Tag Archives: Strategy

Maintaining Maritime Superiority: Real Lessons from a Quasi-War

By Dave Andre

In the spring of 1798, the United States found itself in an undeclared naval war with France. Known as the Quasi-War, this eighteenth century “half-war” holds valuable lessons for maintaining maritime superiority in the twenty-first century. This tumultuous period is the origin of the modern United States Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard. During this time, the geopolitical situation in Europe was altering the maritime landscape worldwide just as the United States was developing its foreign policy. Europe’s upheaval and the United States’ first forays into international politics resulted in the Quasi-War. The conflict and the politics that surrounded it present three timely lessons for the United States as it focuses on maintaining maritime superiority in an evolving maritime domain. Foremost among these lessons is the notion that maritime superiority is temporal: the maritime security environment is perpetually evolving; a superior navy today may be inferior tomorrow. Secondly, the dynamic maritime environment requires broad strategic foresight from politicians, military planners, and civilians. Lastly, the conflict illustrates the need for an integrative maritime strategy, which incorporates all the elements of maritime power at a nation’s disposal. These lessons have applicability across a wide spectrum of maritime issues, from shipbuilding and operational art to budgeting and politics.

Preface

While the U.S. Navy traces its origins to 13 October 1775, that beginning was fleeting. Upon the conclusion of the War of Independence, the United States disbanded the Continental Navy and the ships, seamen, and officers returned to civilian life. Despite the ratification of the Constitution of the United States in 1789, which empowered Congress “to provide and maintain a Navy,” it was not until five years later — in 1794 — that Congress authorized the procurement of six frigates, and yet another four years before those frigates were commissioned.1 Through authorizing the procurement and staffing of six frigates,  Congress set in motion the origins of the modern U.S. Navy we know today. Distinct from the Continental Navy by virtue of its mission — defending the sovereignty of the United States—the modern U.S. Navy’s origins in the Quasi-War defined many of the relationships and procedures used today.   

Prologue to War: “Millions for defense, but not one cent for tribute…”

 In 1789, the United States was looking inward with early American foreign policy focused on isolationism and neutrality. Two documents—the Proclamation of Neutrality and the Naval Act of 1794 – would come to define relations with the two nations most important to the initial development of the United States  – France and Great Britain. The Proclamation of Neutrality issued by George Washington in 1793, declared that the United States would be neutral in the dispute between Britain and revolutionary France. Believing that involvement in a war between France and Great Britain would be an economic and diplomatic disaster, the proclamation stated, “the duty and interest of the United States require, that they should with sincerity and good faith adopt and pursue a conduct friendly and impartial.”2 Shortly after, in response to the threat posed by Barbary Pirates, the United States Congress reluctantly passed the Naval Act of 1794, authorizing the building and equipping of six frigates.3 Rectifying foreign policy ideals of neutrality with worldwide threats required concessions.

As the United States developed its foreign policy, balancing ideology against practical security concerns, war broke out between Great Britain and Revolutionary France. The Proclamation of Neutrality did not prevent British harassment of American merchant vessels and the United States and Britain drifted close to war.4 Therefore, eighteen months after proclaiming neutrality, the United States and Great Britain signed the Jay Treaty, which attempted to resolve unsettled issues from the War of Independence and put an end to British harassment of American merchantmen (impressment was the biggest gripe).

Rectifying isolationist foreign policy ideals with a world at war required concessions. The French and British had been at war since 1793 and the French viewed the Jay Treaty as siding with Britain.6 Therefore, securing peace with the British meant angering the French, who felt betrayed. However, in 1795, resolution with the British took precedence. Feeling threatened and betrayed by this Anglo-American relationship, France retaliated. This retaliation took many forms, most notably French privateers began to attack and harass American merchant ships. Thus, United States merchants felt little relief  – in essence trading British attackers for French.

Using an article from the Treaty of Commerce and Amity between the United States and France, which required that during wartime merchant ships provide detailed certificates (something American vessels rarely possessed) for the crew and cargo, the French boarded, seized, and sold more than 300 American vessels in 1795.7 Increasing the provocations, in 1796, France issued orders to attack American ships. Escalations continued, and by August 1796, French agents in the West Indies were issuing directions to attack American merchant ships.8 Over the course of the following nine months the French captured 316 American merchant vessels  – more than six percent of the nation’s merchant ships. 9 The economic toll on American merchants was severe.10 Despite receiving authorization in 1794 to construct six frigates, the United States remained incapable of countering the French transgressions.

These maritime provocations were the tinder of war, but the XYZ Affair  in July 1797 lit the fuse. President Adams dispatched three U.S. envoys to France as part of diplomatic efforts to avert war. Upon the U.S. envoys’ arrival, three French agents, working on behalf of French Foreign Minister Talleyrand, attempted to negotiate a bribe and a loan before negotiations even began.11 The U.S. envoys, outraged, sent word of the attempted demands back to President Adams, who in turn sent the report to Congress (substituting the agents names with the letters X, Y, and Z). As news of the scandal broke, the slogan “millions for defense, but not one cent for tribute” became the rallying cry of an offended citizenry.12 President John Adams and the Federalists seized upon this national anger to bring the U.S. Navy into being.13 Recognizing the unique nature of the maritime domain and the importance of a navy, Congress established the Department of the Navy on 30 April 1798 with Benjamin Stoddert in the lead.14 A month later, the Congress authorized the capture of any armed French vessels located off the coast of the United States.15 However, the ConstellationConstitution and United States were not yet fit for duty. Undeterred, the Navy set about engaging the French with the sloop USS Ganges, dispatching it to guard the coast between Long Island and Chesapeake.16 Six weeks later, Congress appropriated the necessary funds   to complete the frigates USS Congress, USS Chesapeake and USS President.17

In June, the USS Constellation and the USS United States joined the USS Ganges. Moreover, on July 7, 1798, Congress rescinded all treaties with France.18 The same day, the USS Delaware captured the French privateer La Croyable off the shores of New Jersey.19 Two days later, President Adams signedAn Act Further to Protect the Commerce of the United States,” thereby authorizing military force against France.20 Besides public armed vessels, this Act authorized the president to “grant commissions to private armed vessels, which shall have the same authority to capture, as public armed vessels.”21 Foremost, this act illustrated that the United States was not going to have its sovereignty questioned  – even by a former ally such as the French who just a few years before had helped the United States secure their sovereignty in the Revolutionary War. Less explicitly, the President and some congressional leaders began to see the United States’ prosperity as inextricably tied to its maritime security and acquiring and maintaining that maritime security required a navy.22 While the debate over a permanent navy continued, the events of the preceding five years went a long way towards securing its permanence.

Auspicious Beginnings: “We are not afraid…”

Despite being outgunned and relatively inexperienced, the U.S. Navy performed well during the Quasi-War. Considering its limited naval assets at that time, engaging with the much more powerful French Navy was audacious. This audacity, backed up by the nerve and grit of civilian mariners and buoyed by a political infrastructure that appreciated the maritime domain, proved fruitful. While these characteristics account for much of the success that the United States enjoyed, they are not the whole story. Political events in Europe aided the United States’ cause in no small part. The French Navy, depleted by years of war with the British and purges from the French Revolution, was not as formidable a foe as it could have been. In addition, the Royal Navy, eager to dispatch the French, willingly assisted their former colony’s fledgling navy. These factors, coupled with an underestimation of the United States’ willpower, explain why the French Navy struggled to counter the United States’ limited naval power.

