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A submarine lurks in the far reaches of the ocean, a fighter shrieks off a catapult, a frigate anchors in a quiet harbor, Marines land on a troubled beach, a cutter stops a drug smuggler, a tanker stands into port. Sea power is all this and much more. Why must we ensure that the United States remains the world’s leading sea power? And how can we justify the cost this will entail?
beii efr’ Kennedy, Maxwell Taylor, and others—this ■nilyi ^aS assumed greater urgency because of our trade (j £ ances, the decline or eclipse of several sectors of the lndUstry indispensable for modern weaponry, and Wori^1'0113' debt (we have gone precipitously from the tion ■ S §reatest creditor nation to its greatest debtor na- hav m S*X years)- Historically, such economic indicators
Presaged military decline. That is the central argu-
As we enter the 1990s, we need to recognize people’s beliefs about sea power, address their uncer- rro tainties, and gauge the future state of the world. ,111 such reflections, we can justify the price of Ameri- s Preeminence as a sea power.
s Dominant Beliefs
tio ,e S^ou*^ understand the prevalent views of our na- the SP°*ltlca' and intellectual leaders, and strive to assist citizenry in its direction of our government. This jgrins taking a greater part in the extensive, even bewil- ng, conversation among America’s chosen officials, arsT^6 ^lrectors’ media figures, and influential schol- zin • r rostrums include leading newspapers and maga- andS lnterview programs, documentaries, professional Wo .acac*emic journals, and nonfiction best-sellers. Net- cami news Programs and other popular forums signifi- im ^ lnfluence public discussion and foster a number of dorti’’ ant conternporary concepts of “conventional wis- relating to sea power.
t)Vj Co,1°mic Strength and Military Strength are Inter- the Vi 'n Evaluating National Power: While not new— hoyi Ca.Was enunciated decades ago by Dwight Eisen-
Paul Kennedy’s The Rise and Fall of the Great
and protect wealth. If, however, too large a proportion of the state’s resources is diverted from wealth creation and allocated instead to military purposes, then that is likely to lead to a weakening of national power over the longer term.”1
The upshot of this concern with economics is that the defense budgets of the 1990s will not grow, and may in fact shrink, in real dollars as well as in percentage of the gross national product (GNP). Few leaders in Washington predict otherwise, barring a major international crisis.
Military Power, Nuclear and Conventional, is Losing Relevance in International Affairs: This generalization is associated with four assumptions:
► A nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought (as Ronald Reagan repeatedly said).
► Under Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev’s program of perestroika, the Soviet Union is less bellicose and will be non-imperialistic.
► The phrase ‘‘No More Vietnams” combines a restrictive sense of what is a vital national interest with a doubting appraisal of military solutions to “social conflicts.”
► Arms control agreements—in strategic nuclear, European theater conventional, and (possibly) worldwide naval forces—are inherently desirable.
All of these ideas reflect a general Western aversion to violence, an assumption that disagreements can be resolved by reason and through respect for rights, and a suspicion that wars are a result of misunderstandings or of beliefs and prejudices we can abandon if we but choose to do so. (The invasion of Afghanistan, the Falklands campaign, the Grenada assault, the Iran-Iraq conflict, and Persian Gulf convoy operations have registered some counterweight to this tendency to discount the relevance of military power.)
Future Warfare Will Differ from Warfare in the Past: Weapons are becoming enormously expensive and,
Regretfully, those arguments have been so widely a vanced that assertions to the contrary are now greete with ridicule.”2
“But the facts, if viewed without emotion,” Admir^ Trost continued, “tell another story.” Unfortunate)
the Navy’s total expenses). We spend more to recrU^0 train, pay, and provide services for our people thanwe ^ on modernizing our ships, planes, and weapons, °r researching, developing, and testing future hardw “Sustainability” through purchases of ordnance, waf^e serve materiel, and forces—while less than halt
through technology, effective; we are unsure whether we will be able to afford adequate numbers of tomorrow’s “genius” weapons to replace yesterday’s “smart” and today’s “brilliant” weapons. Owing in part to the Argentinian cruiser General Belgrano, HMS Sheffield, and the USS Stark (FFG-31), it is widely believed that surface ships and aircraft carriers have become unacceptably vulnerable to modern weapons. Space-based reconnaissance systems are imagined performing real-time global surveillance, and are touted as being able to “make the oceans transparent” in the not-too-distant future. In addition, a special style of war is foreseen, for which U. S. military forces are ill-prepared: low-intensity conflict, ranging from terrorism to guerrilla-style revolutions.
