Part of U.S. Naval Forces Europe and U.S. European Command, the Sixth Fleet is the principal organizing body for American naval activities in and around Europe. In 2020, the United States Sixth Fleet, one of three numbered fleets designated specifically for American forward naval presence, celebrated its 70th anniversary. U.S. naval presence in Europe goes even further back than that. In the early 19th century, the Barbary pirates of Northern Africa constituted one of the pivotal founding memories for the American sea services. U.S. presence in the region continued over the centuries. In 1946, President Harry Truman dispatched the battleship USS Missouri to Turkey in a show of force in the emerging post-World War II order.
The Sixth Fleet area of responsibility includes, inter alia, the Mediterranean, the Black Sea, the Norwegian Sea, the Baltic Sea, and the North Sea. It also includes the eastern Atlantic Ocean, although that responsibility is shared with the recently reactivated U.S. Second Fleet based in Norfolk, Virginia. Additionally, Sixth Fleet operations from Naples, Italy, cover vast stretches of the African coast, excluding those that are part of the area of responsibility of the U.S. Fifth Fleet based in Manama, Bahrain.
The Fifth Fleet and the third forward-based establishment, the U.S. Seventh Fleet in Yokosuka, Japan, have been the subjects of official naval history publications.1 These explore the history of American institutionalized naval activity in the region in question and provide policy-makers a grasp on the opportunities for and challenges to U.S. naval forward presence. The Sixth Fleet and U.S. Naval Forces Europe are conspicuously absent from that canon.
In fairness, the Sixth Fleet suffered a significant downgrade of geostrategic significance after 1991. With the demise of the Soviet Navy and American political interest shifting first to troop reduction and then to other areas of the world, Europe became somewhat of a secondary operating theatre. This is not to say that the U.S. Navy and its allies did not field substantial maritime assets for crises and armed conflicts such as Operations Desert Storm (1991), Sharp Guard in the Adriatic (1993-1995), and Odyssey Dawn in Libya (2011).
In Northern Europe, maritime operations that had been a cornerstone of the 1980s maritime strategy all but ceased. Illustratively, American naval commitment to the annual exercise Baltic Operations – or Baltops – waxed and waned.2 For the American public and its naval planners, the Persian Gulf and the Taiwan Strait featured much higher on the agenda than operating areas around the European peninsula.
In line with the changing international security environment, American troop presence in Europe was significantly reduced. At the same time, most European countries also massively decreased the size, and often the capabilities, of their armed forces. The objective: cashing in on an assumed “peace dividend” and reflecting the changing character of armed conflict they confronted. Instead of Soviet submarines or Warsaw Pact amphibious forces, it was the Balkan Wars of the 1990s and the counterterrorism and counterinsurgency land wars of the 2000s that occupied American and European planners’ minds. European navies often bore the brunt of the cutbacks and resource allocations involved and are only slowly recovering.3
However, Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the ensuing war in Eastern Ukraine, the disintegrating Middle East with the Syrian civil war, the rise and fall of the Islamic State, and widespread instability in all of Northern Africa coupled with sea-borne mass migration and refugees are just some of the significant developments of the 2010s that have thrust Europe – and the importance of the U.S. Sixth Fleet – back on center stage of international security politics. Russian undersea activity in the Mediterranean and on the northern flank is creating massive headaches for those who engage in the somewhat lost art of anti-submarine warfare. The Baltic Sea region is now considering Crimean scenarios in its backyard.
The strategic geography of Europe has evolved, but so has the Russian naval posture thanks to Russia’s embrace of hybrid or gray-zone tactics. To make matters even more challenging, China has significantly upped its influence on Europe. Beijing promises economic benefits by way of digitalization and its Belt and Road Initiative. Critical European maritime infrastructure has also been in the focus of Chinese state-owned businesses, and the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) is making regular port calls to European waters. It also conducts naval exercises with the Russian Navy in the Baltic and Black Seas.4
Finally, another significant problem stems from within the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) itself. Alliance coherence has suffered over the years from diverging interests in member states, competition for influence, lackluster defense spending, and those global challenges that defy traditional nation-state capacities: migration, climate change, and the COVID-19 pandemic. American troop presence, and the reduction thereof, was used as a bargaining chip by President Donald Trump as recently as 2020 in order to punish Germany and to reward other member states.
This goes to show how little the importance of American military presence in Europe is understood on either side of the Atlantic. This is particularly the case for U.S. naval forces that have quietly gone about expanding their forward presence and rotational deployments. Still, comparatively little literature exists in the public domain about American naval engagement in and with Europe. An official, unclassified history of the Sixth Fleet would go a long way to provide policy-makers and the public with information about the bigger picture of naval cooperation and U.S. Navy activities in Europe.
It would also be immensely helpful for those defense specialists in Europe that seek to work with the incoming Biden/Harris administration. After all, the annual Baltops exercise has seen a significant uptick in U.S. Navy visibility (the 2019 maneuver was commanded by Vice Admiral Andrew Lewis, Commander, U.S. Second Fleet), but American naval presence is rarely contextualized or studied. Four ballistic missile defense destroyers of the Arleigh-Burke-class are now forward-stationed in Rota, Spain, complemented by Aegis Ashore installations in Romania and Poland. These trends, as well as those adverse challenges described above, are likely to continue in one form or another.
It is highly unlikely that this year, 75 years after the Missouri’s trip to Turkey, will be commemorated with a similar U.S. naval deployment – due to the absence of battleships in the American warship inventory, the raging pandemic, and the divide in Turkish-American and Turkish-NATO relations in the wake of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s politics. It should, however, signal the start to an honest effort conceptualizing American naval presence and seapower in Europe. It is as important for Americans as it is for Europeans.
