Tag Archives: Strategy

A Discussion on Grand Strategy and International Order with Barry Posen

By Mina Pollmann

Barry Posen is Ford International Professor of Political Science at MIT, Director of the MIT Security Studies Program, and serves on the Executive Committee of Seminar XXI. Currently on leave, he is presently serving as the Henry A. Kissinger Chair in Foreign Policy and International Relations at the Library of Congress John W. Kluge Center for the 2016-2017 term. In his most recent book, Restraint: A New Foundation for U.S. Grand Strategy (2015), Dr. Posen critiques Liberal Hegemony, the intellectual foundation of current U.S. grand strategy. He presents a bold new vision, a Grand Strategy of Restraint, as an alternative to Liberal Hegemony, and argues that the U.S. ought to focus on pursuing its security through an emphasis on command of the commons, a strategy with a considerable maritime component. CIMSEC spoke with Dr. Posen to get his take on how his arguments can be applied to the world’s emerging strategic defense dilemmas.

Q: Many have suggested that the U.S. is lacking a coherent strategy, including incoming Secretary of Defense James Mattis, who has testified that the U.S. is suffering from “strategic atrophy.” To what extent do you agree with such statements? Is it that the U.S. lacks strategic vision, or that the chaotic nature of the world makes the pursuit of any set strategic goals a fruitless exercise?

A: The United States has had the same strategy since the end of the Cold War. That strategy is Liberal Hegemony. It has two purposes: preserve to the extent possible the immediate post Cold War U.S. power and influence advantage relative to other nation states (dubbed the “unipolar moment”) and promote the spread of democratic forms of governance, market economies, and the rule of law—both within societies and at the level of the international system. This is a revolutionary strategy: it is meant to ensure U.S. security by transforming international politics.

These goals are very ambitious, and confront many moving targets. First, the economic and technological bases for power are diffusing to other countries and to groups, making it inherently difficult to preserve U.S. power and influence relative to them. Second, other peoples may not wish to emulate our forms of governance and economic organization. Nationalism is a strong force, making societies resistant to external tutelage. In some places, there simply is no obvious path to a liberal future. The Middle East is perhaps the most obvious example. There is a strong tension between the preservation of U.S. interests, power, and the spread of democracy. Indeed, there is not even sufficient cause-effect understandings about how to construct democracies.

Q: The U.S. identifies its adversaries in a 4+1 construct: revisionist regional powers such as China and Russia, rogue states that make wild threats and are pursuing or have pursued weapons of mass destruction such as Iran and North Korea, and the condition of widespread extremism and insurgent conflict. Under a Grand Strategy of Restraint, what would be the priorities among these threats?

A: The U.S. needs to think about what are the main threats to its safety, sovereignty, territorial integrity, and to its ability to generate sufficient power to defend these.  If China or Russia were to establish hegemony in their regions, that would be a problem for the U.S. Russia is not powerful enough to do so in Europe. China may grow to be powerful enough to do so in Asia. So China is the main problem, though a full court press of containment seems premature.

“Rogue” states are not major problems for U.S. security; they may be problems for U.S. allies and if those allies lack the power to deal with them, then the U.S. can lend a hand. Extremism can be a problem, when it manifests itself in terrorist organizations with global ambitions. But this threat cannot be addressed as we have tried to address it, by reforming societies at the source. Instead the best the U.S. can do is keep pressure on such groups to divert their energies to their own defense, and to put defensive barriers between them and the U.S. This will not stop every problem, but efforts to go to the source, as attempted in Afghanistan and Iraq seem to create new terrorists as fast as the U.S. eliminates old ones.

Q: What is the force structure that a Strategy of Restraint recommends?

A: Restraint focuses U.S. security efforts on the most important threats to U.S. security. And it chooses military forces that are most appropriate to address those threats. Though ‘terrorists of global reach’ are a threat to U.S. safety, the chosen remedy of the last fifteen years—sending large numbers of ground forces to democratize and reform riven societies at gunpoint has proven wildly expensive and largely ineffective. Restraint cuts the ground forces that have been employed for this purpose. Restraint does oppose other great powers who might try to establish hegemony in Eurasia. To maintain the capability to act in Asia, the U.S. must retain command of the sea, and of course sufficient command of air and of space to be able to move forces across the ocean, should that become necessary.

At this time, the most survivable warship in the U.S. inventory is the nuclear attack submarine. When forward deployed, it makes a critical contribution to blocking other great powers access to the open oceans. The aircraft carrier provides a mobile, strategic reserve, to assist threatened allies, and to help sustain command of the air over the open oceans. That said, the carrier is increasingly vulnerable to a range of weapon systems deployed ashore. Thus, in wars with peer competitors, carrier forces must be used in strength and also with care. Except against much weaker states, they can no longer be viewed as airfields that can simply linger offshore for extended periods. U.S. strategic decision makers—civilian and military—must confront the strong possibility that in a serious conflict, some carriers will be lost. The U.S. began WW2 with six carriers; by the end of 1942 four were sunk; and two were badly damaged. Command of the sea does not come cheap.

