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The continental versus maritime debate is tangled in the tightly woven threads of the deterrence curtain. The continental school focuses too myopically on the Central Front, while the maritime school is too rash in its insistence on risky,
Soviets can be expected to ex
early in a war. The ploit this division.
school argues that control over land area is the organt principle of nation-states and politics. Man lives on
communication. The situation on the land today is one
Land strength, manifested by armies and air forces.s
wage a protracted conventional war in central Eur°^ A war between the two blocs that orig should be confined to Europe, in the continentalist ■ - ,| Efforts to take the war elsewhere reduce the forces a able for the war in the center, and thus incur high risK
At all levels, strategic questions that were long addressed only in private or classified forums are being thrown open to renewed examination, and possibilities for change loom large. Several seminal alterations have already occurred; four stand out.
► First is the move away from mutual assured destruction (MAD) as the central guiding principle for strategic nuclear forces. A variety of reasons can be cited for this change, but the most important revolves around the appropriateness of MAD as a deterrent threat. Although it truly frightened Western decision makers and their constituents, MAD failed to come to grips with either of the fundamental requirements of a deterrent threat. Mutual assured destruction did not have the capability to attack in retaliation the assets Kremlin holds most dear—the levers of political control; and MAD lacked credibility because the threat to kill large fractions of the Soviet population in response to an attack appeared disproportionate, invited escalation to even more devastating levels of warfare, and was morally troublesome.
► The second change, related to the first, is the long-term strategic goal of emphasizing strategic defenses at the direct and lasting expense of strategic offensive forces. The short, ahistoric, and non-strategic but torrid U. S. romance with strategic offensive nuclear forces was cooled by a fresh presidential vision of strategic defenses. Even the prospect of strategic defense, whatever the anticipated level of effectiveness, sparked important strategic debate and breathed new life into arms control talks.
► Third is the embrace of forward-reaching offensive capabilities for European defense. This has been termed “deep strike” or “follow-on forces attack,” which must be seen as a direct attempt to thwart Soviet strategy rather than merely to show a willingness to absorb the adversary’s first, and, presumably, best, shot. Like strategic defense and counterforce strategic targeting, attaining these capabilities has provoked firestorms of criticism from those who appear satisfied only when Western military forces and populations are permitted to be nothing more than potential sponges for enemy weapons.
► The fourth new factor is the U. S. Navy’s Maritime Strategy, which has also spawned a lively exchange of views on the best way to implement national policy. This essay will focus on this question—generally termed the maritime/continental debate—while acknowledging that the other three are as vital and related.
What are the causes for these fundamental changes? For one, they represent a belated adjustment to the loss of U. S. strategic superiority. The United States enjoyed undeniable superiority in strategic forces throughout the 1940s and 1950s. Superiority devalues strategy since any strategy is a winning one for the superior force. For more equal military forces, however, strategy, leadership, morale, and luck historically have made the difference.
Another related reason is the new “common wisdom” about war. Widely accepted, this vision maintains that war is neither useful nor profitable for any belligerent, that there can be no victors in war, that the use of nuclear weapons in war is to be avoided at all costs, and that, for all those reasons, war itself should be avoided. Never mind that these premises are contentious. In today world, they are beginning to form the context wiOl( which debate and decisionmaking take place.
The Debate: The German philosopher Georg Wilhd^ Friedrich Hegel observed that history teaches us that m3 learns nothing from history. Thus, issues often spin 0 well-worn axes that are either forgotten or unappreciate The ongoing maritime-continental emphasis debate has roots deep in the past, from the time sea-based empl<i first came into being. Today, it retains its essence but molded to fit the current context.
The lines of the current debate are fairly easily dra'vjjj and easily comprehended. They are summarized belo^ : schools of thought without attribution, for they are not t views of any one person, but of a mindset. Some of1 attributes of the two schools are not ones they claim themselves, but ones projected on them by their oppone11
The Continental School: The so-called confine1]1
land, not in the sea, and control of the land far superb ^ in importance control over maritime areas or sea lines
which the Soviet Union enjoys control of the geopoW11' Heartland of British geographer Sir Halford John kinder, fields massive conventional armed forces, maintains a political system and philosophy hostile to Western political structure and values. To resist and ^ the realities of Soviet power requires strength on lan° every possible point of attack.