Dr. Bruns heads the Center for Maritime Strategy & Security (CMSS) at the Institute for Security Policy at the University of Kiel. His work focuses on naval strategy and the German and U.S. navies. Together with Sarandis Papadopoulos, he has recently published Conceptualizing Maritime & Naval Strategy. Festschrift for Captain Peter M. Swartz, United States Navy, retired (Nomos, 2020). He is the 2021-2022 Fulbright McCain Fellow at the US Naval Academy.
1 Robert Schneller, “Anchor of Resolve. A History of U.S. Naval Forces Central Command/Fifth Fleet”, Naval Historical Center, Washington, D.C. 2007; Edward Marolda, “Ready Seapower. A History of the U.S. Seventh Fleet”, Naval History and Heritage Command, Washington, D.C. 2012.
2 See Ryan French & Peter Dombrowski, “Exercise BALTOPS: Reassurance and Deterrence in a Contested Littoral”, in Beatrice Heuser, Tormod Heier and Guillaume Lasconjarias (eds.), Military Exercises: Political Messaging and Strategic Impact. NATO Defence College: Rome 2018, pp.187-212.
3 See Jeremy Stöhs, The Decline of European Naval Forces. Challenges to Sea Power in an Age of Fiscal Austerity and Political Uncertainty. USNI Press: Annapolis 2018.
4 See Sebastian Bruns & Sarah Kirchberger, “The PLA Navy in the Baltic Sea. A View from Kiel”, Center for International Maritime Security (CIMSEC), 16 August 2017.
Featured Image: Ships assigned to Combined Task Force One Five Zero (CTF-150) assemble in a formation for a photo exercise. (U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate 1st Class Bart Bauer.)
Dr. Sara Mitchell joins the program to discuss her article, “Clashes at Sea: Explaining the Onset, Militarization, and Resolution of Diplomatic Maritime Claims.” She uses her analysis of 270 conflicts between 1900 and 2010 to explain how and why conflicts at sea become militarized as well as the most successful means of resolution.
By Captain Benigno R. Alcántara Gil, Dominican Republic Navy
The popular “Thucydides trap” implies that fear of a growing hegemonic power is a fundamental reason for a nation to go to war with another.1 Under this premise, many have argued that Britain, as an insular power, feared the German naval build-up of the early 1900s as the most severe threat to Britain’s mainland security and, as such, it was the primary cause of Anglo-German conflict in World War I.
Nonetheless, the fundamental cause of the conflict was aggressive German foreign policy carried out in complete disregard for geopolitics, by means of irrational diplomacy as well as a series of hostilities that undermined regional dynamics and the European balance of power. Three reasons support this claim.
First, Kaiser Wilhelm II’s foreign policy, known as Weltpolitik (world policy), communicated aspirations for world domination and thus instilled grave uncertainty about the preservation of peace and the European balance of power.
Second, back then, other rising powers were also building up and modernizing their naval services (such as the United States, France, Russia, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and Japan). The German naval build-up only served to accentuate antagonism and mightier naval accrual for the British fleet, which remained proportionally superior in tonnage and readiness.
Third, the violation of Belgium’s neutrality confirmed Germany’s full political determination to alter Europe’s equilibrium through war. The assassination of the Archduke Ferdinand of Austria, plus the emergence of questionable alliances, constituted a threat to peace, economic performance, and freedom of commerce.
Erratic Diplomacy and the Balance of Powers
Kissinger described the European diplomatic continental theater in the period before the Great War (World War I) as a “political doomsday machine,” his reasons were based on many diplomatic flaws and series of questionable German endeavors that lead into an escalation toward war.
Before discussing the erratic shifts in German diplomacy under Kaiser Wilhelm II, it may be helpful to establish common ground about two concepts copiously used hereafter: diplomacy and balance of power. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines diplomacy as the “art and practice of conducting negotiations between nations.”2 Encyclopedia Britannica provides a broader description: “The established method of influencing the decisions and behavior of foreign governmentsand peoples through dialogue, negotiation, and other measures short of war or violence.”3 Kissinger put it in much simpler terms as “the art of compromise,”4 and “the adjustment of differences through negotiation,”5 referring to an ability to create cooperation, settlement, agreement, or commitment.
Likewise, the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines balance of power as “equilibrium of power sufficient to discourage or prevent one nation or a party from imposing its will on or interfering with the interests of another.”6 Moreover, theoretical consensus holds that such balance in the continental system works best if at least one of the following conditions is present:
A nation should be free to align itself with another nation in the same way;7 continually shifting alignments could also maintain equilibrium, as evidenced by Otto Von Bismarck’s diplomacy in his application of Realpolitik.
Whenever there are free alliances, there is a balancer that could ensure that none of the existing alliances becomes the only predominant force. This was Great Britain’s role just before it joined the Triple Entente.8
There can be rigid alliances and no balancer, as long as the level of cohesion is flexible enough to allow for changes in alignment upon any given event.9 The rationale for power equilibrium holds that if none of the previous conditions prevails in a system, diplomacy turns “” This leads into a zero-sum relationship among participating nations, and where this condition leads to armament races such as naval build-ups, and consequently to escalated tension such as those experienced during the Cold War.10
Returning to Kaiser Wilhelm II and Weltpolitik, it may be useful to provide a brief description of the Kaiser’s competencies as a national leader, from a critical perspective. U.S. President Woodrow Wilson, during his war declaration against Germany in a speech to Congress, deplored Wilhelm II’s unprovoked assaults on the international order. He depicted the Kaiser as an individual with complete disregard for universal rights, and as the person responsible for propelling an immoral war in the self-interest of the dynasties.11
Conversely, Kissinger labeled the Kaiser’s diplomacy as both irrational and unsound, for he drove the German empire on a quest for a new world order without a clear understanding of historical relationships and underlying diplomatic dynamics. The Kaiser proved himself indifferent to possible contingencies and inflexible toward alternate courses of diplomacy.
