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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)

The Royal Navy and Freedom of Navigation Operations

By Pete Barker

In July, two major announcements were made renewing the Royal Navy’s commitment to the principle of freedom of navigation in the coming years. Firstly, the Secretary of State for Defence, the Right Honourable Michael Fallon, told Reuters that Britain was intending to send a warship to the South China Sea in 2018. The Defence Secretary explicitly stated that, “we have the right of freedom of navigation and we will exercise it.” In a direct reference to China, he added, “we won’t be constrained by China from sailing through the South China Sea.” Shortly afterward, the Foreign Secretary, the Right Honourable Boris Johnson, announced that the Royal Navy’s new aircraft carriers (the first of which is currently undergoing sea trials in UK waters) would deploy to the Pacific region to conduct freedom of navigation operations “to vindicate our belief in the rules-based international system and in the freedom of navigations through those waterways which are absolutely vital for world trade.” This statement develops remarks made by Sir Kim Darroch, the UK Ambassador in Washington DC, at the end of last year.

The significance of these declarations by senior government ministers and diplomats should not be underestimated. Indeed, they have provoked a swift reaction from Chinese officials who have warned countries from outside the region from stirring up trouble. In a barely-veiled reference to recent UK military operations, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang stated pointedly, “Whoever they are, under whatever pretexts and whatever they say, their precedents of interfering in other regions on high-sounding reasons but only leaving behind chaos and humanitarian disaster warrant sharp alert of regional countries and people.” 

Freedom of navigation is not a recently discovered concept for the British. When a Spanish ambassador had the temerity to complain to Queen Elizabeth I about the voyages of Sir Francis Drake in the Pacific Ocean in the sixteenth century, she replied with one of the clearest early statements on the freedom of the seas: “The use of the sea and air is common to all; neither can any title to the ocean belong to any people or private man, for as much as neither nature nor regard of the public use permitteth any possession thereof.”1 Although her successor to the throne, King James I, flirted with the idea of nations having dominion over the oceans (mainly to protect Scottish fishing rights), it was still accepted that prohibiting innocent passage would be contrary to the dictates of humanity.2 By the early seventeenth century, Britain, by then a major maritime power, had recognized the benefits of oceans being open to all and has been a loyal adherent to this policy for the past 350 years. In the twentieth century, this commitment manifested itself during the negotiations which produced the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). UK diplomats made significant contributions to the development of some key concepts relating to freedom of navigation, such as the right of transit passage through international straits, later adopted by all the signatory nations.3

Although the UK has supported freedom of navigation as a matter of principle for centuries, its economic and practical impact for a leading world economy should not be ignored. The two are inextricably linked. In a recent address to a multi-national workshop on freedom of navigation and the law of the sea at the U.S. Naval War College, noted University of Virginia professor Ambassador John Norton Moore (ret.), a member of the U.S. 1982 UNCLOS negotiating team, stated that the provisions of the treaty “for freedom of navigation are of the utmost importance in protecting global trade, one of the core mechanisms for global economic growth.” The United Nations estimated that in 2011, nearly half of the world’s annual trade by sea passed through the Malacca Straits and the adjacent South China Sea. The economic arguments for maintaining navigational rights in this region are unassailable, especially as the UK develops new trading relationships with Asian partners following its planned withdrawal from the European Union.

Historically, the UK has not conducted a formal program of freedom of navigation operations in the manner that the U.S. has. Of course, ships of the Royal Navy exercise their legal rights through the waters of the world on a daily basis, whether transiting through key straits or conducting innocent passage through territorial waters of coastal states. Their presence provides security for commercial shipping of all nations that are exercising similar rights. The exercise of these rights is no different to the navy of any other country in the world (Chinese ships recently transited through the Dover Straits on their way to conduct exercises in the Baltic, a practice also seen from Russian ships). However, by highlighting these operations years in advance, the UK has given them added strategic significance. This approach does not form part of the U.S. program. Current U.S. policy seems to be that such operations are only confirmed retrospectively in the annual Department of Defense report. On the basis of announcements to date, the UK seems to be taking a more overt and open approach to the conduct of freedom of navigation tasking. As noted by Dr. Euan Graham, the use of an aircraft carrier would also be a significant change from current U.S. tactics.

