Monday, April 14, 2008 ARMCHAIR ADMIRAL
I have never met Captain Robert C. Rubel, but I imagine he would be a fascinating person to talk about naval strategy with for several hours on end. In the Spring 2008 Naval War College Review (download here), he gives us "the rest of the story" behind 21st Century Seapower with his brilliant piece, The New Maritime Strategy, The Rest of the Story. I quote long parts of the article in this entry, and I won't apologize for it. The topic of maritime strategy is important, and we learn a lot about the way the Navy thinks with Captain Rubel's contribution. To skim on quotes is a disservice to his excellent work and would fail to educate, a primary intention of this blog. Reading this entry may take slow readers 10 minutes, I think its worth it.
His piece is an eye opening view into the thought processes that went into the development of the Navy's maritime strategy, and offers us insights to the process that explain a number of the decisions. We start by looking at the Strategic Foundations Game which helped determine what type of strategy the Navy would develop.
The Strategic Foundations Game took about six weeks to play and involved the four U.S. teams, one for each potential policy future, and five “strategic entities,” countries and nonstate groups selected for detailed play. Teams were directed to develop grand strategies for the next twenty years that would maximize their security, aspirations, and interests. Non-U.S. teams were not required to demonstrate hostility to the United States unless that made sense in terms of their grand strategies. This represented a departure from normal gaming, in which worst-case scenarios are the rule. In the open adjudication sessions in which each team proclaimed its strategy, a compelling central thread emerged. Each state had an intrinsic interest in the effective functioning of the global system of trade, even such “rogue” actors as Iran and North Korea. Only al-Qa‘ida and associated groups had endemic hostility to the system. This insight produced the “big idea” that the protection of the existing global system of trade and security (as opposed to the process of globalization) provided both the context for the new strategy and the intellectual glue that tied together all regions of the world. Thus the notion of system security and defense figures prominently in the maritime strategy document, both “up front,” in its introduction, and in the description of the maritime strategic concept. It provided a basis for not only a maritime strategy but a national grand strategy not aimed against a particular country or threat but positive, without being aggressive. The strategic concept upon which the maritime strategy is based—defense of the global system of commerce and security—offers the opportunity for future administrations to adopt a clearly articulated grand strategic defensive posture,with all the political advantages that brings.As a defensive strategy, it makes global maritime cooperation much easier to attain.
The article goes into further detail regarding how the Strategic Foundations Game played out.
As it turned out, the Strategic Foundations Game and the several workshops did not produce the maritime strategy options in a straightforward way. Naval War College researchers were left with a considerable body of data, but the planned events produced no clear definition of options. Thus they set about trying to deduce strategy options from the four policy futures. This work produced five options. The first, called “Winning Combat Power Forward,” was derived from the Primacy policy future and called for strong, war-winning forces to be deployed in the northern Arabian Sea and in northeast Asia. The underpinning assumption was that since deterrence could not be relied upon and sufficient strategic depth in these areas was lacking, strong forces must be positioned where they would be needed. The second option was based on the Offshore Balancing policy future and called for U.S. naval forces to be forward deployed only in the Persian Gulf. The rest of the Navy would remain in home waters, in a “surge” status. Monetary savings of this posture would be used to increase force structure or to transform the Navy. The third option called for a focus on securing the global commons as a key element in the health of the global system. This option seemed to have relevance across most of the policy futures. The fourth option, one that came “over the transom” from outside the College, called for high-end forces to combat anti-access capabilities in northeast Asia and low-end forces for the Long War and engagement elsewhere. The final option, another one that came in from an outside source, was an outgrowth of the Selective Engagement policy future and called for raising war prevention to the same level of importance as war winning. Prevention was to be achieved through a combination of deterrence through strength and widespread engagement to reduce the causes of discontent, resource competition, and failed governance that could spawn wars. These five options were offered to the Executive Committee. These were quickly winnowed down to three: war-winning power forward, securing the global commons, and war prevention. These three were carried forward for staffing and, eventually, were all combined into a single strategy—the one that has been published.
