Captain Roncolato’s article was a clear and concise articulation of the complexity facing the military today, especially in the maritime domain. Its discussion of the nature and character of war is useful and should be examined in our senior service colleges and think tanks even more. As he noted, the differences between the nature and character of war are not well understood by the general public—and probably not in the military. A deeper understanding would help provide better alignment between how we define the expected end states of conflict and the resources applied across the doctrine, organization, training, matériel, leadership and education, personnel, and facilities of our forces. It should also help drive us to make our budgets reflect the strategies we envision.
Naval forces must be prepared for war and across the full range of military operations. The Department of Defense (DoD) budget, large as it may be, has not been able to keep up with the rising cost of people, platforms, and systems, so Congress and DoD must prioritize the most practical force that addresses our security needs more broadly. The rule that the Departments of the Army, Navy, and Air Force each get one-third of the defense budget just does not make sense.
The grand strategy debate has been endless and not very useful. In many ways, we have too many strategies, and they change all the time. Given the changing character of war, whatever grand strategy that is developed needs to be simple but not simplistic; understandable and inspirational; and applicable to the geopolitical environment that is envisioned. We need to begin with the end in mind when it comes to a new grand strategy that involves all elements of our nation’s power.
If the United States desires to be a sea power into the future, it needs to act like that goal is important and resource it adequately. Not doing so puts the United States and its allies at risk.
—RADM Sinclair M. Harris, USN (Ret.), president, National Naval Officers Association, and national vice president, Navy League of the United States
(See N. Lambert, pp. 44–50, April 2021; N. Friedman, J. Foggo, and B. Tillman, pp. 68–69, May 2021; G. Wroble, p. 51, June 2021)
Nick Lambert’s “What is a Navy For?” asks a deceptively simple question, with obvious, and simple, answers. But as the Prussian iconoclast put it, “Everything in war is very simple, but the simplest things are difficult.” And this is the problem, articulating what is simple but difficult to the American public. Clausewitz’s discussion occurs against the backdrop of a discussion of the concept of friction in war. Dr. Lambert’s takes place against a context of friction in both war and peace; friction that wears that Navy out—people and machines—while at the same time preventing its recapitalization as it is being worn out.
Dr. Lambert takes what I call the “pocketbook approach,” letting the American public know that things such as supply chains, baby formula, and other necessities move via the sea and “hiccups” like a super-sized cargo ship getting stuck in the Suez Canal and shortages of baby formula that should come by sea but had to come by air, bring the realities of the global maritime system to light. They emphasize the need for a U.S. Navy to protect and enhance this system in a way all the articles in Proceedings, CIMSEC, and popular online publications such as War on the Rocks do not.
One thing Dr. Lambert does not address is the idea of a squandered peace. After 1991, under the calculus of things such as “jointness” and “peace dividends,” the Navy that had provided everything asked of it and more for the war in Iraq 1990–91 was drastically reduced. However, the operational tempo did not decrease, it increased. I know, I was on ships throughout the 1990s. Because there were fewer ships and jointness dictated providing naval forces for combatant commanders, the fleet aged more rapidly. For example, the USS America (CV-66) was retired in 1996, at least ten years earlier than planned, and then sent to the bottom of the ocean by weapons tests.
What should instead have been done, among other things, was restructure and reform the DoD. Goldwater-Nichols was a solution for a Cold War environment, not a post–Cold War world undergoing what Dr. Lambert calls “Globalization II.” Restructuring the Navy in particular became an item of concern that the Center for Naval Analyses (CNA) identified in March 2010 in a report coauthored by Peter Swartz, a coauthor of the 1986 Maritime Strategy. CNA warned that maintaining the status quo option—i.e., just keep doing what the DoD and the combatant commanders want—was the worst course of action the Navy could choose. That was the option picked, and here we are today, wondering what a Navy is for as it wastes away in front of our eyes. The Cold War peace was wasted, and now China has stolen a march on us.
—CDR John T. Kuehn, USN (Ret.)