The actual operations are unlikely to appear dramatic and will probably be similar to those conducted by U.S. ships under Presidents Obama and Trump. One of the key considerations for the UK will be to clearly articulate what is being challenged by any particular operation to avoid inadvertently strengthening illegitimate claims (as discussed by Professor James Kraska in relation to U.S. operations here). In all likelihood, these operations will consist of straightforward passages possibly coupled with routine exercises such as a man overboard drill although such operational decisions are clearly speculative at this stage. But these actions speak louder than words. They demonstrate the resolve of the UK to maintain the rule of law at sea throughout the world, to support partner nations in the region which are committed to this concept (including countries such as Japan and India), and to continue a historic association with one of the oldest norms of international law. The UK has designated 2017 as the “Year of the Navy” and this commitment to conducting freedom of navigation operations halfway around the world shows both the value that is placed on this right and the resurgent capability of the Royal Navy to take action to preserve these freedoms.

Lieutenant Commander Peter Barker is a serving Royal Navy officer and barrister. He is currently the Associate Director for the Law of Coalition Warfare at the Stockton Center for the Study of International Law (@StocktonCenter), part of the U.S. Naval War College.  He can be contacted at peter.barker.uk@usnwc.edu.

This post is written in a personal capacity and the views expressed are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of the UK Ministry of Defence or the UK government.

References

1. Camden, Annales, 225 (ed. 1635) quoted on page 107 of Thomas Wemyss Fulton, The Sovereignty of the Sea, William Blackwood and Sons, 1911

2. Ruth Lapidoff, Freedom of Navigation – Its Legal History and Its Normative Basis, 6 J.Mar. L. & Com. 1975, p.268

3. Clyde Sanger, “Ordering the Oceans: The making of the law of the sea”, University of Toronto Press, 1987, page 95

Featured Image: Prime Minister Theresa May visits HMS Queen Elizabeth, HMS Queen Elizabeth made her first entry into her home port of Portsmouth. The Prime Minister went on board and met with members of the crew and addressed the ship’s company
(Jay Allen)

CIMSEC UK Meet-Up – September 28th

Join CIMSEC’s UK Chapter at The Ship & Shovell Pub for a pint and discourse on all things maritime. CIMSEC founder and board chairman, Scott Cheney-Peters, will drop in as well.

Location: The Ship & Shovell Pub, between Charing Cross and Embankment stations, 1-3 Craven Passage, London. Inside the pub look for the CIMSEC logo.
Time: 6-8pm, Wednesday, September, 28th.

RSVPs not required but helpful: director@cimsec.org

Trident: An Introduction to the UK National Debate

By Alex Calvo

Introduction

Ever since its conception, the UK’s sea-based deterrent Trident has prompted a measure of controversy. This includes, among others, the wider question of nuclear armament, the system’s opportunity cost (in this context, the weapons or other security and defence assets the UK stops buying or producing in order to pay for Trident) the indirect impact on the conventional defence budget, and the British “minimal” nuclear posture and doctrine. Trident has also been part of debates such as the UK’s place in the world, her relationship with the EU, and the “special relationship” with the US, while featuring strongly in the 2014 Scottish referendum. While the Conservative victory in the last election featured a “manifesto that included a commitment to build four new ballistic missile submarines … replacing the Vanguard submarines that come out of service from the early 2030s,” as stressed by British Defence Secretary Michael Fallon, the debate is still likely to continue, boosted by both political and technological factors. The purpose of this four-part series is to outline the most important terms of the debate, in a language accessible to non-specialists, providing a short yet comprehensive look at the matter. An effort has been made to sum up the different views on this issue, and to present alternatives.

In the first installment in the series, we review some key concepts in nuclear strategy theory and look at the basic characteristics of the Trident system, which provides sea-based, national, and minimum deterrence. We then examine the costs involved, what is meant by “extending Trident,” and discuss the continued relevance of nuclear deterrence. This first part concludes with a look at the gap between the UK’s nuclear and conventional postures.