I highlighted in bold the five games for my own sake, but this level of insight is very interesting in analysis of how the Navy developed its maritime strategy. The article has a ton of additional information regarding the potential policy futures, and is well worth the read in full for more information on that.
"The Navy will defend the global system" sounds a lot like “disconnectedness from globalization defines danger" to me. The theme of engagement further highlights that context, and as I've said on the blog time and time again, the ways and context of the Maritime Strategy appear to come directly from Thomas PM Barnett's The Pentagon's New Map.
The 5th game described is one I'd like to know more about, because as I read the Maritime Strategy I see the phrase "preventing war is as important as winning war" as a mission statement. It is the connection between preventing war and winning war that we describe maritime strategy in the 21st century as a yin yang representing warfighting and peacemaking as two opposing and, at the same time, complementary (completing) applications of seapower. We developed this model based on our strategic influences, and it was on the topic of strategic influences the article had me focused.
There are many who are frustrated that the new strategy makes no mention of force structure, but it does seem to provide an overarching logic from which future force structure could be deduced. At the very least, it is a consensus document that has to some degree knit the Navy together.
Basically the author is suggesting that it was decided the only way to develop a consensus document was to ignore Force Structure. There is some irony that the unpopularity, or lack of consensus for 21st Century Seapower, is mostly due to the lack of strategic discussions regarding fleet constitution. As we have done on this blog, you can discuss fleet constitution strategically without making specific recommendations, and I for one believe the Navy should have done exactly that. We find this part very interesting, and familiar, as Captain Rubel discussed fleet constitution strategically without making a recommendation. That is what strategy can do.
At this nexus of force structure and strategy, it is useful to interpret the strategy in light of the ideas of the two greatest maritime strategy theorists, Alfred Thayer Mahan and Sir Julian Corbett. In a sense, the new strategy is very “Corbettian,” in that it requires that control of the seas—at least in the new sense of maritime security and maritime domain awareness—be exercised day in and day out. Corbett described two traditional concentration points for the Royal Navy, one near the French island of Ushant off Brittany to control the Channel, and the other in the Downs (a roadstead near Dover) to guard against invasion threats from the North Sea. These concentration points were established because Britain’s proximity to them afforded little geographic strategic depth. However, fleets concentrated there could disperse for “systemic” sea-control duties, being always ready to regroup if a major threat developed near home. Similarly, the new maritime strategy prescribes two concentration points, one in the Arabian Gulf and the other in northeast Asia, where important economic elements of the global system are near potentially aggressive states. Per current U.S. Navy practice, these “combat credible” forces will “starburst,” or disperse, for engagement purposes but can regroup quickly in case of need. Corbett said that commercial shipping elsewhere could be protected by cruisers and the “flotilla”— smaller ships that could deal with most threats short of first-class forces—types not normally encountered in the far-flung reaches of the empire. The analog today is the “thousand-ship navy, ”the loose network of navies cooperating for maritime security. The U.S. part of that flotilla will be those units assigned to Global Fleet Stations and other, more ad hoc deployments to catalyze greater levels of cooperation. The keyword is catalyze. We would not build a fleet of patrol craft to do other nations’ jobs for them. We would dispatch ships and other kinds of forces that would help other navies and coast guards adopt congruent strategies and provide them with the training and perhaps equipment to implement them. The exact types and numbers of forces required are not self-evident and need to be the subject of analysis and gaming.
