For Combined Regional Force Allocation, Look Again to NATOCooperation: Everybody Wins,” then-director of Navy Strategy and Policy Rear Admiral Michael Smith highlighted a disconnect between our current maritime strategic outlook, which recognizes broad areas of mutual interest between nations, and a U.S. force allocation process that continues to treat allied forces as an afterthought—even after years of unchecked operational demand and sustained budget pressure. In this context, Rear Admiral Smith was right to point out that real burden-sharing at sea is the way to divest some of our Navy’s presence requirements without assuming undue risk, and that now is the time to address the “say/do” gap in maritime cooperation. How our Navy can best do this—planning as it must in light of recent defense-strategy documents and the likelihood of an open-ended sequester under existing law—remains the question.
Step Forward to Step Back
Smith foresees “a de facto coalition of maritime powers with a vested interest in freedom of the seas” filling the vacuum left when the U.S. Navy—out of necessity—steps back from some regions and mission areas.1 Yet executing such an approach will take great care if it is not to exacerbate the already grim outlook faced by our most capable allies in those regions where we want to spend less time. However impracticable the U.S. House and Senate consensus on preserving defense spending might really be, at least there is one.
By comparison, we know military spending is far from sacrosanct in European capitals, and that most are unlikely to reinvest into defense the savings they take from drawing down in Afghanistan.2 A 2013 Stockholm International Peace Research Institute study showed that European defense expenditures fell off almost 7 percent since the global economic crisis, and a recent European Union analysis concluded the continent was poised for deeper and more strategically incoherent cuts in the coming years.3 If we took a step back in this environment without significant of preparatory work on the collaborative force-allocation measures that Rear Admiral Smith calls for, we might find that while key allies see mutual interest in stepping forward on maritime-security operations, they simply aren’t politically equipped to respond constructively.
Put simply, Smith’s recommendations will take time to put into place. As he says, one part of the task at hand is to recognize and incorporate our European allies into U.S. force-allocation planning where appropriate. The other part of it is laying sufficient groundwork so our allies commit to operations we consider mutually important, both with and without us. It may be that the time this would require over simply stepping back makes the admiral’s prescriptions less attractive; surely they reflect an urgent need to address an acute supply-demand mismatch in operational coverage.
But we should continue to pursue how best to implement recommendations like his. Even after sequestration is forgotten and the political environment improves, there is no reason to expect that mismatch to rectify itself without action on the part of our Navy. In fact, no matter how long it takes, we should do what Rear Admiral Smith has written about. We just need to make sure we aren’t paying lip service to a more fundamental maritime cooperative approach while unwittingly assuming an intolerable level of risk.
Think Anew but Don’t Start Over
The admiral’s subsequent defense of our relationships in Europe shows a cognizance of this potentiality.4 To his observations I would only add that “to challenge our previous planning assumptions and embrace the full capabilities our partners can bring” means actually embracing what for all its faults remains the most advanced integrated naval force-allocation construct in existence: NATO’s standing maritime groups.5 The United States has chronically under-resourced these groups, whose mission includes maritime-security tasks fitting firmly in the category of “truly mutual strategic interests.”6 As a result, we may be signaling to our closest, most capable allies what we really think of their contributions, and of the missions in the region about which we more generally espouse our total support.
It must be said that our allies have under-resourced these very same formations. Capable allied navies never filled the vacuum we left, for instance, when we began sending fewer assets to the Mediterranean for NATO’s long-running Operation Active Endeavor. So deep was this pattern that NATO’s standing naval forces had to be heavily augmented to implement an arms embargo during the Libyan crisis, and even then only a few allies committed ships.7
Such an experience, however, should drive us to do more within NATO’s maritime forces—not less. We must play a more active role in training and education standardization, force planning, and mission execution before we can hope to leave a reasonably well-oiled machine behind to tend to thornier regions. It is a slower, perhaps counterintuitive slog, but the alternative is to ignore that the history through which the broader Middle East and North Africa is presently living could soon place both our mutual and purely national security interests in jeopardy. Stepping back precipitously may even frustrate our efforts to “rebalance” our strategic outlook to the Asia-Pacific.
Practically speaking, a plan for deeper maritime cooperation without due regard for the only existing naval force-allocation process misses an opportunity to leverage what good there is in NATO. Who in this fiscal environment would advocate neglecting an alliance the United States continues to pour funds into while embarking on a new, ground-up approach with many of the same allies and partners—at added cost? Tools exist to advance our maritime-security interests in and around Europe that we are not currently using. If they are used, they might ultimately allow us to prioritize national interests in other regions at an acceptable opportunity cost.