Preliminary Considerations

The basis of nuclear deterrence is the belief that a country equipped with nuclear weapons will not be attacked by another nuclear power because this would result in an exchange and the resulting destruction of both countries. As a result, a “balance of terror” is achieved, whereby nobody uses this kind of weapon, which nevertheless, in spite of being “unusable,” plays a key role in the national security of nuclear powers. The concept of nuclear “mutual deterrence” quickly gained currency as soon as the US nuclear monopoly was breached in 1949, with the Soviet Union’s maiden nuclear test, and became one of the defining characteristics of the Cold War. It is also known as MAD (“mutually assured destruction.”)

It is important to stress two aspects of mutual deterrence:

1. A key condition is the invulnerability of both nuclear deterrents. If there is no way country A can destroy the nuclear weapons of country B, and vice versa, then none will have an incentive to use them, since it would inevitably result in the attacker’s destruction. This would happen, no matter who attacked first, the end result being the same. Attacking first only means dying a bit later. Thus, this acts as a stabilizer at times of crisis, since there is no incentive to strike first in order not to lose one’s nuclear deterrent, there is thus no “use them or lose them” factor. This explains why, during the Cold War, the two superpowers agreed to limit work on anti-missile defences, signing the 1972 ABM (Anti-Ballistic Missile) Treaty. While it may seem counterintuitive, by agreeing to have their cities remain vulnerable to a nuclear strike, they considered to be favouring stability. A working missile shield may have tempted its owner into believing that a nuclear war was “winnable,” one of the reasons for continued Russian hostility in this area. This need to guarantee the invulnerability of one’s nuclear forces also explains the drive to develop sea-based deterrents in the form of submarines equipped with nuclear missiles. Since it is very difficult to detect a submarine, it is expected to survive an attack, thus removing any incentive for the enemy to strike first in the hope of destroying one’s nuclear missiles. Again, like in the case of the ballistic missile defence ban, this was considered to contribute to stability, reducing the risk of nuclear war.

2. The possession of nuclear weapons by two powers, under the above circumstances (vulnerability of their population and invulnerability of the weapons themselves) meant, according to the theory, that nuclear war would not take place. Proponents of nuclear deterrence cite the Cold War as evidence for this. However, neither the theory nor actual historical evidence excluded the possibility of conventional or asymmetrical war (in this series, we will understand “asymmetric warfare” in a broad sense of the term, including terrorism, insurgency, non-lethal use of force, and the currently very much en vogue “mixed war” or “hybrid warfare”). Indeed, the Cold War did not feature any nuclear exchange, but many conventional conflicts took place, involving proxies and sometimes one of the superpowers as well, in addition to myriad instances of terrorism and insurgency. Concerning the relationship between nuclear and conventional weapons, some countries have issued a guarantee that the former would not be used against a non-nuclear enemy, but not all have, and even where a formal guarantee exists, some observers doubt a nuclear-weapons state would renounce using them if its very existence or essential national interest was at stake.

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October 2012 test off the coast of Florida, the first in three years by a British strategic nuclear submarine.

Right from the beginning it was clear that nuclear weapons would have a major impact on warfighting, and the British nuclear program and the later US Manhattan Project were fueled by fears that Nazi Germany may be more advanced in this field. Nuclear weapons were controversial even before they were first used, with some of the nuclear scientists involved making a last-minute attempt to employ a device for a “demonstration” in the hope Imperial Japan would surrender without the need for the mass destruction of civilian lives. Later years saw campaigns against nuclear weapons, often wider and including a blanket opposition to civil nuclear power, while some countries made desperate efforts to secure their own deterrent, and others signing the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) as non-nuclear weapons states in exchange for some sort of guarantee by an accepted nuclear power that the latter would use, if necessary, its own nuclear weapons to defend them. This practice, known as “extended deterrence,” should not be forgotten, since it is doubtful that without it so many countries would have accepted the NPT. This division of countries into two leagues, only one of which was allowed to own nuclear weapons according to international law, was bitterly denounced by India, which branded it as “Nuclear Apartheid.” Other established nuclear powers kept insisting that “non-proliferation,” the policy of restricting the spread of nuclear weapons to other countries, was conducive to stability. One may note a certain contradiction between the concepts of deterrence and non-proliferation, whose relationship is complex. In recent years New Delhi has signed a number of agreements with the US and other countries, the International Atomic Energy Agency, and the Nuclear Suppliers Group, so that we can now say India is a “de facto” recognized nuclear weapons state outside the NPT.