Dismissing Otto Von Bismarck from office, and not capitalizing on the vast knowledge of such an illustrious chancellor, was another remarkable mistake (some historians suggest that Wilhelm II dismissed Bismarck out of personal insecurity, rather than because of criteria or substance).12 A rational political leader would have considered keeping a man of such stature and experience handy, either as an advisor or as a counterbalance. Conducting foreign policy with a heavy-handed and bullying assertiveness, threatening the other European powers with insecurity, and increasing uncertainty was a rapid way to undo the alliance system carefully achieved through Bismark’s Realpolitik.
In terms of the alliance system, it is essential to point out that Bismarck favored validating Prussia as a great power, rather than creating a grand nation-state that included Austria-Hungary. The Kaiser favored the latter option, falling short in his appreciation of the geopolitics of Europe. Furthermore, Kaiser Wilhelm II rejected an offer from Tzar Nicholas II to extend for another three-year term the Reinsurance Treaty with Russia; this breakage caused Germany to lose leverage with Austria-Hungary. Bismarck had used it to maintain a balancer position, keeping Vienna in check and Russia as a relative friend.
By breaking the treaty, Germany sent unclear signals to an already anxious Moscow, which paved the way for France to seek understanding with Russia, which suspected that the breakage was due to German support to a potential Austrian incursion in the Balkans. Kaiser Wilhelm II’s rejection of Russia’s agreement occurred because he did not want to inherit complex alliance entanglements. Also, the Kaiser wanted to reassure Austria of Germany’s support and because he saw Russia’s agreement as an obstacle to allying with Britain (which he preferred over Russia). Consequently, the Franco-Russian agreement took place in 1894, in which France would aid Russia in diplomatic issues with Great Britain, likewise, both powers would support each other in the case of German aggression (whether by itself or with its allies).13
Another costly diplomatic misconception took place when the German and the British governments signed a colonial agreement where they exchanged and settled African colonial issues. The colonial agreement was very beneficial for both parties; however, it brought a series of misunderstandings, mainly because Germany envisioned the agreement as a new stage in bilateral relations and as a prelude to an Anglo-German Alliance.14 Thus, German diplomats ignored important historical precepts set by the British “Splendid Isolation” policy15 and instead continued to push for a formal alliance assertively. However, Britain rejected a formal entente, which hurt Kaiser Wilhelm II’s feelings and pride, thus missing the geopolitical and strategic perspective, and failing to realize that to be safe with Britain, a simpler accord of neutrality would have sufficed. Despite the British disposition to enter in a less formal cooperation entente with Germany, the Kaiser rejected such informality and again demanded a formal alliance with legal binding. Consequently, Britain rejected any type of accord with Germany.16
Kissinger affirmed that an informal accord to keep Britain as a benevolent neutral in case of a continental war was far more valuable than any other type of legal agreement, for Germany could have won any conflict as long as Great Britain remained unaligned. However, German impatience and intransigence sent the opposite signals to Great Britain and generated substantial doubts about Germany’s true intentions.17
After nearly 15 years of inconsistency and disquieting foreign policy that bullied the European balance of power, Germany managed to isolate itself. It went from having a genius system of alliances that allowed it to preserve its relative equilibrium, to virtually isolating itself on the continent. Simultaneously, it took about the same time to extinguish each of the conditions that ensured the balance of powers in the European theater. This imbalance ignited the armament race, which later turned into tests of strength, which after the violation of Belgium’s neutrality, ultimately triggered Britain’s declaration of war against Germany.
Germany‘s Naval Build-up
The German and British arms race emerged from the deterioration of the European balance of power. Nevertheless, despite the undeniable budgetary constraints and heightened public anxiety the German build-up instilled upon the British admiralty, Britain remained the naval hegemon with unmatched naval superiority and unrivaled naval warfare prowess.
In fact, despite the build-up, the German fleet still could not compete navy-to-navy with the British fleet, neither in size nor in naval warfare competencies. According to figures and statistics presented by Paul Kennedy, the naval build-up was not sufficient to jeopardize Britain’s indisputable control of the sea. For instance, at the height of the arms race, Germany’s total warship tonnage was estimated around 1.3 million tons, while Britain’s total warship tonnage was around 2.7 million tons.18
Conversely, if the issue had been the naval build-up, then the U.S. naval build-up would also be equally threatening to Britain. The U.S. became a mighty maritime power in the western hemisphere, where its build-up gave it the next largest fleet after Germany’s, with a total warship tonnage of about 900,000 tons. Incidentally, the United States also contested European powers at sea through the application of the Monroe Doctrine in the western hemisphere. Moreover, it directly contested Britain’s maritime hegemony and achieved political concessions over the Venezuela disputes, Isthmian Canal, and the Alaska boundary. One could wonder why this did not translate into an Anglo-American conflict.
Because of the grave anxiety produced by Weltpolitik throughout Europe, the antagonist naval arms race only served to encouraged a mightier naval accrual for the British side as part of a natural reactionary response to competition. David Stevenson also depicted the total number of warships on each side, revealing the extent to which the Royal Navy outnumbered the German Navy.19
According to Stevenson, the German build-up conceived by Wilhelm II, Admiral Alfred Von Tirpitz, and Bernard Von Bulow never envisioned to actually fight Britain, but rather to use the fleet as a negotiation advantage to encourage Britain to come to terms and make concessions in a future crisis.20 Conversely, Germany formally negotiated not to employ its navy against France and to slow its naval build-up in return for British neutrality in the conflict. Britain turned down both offers in 1909, which implies that the build-up was not Britain’s main concern.21
Why was the Build-up so Frightening?
Some blame the extraordinary German industrial boom, as it supported the rapid and massive military build-up, as well as the robust economic growth experienced in the years preceding the war.