Q: How important is it for the U.S. to assert itself in the South China Sea? What strategic interests and precedents are at stake? What is the value of freedom of navigation operations there and what other means can the U.S. employ to shape the environment?

A: The U.S. relies on the sea to access the rest of the world, not just for trade, but more importantly to ensure against the rise of a continental hegemon. Thus the U.S. should protect freedom of the seas. States are tempted to bootstrap historical claims and the fine print of the Convention on the Law of the Sea to assert control over quite a lot of sea space. The U.S. should ratify the Convention and continue to assert its right to sail in those waters where others’ claims seem beyond what the Convention allows.

Q: You severely criticize “buck-passing diplomacy” by U.S. allies in your book. Yet there are partners who have been working well with the U.S. (e.g. Singapore) or that the U.S. could be doing more with (e.g. Australia). How can the U.S. better leverage security relationships with such prospective partners? Are there any lessons the U.S. can learn from these relationships that can be applied to the U.S.’s relationships with less forthcoming partners?

A: Most U.S. allies invest much smaller shares of GDP in defense than does the U.S.  This arises from their confidence that the U.S. will defend them, and perhaps also their true doubts about the imminence of security threats. They may complain about those threats, but they may not be as concerned as they pretend to be. Australia is one of the allies that under-invests. To the extent that some allies do more than others, this arises from either their proximity to threats, or their history of having been abandoned, or nearly abandoned by past protectors. 

There are three lessons for the U.S. First, when your allies tell you they are frightened, ask them what they intend to do about it before offering to solve the problem for them.  If the answer is not much, then do not rush to address the problem. Second, make burden sharing a central issue of alliance diplomacy. Third, remind allies that the U.S. is inherently a very secure country. And the U.S. retains command of the sea. We have more options than they do. They need to earn our support.

Q: Donald Trump, on the campaign trail, suggested that the U.S. provide less security to allies unless they paid more, and hinted that Japan, South Korea, and other countries, should acquire nuclear weapons. If Donald Trump sustains pressure on U.S. allies to increase burden sharing, how may these alliances evolve?

A: Eliciting a more equitable sharing of defense burdens requires a strategy. If the President simply sends an irate tweet every now and then, he will accomplish very little.

There are two ways this can go. First, the President can complain and at the same time unilaterally reduce U.S. military contributions to the alliance. If the U.S. simply disengages, my prediction is that U.S. allies, who are quite rich, will learn to defend themselves. But the process could be rocky. This could include getting nuclear weapons. We may wish for prudential reasons to attempt serious reform first. Or, the U.S. can make burden sharing a central issue in the alliances, hinting that our contributions depend on theirs.

The President and U.S. cabinet officials and diplomats must communicate regularly and publicly with allies on this issue. The alliances must set actual concrete military goals. Many of these should be public. The performance of allies must be assessed in public. The Congress must hold hearings on the matter. The press needs to be induced to cover the issue. The allies need to be made to believe that this is very, very serious. If they value U.S. help, they must show that they care about their own defense. They must be made to believe that without evidence to this effect, the alliances will fray, and they will find themselves on their own. Few people remember that this is what the U.S. did with NATO in the late 1970s and early 1980s. It did not work perfectly, but it worked better than anything attempted in recent years.

Q: In the conclusion of your book, you remark that change can happen through one of three ways. The Strategy of Restraint could be adopted through astute politicians listening to proponents of the Strategy of Restraint and having a “eureka” moment; through crisis; or through incremental changes. Is Trump’s election more like a “eureka” moment, or just the first step in a longer process of redirecting U.S. security policy?

A: It is very difficult to read the actual foreign policy orientation of the Trump administration. It does not look to me as if this is a ‘eureka’ moment for the “Restraint” strategy. Instead, this looks a bit like hegemony without liberalism. President-elect Trump has promised to increase U.S. military spending. This is not consistent with Restraint. His appointees seem to be people who wish to militarily confront those states and groups who challenge the U.S. in any way. China and Iran seem to be at the head of the list. Some of his appointees seem hostile to Russia as well. The President-elect seems to wish to do something more aggressive vis-a-vis Al Qaeda and ISIL than the outgoing administration. It is hard to see how this many military confrontations would be consistent with Restraint. With this many under-thought confrontations underway, it is likely that one or more will go awry. The costs will mount, and future administrations will find they have even less public support for a forward grand strategy. This is how I imagine the U.S. could ultimately shift to a more restrained grand strategy.

Barry Posen is Ford International Professor of Political Science at MIT, Director of the MIT Security Studies Program, and serves on the Executive Committee of Seminar XXI. He is presently serving as the Henry A. Kissinger Chair in Foreign Policy and International Relations at the Library of Congress John W. Kluge Center.

Mina Pollmann is CIMSEC’s Director of External Relations.

Featured Image: CAMP FUJI, Japan (Nov. 4, 2016) MV-22B Osprey tiltrotor aircraft return after a long-range raid from Combined Arms Training Center, Camp Fuji, Japan to Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, Okinawa as part of Blue Chromite 2017, Nov. 4, 2016. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sergeant Major Michael Cato/released)

China Seizes U.S. Navy Underwater Drone

By Armando J. Heredia

Grpahic by CIMSEC Member Louis MV

On December 15th 2016, the Chinese Navy seized an American unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV) operating in international waters off the Western coast of the Philippines. The USNS Bowditch, an unarmed T-AGS class hydro-graphic survey ship, was being shadowed by a People’s Liberation Army-Navy (PLAN) salvage vessel identified as a Dalang-III class (ASR-510).

