The success of any state in world affairs hinges on a clear understanding of the relationship between acceptable, available means and desirable, achievable ends. This understanding must be based on: an enlightened anticipation of the tectonic forces shaping the future global political, economic, and security environment; a fundamental sense of the nation’s moral values; and an unambiguous description of its interests.
The nation’s military services must also anticipate long-term geopolitical trends and remain aware of the balance between moral obligations and vital interests as they mathnational security strategies to the means and ends provided by the national leadership. The resulting strategic visionshould provide a “conceptual focus to bring coherence to the internal decision making of the service.”1
“. . . From the Sea” is the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps’ current strategic vision.2 Focused on near-term operational and institutional imperatives, it is the heir to the naval services’ Cold War Maritime Strategy and emphasizes joint warfighting conducted in and from the littoral regions of the globe. It is the result of a regional—vice global—concept of how military force will be used in the post-ColdWar era, intense downward pressure on the defense budget, and the naval services’ need to have an overarching strategic vision.
Nevertheless, “. . . From the Sea” in its present form is a response to transience in a more fundamentally changing world. The great naval debate of the 1990s will decide the future course of “. . From the Sea” and will focus on whether naval forces are recapitalized and trained exclusively for littoral warfare, or whether a more balanced, flexible approach will continue to prevail. Taking into account geopolitical trends, the long-term view will require the naval services to maintain a robust blue- water warfare capability, while at the same time exploiting the progress made in modern littoral, expeditionary warfare capability.
The Cycle of Conflict
The international arena is comprised of a large and complex mixture of interests and power that alternates between states of coalescence and flux. Tensions increase as the mixture congeals into powerful interests represented by great leaders, nations, or ideologies. This tension is released, usually during open conflict, and then begins to grow again as interests and power congeal in new arrangements that become the catalyst for another conflict.
While these factors are congealing, the world is not necessarily aligned in an easily analyzed framework of great powers that lends itself to strategy formulation. Indeed, “micro” scale conflicts predominate and tend to mask the longer-term trends developing beneath the headlines and current events.
The world is presently in one of its disorienting, post- conflict cycles of flux. In former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s words, when speaking to the crew of the USS Kitty Hawk (CV-63), “You asked me to talk about the new world order. I haven’t because there isn’t one.”3
Because the two Cold War superpowers were rational and cautious, the great conflict between ideologies that has just concluded did not result in full-scale open warfare, and its finale was a comparatively bloodless release in tension. However, the political and security structures. that maintained the balance of power in the Cold War are weakening and, in the process, releasing the bonds that held tensions in check.
The interim small regional conflicts, civil wars, and humanitarian relief operations to which “. . . From the Sea” is clearly and appropriately oriented are symptoms of the current post-conflict flux. During this part of the cycle, naval leaders can only—but must— speculate on the most likely fault lines along which future tensions will congeal into larger conflict, and shift their strategic decisions in that direction.
The Civilizational Paradigm
Several scholars recently have put forward their views on what this future will look like.4 Perhaps the most seminal view was an essay in Foreign Affairs entitled “The Clash of Civilizations,” in which Samuel P. Huntington argues that “The fault lines between civilizations will be the battle lines of the future.”5 His paradigm of geopolitics evolving beyond intra-Western conflict into that between civilizations explains much of why “. . . From the Sea” is appropriately designed for the near term and how it must look toward the future.
Huntington’s model identifies Western, Confucian, Japanese, Slavic-Orthodox, Islamic, and Hindu civilizations congealing as the new great powers for several reasons:
- The most fundamental differences in history, language, culture, tradition, and religion are between civilizations.
- These differences are being magnified by revolutions in information and transportation technology that tend to accentuate the unique features of these civilizations rather than mix and blend them.
- The great power and superpower tension that kept civilizations from congealing as the primal force behind conflict dissolved with the end of colonialism and the Cold War.
- Global economic, political, and military power is no longer contested only among few Western nations. Indeed, non-Western economies, particularly in East Asia, exert power and influence on a scale not felt since World War II.
