After more than a decade of fighting in the Middle East, President Barack Obama announced that these wars are coming to an end. The new national strategy shifts the military’s focus to maintaining peace in the Pacific through cooperative alliances rather than conflict.1 This poses two serious challenges. First, we must prepare current and future military leaders to execute a peacekeeping strategy that relies on military diplomacy far more than kinetic conflict. While the military must always be prepared to fight and win the nation’s wars—and deterrence will continue to be essential to maintaining the peace—our success in executing the President’s Pacific Command (PACOM) strategy will rely less on traditional military force than the “soft power” of human relations and diplomacy. Second, the national strategy’s focus on the Asia-Pacific region requires the military to make greater and more deliberate efforts to increase its depth of regional knowledge and understanding, and extend that knowledge across the entire force.
Not only does PACOM’s area of responsibility contain 36 countries with over 3,000 languages and a daunting array of cultures, traditions, and political systems, but Western civilization was relatively insulated from most of these nations until recent centuries.2 This has resulted in vastly different secular and religious philosophies that continue to be sources of misunderstanding. As the Navy Language Skills, Regional Expertise and Cultural Awareness (LREC) strategy states, cultural understanding and communication are strategic concerns:
Strategic, operational and tactical success will depend to some degree on practical skill in less commonly taught languages. It will also require an awareness of unfamiliar regional cultures, many of which were long suppressed by foreign domination, and some of which are resistant to the 21st Century global system. Navy LREC competencies will be indispensable to penetrating cultural barriers, and understanding unfamiliar, ambiguous, and seemingly irrational behaviors. Considering the cultural and linguistic diversity of this new security environment, we will require comparably diverse LREC capabilities.3
Given the complexities of the PACOM strategy and the area of responsibility itself, the military must take advantage of this time of transition to ask whether we are properly educating our naval officers to serve as the peacekeepers and diplomats that we will expect them to be. The LREC strategy is a good start, but we need more broad and comprehensive educational reform. Just as the PACOM strategy is inherently long term, so should be our education solutions. This means reevaluating how we educate and train officers from the beginning of their undergraduate education.
The Navy currently maintains “an officer corps rooted in a strong technical foundation” by requiring no less than 70 percent of newly commissioned officers from the U.S. Naval Academy (USNA) and Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) to graduate with a degree in a science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) field.4 The Navy certainly needs scientific and technological skills to maintain its superiority, but this should not come at the expense of the crucial, although less quantifiable, insight and skills that can only be developed through education in the humanities and social sciences (HUM/SS). To prepare future leaders for their increasing role as diplomatic peacekeepers and to bring much-needed intellectual diversity to the Fleet, the Navy should find a more equal balance between STEM and HUM/SS education, increase language education, and trust in core curricula to produce well-rounded officers from all majors.
The STEM Mandate
The Navy’s most recent push for STEM-based undergraduate education began in 2007 when then-Secretary of the Navy Donald Winter “delegated authority to the Services to establish academic major policy to better enable capability to meet specific Service needs.”5 The Chief of Naval Personnel, Vice Admiral John Harvey, then instructed the USNA superintendent and the commander of the Naval Education and Training Command (NETC) to ensure that “a minimum of 65 percent” of commissioned ensigns graduate with a technical degree.6
After that, USNA and NROTC set more restrictive practices. USNA currently requires 70 percent of midshipmen to major in STEM fields.7 Meanwhile, NETC requires that 85 percent of incoming NROTC Navy-option scholarship midshipmen enroll in a technical major (this does not apply to Marine-option midshipmen).8 While the NROTC STEM requirement for each class reduces by five percent each year, resulting in 70 percent by graduation, changing majors and graduating on schedule becomes less likely each year.9 This makes the NROTC requirement more strict in practice, if not policy. Additionally, both USNA and NROTC marketing, recruiting, and admissions openly favor students with technical abilities and interests above students with verbal aptitude and interests in HUM/SS.10 Again, the more restrictive NROTC offers scholarships “first to Tier 1 [selected engineering majors], next to Tier 2 [predominantly engineering and natural sciences], and lastly to Tier 3 [all other] academic majors,” a policy that discriminates against not only HUM/SS majors but also mathematics and natural sciences.11
The Navy does need skilled operators for increasingly complex weapons systems, as well as the knowledge and experience, especially in the civilian defense industries, to maintain our technological superiority. Indeed, Admiral Samuel Locklear identified China’s military modernization—specifically anti-access technology such as stealth aircraft, submarines, antiship cruise and ballistic missiles, cyber warfare capabilities, and anti-satellite technology—as PACOM’s greatest potential military threat.12 However, while naval officers need a basic knowledge of science and technology, most are not scientists or engineers, but rather leaders, managers, diplomats, and operators who learn systems through procedures and hands-on training. Therefore, basic STEM requirements should not be provided by a quota that limits intellectual diversity, but by a required core curriculum that would ensure all officers have the scientific foundation they need to allow for broad specialization across all disciplines.