The UUV had surfaced as part of a pre-programmed instruction, and sent  a radio signal marking it’s position for pick-up. As the Bowditch was preparing to recover the drone from the water, a small boat crew from the Dalang III raced in and plucked the unmanned vessel. The incident occurred approximately 50 nautical miles northwest of Subic, Luzon.

While the exact type of drone is unknown, there have been several instances of U.S. Navy Slocum Gliders snagged in local fishermens’ nets or washed ashore on beaches in the Philippines. This type of drone is not weaponized, and is used to collect a variety of environmental readings such as water temperature and salinity, to improve forecasting accuracy of extreme weather such as typhoons. The UUV uses wave movement to propel itself without any on-board engines, with an endurance time of months. The Department of Defense estimates the seized drone’s value to be around $150,000.

The crew of the Bowditch immediately contacted the PLAN vessel on bridge-to-bridge radio asking for the return of the drone. The PLAN vessel reportedly acknowledged the message, but then stopped responding and sailed away with the UUV. On Friday the 16th, the U.S. State Department issued a formal protest, or demarche, with the Chinese Department of Foreign Affairs, demanding an immediate return of the drone. At the time of this article’s publication, the Chinese government has not responded.

Purpose

Motivations behind the seizure are unclear, but tensions between the two nations have recently increased over President-Elect Donald Trump’s conversation with Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen in what Beijing considers a blatant disregard of the standing One-China Policy. It could also have been a quick riposte to undermine Head of Pacific Command U.S. Navy Admiral Harry Harris’ recent comments that the US is “ready to confront [China] when we must.”

Notably, the Philippines has chosen to remain silent over the incident. While traditionally a U.S. ally, the election of President Rodrigo Duterte has brought a deterioration of relations between Manila and Washington. Thanks in no small part to Duterte’s bloody prosecution of an Anti-Drug war punctuated by high civilian casualties and accusations of extra-judicial killings, a large multi-million dollar U.S aid package was just withdrawn this week – prompting the volatile President to threaten abrogation of the Visiting Forces Agreement. The Philippine Department of National Defense indicates they had no idea that the incident was ongoing; highlighting the enormous capability gap the Philippines has regarding Maritime Domain Awareness. The Philippine government became aware via communications from the U.S. State Department to their embassy in Washington D.C.

Coupled with Duterte’s increasingly close orbit of China following last month’s visit to Beijing, the United States could potentially find itself without bases that would ease the mission of maintaining a robust presence in the South China Sea. Recent analysis shows China has expanded militarization of their Spratly Island outposts by placing what appear to be defensive anti-aircraft and close-in weapon systems on Hughes and Gaven reefs, while fortifications have sprouted on Fiery Cross, Mischief and Subi reefs; the latter group are in close proximity to other claimant outposts in the region.

Taken together, China appears to be using it’s famous “Salami-slicing” techniques to slowly ratchet up its presence and capabilities within the region without crossing any significant “bright lines” leading to a military confrontation. The UUV seizure is consistent with opportunistic interference of U. .Navy operations while striking propoganda points with regional states. Notably, the unresponsiveness of Philippines to an international incident within their EEZ tells a tale that the U.S. cannot count upon its traditional ally going forward to assist in the presence mission.

Armando J. Heredia is a civilian observer of naval affairs. He is an IT Risk and Information Security practitioner, with a background in the defense and financial services industries.  The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, any particular nation’s government or related agency.

Featured Image: Slocum Ocean Glider. (University of South Florida)

A New Administration, A New Maritime Strategy?

By Steve Wills

Introduction

The incoming Trump administration has called for a 350-ship navy as one of its core defense goals. This number is a good start for adding capability to the U.S. Navy after nearly two decades of force structure reductions. The call for 350 ships, however, is not enough. Such a call must be supported by a new global maritime strategy that draws inspiration from the 1980s Maritime Strategy created to oppose the Soviet Union on a global maritime battlespace. Any ship count by itself is prone to criticism on the grounds of cost or capability. The 1980s Maritime Strategy offers an example on how to intertwine strategy and necessary fleet strength in order to achieve a desired capability that supports national military strategy. The incoming Trump administration should follow the 1980s blueprint in its quest for a U.S. Navy capable of meeting present and future threats.

Arguing for Ships and Strategy

U.S. Naval strategy since 1991 has in effect been the management of desired and financially supportable force structure over time. In June 1990, incoming Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Frank Kelso famously put the 1980s Maritime Strategy “on the shelf” and in response to a question on naval strategy from Senator John McCain replied, “I think we need an enemy in order to have a strategy.” The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 left the U.S. without a significant naval opponent around which to build a global strategy. The case in 2016 is very different. The Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff now say the U.S. faces “4+1” potential opponents (China, Russia, Iran, North Korea, and violent extremism) a threat lineup unequaled since the early days of the Cold War. Admiral Kelso’s requirement for an enemy in order to require a strategy seems to have been met.