In both his original essay and his rebuttal to his critics,6 Huntington presents numerous present-day examples to strengthen his argument. For example, the conflict in the former Yugoslavia is occurring on an “active” fault line between Islamic, Slavic-Orthodox, at Western civilizations. The rise of religious fundamentalism, the formation of regional trading blocks, tensions between India and Pakistan, and the arms buildup in East Asia are among many existing symptoms of civilizational differences. Huntington summarizes his thesis:
. . . Civilizations are real and important; civilization-consciousness is increasing; conflict between civilizations will supplant ideological and other forms of conflict as the dominant global form of conflict; international relations, historically a game played out within Western civilization, will increasingly be de-Westernized and become a game in which non-Western civilizations are actors and not simply objects; successful political, security, and economic international institutions are more likely to develop within civilizations rather than across civilizations; conflicts between groups in different civilizations will be more frequent, more sustained, and more violent than conflict between groups in the same civilizations; violent conflicts between groups in different civilizations are the most likely and most dangerous source of escalation that could lead to global wars.
It is too early to tell exactly where or under what circumstances the current cycle of conflict will reach a climax, but history tells us that it will. Huntington makes3 compelling argument that it will probably be along civilizational lines. Doubters that such a conflict will arise should consider that most current U.S. international problems cross civilizational lines: trade issues with Japan; civil rights issues with China; and security issues with North Korea. Tensions will only grow as the cycle of conflict runs its course because “almost nothing is so destabilizing as the arrival of a new industrial and military power on the international scene,”8 which is what a congealing civilization like “Greater China” is poised to do.
The implications of the civilizational model for the custodians of “. . . From the Sea” are two-fold. First, it represents a paradigm shift that should convince the skeptics that the seeds of the next major conflict are already sown. Second, as the civilizational model itself evolves, it will provide a more exact blueprint for where and how future conflicts will occur.
A critical question for naval leaders is whether and how soon these future civilizational competitors will threaten the sea control advantage the United States now enjoys.
Presumptive Sea Control?
One of the major assumptions underpinning the littoral warfare concept is that “. . . presumptive blue-water sea control is the major strategic change of the new world order,”9 and that the United States must extensively reconfigure its fleet to account for it. The assumption “that there is no potential belligerent who has the ability to challenge us in the open ocean”10 may be valid for the near term, but it is very dangerous beyond.
At the outset, writing off the Slavic-Orthodox civilization is to ignore the most fundamental historical lessons of capabilities versus intentions. The rise of Russian nationalism signified by December’s election results, the increasing political influence enjoyed by the Russian military, and recent Russian military doctrine statements should be cause for alarm. As the Russian threat regenerates—as it could fairly quickly—it is not at all likely that the United States will enjoy presumptive global sea control afterward.
Nevertheless, most advocates of comprehensive naval force reconfiguration for littoral warfare contend that there will be adequate warning time for reconstitution of blue-water forces. Unfortunately, as we observed prior to World War II, totalitarian nations usually arm first because of their ambitions and their lack of internal checks and balances. Democratic nations, while in the end stronger, are slower to arm in reaction. In fact, “our system has never, and probably will never, deliver adequate warning to make reconstitution a viable military planning construct,” especially for the Navy. Naval force reconstitution as defined in the National Military Strategy will probably not serve as an effective deterrent to expansion of blue-water threats as “the American century closes and the Asian century approaches.”11
As, for example, China’s economy grows in strength, it will be more and more difficult to persuade its politically active military to refrain from expanding its military power, including air, surface, and subsurface blue-water capability, with the latter being particularly worrisome. Although in the short term it will mean only local blue-water maritime superiority might be contested, such a power might consider extending its maritime influence further into blue water in the long term. Indeed, “the biggest symbol of China’s new interest in projecting power is its desire to have an aircraft carrier. . . . The aircraft carrier may reflect China’s aspiration to develop a blue- water navy of ocean-going vessels, rather than just coastal ships.”12
Even if Russia does not regenerate its national—and naval—power, and if China (or some other civilization) does not emerge as a blue-water power, the United States may possess maritime superiority on a global scale but not where it really counts—locally. In the words of one staunch advocate of littoral warfare, “an aggressor would be well advised to . . . deny us sea control near his littoral waters to ensure that we cannot get close enough to conduct power projection.”13 The lessons from the Gulf War for a future adversary regarding the benefits to U.S. forces of forward basing and buildup time are so clear that future aggressors will not be likely to allow enabling forces close enough to “kick down the door.” An adversary does not need a large, blue-water, symbolic fleet to challenge presumptive sea control, which will be lost as soon as “strong regional powers .. . acquire submarine forces and develop doctrine to employ them against sea lines of communication, as well as against naval forces.” The same will be true when they acquire long-range missiles and the ships and aircraft to deliver them.