American naval vessels had early successes, seizing nineteen vessels from French privateers in the winter of 1798–99.23 In February 1799, the first major battle of the Quasi-War occurred between the USS Constellation (38-guns) and the French frigate L’Insurgente (36-guns) with the Constellation emerging victorious.24 A year later, the Constellation engaged in battle against the superior La Vengeance, a 52-gun Frigate.25 While the battle ended in a draw, the aggressive American naval response sent a clear message to their French adversaries that echoed John Adam sentiments – “We are not afraid.” By the time the Treaty of Mortefontaine ended the hostilities in September 1800, the United States had captured 85 French vessels and the French lost approximately 2,000 merchant vessels to U.S. privateers.26 Meanwhile, the United States lost only one ship – the USS Retaliation – during an engagement in November 1798 with two French frigates.27 Though these battles are indicative of the course of the Quasi-War, the U.S. Navy’s actions are only a part of a larger story.

Illustration of Revenue Cutter Eagle. (Picture by marine artist Peter Rindlisbacher)

American successes during the Quasi-War were due, in no small part, to the successful employment of private mariners, the Revenue Cutters (the precursor to the U.S. Coast Guard), and some assistance from the Royal Navy.28 Throughout the course of the conflict, eight Revenue Cutters were at sea in support of naval operations along the southern coast and throughout the West Indies.29 These Cutters had a significant impact, taking eighteen of the twenty-two prizes captured by the United States between 1798 and 1799.30 Meanwhile, Letters of Marque authorized civilian mariners to act as surrogates to the Navy.31 Again, the impact was significant and immediate. In 1798 there were 452 civilian mariners armed in defense of the United States; that number rose to 933 the following year.32 The cooperation among these various maritime entities buoyed a fledgling U.S. Navy, setting the tone for a pattern of future successful engagements. The successful campaign waged by these maritime forces laid the groundwork for the peaceful resolution in 1800 of the Quasi-War.

Maintaining Maritime Superiority: Lessons from the Quasi-War

Though not explicitly mentioned, a variety of recent strategic documents on maritime superiority draw upon French and U.S. experiences during the Quasi-War. Three broad lessons from this period in early-American naval history become apparent: maritime superiority is not a permanent condition; maritime superiority requires broad strategic foresight across political, military, and civilian channels to prepare and design; and interoperability across the sea services is critical to the establishment and maintenance of maritime dominance – a powerful navy alone is not enough. These lessons, learned during the United States’ first military engagement with a foreign power, offer relevant guidance for military planners designing a maritime strategy for maintaining superiority. 

First Lesson: Maritime Superiority is not a Permanent Condition

French experiences in the Quasi-War illustrate that maritime superiority is perishable. The CNO’s paper, A Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority, implicitly acknowledges a specific lesson the French learned during the Quasi-War – without a proactive approach and strategic foresight, maritime superiority fades.33 The French Navy, stretched thin by years of fighting with the British, faced a United States that had awoken to the reality that its maritime superiority was as critical to its national security as its land borders. In addition, the turbulence of revolutionary France was not kind to the French Navy. Besides the financial hardships resulting from the chaos of revolution, purges, and resignations had deprived the French Navy of many of its best officers. The cardinal defect, therefore, was not the French ships, but manning and morale. Moreover, the Royal Navy, adept at keeping the French Navy bottled up in port, allowed little opportunity for training beyond port.34

By 1798, the French Navy was undisciplined and poorly trained, with estimates suggesting they were over 8,000 men short by 1799.35 Therefore, the over-tasked French Navy faltered and despite the French enjoying a numerical advantage and better-outfitted ships, the U.S. Navy –  a few years old and with less than a dozen ships to its name – was able to repulse the French until they turned back to European matters. These manning and training shortfalls limited the French Navy’s ability to effectively prosecute the Quasi-War and the continued expansion of their engagements only served to exacerbate these underlying issues. The decline in capabilities, when combined with an expansive geographic footprint and steady operational tempo, degraded the French Navy’s ability to maintain maritime superiority. These limitations would continue into the Napoleonic Wars and cost the French Navy dearly.36

Currently, there is a surge in maritime power across the world. In the Asia-Pacific, China’s increasingly powerful and capable maritime capability allows for an aggressive policy in the region.37 In part a reaction to China’s maritime polices, the remaining countries of the Asia-Pacific region are upgrading, re-aligning, and expanding their maritime domain capabilities.38 The Indian Ocean Region and the Middle East are experiencing similar transformations in the maritime domain, led by India and Iran respectively.39 Meanwhile, the Russian Navy is flexing its might throughout the aforementioned regions, as well as the seas of Eurasia and the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. The United States would do well to look at the French Navy’s experiences during the Quasi-War and realize that capacity is not the only factor in maintaining maritime superiority, and without the proper manning, training, and equipping that maritime superiority will be short-lived.

To echo Admiral Richardson, if the U.S. Navy fails to recognize and adapt to the evolving maritime security environment it risks falling behind competitors.40 Today, there are more competitors than ever before and the United States would do well to look back to the waning years of the 18th century for guidance. As the French fleet stretched itself thin across numerous theaters and campaigns, the Americans were re-establishing theirs with a very specific objective – defending their maritime domain. Conversely, the French, depleting their resources in an extended war with Britain and dealing with domestic turmoil, were stretched thin and unable to marshal the strength necessary to dominate the United States Navy in the Western Atlantic. Therefore, while the French Navy of the 1790s was superior to the U.S. Navy, the events of the Quasi-War illustrated that maritime superiority is a perishable advantage, even more so when not given the proper attention.

Second Lesson: Maritime Superiority Requires Broad Strategic Foresight

 The Quasi-War illustrated that achieving and maintaining maritime superiority takes a composite of political willpower, military planning, and civilian ingenuity. Despite the United States Navy’s successes during the Quasi-War, it took years for the United States to commission the six frigates authorized by the Naval Act of 1794, which put victory in jeopardy. Even with the commissioning of the six frigates, the U.S. Navy was still a limited naval power compared to France. These limitations were only overcome by the integration of Revenue Cutters and privateers. Without these developed maritime services, the United States would have had little recourse against French transgressions. In The Future Navy, the CNO stresses the importance of having the right navy in the right place for our decision makers. Although a perceptive understanding of geopolitics can allow for some preventative measures, a navy being in the right place is primarily a reactive measure. Having the right navy though, is a proactive process – there exists a critical distinction between acting now versus then. As the CNO notes, to remain competitive, “we must start today and we must improve faster.”41 This strategic foresight needs to be broad and encompass political, military, and civilian dimensions; it needs to account for the time and effort it takes to fund, design, commission, and deploy new ships; it must account for the geopolitical situation and the status of enemies and allies alike; and it must acknowledge the time and funding necessary to sustain the material condition and readiness of the existing fleet.

When post-revolutionary America began construction of the original six frigates, there was intense debate surrounding the need for a standing navy. While provocations from Barbary pirates set in motion the re-constituting of the U.S. Navy, it took intense French harassment of merchants to rally enough support to actually build, train, and equip that navy. Four years later, those frigates would form the backbone of the maritime campaign against French provocations. Had it not been for the prescience and practical leadership of Presidents Washington and Adams, civilian leaders like Secretary of the Navy Benjamin Stoddert, and shipbuilders like Joshua Humphreys, the United States would have been unable to counter French provocations. Conversely, the French engagement of the United States during the Quasi-War was a sideshow that the French Navy was not prepared to effectively prosecute. The French government (known as the Directory during the Quasi-War) was engaged with the British at sea and revolutionaries at home and thus was unable to mount an effective strategy across political, military, and civilian lines. 