Calling for more ships alone in the absence of a defined strategy guiding their employment is not enough. There were several fleet strength analyses done in the 1970s to determine the best fleet size that could be sustained within a given budget. CNOs Admiral James Holloway and Admiral Thomas Hayward, and Navy Secretary Graham Claytor and his deputy R. James Woolsey, analyzed fleets ranging in size from 400-1000 ships. The results of their work all tended to center around 580 ships. At the same time, Admiral Hayward was experimenting with new naval strategy concepts as the Pacific Fleet commander to take a global fight to the Soviet Union rather than just shepherd parts and supplies across the Atlantic in support of NATO; a mission the Navy described as hauling “ash and trash.” Neither concept — whether larger fleet size or new strategy –was likely to go far by itself. Any ship number was open to financial or capability criticism from analysts or members of Congress asking, “won’t 550 ships or 540 ships work just as well and at less cost than 580 vessels?” Likewise, new naval strategy concepts have been previously dismissed by Congressional budget analysts as not reflective of financial reality. The label of “not cost constrained” was enough to limit the influence of new strategic concepts to wargames and think tank discussions rather than actual application.

Navy Secretary John Lehman famously combined these ideas: a global naval strategy and a specific number of ships at a reasonable cost required to achieve their purpose. Lehman’s June 1985 presentation to the House Seapower Subcommittee stated that the 600-ship navy had to be affordable as well as meet strategic requirements. Affordability was to be achieved through more competition among industry providers, more efficiency within the Navy Department, and decentralization of Defense bureaucracy as a means of achieving these goals. High technology should be exploited, but not at the expense of what Lehman called, “Research and Development Rainbows” that created a situation where, “perfect became the enemy of good enough.” There was also an expectation that fleet operational tempo would be decreased.

The 1980s Maritime Strategy, combined with an effective 600-ship navy that could be purchased at reasonable cost, proved to be a stable foundation of effort for the naval services in the 1980s. Fleet strength neared 600 ships by the end of the decade and the Maritime Strategy saw multiple updates that made it in the words of one of its authors, “more joint, more allied and with more forces and explanation in support of its purpose.” How sustainable the 600-ship goal would have been past the 1980s is open to interpretation, but the basic premise of Lehman’s argument was enough to convince Congress of its efficacy while the legislative body was still in a hawkish Cold War military expansion mindset. In 1985, Congressman Charles Bennett (D-FL) of the House Seapower and Strategic and Critical Materials subcommittee wrote to House Armed Services Committee Chairman Les Aspin (D-WI) and stated, “The subcommittee finds that the maritime strategy is, in fact, a proper naval component to national-level military strategy, and that the 600-ship navy as currently described is a reasonable and balanced approach to meeting the force structure requirements of that strategy.”

Navy Secretary John Lehman greeting President and Mrs. Reagan aboard the battleship Iowa for 100th anniversary celebration of the Statue of Liberty on July 4, 1986 in New York Harbor.
Navy Secretary John Lehman greeting President and Mrs. Reagan aboard the battleship Iowa for the 100th anniversary celebration of the Statue of Liberty on July 4, 1986 in New York Harbor. (U.S. Navy)

It is debatable whether the Maritime Strategy or the 600-ship goal would have done so well as separate entities. There were plenty of influential opponents to both including former CIA director and naval analyst Admiral Stansfield Turner, former Carter administration Undersecretary of Defense for Policy “Blowtorch” Bob Komer, and renowned University of Chicago political scientist John Mearsheimer. Despite the efforts of these individuals and others, the Maritime Strategy and the 600-ship navy endured until the collapse of the Soviet Union consigned both to the past in a post-Cold War era without a peer competitor.

The Current Strategic Foundation

The holiday from history of the last 25 years is over and it is time to get back to the business of properly preparing for global great power competition. A Trump administration 350-ship navy could be part of the process by which the U.S. operates in the new, post-Cold War world. Numbers alone, however, are vulnerable to cuts by analysts seeking the lowest common denominator navy. Likewise, naval strategies without specific ship counts and powerful civilian and uniformed leaders to explain them to Congress also tend to run aground on the shoals of Congressional analyses offices. As naval historian CAPT Peter Haynes, USN (ret) has suggested, “A strategy without a resource plan isn’t one.” Congress does not always understand or support naval strategy, and instead talks in terms of platform numbers and line items. The legislature will, however, support a given number if good strategic arguments are leveled in its support. Any new ship count proposed by the incoming Trump administration must be accompanied by a strong, well-articulated global maritime strategy.   

Solid foundations already exist on which to construct a new maritime strategy. Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Admiral John Richardson’s “Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority” is the first step in that process. More than a mission statement, but less than a full strategy, it commands the Navy to:

“Make our best initial assessment of the environment, formulate a way ahead, and move out. But as we move, we will continually assess the environment, to ensure that it responds in a way that is consistent with achieving our goals. Where necessary, we will make adjustments, challenging ourselves to approach the limits of performance.”