Moreover, loss of existing sea control will not necessarily occur gradually over the decade of reconstitution warning time assumed by some.15 Rather, it may be a quantum event, in which a sudden competent regional challenge drives us from the littoral. For example, the moment Iran, North Korea, or another power with nuclear ambitions gains a deliverable atomic weapon—as one or more almost certainly will—littoral warfare in that region will become problematic (even though the utility of a nuclear weapon for these powers will be far greater before it is detonated in anger than after). It is already problematic in other regions, such as the Indian subcontinent, and other types of weapons proliferation will only aggravate this possibility. Captain Bradd Hayes, one of the authors of “. . . From the Sea,” is right when he says that we cannot “lose sight of the fact that a peer competitor could unexpectedly rise on the high seas.”16
Clearly, future conflicts will be exceptionally challenging for naval forces. Threats within the littoral may be competent enough that power projection will have to be conducted from long ranges. Robust air, surface, and subsurface threats to our maritime forces will require blue- water capability to counter. A major portion of future naval power projection missions will still be conducted “. . . From the Sea,” but probably not—at least initially—from green water.
Universalism versus Particularism
A shift in the ideological balance within the West between its “universalist” moral obligations and its “particularist” national self-interest is yet another trend that will influence how “. . . From the Sea” must evolve.
Particularists argue that the nation should only become involved where its own limited “vital” interests (including survival of the nation, some semblance of world order, access to raw materials and markets, and protection of our key allies) are at stake. To the particularist’s list of vital national interests, the universalist would add the spread of Western values such as liberal democracy, free market capitalism, defense of human rights, and humanitarian aid. The foreign policy of the United States is normally and appropriately conducted as some combination of the two philosophies.
Universalism has gained increasing influence in U.S. foreign policy formulation in the post-Cold War world. For evidence, look at the attempt to establish a new position of Assistant Secretary of Defense for Democracy and Peacekeeping. Universalism’s rise stems from:
- A perceived surplus of economic, military, and diplomatic means released from the ideological conflict with the Soviet Union, which is now available for universalist ends.
- The fact that the occasional compromise of universalist values to advance the same ideological struggle is no longer necessary.
- A maturing information age that transmits vivid images of conflict and suffering to more people
The Navy and Marine Corps are deriving major institutional benefits from, and . . From the Sea” is in some ways a reaction to, the present universalist trend in U.S. foreign policy. Nevertheless, there are several signals that the universalist influence on foreign policy is waning.
- Many universalists are realizing that religion and economic self-interest are far more enduring and powerful international forces than ideology and that not all peoples share or are prepared for (and many even resent) Western democratic ideals. In Huntington’s words, “The efforts of the West to promote its values of democracy and liberalism as universal values . . . engender countering responses from other civilizations.”17
- Universalist policy is very expensive, politically risky, and pays few if any direct dividends at home. When there is so much perceived trouble at home it is difficult for many Americans to understand why so much expense is applied to a far-away nation like Somalia with so visible result—despite its being a far more successful operation than the media would report.