German figures (1910-1914) depict notable increases in all areas of national development. For instance, German military personnel approximately rose by 30% (67% over Britain), relative shares of manufacturing output grew by 15% (14% above Britain), total industrial potential increased by 80% (8% over Britain), iron and steel production increased by 30% (128% over Britain) and more importantly, warship tonnage increased by 35% (about 50% less than Britain).22
The speed and magnitude of the German naval armament build-up seemed to threaten the British hegemonic position in control of the sea. Sir Eyrie A. Crowe;23 in his famous memo, dated January 1, 1907), explained why an accord with Germany was not feasible and why German capabilities were more important, per his views. In his own words: “Germany was aiming at a general political hegemony and maritime ascendancy, threatening the independence of her neighbors and incompatible with the survival of the British Empire.”24
Britain’s insular and advantageous geopolitical position could also have become a source of concern, as the tranquility of Britain’s maritime buffer could only be threatened by hegemonic continental German rule, assisted by an overwhelming naval build-up. Moreover, the influence of Captain Alfred Thayer Mahan’s theoretical constructs about “sea power”25 only reinforced the strategic value of sea power and sea control on both sides. Furthermore, both British and the Germans, as avid readers of Mahan, understood the concept “command of the sea,” and Kaiser Wilhelm II did try to rely on this knowledge to secure an accord with Britain. However, the British realized that such an alliance would only constitute a temporary placebo. The fear of unexpected dramatic shifts if Britain had remained neutral or if it had entered alliance would have allowed Germany to become a continental hegemon that would later contest Britain’s command of the sea.
Consequently, the British instead embraced the French entente which was more friendly to the British maritime hegemon, and where the 1912 Anglo-French Naval Convention did not endanger Britain sea power. Therefore, the French carefully crafted the entente with Mahan in mind.
Pre-Conflict Kinetic Dynamics
Germany’s mobilizations in support of Austria-Hungary and the violation of Belgium’s neutrality confirmed a clear disruption in Europe’s balance of powers, and ultimately served as casus belli.26The German mobilization was an important part of the Schlieffen Plan,27 where the plan pre-calculated a scenario based on time, force, and space considerations. Significantly, it included violating neutral countries in order to attack France. For this reason, the German Army presented the monarchy of Belgium an ultimatum for free passage through Belgium, which the Belgians refused under the claim of neutral status in the war. As a consequence, German troops invaded neutral Belgium on August 4, 1914.28 In essence, the Schlieffen Plan aimed to destroy the French Army by a direct and swift attack on its own soil, and where this preemptive attack expected to capture Paris and trap the French Army in just six weeks. Then Germany would turn toward Russia before it could complete the full mobilization of its army.29
Despite German acknowledgement of the Treaty of London with the Low Countries (the kingdoms of the Netherlands and Belgium), the German plan contemplated a violation of Belgium and the Netherlands.30 However, it did not account for potential British involvement, despite the fact that Britain was determined to protect the Low Countries from any major power incursion.31
Notwithstanding, on June 28, 1914, Gavrilo Princip, a militant in a Serbo-Croatian revolutionary group called “Young Bosnia” (a group affiliated with the Serbian paramilitary called “Black Hand”) assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand along with his wife in Sarajevo.32 The Archduke’s assassination led to Austria-Hungary (which was backed by Germany) to declare war on Serbia. Unreceptive of Serbia’s official reparation offers and willingness to work out a peaceful solution, Austria-Hungary mobilized against Serbia. In the background, Russia and France entered an entente to back Serbia. In parallel, Germany made pacts with the Ottoman Empire, and it later attacked France. Britain made up her mind and resolved to join the triple entente with France and Russia. In the distance, the United States remained vigilant but did not join the war theater until later.33 Although put in a rather simplistic narrative, it illustrates the convoluted political and kinetic dynamics that resulted in gross miscalculations that completely fractured Europe’s balance of power and thus led to the Great War.
Arms races and military build-ups are a recurring phenomenon in global politics even today. Today’s media features multiple headlines such as “Military build-up in the vicinity of the recently annexed Crimea”;34 “China’s menacing naval build-up and claims about its territorial seas, the Spratly and Paracel islands”;35 and news about Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles (ICBM) tests from North Korea, as well as massive armament build-ups despite the peace pact with South Korea.36
The second headline in particular relates directly to the essence of what has been discussed herein and applies to an ongoing naval build-up between two indisputable superpowers, the United States and the People’s Republic of China. Reportedly, the U.S. Navy augmented its ship production goals to attain a 355-ship fleet (up from around 290 ships today). More recent force structure assessments put the desired number even higher, at more than 500 ships. Recognizing the need for more Arleigh Burke-class Aegis destroyers (DDG-51) to counter growing ballistic missile and anti-ship missile threats,37 the U.S. is bringing its DDG-51 production to a total of 85.38 In contrast, the Chinese Navy (PLA Navy) has surpassed the U.S. Navy in overall numbers of battle force ships.
According to a U.S. Congressional Research Service report, the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) estimated that by the end of 2020 the PLA Navy would attain 360 battle force ships, compared with a projected total fleet of 297 ships for the U.S. Navy at the end of the year. ONI also projects that the PLA Navy will have 400 battle force ships by 2025, and 425 by the end of 2030.39
Besides the naval issues, ongoing commercial and trade disputes between China and the United States have substantially affected international markets. The effects of the so-called “trade war” reflects in the balance of payments, economic performance, and economic growth of many countries around the globe. The world economy not only had to revise (lower) its growth potential expectations but also had to accept prospects of an equally adverse and pessimistic trade outlook for the near future.
