Tag Archives: Maritime Strategy

Expanding the Naval Canon: Fernando de Oliveira and the 1st Treatise on Maritime Strategy

Every community has a canon that best encapsulates the genealogy of personalities, ideas, and events that shape the way the community sees itself and is perceived by others. The naval community is no exception. This article suggests that an important monograph has been overlooked in that canon: Fernando de Oliveira’s “The Art of War at Sea” published in 1555. It is the oldest treatise on maritime strategy.

The naval lore and the mainstream canon
Maritime strategy and war at sea have long occupied the minds of sailors and statesmen. The scholarly study of maritime strategy, however, is a relatively recent endeavour. Its roots in the modern western tradition are found in the United Kingdom during the latter half of the 1800s.

Authors such as the Colomb brothers, Sir John Laughton, and, more famously, Sir Julian Corbett were among the first to muster a robust understanding of strategy in discussions of naval problems. The United States soon followed suit as Alfred Mahan, William Sims, and Willis Abbot, among others, penned numerous other works to an increasingly sophisticated naval lore.

Not surprisingly, the standard account of the disciplinary evolution of maritime strategy and naval affairs reflects this Anglo-Saxon outlook. This account is taught in naval academies and some civilian universities around the world, further reinforcing the existing canon. Other influences surely contribute to the debate, including Jomini and Beaufre, and even ancient Greeks, such as Thucydides and Themistocles, but by and large the naval lore is founded on works dealing with the British and American experiences at sea.

Fernando de Oliveira’s “The Art of War at Sea” (1555)

In its rise to become the first global maritime empire, Portugal had to develop an understanding of maritime strategy that enabled the achievement of its political aims. Like Britain’s Corbett and America’s Mahan, Portugal’s greatest maritime strategist was Fernando de Oliveira. Writing at the peak of Portuguese power, Oliveira put in writing the foundations of that global empire.

Fernando de Oliveira’s “The Art of War at Sea” (Arte da Guerra do Mar), published in Coimbra in 1555, stands as the oldest treatise on maritime strategy. Oliveira himself acknowledges that very little had been written on the subject; he only refers to Vegetius (4th century AD) for his important but sparse insights into naval warfare. In historical context, Oliveira wrote this treatise three centuries before Corbett, Mahan, and others acquired the habit of thinking strategically about naval warfare. So what can we find in Oliveira’s “The Art of War at Sea”?

Frontispiece of the original "Arte da Guerra do Mar" (1555), by Fernando de Oliveira.
Frontispiece of the original “Arte da Guerra do Mar” (1555), by Fernando de Oliveira.

The book is divided into two parts, the first dealing with the principles of war at sea whereas the second explores its conduct. Each part has fifteen chapters. The genius of Oliveira’s work is found not merely in his (dated) analysis of Portugal’s 16th century navy, but, more importantly, in his comprehensive grasp of the (perennial) foundations of maritime power. The chapters focus on topics such as just war theory, strategic theory, leadership, shipbuilding, logistics, personnel recruitment and retention, and military readiness. And this is just in the first half. The second part goes on to tackle force structure, situational awareness, oceanography, and intelligence, among other topics.

These are obviously modern terms to describe very old phenomena. However, the challenges of 16th century naval power are not dissimilar to those of today’s navies whose countries depend on the sea for wealth and prestige. Oliveira, like Corbett and Mahan, was aware of this and expressed it in the opening pages of the treatise. Discussing naval matters, the author argues, “is a useful and necessary matter, particularly for the people of this land [Portugal] who now fare more at sea than others, whereby they gain many profits and honour, and also run the risk of losing it all, if they do not preserve it […].” This verdict ought to resonate contemporary strategists from nations such as the United States, Britain, and Japan, but also those strategists whose countries have maritime ambitions, such as China and India.

Fernando de Oliveira (or Fernão de Oliveira) was an interesting man living in interesting times. A true polymath educated in a Catholic seminary, it soon became evident that God had other plans for him. Oliveira dwelled in the maritime community of Lisbon, then as now a capital with an umbilical connection to the sea, learning key skills that made him a valuable asset for any navy. These skills included: navigation (he became a pilot aboard a French warship in expeditions against British commerce); shipbuilding (two English kings coveted his counsel whilst a prisoner of war in London); negotiation (he led a prisoner exchange when a Portuguese military expedition to north Africa failed; and possibly espionage (some sources mention his spying for the Portuguese Crown in negotiations with the Vatican).