The World is Becoming Truly Multi-polar. Japan, China, Saudi Arabia, Brazil, and other nations (or groups of nations, such as the European Economic Community) variously are nominated as new centers of power and influence. Financial, industrial, and diplomatic deliberations in Tokyo, Beijing, or Bonn are becoming increasingly interactive with, and much less dependent on, decisions made in Washington and Moscow. Throughout much of the world, concerns about sovereignty already work against foreign basing or significant logistics access. Even in coercive diplomacy, “minor powers” can daunt much larger military establishments by acquiring advanced weapons; biological, chemical, and nuclear warheads are available to the armed forces of more and more nations (whether or not political leaders publicly acknowledge the full armory). Hence, the efficacy of either superpower’s relevant coercive measures against most other nations has declined. (Afghanistan is a military example, Panama a diplomatic one.)
Difficulties in Comprehension
Whether or not one agrees with the prevailing tenets of “conventional wisdom,” one must recognize their importance to our professional lives. Implicitly or explicitly, they influence many of the decisions that govern national policy regarding sea power.
We are also directly affected (e.g., in recruiting) and indirectly (e.g., in congressional deliberations) by the attitudes and beliefs of the American citizenry. An informed public can guide the nation to make prudent defense decisions; an uninformed public is a danger to liberty. We should address the major misconceptions about sea power as vigorously and openly as possible. If we remain apathetic, if we are overly secretive, or if we underestimate the public’s ability to understand our profession, we will have no one to blame but ourselves if the public fails to understand and appreciate sea power.
Expenses: Admiral Carlisle Trost, the Chief of Naval Operations, warned against misconceptions in this area.
“Many people, even some who are ostensibly well- informed, have accepted the argument that defense spending in this decade has all but bankrupted the Treasury, and that the Navy has absorbed far too much of the defense appropriation to build a 600-ship fleet.
facts do not speak for themselves. We must bring “other” story to the attention of every citizen we can clearly as we can. ,
This is the first decade since World War II in which t ^ federal budget declined as a share of the gross natio11^ product. Defense spending, while up more than 50 a real outlays compared with the previous decade, is n° only about 6% of GNP, whereas even in the prosper011 1955-1964 years it averaged 10%. And the Navy’s ovetf annual real growth rate in this decade is 3%, less than of the Air Force or the Army. So three of the most preV^ lent beliefs about federal spending are wrong: It lS consuming more and more of GNP; defense is not devo ing an unprecedented share of the tax dollar; and the Na is not being especially rapacious in grabbing money tr the other services in order to construct an expensive tie Second, about 17% of the Navy budget is dev°te “force structure” (construction of new ships, convers and reactivation of old ships, and procurement of aircra “Readiness” (the manning, training, and operating naval forces) accounts for more than half of our bu°c , and personnel costs constitute a third of it (about
amount we spend on personnel—has enjoyed a growth rate over the past six years. This means our tion has been focused on filling magazines and prov the wherewithal for protracted combat. 1S
Related to a general misunderstanding about these is ignorance about what our tax dollars buy. How m Americans know, for instance, that our battleships °Qfl 32 missiles capable of precise attacks on targets t> miles away? On the other hand, many citizens thin ^ Navy’s budget request for a new ship is a request additional ship. Few people are aware that a wars g useful life is approximately 30 years, so to mainta1 Navy of 600 ships, 20 ships must be ordered every ) ^ Third, an American platitude claims that govern'11 . management is hopelessly inefficient compared wit'1 P ^ vate industry. While nothing we say could changee belief, certain things we have done or failed to do j painfully reinforced it. Some toilet seats, ashtrays* post-retirement jobs have damaged our national seen ^ more than we can calculate—certainly not in thenise but for their corrosion of public confidence in our ^ worthiness. It is of little avail to point out how ’inS'kjavy cant” such incidents are, to cite how many complex ^ contracts must be authorized each day, or to note 1 4 y almost every case we caught the violator ourselves- b ^ defense scandal reinforces the widespread suspici°n
