As the Marine Corps works toward developing a new doctrine to optimize its contribution in a near-peer conflict, the United States is at a clear disadvantage within the South China Sea. China is actively and aggressively shaping the political, strategic, and physical environment within the first island chain. Its persistent physical presence and economic leverage have proven an extremely effective deterrent to those within the region, and its rapidly built “fortress fleet” appears capable of seizing the initiative, should armed conflict arise. While the United States maintains definitive advantages in Phase Three of any potential conflict, China’s domination of Phases Zero, One, and Two could potentially render those advantages moot.
China’s critical advantage comes down to its persistent presence. The People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) is shaping the environment, deterring adversaries, and preparing to seize the initiative every minute of every day. The United States cannot hope to ensure victory in any future South China Sea conflict without an equally persistent presence. Local partners are not swayed by occasional exercises, the deterrent effect of transient forces is woefully insufficient, and seizing the initiative is all but impossible from thousands of miles away.
Regarding the Marine Corps’ stand-in forces, the Commandant once stated that the idea is “not to fight our way in, our approach is to live there every day.” But how can the Marine Corps accomplish this? To be effective, Phase Zero through Two operations must be conducted “by, with, and through.” Unfortunately, that access does not currently exist—nor do current doctrine and policies appear to contribute to its creation.
Tactical arguments over the comparative merits of unit organization or weapon systems are pointless without addressing the strategic lack of access. The Marine Corps has been hoping that Indo-PaCom will get it the access when it becomes necessary, but hope is not a course of action. There are specific things the Marine Corps should be doing now to shape the battlefield and create the necessary access, but it has chosen not to.
We cannot lay the entire blame on the Marine Corps. Much of the failure rests at the feet of Indo-PaCom, whose timidity and gross lack of innovation has created an operational status quo of cyclical FONOPs that are ineffective and too often serve the Chinese propaganda machine. Furthermore, the Department of Defense is squandering the opportunity of the Pacific Deterrence Initiative by using it as a cash cow for equipment procurement rather than making significant strategic inroads with regional partners.
The concept of stand-in forces has significant merit, and I applaud the Marine Corps for making bold, transformative moves to prepare itself for the future. But while the Marine Corps develops the mechanics of such forces, it must simultaneously work to gain the requisite access from regional partners. Otherwise, the entire effort will be for naught.
Reviving the gunboat diplomacy Lieutenant Commander Hayes describes is a dangerously misguided prescription. We no longer live in the 1800s and should be glad for the changes that have since rendered gunboat diplomacy obsolete and consider how the consequences of this type of behavior still resonate today.
Starting with Hayes’ own examples, consider the state of U.S. relations with Venezuela. Historical acts of naked aggression—such as a U.S. warship demonstrating its weapons while cruising in another sovereign state’s inland waters—have cast Americans as arrogant capitalists who were happy to trample on others’ sovereignty for the sake of monetary gain in Venezuelans’ memory. This makes it easy for the Venezuelan government to continue portraying the United States as a nation of imperialists and hypocrites, and in turn leads to Venezuela’s eagerness to partner with the forces of states who claim they represent an alternative model. Most important, our current international rivals: China and Russia.
What is needed today is not a reemphasis of the gunboat, but of diplomacy. While use of limited military force to compel another state’s compliance with our diplomatic goals may provide a short-term advantage, history shows this is almost always outweighed by the long-term consequences. Reserve that option not for selfish causes, but for cases in which intervention is fully justified and has support both domestically and internationally. Gunboat diplomacy was an ineffective tool used by imperialist bullies in the past. It can only be the same ineffective tool again.
—LT Morgan Bingle, USN
The authors left out one possibility for retaining women: to let them look like women, instead of requiring them to dress like men. Look at any group photo and you see only men, because the women are disguised as men. The Navy has no respect for women. In 2022, attractive women are still held accountable for being distracting to men, rather than men being held accountable for their own attitudes and actions. Some years after my retirement, when then–Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus decreed that uniforms be unisex, did men’s uniforms change? Of course not. Only women had to discard their uniforms and purchase new ones. The women’s Navy uniform with cover, professionally designed during World War II, remains a timeless classic, just as men’s bell-bottoms and choker whites do. The enlisted bell-bottom uniform was designed for men with flat chests and narrow hips. Who could possibly think women should wear it?
Men are allowed to look their best in uniforms designed for them. Why do women not get that same respect? I am referring to dress uniforms, not flight suits or utilities. I spent 32 years on active duty as a proud Navy woman. Never did my appearance detract from my professionalism. In her change-of-command photo, Captain Bauernschmidt is wearing choker whites and a man’s cover. Choker whites—another uniform designed for flat chests.
Into the mid-1980s, we had khaki slacks and shoes designed for women. Then they were changed to men’s styles but sized for women, and we forever had ugly pockets and wide-soled shoes. But we still had attractive service dress uniforms. Now those are mostly gone. Until the Navy returns women’s uniforms, I will not recommend to any young female that she join the Navy. Women should choose an organization that respects who they are.
