Category Archives: Interviews

Capt. Dale Rielage on the Navy Staff Officer’s Guide and Leading Naval Staffs

By Dmitry Filipoff

Dale Rielage recently spoke with CIMSEC about the role of Navy staffs in command and modern naval warfare. A retired Navy Captain, Dale has captured the lessons of his long experience in the Navy Staff Officer’s Guide: Leading with Impact from Squadron to OPNAV, a new book in the U.S. Naval Institute professional series. A long-time CIMSEC contributor, he has been a critical voice in professional debates about how the Navy should face the challenges of the Pacific and China as a pacing challenge. In this conversation, Capt. Rielage discusses the enduring value of naval staff work, how commanders and their staffs can best work together, and what fleet-level warfare means for preparing navy staffs.

Why a book about staff work?

Why indeed? Of all the services, the Navy probably has the most negative view of its own staffs and staff work in general. Our identity is grounded in the first six frigates of our Navy. We remember them as independent commands, sent abroad under legendary captains with general orders to defend the interests of the new nation. To this day, the concept of “sustained superior performance at sea” does not include much place for staff work. We get together with shipmates and tell sea stories, not staff stories, right?

And while that identity is core to who we are as a service, it is also incomplete. More than a century ago naval warfare reached a level of complexity that requires a commander to be supported by a team of professionals – a staff – to inform and execute their operational design. And the sinews of maritime power are built over years through complex processes and interlocking decisions made by Navy staffs.

I have always been befuddled by staff-adverse naval officers who criticize their manning, their communications plan, their logistic support, the tactics, techniques, and procedures that their teams are taught in schoolhouses, the design of the platforms they operate, and other essential functions. They know on some level these functions are the product of other naval professionals working through a staff process, and yet the criticizing officers do not want to invest in that process.

So first and foremost, I wrote this book to convey two core truths. First, staff work matters. It does not win the fight, but it can lose it before it ever begins, and sometimes years before. Second, naval officers are not born knowing how to be effective staff officers. Like any part of the naval profession, it is a learned skill, and true professionals will apply themselves to learning it the same way they hone their craft at sea.

How is a staff assignment different than serving in the operating forces? What unique opportunities and perspectives can officers encounter on a staff assignment?

First, I would point out the diversity of Navy staffs, ranging from a destroyer squadron to a major type commander. Navy staffs serve ashore and afloat, and many in both categories are, in every sense, operational every single day.

Trying to generalize across that diverse population, staffs tend to be indirect contributors to success, providing the means for other forces, present and future, to do their work. Staffs are also often focused on a longer timeframe than the forces they serve – whether that is the operation-after-next, or conceiving, designing, and delivering a new naval platform. In some cases, staff issues endure indefinitely – think about providing naval stores to the fleet. This reality means that few staff officers experience the start or the end of a project. They shape long-term work that is then handed on to others to continue.

This dynamic means that the success and rewards for good staff work are rarely direct and immediate. Some officers never get past their need for instant gratification and struggle through their staff experience as a result. There is an element of unselfishness in good staff work. An officer has to be willing to work hard and thoughtfully on things that may not come to fruition for years, and if they eventually do, the contributing officers may not earn distinct credit.

That said, staff work can also be a uniquely rewarding experience for a developing naval leader. Staffs usually deal with a larger scope of action than do individual operational elements. For an officer who aspires to have influence or to command beyond the bounds of a single platform, a staff job is where that broad insight and vision is usually first developed. A staff tour also often offers opportunity to work directly with more senior leaders. We learn by example. A staff tour is where you get to see senior Navy leaders grappling with hard challenges up close, day after day. You also often have the chance to expand thinking beyond the stovepipe of a single operational community. A large naval staff has just about every type of naval professional – all the warfare communities, restricted line specialties, civilians, contractors – all dedicated to the mission. It can be a unique learning laboratory for the officer who is willing to invest the time and effort.

You explicitly note that a staff functions to help a commander exercise their authority, and that the authority of the staff derives from the commander’s responsibilities. What does a staff need to understand about their commander and their intent to best support them? How can a commander set enduring guidance to effectively empower the staff?

Staffs are about command – either supporting a commander’s decision-making or carrying out their decisions. That means any staff is a creature of the commander. An effective staff officer understands that fact and immediately focuses on a couple key questions. First, what matters to the commander? How do they take information most effectively? Who do they interact with up and down their chain of command? I am always concerned about staff officers who never consider these fundamentals and struggle as a result.

Commanders who are served by a staff need to learn to use their staff as an essential asset, no differently than they might have learned how best to use an afloat command structure as young officers. Clear and deliberate communication to the staff of their needs and expectations is no different than writing clear, thoughtful night orders, but it is much rarer.

Commanders also need to cultivate trust with their staff in a deliberate way. The complexity of the issues that confront most staffs, their longer timelines, and interlocking structures can make it easier to bury unpleasant information, at least for a time. This is especially true when a commander has conveyed through their actions that they do not value candor. I will tell senior staff officers and commanders that if they cannot remember the last time their thinking was challenged by their staff – and I do not mean gentle pushback, but full-on disagreement – they are likely failing on some level.