Nevertheless, it is always worrisome when reactionary political countermeasures and economic retaliation takes the place of sound high diplomacy from a global perspective. For instance, the current bilateral arms race among major powers today includes and is not limited to the production of aircraft carriers, surface combatant ships, combat aircraft, submarines, unmanned vehicles, anti-ship ballistic missiles (ASBMs), anti-ship cruise missiles, and C4ISR (command and control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance) systems.40 As such, logic dictates that no superpower would benefit from this competition, for in an age with so many nuclear-capable nations, a clash that could escalate to thermonuclear levels will only yield losses and disaster on a global scale. It would be like if no lessons were learned from the Cold War period (1947-1991), a period that kept the world under the stress of continuous geopolitical tension and uncertainty due to the cataclysmic implications of nuclear-capable great powers.
Clausewitz41wrote about the complexity of war; how nations are typically driven into conflict due to a combination of factors, such as, military capability, the political value of the object (aims), the geopolitical governing dynamics, and social sentiments and passions (people and public opinion). The Anglo-German conflict occurred due to a series of cascading and unfortunate events in Europe, including the July Crisis, along with the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, Serbia’s attack, and the violation of Belgium’s position of neutrality.
Today, the world’s balance of powers will depend upon sound diplomacy under the terms of legitimacy, specifically under the terms of Clemens Von Metternich.42 Conversely, sound diplomacy shall refer to a consensus within the framework of the international order of all major powers, put in Kissinger terms, to the extent that no state is so dissatisfied (as Germany was after Versailles) that it will engage in deliberate violation of international treaties, of the international rule of law, and another state’s national sovereignty.43
Captain Alcántara was born in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. He is a graduate from the Dominican Naval Academy with a Bachelor in Naval Sciences (1996). He holds masters degrees from the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School (MBA, 2005), and from Salve Regina University (MSc, 2017). He is also a proud alumni of he U.S. Naval War College, Naval Command College (Class of 2017), and the Naval Senior Leadership Development Concentration track (NSLDC), U.S. NWC.
1. Kissinger, Henry. Diplomacy. New York: Simon and Schuster. (1994).
2. Stevenson, David. Cataclysm: The First World War as Political Tragedy. New York: Basic Books, (2004).
3. Kennedy, Paul. The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers: Economic Change and Military Conflict from 1500 to 2000. New York: Random House. (1987).
4. Kissinger, Henry. A World Restored: Metternich, Castlereagh and the problem of peace, 1822-22. Friedland Books. (2017).
5. Mahan, Sir Alfred Thayer. The Influence of Sea Power Upon History: 1660–1783. Little Brown and Company. Boston. (1890).
6. (423 BC). Robert B. Strasser. The Landmark: A Comprehensive Guide to the Peloponnesian War. Touchstone, New York. (1996).
7. Keegan, John. The First World War. (2000).
8. Kossmann, E. H. (1978). The Low Countries, 1780–1940. Oxford University Press. (1st edition).
9. O’Rourke. China Naval Modernization: Implications for U.S. Navy Capabilities. (2020).
1. Thucydides (423 B.C.) edited by Robert B. Strasser. The Landmark: A Comprehensive Guide to the Peloponnesian War. Touchstone, New York. (1996). Ancient war correspondent and historian, Thucydides wrote, “The growth of the power of Athens, and the alarm which this inspired in Sparta, made war inevitable.” Further, history seem to have validated this theory, for almost on every occasion a rising power threatened to displace (Instilled fear) a ruling one, the result has usually been war.
2. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/diplomacy, accessed on 03/31/2017.
3. Chas. W. Freeman & Sally Marks. Meaning of diplomacy. https://www.britannica.com/topic/diplomacy, accessed on 03/27/2020.
4. Kissinger, Henry. Diplomacy. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1994. Page 182.
5. Kissinger, Henry. A World Restored: Metternich, Castlereagh and the problem of Peace, 1822-22. Friedland Books.2017.
6. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/balanceofpower, Accessed on 03/31/2017.
7. Kissinger, Henry. Diplomacy. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1994. Page 182.
8. Triple Entente: An informal understanding agreed by The Russian Empire, The Third French Republic and Great Britain, which served as counterweight to the Triple Alliance of Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy, 1914-1918.
9. Kissinger, Henry. Diplomacy. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1994. Page 182.
10. Kissinger, Henry. Diplomacy. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1994. Page 182.
11. Ibid. Pages 48-49.
12. Stevenson, David. Cataclysm: The First World War as Political Tragedy. New York: Basic Books, 2004. Page 14.
13. Kissinger, Henry. Diplomacy. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1994. Page 181.
14. Ibid. Page 178.
15. Splendid Isolation: Foreign policy guidance preventing the British Empire to entangled itself in continental alliance systems and to military agreements, under the formal objective to remaining active in the high seas.
16. Kissinger, Henry. Diplomacy. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1994. Pages 178-180.
17. Kissinger, Henry. Diplomacy. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1994. Pages 183.
18. Kennedy, Paul. The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers: Economic Change and Military Conflict from 1500 to 2000. New York: Random House, 1987. Page 203.
19. Stevenson, David. Cataclysm: The First World War as Political Tragedy. New York: Basic Books, 2004. Page 70.
20. Stevenson, David. Cataclysm: The First World War as Political Tragedy. New York: Basic Books, 2004. Page 15.
21. Kissinger, Henry. Diplomacy. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1994. Page 212.
22. Stevenson, David. Cataclysm: The First World War as Political Tragedy. New York: Basic Books, 2004. Page 15
23. Sir Eyre Alexander Crowe (30 July 1864 – 28 April 1925) was a British diplomat and a leading expert on Germany in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Best known for his vigorous warning, in 1907, that Germany’s expansionist intentions toward Britain were hostile and had to be met with a closer alliance (“Entente”) with France.
24. https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Memorandum_on_the_Present_State_of_British_Relations_with_France_and_Germany. Accessed on 02/03/2020.
25. Mahan, Sir Alfred Thayer. The Influence of Sea Power Upon History: 1660–1783. Little Brown and Company. Boston. (1890).