as of a hallmark of the naval profession:
^ °urth, the public scrutinizes the decisions we make °ut our force structure often in hindsight and with no ^Preciation of the lead times involved. One need only 'hep c'amor about the shortage of minesweepers for ^ Persian Gulf escort mission. Charles R. Morris wrote be New York Times magazine:
In the Gulf, to the Navy’s intense embarrassment, the j'nierican fleet was thoroughly spooked by the lowest- echnology weapons possible—floating mines not |*JUch different from those used in the Civil War. The nited States, it turns out, possesses only a handful of J50s-vintagc mine sweepers, most of which were not Readily available to the Gulf. The huge American comat ships, with all their glittering electronic gear, were 0rced to shelter ignominiously behind the tankers they ^Crc supposed to protect, because the reinforced tanker
. *s are much more likely to survive a mine explosion.’^
shou WCVer one chooses to respond to such criticism, one ref| . acknowledge that it reports a widely held adverse ^ection on the kind of Navy we have bought. Mv°Untability: The investigations into the actions in- pub||nS lhe USS Stark and Vincennes (CG-49) allowed the ship!C a glimpse into the ambiguities and difficulties a thg fS Crevv faces operating in or near a war zone. Yet in sjjfi ist case, there was no court-martial; the officers were y allowed to resign or retire. In the second case, a 0r(ji')nan(-Jing officer was not held accountable for his sub- iitr, ofr •' errors- Some officers have speculated that civil- dot t0 *C*a*S ^or reasons they thought sufficient) decided (Ieprjvauthorize further proceedings. In so doing, they
lnRs / July 1989
“On the sea there is a tradition older even than the traditions of the country itself and wiser in its age than this new custom. It is the tradition that with responsibility goes authority and with them goes accountability.
“This accountability is not for the intention but for the deed.
“It is cmel, this accountability of good and well- intentioned men.
“But the choice is that or an end to responsibility and, finally, as the cruel sea has taught, an end to the confidence and trust in the men who lead, for men will not long trust leaders who feel themselves beyond accountability for what they do.”4
In 1983, Admiral James Watkins referred to this famous editorial on the sinking of the USS Hobson (DMS-26):
“All too often, individuals ... in our society complain that being required to account for mistakes or errors in judgment is just “crying over spilled milk.” All around we hear the plea accepted that “what is done is done” . . . that an accounting cannot change the past . . . that for honest men in error there should be no accountability. But such complacency can only result in a loss of credibility and, as the Wall Street Journal voiced, a loss of just authority.”5
Service Life: If our fellow citizens were not permitted to appreciate a fundamental of our profession in these instances, still less surprising must it seem that they gener-
are ill-informed is the most important: why the Urn1 States needs the world’s strongest navy. Few of them
ize that oceans cover 70% of the world’s surface, exported goods constitute 20% of our GNP, that more
ally misapprehend the mundane routines of naval service. The number of senators and representatives with a military background is declining, and the all-volunteer force sharply reduces the percentage of citizens with firsthand knowledge of our working lives. Most people are genuinely astonished to learn that U. S. Navy sailors and Marines regularly deploy for six months at a time, that they stay at sea continually for weeks, and that their living accommodations are markedly less luxurious than cruise liner standards. The poignant realities of today’s naval service need to be explained better. Many people also do not realize that one-sixth of Navy and Marine personnel are not home at Christmas; they might see their child for the first time when the baby is four months old; and they frequently miss successive anniversaries or a child’s graduation. Numerous other misconceptions circulate as folklore: prices in exchanges and commissaries are extravagantly lower than those in the shopping mall; one’s housing is provided either free on base or fully compensated off base; moves are wholly paid for by the government; one is automatically promoted solely by virtue of longevity; and, after 20 years’ service, one can retire drawing full pay. The movie, “Top Gun” was wonderful for recruiting, but it did not portray the truth about life in the Navy.