Education and the Need for Change
In On War, Carl von Clausewitz insists on the importance of studying military history, but argues that a commander need not be a scholar, “learned historian,” nor “an acute observer of mankind or a subtle analyst of human character.”13 Rather, he asserts that the best commanders have a broad but basic understanding of practical battlefield skills and the current issues and dispositions of their state and subordinates. Strategist and scholar Bernard Brodie believes this has led some readers to think that Clausewitz asserts the “futility of all book-learning.”14 It should not be surprising then that such readers would deny the strategic usefulness of abstract education and favor fields with practical, tactical application such as engineering. Yet, Clausewitz’s theories do show the need for abstract education in today’s military, and the PACOM strategy in particular.
Obviously, his foundational “paradoxical trinity”—the interaction between the people’s passions, commanders’ characters, and state’s aims—is best understood by one who is well educated in the history, culture, economics, and politics of both sides.15 But while he insists that such matters are beyond the concern of most subordinate officers who lack the opportunity for intellectual autonomy, today’s officers are increasingly expected to act as statesmen and should therefore be educated as such.16 This is especially true in a time when these officer-diplomats will be required to engage cultures far less homogenous than the Europe of Clausewitz’s era.
Given our nation’s strategic shift to peacekeeping in the Pacific, the military must shift its strategic model away from Clausewitz, who dedicates most of his theory to combat operations in phases II and III (“Seize Initiative” and “Dominate”), and insists upon destroying the enemy’s center of gravity, usually its army. Instead, we must embrace the abstract humanities needed to pursue a Sun Tzu-inspired strategy that focuses on the shaping and deterrence operations of phases 0 and I (“Shape” and “Deter”), which are the foundation of our PACOM strategy. Sun Tzu writes that to “subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill,” and to do so, one should first disrupt enemy plans, then alliances; only afterwards should an army engage another.17 He argues that victory begins in peacetime, that battles are won before they are fought, and that war should be a last resort.18 Success in such a strategy relies not on battlefield tactics or scientific knowledge, but understanding and exploiting the human element on both sides. This is what Sun Tzu means by his admonition “Know the enemy and know yourself; in a hundred battles you will never be in peril.”19
History and the Social Sciences
The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have shown that our midgrade and junior officers are not adequately educated in languages, politics, and cultures to succeed in their increasing responsibilities in phase zero peacekeeping and stability operations. While PME institutions like the war colleges should fill this educational gap, officers need this knowledge before entering the Fleet or the field. The only logical way to do so is to increase undergraduate education in HUM/SS.20
Although many officers recognize the importance of fields like history, political science, social sciences, and cultures, military education tends to marginalize them by restricting their study to the most militarily applicable elements or by attempting to replace education, a long-term endeavor, with training, a short-term patch. Since On War’s posthumous publication in 1832, few officers have questioned the benefits of learning military history, so such courses are taught from the undergraduate level through the Naval War College. But military-specific history provides a limited perspective and can be misleading, even dangerous, without a broader historical understanding.
Similarly, the LREC strategy’s focus on providing cultural training through PME or “pre-/mid-deployment training, and port visit orientations” is a start, but it’s no substitute for in-depth academic, social, and cultural studies.21 The same must be said for economics and political science, two areas of study critical for peacekeeping and stability operations. Two HUM/SS disciplines that deserve particular focus, however, are language studies—the most obviously applicable field—and English, perhaps the least valued.