ficient to provide the counterweight to Soviet migW not be provided by any Western country acting alone; - ~ lition is required. In addition, the credibility of NA 1 strategy, hinging as it does on the threat of the use nuclear weapons to offset conventional weaknesses tive to Soviet and Warsaw Pact strengths, has eroded 0 the years and has been devalued, especially by the str3 J gic nuclear parity between the United States and the Sovl Union. Concurrently, the Eastern-bloc countries been improving their conventional capabilities. This H amounts to a large and growing shortfall in Western c° ventional strength, which must be redressed if deterre11 is to remain effective.. A
Most distressing and frightening is the mounting S<T• „ capability to carry out a “lightning” thrust through NA * defenses, the momentum and impact of which c° knock NATO out of the war before it could react, O-^, before reinforcement plans could take effect). Conv^|t tional forces need staying power—not just for days- (() for weeks and months. They need this staying povV®rt() deter the blitzkrieg, not because it would be desirab
failure to defend the principal object of the war,
that pinpricks on his flanks or rear will dissuade the )gressor from the undistracted pursuit of his primary ob- 1Ve is to seriously, perhaps fatally, misunderstand the a , atlon- It is akin to smashing oneself on the foot to cure ()(, ea^ache- Moreover, even if military actions at places ®r than the point of attack might appear attractive, the s 5 (i°es not have sufficient forces—either on land or Ren °rne7~t0 pursue multiple actions simultaneously in f'cr 8raphical|y separate areas. The Kremlin has excess teciies and many better options for using this strategic nique. Consequently, proponents of this school con- attack from seaward axes. For example, while no place in the United States is farther than 1,500 kilometers from the ocean, Soviet strategic depth is more than twice that, on the order of 3,300 kilometers. Moreover, 45 important U. S. cities, with a combined population of 75 million people, lie within 850 kilometers of the hundred-fathom curve at sea, while the comparable figure for the Soviet Union is but six important cities with a population of 2.2 million. Thus, vulnerability from the sea is asymmetrical. Economically, the Soviet Union is one of the most selfsufficient countries in the world; it has no severe depen-
To resist and avoid the realities of Soviet power requires strength on land at every possible point of attack.
^hat horizontal escalation would be to NATO’s net , Outage. Sequential, rather than simultaneous, action to vSt We Can h0Pe ^or' Thus, the West has no choice *eeP its attention and effort locked firmly on the if | re defeat would mean disaster.
0na. the important countries in the world, the Soviet ls perhaps the most, impervious and insensitive to
dencies on international trade, either in imports or exports.
Therefore, by virtue of its geographic gifts—strategic depth and natural resources—the Soviet Union is quite insensitive to the kind of pressure maritime forces can provide. For these reasons, and because the Soviet Union maintains an exceptionally powerful military capability to negate the effect of attacks from the sea, the continentalist
school argues that power projection from the sea by other than strategic submarines is expensive, excessively risky, and cannot deliver strategically significant blows to the adversary.
Even if the opposing fleet could be decisively defeated, that would not guarantee that the war would not be lost ashore. Therefore, in continentalist logic, a maritime emphasis to U. S. strategy conveys to its allies a deep-seated desire not to become entangled in a land war on the continent, a retrograde movement toward isolationism, and an implicit unwillingness to bear the burdens of alliance. This is frequently referred to as the “sin of unilateralism.” Those who argue for emphasis on land-based forces in Europe call for a program of increased defense outlays on conventional forces by all allies, better rationalized burdensharing, closer alliance cooperation, and more host- nation support for allied forces. They also recommend reduced budget priority for maritime forces.
The Maritime School: Proponents of maritime emphaSls in U. S. and NATO strategy contend that conditions toJ*1' are significantly different than at the onset of World
II, and that must be taken into account. By the time United States entered the fighting in World War II,
Germany had leapfrogged its geographic strictures
States, moreover, took a long time to obtain the forces strategy necessary to deal with the submarine threat. C0”1,
able to follow defensive courses. Conditions today, °n ^ other hand, tend to favor strong, early offensive acti°n j maritime forces; the NATO coalition, led by the V- ■ Navy, can take advantage of the edge it has at sea oiw that edge is exploited. p
The maritime school says that to deter a Soviet attac , Europe one must do more than threaten to defeat the ™
man submarines were operating freely in the Atlantic,
quick victories in central and northern Europe. The Urn1
iphasis s today ld\#
[, attic, f°r res W Unite :es and t. Cof; re oitiy
his tSl^ °P war’ Hitler believed that dimension was eVen° njodulate; and even though he made blunders that
al0UallY caused his defeat, at the outset of the war he \var,e c°ntrolled the magnitude of combat. In terms of the wasS §e°graphic scope, his assessment was that his rear his |'CtUred by conquest and by treaty with the Soviets, gee/ rate§'c left flank was fortified by a combination of lta|vraphy’ bis opponents’ weakness, and his alliance with c^nd he took the precaution of invading and gaining
—j ----------------------------------------------------------- -~o----------------------------- w
also hnter' blbler believed that the time dimension was ancj cotb in his favor and under his sway. The swiftness
the n ^ defense, then, must recognize that weakness on land ^ks can cause collapse in the center. Norway, Ice- preVg c Danish straits, and NATO’s Mediterranean states eit(lerni^oviet forces from outflanking NATO’s center. If abiijty 3nk Were *ost’ or even 'b the Soviets acquired the
. - --------------------------- J ---------------------------------------- 7 ----
: y Would be devastated—because of its reliance on
saw p„„, .