In a time of continued budget restraints and political divisiveness, leaders must take a holistic approach when assessing the cost-benefit analysis of maintaining a large Navy. As historian William Fowler writes about the Quasi-War, “[it is estimated] that cost savings to the American merchant marine exceeded the U.S. Navy’s costs during the war.”42 In short, doing nothing can cost more than doing something. Leaders must realize that maintaining maritime superiority requires funding, design innovation, and a well-equipped workforce in addition to an operational strategy that effectively allocates naval resources.43 Anything less risks ceding the maritime superiority that the United States has enjoyed for decades. 

Third Lesson: The U.S. Navy Needs to Work Closely with the Other Maritime Services

Borne of the first two, the last lesson concerns the need for cooperation across the sea services. The U.S. Navy performed admirably during the Quasi-War, but it was their effort combined with those of the privateers and Revenue Cutters that lead to victory.44 These entities – though transformed over the intervening years – still represent the formal elements of the United States’ maritime security infrastructure and their ability to work together proved critical during the Quasi-War. Across the spectrum of maritime operations, the increased integration of these maritime entities would enhance the nation’s ability to maintain maritime superiority.

The sheer diversity of forces working at play in the contemporary maritime security environment necessitates that the U.S. Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard continue working toward a cooperative and integrated effort to support national objectives. Such interoperability proved critical during the Quasi-War and will prove useful again. As noted in the National Strategy for Maritime Security, “maritime security is best achieved by blending public and private maritime security activities on a global scale into an integrated effort that addresses all maritime threats.”45 There is promise in this increased integration. A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Sea Powera joint U.S. Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard strategy – details how to “design, organize, and employ the Sea Services in support of our national, defense, and homeland security strategies.”46 Shortly afterwards, the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard expanded on the guidance, delivering The National Fleet Plan: A Joint United States Navy and United States Coast Guard, which details steps taken to identify opportunity for interoperability in areas of logistics, warfighting, and strategy.47 Likewise, the Marine Corps after years of fighting land wars, is re-engaging with its amphibious roots.48 The interlocking relationships these documents envision are critical for maintaining maritime superiority.

Newport News, Va. (May 17, 2006) – The Pre-Commissioning Unit Texas (SSN 775) sails past the Coast Guard cutter Sea Horse (WPB-87361). (U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate Airman Apprentice Patrick Gearhiser)

The relationship between the U.S. Navy, Coast Guard, and civilian mariners would do well to get “back to basics” by becoming acquainted with the lessons from the days of the Quasi-War. Then, like now, there is a shared mission that transcends the boundaries between civilian and military and between the various services. In the run up to the Quasi-War, the complexities of domestic politics and the global order made interoperability necessary and practical. Today, the same situation exists. Focusing on the strengths and limitations of the individual entities allows for better planning and efficient use of limited resources.

Conclusion

The world for all its changes bears a number of similarities to the late 18th century. Maritime shipping still represents the backbone of the U.S. economy  and by extension – its power and influence; contested waters still abound despite centuries of legal and practical solutions to remedy ambiguity; and the United States is again searching for that balance between neutrality and strength. As Seth Cropsey, former undersecretary of the Navy wrote, “Wide-ranging sea power is not so much an instrument of force although that it is as a condition of stable commerce, effective diplomacy.”49 It is this understanding that underpinned the establishment of the modern U.S. Navy and Marine Corps during the waning years of the 18th century as the United States faced a conflict that it was ill prepared to fight. Then, as now, geopolitics rarely waits for nations to get ready. You go to war with the forces you have. 

LT David M. Andre is a former Intelligence Specialist, and has served as an Intelligence Officer and Liaison Officer assigned to AFRICOM. He is currently serving as N2 for COMDESRON SEVEN in Singapore. He can be reached at dma.usn@gmail.com.

The views expressed above are the authors’ alone and do not reflect the official views and are not endorsed by the United States Navy, the Department of the Navy, the Department of Defense, or any other body of the United States Government.

References

[1] U.S. Constitution, Article I, Section 8, Clause 1.

[2] Yale University. “The Proclamation of Neutrality 1793.” Accessed 01 June 2017. http://avalon.law.yale.edu/18th_century/neutra93.asp.

[3] George Washington’s Mount Vernon. “The Naval Act of 1794.” Accessed June 15, 2017.  http://www.mountvernon.org/education/primary-sources-2/article/the-naval-act-of-1794/.

[4] United States Department of State. “John Jay’s Treaty, 1794-95.” Accessed June 4, 2017. https://history.state.gov/milestones/1784-1800/jay-treaty.

[5] Mariners Museum. “The Quasi-War with France 1798-1800: The Jay Treaty.” Accessed June 12, 2017. https://www.marinersmuseum.org/sites/micro/usnavy/05/05b.htm; https://history.state.gov/milestones/1784-1800/jay-treaty.

[6] United States Senate. “Uproar of Senate Approval of Jay Treaty.” Accessed June 12, 2017. https://www.senate.gov/artandhistory/history/minute/Uproar_Over_Senate_Treaty_Approval.htm.

[7]Treaty of Amity and Commerce Between The United States and France; February 6, 1778, http://avalon.law.yale.edu/18th_century/fr1788-1.asp.

[8] Donald R. Hickey, “The Quasi-War: America’s First Limited War, 1798-1801,” The Northern Mariner/le marin du nord, XVIII Nos. 3-4, (July-October 2008): 69.

[9] Larry J. Sechrest, “Privately Funded and Built U.S. Warships in the Quasi-War of 1797–1801,” The Independent Review, v. XII, n. 1, Summer 2007, ISSN 1086–1653, 2007, pp. 101–113.

[10] Ibid.

[11] United States Department of State. “The XYY Affair and the Quasi-War with France, 1798-1800.” Accessed June 13, 2017, https://history.state.gov/milestones/1784-1800/xyz.

[12] Carol Berkin, A Sovereign People: The Crises of the 1790s and the Birth of American Nationalism (New York: Basic Books, 2017), 204.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Naval History and Heritage Command. “United States Navy.”  Accessed June 10, 2017, https://www.history.navy.mil/research/library/online-reading-room/title-list-alphabetically/e/founding-of-department-of-the-navy.html.

[15] Alchetron. “Original Six Frigates of the United States.” Accessed June 14, 2017.  https://alchetron.com/Original-six-frigates-of-the-United-States-Navy-3900375-W.

[16] Leonard Guttridge and Jay Smith, The Commodores (New York: Harper and Row, 1969), 22; Papers of the War Department: 1784 to 1800. “War Office orders for the pilot charged with delivery of dispatches for the Ship of War Ganges.” Accessed June 15, 2017. http://wardepartmentpapers.org/document.php?id=26708.

[17] James J. Farley. To Commit Ourselves to our Own Ingenuity: Joshua Humphreys Early Philadelphia Shipbuilding. https://earlyphiladelphiashipbuilding.wordpress.com/chapter-5-from-high-tide-to-low-tide-1798-1801/. 

[18] Carol Berkin, Christopher Miller, Robert Cherny, James Gormly, Douglas Egerton,Making America: A History of the United States, Volume 1: To 1877, (Cengage Learning, 2007), 178.