The Importance of Language Proficiency
The 2006 Iraq Study Group wrote, “All of our efforts in Iraq, military and civilian, are handicapped by Americans’ lack of understanding of language and cultural understanding.”22 Looking forward from the lessons of the past, the Navy LREC strategy claims that military success at every level will “depend to some degree on practical skill in less commonly taught languages.”23 This is especially true for the PACOM strategy, with its guiding principles of building strong relationships and effectively communicating intent. Much of this strategy is focused on building partner capacity, and as Admiral William McRaven testified, “Before you can do that, you have to speak the language, you have to understand their cultural values.”24
However, as Lieutenant Colonel D. J. Western says, we can no longer afford language skills to be the exclusive domain of special forces, intelligence specialists, or foreign affairs officers. “Each service member needs to be ready to engage in a foreign environment if necessary,” he opined.25 While language skills are certainly less important for a nuclear reactor operator than a SEAL team or an Army Operational Detachment Alpha, any units engaged in counterinsurgency, counterterrorism, foreign assist visits, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, international exercises, intelligence collection, or even port calls will require some degree of language competency.
To meet this demand, the LREC strategy recommends three tiers of language capability: professionals with linguistic and culturally fluency, sailors proficient enough to work with foreign nationals, and a “reserve capacity of organic foreign language skill and cultural expertise.”26 Recognizing the required time and financial costs, the strategy seeks to maximize “existing education and training infrastructure.”27 Restructuring existing USNA and ROTC educational requirements would be a simple and cost-effective way to increase the linguistic variety and proficiency of most line officers.
Reducing the STEM mandate percentage would allow more midshipmen to take more language classes. Currently, USNA requires HUM/SS majors to take four semesters of language (12 hours) in addition to 30 hours within their chosen major. STEM majors, who average 42 hours in major, have no such language requirement. They may take six hours of language with their two free electives, but taking more requires course validation or overloading. To the credit of the Languages and Cultures department and individual students, 241 STEM majors graduated with language minors between 2010 and 2013. However, HUM/SS majors earned 379 language minors during the same time—over 50 percent more—despite the fact that there are approximately three STEM majors to every one HUM/SS major.28 HUM/SS also produced 26 Arabic and Chinese majors, which require 30 hours of study beyond that of a minor, during the same time period.29
While individual universities vary, most civilian institutions participating in ROTC have similar requirements for their colleges of arts and sciences and colleges of engineering, so one would expect similar language statistics from ROTC midshipmen. However, NETC’s policy to admit no more than 15 percent of midshipmen into HUM/SS majors limits the number exposed to language classes. While NETC favors LREC majors over other Tier 3 majors when awarding scholarships, their minimum goal—out of all ROTC midshipmen—is merely to admit 30 and commission 20 midshipmen with LREC majors per year.30
This is even more unfortunate considering the variety of languages offered through these numerous universities. Whereas USNA offers two language majors (Arabic and Chinese) and five language minors (French, German, Japanese, Russian, and Spanish), taken together, the many ROTC schools offer nearly unlimited options for language study. With USNA producing an average of six language majors per year, and the ROTC graduating a minimum of 20, the Fleet will be lucky to get a mere 30 language majors per year from their largest commissioning sources.
If the Navy is serious about linguistic expertise and diversity in the officer corps, it must reduce the STEM quota, especially in ROTC. It can further increase working language proficiency by making language classes part of the core curriculum for USNA and ROTC midshipmen. Requiring all midshipmen to take at least one year of language classes, as cadets do at West Point, would ensure that all students have some exposure to different languages and cultures. Furthermore, it would likely encourage more midshipmen to continue their language education beyond the minimum.