CNOs have written such documents in the past. Admiral Kelso’s first foray into the post-Cold War era was entitled, “The Way Ahead,” a document co-authored with Marine Corps Commandant General Alfred Gray and endorsed by Navy Secretary H. Lawrence Garrett. It had a similar goal to Admiral Richardson’s guidance in that it exhorted its readers to, “maintain maritime superiority well into the 21st century,” and to accomplish this through, “our full range of skill and knowledge as practitioners of the art of naval warfare.” Finally, it suggested that, “The old excuse—‘Because that’s the way we’ve always done it’— no longer will do. We must work to shape and guide the forces of change in the direction that best serves the needs of our nation.” Clearly the “Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority” and “The Way Ahead” both serve to inform the Navy that while the mission remains much the same, new challenges await and old methods of doing business may not work. The Navy must be able to adjust and do so boldly.

The current Navy “Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower”(CS21R) is a strong step toward a maritime strategy with operational warfighting components, a key element of the success of the 1980s Maritime Strategy. This document and its 2007 predecessor (CS21) both sought to describe the global commitment required by the U.S. to secure the global commons for safe and free trade. The 2015 version gave more detailed descriptions of force structure, specific forward locations required to achieve U.S. and Allied goals, and explicitly identified key competitors such as Russia and China.

Upgunning Strategy

What is required now is “the next step.” This new document should be a global maritime strategy that in the words of former U.S. Naval War College Dean of Naval Warfare CAPT Robert C “Barney” Rubel, USN (ret) would serve as “A contingent warfighting doctrine,” that proposes how the U.S. Navy will combat the “4+1” cohort of current and potential opponents across a global battle space.” The 1980s Maritime Strategy performed this role and laid out specific strategic and operational goals for U.S. Navy, Joint, and Allied forces in a global war against the Soviet Union, and all the phases of conflict leading to that eventuality. The Maritime Strategy cited national military strategy, regional command war plans, and specific Presidential national security directives as its core principles. It cited specific geographic objectives, Allied strategy, and specific war aims across the full spectrum of potential conflict with the Soviet Union. Later versions of the Maritime Strategy included contingency plans for operations against regional opponents that might not be mere Soviet surrogates. The level of detail within the 1980s Maritime Strategy crystalized the role of naval forces within the joint force, justified naval power within higher-level national security guidance, provided clear and consistent operational goals to guide war planning, and was unabashedly offensive in taking the fight to the enemy. These specific traits should animate the next maritime strategy.  

Integrating the Joint Force

Such a strategic undertaking will likely be more challenging in the present era. The 1980s Maritime Strategy was largely produced before the passage of the Goldwater Nichols Act of 1986 that decreed all U.S. military operations were to be “joint” in character. While the Maritime Strategy was joint in design and execution and its drafting team included members from the other services in the latter 1980s, it was the frequent target of interservice criticism that accused the Navy of “going it alone” in its plan to wage global war against the Soviets. A new maritime strategy must be a joint one, but the other services must also recognize the differences between the 1980s and the present. There are no longer any large U.S. ground force formations deployed on hostile borders needing resupply as in the 1980s. While the seat of purpose may be on land and Eisenhower may have once proclaimed the end of separate ground, sea and air warfare in the future, those paradigms may be shifting. The existence of predominantely maritime hotspots such as the South China Sea, the Strait of Hormuz, and the waters of Yemen warrants innovative thinking in employing the joint force with specific attention on incorporating ground forces in maritime conflict.

A U.S. Army AH-64D Apache helicopter takes off from Afloat Forward Staging Base (Interim) USS Ponce (AFSB(I) 15), during an exercise. Ponce, formerly designated as an amphibious transport dock ship, was converted and reclassified to fulfill a long-standing U.S. Central Command request for an AFSB to be located in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Jon Rasmussen/Released)
A U.S. Army AH-64D Apache helicopter takes off from Afloat Forward Staging Base (Interim) USS Ponce (AFSB(I) 15), during an exercise. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Jon Rasmussen/Released)

Employment of U.S. ground forces is more likely to be part of a larger maritime operation as suggested by British strategist Sir Julian Corbett and more bluntly stated by British Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey who famously suggested that the British Army, “should be projectile to be fired by the Royal Navy.” PACOM commander Admiral Harry Harris has suggested the U.S. Army can support operations in the Pacific region by fielding land-based anti-ship missiles, a powerful capability that Russia and China already field in abundance and in forward locations. This image of U.S. Army coastal artillery “on steroids” would need to be balanced with larger national strategic needs that require an effective expeditionary ground warfare capability that includes both Army and Marine Corps units when needed. This changed vision of ground operations as auxiliary to war at sea must be considered in a new joint maritime strategy.

Strengthening Operational Alliances

Today’s opponents are a more diverse and capable group requiring an allied vice just a U.S. response. A 21st century maritime strategy would no doubt be a more complex document than its 1980s-era predecessor. The 1980s strategy dealt essentially with one opponent (the Soviet Union), while its 21st century cousin would have to assess multiple combinations of the 4+1 group across several different continuum of conflict. Different sets of active opponents would require differing desired outcomes and end states, as well as preparing for widely varying contingencies. The urgency of the threats posed by the U.S. 4+1 list of opponents might not also have the same urgency across allies and partners.

