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Free from the shadow of the Soviet Union, the United States and its allies now face scattered but plentiful threats to their global interests. The unique abilities of naval forces, able to project power to all but a few landlocked countries in the world, should make them the first choice for most regional peacekeeping and peacerestoring efforts.
Nothing demonstrates so clearly the major changes in the international security environment over the past few years as the world reaction to Iraq’s aggression against Kuwait. The political coherence, the swiftness, and the ultimate magnitude of the response were extraordinary. Although Saddam Hussein surprised the world with his actions, he must have been even more surprised in return.
The Iraqi dictator’s timing could hardly have been
worse. Had he made his move a year earlier, it would have been inconceivable for the United States to commit such a large force to the Saudi Arabian peninsula, drawing down its strength in the main strategic theater—Europe. It is also improbable, with the Soviet Union looking on and listening in, that the anti-Iraq coalition members would have revealed the capabilities, expended the ordnance, or taken the risks they did.
On the other hand, had Saddam Hussein delayed his actions for a year, either coalition forces would have been so greatly constrained by budget and arms control that a comparable response would not have been forthcoming, or an even more daunting Iraqi arsenal of weapons of mass destruction probably would have forestalled action.
The conditions enabling the U.N. coalition to act on such a large scale were:
►The flagrant and brutal nature of the Iraqi aggression ►The intrinsic strategic value of the area ►Soviet inaction toward and then acquiescence in U.N- operations
►Lessening hostilities between NATO and the Warsaw
Pact, which created surplus usable military capability ^The relatively low levels of activity commanding military attention elsewhere in the world
Major changes in any of these would have resulted in a far different response and outcome. The inactivity and ultimate reticence of the Soviet Union were pivotal.
By mid-1991, the two-pronged Soviet threat—the hos- ftle, expansion-minded adversary occupying the geopolit- lcal heartland of Eurasia and the purveyor of commu- msm—clearly had been eclipsed. But what are the l°ng-term effects of this fundamental change in shadow cast over world affairs by the former Soviet Union? How wdl U.S. security policy be affected, and what roles should the Navy play?
Global Security Environment
The post-World War II global security environment was shaped principally by bipolarity and decolonization. The 'vorld was broken into three general groups: Us, Them, and Others. This translated into the need to prevent war between Us and Them, and to prevent Them from gaining undue influence over Others. National security policy in the United States concentrated on deterring war with the Soviet Union and its allies, protecting regions of intrinsic security value, and guarding against Soviet politico- military gains beyond Warsaw Pact territory. Building and modernizing a triad of strategic weapon systems, stationing ground and air forces in far forward areas, offering a nuclear umbrella, and maintaining freedom of the seas— these were the major means by which the United States implemented that policy.
On the periphery, away from the geostrategic Eurasian heartland, the struggle between the sides was about political influence and, ultimately, some control over the external policies of Others. Three regions of the world also drew U.S. attention because of their intrinsic value: the Persian Gulf area because of its energy resources, and the geographic regions immediately to the north and south of the continental United States.
Today, the former Soviet Union has disintegrated into its component parts, four of which possess long-range
strategic nuclear weapons—Belarus, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Ukraine. Each of the four has declared that it harbors no intentions contrary to the interests of the West in general or the United States in particular. As far as they go, such declarations certainly are welcome.
Two reservations should suggest caution, however. First, large quantities of long-range nuclear, short-range nuclear, and conventional weapons remain geographically widespread within the former Soviet Union. These are under various forms of organization, control, and security. They constituted a markedly greater threat in the hands of the Soviet Union under more menacing deployments, and their readiness for action has atrophied significantly.