It Takes Interoperability to Share the Burden
If we don’t want to return one day to the waters of Europe’s near abroad only to find the type of anti-access challenges that currently consume our attentions elsewhere, we cannot let our allies’ pursuit of mutual interests develop unaided. While working through NATO is only part of the solution, it could form the initial piece of an efficient approach to building perpetual maritime competency and reliability among Europe’s leading navies. That approach should entail more than just U.S. ships, although the visible assurance they convey—and opportunities for building interoperability they afford—would help bring capable allied navies along.
The U.S. Navy should seek more active participation at Allied Maritime Command, the sole remaining command responsible for planning and conducting NATO’s maritime operations. The United States should also lead a new allied focus on technological advancements for maritime-security awareness that aren’t currently being pursued within NATO, and be open to what information-sharing arrangements might need to be adjusted to make allied standing naval forces a viable factor in our risk-assessment process.
The interoperability we pursue must also be more comprehensive and lasting than bringing alongside the occasional allied ship for deployment. The U.S.–U.K. Long Lead Specialist Skills Program that began in 2013 to maintain the at-sea proficiency of British aviators (while the Royal Navy goes without a carrier for several years) reflects this deep need, even if it is narrowly focused on one set of critical skills.8 Australia’s decision last year to embed one of its frigates with the U.S. 7th Fleet seems to be a more valuable model, as that ship and crew are being utilized across the range of missions as would any U.S. forward-deployed combatant.9 Combined strike-group operations such as those we conducted with a French navy task force early this year may prove too hard to achieve regularly, and it must be said this advanced interaction took place in Middle East waters between the rather exclusive club still capable of global carrier-based power projection.10 Perhaps the U.S. destroyers now shifting homeports from Norfolk to Rota, Spain, for missile-defense tasks can bring to the Mediterranean a similarly high-quality, full-spectrum interaction with allied navies—but on a more durable timetable.11
Seeking new exercise opportunities in Europe and re-energizing our approach to NATO maritime forces might be dubious prospects in this budget environment, but any attempt to shed presence requirements without raising risk must be offset by greater allied investment in naval capabilities. And building interoperability with allies across the range of maritime operations is a pragmatic approach to getting that ball rolling faster. Greater, deeper engagement with allied forces in the near-term can actually drive the specialization in Europe our defense strategic guidance calls for—toward complementary investments that are relevant enough to compensate for what we intend to commit elsewhere.
One year ago, Rear Admiral Smith started a long overdue conversation on how to manage global risk with increasingly limited naval resources. Today, with the perspective gained from our first Quadrennial Defense Review since the impacts of sequestration became apparent, we can say that burden sharing remains little more than an aspiration, and that the risks of diminishing maritime presence abound. The admiral’s recommendations for tailoring global presence warrant due consideration now more than ever, and the Navy should utilize its update to the Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower to build on that thinking with efficiency—and desired outcomes—in mind.
By contrast, an approach that seeks to claim immediate savings on the backs of key European allies might do more harm than good. While our funding choices inescapably reflect our priorities, they do not in themselves articulate a serious interest in strategic cooperation. Left unaccompanied by coherent messaging and action, our choices may in fact signal to indispensable partners the U.S. Navy’s acceptance of a more modest future and greater instability in the global commons.
1. RADM Michael E. Smith, USN, “Strategic Cooperation: Everybody Wins,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, vol. 139, no. 3, March 2013. “U.S. Navy Presence at Risk Under Sequester,” Navy Live Blog, http://navylive.dodlive.mil/2013/09/14/presence-at-risk-under-sequester, 14 September 2013.
2. Robert Burns, “Hagel says Europeans should step up NATO support,” AP Blog: The Big Story, http://bigstory.ap.org/article/kerry-says-europeans-should-step-nato-support, 26 February 2014.
3. Sam Perlo-Freeman, Elisabeth Sköns, Carina Solmirano and Helén Wilandh, “Trends in World Military Expenditure 2012,” Stockholm International Peace Research Institute Fact Sheet, April 2013. Olivier deFrance and Nick Witney, “Europe’s Strategic Cacophony,” European Council on Foreign Relations Policy Brief (ECFR/77), April 2013.
4. RADM Michael E. Smith, USN, “Navy’s Continued Commitment to Europe,” Information Dissemination, www.informationdissemination.net/2013/04/navys-continued-commitment-to-europe.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+InformationDissemination+%28Information+Dissemination%29, 17 April 2013.