Still, there is great potential for global maritime strategic action. The recent US/UK/Japanese Trilaterial Maritime Talks resulted in an agreement where these three maritime powers, “Recognized this opportunity to strengthen maritime contributions for achieving mutually desired strategic effects,” (emphasis added). The United States and the United Kingdom already share one of the closest military relationships of any two independent sovereign states, where only British officers may fly F-18 Super Hornet strike missions and the Royal Navy’s “Perisher” submarine training course is the only non-U.S. curriculum eligible for qualifying U.S. Navy submarine commanders. This relationship might further develop in terms of global strategic cooperation with Britain and perhaps France providing a rotational aircraft carrier presence in support of a global Allied maritime strategy. The UK’s Royal Navy has already made a step in this direction with the opening of HMS Juffair, a naval installation in the Kingdom of Bahrain that marks the return of British naval installations in the Middle East after an absence of four decades.

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WATERS TO THE WEST OF THE KOREAN PENINSULA (July 17, 2014) Lt. Donghoon Lee, Republic of Korea Navy, right, and Lt. Vincent Simmon stand watch in the combat information center of the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Kidd (DDG 100) during bilateral operations. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Declan Barnes/Released)

No one state can effectively maintain the command of the commons necessary for free trade over maritime highways, and nothing will increase force structure faster than building meaningful operational relationships with allies. Maritime security was recognized as a global concern a decade ago in the U.S. 2007 Cooperative Maritime Strategy and general concepts like the “1000 ship navy” must evolve into operational and tactically competent formations.

The Global Maritime Partnerships initiative focused on performing constabulary missions such as maritime security, counterpiracy, and drug interdiction with a broad set of partners irrespective of capability. While undoubtedly valuable, this line of effort was devised in a time when great power competition was not so marked and partnership with less capable navies would not come at the expense of conventional deterrence. The emphasis should now shift towards honing high-end warfighting capabilities by strengthening interoperability with treaty allies. This could be accomplished through more frequent and complex joint exercises, technology transfers, wargaming, and increasing the proportion of officers from allied nations in international resident programs. This push for greater interoperability will support the incoming administration’s intent to increase allied burden sharing while still demonstrating tangible American commitment to alliances. These cooperative steps cited here are hopefully the first of many leading to the return of unified Allied maritime commands such as the Cold War-era Supreme Allied Commander, Atlantic (SACLANT).

Communicating Strategy

Navy Secretary John Lehman described strategy as, “The logical set of allocations and priorities that guide how the Navy Department spends its money and trains its people.” Lehman and the maritime strategy authors campaigned vigorously and effectively to further its goals and meet its requirements. Lehman published widely on the Maritime Strategy in print and defended it in media outlets. Uniformed officers took on critics and published extensive works on its genesis and evolution. These efforts continue into the present day long after Admiral Kelso retired the Maritime Strategy. A new document will likewise require an aggressive and comprehensive communications campaign across multiple formats including print, video, and digital outlets. It must educate a global audience and key decision makers on 21st century strategic geography, how naval power contributes to the national interest, and the need to protect the world-wide maritime trade routes that sustain not only U.S. but global economic prosperity and security.

Keeping it Affordable

The leadership of the 1980s navy was fortunate in that much of the technological advancement needed for the 600-ship navy such as the AEGIS system had been completed in the previous decade. Most of the 600-ship navy building programs had commenced before the passage of the Goldwater Nichols Act of 1986, enabling the service to have greater control and less bureaucratic interference in its overall maritime design. Recent defense reform efforts have identified excessive bureaucracy as an impediment to cost effective military platforms.

An expansion of the fleet today will be more challenging in that many fields of technological advance are still struggling toward maturity. The naval service has been somewhat neglected over the last 25 years in terms of maintenance and operational costs. Assessments such as the Balisle report of 2010 and more recent examinations suggest the situation may not immediately improve. In addition, many new technologies and concepts such as electric drives, modular systems, greater automation and smaller crews remain operationally immature to a degree. Other emerging systems such as directed energy weapons and railguns are on the cusp of operational capability, but will require more funding and testing in order to join the fleet’s future arsenal. A new Maritime Strategy and associated force will need to navigate a series of choices from among these capabilities and decide which are “R&D rainbows” not worth producing, and which can become operational parts of the strategy-supporting force structure.

Reorganized for Strategy

The Navy is perhaps now better prepared to create a new maritime strategy than at any point since 1992 due to Admiral Richardson’s recent reorganization of the OPNAV staff. It is also better prepared to resist critics than its predecessor. The Navy Staff (OPNAV’s) new N50 Strategy Division combines the strategy experts of the N3/N5 Deputy CNO’s office with analysts from the N81 assessments divison. This union of disciplines should result in geography and international relations forming the foundation of a naval strategy that is also within the nation’s financial means to execute over time.