I love General Omar Bradley’s recollection of his experience when General George C. Marshall took over as Army Chief of Staff on the eve of World War II. At the end of Marshall’s first week in the job, he gathered his team, including a young Lieutenant Colonel Bradley. The staff thought they had made a pretty good first impression on their new boss, and were bewildered when he expressed disappointment in their performance. Marshall noted that, while the staff was professional and thoughtful, in the course of the week no one had disagreed with him. That was, in Marshall’s assessment, a sign that they were not fully executing their duties.

SASEBO, Japan (June 9, 2021) – Commander, U.S. Pacific Fleet Adm. Sam Paparo speaks to Forward Deployed Naval Forces, Commander, Fleet Activities Sasebo and tenant command leadership onboard CFAS June 9, 2021. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Jasmine Ikusebiala)

You have chapters on the functional areas that correspond with the N-codes of a major staff. Given your specific background, how does the staff intelligence team (N2) best support the commander, and how can the commander best leverage their intelligence and information operations team? How can the staff N2 integrate with the other elements of the staff?

The Navy is about prompt and sustained combat operations at sea. That means an adversary, whether a real, specific adversary or a hypothetical future adversary, needs to be central to our thinking. The intelligence team, whether one Sailor or 150, is uniquely tasked to understand and articulate these adversaries to the commander and the staff. Early in World War II, Fleet Admiral Nimitz told his intelligence officer, then LCDR Eddie Layton, that his job was to be the opposing commander for the staff, and that if he did, he would provide the Pacific Fleet with the insight it needed. That remains true today. The danger is that the requirement to manage the process of intelligence, collections or targeting, or integrating with a wider information warfare enterprise, for example, has increasingly become seen as a substitute for deep understanding of the adversary.

Assuming that penetrating understanding is achieved, taking full advantage of it requires both that intelligence professionals understand operations and that operators understand intelligence. I have often reflected that, at its best, intelligence delivers a relationship, not simply a product. Leaders take insight from people they trust. For Navy seniors, that relationship is usually built through shared experiences in Navy staffs.

You note that with the return of great power competition, the fleet has now been defined by the Navy as its basic combat formation. The CNO is calling for a renewed focus on fleet-level warfare, but these fleets are a larger-scale entity than the CSGs, ARGs, and other typical formations of recent decades. How can the fleet staffs better manifest this operational warfighting role to prepare for great power conflict? How can large-scale exercises and wargames hone the warfighting skills of fleet-level staffs and their commanders?

It is interesting how the current challenges the Navy is facing are pushing it back to the integrated fleet model of naval warfare. From the beginning of the battleship era through the end of the Cold War, the fleet was the unit of action for the Navy. Only a fleet could integrate all the capabilities of naval power across a broad ocean area, defend and attack across multiple domains, and sustain that capability for as long as was required for strategic effect. The idea that a single small formation – and in naval terms, a carrier strike group or surface action group is small – could be the unit of action was really only tenable in limited operations against adversaries who were not peers in the maritime domain.

Today, the material elements of fleet-level operations still exist. Bringing fleet-level staffs back into warfighting is more challenging, in part because it is a cultural change, and cultural change takes time. Individual unit training is core to our operations – every officer knows training is non-negotiable for safe and effective operational performance. Training for fleet-level operations, however, remains a work in progress. One of the many reasons that the interwar Fleet Problems have gained attention recently is that they were true fleet-level exercises, stressing free-play combat against live thinking adversaries, with fleet staffs adapting to dynamic operational-level problems. There are many ways to train Navy staffs to work at this level – wargaming, as you mention. But to do so, they need to be truly dynamic events and not simply concept rehearsals. They also need to be more than one-off events that an officer may encounter only once in a tour. Repetition matters.

You focus much attention on how staffs communicate and the various approaches to sharing ideas and products. What can effective communication look like, such as for an individual staff officer, staff coordination more broadly, or how the commander communicates with their staff?

Communications is the life-blood of the staff. Yes, the book includes a section on how to use email and computer presentations as communications tools. I was surprised by how many experienced staff officers have told me that this part of the book was the most valuable for them, or would have been, had they known these tips when they were starting out.

Really, for new staff officers, the big lesson is being deliberate in their approach to communications. Pick the right tool for the desired effect; use it with care and intent. Communication – a slick brief, for example – is never a substitute for insight and expertise. Usually, however, naval officers coming into staff tours know their stuff, or they learn fast, but even brilliant ideas need to be shared with rigor, power, and persuasion in the right medium to have enduring effect at scale.

For commanders, the hardest issue is usually making time to communicate with their staffs. The best make time, formal and informal, knowing that this interaction – the provision of clear guidance and vision, the power of their example – ultimately saves time by aligning the staff to serve their needs, and, through them, the mission. The tyranny of the present makes that hard, especially in a culture that expects commanders to be always connected.