Yet, their ultimate disposition remains unresolved. Neither the conventional arms control treaty nor the strategic arms reduction treaty has been implemented; and, even
The lack of a direct threat may make discrete defense planning difficult, but there are many situations that carry the seeds of future discord: ongoing civil wars—above, the recent struggle in Georgia—the inequitable distribution of world food supplies, and the spread of high-technology weapons. Though these short-range nuclear missiles in Kazakhstan were scrapped, large quantities of nuclear and conventional weapons are still scattered throughout the former Soviet Union—and there is no guarantee that they will remain under benign control.
if both were in effect, large quantities of weapons, including nuclear weapons, still could remain in the arsenals of the Soviet Union’s successor states. If nothing else, the attempted coup in Moscow in August 1991 should act as a reminder that benign control over those weapons is not a guarantee.
Second, there is an important structural problem that pertains to all long-range weapons of the former Soviet Union: the identity of their targets. In an October 1990 press conference former Soviet Minister of Defense Marshal Yazov described the situation graphically and forcefully when he remarked: “If I were to say to you that the United States is no longer our adversary, then the question would be: Who are our strategic forces aimed against, Venezuela?” President Boris Yeltsin has demonstrated sensitivity to the targeting issue. When he visited the United States in January 1992, he asserted that Russia no longer
would target U.S. cities. This must be considered a most welcome gesture.
Even so, the targeting of missiles cannot be verified adequately, for it can be changed rapidly. The difficulty remains one of structure, not of procedure. The structure is characterized by the existence of powerful, long-range weapons and the concurrent absence of a foundation of trust and confidence between the sides.
Only two possible avenues offer promise to alleviate this problem: make the weapons ineffective (by arms control or strategic defenses), or build up a sufficient base of trust so the weapons are no longer of concern (mirroring the relationship among the Western allies). Both of these will require years—perhaps decades.
These two factors together mean that, so long as the states that superseded the Soviet Union remain heavily
armed, and as long as there is the possibility of the hos- •
tile employment of those arms—regardless of the politi- I
cal atmospherics—there will be levels below which the s
United States prudently dare not cut its armed forces. This (
floor on the size of strategic nuclear arsenals alone will t
perpetuate distrust because of the unparalleled damage ' £
long-range nuclear weapons can cause.
In sharp contrast, the Gulf War highlighted the fact that, I
beyond the confines of the former Soviet Union, the world ^
security environment has been altered fundamentally. The t
ability of the armed forces of the former Soviet Union to c
attack Us on the Eurasian landmass has been deeply un- e
dermined, and Soviet interest, activity, and influence f
among Others is virtually nonexistent. Put somewhat a
differently, absent direct Soviet political interest and mil- , c itary operations, few regions can be claimed as vital to a
U.S. security. i v
If the Soviet Union has faded, both as a direct threat to 11 NATO Europe and as an indirect threat to U.S. allies d and global interests, what are the new threats? General threats are plentiful; but specific threats, ones amenable to discrete planning efforts, are in short supply. General ' situations can be discerned, however, that carry the seeds r of future discord, and perhaps crisis and international conflict. Primary among these are ; v
►Economic aspirations of the newly emergent states of (
Europe, reflected against the imminent integration of the states of the European Community ^Unresolved political and territorial issues in the Middle East
^Civil wars spilling or being deliberately extended across national borders
^Widening economic differentials between the economic “North” and “South”
^Territorial disputes between a majority of the adjacent states in the world
^Impact of high-technology weapons and weapons of mass destruction on the ability—and thus the willingness—of the weak to take up arms against the strong ^Continued existence of divided states and the ever-present possibility of attempts to reunite them by force ^Inequitable distribution of world food supplies, and the dislocation of millions of people because of famine, war, and natural disasters
^Use of force or of terrorism to attempt to redress grievances or resolve problems
The effects of each of these are uncertain and unpredictable. None will find early or lasting resolution in the next several decades; planning will have to accommodate all of them.
Navy leaders have stipulated how they will adapt to this dynamic environment. According to the Chief of Naval Operations and the Secretary of the Navy, “Our evolving strategy must focus on regional contingencies in trouble spots wherever our national interests are involved.”