Loyalty: We also must address the serious harm done by spies among us. In addition to the aid they gave foreign powers, the Walkers, Whitworths, Pollards, Lonetrees,
and their ilk stained all of us. They insinuated that, f°r money, sex, or “thrills,” Navy and Marine Corps person nel would betray the American people, who now have t° wonder how many more of us will subvert millions0 dollars of their investment in sea power. Are we doM enough to identify and remove “bad apples” before the) hurt us? ,
Raison d’Etre: The last area about which our citize,;’
real' that than
90% of our international trade is carried on merchan1 ships, that our industrial system would quickly collap without the shipbome import of raw materials (including about two dozen minerals essential to our defense capab' ities), and that more than half of the oil we use must brought in on tankers, one after the other. Not many Pe^ pie can name even a few of our country’s more than treaty commitments with scores of nations who are 0 allies, friends, and trading partners. We have much 'v0 to do. (
Similarly, we should strive to ensure that more of 0 citizens recognize how often the Navy is ordered in action in crises or in wars. Since 1945, Navy and Mat1 Corps forces have been called on in all but about dozen of the more than 200 international crises invoW1 -
Most think of the Navy-Marine Corps team in terms of classic amphibious warfare, but the Commandant of the Marine Corps has stressed the need to prevent, control, or win “the most likely conflict”—most likely in the Third World. This may bring the team out in new combinations (here, the Nicholas [FFG-47] steaming in the Persian Gulf carries a Marine Sea Cobra).
the United States. “Return on investment” is a c. American yardstick, so we benefit when our work |S ^ ognized. The successes of Tom Clancy (The Huntf°r j|. October), and Stephen Coonts (Flight of the Intrude*'^ lustrate how much the American public is interested & l0 activities. This interest could readily be extended “nonfiction” pages of books, columns of newspaP.^. and seconds of television time through local comrnafl tiatives, background discussions, and a friendlier at
. atl we too often exhibit. The print and electronic joumal- °f “the fourth estate” are not our enemies; through e'r work, for better or worse, the American people form 0Pmions on which they choose their elected officials and exPress their views on taxes, budgets, treaties, and foreign Pwicies. We must do better presenting the benefits of sea Power if we hope to enjoy continued support from our e"ow citizens.
]°ughts on the Future
Whether one agrees with the maritime strategy or not, eryone seems sure they know what it means and that Vone who thinks differently is mistaken. Nevertheless, (.e Public’s perception has been that the strategy focuses ^ a global conventional war with the Soviet Union. The avy’s annual reports to Congress have stressed how ^ val power could influence the course of a war in Europe a selectively bringing pressure against the Soviet Union Us client states. The maritime strategy has emphasized Pal, forward-deployed, superior naval forces to deter °pet aggression.
. °°d reasons existed to present the Navy’s programs in (,'s Way when the U. S. Navy was reduced to 479 ships
active carriers and no battleships), the Soviet Navy relentlessly expanding, Afghanistan had just been i aded, Cuban and other Eastern-Bloc troops were fight- § from Somalia to Central America, Poland was threat- rolr ^ a Brezhnev doctrine invasion, and SS-20s were q ln8 into place while Soviet negotiators walked out at ^eneva. It is much harder to plead our case when: tod m'ral ^rost truthfully advises Congress, “The Navy aV is more ready than ever to fulfill the nation’s cornet ^uts and to support our longstanding national security da , e8y of deterrence, forward defense and alliance soli-
(jQne Soviet Navy’s growth has slowed, and its opera- \ Paf tempo has decreased
, °v'et and proxy forces are pulling out of Afghanistan ■ U Angola
for the most likely conflict—and that is in the Third World.”8
Certainly the value of the Navy’s portion of the nuclear deterrent triad should be recognized and emphasized if strategic arms negotiations are concluded to reduce those arsenals, perhaps by half. Undoubtedly, the Navy has to be prepared for theater nuclear and global conventional war against Soviet forces.