In between his adventures, Oliveira wrote invaluable works that rival “The Art of War at Sea” in scope and insight. These include the world’s first encyclopaedic treatise on navigation and shipbuilding entitled Ars Nautica (ca. 1570), which he later expanded into the first treatise on naval architecture, Livro da Fabrica das Naos (ca. 1580), the first book on Portuguese grammar, Grammatica da Lingoagem Portuguesa (1536), and one of the first books on Portuguese history, Historea de Portugal (ca. 1581). These works attest to Oliveira’s genius. Unlike Corbett, who entertained a career as a novelist at first, Oliveira made a lasting literary contribution to fields beyond maritime strategy.

Conclusions
There is every reason for Fernando de Oliveira’s “The Art of War at Sea” to become compulsory reading for sailors, mariners, strategists, historians, and laymen with an interest in the complexity of conflict at sea. I will highlight only four of them.
First, the book is a distant yet direct ancestor to the current mainstream canon of maritime strategy. Incorporating this source into the canon and submitting it to academic scrutiny will help illuminate the origins of Western maritime strategic thought.
Second, there is an inherent value in studying Oliveira’s work in the context of naval warfare in the age of sail, particularly Portugal’s path toward a global maritime empire.
Third, the book retains great relevance for current debates on maritime strategy. Oliveira’s thoughts on the building, maintenance, and deployment of navies in the pursuit of policy can inform decision-makers, analysts, and the larger policy community on the often misunderstood nature and character of naval warfare.
Fourth, “The Art of War at Sea” can foster a debate on broader issues of strategy and power in light of existing scholarship on just war theory, military leadership, defence economics, and so forth.

In conclusion, it is high time for the naval community to retrieve Fernando de Oliveira’s “The Art of War at Sea” from the dustbin of history. My current efforts to translate the treatise to English will hopefully set this process in motion.

 

Tiago Mauricio is a WSD-Handa non-resident fellow at Pacific Forum CSIS. He holds an MA in War Studies from King’s College London and is continuing his studies at Waseda University, after spending two years as a researcher at Kyoto University, Japan. He is currently translating Fernando de Oliveira’s Arte da Guerra do Mar (1555) to English.

U.S. Navy Releases New Maritime Strategy: Swivel to Africa

International Maritime Satire Week Warning: The following is a piece of fiction intended to elicit insight through the use of satire and written by those who do not make a living being funny – so it’s not serious and very well might not be funny. See the rest of our IntMarSatWeek offerings here. 

WASHINGTON—The U.S. Navy today unveiled its new maritime strategy, which some have already dubbed the “Swivel to Africa.”
Navy spokesman Lieutenant Meghan Jorg explained the shift, “We spent several years trying to devise a strategy to support the President’s ‘Rebalance to the Pacific.’ Frankly China’s anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) capabilities are making the Asia-Pacific region too challenging an operational environment to operate in, so we’re going to focus somewhere else.”

Sources say that rumors of a pending cut to the number of Littoral Combat Ships (LCS), feared by some as unable to support the Pacific strategy, also played a role in gaining Congressional approval for changing that strategy.

In prepared remarks Jorg added, “In this age of shrinking budgets we need to focus on what we can do, not what we’d like to be able to do. We need to focus on the feel-good piece, and expanded celebrity charity visits. Vital issues like children’s smiles and elephant tusks demand our immediate attention. To address these vital security threats, we will leverage core Navy-centric force multipliers such as Seabees, civil affairs teams, and expeditionary postal clerks to achieve theater affects; none of the other services offer these capabilities.”

U.S. Navy musicians executing The Swivel in Tanzania.
U.S. Navy musicians executing The Swivel in Tanzania.

While Navy officials insist the core capabilities detailed in the previous maritime strategy, A Cooperative Strategy for 21st-Century Seapower, are still required—supported by high-end kit including aircraft carriers and ballistic missile submarines—the Swivel brings with it a new set of missions. Among those listed as crucial are candy distribution, anti-poaching operations, and anti-smuggling operations. According to Jorg, “We want to begin deploying DDG-1000s, big-deck amphibious assault ships, and Ford-class carriers to the coasts of Africa as soon as possible.”

Sources confirmed that in order to win support for the new maritime strategy from key Congressional Republicans the Navy will be required to fly combat air patrols over U.S. embassies and consulates on the continent, regardless of overflight agreements from the host nations.

That most-traditional naval African mission, counter-piracy, also received its due: “We heard that someone, somewhere, reported a possible act of piracy, or fistfight, or surly bridge-to-bridge exchange, on a ship just outside African territorial waters somewhere other than Somalia,” Jorg stated. “Did you know that 90 percent of the world’s commerce travels by sea?”

The Swivel is not without its critics, however, and several African counterparts expressed their concerns – not only for fear of enlarged American footprint. Nigeria’s Chief of Naval Staff Vice Adm. Dele Ezeoba said, “We welcome a strengthening of our already close friendship with the Americans, but this seems like overkill – I mean just yesterday we got a call about a skiff involved in oil bunkering, and when several of the individuals jumped overboard the Americans moved in submarines and started dropping sonobuoys from aircraft to find the culprits.”