26. Motive of war; herein, seen as actions by an actor perceived to have initiated war.
27. After Alfred Von Schlieffen (Chief of the General Staff of the German Army from 1891 to 1906). In 1905 and 1906, Schlieffen devised an Army deployment plan for a decisive war-winning offensive against the French Third Republic.
28. Kossmann, E. H. (1978). The Low Countries, 1780–1940. History of Modern Europe. Oxford University Press. (1st ed.).
29. Kissinger, Henry. Diplomacy. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1994. Page 205.
30. The Treaty of London of 1839 was a treaty signed on 19 April 1839 between the European great powers, the United Kingdom of the Netherlands and the Kingdom of Belgium. Also known as the First Treaty of London, the Convention of 1839, and the London Treaty of Separation.
31. Kissinger, Henry. Diplomacy. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1994. Page 213.
32. Keegan, John (2000). The First World War. Vintage. p. 48. ISBN 0-375-70045-5.
33. Willibald Krain. (1914). Kladderadatsch. Der Stänker
34. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p04ndbk3 (accessed on April 1, 2017).
35. http://www.businessinsider.com/maps-explain-south-china-sea-2017-3, (accessed on April 1, 2017).
36. https://www.wsj.com/articles/SB986149564452369050, (accessed on April 1, 2017).
39. R. O’Rourke. 2020. China Naval Modernization: Implications for U.S. Navy Capabilities—Background and Issues for Congress. https://www.everycrsreport.com/files, accessed on 28/03/2020.
40. R. O’Rourke. 2020. China Naval Modernization: Implications for U.S. Navy Capabilities—Background and Issues for Congress. https://www.everycrsreport.com/files, accessed on 28/03/2020.
41. Clausewitz, Carl von. On War. Translated by Col. J.J. Graham (1832), available at: https://www.gutenberg.org/files/1946/1946-h/1946-h.htm
42. Klemens Von Metternich, Austrian statesman, minister of foreign affairs (1809–48), he is credited with helping achieve the alliance against Napoleon I, and the restoration of Austria as an European power
43. Kissinger, Henry. A World Restored: Metternich, Castlereagh and the problem of Peace, 1822-22. Friedland Books.2017.
Featured Image: The 2nd Squadron of the German High Seas Fleet sails to the North Sea. (Wikimedia Commons, colorized by Irootoko Jr.)
Captain Peter Swartz (ret.) served over 27 years as a U.S. Navy officer, mainly as a specialist in strategy, plans, and policy. Swartz subsequently joined the Center for Naval Analyses and continued to support the analysis and development of Navy strategy, serving there full-time for more than 25 years. A heedful student of history and an industrious researcher and analyst, Swartz is a venerable authority on Navy strategy.
In a 2019 oral history taken by Ryan Peeks and Justin Blanton of the Naval History and Heritage Command, Swartz discussed the trajectory and highlights of his career, including the development of the historic 1986 Maritime Strategy. Excerpts from this oral history will be republished with permission on CIMSEC in three parts, and will focus on the development of both the 1986 Maritime Strategy and the Navy’s community of strategists.
In Part One, Swartz discusses how various groups viewed their roles as creators of the strategy, and how emerging tactics and technology were feeding into strategy development.
Peeks: …the  Maritime Strategy has meant and means different things to different people. Could you explain what the Maritime Strategy was from your perspective, and the goals and intentions of its framers?
Swartz: That’s a fair and important question. The Maritime Strategy was a lot bigger than me and it was a lot bigger than what I saw and what I did, and I know a lot more about it now looking back at it and having talked to people than I knew at the time…So yes, it meant different things to different people, I think.
What did it mean to me and the people I was around? We were trying to educate the officer corps, we were targeting the Navy. We were living off the 1978 event that happened in the Carter administration, when Randy Jayne, a very distinguished U.S. Air Force combat veteran fighter pilot with a Ph.D., an Air National Guardsman, and a director for defense programs in the Carter Office of Management and Budget, got up in front of a whole room full of admirals at a Current Strategy Forum in Newport and read them the riot act for not having their act together and not knowing what they were doing. And, Navy consultant John Lehman was sitting in the audience. He writes about this in his book Command of the Seas. He said to himself, “Boy, this outfit’s in trouble. The admirals are all sitting on their hands and putting up with this.”
Well, I’ll tell you, Lieutenant Commander Swartz never had travel money to go to Newport, but he and Lieutenant Commander Stark and Lieutenant Commander Dur and Commander Mauz and all our colleagues in OP-60 were sitting back in their trenches in the Pentagon hearing the reports and reading—oh, there were reporters there, so this was in The Baltimore Sun, The Washington Post—we were reading the reports and saying, “You’ve got to be kidding me! We know the answer! If we had been there, we would have stood up and just stuffed our rhetorical fists right down his throat and told him the Navy has its act together: “Here’s what we’re going to do, here’s how we’re going to do it!” So, based on that experience, which, as you can see, is still very vivid in my mind, and it was vivid in somebody else’s mind whom I didn’t even know at the time, John Lehman’s, right? I mean, it was quite an event, and reading the press reports, it was quite an event.
I wanted to educate Navy officers so that they wouldn’t sit on their hands when they were being attacked by some goddamn Air Force guy masquerading as a civilian and taking money away from the Navy that should have been spent to enable the nation’s naval power because we were doing good stuff.
My other objective was to deter the Soviets. So, how much do you tell the Soviets about the strategy? Well, enough to give them pause and not enough to give away secrets, and that was always a problem and an issue. But, what I was trying to do with those two things, which were sometimes antithetical, because if you’re trying to educate the Navy officer corps you want to tell them the way it really is, and if you’re trying to deter the Soviets, there’s some things you want to keep from them or try to bluff them on.
Admiral Small’s objective [was] related but different: He was trying to get the Secretary off OPNAV’s back and to have strategy really drive the POM, which for me, as you could tell, was sort of one of the many things that I thought I had to do, but I would say that was central to him. He was a great man, the VCNO. John Lehman and he didn’t get along on programmatic issues, but on strategy they were aligned.