Since uncertainty rules, prudent and sensible responses "'ill ensure a maximum number of options. Coping with uncertainty in defense planning requires flexibility, which, by its nature, costs more. This, in turn, runs headlong into shrinking defense budgets and strong convictions that new defense needs will require far less aggregate capability than what would have been necessary to defend against a major Warsaw Pact attack.
Revised Roles for the Navy
Revisions required of the Navy will be more in emphasis than in function. Relieved of the concern about a Warsaw Pact invasion of Central Europe, the Navy will he more free to operate wherever it is needed. This necessitates a change in mind-set. A smaller navy untethered from NATO contingencies can operate more in freeform fashion. U.S. naval forces will make fewer visits to areas not slated for permanent presence. The average size °f forces traveling in company and exercising together also will decline. If the existing security environment would only rarely require massing of forces for a large Undertaking, then exercises of large-scale operations should decrease as well. Widely scattered forces will operate more ■ndependently.
Potential areas of future conflict involving U.S. forces oluster in latitudes north of the equator and on the pe- r’Phery of landmasses. Forward presence in those areas should enhance deterrence, compared with situations in J^hich no forces are in evidence. Thus, the focus for the avy will swing to increasingly vital constabulary functions, including drug interdiction, immigration and pollution control, fisheries management, mitigation of territorial disputes, and asserting freedom of navigation against illegitimate maritime claims.
For these reasons, surveillance over and intelligence about everything operating under, on, and over the seas have assumed greater importance. And, consequently, the unimpeded ability to exploit space for a variety of sensors, and to process and disseminate the collected information will continue to increase in significance for naval operations.
Emphasizing What Navies Do Best
The U.S. Navy has been optimized in the last three decades to fight in a blue-water environment. In open- ocean areas, it is well prepared to defend itself in three dimensions, while carrying out its primary nonstrategic functions of sea control and power projection. The Navy excels in organic tactical airpower, ocean surveillance, three-dimensional defense in depth, over-the-horizon targeting, amphibious assault forces, and the ability to sustain operations for extended periods of time. No other navy can match these capabilities.
The power of the Navy can be brought to bear in all the navigable waters of the world. It was designed to meet and defeat the world’s strongest adversary navy, now the Russian Navy, to project power against the Eurasian heartland, and to ensure the reinforcement and resupply of the European continent by sea. Most of these capabilities are useful against Third World threats. In fact, having been scoped to deal with much larger and more sophisticated threats, the Navy should experience a wide margin of success against other-than-Soviet threats.
The difference in Third World operations compared with anti-Soviet operations lies not simply in the quantity and quality of the hardware, or in the operational proficiency of the forces, but in the perceived importance of the stakes at hand and consequently in the level of acceptable risks. In a global war against the Soviet Union, for the highest stakes, taking risks with high-value forces would have been necessary and understandable. In a regional conflict with a Third World state, serious questions would be raised about the need to expose those forces to hostile fire, even though the risk would be significantly less than in a conflict with the Soviet armed forces.
National requirements might be met in a variety of ways. For the Navy to make an important difference, those who contemplate using it should take advantage of its unique leverage, and avoid assigning the Navy tasks to which it is ill-suited.
Detailing those activities that only maritime forces can accomplish serves as a reminder of their uniqueness: ►Reliable Access to All Coastal States. The ability to “be there and to stay there” has deep ramifications. It is more than taking advantage of the capabilities of on-scene forces or lending concrete support to policy: It gives decisionmakers the ability to create the conditions for policy success. In this way, maritime access and presence is not solely reactionary, but it can be positively instrumental as well.
The diminution of the Soviet threat ensures that this advantage will be magnified for maritime forces.
>Sea Blockade. With only two small seaports, very weak naval forces, high economic dependence on exports, and the need to import food, Iraq was an ideal candidate for sea blockade. The extended blockade has been highly effective and its impact weighty. Whether or not it ultimately would have been decisive—negating the necessity for combat action—will continue to be inconclusively debated, however.