Trident: The Basics

In a few words, Trident is a sea-based national minimum nuclear deterrent.

Sea-based because it consists of four Vanguard-class submarines equipped with nuclear missiles. As explained above, submarines are considered to be very difficult to detect and destroy, making them the ideal platform for deterrence, since an aggressor managing to destroy UK population centers could expect swift retaliation in kind. To achieve this, it is necessary to always have at least one submarine on patrol (known as CASD, “Continuous At Sea Deterrence”), with four widely considered to be the minimum number of boats needed to achieve this. Otherwise, an aggressor aware of a window of vulnerability, with no submarines on patrol, may choose to strike at that particular time. This minimum number means that it is not really possible to cut the cost of the program by reducing the number of units deployed, since below this minimum the key objective of one submarine in patrol at all times would no longer be achievable. It should also be stressed that there is no absolute guarantee that a submarine is invulnerable, since technological developments may enable an enemy to track and destroy or otherwise neutralize them. In part three of our series we will discuss cyberwarfare and submarine drones, whose potential impact on Trident has been discussed over the last few months. It is also necessary to take into account that, while four is widely considered to suffice for the purposes of nuclear deterrence, this number comes from statistical studies and past experience, but does not amount to any iron-clad guarantee in the face of possible trouble from, among others, damage, malfunction, or cyber attacks.

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Infographic with details of Trident submarines and their missiles.

National, since it is owned and operated by Her Majesty’s Government, being under national command. It must be noted though, as discussed later, that the technology employed is not exclusively British, being dependent to a considerable extent on the United States. The missiles are American, the submarines and warheads British. Second, British nuclear doctrine does not exclude the possibility of employing Trident to protect NATO Allies. The UK’s 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review states that “The UK has long been clear that we would only consider using our nuclear weapons in extreme circumstances of self-defence, including the defence of our NATO Allies, and we remain deliberately ambiguous about precisely when, how and at what scale we would contemplate their use.”

Minimum, for a number of reasons. First, because it only features submarines, one of the legs of a possible “Nuclear Triad,” the others being land-based missiles and aircraft-dropped bombs. Second, because the number of submarines is the smallest compatible with a continued patrol capability. Third, because these submarines only carry a fraction of the missiles and warheads they are capable of delivering (8 and 40 respectively, instead of 16 and 192 originally envisaged). Fourth, because British nuclear doctrine, while not going as far as ruling out, for example, a first nuclear strike, or an attack against a non-nuclear country, seeks to considerably restrict the scenarios in which atomic weapons may be employed. This is clear for example in the section on “Five Enduring Principles” in the 2006 white paper titled The Future of the United Kingdom’s Nuclear Deterrent. The 2006 white paper states that “the UK will retain only the minimum amount of destructive power required to achieve our deterrence objectives.”

Trident can thus be seen as a compromise solution between, on the one hand, the perceived need for a nuclear deterrent, and on the other the wish to minimize its scope. This does not mean that it results from a simplistic calculation, since many other factors may have influenced the choice including inter-service considerations and relations with the US, just to mention two, and to be discussed later.

How Much Does Trident Cost?

Given that a key aspect of the debate is financial, it is necessary to bear in mind how much money we are talking about, both concerning the existing Trident system, and the possible replacement of its submarines. In 2012 the Secretary of State for Defence replied to two parliamentary questions covering these issues, saying that “As stated in the White Paper, The Future of the United Kingdom’s Nuclear Deterrent (Cm 6994) published in December 2006, we expect that once the new successor nuclear deterrent submarine comes into service, the in-service costs of the UK’s nuclear deterrent, which will include Atomic Weapons Establishment’s costs, will be similar to today (around 5% to 6% of the defence budget)” and, concerning the estimate for “the cost of design and build for a replacement continuous at-sea nuclear deterrent system” that “current forecast costs, including planned Submarine Enterprise Performance Programme efficiency measures, indicate that we remain within the 2006 White Paper estimates of £11 billion to £14 billion (at 2006-07 prices) for the Successor platform costs (assuming a four boat fleet).”