- It is difficult to apply universalist values consistently when it impacts other areas of economic and foreign policy, as demonstrated by our continual struggle over what mixture of human rights, democracy, market forms, and regional stability should influence our relationship with China. We argue with China now about these matters but will eventually need its help in counted nuclear and missile proliferation.
- Lofty moralistic rhetoric used to justify intervention can be used against us as precedent, and may end up drawing us deeper into conflicts than our interests require. For example, many raise the question of “if Somalia, why not Bosnia?” And there are a host of other Somalias, such as Haiti, waiting in the wings.
Our opponents’ intentions are not the only ones that are difficult to predict; we must also maintain capabilities commensurate with our own shifting intentions. If universalism is coming back into balance—if a future rallying cry is “No More Somalias”—then the nation will find fewer opportunities to use the green-water capabilities rei ident in “. . . From the Sea,” and a Navy designed to operate solely in the littoral with presumptive sea control will become less relevant. The naval services will need robust littoral capability for the green-water contingency that do occur, but a wholesale reconfiguration away from blue-water would be disastrous.
Staying the Course
It is critically important that naval leaders keep From the Sea” on course, for it is an exceptionally effective near-term force structure and employment paradigm that is benefiting the naval services:
- As much as a service can influence the way its assets are used in an era in which combatant commanders have the preponderance of influence, “. . . From the Sea” is providing the correct framework for employment of naval forces in the near-term post-Cold War world.
- The “. . . From the Sea” white paper and its aftermath are proving to the skeptics that the Navy and Marine Corps are truly serious about joint warfare.
- In bridging the gap between the Navy’s approach to the Cold War and whatever will follow it in the historical flow of major conflicts, “. . . From the Sea” is satisfying al immediate need in countering those who do not look beyond near-term threats for force justification.
- Because of the imperatives expressed in “. . . From the Sea,” naval forces are making much-needed improvements to what they were doing all along during the Cold War. At the macro level, these improvements include new emphasis on joint command and control, closer cooperation between the Navy and Marine Corps, and long-overdue creation of a Naval Doctrine Command. At the intermediate level, they include experimental naval expeditionary force employment concepts. At the micro level are new imperatives for shallow-water anti-submarine warfare (ASW), mine countermeasures, air-to-ground capability for the F-14, and increased attention to close air support, to name but a few.
However, . . From the Sea” must be updated as the new cycle of conflict develops, the various forces and interests in the world congeal, presumptive sea control becomes less and less secure, and the nation edges away rom its universalist orientation.
The question is not a matter of whether, when, or how to put “. . . From the Sea” behind us. Rather, its rich doctrinal, tactical, and technical benefits must be consolidated, improved upon, and retained. The question is, in which direction should the vision evolve? Toward a fundamental, complete reconfiguration of naval forces exclusively onward green-water littoral warfare? Or toward a smaller fleet that still reflects a balanced set of capabilities?
Given the geopolitical movements at work in the world today, it would be foolish to invest too heavily in systems that are only effective for littoral warfare and, in the process, to emasculate entire families of naval capability that may be needed sooner than we think. Instead, we must carry our littoral warfare lessons with us into an improved understanding—and practice—of as much of the full spectrum of naval force capabilities as possible. This duality of focus is especially important given the long lead time for procuring warships and aircraft and their long service life.
In doing so, naval leaders may be confronted with near-term threat-based challenges to the blue end of a blue/green water mix of capabilities. They must respond effectively with capabilities-based arguments, and because this will be difficult in a climate of fiscal austerity, naval leaders must also find innovative, high-leverage ways of preserving blue-water capability during our renewed emphasis on green-water warfare.
This will require continued flexibility on the part of Navy and Marine Corps leaders. Such flexibility was demonstrated during the Gulf War, when an LPH was used as a mine-warfare platform. Although the adaptive joint force package recently deployed on board the Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71) to the Mediterranean Sea may not have been an optimum USCinC package, it was nonetheless an important experiment. Other opportunities exist for different packages. For example, it is not difficult to visualize an LHA configured with ASW helicopters being used as a primary ASW platform should the need arise, and it might be wise to practice with, but not deploy with, such a package.