One of the most persistent claims leveled against the 1980s Maritime Strategy was that it was not “cost constrained” and assumed that a large and complex naval force could be sustained with limited funding. The Strategy and Assessments divisions of the OPNAV staff have been arguing this point for nearly half a century. Strategists argue for the importance of geography, history, and international relations as primary determinents for the development of successful naval policy. Their preferred force structures such as the 600-ship Navy of the 1980s respond directly to threat assessments and the geographic conditions that shape them. The analysis community often responds by suggesting that national resources do not support what the strategists wish to accomplish. They have advocated a policy of force structure and capability management over time as the best means of achieving a force that spends only what is absolutely required to achieve those goals. The 30-year shipbuilding plan is a product of this effort. The combined strategist/analyst composition of the newly formed N50 Strategy Division will serve as an excellent vehicle for wedding a new strategy to a new ship count and subsequently updated shipbuilding plan.

Conclusion

The election of Donald J. Trump to the Presidency of the United States represents a break with past policies as did that of Ronald W. Reagan in 1980 and offers the Navy an opportunity to make a fresh argument for a global warfighting strategy. Past U.S. joint force constructs that emphasized ground forces over naval forces are not as relevant as they were during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars at their heights. The present strategic situation suggests that the time is right for the U.S. Navy to come forward with a modern successor to the 1980s Maritime Strategy. The price tag for this endeavor will also have to be acceptable to the legislature and the public. The Navy must decide which of its emerging technologies and capabilities will be part of the strategy-supporting force and which will be cancelled or relegated to limited experimentation. The OPNAV staff is better organized now than in past decades to articulate and advance such a strategy. A 350-ship navy might be the right size to accomplish this goal, but it must have a strategy in close cooperation in order to convince Congress that 350 ships or even greater numbers are required. The incoming Trump administration should demand a global naval strategy to accompany its proposed increase in fleet strength in order to achieve its goal of a superior U.S. Navy.

Steve Wills is a retired surface warfare officer and a PhD candidate in military history at Ohio University. His focus areas are modern U.S. naval and military reorganization efforts and British naval strategy and policy from 1889-1941.

Featured Image: 161014-N-OI810-449 WATERS SURROUNDING THE KOREAN PENINSULA (Oct. 14, 2016) The Navy’s only forward-deployed aircraft carrier, USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76), steams in formation with ships from Carrier Strike Group Five (CSG 5) and the Republic of Korea Navy (ROKN) during Exercise Invincible Spirit. Invincible Spirit is a bilateral exercise conducted with the ROKN in the waters near the Korean Peninsula, consisting of routine operations in support of maritime counter-special operating forces and integrated maritime operations. (U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Nathan Burke/Released)

Eight Good Questions Strategic Thinkers Should Ask

This article originally featured on The Bridge and is republished with permission. Read it in its original form here.

By Aaron Bazin

Strategic thinking can happen almostb anywhere: in a conference room, a university lecture hall, or in the dark basement of a military headquarters. If you think about it, really anyone can do it, from a president to an Army private, from a subject matter expert to an armchair general. Although anyone can do it at any time and in any place, doing it well is neither easy nor is it commonplace.

A variety of research projects have sought to uncover what it means to think strategically in the military context. In general, strategic thinkers act primarily in one of four roles: leader, advisor, practitioner, or planner. To function effectively in these roles require the skills of information gathering, learning, critical thinking, creative thinking, thinking in time, and systems thinking. Building upon these ideas, the purpose of this article is to explore some of the timeless questions that strategic thinkers can ask to help themselves and others think clearly about issues of strategic significance.

WHAT ARE THE FACTS, ASSUMPTIONS, AND LIMITATIONS?

"My belief is we will, in fact, be greeted as liberators." Vice President Dick Cheney on Meet The Press. (NBC)
“My belief is we will, in fact, be greeted as liberators.” Vice President Dick Cheney on Meet The Press. (NBC)

This question is so basic it is often forgotten or glossed over, but asking it is absolutely essential. In a strategic context, there are a tremendous number of facts to consider. The key is to identify the ones that really matter the most without going too far and reaching the point of paralysis by analysis. As for assumptions, if never surfaced and debated they represent a sizable gap in one’s logic. Many failures at the strategic level are due to people insufficiently discussing assumptions, or worse, dismissing them outright. One recent example that highlights the importance of good assumptions is when decision makers assumed that the troops that invaded Iraq in 2003 would be “greeted as liberators.”

While strategic thinkers always should try to think in an unconstrained manner, there always exist some physical, logistical, moral, or financial limits to what is possible. Failure to understand the parameters and limits of a strategic approach has led to many military overextensions throughout history (e.g., Napoleon in Russia, Soviet Union in Afghanistan, etc.). Much like the enemy, the real world always gets a vote. Understanding the limiting factors and developing a common understanding of the problem are supporting activities, which leads to the next question.

WHAT IS THE STRATEGIC PROBLEM AND DOES IT PRESENT ANY OPPORTUNITIES?

Uncovering a problem statement is also essential, but often overlooked. Many strategic thinkers immediately dive in and start describing what must be done. In a fast-paced environment, it can be very tempting to do this, but it should be avoided. Fundamentally, if you do not pause and take the time to identify the problem you are trying to solve, how can you ever hope to solve it?