A U.S. Navy carrier strike group deploys off the coast off Benin. Just in case.
A U.S. Navy carrier strike group deploys off the coast off Benin. Just in case.

Shortly after the Navy statement, the U.S. Air Force Staff confirmed that the Navy and Air Force had formed an Air-Sea Safari [acronym redacted] office for coordination. Air Force representatives also confirmed that the Swivel would justify its retirement of the A-10 fleet, and that the F-35, F-22 and new Long Range Strike Bomber (LRSB) would make perfect platforms for counter-smuggling patrols and long-range “show-of-force” missions deep within the African continent.

The Army responded to the new maritime strategy with a statement that “only credible armored land forces can pose a significant deterrent to the growing security problems in Africa. You need agile, rapidly deployable armored and artillery task forces to successfully deter ivory smuggling.” The Army has since unilaterally announced plans to base advanced expeditionary brigade combat teams—including Stryker armored vehicles and Apache attack helicopters—on Navy ships; Navy officials were unaware of any such plans.

When contacted for comment on the Army’s plans, a Marine Corps spokesman shrugged and said, “Meh, sounds a lot like a [Marine Expeditionary Unit] to me.”

Jay Boyles and Scott Cheney-Peters work in windowless offices in the Pentagon. Thank goodness their views do not reflect those of the Department of the Navy or Department of Defense.

The Future Ashore

                                                                   Blurring the flavors of force.

Since contemplating Janus a month and a half ago we’ve seen a lot of ink spilled about national security affairs. The majority of it is driven by the fiscal challenges facing the U.S. government. There’s been hyperbole, exaggeration, as well as underestimation and ignorance.  Even here at NextWar we’ve seen some hysterics (yes Hipple, we’re looking at you).  The Firm believes that the U.S.’ Sequestration and the Continuing Resolution are bad.  They demonstrate terrible leadership and hint at a government bereft of the capacity for strategic thinking.  Discussing the politics of sequestration, however, isn’t going to help us at CIMSEC fill the void.

We said there is a “hint” that the government is incapable of strategic thinking, but we only say hint.  There has been some recent writing, publishing, and thinking about the future.  Specifically, about the future of American ground forces.  Buried in all the pages of frenzy about what happens March 1st, a pair of articles were published this month by leaders in the Army and Marine Corps meant to provide a vision for the future.

“Foreign Policy” (rapidly becoming a favorite of the Service Chiefs, we wonder what that says about their editorial policies) published General Odierno’s article “The Force of Tomorrow.”  The Army’s Chief of Staff laid out his vision for the post-OIF/OEF U.S. Army.  The article shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone, none of the ideas are new and the overall language is in line with both the Administration’s January 2012 Defense Strategic Guidance and the material the Joint Staff regularly puts out.  There are a couple of things that struck us, however, as we read it.  Despite the whitebread nature of the article, there was something about it that rubbed us the wrong way.  The Chief of Staff appears to be advocating for a force which sounds an awful lot like an Imperial Army.  His future Army is forward deployed all over the globe, working with our partners on their home turf.  That sounds good on the surface but makes three significant and problematic assumptions.

First it assumes that our partners want a large number of U.S. Soldiers in their country for an extended period of time.  We don’t see a lot of countries asking for that these days.  Second it assumes that we have the money in the national accounts for a land force that is both big enough to be good at large formation combined arms and small formation partnership and daily crisis response.  This requires units spread out in garrisons all over the globe like a modern day Roman Legion.  Besides the will, and the political/diplomatic problems with that kind of vision, there is no money for that.  The Chief of Staff doesn’t really even acknowledge the coming fiscal problem.  The third assumption it makes is that we need another part of the military that is globally deployed on a day-to-day basis focused on partnership, presence, and crisis response.  Just because the Defense Strategic Guidance says that the U.S. military should be doing those things, doesn’t mean that every Service should be doing every one of them in equal amounts.  It appears that money isn’t the only pie the Pentagon wants slice and serve in equal proportions, and the Chiefs want everyone eat their piece at the same time after dinner.  Here at The Firm we sometimes like pie for brunch, or Liner if we really sleep in.

This idea that the services should all be doing the same thing is ridiculous.  We need a U.S. Army that is optimized for large-formation combined-arms combat operations.  If the Army doesn’t do it, then who will?  There isn’t another service that does that.  We already have a service which is optimized for operations at roughly the battalion size and below, which historically has conducted partnership missions, crisis response, and small wars globally, and it’s call the U.S. Marine Corps.  The last twelve years of operations ashore appear to have convinced everyone that the Marine Corps is another land army, not just in terms of how we spend money, but also how we divide missions and responsibilities.