6. Smith, “Strategic Cooperation,” supra note.
7. Brooke A. Smith-Windsor, “NATO’s Maritime Strategy and the Libya Crisis as Seen from the Sea,” NATO Defense College Research Paper, no. 90, www.ndc.nato.int/news/current_news.php?icode=495, March 2013.
8. Mass Communications Specialist Third Class Shannon Smith, “IKE Trains British Sailors,” Navy News, www.navy.mil/submit/display.asp?story_id=74220, 17 May 2013.
9. Brendan Nicholson, “Warship To Join U.S. Fleet In Hot Zone,” The Australian, www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/defence/warship-to-join-us-fleet-in-hot-zone/story-e6frg8yo-1226629621737, 26 April 2013.
10. Harry S. Truman Carrier Strike Group Public Affairs, “US, French Navies Conclude Combined Operations,” Navy News, www.navy.mil/submit/display.asp?story_id=78911, 2 February 2014. Brian McGrath, “NATO at Sea: Trends in Allied Naval Power,” American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, www.aei.org/outlook/foreign-and-defense-policy/defense/nato/nato-at-sea-trends-in-allied-naval-power, 18 September 2013.
11. ADM Bruce W. Clingan, “The Next Chapter in European Presence and Partnerships,” Navy Live Blog, http://navylive.dodlive.mil/2014/02/10/the-next-chapter-in-european-presence-and-partnerships, 10 February 2014.
Lieutenant Commander Lawrence is a surface warfare officer currently working in the Pentagon.
Top Ten Insights from an Ethics Attorney
“Ethics” is a broadly defined term, and its legal aspects, detailed through congressional statutes, DOD directives, and regulations, can be confusing. While most service members have generally heard of the Joint Ethics Regulations (JER) and the Joint Federal Travel Regulations (JFTR), misperceptions and misapplications often occur. This is somewhat understandable, as the JFTR weighs in at 832 pages. However, the stakes of not knowing the rules are high, and the failure to follow them closely can derail an otherwise stellar military career.
Here are some key aspects and best practices for applying ethics regulations, which, in my experience, every service member should know.
1. Consult your ethics attorney and take advantage of “safe harbor.” Have him or her on speed dial, as there is no downside in having one weigh in early on difficult decisions. If there is a legal basis for a course of action, a good lawyer can provide workable courses of action that stay well within the bright lines of ethics regulations.
In most substantiated misconduct cases, the flag officer did not have a legal review conducted. Federal regulations under safe-harbor provisions can assist servicemembers, as they allow for protection of official actions if an official reasonably relied on the advice provided by their ethics attorney. Seeking counsel should be part of every senior officer’s and command’s standard operating procedure.
2. Refer to the JER. If you have only one tool at your fingertips, this should be it. This easily accessible document, read by lawyers and laymen alike, is the DOD’s single source for standards of ethical conduct and ethics guidance.
If you are a senior uniform or civilian leader within the military or DOD leadership, know what the JER generally addresses. It applies to all members of the DOD and lists punitive provisions in bold. It touches on most of the ethical areas and issues that service members will face, including the acceptance of gifts, working with contractors, non-federal entities, conflicts of interest, political activities, and seeking outside and post-government employment. It is a good document for “all hands” to read and apply, and whole sections can be lifted for “plan of the week” notes and messages. Appealingly, it weighs in at one-fifth the size of the JFTR and is generally better organized and easier to read.
3. Be aware of restrictions on political activities. Keep the DOD Directive on Political Activities (DoDD 1344.10) handy, especially during political campaign season. The DOD seeks to balance First Amendment voting and speech rights with good order and discipline while keeping a safe distance from the partisan political process. Only ten political activities for active-duty service members are allowed. These include making monetary contributions to campaigns within statutorily prescribed limits, assisting with voting rights, and displaying a single political bumper sticker on a vehicle while on a military installation.
There are 16 prohibited activities for active-duty members, which include limitations on the publishing of partisan political articles, speaking before a partisan gathering, and participating in partisan political fundraising. DOD civilian employees are covered by the Hatch Act, which prohibits the use a federal employee’s official authority or influence to interfere with or affect the result of an election. It also prohibits participation in political activities while on duty.