[19] David Petriello. Military History of New Jersey. (South Carolina: the History Press, 2014), 97.

[20] Benjamin Brown French, John B. Colvin. Laws of the United States of America: From the 4th of March, 1789, to the [3rd of March, 1845] : Including the Constitution of the United States, the Old Act of Confederation, Treaties, and Many Other Valuable Ordinances and Documents; with Copious Notes and References, Volume 5.

[21] Ibid.

[22] James A. Wombwell. “The Long War Against Piracy: Historical Trends,” Occasional Paper, Combat Studies Institute Department (2010): 67. http://www.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/a522959.pdf. 

[23] Ken Hudnall, The Northwoods Conspiracy, (Grave Distractions Publication, 2011).

[24]Hampton Roads Naval Museum. “Pirates and Privateering in the New World.” Accessed June 18, 2017, http://hamptonroadsnavalmuseum.blogspot.sg/2016/07/pirates-and-privateering-in-new-world.html.

[25] United States Office of Naval Records. “Naval Documents Related to the Quasi War between the United States and France.” (GPO: 1935), 198.

[26] Yale University. “France—Convention of 1800: Text of the Treaty.” Accessed June 22, 2017.  http://avalon.law.yale.edu/19th_century/fr1800.asp.

[27] American History Central. “Quasi War.” Accessed June 20, 2017.   http://www.americanhistorycentral.com/entries/quasi-war/.

[28] James C. Bradford. America, Sea Power, and the World (United Kingdom: John Wiley & Sons, 2015): 31.

[29] United States Coast Guard. “The Coast Guard at War.” Accessed June 22, 2017. https://www.uscg.mil/history/articles/h_cgatwar.asp. 

[30] Ibid.  

[31] Gregory J. Sidak, “The Quasi War Cases and Their Relevance to Whether Letters of Marque and Reprisal Constrain Presidential War Powers,” 28 Harv.J.L.& Pub. Policy 465 (Spring 2005) 471- 473.

[32] American Armed Merchantmen, 1798, and American Armed Merchantmen, 1799-1801, in Knox, Quasi-War, 2: 147-97, and 7: 376-438.

[33] John Richardson, Adm. A Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority (January 2016).  http://www.navy.mil/cno/docs/cno_stg.pdf.

[34] Niklas Frykman . Seamen on Late Eighteenth-Century European Warships.  (2009), 84. Internationaal Instituut voor Sociale Geschiedenis.

[35] Ibid.

[36] David Gates, The Napoleonic Wars 1803-1815, (New York: Random House, 2011)

[37] Jeremy Page, “ The Rapid Expansion of China’s Navy in Five Charts,” Wall Street Journal, April 10, 2015,  https://blogs.wsj.com/chinarealtime/2015/04/10/five-charts-that-show-the-rapid-expansion-of-chinas-navy/.

[38] Geoffrey Till and Jane Chan, Naval Modernisation in South-East Asia: Nature, Causes and Consequences, (United Kingdom, Routledge, 2013): 113-116.

[39] Anit Mukherjee, C. Raja Mohan, ed., India’s Naval Strategy and Asian Security (Routledge, 2015); Shaurya Karanbir Gurung, “China’s Naval Efforts May Prove Wanting in Front of Indian Navy’s Experience,” India Times. http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/defence/chinas-naval-efforts-may-prove-wanting-in-front-of-indian-navys-experience/articleshow/57575868.cms.

[40] Yasmin Tadjdeh, “Navy Focuses on Maritime Superiority in Complex World,” National Defense, February 1, 2016.  http://www.nationaldefensemagazine.org/articles/2016/1/31/2016february-navy-focuses-on-maritime-superiority-in-complex-world.

[41] John Richardson, Adm., The Future Navy White Paper, 2017. http://www.navy.mil/navydata/people/cno/Richardson/Resource/TheFutureNavy.pdf.

[42] William M. Fowler Jr.,  Jack Tars and Commodores: The American Navy, 1783–1815 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1984): 41–42.

[43] Jessie Riposo, Michael E. McMahon, James G. Kallimani, and Daniel Tremblay, “Current and Future Challenges to Resourcing U.S. Navy Public Shipyards,” RAND Corporation (2017): Xviii. http://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/research_reports/RR1500/RR1552/RAND_RR1552.pdf.

[44] United States Coast Guard. “Cutters, Craft & U.S. Coast Guard Manned Army & Navy Vessels.” Accessed June 23, 2017, https://www.uscg.mil/history/webcutters/cutterlist.asp.

[45] United States Department of State, The National Strategy for Maritime Security. September 2005, 13. https://www.state.gov/t/pm/rls/othr/misc/255321.htm.

[46] A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Sea Power. March 2015,  https://www.uscg.mil/SENIORLEADERSHIP/DOCS/CS21R_Final.pdf. 

[47] The National Fleet Plan: A Joint United States Navy and United States Coast Guard http://www.navy.mil/strategic/Fleet_Plan_Final.pdf.

[48] Otto Kreisher, “US Marine Coprs is Getting Back to its Amphibious Roots,” Defense Media Network, November 8, 2012, http://www.defensemedianetwork.com/stories/return-to-the-sea/2/.

[49] Seth Cropsey, MAYDAY: The Decline of American Naval Supremacy (New York: The Overlook Press, 2014).

Featured Image: CHARLESTOWN, Mass. (April 5, 2012) USS Constitution is moored to her pier at night in the Charlestown Navy Yard. Constitution is the oldest commissioned warship afloat and welcomes more than 500,000 visitors per year. (U.S. Navy photo by Sonar Technician (Submarine) 2nd Class Thomas Rooney/Released)

Design Thinking for Military Advantage

In collaboration with U.S. Fleet Forces Command (USFFC) and Navy Cyber Defense Operations Command (NCDOC)

Introduction

The United States Navy has a proud tradition of mission accomplishment, regardless of the odds. From John Paul Jones taking the fight to the British shores aboard the Bonhomme Richard, to the hard-fought victories of the Pacific campaign, our naval service has been able to find the competitive advantage necessary to win. We have been fortunate that great people throughout our history have risen to the call when necessary. This long and storied list contains names such as Decatur, Preble, Farragut, Morton, Ellis, Puller, Hopper, and Halsey. The right person, with the right answer, at the right time— almost as if fate was on our side.

These larger-than-life figures make for compelling stories, but what if they were never born? What if these legends were not in the right place at the right time to save the day? What if the Navy fostered an environment wherein the creative problem solving, critical thought, and extreme ownership that called these legends to action were core competencies across the force? Imagine a force that spends less time prescribing exactly what to do and instead harnesses the power of the collective, a force where our competitive advantage is not simply people, but rather capable, empowered, and passionate teammates. We should develop teammates truly capable of leading us into the future because we are too comfortable reacting to the present.

To truly realize our potential, we must deliberately build upon our strong history and shape the ongoing cultural change across the force. We must make creative problem solving, critical thinking, and collective ownership core competencies, and go out of our way to enable teammates who reflect these traits. Our training pipeline and personnel system should reinforce those tenets. In the absence of that, or rather in parallel, we must focus on shaping culture at the unit level. This entails the creation of connective tissue across many efforts that seek the same outcomes to ensure scalability while creating new norms and delivering outcomes we have yet to imagine.

This article seeks to shine a light on the unnecessary level of risk aversion and bureaucracy in our organization, describe the fundamental principles behind design thinking and deckplate innovation, and share revealing examples of these principles in action at U.S. Fleet Forces Command (USFFC) and Navy Cyber Defense Operations Command (NCDOC). 

