commander in the Pacific believes thnr any significant shift in U. S. forces from his thea'er of operations would force him to abandon the Wes1 ern Pacific, thus leaving the entire region to tlie mercy of the Soviet Navy and the sizeable land foreeS
Moscow has stationed in Siberia. In addition to
patent loss of allies and access to important sources
raw materials which the United States would suffer
such a move would place both Alaska and Hawaii in
the forefront of the combat zone.
Admiral Hayward has described the consequent
of such a wartime posture as incalculable. One of ^
prime additional results would be the stark exposufe
of Japan, a nation governed by a U. S.-dictated c°n
stitution. That document has compelled Japan/0
rely mainly on the United States for its protect'00
over the past 35 years, since it forbids Tokyo 1
military strength needed to do the job alone. ^ ^
United States were to abandon the Western Pad' ’
it is not too difficult to envision a relatively defe"^
less Japan quickly adopting a neutralist stance
even seeking some sort of accommodation with
Soviet Union. ,
. ... rhe
Ol critical importance would be the effect on
P.R.C. Bolstered only by a militarily imp°tej
Japan—or worse, flanked by a Japan newly al'gne
with the U.S.S.R.—it is not beyond belief
something long feared in the West would
rialize: rapprochement between Peking and Mosc0 ’
with all the global power balance implications 1
would entail . . . especially with respect to the
fense of NATO Europe. _
If these possibilities are not sufficiently harrow'11^.
ttonal solution to the problem is building forces . . . n°t swinging them. If the Chief of Naval Operations is p0rrect in his contention that any NATO-Warsaw act war will inescapably become global in scope, e swing strategy begins to look very much like a Ascription for disaster. Furthermore, given ac- c^ptance of the military’s assessments, the hard
1Ce must be for building
And yet, budget realities persist. It may be time °oe or more steps—heretofore generally deemed eretical—to be taken to assist in resolving the Arningly intractable problem of national defense
nc*lng. One such notion would be to divorce the
egic defense of the nation from the more mun- ne requirements which general purpose forces are
Slgned to meet. There cannot be reasonable dis-
a8reement with the thesis that the former component the nation’s military posture has consistently eaten j^ay at the conventional muscle of the United p3tes> particularly its naval and air forces. Warships, .^hter and attack aircraft, and other systems have Ip ar'ably taken their place in the fiscal line well be- fleet ballistic missile submarines, intercontinen- a ballistic missiles, and other elements of strategic er- As a result, the true condition of general I rP°se forces and their ability to deal with the chal- ^nges they are likely to encounter have been lost in e background noise of the strategic debate.
1 the strategic nuclear demands now spread
r°Ughout the budgets of the individual armed serv-
s Were factored out and separately funded—
haps under the aegis of the Joint Chiefs of
C the deficiencies in the nation’s conventional
gAs would be revealed in unambiguous terms.
t^le serv‘ces could then concentrate on those
0res tnost likely to be first engaged in any conflict
^ sbould strategic nuclear war ultimately prove to
Voidable, the only ones engaged. It can be ar-
dojj that, under such a system, the U. S. defense
that numbers of ships are not terribly important. The fact of the decline in American naval strength over the past few years need not be belabored here, for the consequences of the downward trends are all too evident—as the mere existence of the swing strategy confirms. It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that reconstitution of the U. S. Navy is a matter of extreme urgency. In a letter to President Jimmy Carter, Congressman Floyd D. Spence charged that the United States has “given good indications” of being “weak militarily and weak in resolve” in recent years. Signed by Spence and 152 other members of Congress, the letter exhorts the president to move immediately to restructure the Navy as a critical first step in rebuilding American military strength to the point that ”... no one will be misled into some adventuresome course against us.”
Should that “adventuresome course” one day prove to be an attempt to move the Iron Curtain to “the waters of the North Sea and the Atlantic,” as Winston Churchill said, the present swing strategy will be called to account. If, in the crucible of war, it is revealed to be as deficient as it now appears to be, the United States will, in all likelihood, lose that war. Thus, the issue which must be addressed now—given the lead time involved in producing modern weapon systems, particularly naval—is this: Dare the United States gamble its future on the premise that the analysts might be right and the military commanders wrong? I think not. The stakes are simply too high.
ar could be more efficiently allocated to meet all
Of tL t
^ ne country’s security requirements. There are, to SUfe, many different ways to approach the issue of ln 'lhate funding for conventional forces, the forego- ^ being but one. It is therefore submitted that
0r*ginal and innovative thinking is desperately
fc>le the conventional strength of the U. S. Air j e has suffered at the hands of those who must rtion finite service funds between strategic and f0rceral purpose systems, it would appear that naval ^ es have been even harder hit. The incredible piety °b a depleted U. S. Pacific Fleet retreating east- shrd t0 the Hawaiian Islands and the West Coast lay to rest the all-too-often advanced canard
A graduate of the U. S. Naval Academy with the class of 1946, Rear Admiral Hanks served in the USS St. Paul (CA-73) from 1945 to 1949. He was operations officer of the USS Arnold J. Isbell (DD-869) from 1954 to 1956 and served on the staff of Commander Destroyer Squadron Eleven in 1956-1957. He commanded the USS Boyd (DD- 544) from 1961 to 1963. Following two years on the staff of Commander Cruiser-Destroyer Force, Pacific Fleet, he served as Assistant for NATO Affairs and later as Deputy Director for Nuclear Planning Affairs in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (International Security Affairs). From 1972 to 1975, he was Commander, Middle East Force, then moved to the OpNav staff. Subsequent to his 1977 retirement, Rear Admiral Hanks has been a consultant to Georgetown University’s Center for Strategic and International Studies and is Senior Politico-Military Analyst for the Institute for Foreign Policy Analysis. He won the Prize Essay Contest in 1970 and 1979.
0e®dings / June 1980
Proceedings / Jun®