Preserving blue-water capability will also demand careful planning and good timing in how we equip and train the Navy, for a limited relative decrease in blue-water capability will be acceptable in the very near term. Loss of presumptive sea control, however, will mean that blue-water strike, antiair warfare (AAW) and ASW will again become important missions against a threat we cannot precisely define but that will grow in sophistication. We must listen to sensible “. . . From the Sea” advocates like Captain Hayes, who is sensitive to elimination of blue-water capabilities, when he says we must “ensure future ships and aircraft are multimission capable.”18 Moreover, battle group commanders and tacticians must continue the unfinished tactics-development work of how to conduct blue-water strike, AAW, and ASW missions and continue to practice them, albeit at a reduced pace. In many cases, there are valuable lessons to carry over from the excellent work being done on these missions in the littoral.
Most important, the naval services must ensure that the debate over the evolution of “. . . From the Sea” remains reasoned and unemotional. Statements like “Sailors and Marines who cannot accept that [control of the littoral] will be the primary rationale for naval force structure will not be competitive”19 are not helpful.
“. . . From the Sea” is ushering the Navy and Marine Corps into the post-Cold War world. In its present form, it is a well-crafted vision, tailored to: the current phase in the cycle of conflict, existing civilizational fault lines, presumptive sea control, and a universalist foreign policy. However, understanding the deeper forces shaping the future will require a larger historical perspective than that permitted by a mere focus on the transient events of the past several years. We must not lose sight of the fact that global interests will again congeal into threats to our more vital interests. Civilizational fault pressures will build that are beyond our ability to relieve. Our own national priorities will shift. In such a world, presumptive sea control cannot be assumed. A nation and a navy wedded exclusively to green-water littoral warfare conducted “. . . From the Sea” will not be ready to face the full array of challenges in a world engaged in intensified civilizational conflicts.
We must continue to develop littoral warfare as one of several capabilities in our naval repertoire, especially in today’s geopolitical climate in which it is most likely to be used. But we must not fall into the trap of enhancing our competitive capabilities vis-a-vis the other services and putting our unique capabilities on hold. And we must not let a generation grow up trained and equipped to fight exclusively from green water, for it is only a matter of when—not if—we will need to once again be prepared to fight “. . . From the Sea, from blue water.”
1. Carl Builder, “The Masks of War,” Johns Hopkins University Press, 1989,
2. “. . . From the Sea; Preparing the Naval Service for the 21st Century,” Proceedings, November 1992, pp. 93-96.
3. The San Diego Union, 12 November 1993, p. B 1.
4. For example, Francis Fukuyama, “The End of History and the Lost Man.”
5. Samuel P. Huntington, “The Clash of Civilizations,” Foreign Affairs, Summer 1993, pp. 22–49.
6. Samuel P. Huntington, “If Not Civilization, What?” Foreign Affairs, November/December 1993, Vol. 72, No. 5, pp. 186–194.
7. Huntington, p. 48.
8. Nicholas D. Kristof, “The Rise of China,” Foreign Affairs, November/December 1993, p. 60.
9. Gary Anderson, “Beyond Mahan,” The Newport Papers, Naval War College, Newport Rhode Island, Aug 1993, p. 27.
10. Former Secretary of the Navy Sean O’Keefe interview, “Be Careful of What You Ask For . . .” Proceedings, January 1993, p. 73.
11. “Aimless in Seattle,” The Economist, 13–19 November, p. 35.
12. Kristof, p. 66.
13. Anderson, p. 14.
14. Michael Poirer, “Sea Control and Regional Warfare,” Proceedings, July 1993, p. 65.
15. Anderson, p. 39.
16. Bradd C. Hayes, “Keeping the Naval Service Relevant," Proceedings, October 1993, p. 59.
17. Huntington, p. 29.
18. Hayes, p. 59.
19. Anderson, p. 26.