0armies on ground 'n West Germany. Rather, (W aas t0threaten Soviet core values. Offering a stout e]eenSe at point of attack constitutes only one of the erapents °f the deterrent fabric. The whole cloth has sev- the IT1°re breads, namely, the prospect that the conflict PlanattaC^Cr Unites might not turn out to be what he lenec* for in terms of intensity, geographic scope, or stre ^ deterrence depends not only on maintaining alterw*lere attacks might occur, but on threatening to °r (.^ne war in its various dimensions: intensity, breadth,
gr^°lph Hitler was not deterred in 1940 by the Allied Werna an(l air forces on the continent, even though they t),r6 ar§uably superior to his own. What then of the a s in the fabric of deterrence? With regard to the
°f Norway on his right flank before attacking in iter “
1 both _____
I'°th'UCCeSS 0p attacbs right to the English Channel did thre."J^ to disabuse him of that conviction; thus, the time Was also absent from the deterrent fabric.
On t,aril'rne strategists suggest that about all allied forces c°ni r ^round and in the air over Central Europe can ac- attack1S^ *S t0 meet f°rce wifh like force at the point of Hiarjj.’ ^be other strategic dimensions are the province of rencc"'lc forces, and they are no less important to deter- it js jv Unlike Hitler, Soviet leaders should not believe that 0r the W^° contro' 'be intensity, the geographic spread, jgjc6 eagth of a war they might initiate. And, since stra- %ateParity has er°ded the credibility of U. S. action at the in gu^lc *eve* 0-e., a strategic response to a ground attack Cern$rtu)e^ deterrent leverage lies in Soviet planners’ con- (W.„. taat they could control neither the course nor the MltA,0n Of ;
operate more freely in the Atlantic, then NATO
iDe|Vc early reinforcement and resupply from the North dey^^11 c°ntinent. Accordingly, the flanks must not be
tioretke *'na^ analysis, continental defense should rest !?«fcTS.ly on the shoulders of the allies who, after all, chanInEurope. Not only has the strategic situation aber5? • markedly, but the economic situation has also b)rni |nways not fully understood. When NATO was V" 1949, the U. S. gross national product equalled fbe rest of the world combined. Today, not countin®s! June 1987 ing the United States, the other 15 NATO countries have a greater gross national product than the entire Warsaw Pact, including the Soviet Union. The United States spends more than 7% of its gross national product on defense; its NATO allies average less than half of that. This means that more than 300,000 U. S. servicemen and women in Europe provide more than a token of U. S. involvement and commitment. The allies should contribute marginal dollars for conventional land and tactical air forces, and the United States should concentrate on and emphasize the area in which it has a survival interest and a current and inherent advantage—sea power.
The maritime school’s argument that has the ring of finality is that certainly the United States intends to assist and provide forces for a stout defense in Central Europe, for to lose in Europe would be a calamity. But for the United States, as the past has demonstrated, losing on the continent need not be the end of the war. If, however, the United States were to lose at sea as the allies were losing ashore, that would be the ultimate disaster short of a strategic nuclear exchange.
Where Is the Truth? An anecdote appeared in the Proceedings several decades ago about a destroyer unit flagship whose officer of the deck (OOD) was unaware that the division commander had executed a turn signal from the flag bridge. When the frustrated commodore approached the unwitting OOD with the question: “Why isn’t the flagship turning?” the OOD responded, “Because the rudder’s amidships, sir.” Perhaps, like the commodore’s, the wrong questions are being asked in the maritime-continental debate.
The two sides are much too starkly drawn. Frequently, in the rush to score debating points, the schools—or those who attribute certain positions to the two schools— approach caricature. Thus, the continental school appears to devalue Soviet strategy, to ignore the essential elements of deterrence, to focus myopically on NATO’s center, and thus appears to be unwilling to provide adequately for flank or at-sea dimensions of defense of the continent. The maritime persuasion would seem almost willing to lose on the ground, rash in its insistence on risky, low-payoff forward operations early in a war, and reliant on strategic maritime depth as a cushion for U. S. security, narrowly defined.
In fact, each should acknowledge that maritime and continental forces are complementary. The question at issue addresses the proper mix of conventional forces at the margin. Indeed, the maritime school acknowledges that maritime power is necessary but not sufficient for victory, which must be earned on the ground. At the same time, the continental school recognizes the importance of controlling the seas to success on the continental European battlefield.