A Learning Navy

In the Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority, the Chief of Naval Operations lays out numerous lines of effort as a vision and strategy for the Navy’s future. The green line of effort, which challenges the Navy to “apply the best concepts, techniques and technologies to accelerate learning as individuals, teams and organizations,” is being realized in an emerging grassroots movement which has taken the challenge to “set aspirational goals” and use a combination of critical thinking, lessons from history, and methods of human-centered design to encourage creativity and innovation to create advantage.

A sustainable competitive advantage is difficult to identify, and often results from an interwoven mass of tangible and intangible factors. Tangible resources are easy to identify and range from financial capital to physical assets like airplanes and ships. Intangible resources, while more difficult to quantify, may be the most valuable assets that an organization possesses. Human resources provide long-term exploitable skills, productive effort, and tacit knowledge that is difficult to replace and hard for competition to replicate. Personal and organizational experience builds tacit knowledge, and can be described as the collective know-how of a group. Organizations often struggle to quantify or pass on this knowledge through verbal or written communication.

In order to prevent stagnation, the Navy must become a learning organization. A learning organization continuously transforms itself by properly unleashing its people’s tacit knowledge. Throughout the rich history of the Navy, innovation and creativity have often ebbed and flowed. As Peter Senge points out in his book The Fifth Discipline, many successful learning organizations share a common vision, willingly challenge their own mental models, and encourage their people to seek personal mastery and engage in team learning. The results are the Googles, Facebooks, Ubers, and Warby Parkers of the world. This is not to say the Navy should model itself in the image of Facebook or Uber. Clearly the business model of fighting and winning our nation’s wars differs from that of social networking or crowdsourcing vehicular transportation. But just as many different corporations with different goals and models have embraced rapid learning to achieve maximum possible performance, so too can the Navy, and the first step in becoming a learning organization is admitting that you are not one.

Though many senior leaders may disagree, our Navy, as a whole, is not a true learning organization–at least not yet. Everyone needs to grow comfortable with a continuous departure from the status quo as the start of a new way of thinking. Through the combination of these ideas, an organization can leverage the knowledge and abilities across the spectrum of its constituents. The core competencies of creative problem solving, critical thinking, and collective ownership will help us break this mold. Our current system fails to assess, develop, or value these competencies. But unbeknownst to many, a deckplate revolution has commenced.

A Revolution in Thought and Action

This revolution continues to bring smart creatives from across the Navy together to create a movement. They focus on reimagining our culture as one founded on the aforementioned core competencies. This is where design thinking comes into play. Much contemporary writing focused on change references design thinking, but what is it exactly? Is it a perceived silver bullet from industry that the military is attempting to latch on to? A fleeting “buzzword” quickly forgotten? Hopefully not.

Design thinking is about embracing the combined knowledge within an organization for maximum possible performance. Creating solutions can be difficult, especially if you have not effectively defined the problem. Design thinking provides a process to focus efforts and achieve results. Though many techniques and tools differ, design thinking is rooted in four major elements: define the problem, divergent thinking, convergent thinking, and refine/execute.

NOSC San Jose Sailors engaged in a 45 minute divergent thinking exercise designed to capture ideas in order to address an opportunity statement provided by NOSC leadership. (Photo by LCDR Owen Morrissey)

Defining the problem is very easy to gloss over, but it can be the most important step. Are you solving the right problem or simply a symptom of a higher systemic impediment in your organization? Design thinking encourages approaching the problem from different perspectives to ensure you are still solving the correct or complete problem. Seek to ask why until you have worked past the easy answers and get to the truly hard question. Don’t just look for the simplest and most obvious solution, but seek as many different solutions as possible. Divergent thinking facilitates this concept, especially with many people working together. The goal is to diverge into as many ideas as possible, where the most opportunities appear when you are not constrained by finding the “best” solution. Think quantity over quality; many people can’t arrive at the right answer without fully embracing their comfort in the group or without pulling ideas from previous ‘bad’ examples.

After generating as many opportunities as possible, design thinking uses tools to group, merge, and then pare down the solutions until, through synthesis, converge on the best functional results. To higher leadership, this can be considered a catch-all in removing the ‘Good Idea Fairies’ from the group and allowing the best solution to bubble to the surface. This solution will be free of emotion and carries with it a vector towards positive change.

After arriving at a solution, seek refinement and development through basic prototyping. Design thinking provides tools to prototype solutions that seek to test the foundations of the idea rather than building a working physical product. This enables testing and further development with minimum resources. For higher levels of leadership, this may work towards an entire command or unit. When implemented from the ground-up – individuals, workcenters, divisions, and departments – this equates improvement across the spectrum.

After the solution has been refined, execute. Ideas without execution are meaningless. It takes action to bring an idea to fruition, and without that action, design thinking is truly just the latest “buzzword” spoken in an echo chamber.

Leadership’s Role

Upon the conclusion of the event, the collaboration and support of the participant’s leadership is necessary to promote the success of these young leaders by providing them with time, trust, and top cover. These core aspects drive the successful engagement of our young Sailors and Marines, and inspire every ounce of our commitment and progress. Without them, we don’t have the perspective to see beyond our silo of thought. The relationship between leadership’s time, trust, and top cover and rank and file empowerment defines the success or failure in the leader-led relationship. All of the time and trust in the world does nothing if you don’t have someone blocking for you along the way. Conversely, there is no top cover that someone can give you that would produce results without the adequate time and trust that goes along with it.

The illuminate Th!nkshop at Fleet Forces

Officers assigned to SEVENTH Fleet in Yokosuka participate in an executive course collaboration exercise focused on developing rapid prototypes in order to gain perspective of the Illuminate effort. (Photo by LCDR Owen Morrissey)

The illuminate initiative at Fleet Forces Command is one grassroots program bringing design thinking courses to Sailors and Marines. Turning the traditional paradigm of learning on its head, they encourage shrugging off bureaucracy, taking ownership, and focusing entirely on problem-solving and process improvement as opposed to passively receiving top-down innovation initiatives. Based in the concepts of design thinking, the Th!nkshops seek to identify solutions through a process of divergent and convergent thinking, coupled with the critical thought and positive mindset vital to the process itself. 

Like many other organizations in this grassroots movement, illuminate champions the fact that the foundations, objectives, materials, and format are designed and taught by a small team of active duty Sailors and Marines. Led by a passionate group of individuals, the course has already made a difference across the Navy. These efforts have primed the pump of an ad-hoc network of like-minded Sailors and Marines that seek to collaborate and achieve results. With the right resources and an expanded inventory of design thinking and organizational learning methods at their disposal, this network could move from an ad-hoc group of facilitators to a connected group of command sponsored representatives that will achieve maximum performance across the Navy.

Refining The Process

Getting the Th!nkshop pilot off the ground would not have occurred without an incubation phase. Illuminate needed people to iterate and a laboratory to experiment in order to refine the course. Enter Navy Cyber Defense Operations Command (NCDOC). The Echelon IV command participated in numerous iteration sessions  and helped develop the Th!nkshop curriculum.  Throughout this process, NCDOC personnel received personal and professional development training and provided candid feedback to the illuminate facilitators. The USFFC Th!nkshop facilitators refined the course based on the feedback. This cycle of iteration, development, and growth continued for several months. As a result, NCDOC adopted and launched its own chapter of illuminate utilizing their own in-house facilitators, while USFFC simultaneously began to spread illuminate across the naval enterprise. 