—CAPT Diane Diekman (Ret.), USN
I was a bit surprised to see the relatively short mention of sexual harassment toward the end of the article. A review of recent studies (Office of People Analytics, Military Service Gender Relations, 2019) revealed two numbers that I found shocking: 1. “In 2018, an estimated 24.2 percent of active duty women indicated experiencing sexual harassment.” 2. “An estimated 40 percent of sexual harassment cases are reported.”
By extrapolation, about half of women in the Navy are sexually harassed in a given year.
One report included a quote from a junior female service member that speaks to a lack of trust in the organization: “It’s like they say, ‘Oh, sexual assault isn’t tolerated.’ But then you have people who get charged with it and they’re still here, and to me it’s like a joke. It’s basically saying [to] the victim, like, ‘Well, okay, I’m sorry for you, but this man he still deserves to have a job. He still deserves to be here.’ It’s like a laugh in the face, honestly. It’s like a slap in the face too, I guess.”
Congress recently rewrote the law on how the military deals with sexual harassment because the military was not making progress on its own. Unless the Navy does more to hold itself and its leaders personally accountable in this area, there should be no expectation for improvement.
—CAPT John P. Cordle (Ret.), USN, Ph.D
In light of the Ukrainian crisis, I was thinking about a potential air-defense system with longer reach than Stinger but more mobile than Patriot. A potential solution for the Marine Corps would be to mount the RIM-116 Rolling Airframe Missile (SeaRAM) system on a trailer or heavy truck, similar to how the Army adapted the Phalanx to form its Centurion Counter-Rocket, Artillery, Mortar (C-RAM) system. This would provide a transportable system with onboard radar and IR sensors that could also accept cueing from external systems.
SeaRAM is a variant of the Mk 15 Phalanx close-in weapon system (CIWS), which replaces the 20mm cannon with an 11-round launcher for the RAM with both infrared and radio frequency guidance and increases the engagement range compared to the original cannon system. Although RAM was designed to combat cruise missiles, it has also been modified to home on and destroy helicopters, slow aircraft, and surface threats, which would be useful in expeditionary operations. SeaRAM has already been installed on several DDGs and Independence-variant littoral combat ships, and the original Mk 49 launcher is widely installed in the fleet. Therefore, replacement missiles will be available in the supply system.
There may be flaws in this system, but it should be relatively inexpensive to develop a prototype from existing components and experiment with it in EABO exercises to determine its potential. It may even be that it would fill a gap in the Army’s capabilities between their Patriot- and Stinger-based systems.
—LCDR Sean P. Walsh (Ret.), USN
Ambassador Cohen is correct that a revised U.S. policy needs to “demonstrate the unique value of American involvement on its own terms.” The problem is that part of the solution he suggests—pivoting to double-down on counterterrorism and development efforts—will force the United States to tread that same paternalistic ground. A better way to show the value of U.S. engagement and the continued benefits of the existing rules-based international order is to treat Africa on its own merits, not just as a playing field for great power competition or a battlefield in some future iteration of the global war on terrorism.
Paternalism doesn’t fly in a region so sensitive to the lasting impacts of colonialism. African states still face significant challenges. We can help but should do so in a way that supports Africans and African institutions—not by treating them as “pieces on a continental chessboard.”
—Captain John Tully, USN
A person who professes to be color-blind is not claiming to not see skin color as the authors imply. A person who is color-blind sees skin color. However, someone who is color-blind realizes skin color is no more valid a data point than eye or hair color in evaluating a person’s character. A color-blind person does not make assumptions about a person’s character based on the color of their skin.
Likewise, the authors’ discussion of diversity is flawed. The diversity that improves team performance is diversity of thought. Diversity of thought springs from diversity of experience. Yes, having people from varying backgrounds can help a team’s performance if they share common values and principles. Of course, leaders must be willing to listen to diverse ideas for diversity to be of value to a team. Unfortunately, few kings or queens are willing to be told they are wearing no clothes by anyone, regardless of their eye color.
The authors tell us we must see and acknowledge skin color and thus we must treat a person of color differently. They do not tell us how we should treat them differently. Of course, this is impossible, as skin color is an invalid data point. Even people of the same skin color are very diverse based on their background. It could be said President Barack Obama would offer little diversity to a white, male team due to his shared life experience with them.
We cannot stereotype. Someone who just arrived as an immigrant from Ethiopia has a very different life experience than someone who is an American descendant of slavery or the son of a drug-addicted single mother who is white. Leaders must get to know all the individuals they lead, including their background to lead them effectively. We must acknowledge the challenges these individuals have faced and continue to face and adjust our leadership accordingly. We must not, however, lower our standards of performance and behavior.
Color-blindness does not deny the existence of race or racism or racism’s corrosive effects on individuals and teams. It acknowledges it and seeks to eliminate it. Nor does it deny the need to recognize history and the accomplishments of service members of all colors, creeds, and races. Color-blindness addresses the issue of racism at the individual level. And I would argue the individual level is the most important.