Even though blockades take a long time to work, are difficult to implement with high effectiveness, are blunt rather than sharp policy instruments, and frequently cause unintended harm to innocent parties, they offer a less dramatic and less politically polarizing alternative to combat. Trade embargoes have been used frequently, especially by the United States; blockades are the enforcement phase of embargoes. Accordingly, blockades will continue to be a serious option for the United States in the future security environment, and the Navy (with possible assistance from the Coast Guard) will be the at-sea instrument of any blockade.
>Forcible Access. Army and Marine Corps ground forces performed superbly in Desert Storm. It should not be forgotten, however, that the buildup went on, unchallenged, for six months. If the environment had not been so benign, the subsequent operation could not have been mounted as quickly or with the same intensity. The absence of opposition during the buildup and the existence of 8 ports and 32 major airfields in Saudi Arabia alone were crucial to the ultimate success of the operation. Outside Europe, such a setup cannot be duplicated anywhere else in the world.
In the future, the United States should not expect that forces can be massed unopposed on the ground in forward areas. If the United States is required to insert military forces into an ongoing combat situation involving active resistance by the adversary, the forces best suited for that role are U.S. Marine Corps expeditionary forces.
Marine Corps amphibious assaults rely on mass and tactical surprise to overcome enemy resistance. Marines bring their mobility with them, and their sustainability is measured in weeks and months, compared to days for army or air forces. Marines also enjoy the combat support of fleet units, which provide air defense cover, air-to-ground support, gunfire support, logistics sustainability, command- and-control enrichment, and various other assistance, such as electronic support measures and electronic countermeasures.
Future quick-reaction operations will be necessarily small in scope and light in weight—unless the scene of action happens to be within the striking range of one or more U.S. aircraft carriers. To mount strikes with large numbers of attack aircraft, to bring heavy forces to bear, or to prepare and launch an amphibious attack ordinarily will take weeks or months, not hours or days.
>Mine Warfare. Because of its relatively high payoff-to- cost ratio, mine warfare will continue to be attractive to Others. The effectiveness of naval mines in influencing the operations of opposing forces varies in proportion to
the distance that those forces can operate from the coastline and still accomplish their objectives. The mine exhibits important force multiplication characteristics. Neutralizing this threat is obviously the exclusive preserve of maritime forces.
To carry out future operations, however, it might not be necessary to approach the coastline near enough to risk confronting naval mines. For example, depending on the distance inland to important targets, air strikes can be conducted from carriers far offshore. Blockade operations may be able to avoid mine fields, especially by using helicopters to extend operational reach into mined waters. The Marine Corps has been perfecting assault techniques that use helicopters and air cushion vehicles, both of which are relatively immune to mining.
The offensive use of mine warfare to control adversary military forces or to supplement an at-sea blockade also can be an attractive option—in this instance for Us. Mines can be laid in internal waters to interdict transportation of war materials or warriors. Many less-developed countries have poor land modes for moving cargo—few railroads or roads suitable for large-scale trucking. Where rivers or lakes prevail, they frequently are used for transport, and landing craft are at a premium for hauling cargoes from port to port. To the extent that these states use rivers, lakes, and coastal seas to transport the goods that fuel and feed the economy, they are vulnerable to mine warfare.
The offensive use of mines for antisubmarine warfare also should not be overlooked. Controlling adversary submarines with mines would help at-sea forces with what will be a substantial challenge: to do the job right, the first time, with minimum casualties.
The problem in offensive mine warfare is in laying the mines. The United States has no surface ships equipped to lay mines. Submarines can lay a small number, and they can implant them covertly. Aerial minelaying is the only option for laying large mine fields. On the other hand, laying mines by aircraft tends to be an inexact science. Improved navigation, such as that provided by the global positioning system, will help but not totally alleviate the problem.