4. Senior leaders must ensure they have sound office ethics processes in place. If you are a senior officer, work to set up an effective and efficient staffing system for you, your subordinates, and your ethics attorney to help identify issues before making decisions. This can include reviewing routine items, such as the expenditure of funds, receipt of gifts, and the use of government resources (for example, military aircraft and government vehicles). All too often, people do not ask key questions before making decisions. Sound internal processes will ensure they are addressed beforehand. Be sure that these processes “close the loop” after any travel or expenditure of funds so an outsider can crosswalk your documentation and have evidence to refute any allegation of wrongdoing.
5. Know the rules before driving a government vehicle. The rules and regulations behind the use of government-owned vehicles and government-funded rental vehicles are trickier than most people think. In your local duty area, this is straightforward—these vehicles should be used for official functions only, such as attending a meeting or participating in a change-of-command ceremony.
Even if you are on temporary duty with a government-funded rental car, rules for its use still apply, albeit in a slightly more liberal manner. While on travel, you can use government vehicles for subsistence, comfort, or health if public transportation is not available or impractical. For example, you can use a government-funded rental to go to the barber, a drugstore, or a place of worship. But you’re on your own for entertainment and recreation purposes. If you’re going to a movie, for example, find alternative means of transportation. If you’re unsure, don’t drive it. And if you’re taking leave in conjunction with a TDY period, be sure to turn in your government rental beforehand and have all necessary documentation in place.
Never use government vehicles for transportation between your residence and place of duty. Only a select few active-duty members have “home to work” privileges, which the Secretary of the Navy must approve.
6. Resist the urge for staff “mission creep.” If you’re in charge, beware of overzealous staff members. What seems helpful in the short run may ultimately cause you difficulty. Your employees should only be working on official matters and using government resources for official purposes. For senior officers with full-time aides and staff working routine 12- to 14-hour days, the “get it done at all costs” mentality is a reality. Resist the urge to have your staff work on your personal matters; this is acceptable only in unique circumstances. Flag aides can assist their respective flag officer on personal matters only if the services performed are rare, minor, and truly voluntary.
7. Establish the right climate through training. The “Fourteen Principles of Ethical Conduct,” standards signed in 1990 by President George H. W. Bush, apply to all government employees and fit on a one-page document. Post these throughout the workspace and make sure every new check-in has a copy. While not everyone in the command may have read the JER or JFTR in depth, these bedrock principles can serve as a gold standard for behavior. Everyone should also have a general idea of what the JER and JFTR cover. Follow up with required standards of conduct/ethics training for your staff. Online training is acceptable, but in-person training with real-world examples is preferable.
Think ahead to situations that have their own ethical challenges and issues. From my experience, leaders should be particularly proactive in promulgating guidance for changes of command, prior to the winter holiday season, during spousal programs, and during the political-campaign season. These all create standards-of-conduct challenges. Communicate with your staff about specific guidance for these situations to manage ethical expectations well in advance.
8. Know what constitutes a legal gift. Whether or not you can accept one depends on a variety of factors, including who is giving it, and why. According to the JER, a gift is considered to be “anything of value.” Yes, anything. As a general rule, you can only accept one from a subordinate on an occasional basis—such as holidays and birthdays—if its value is less than $10. Any gift given because of your official position must not exceed $20.
Legally acceptable foreign gifts can be of higher value, and ethics counselors should review the guidelines for them with you. Regardless of the amount, the best course may be to speak with your attorney immediately and politely decline a gift. If you improperly accept one, you may still be able to remedy this by sharing it with your office staff, reimbursing the giver, or sending a note politely declining it.
9. Follow the money. Purpose, time, and amount are the three pillars for the proper expenditure of government funds. Every dollar spent by the federal government must be appropriated for a specific purpose and fiscal year, and cannot exceed the allocated amount. Mixing “pots” of money can make for difficult reverse engineering. Be ready to ask, “Who is paying for this?” and “Is this the right source of money to fund this expenditure?” If you receive blank stares in response to these questions, it is time to get your comptroller and fiscal law attorney together.
10. Appearances matter. A perfectly legal action may still look questionable to the general public. The Freedom of Information Act and the rise of technologies such as email have greatly furthered transparency. This is positive; the DOD wants to show the public what the military is doing. Still, the DOD is under scrutiny due to increasing budgetary restraints and a renewed focus on ethics because of recent high-profile incidents.
The mere appearance of a conflict of interest—even if it stays within the letter of the law—may not fit the public’s perception of what is legal. Always consider “The Washington Post test.” If your activity or action would not hold up to the scrutiny of the public eye regardless of the applicable law and regulation, it fails.
Use these “top ten insights” as a springboard for building and training your team to match the high ethical standards that the American public expects from its military.