[Admirals] Lyons and Mustin wanted to scare the crap out of the Soviets, and make sure they knew that if they came outside they’d die. They believed that and that’s what they wanted to do, and there were lots of people who worked for them who wanted to do that, too.
The submarine force said: “We’re doing this anyway, we were always going to do this. There’s nothing in here that’s new. What’s new is people talking about it. You’re not supposed to talk about any of this stuff.”
I think for most people in the Navy it was a sensible approach on how you use the U.S. Navy’s offensive power to deter and defeat the Soviets. But that wasn’t very different from Holloway or Zumwalt—it was different from Zumwalt regarding the need for more big carriers—but it wasn’t very different from Holloway or others: “I’ve got this aircraft carrier. It’s loaded with all these airplanes, new airplanes now, I got F-14s, right? And new weapons, right? I’ve got Phoenix. And I’m not going to let the Soviets get anywhere near close to an aircraft carrier, with that, and therefore our A-6s are going to knock the crap out of anything that we want.”
And then, of course, what did the Maritime Strategy mean to the Army? It was all programmatic. It was bureaucratic infighting. It was the Navy “trying to take money from me. It’s Navy’s turn now that Carter is out.” They never could rise above—I never found anybody—[Colonel] Harry Summers, I guess, maybe toward the end of his life, an exception—I never found anybody in the Army who thought otherwise. Some in the Air Force got it, some didn’t. Some were more like the Army. Certainly everybody at PACAF [Pacific Air Force] got it. PACAF had no meaning outside the Maritime Strategy. The whole rest of the Air Force was focused on…nukes and the Fulda Gap, except they weren’t concerned with the ground operation, they were going to go strike.
And then there were a whole bunch of people who thought the Navy was wrong and so they thought the Maritime Strategy was evil: John Mearsheimer, Barry Posen, academics like that, Ambassador Bob Komer, the retired, unreconstructed Carterite. Ron Kurth, famous excellent Russia expert and Navy admiral said, “Peter, we’re never going to fight the Soviets, what the hell? What we’re doing is steaming around the world doing this and doing that and putting out fires, and that’s where we’ve got to put our money and our focus and our brains to, not this. This isn’t going to happen.” I had to respond, “Yes, sir, but the policy says that a big war with the Soviets is what we are directed to program and budget for, not a small-wars Navy”—kind of the same era we’re in today, right?
So yeah, it meant different things to different people. It was much bigger than what we in OP-603 were doing. There were other nodes that thought they were doing the Maritime Strategy and that they were the center. The way I tell the story, this is sounding very, very OP-60 centric, right? Well, that’s how I looked at it.
But, if you were talking to SSG (Strategic Studies Group) alumni, especially from the first couple of SSGs (Bob Murray, John Hanley, Bill Owens, Art Cebrowski, Skip Armstrong, Mike McDevitt, et cetera), they’d all tell you that the main seat of development of the Maritime Strategy was in the SSG. The SSG was trooping around and talking to all the four-stars all around the world and socializing these ideas, and I was keeping in touch with them—and Stan [Weeks] before me was keeping in touch with them—to know what it was that they were doing, but they thought they were the centerpiece.
And, years later, I got to sit down with alumni of the old ATP, the Advanced Technology Panel, super secret. They knew that they were the Maritime Strategy, and that what we were doing at the “Secret” level and even the TS [TOP SECRET] level in the war plans was—to them—fiction and PR: “What we are doing with the new intel, real-world operations that you can’t know anything about and real-world plans that you don’t know anything about. That’s the Maritime Strategy. And it probably will never really be declassified what the Maritime Strategy really was about.” So, if Alf Andreasen were sitting here, he would say something like that. [Captain] Dave Rosenberg, who’s written that highly classified history, would sit and nod and say, “Okay, that’s enough, you can’t say anymore.” Former DNI [Director of Naval Intelligence] Rear Admiral Tom Brooks would sit and smile and not say anything…
Peeks: …if you could talk about it at the unclass [unclassified] level—what role did then-recent developments in policy, technology tactics, intelligence, or other fields have in the development of the Maritime Strategy?
Swartz: There was great effect…because four years before, during the Carter administration, the technology was falling in to place, the tactics were starting to fall in to place, but there were lots of people, especially in the Navy, who didn’t think we could pull this off: “We’re going to die. You know if we do this we’re dead, we can’t do this.” That’s not the way it felt in the ’80s because, as John Lehman points out in his latest book, the Carter administration didn’t slow down putting new systems into the fleet. They slowed down some, like Trident—but what they did do was they cut way back on the quantity of what was actually purchased.
But we now had F-14s and a guy like Art Cebrowski, who shows up in the SSG, has just come from an F-14 Navy for the first time in his life, alongside a guy like Bill Owens, who has just had command of a Los Angeles-class [attack submarine, SSN-688]. Well, there never used to be a Los Angeles-class and he had command of one. He had a very different mindset about what he could do with a submarine than the guys that had been there before, who had had command of diesel boats or the earlier classes of nuclear attack submarines. So, it was a lot of stuff that came in: The LHDs came into the fleet. A lot of stuff came into the fleet in the ’70s, and guys were rolling back in to OPNAV and back into other positions having just had command or served on these things. Commander Mike McDevitt had just come back from a Spruance [DD-963]. Well, there hadn’t been a Spruance before and he could do ASW things that he couldn’t have done before on an ASW ship (with Jay Prout as his XO, my colleague and Stan Weeks’s in OP-603).