The Link Between Literature and Empathy
Empathy is perhaps the most fundamental skill for successful human interaction of any kind, but especially for leadership and diplomacy. As Lieutenant Colonel Harry Garner notes, “Many people believe that it is the single most important quality in developing human relationships, and most consider it a learned skill.”31 Ultimately, empathy is the skill that allows one to successfully interact with others by considering points of view independently of one’s own. While not as tangible and quantifiable as language skills, empathy is “an abstract tool that leads to tangible results.”32 The late Colonel Eric Kail, former director of military leadership at West Point, also emphasizes empathy as the fundamental skill of organizational leadership: “Empathetic leaders leverage diversity because of individual differences, not in spite of them . . . . In this way, empathy is far more critical to good leadership than any technical knowledge, skill, or ability.”33
Empathy can be even more important when interacting outside of one’s organization, especially for military leaders. As foreign policy scholars James Blight and Janet Lang argue, empathy is not “the only thing that matters, but it is possible that few things make more of a difference in matters of war and peace.”34 The question, then, if empathy matters so much, is how can it be taught? While there is no single answer, many scholars argue that the study of literature, in addition to developing communication skills, is one of the best ways to develop empathy. A recent report by the National Endowment for the Arts says that while there is little hard data to support a cause-and-effect relationship, comparisons of “shared behavior patterns” between survey groups of varying literacy levels show that those who read well and often are more empathetic and civically involved than those who read less, or less well.35
Other studies suggest that the link between reading literary fiction and improving empathy can be shown quantitatively. An October 2013 study by David Kidd and Emanuele Castano claims that in addition to expanding “our knowledge of others’ lives” and “explicitly convey[ing] social values and reduc[ing] the strangeness of others,” reading literary fiction—as opposed to popular fiction or nonfiction—“may change how, not just what people think about others . . . because it forces us to engage in mind-reading and character construction.”36 The researchers conducted five experiments that exposed readers to various readings, or none at all, and then asked questions designed to test the readers’ affective and cognitive abilities.37 The scientists argue that their data demonstrates a definite short-term and probable long-term correlation between the study of literature and the development of empathy.38
In short, Kidd and Castano believe the study proves what literary critics such as Roland Barthes and Mikhail Bakhtin have long said: that the complexity of “literary fiction defamiliarizes its readers, [unsettling their] expectations and [challenging] their thinking” in ways that develop their ability to “detect and understand others’ emotions [and] beliefs.”39 For more senior officers, empathy could make all the difference when diplomatically engaging with current or potential allies and adversaries. But if service members at even the lowest levels lack this skill, it can have serious strategic consequences. For example, in addition to other factors, the criminal actions of junior service members in Okinawa have jeopardized our continued presence in one of PACOM’s most strategic locations.
Prepare Officers for Success
Despite institutional resistance, the PACOM strategy is just another indication that the military is shifting to what Professor Gregory Foster calls the “current period of New War, in which non-military power and non-traditional uses of the military, however much we resist the realization, offer the greatest potential payoffs to the affairs of state.”40 If the Navy and Marine Corps are to succeed in a non-traditional military strategy, future officers must be prepared. While STEM education will always be important for an increasingly technological military, we must recognize these disciplines as one of many necessary fields of study, not as a panacea that ignores the human element of war. PME, LREC training, and even undergraduate electives can help, but as Major General Robert Scales argues, any significant commitment to educating our officers in the knowledge, critical thinking, and communications skills that HUM/SS fields provide must start at the undergraduate level.
Experience in today’s wars has proved the value of the human component in war. We have learned, often painfully, that war is not a science project. Officers like Petraeus who are successful in the chaos and uncertainty of small wars tend to be innovative, creative, empathetic, and non-linear thinkers. Unfortunately, the services still tend to favor a technical rather than a humanist preparation for commissioning. [All] services, to include the Navy and Air Force, should readjust the percentage of officers educated in the physical and the social sciences to favor the latter.41
The military must embrace intellectual diversity and seek a more even balance between HUM/SS and STEM education. While such a rebalancing may be difficult for individual communities in the short term, it will ultimately benefit the military as a whole. In the age of an increasingly diplomatic and peacekeeping military force, it is time the Navy treats intellectual diversity as an asset, not a hindrance.
2. Headquarters, USPACOM, “USPACOM Facts,” www.pacom.mil/about-uspacom/facts.shtml.
3. VADM J. C. Harvey Jr., USN, “U. S. Navy Language Skills, Regional Expertise and Cultural Awareness Strategy,” January 2008, 4.