Since leaving NCDOC in December 2016, USFFC has impacted numerous commands. These include more than 40 commands at Seventh Fleet (C7F), Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command (SPAWAR), Southwest Regional Maintenance Center (SWRMC), and Naval Operations Support Center (NOSC) San Jose. They are scheduled to travel this summer to NOSC Dallas, East and West Coast Submarine Forces, SWRMC, and SPAWAR. They also conduct a series of Th!nkshops in Norfolk where they have trained Naval Expeditionary Combat Command (NECC), Fleet Readiness Center Mid-Atlantic (FRCMA), National Guard, Reserve Forces (RESFOR), and Naval Information Forces (NAVIFOR); summer plans include OPTEVFOR (Commander Operational Test & Evaluation Force), Transient Personnel Unit (TPU), Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit (EODMU) 12, and Special Boat Team 20.

NCDOC’s support and assistance provided the fertile ground for the Th!nkshops to blossom from an amazing idea to a training mechanism directly impacting Sailors and Marines. Their partnership laid the foundations for illuminate to scale across the fleet.

The NCDOC Experience

The time, trust, and top cover of a trusted ally provided the fertile ground for the illuminate Th!nkshops to grow and develop. In its early phases, illuminate took root at Navy Cyber Defense Operations Command (NCDOC). But long before opening their makerspace for Th!nkshop incubation and refinement, NCDOC began a deliberate culture shaping journey. A journey as unique as their mission; one that continues to make them the Navy’s “Purple Cow,” to borrow a term from Seth Godin.

They don’t use a Command Assessment Team to assess climate, they have a Culture Club that shapes culture. They use a 360-degree hiring panel to select new civilian teammates, and conduct 360-degree feedback for all E-7 and above as well as supervisory civilians. They have shaped a culture that truly combines the power of the 21st century mindset with the best of our strong Navy tradition. The foundational experience among NCDOC Teammates is their tailored version of the illuminate Th!nkshop, which is integrated within their 100 Day Onboarding process. Over the last few months, the Th!nkshop alums have reinvented peer recognition, reimagined mentorship using the NFL draft as the model, developed a locator tool to navigate their building, crafted a New Teammate Handbook using Valve’s New Employee Handbook as inspiration, redesigned their next Command Climate Survey, and directly leveraged design thinking to reorient operational execution.

The most visible evidence of the significant culture shift at NCDOC is the aforementioned New Teammate Handbook. It not only serves as a vehicle to reinforce their ongoing commitment to culture-shaping initiatives, it also serves as an example of how the public sector must both lead and engage if they are to give Smart Creatives reason to join the team.

The formatting of the handbook is not what you would expect from a government organization and neither are the words contained within. Everything from the internally developed Waypoints that articulate shared behavior across the NCDOC team, to the “Allowed To” list that compels all teammates to be “Doers,” speaks to a team that truly values competence, collaboration, and character. And because words are hollow when not supported by action, one need only watch their Innovation Cross Functional Team coach “Idea
Champions” at all ranks through the process of making their ideas reality to see that the “Doer” philosophy runs deep across the team and produces results.”

NCDOC’s New Teammate Handbook (Click to read)

NCDOC serves as a visible example that it’s not about the Th!nkshop itself; it’s about the culture it fosters and the operational outcomes that a culture of creative problem solving, critical thinking, and collective ownership generates. The NCDOC team interacts differently than any other within the Navy. Their spaces are different from any other within the Navy, and their approach to just about everything is different from any other within the Navy. It’s not about being different for the sake of being different, but rather about caring enough to question everything, to allow expertise to trump rank, and to prioritize long-term significance over short term success. NCDOC is a prime example of how a sustained commitment to facilitating Th!nkshops impacts thinking, doing, and mission accomplishment at the unit level. A Th!nkshop experience may leave you inspired to do more, but without the visible commitment to the tenets it teaches by leaders at every level, you will quickly be reminded of the short shelf-life of inspiration.

The Future

The work at USFF and NCDOC is not Navy-mandated, but simply the result of some forward-thinking minds within the Navy and Marine Corps, the desire to make a difference, and the opportunity to do so. Th!nkshops have inspired many, but we measure impact by our ability to sustain and scale the transformation ignited to date. Th!nkshops alone won’t generate the outcomes we need; command triads committed to culture shaping and helping each teammate realize their potential will. We offer our Th!nkshops as a vehicle to kickstart local initiatives, and welcome the opportunity to partner with units across the Navy. These partnerships grow and strengthen our network of leaders committed to creating an environment that affords us the opportunity to evolve into a true learning organization. This environment not only ensures great ideas are prevalent, but as our Chief of Naval Operations has made clear, allows us to turn those ideas into something real.

Contact us below for more information on how you can be a part of the Th!nkshop movement.

LCDR Owen Morrissey and LT John Hawley are currently assigned to USFFC in support of the CNO’s Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority. They can be contacted at owen.morrissey@navy.mil for executive engagement and john.w.hawley@navy.mil for more information and to schedule an illuminate thinkshop. For more information on the NCDOC state of mind, contact Dr. Rebecca Siders at rsiders@ncdoc.navy.mil

Featured Image: Sailors assigned to NOSC San Jose participate in a rapid ideation session during a reserve drill weekend. (Photo by LCDR Owen Morrissey) 

China: Connected Strategic Themes Across Global Commons Pt. 2

Are there connected Chinese strategic themes that cut across the contested and interlinked global commons (domains) of maritime, space, and cyberspace? If so, what are they and what could the United States do about them?

By Tuan N. Pham

Part 1 of this two ­part series explored the cross-domain nexus between the maritime, space, and cyberspace global commons by examining the latest Chinese white paper and strategies. Repeated refrains included the Chinese Dream (national rejuvenation); global interests, peace and development, security, and the development of national laws to advance China’s national interests in the three contested battlespaces. Special emphasis was given to the contentious concept of cyberspace sovereignty in support of national security and social stability. With this backdrop, Part 2 will now derive possibly connected strategic themes that cut across the interlinked global commons and discuss how the United States could best respond.   

The Chinese Dream

Chinese Manifest Destiny. Chinese strategists have long called for a comprehensive and enduring set of strategies to better integrate and synchronize the multiple strategic lines of effort in furtherance of national goals (ambitions) and as part of a grand strategy for regional preeminence, and perhaps ultimately global preeminence. China’s dream of national rejuvenation may be the answer to their calling. The prevailing leadership’s sentiment appears now expansionist and revisionist. The time has come for Beijing to finally abandon the long-standing state policy of hide capabilities and bide time championed by the iconic former President Deng Xiaoping; right a perceived historical wrong; put behind the painful humiliation of the past; and assume its rightful place on the world stage as a destined global power. China is unquestionably a confident economic juggernaut and rising global power, able to manifest its own national destiny – the Chinese Dream – and dictate increasing power and influence across the contested and interlinked global commons in support of national rejuvenation.     