So, we knew each other and we had this recent experience (not me, yeah, I had a new class of pencil!), but they had this recent experience of this stuff coming in and there was a lot of it, the new systems that came in in the ’70s. The Nimitz-class carrier came in in the ’70s. It was hard to remember how new it was… And, the Nimitz was quite a thing compared to what had come before, I mean the endurance and sortie rate and so on that you could do with it. And, we were on the cusp of new systems: Tomahawk, AEGIS, VLS, whew! And they were just coming in, not when I was writing, but they were coming to the fleet right afterwards, but you could taste it then.
And so you were mentally on a roll and that very, very positive attitude about the hardware that you had or were about to get, plus Reagan and Lehman saying, “Well, I’m not going to buy just two of them, I’m going to buy 16. I’m not going to buy five of these, I’m going to buy eight, right?” Wow, grand opportunity! I get a Spruance or an LHD or a whatever, a Nimitz [CVN-68], whatever, so this was heavy stuff. So, that’s on the system side and I believe that had an effect.
Tactics: Well, okay, the air battles: What are we going to do about all those Backfires coming at the fleet? Well, we got the hardware, but what are the tactics? So Outer Air Battle, the development of all that. Chainsaw and other tactics. CNA (Center for Naval Analyses) was heavily involved in that. And, strike warfare. The creation of the Super-CAG [carrier air wing commander] and Strike University [now Naval Aviation Warfighting Development Center] were part of this. New kinds of fighter and strike tactics, and a new place to hone those strike tactics, Strike U, copying off TOPGUN [former U.S. Navy Fighter Weapons School, now part of Naval Aviation Warfighting Development Center]. TOPGUN itself was still pretty new then, too, in those days.
We were also looking at the Air Force and the Army, and they were doing some neat stuff. Army had AirLand Battle and so there was a revolution going on in the Army, and Air Force had introduced AWACS [Airborne Warning and Control System], and AWACS was cleaning up the battlefield. AWACS was terrific, and we were using AWACS, the Air Force AWACS, and we had our own new E-2Cs.
The Marines were using the Maritime Strategy to illustrate why they needed the systems they wanted, especially the V-22, the LCAC [landing craft, air cushion] and the AAAV [advanced amphibious assault vehicle]. LCAC came in. The V-22 eventually came in. AAAV proved an acquisition disaster. They were pushing for all that, because what they wanted was more reach in their amphibious assaults, which were part of the strategy.
Under-ice operations by the submarines: Not a new idea—again, if I had a submarine officer here, he’d say, “Peter, I was practicing under ice in 1957,” or whenever. But, they were doing it and they were honing it, and we had stopped building submarines with under-ice capability because we wanted the speed (that was the Los Angeles class). And then, as the strategy kicked in, then the reverse happened: The program started being driven by the strategy and the improved Los Angeles class was invented, this time with an under-ice capability.
So, back to tactics: I guess there were general tactical principles, like Attack-at-Source (“Why am I hitting the Backfire? Why aren’t I hitting the Kola [Peninsula] where the Backfire flies from?” “We’re not allowed to.” “But, if I were allowed to, could I? And shouldn’t they know that I could if I would?”) So there were issues there: Shooting the archers, not the arrows. Yes, Phalanx is fine, but if you’re busy trying to stop the missile as it’s coming right at you and it’s feet away, it would have been much better to have knocked out the Backfire 300 miles away and that’s why you’ve got the F-14 and the tankers and the E-2Cs to help. Cover and deception: You couldn’t do any of this if you couldn’t trick them. If they knew where you were—I mean naval warfare, much of what it’s about, is finding the guy, and so we didn’t want to be found. So, there was tremendous development in things that we can’t talk about here, but electronics, jamming systems on ships, systems on aircraft, special kinds of aircraft, decoys, and so on were all part of that. SEAD [suppression of enemy air defenses] using electronic means.
All of that was developed and, by developing it, it gave us a shot at pulling off the strategy. E.g.: You’re briefing the strategy. This guy in the audience says, “I just came from the fleet. We just figured out how to do that. We can do that.” Instead of all sitting there, going, “That’s OP-60 baloney, Peter, we can’t do that,” which is what it would have sounded like in years previous.
And then the submariners: The constant bottom-up pressure for a forward offensive strategy by the submariners, who didn’t give a damn about the Carter administration or this or that or the other. This is my view of them. I’m not accusing them of treason. They had a submarine and its job was to go as far forward as possible and kill everything it could find, especially other submarines, and that was going to include boomers [ballistic missile submarines], whether or not the policy was to kill boomers or not kill boomers or whatever. How the hell were you going to differentiate, anyway? And, Soviet boomers had attack capabilities, too. The practice of ASW, of their submarine tactics, had just continued right through all of this.
So, the interrelationship between the development of the technology, the development of the tactics, and the development of the strategy was there. They were feeding each other.
Peter Swartz is a retired U.S. Navy captain, a former CNA Research Program Director, and currently an adjunct Principal Research Scientist at CNA. Most of his Navy assignments related to strategy, policy and allied engagement, including two tours as an advisor with the South Vietnamese Navy; helping set up the Navy’s Zumwalt-era intercultural relations program; coordinating Navy staff talks with key European allied navies; helping conceptualize, draft and disseminate the Maritime Strategy of the 1980s; directing the US Mission to NATO’s operations division as the Berlin Wall was coming down; and serving as Special Assistant to CJCS General Colin Powell during the First Gulf War. At CNA he primarily focused on analyzing U.S. Navy and Marine Corps strategy and policy, including their historical roots. In 2020 a Festschrift was published in his honor (Conceptualizing Naval and Maritime Strategy) by several of his colleagues, and the Naval Historical Foundation awarded him its Commodore Dudley Knox Lifetime Achievement medal.
Justin Blanton is a historian at the Naval History and Heritage Command.
Featured Image: October 29, 1984. An F/A-14A Tomcat aircraft from Fighter Squadron 21 takes off from the aircraft carrier USS CONSTELLATION (CV 64) during Fleet Exercise 85. (Photo via the U.S. National Archives)