4. VADM J. C. Harvey Jr., USN, “Memorandum for Superintendent, U.S. Naval Academy and Commander, Naval Education and Training Command,” 19 October 2007, 1.
7. VADM J. L. Fowler, USN, “Academic Major Implementation Plan,” 14 December 2007, Enclosure 1, 1.
8. C. S. Sharpe, “Academic Major Selection Policy for Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps Navy Option Scholarship Midshipmen,” NSTCINST 1533.3A, 28 May 2009, 7.
10. VADM J. L. Fowler, USN, “Academic Major Implementation Plan,” Enclosure 1, 3; C.S. Sharpe, “Academic Major Selection Policy for Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps Navy Option Scholarship Midshipmen,” 5–6.
11. Ibid., 6.
12. ADM Samuel Locklear, USN, “Statement of the Commander, U.S. Pacific Command: Hearing before the House Armed Services Committee,” 5 March 2013, 7–9.
13. Carl Von Clausewitz, Ed. and trans. Michael Howard and Peter Paret, On War (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1989), 144–46.
14. O. J. Matthijs Jolles, quoted in Bernard Brodie’s “A Guide to the Reading of On War,” in Carl Von Clausewitz, On War, 652.
15. Carl Von Clausewitz, On War, 89.
16. Ibid., 111–12.
17. Sun Tzu, The Art of War, trans. Samuel B. Griffith (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1980), 77–78.
18. Ibid., 87, 142.
19. Ibid., 84.
20. Derek S. Reveron and Kathleen Mahoney-Norris, “’Military-Political” Relations: The Need for Officer Education,” Joint Force Quarterly, issue 52 (2009), 61–65.
21. VADM J. C. Harvey Jr., USN, U.S. Navy Language Skills, Regional Expertise and Cultural Awareness Strategy, 9.
22. Iraq Study Group, The Iraq Study Group Report (New York: Vintage Books, 2006), 92, http://permanent.access.gpo.gov/lps76748/iraq_study_group_report.pdf.
23. Ibid., 4.
24. ADM William H. McRaven, USN, testimony before the House Subcommittee on Intelligence, Emerging Threats and Capabilities, Hearing on Budget Request for U.S. Special Operations Command and U.S. Special Operations Forces: Hearing before the Committee on Armed Services, 113th Congress, 1st session, 17 April 2013.
25. LTC D. J. Western, USAF, “How to Say ‘National Security’ in 1,001 Languages,” Air and Space Power Journal, vol. 25, no. 3 (Fall 2011), 51.
26. Ibid., 7.
28. William Fletcher, “USNA Department of Languages and Cultures data from May 2010 to May 2013” (departmental data, US Naval Academy, Department of Languages and Cultures, 5 November 2013).
30. C. S. Sharpe, “Language, Regional Expertise, and Culture Academic Major Policy for Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps Navy Option Midshipmen,” NSTC Instruction 1550.1B, 2 April 2010, 6.
31. LTC Harry Garner, USA (Ret), “Empathy: A True Leader Skill,” Military Review, vol. 89, no. 6 (November/December 2009), 85.
33. COL Eric Kail, USA (Ret.), “Leadership character: The role of empathy,” The Washington Post, 28 October 2011.
34. National Endowment for the Arts, “To Read or Not to Read: A Question of National Consequence,” dir. Suni lIyengar, ed. Don Ball, November 2007, http://arts.gov/sites/default/files/ToRead.pdf, 86, 90–91.
35. James G. Blight and Janet M. Lang, “FORUM: When Empathy Failed,” Journal Of Cold War Studies, vol. 12, no. 2 (Spring 2010), 70.
36. David Kidd and Emanuele Castano, “Reading Literary Fiction Improves Theory of Mind,” Science, vol. 342, no. 6156 (18 October 2013), 377.
37. Ibid., 378–80.
38. Ibid., 380.
39. Ibid., 377.
40. Gregory D. Foster, “The Strategic Need for a Peace-Building Military,” World & I Journal, vol. 20, issue 10 (October 2005).
41. MG Robert H. Scales, USA (Ret.), “Too Busy to Learn,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, vol. 136, no. 2 (February 2010), 30–5.