Global Commons Sovereignty (Economic Prosperity vs National Security). Beijing’s maritime activities are driven by its strategic vision of the ocean as “blue economic space and blue territory” crucial for its national development, security, and status. China seems to regard space and cyberspace very much in the same manner in terms of economic potential (value) and sovereign territory that requires developing and defending respectively. For now, there appears more policy clarity, guidance, and direction for sovereignty in cyberspace, while space sovereignty seems more fluid and may still be evolving policy-wise. Nevertheless, Beijing still needs to balance two competing national priorities – developing the domain economy (economic prosperity) and defending domain rights and interests (national security) – in all three contested and interlinked global commons. Many anticipate the initial emphasis will be on the economy since it is an enduring asymmetric counterbalance to the preeminent United States. The rationale calculus is simple for Beijing. Why would China opt to directly confront a militarily and economically stronger United States now when it can subtly and quietly undermine American preeminence through lasting economic partnerships and enduring political agreements (bilateral preferably and multilateral when necessary)? Beijing can always recalibrate later based on the fluid strategic conditions and confront Washington more directly and forcibly when opportunities arise, or if and when the balance of power shifts more in its favor.     

Shaping Law to Support Strategy. Last year, China announced its intent to create new domestic maritime laws in support of its evolving maritime strategy. These developing domestic maritime laws bear watching as a possible harbinger for the other contested and interlinked global commons of space and cyberspace and as an attempt to right a perceived historical wrong. The former is part of a continuing effort to set the terms for international legal disputes that Beijing expects will grow as its domain reach expands; the latter reflects China feeling disadvantaged (and taken advantage of) by a Western-dominated system of international laws established when it was weak as a nation and had little say in its formulation. In general, the broad legal approach makes a lot of legal, political, and military sense from Beijing’s perspective. China wants to set the enabling conditions for its future strategies across the contested and interlinked global commons in terms of implementation and sustainment. Beijing seeks to expand its domain borders through buffer zones. It will buttress and justify with legal underpinnings its growing domain presence and operations and also exert greater control within those buffer zones. China seeks to eventually shape international laws and norms (and develop accompanying domestic laws) to be more equitable and complementary to its national interests.

U.S. Strategic Opportunities

Maintain Preeminence. Just as maritime preeminence is necessary to guarantee the freedom of the seas, so too are space and cyberspace preeminence needed to guarantee the freedoms of space and cyberspace. By committing to preeminence in all three contested and interlinked global commons, the United States will better protect its critical strengths; enhance its deterrence posture by being able to impose larger costs, deny greater benefits, and encourage more restraint, and reverse the growing perception of American decline. Having complementary domain policies and strategies fosters unity of effort, optimizes resource allocation, sends a strong deterrent message to potential adversaries, and reassures allies and partners. To do otherwise invites strategic misalignment and miscommunication and encourages potential competitors like China to further advance their counter-balancing efforts in the maritime, space, and cyberspace global commons.    

Protect the Global Commons. Now is not the time to cede territory in the contested and interlinked global commons of maritime, space, and cyberspace. China pursues very broad, long-term, and synchronized domain policies and strategies, and may view any perceived U.S. force posture reduction as another opportunity to reset the international accepted norms in its favor. Reduction may also increase Beijing’s confidence in its ability to shape and influence Washington’s decisions and encourage China to press the United States for additional domain concessions in return for vague and passing promises of restraint while it quietly and steadily expands and strengthens its positions in the global commons.                               

Dominate the Narrative. To compete with Beijing short of conflict, Washington needs to reframe the narrative that China dominates with accusations of containment. The United States could be more proactive and seize the messaging initiative like it does in the maritime domain. Former Secretary of Defense Carter hit the right resonance notes during the Shangri La Dialogue in June and in the November/December 2016 edition of Foreign Affairs with his gentle reminders to the region of America’s traditional role as the principal underwriter of maritime security, political stability, and economic prosperity in the Indo-Asia-Pacific; warning China not to build a “Great Wall of self-isolation”; and using the catchall concept of “principled security network of alliances and partnerships” to outline a vision that the United States has long sought to describe. The same needs to be done in the contested and interlinked global commons of space and cyberspace. The “balancing” message needs to be reiterated at every opportunity and at the highest level, and synchronized throughout the whole-of-government and with allies and partners. There can be no U.S. policy seams or diplomatic space for Beijing to exploit. In short, acknowledge that both countries have competing visions and encourage China to act as (or become) a more responsible global stakeholder that contributes positively to the international system.

Seize the Initiative. The maritime strategy and accompanying domestic maritime laws are coming, but China has not said when. The same can be largely said in the space and cyberspace global commons. Hence, Washington could privately and publicly ask Beijing now for discussions and briefings on its developing domain strategies and laws; challenge vague or problematic content and context, such as how the security and economic pieces fit together, and inquire how they comport with international law and rule of law, and if they do not, why not. Otherwise, silence concedes the strategic initiative to Beijing and allows it to control the strategic narrative.

Conclusion

At the end of the day, the strategic window of opportunity to shape and influence Beijing’s developing domain strategies may soon close for Washington. To China, U.S. inaction implies tacit acknowledgement and consent to execute its domain strategies and strategic ambitions unhindered and unchallenged. At stake is nothing less than U.S. preeminence in the contested and interlinked global commons of maritime, space, and cyberspace, and ultimately as a global power. For decline is a deliberate choice, not an imposed reality. 

Tuan Pham has extensive experience in the Indo-Asia-Pacific, and is published in national security affairs. The views expressed therein are his own and do not reflect the official policy or position of the U.S. Government.

Featured Image: The Tianhe-2 Chinese supercomputer at the National University of Defense Technology in Changsha. (Zhao Zilong/Imaginechina, via Associated Press)

China: Connected Strategic Themes Across Contested Global Commons Pt. 1

Are there connected Chinese strategic themes that cut across the contested and interlinked global commons (domains) of maritime, space, and cyberspace? If so, what are they and what could the United States do about them?

By Tuan N. Pham

Last November, I wrote an article titled “China’s Maritime Strategy on the Horizon” highlighting a fleeting strategic opportunity for Washington to shape and influence Beijing’s looming and evolving maritime strategy. I posited that Chinese maritime strategists have long called for a maritime strategy; China’s maritime activities are driven by its strategic vision of the ocean as “blue economic space and blue territory” crucial for its national development, security, and status; and Beijing may be trying to fill domestic legal gaps that it sees as hindering its ability to defend territorial claims in the South China Sea (SCS) and East China Sea (ECS), and justify its growing activities in international waters. The latter point is underscored by recent media reports from Beijing considering the revision of its 1984 Maritime Traffic Safety Law, which would allow Chinese authorities to bar some foreign ships from passing through Chinese territorial waters. If passed, this will be another instance of China shaping domestic maritime laws to support its developing and evolving maritime strategy, and part of a larger continuing effort to set its own terms for international legal disputes that Beijing expects will grow as its maritime reach expands.

I then further suggested that Beijing’s forthcoming maritime strategy will shape its comportment and actions in the maritime domain in the near- and far-term, and perhaps extend into the other contested global commons of space and cyberspace as well. In Part 1 of this two-part series, I explore this potential cross-domain nexus by examining the latest Chinese space white paper and cyberspace strategies. In Part 2, I will derive possibly connected strategic themes that cut across the interlinked global commons and discuss how the United States could best respond.   

China’s Space Activities in 2016 White Paper (December 2016)

“To explore the vast cosmos, develop the space industry, and build China into a space power is a dream we pursue unremittingly.”

On December 27, 2016, China’s Information Office of the State Council published its fourth white paper on space titled “China’s Space Activities in 2016.” The paper and the preceding 2011, 2006, and 2000 papers largely follow a pattern of release, sequenced and synchronized with the governmental cycle of Five-Year Plans that are fundamental to Chinese centralized planning. Last year’s paper provides the customary summary of China’s space accomplishments over the past five years and a roadmap of key activities and milestones for the next five years.