Color-blindness is good leadership. Attacking those who profess color-blindness is fratricide and a waste of ammunition and effort when we should be finding and addressing racism in our military, not attacking an ally in the fight against racism.
In response to Mr. Plaza’s letter, we offer readers a few points of emphasis and clarification.
First, one of the most complete definitions of racial color-blindness, as defined by Monica Williams in Psychology Today, is “treating individuals as equally as possible—without regard to race, culture, or ethnicity—by choosing not to acknowledge these factors exist.” Racial color-blindness is wholly predicated on a user choosing not to see race.
Next, an assertion that eye and hair color are akin to race is devoid of reality. Eye and hair color are not federally protected classes for a reason, while race and color are. President Obama probably never faced ramifications for having brown eyes, but what about for having brown skin? According to a study by Daniel Brown, Black Marines were convicted 161 percent more than whites at courts-martial between 2006 and 2015—not Marines with black hair.
In addition, at no point did we advocate for lowering standards of performance and behavior or the judgment of Marines based on race. We simply encouraged Marine leaders to consider the appropriateness of their leadership style in light of the information presented.
Last, a declaration that, “Color-blindness is good leadership”—in the face of overwhelming social scientific evidence and the personal articulation of its harmful effects from two African American Marine officers—displays an inflexibility that represents the antithesis.
—LtCol Brian Joseph Wilson and Capt Lakyra Nicole Pharms, USMC
I was in college and graduate school during Vietnam. I blame much of the youth unrest on the hostility toward young people (the “flower children”) that percolated through the draft lottery administration. Because the draft lottery affected primarily men and was not a system of universal service, it forced many women as well as men into states of emotional upheaval on behalf of siblings, best friends, lovers, and fellow students—not to mention a sense of powerlessness over their own future lives, careers, and families. All of us, whether vulnerable to call-up or not, felt exposed to the impersonal meat grinder of the Vietnam draft lottery. Having lived through it, I would never want to see such a system again.
This was not the way most people felt during World War II. Women went to work in the factories. Families grew vegetable gardens. Movie stars went on USO tours. Underage kids lied about their age to join the military.
The best approach to training the young to serve the country is a call to universal service. Universal service can theoretically come at any point in a young person’s life if the guidelines are clear, the mentors are accessible, and the focus is kept on service to the community and the country. Ideally, universal service can potentially introduce large numbers of people of almost any age and background to skills and competencies that our nation and its armed services unquestionably need.
At its simplest, I think many of our youth can benefit mightily from experiencing the many aspects of “service”—both in and out of the fighting military.
—Elizabeth R. Hatcher
One of Captain Tangredi’s four strategic lessons of an undisputed victory is that military force should not be used without the firm support of the American public. He concludes his article with a strong implication that the draft should be reinstituted. The lesson and the implication are not compatible.
What does reinstituted conscription look like? A male-only Selective Service violates current legal and policy commitments to gender equality. Universal, all-gender conscription, as in Israel, is impractical from the sheer numbers and expense. Will there be deferments and exemptions, such as for education, critical skills in the civilian economy, and bone spurs on the heel? A poll of the public to determine the popularity of a draft would probably result in a resounding disapproval.
Desert Shield/Desert Storm was a victory because, unlike Operation Iraqi Freedom, the objective was clear, limited, achievable, and easily understood by the American people.
—CMD Earl Higgins (Ret.), USN
While I concur with Ensign Rivera’s recommendation to add a China-focused module to general military training, I would suggest a slight change to her proposed agenda.
What is important to understand is how the Chinese Communist Party and, consequently, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) view the arc of China’s historical trajectory. The key to such an understanding is an appreciation for the so-called Century of Humiliation [1839–1949] and the Communist Party’s role in the subsequent and ongoing “Great Rejuvenation of the Chinese People.” The teaching of this Communist Party–controlled narrative begins in primary schools and permeates all of Chinese society in the form of “patriotic education.” Such an understanding helps to better explain China’s actions, ranging from the South China Sea installations to criticism of the NBA.
Such information could also be used to provide a solid foundation for a subsequent discussion of current PLA Navy doctrine, a strategic perspective that has vastly expanded since the glory days of Mao Zedong Thought.
—CDR Mark Metcalf (Ret.), USN
With much trepidation, I take issue with the assertion that the U.S. Navy’s triumph at Midway was due to a culture of learning and adaption. In my opinion, the triumph was due to a Japanese tactical error and a U.S. tactical capability: At the start of the battle, one of the Japanese search planes developed engine trouble and was not immediately replaced. It was in that aircraft’s search sector that the U.S. carriers were located. Hence, the Japanese were surprised by the presence of those carriers—which inflicted devastation on the Japanese carrier force.
The U.S. tactical capability was the codebreaking efforts by the team at Pearl Harbor. They were able to identify the Japanese objective and to some extent the schedule of the Japanese fast carrier force.
Yes, the U.S. Navy had learned and adapted through fleet exercises and the first six months of war. But so had the Japanese Navy.