With regard to the cost of the new submarines, the then coalition government officially confirmed in 2011 the 2006 estimate by the previous Labour administration. In present-day pounds, it would be “£20 billion to £25 billion at out-turn” according to then Secretary of State for Defence Liam Fox, who added “Between now and main gate [in 2016] we expect to spend about 15% of the total value of the programme. That is entirely consistent with defence procurement guidance. The cost of long lead items is expected to amount to about £500 million.” As is generally the case with defence procurement, it may be difficult to provide accurate cost estimates given possible overruns, unexpected contingencies, and evolving technological and doctrinal changes. The long life span makes any calculation even more difficult, with London-based think-tank RUSI noting that “estimating total costs for a programme which will last beyond 2050 is a highly speculative exercise.” What seems clear is that the sums involved are substantive, yet within the means of the UK. Thus, although cost may be used by detractors of the program or of nuclear deterrence in general, what matters the most from a defence policy perspective is first whether a more economic alternative may be found to provide the UK with an equivalent nuclear deterrent, and second the opportunity cost of Trident for conventional defence. Both will be covered later in our four-part series.

We should also note that in assessing the cost of alternatives to Trident, the schedule to replace the existing submarines must be taken into account. This means that some alternatives that may seem cheaper are no longer so when the time to develop them is taken into account. The Trident Alternatives Review admits that “The costs of delivering an alternative system could theoretically have been cheaper than procuring a like-for-like renewal of Trident” but adds “were it not for timing and the fact that the UK deterrent infrastructure is finely tuned to support a submarine-based Trident system. In particular, the time it would take to develop a new warhead (itself a costly and high risk exercise) is judged to be longer than the current Vanguard-class submarines can safely be operated.” Also relevant is the fact that, as noted by think-tank BASIC, “Replacement of the submarines is already underway in several respects,”

What do we mean by “extending” Trident?

We should briefly note that the decision to be taken by the current parliament does not, strictly speaking, directly involve the Trident missiles or their warheads but the Vanguard class submarines carrying them. As noted by an observer, “The same Trident 2 D5 missiles currently in service will continue to be used at least out to 2042, so it is most definitely not a matter of replacing Trident. The warheads are also good out to 2032 at least, as they are subject to a life extension programme which brings them to MK4A standard” but “The four Vanguard submarines, on the other hand, can no longer be life extended safely and effectively. Their useful life has already been stretched and the first of the class is now due to soldier on until 2028, but it is assessed that extending further is not desirable.”

Nuclear Deterrence: Still Needed?

The first question to answer when considering the future of Trident is whether the concept of nuclear deterrence is still current or has become obsolete. A second question is whether a country needs to be a nuclear weapons state in order to be a top diplomatic power. Third, we have the relationship between nuclear and non-nuclear defence, and more precisely whether nuclear weapons are necessary to wage conventional or asymmetric war.

As discussed later, an affirmative answer to these questions does not automatically mean we should support Trident, since other nuclear alternatives exist, but should we answer them in the negative then it would be logical to defend Trident’s end.

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Nuclear-themed pin-up. Ever since its invention, the bomb has had a contradictory place in popular culture, as a harbinger of both Armageddon and supreme power.