One of the easiest and most effective ways to develop a problem statement is to spot the gap between the current conditions and the desired conditions (the “want-got” gap). What is almost magical about developing a problem statement is that if you get it about right, the answer should begin to reveal itself, even in the most difficult of situations. Of course, most strategic problems are complex or wicked and change over time. Therefore, it is important for the strategic thinker to not only ask this question early, but also ask it again and again as the strategic problem unfolds.

By their nature, military thinkers often tend to think about negative, worse–case scenarios and outcomes. To take a more optimistic approach, one may find it valuable to look for opportunities as well as problems. The idea here is this: if one can seize small opportunities over time, this can build irreversible momentum and eventually bring about positive change. Overall, this question helps focus time, effort, and resources in a coherent, positive, singular direction.

WHAT ENDURING INTERESTS ARE AT PLAY?

Many strategic thinkers seek to implement parrot the latest policy position they heard without fully thinking about the inherent interests at play. Some argue that interests such as prosperity, values, security, and legitimacy, will always be important despite which direction the political winds are blowing. The strategic thinker should try to understand how the political intent is tied to the enduring interests that will remain long after a political position has changed. This question helps one put the problem in context and reflect upon the deeper strategic meaning behind the problem and its possible solutions.

IN THE PAST, WHICH STRATEGIES WORKED, WHICH DIDN’T, AND WHY?

The lessons of the past are always there to school the strategic thinker if they are willing to listen. Of course, events will rarely unfold exactly the same way twice, but there are often important echoes from the past to be heard in the present. This question suggests that strategists would be well served by looking for practical advice from history and tying those lessons to prudent courses of action in the present. Neustadt and May’s Thinking in Time describes even more questions that help the strategic thinker make the most effective use of history. The benefits of this question are that it helps one reflect upon the past and generate possible options on what can be done today.

WHAT ARE THE OPTIONS (AND WHICH ONE IS THE LEAST WORST)?

In the past, policy makers may have been satisfied with being presented between one and three courses of action. Today, many policy makers demand strategic advice as a menu of options, where they can pick and choose what to implement and when to implement it. In these cases, the strategic thinker has to think divergently and come up with as many options as possible. As strategic problems rarely have solely military solutions, strategic thinkers should have the ability to develop options that include elements of national power beyond just the “M” in the Diplomatic, Informational, Military, and Economic (DIME) model. Of course, with wicked problems, there are often no good options, just a series of progressively bad ones.

HOW DOES THIS ALL END?

It is easy for a strategic thinker to become so engrossed with the minutiae of the problem that they can lose sight of their goal. Perhaps, at times, the goal shifts and the previously agreed upon destination is now a fool’s errand. That is why this question is so important. The strategic thinker must have the ability to take a break from the crisis of the day and take the long view. Because there is often so much uncertainty surrounding strategic problems, reflecting on the end state is often difficult. However, if you do not know where you really want to go, any road will take you there.

IS THIS WORKING?

When a policy is approved or a plan is signed, the thoughts captured on the document are frozen in time and begin their rapid descent into irrelevancy. This is a natural progression where a key concept’s idea is game-changing today, much less so in six-months, and barely remembered a year later. The key here for the strategic thinker is to not rest too much and remain in a state of continual assessment and advocate appropriate change as events unfold. As strategic problems are usually both quantitative and qualitative in nature, keeping an open mind to all types and sources of information is prudent.

WHAT’S NEXT?

Even the best strategic ideas are subject to failure if the follow through is lackluster, therefore, it is important to always ask what happens next. Every strategic choice comes with some degree of risk. These risks should be understood and, if possible, mitigated. In addition, with complex problems many issues remain unseen, and there is always the possibility of unintended consequences. Many strategic shortcomings are the result of taking prudent action in the present that results in future blowback that was unforeseen at the time.  An excellent example is the lack of U.S. follow through in Afghanistan following the withdrawal of the Soviet Union, popularized in the movie, Charlie Wilson’s War.

CONCLUSION

The level of responsibility placed on the shoulders of a strategic thinker can be daunting. The ability to think clearly is difficult in situations where time is of the essence, lives are on the line, or billions of dollars are on the table. It is precisely because of the high-stakes that good strategic thinkers need to ask good questions to uncover good answers. Of course, there are many questions that strategic thinkers should ask and this list is simply one starting point. In the end, the quality of one’s strategic thought will be directly proportional to the time and effort they put into the endeavor, no more and no less.

 Aaron Bazin is career Army officer with over 20 years of leadership and experience at the combatant command level, NATO, and the institutional Army.  Aaron was the lead-planner for four numbered contingency plans between 2009 and 2012, and has operational experience in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Bahrain, and UAE. He is the author of the new book, Think: Tools to Build Your Mind. The views expressed in this article are the authors and do not represent the views of the U.S. Army, Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.

Featured Image: A reporter raises his hand to ask a question as US Army Gen. Ray Odierno, Commander of US Forces-Iraq, delivers an operational update on the state of affairs in Iraq during a press briefing at the Pentagon, 4 June 2010. (Cherie Cullen/DoD Photo)