To be sure, the arguments are never open and shut. While both recognize that the preponderance of strength on the ground lies with the Warsaw Pact forces, there is genuine disagreement among reasonable men as to whether NATO’s conventional capability is or is not currently adequate. There is ample room for debate on how
fore, will fall on the United States.
as Adjunct Professor in the National Security Studies Program , graduate school at Georgetown University since 1981, where he ie . a course entitled “Maritime Power and Strategy.” He is currently ^ tor of Strategic and Maritime Studies at National Security Researc •
conventional forces might be improved, or even whether important improvement is possible or needed. Some analysts are convinced that the alliance today, because of the defender’s advantage and the superior morale of its forces, could actually win a conventional war in Europe.
Those who insist that rejuvenation of U. S. maritime strength in the form of the 600-ship Navy has taken place at the expense of the ground and air forces are hard- pressed to demonstrate their case in terms of how defense funds have been allocated and spent. During the past decade, service budget shares have been noteworthy only in their lack of large fluctuations. The Army’s share of the defense budget has remained between 24% and 25.8%; for the Navy the respective figures are 31.7% to 34.1%; for the Air Force, 27.9% to 35.8%. (See Figure 1.)
More surprising, perhaps, is the fact that the Navy was relatively better off during the Carter Administration than it has been during the Reagan Administration. In addition, possibilities for major change do not figure greatly in the immediate future. The debate will be inflated again before too long, however, by the hot breath of the requirement to consider replacing aircraft carriers, for nine aircraft carriers will reach the end of their 45-year service life during the next 20 years.
Both NATO and the Warsaw Treaty Organization have demonstrated greater understanding and desire for employing combined arms, and interest and activity have waxed on both sides for unity in strategic doctrine and operational command. The Chief of Naval Operations and his Soviet counterpart mirror one another’s thinking in this respect.
Given improved Soviet capabilities and interest in adventures outside the NATO area, there may be little choice for the alliance but to seek a different burdensharing arrangement. Although one frequently hears arguments about the importance and value of out-of-area operations for NATO forces, few say that the NATO countries ought to assume a much larger burden of countering Soviet thrusts elsewhere in the world. That responsibility devolves primarily to the United States, and essentially to the Navy. Likewise, the allies are quick to point out that they provide the lion’s share of the manpower (90%), the tanks (85%), the artillery (95%), and the combat aircraft
(80%) for NATO’s defense. The overwhelming Pre(^,, nance of naval power comes from the United States, h° ever. It is natural and necessary that the allies look tow continental defense first. It also is understandable and11 arguable that they will not substantially increase their fl1 ■ itime forces—especially in peacetime. Responsibility1 countering burgeoning Soviet maritime capability, the
If strategy becomes more important when neither . possesses clear superiority, then the United States 111 pursue a strategy that offers the highest leverage if itlS achieve its policy objective. Shall the United State8 having conceded parity in strategic nuclear weapon hardly claiming equivalence in theater or tactical nuc forces, and acknowledging Warsaw Pact predominant chemical warfare and in numbers of soldiers, tacticala craft, tanks, and artillery—also relinquish the slim mat? of superiority it holds at sea? i
The NATO allies appear content to put up with U. S. Government’s occasional whining—and the disc^ certing but marginally credible threats of Congress to duce the number of U. S. fighting men in Europe—fa than increase their allocations for European defense. 1 are also genuinely whipsawed between their sincere c^ cem over the possible use of nuclear weapons in the eve of war and the unattractive prospect of a prolonged c° ventional war should NATO substantially improve itsc ventional warfighting capability. Very few suggest that Europeans or the United States intend to alter their con butions to the common defense in a way that will subs1 tially improve conventional defense in the central pean theater or on the flanks. In fact, there have been suggestions that NATO should seek to match Warsaw« capability there; such a goal is invariably labeled ‘ u - tainable.” If that states the case accurately, the ^ Navy and its Maritime Strategy have some convinc’ arguments to bring to the debate and some powerful sta* I to drive in claiming budget dollars at the margin.
If strategy has replaced superiority as the central1 for our defense, and if the United States accepts the ne J sity to think and fight smarter than its adversaries if>s of trying to overpower them, then it must be willing spend its defense dollars where they promise the . return. The allies must be counted on to understand 3°'^ act in their own interests by making the necessary sa fices to provide for adequate deterrence, and if nece? ■ the defense of their homelands. Ultimately, as Presi^ ^ John Quincy Adams observed, we can be “a friei* 1 liberty everywhere, but the custodian only of our
Captain Barnett received a bachelor’s degree from Brown University^ a master’s degree and a PhD from the University of Southern Cali a , He served 23 years in the Navy in cruisers, destroyers, and at the , gon. He was one of the crafters of the Maritime Strategy. He has