With regard to the first question, as long as other powers sport their own nuclear forces, and even more so if tensions or significant conflicts persist with some such powers, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that it is indeed necessary for the UK to retain her own nuclear deterrent. Terminating it would mean that the country may become the victim of nuclear blackmail. It is true that the UK may seek to rely on extended deterrence (also known as the “nuclear umbrella”) by the United States, but this would mean outsourcing national security, with the corresponding loss of power and influence on the one hand, and the risk that American authorities may not be ready (or may be perceived by a potential aggressor as not being ready) to risk American lives to preserve British ones. Some observers in Japan, which relies on US extended deterrence, have often posed the question whether America would be willing to “trade LA for Tokyo,” and as noted by a Congressional Research Service paper “Since the threat of nuclear attack developed during the Cold War, Japan has been included under the U.S. ‘nuclear umbrella,’ although some ambiguity exists about whether the United States is committed to respond with nuclear weapons in the event of a nuclear attack on Japan.” A similar question could be asked with regard to London, Manchester, or Birmingham.

Furthermore, it should be noted from a financial and industrial perspective that relying on extended deterrence may also directly or indirectly lead to the UK shouldering part of the cost of providing that protection, without the industrial benefits from having a national system. This may be another consideration against the nuclear umbrella as opposed to an independent deterrent.

It must be noted, though, that some observers doubt the value of a nuclear deterrent, and furthermore point at recent history as evidence that money should best be spent elsewhere. For example, writing for RUSI, Hugh Beach argues that “It cannot be shown that by virtue of its UK nuclear arsenal, Britain has been able to take any action vis-à-vis another country that it could not otherwise have undertaken, nor prevented action by any other country that it could not otherwise have prevented. British nuclear weapons did not deter Argentina from attempting to annex the Falkland Islands in 1982,” a line of thought that he extends to other nuclear powers.

The Gap between the UK’s Nuclear and Conventional Posture

In connection with the above, we should mention that, as noted by RUSI’s Malcolm Chalmers, British conventional and nuclear defence policy may be seen as out of step. The former is based on the assumption that no state conflict involving the homeland is foreseeable, whereas the latter is posited on the opposite assumption. Chalmers wrote “Discussion of options for conventional capability in the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) is based on the assumption that the UK homeland does not face a significant threat of attack by other states. Nor, it is assumed, could one emerge without an extended period of strategic warning. While the UK plans to maintain and improve capabilities for a range of national tasks, including strategic intelligence, counter-terrorism, counter-cyber, and defence of dependent territories, these tasks do not include defence of the UK against military attack by other states. The main focus of conventional force planning, accordingly, is now on the appropriate size and shape of the UK’s contribution to collective capabilities for intervention and stabilisation in other parts of the world. By contrast, the commitment to maintain a nuclear-armed missile submarine on patrol at all times (i.e., CASD) has remained largely unchanged since the 1960s, when a surprise attack on Western Europe by the Soviet Union was a central driver for UK force planning.” Although this different posture is clearly in place and can be observed in the respective doctrinal documents, we should be careful before reaching any rushed conclusions. We should also be careful before imagining that the solution to the Trident debate is to put nuclear policy in line with conventional doctrine and forego or downgrade the British deterrent. Possibly because it is conventional doctrine that needs an in-depth review in a more realistic direction. Second, because there may not be, as discussed later, a gulf between conventional and non-conventional defence, but rather a continuous spectrum. In other words, any cuts in nuclear capabilities or credibility may have a negative impact on conventional deterrence and the ability to wage conventional, unconventional, and hybrid war.

In our second part, we shall first examine the impact of nuclear weapons on a country’s hard and soft power, and then proceed to discuss “Hybrid warfare” under a nuclear umbrella. While this term has become a buzzword, it is often examined without taking into account its non-conventional dimension, thus failing to capture its complexity. We shall also cover Trident’s opportunity cost and, as some opponents argue, whether it may constitute an obstacle for British conventional rearmament. This second installment concludes with a look at the connection between Trident and, on the one hand, the “special relationship” between London and Washington, and, on the other, the UK’s place within the European Union, the subject of a referendum on 23 June.

Alex Calvo, a guest professor at Nagoya University, Japan, focuses on security and defense policy, international law, and military history in the Indian-Pacific Ocean Region. He tweets at Alex__Calvo and his papers can be found here. Previous work on British nuclear policy includes A. Calvo and O. Olsen, “Defending the Falklands: A role for nuclear weapons?” Strife Blog, 29 July 2014, available here.