We should, however, stress the value of the Navy- Marine Corps team—read sea power—in preventing, controlling, or winning ‘‘the most likely conflict.” The American public will understand that we are not “preparing to fight the last war” as they note our mission statements, budgetary decisions, and training exercises. They appreciate that hostile powers other than the Soviet Union exist, and that they are equipped with modern weapons and capable of threatening world peace. Crises are dynamic situations with rapidly changing opportunities, so U. S. forces must be close at hand to move quickly in expressing resolve, seizing opportunities, or inflicting damage. Crises demand superior forces, able to control the air, sweep the sea, and move ashore; anything less is perceptibly a bluff and possibly a disaster.
Americans are wary of protracted military actions and concerned about losing servicemen, and these are both best avoided by overwhelmingly powerful military forces. The fewest people die if no fighting occurs, or (deterrence failing) if one side is far stronger; the most die if forces engage incrementally with neither side dominant, and a blood-letting ensues (e.g., the Iran-Iraq War). Finally, if there is any currently plausible route to a war between the United States and the Soviet Union, it originates in a Third World conflict that tragically drags in the superpowers, step by unwilling step. Consequently, the case for strong sea power should be premised on the flexibility, autonomy, and proximity of naval forces to influence a great range of friends and foes. Experience affirms that strong sea power, swiftly and decisively committed, is an unequivocal signal of U. S. resolve.
^ ~nrest is disturbing several Soviet republics as well as ^ . em European regimes
■Up r ^ntermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty is provid- i M°r on_site inspections in the Soviet Union War.hail Gorbachev declares, “Clausewitz’s dictum that tyL. 18 the continuation of policy only by different means, of j was classical in his time, has grown hopelessly out 00 ,ate- It now belongs to the libraries. . . . Security can 0Se °u§er be assured by military means—neither by the ’he v arms or deterrence, nor by continued perfection of
'Paul Kennedy, The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers (New York: Random House, 1987), p. xvi.
“Admiral Carlisle Trost, USN, Speech to New York Navy League, 21 March 1989. ^Charles R. Morris, The New York Times Magazine, 24 April 1988, p. 104. AThe Wall Street Journal, 14 May 1952.
5Adm. J. Watkins, USN (Ret.), “ . . . older than the country,” Surface Warfare Magazine, July/August 1983, p. 19.
Statement of the Chief of Naval Operations, Report to the Congress, Fiscal Year 1989 (Washington, D. C.: Department of the Navy, 1988), p. 22.
7Mikhail Gorbachev, Perestroika (New York: Harper and Row, 1987). p. 141. Statement of the Commandant of the Marine Corps, Report to the Congress, Fiscal Year 1989 (Washington, D. C.: Department of the Navy, 1988), p. 34.
Sw°rd' and the ‘shield.
Wls ,e Navy’s 1989 Fiscal Year Report to the Congress onrecognized this altered environment, and focused
CJhat many people believe recent Navy and Marine ^^Presentations understated: our role in protecting the k|a .n s interests against any adversary and all threats. itiene Corps Commandant General A1 Gray’s report Dote !0lJ®d the word “Soviet” once, then immediately le^, ' 'While we are fully prepared for the most chal- n8 conflict, your Marine Corps must also stand ready
Captain Grassey is an associate professor in the national security affairs department and is the academic associate for the intelligence studies program of the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, CA. After two years on board the USS Massey (DD-778) and one year as officer-incharge of the Naval Weapons Orientation Group, Camp Pendleton Marine Corps Base, Captain Grassey became a Naval Reserve intelligence officer. He received a B.A. in history from Villanova University, and an M.A. and Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Chicago. He is a regular contributor to the Proceedings, and in 1976 won a silver medal in the Vincent Astor Memorial Leadership Essay Contest for “Outcomes, Essences, and Individuals.”
'8s / July 1989