Since the white paper was the first one issued under President Xi Jinping, it is not surprising that the purpose, vision, and principles therein are expressed in terms of his world view and aspiration to realize the Chinese Dream of national rejuvenation. Therefore, one should read beyond the altruistic language and examine the paper through the realpolitik lens of the purpose and role of space to the Chinese Dream; the vision of space power as it relates to the Chinese Dream; and principles through which space will play a part in fulfilling the Chinese Dream. Notable areas to consider include Beijing’s intent to provide basic global positioning services to countries along the Silk Road Economic Belt and 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road in 2018; construction of the Belt and Road Initiative Space Information Corridor; strengthening bilateral and multilateral cooperation that serves the Belt and Road Initiative; and attaching the importance of space cooperation under the Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa (BRICS) cooperation mechanism and within the framework of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO).

Although the white paper is largely framed in terms of China’s civilian space program, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is subtly present throughout the paper in the euphemism of “national security.” The three references in the purpose, vision, and major tasks deliberately understate (or obfuscate) Beijing’s strategic intent to use its rapidly growing space program (largely military space) to transform itself into a military, economic, and technological power. In short, China’s space program does not have structures in place that make meaningful separation between military and civil programs, and those technologies and systems developed for supposedly civil purposes can also be applied–and often are–for military purposes.

The white paper highlights concerted efforts to examine extant international laws and develop accompanying national laws to better govern its expanding space program and better regulate its increasing space-related activities. Beijing intends to review, and where necessary, update treaties and reframe international legal principles to accommodate the ever-changing strategic, operational, and tactical landscapes. All in all, China wants to leverage the international legal framework and accepted norms of behavior to advance its national interests in space without constraining or hindering its own freedom of action in the future where the balance of space power may prove more favorable.

China’s National Cyberspace Security Strategy (December 2016)

“China will devote itself to safeguarding the nation’s interests in sovereignty, security, and development in cyberspace.”

On the same day as the issuance of the “China’s Space Activities in 2016” white paper, the Cyberspace Administration of China also released Beijing’s first cyberspace strategy titled “National Cyberspace Security Strategy” to endorse China’s positions and proposals on cyberspace development and security and serve as a roadmap for future cyberspace security activity. The strategy aims to build China into a cyberspace power while promoting an orderly, secure, and open cyberspace, and more importantly, defending its national sovereignty in cyberspace.

The strategy interestingly characterizes cybersecurity as “the nation’s new territory for sovereignty;” highlights as one of its key principles “no infringement of sovereignty in cyberspace will be tolerated;” and states intent to “resolutely defend sovereignty in cyberspace” as a strategic task. All of which reaffirm Xi’s previous statement on the importance of cyberspace sovereignty. At last year’s World Internet Conference in Wuzhen, Xi boldly exclaimed, “We should respect the right of individual countries to independently choose their own path of cyberspace development, model of cyberspace regulation and Internet public policies, and participate in international cyberspace governance on an equal footing.”

Attendees listen to a speech by China’s President Xi Jinping shown on a screen during the opening ceremony of the third annual World Internet Conference in Wuzhen town of Jiaxing, Zhejiang province, China November 16, 2016. (Reuters/Aly Song)

Both the space white paper and cyberspace security strategy reflect Xi’s world view and aspiration to realize the Chinese Dream. The latter’s preamble calls out the strategy as an “important guarantee to realize the Two Centenaries struggle objective and realize the Chinese Dream of the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.” Therefore, like the white paper, one should also read beyond the noble sentiments of global interests, global peace and development, and global security, and examine the strategy through the underlying context of the Chinese Dream. What is the purpose and role of cyberspace to national rejuvenation; the vision of cyberspace power as it relates to national rejuvenation; and through which principles will cyberspace play a role in fulfilling national rejuvenation? Promoting the construction of the Belt and Road Initiative, raising the international telecommunications interconnection and interaction levels, paving a smooth Information Silk Road, and strengthening the construction of the Chinese online culture are some notable areas to consider.  

The role of the PLA is likewise carefully understated (or obfuscated) throughout the strategy in the euphemism of “national security.” The 13 references in the introduction, objectives, principles, and strategic tasks quietly underscore the PLA’s imperatives to protect itself (and the nation) against harmful cyberspace attacks and intrusions from state and non-state actors and to extend the law of armed conflict into cyberspace to manage increasing international competition – both of which acknowledge cyberspace as a battlespace that must be contested and defended.   

The strategy also puts high importance on international and domestic legal structures, standards, and norms. Beijing wants to leverage the existing international legal framework and accepted norms of behavior to develop accompanying national laws to advance its national interests in cyberspace without constraining or hindering its own freedom of action in the future where the balance of cyberspace power may become more favorable.

China’s International Strategy for Cyberspace Cooperation (March 2017)

“Cyberspace is the common space of activities for mankind. The future of cyberspace should be in the hands of all countries. Countries should step up communications, broaden consensus and deepen cooperation to jointly build a community of shared future in cyberspace.”

On March 1, 2017, the Foreign Ministry and State Internet Information Office issued Beijing’s second cyberspace strategy titled “International Strategy for Cyberspace Cooperation.” The aim of the strategy is to build a community of shared future in cyberspace, notably one that is based on peace, sovereignty, shared governance, and shared benefits. The strategic goals of China’s participation in international cyberspace cooperation include safeguarding China’s national sovereignty, security, and interests in cyberspace; securing the orderly flow of information on the Internet; improving global connectivity; maintaining peace, security, and stability in cyberspace; enhancing international rule of law in cyberspace; promoting the global development of the digital economy; and deepening cultural exchange and mutual learning.

The strategy builds on the previously released cyberspace security strategy and trumpets the familiar refrains of national rejuvenation (Chinese Dream); global interests, peace and development, and security; and development of national laws to advance China’s national interests in cyberspace. Special attention was again given to the contentious concept of cyberspace sovereignty in support of national security and social stability – “No country should pursue cyberspace hegemony, interfere in other countries’ internal affairs, or engage in, condone or support cyberspace activities that undermine other countries’ national security.” The strategy also interestingly calls for the demilitarization of cyberspace just like the white paper does for space despite China’s growing offensive cyberspace and counterspace capabilities and capacities – “The tendency of militarization and deterrence buildup in cyberspace is not conducive to international security and strategic mutual trust – China always adheres to the principle of the use of outer space for peaceful purposes, and opposes the weaponization of or an arms race in outer space.” Incongruously, a paragraph after discouraging cyberspace militarization, the strategy states that China will “expedite the development of a cyber force and enhance capabilities in terms of situational awareness, cyber defense, supporting state activities, and participating in international cooperation, to prevent major cyber crises, safeguard cyberspace security, and maintain national security and social stability.”

Conclusion

This concludes the short discourse on the latest Chinese space white paper and cyberspace strategies and sets the conditions for further discussion. Part 2 examines possibly connected strategic themes that cut across the contested and interlinked global commons of maritime, space, and cyberspace, and strategic opportunities for the United States. 

Tuan Pham has extensive experience in the Indo-Asia-Pacific, and is published in national security affairs. The views expressed therein are his own and do not reflect the official policy or position of the U.S. Government.

Featured Image: June 3, 2013. Assembly of the Shenzhou-10 spacecraft and the Long March-2F carrier rocket at Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in Jiuquan, northwest China’s Gansu Province. (Xinhua/Liang Jie)