The strategy has its Mahanian aspects too. One aspect of Mahan’s writing that is widely ignored or misunderstood is his focus on deterrence. Mahan’s world was characterized by the existence of great powers overseas that had navies capable of conducting operations in the Western Hemisphere. Mahan worried about the defense of the soon-to-be-opened Panama Canal and about other European adventurism in Latin America. His prescription for a strong battle fleet and its deployment was based as much on deterring outside intervention in the Americas as it was on protecting American interests overseas. This notion of deterring a range of major powers through a strong, high-end fleet is an intrinsic part of the new strategy. Moreover, Mahan’s prescription for a consortium of cooperating navies belonging to like-minded powers has a strong echo in the new strategy. In Mahan’s era, Britain was the preeminent naval power, but there were others on the rise, including Germany, Japan, and the United States. Mahan could see that even the Royal Navy might not be able to police the world in an era where capital ships were becoming ever more expensive and any single nation might not be able to keep the seas free around the world. Thus he proposed that the navies of several nations act in concert (not necessarily in alliance) to make sure regional powers could not close off large parts of the ocean to trade.6 Today, even though the United States enjoys a measure of naval relative advantage Mahan could not have dreamed of, the world is still too big for a single navy to act as sheriff of the seas. Therefore, the new maritime strategy advocates a consortium of navies and coast guards working together to assure maritime security, the new manifestation of sea control.
We have posed the question for discussion in the past "Where is the Cruiser Role", and we now have our answer. In modern American tradition, the US Navy outsourced it. We find it pretty incredible that the strategy authors would build a “Corbettian” strategy, with this author specifically citing Corbett's chapter on fleet constitution which emphasizes the the central aspect of fleet constitution to be the cruiser role, and the implementation of the maritime strategy outsources Corbett's centric component to making fleet strategy work? All I can say is "WHAT?"
Clearly we see this decision as a blunder in implementation of the strategy for fleet constitution that reminds me of the Army in its attempt to incorporate NCW prior to Iraq. The way we see it, the Navy is setting themselves up for a hard fall the same way the Army did.
I'm only a partial Clausewitz or Mahan thinker, which means I'm not in line with how the Navy presents its maritime strategy. For example, when I think of applying Clausewitz to Maritime Strategy, I think in terms of medical diplomacy being one method to take the offensive in peacetime. When I think in terms of Mahan, I think of AEGIS Ballistic Missile Defense as a 21st century method of escalation control (thus a peacemaker principle), not as a method of deterrence, which I see as a war fighting principle that is often omitted but clearly present in Mahan's strategic thinking.
My views of maritime strategy are heavily influenced by Julian Corbett, and in that way let me explain how I see things.
I accept Uncommand of the Sea as the natural order in peacetime, thus I accept the competition that creates Uncommand of the Sea (or the perception of contested Command of the Sea by nations) as the natural state in peacetime. The absence of war allows nations to build up naval forces, this is historically accurate, the byproduct of longevity in peace. In that way I see managing the challenges of this natural order to prevent war as the object of peacetime maritime strategy.
I also accept Uncommand of the Sea as the natural order in wartime, thus I accept the competition for Command of the Sea (or the reality of contested Command of the Sea by nations) as the natural state in wartime. It is through the pursuit of Command of the Sea, whether through violence or the cost to implement violence, that naval forces are reduced. In that way I see both the management of resources for war AND the application of force to win war as the object of wartime maritime strategy.
In that way I see Command of the Sea, the historical object of maritime strategy, as an unnatural condition that only occurs due to the presence of maritime forces that lack competition in that place at that time. In that way I see presence as an important strategic principle in pursuit of both objects of maritime strategy. My perspectives of war and peace strategy for the maritime services are influenced in this way, thus my analysis of maritime strategy for the maritime services may not line up in the way the US Navy would explain it.
With presence as the central principle of 21st century maritime strategy, we find it ridiculous that we outsource the one type of combatant in our fleet constitution strategy that we would need the most for conducting the "cruiser role" of which presence was the central purpose. Presence gives us early warning, is the canary in the mine, and is the principle that links maintaining peace and winning war. The way we see it, the Navy has outsourced the primary fleet constitution platform requirement needed to successfully implement the new maritime strategy.
There is a truism that is being ignored by the Navy, virtual presence is in fact absolute absence. At the end of the day presence requires manpower to pursue the peacetime object, awareness might be enough to be destructive, but has never been enough to be constructive. Under the fleet constitution model being implemented, the model described as the 1000-ship Navy, we are outsourcing our presence. We can't say that gives us much hope for successful maritime strategy implementation.