That brings us to the second article published this month.  Marine Corps Major General Kenneth McKenzie’s article “Naval Power and the Future of Assured Access” in “Armed Forces Journal.”  With General Odierno creating an obvious opening for debate, and an opportunity for the Marine Corps to reassert its historic role in our military, we had high hopes for this article.  Instead, we are treated to something written more for “The Rings” of the Pentagon than for a substantive discussion of roles and missions.  If we had a podcast of this article we would turn it into a drinking game – taking a shot for every cliché, piece of jargon, or doctrinal reference.  Each of the Marine Corps’ important acquisition programs gets a nod, the ground forces get to push back against AirSea Battle…or what they think AirSea Battle might be (since we’re not sure that anyone really knows), and we get to perpetuate the language of Jointness.  From the author of Revenge of the Melians we expected so much more.  Instead we’re treated to another staff-produced “article” that probably looks a lot better as the PowerPoint bullets where it started.  We feel sorry for the poor Major who actually wrote this article and didn’t appear to get any help from the chop chain (We do love the AFJ cover photo though).

We like the fact that the Marine Corps is talking about naval affairs.  This is a positive step and we don’t mean to belittle it.  However, we need clear thinking to move these discussions and debates forward.  If these two articles are indicative of what MGEN McKenzie called “the intellectual capital” that is being prepared for the coming Quadrennial Defense Review, we suspect that the 2014 QDR will be as useless as all the previous QDR’s.  It’s time to start talking about the strengths and weaknesses of each service, and being honest about who best fills the roles and missions required in today’s world.  Instead of playing games inside “The Rings” to increase prestige and funding, let’s talk about how to best defend our nation and our interests.

The Firm of Maynard, Cushing, & Ellis does not represent the opinions of anyone that matters.  Formed by Lieutenant Robert Maynard RN, Lieutenant William Cushing USN, and Captain Pete Ellis USMC, the firm doesn’t speak for the US Government, the Department of Defense, The Foreign Office, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, or the Department of Silly Walks.

Crimea River – Will the Syrian Conflict spread into the Black Sea?

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Potentially the first time anyone’s been told to stay ON someone’s lawn.

As Russia continues to conduct port visits and provide weapons to Syria amidst the violence, it does so with a preponderance of transits through the Turkish Straits.

The Montreux Convention of 1937 set forth guidelines for warship transit in the Dardanelles Straits, for which, Turkey was established as gatekeeper. Black Sea littoral nations are permitted uncontested warship transit (with a few caveats), yet Turkey is the initial authority in both restricting access to foreign warships and disputing local (riparian) warship transits during times of war.

For thousands of years, both the limits of anti-access and the role of gatekeeper have been contested by the Black Sea littoral nations (primarily Russia and the Ottomans). The authority granted by the Montreux Convetion has, for the most part, gone uncontested as global powers acknowledge the strength in stability that anti-access regulations provide to the region, but the recent conflict in Syria poses a dilemma for regional powers, primarily Turkey. Should Turkey restrict the transit of Russian warships through the Straits that are providing military support and weapons to Syria? With Russia’s only warm-water port based in Syria at Tartus, Russian diplomats would (on the surface) contest any such restriction and claim that any and all transits from the Black Sea to Syria are part of ongoing alliances and in support of established naval facility agreements.

Yet in this situation Turkey has the upper hand thanks to the Montreux Convention, specifically in Article 20:

“In time of war, Turkey being belligerent …the passage of warships shall be left entirely to the discretion of the Turkish Government.”

With the recent downing of a Turkish warplane and various conflicts on the Syrian border, a “time of war” is a reasonable description for Turkey. Any future Turkish political decisions to employ military operations in Syria should solidify Turkey as a “belligerent.” If these events were to unfold and Turkey enacted Article 20 on the Russian Navy, the question remains as to which, if any, international body would attempt to stop Turkey. Although many might assume that the U.N. is the appropriate governing body for such discussions, it is important to recognize that the Montreux Convention has gone virtually unchallenged since inception and still includes outdated references to things such as the League of Nations. This small loophole may be enough for Turkey to disregard any public or diplomatic outrage from Russia and its allies and deny Mediterranean access to the Russian Black Sea Navy.

A.J. “Squared-Away” is a husband, father, and U.S. Navy Surface Warfare Officer.He has deployed on patrol boats, destroyers, and aircraft carriers to the Mediterranean, Persian Gulf, and aboard Iraqi oil terminals. He is currently a student at an advanced military planner course. The opinions and views expressed in this post are his alone and are presented in his personal capacity. They do not necessarily represent the views of U.S. Department of Defense or the U.S. Navy.