High Leverage Areas for Maritime Forces ►Regional Control of the Air and Antitactical Ballistic Missiles. In areas of the world where the United States has no bases, allies, or forces on the ground, initial air defense for U.S. combat operations will have to come from the sea. The trends point to future shrinkage in each , of those variables—bases, allies, and friendly forces on the ground. Thus, the leverage of sea-based air defenses I will be increased. Just as it would be unthinkable to commit expeditionary forces to combat without covering air defenses, henceforth they will require antitactical ballistic missile protection also. The availability of these defenses will be pivotal in future decisions even to com- ! mit forces.
► Sustaining Combat. In the Gulf War, as in previous post-World War II combat operations, more than 95% of war materials were transported to the theater of opera- j
tions by sea. The security of sea lines of communications ls a function maritime forces perform routinely and exceptionally well. For today’s high-intensity operations, sustainability requirements have increased markedly. In brief, the logistics requirements for waging war can be mind-boggling. Since the support for sustained operations must come by sea, the Navy must ensure the security °f the sea-lanes. No other good options exist.
^Modulation and Variety of Effort. Air forces can deliver ordnance on target from the air; armies can undertake ground-combat operations and conduct air defense; mar- ■time forces can do those things and more. For one thing, maritime forces can be tailored to the task at hand. One need not send an aircraft carrier when a frigate will suffice. The possible combinations in number and type of nnits dispatched to a trouble spot is almost endless, and ibis flexibility provides decisionmakers with numerous options. Moreover, risks can be controlled by judicious selection of the committed forces.
All of these attributes are attractive to democracies, especially to U.S. leaders, who historically have been chary °f fixed commitments and inflexible options. Mixed forces and strategies have always been superior to singular ones.
If bases are not available nearby, maritime assets must be counted on to provide airborne early warning, a measure of tactical intelligence, and command, control, and communications. The ability to loiter in international Outers for indefinite periods makes naval forces attractive f°r keeping an eye on smoldering situations without stir- rmg them up.
| *~(>ncluding Observations
In the face of massive uncertainty in world affairs, the United States has decided to reduce its defense effort to lts lowest level since before World War II. Of greatest concern at this juncture will be maintaining a posture in J ^ntral strategic systems that ensures a margin of safety.
. °r the time being, this means shouldering the continues burden of a large offensive force. This is not an area 'n which fine-tuning at the margin makes sense.
. Only manifestly numerous and powerful forces can pro- Vlde a reliable deterrent to adversaries. Moving to low in-
ventories of strategic offensive forces in the absence of comprehensive strategic defenses would substitute faith for reason. Minimum offensive deterrents may tempt states that do not share a Western sense of fair play. They would reward the unscrupulous and make certain that, if deterrence were to fail, it would fail catastrophically. The fact that the United States has scrapped almost all of its strategic modernization programs and has no coherent future plan for strategic weapons is very disturbing.
While one should not lament the flagging of major security threats, the need for vigilance has not been forever suspended. The West might have dodged a bullet, but global bandoliers are far from empty. The Navy will be called upon to fulfill a variety of roles, and, if reason prevails, it will be the force of choice for most regional peacekeeping and peace-restoring efforts.
What navies do best, and what the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps have demonstrated over the years, is precisely what the U.S. government will require to protect its global interests in the coming decades. Nonetheless, these forces also will be scaled back, to what ultimate aggregate levels no one can yet say. Some estimates of a fleet in the 300s have been aired.
To disembowel the Navy would deliberately scuttle whatever leverage the United States might want and need for future contingencies in which it would participate. It would be disastrous for the United States, in its enthusiasm to grasp the olive branch of peace, to fumble the trident of future security.
Captain Barnett is vice president of National Security Research, Inc., adjunct professor in the National Security Studies Program at Georgetown University, and adjunct professor in the Defense and Strategic Studies Program at Southwest Missouri State University.