Rear Adm. Derek Trinque, commander, Expeditionary Strike Group 7 and Task Force 76/3, speaks with ESG 7 staff and subordinate unit commanders during a commanders conference at the ESG 7 detachment headquarters in Sasebo, Apr. 6, 2023. (U.S. Navy photo)

Throughout the book you share vignettes that illustrate what good (and not so good) staff work looks like. What can the career of Admiral Arleigh Burke teach us about how to do good staff work and what its legacy may be?

It says something that most naval officers do not think of Arleigh Burke as a staff officer.

When I was a young surface warfare officer, Admiral Burke was held up to us as the premier example of what we should aspire to be as warriors at sea. We all know the legend – Commodore Burke, commanding a destroyer squadron at a critical moment when the U.S. surface force was not doing well against the Imperial Japanese Navy. His style of command, perfecting innovative tactics and employing them with audacity, led to some of the most extraordinary U.S. Navy surface victories of the war. At moments when the material odds were essentially even, Burke simply out-fought his opponents.

It was only when a dear friend, Dr. David Rosenberg, shared with me his collection of Arleigh Burke’s papers that I grew to appreciate Burke as a staff officer. After his squadron command, Burke was sent to be Vice Admiral Marc Mitscher’s Chief of Staff. Mitscher commanded most of the fast aircraft carriers in the Pacific. Burke’s assignment was part of a thoughtful effort by Fleet Admiral King to ensure that surface admirals had aviator chiefs of staff, and that aviator admirals had a surface officer as their chief of staff. Burke struggled with this assignment. In his letters to his wife, Burke anguished about how he was failing as a staff officer, that he thought Mitscher disliked him, that he did not have a grasp of air power even though his job was employing the largest assembly of naval aviation in history.

In the end, Burke was brilliant. He formed an excellent team with Mitscher, and the two came to respect each other deeply. He took his tight, clear style of conveying tactical orders and scaled it to the fleet level. He learned how to fight not just a surface action group, but to employ the full multi-domain power of a modern fleet. Arguably, Burke’s staff work enabling Third Fleet’s drive across the Pacific contributed far more to victory than his relatively short period in operational command of DESRON 23. And in his later senior tours, including three tours as Chief of Naval Operations and a member of the Joint Chiefs, Burke’s ability to establish the shape of the Cold War Navy – remember, Burke was the CNO who gave the Navy its nuclear SSBN force – was through his staff. His papers are full of truly thoughtful notes to the OPNAV staff, focusing them on the important rather than the urgent, often with his trademark sense of humor.

So what I take from Admiral Burke’s career is twofold. First, he was a great warrior at sea, but his largest impact on the World War and his enduring impact across decades of our Navy came from him using that warfighting insight as part of and commanding Navy staffs. Second, even Arleigh Burke had to learn how to be a staff officer as part of his path to extraordinary impact on our Navy.

Captain Dale C. Rielage, USN (Ret.), is a former surface warfare and naval intelligence officer with eleven tours on Navy and Joint staffs afloat and ashore, including as an N-code Director in two Maritime Operations Centers, and special assistant to the Chief of Naval Operations. He is the author of several dozen articles on maritime and security issues.

Dmitry Filipoff is CIMSEC’s Director of Online Content. Contact him at

Featured Image: YOKOSUKA, Japan (May 7, 2021) – The U.S. 7th Fleet Information Warfare Commander (IWC) holds a conference with task force IW leaders throughout the 7th Fleet and Pacific Fleet. (U.S. Navy photo)

Trent Hone on Admiral Chester Nimitz and Mastering the Art of Command

By Kyle Cregge

Trent Hone offers a detailed examination of the wartime leadership Admiral Chester Nimitz in his book, Mastering the Art of Command: Admiral Chester W. Nimitz and Victory in the Pacific. By studying Nimitz’s talented leadership through the lens of complex adaptive systems and theories of management, Hone introduces new insight into the underlying causes of successful wartime organizational management and strategy-making.

In this discussion, Hone delves into how Nimitz managed personal relationships, how organizational command structures influenced operations, and how leaders can set the stage for their subordinates to rapidly and meaningfully innovate. 

Can you describe where you see the linkages between your previous book Learning War and Mastering the Art of Command? To what extent is this book a “sequel,” if we focus on Nimitz as a central character? How does exploring Nimitz’s leadership within a complex adaptive system help us today?

I think of it less as a sequel and more as a different, but complementary, lens. Learning War focuses on the Navy as a whole, as a large complex adaptive system, and tries to explain how the Navy learned and improved its fighting doctrine. I think that perspective is quite valuable, but I have been told that it can be unempowering, that the role of individuals can be lost when the organization is centered.

With Mastering the Art of Command, I wanted to address that. I wanted to investigate the role individuals play in a broader system, and I thought a good way to do that would be to select a particularly significant individual—Admiral Nimitz—and examine his actions. How did he use his agency to influence the behavior of the system and, more broadly, what does that tell us about leadership in complex systems? How can leaders encourage the outcomes they desire? Those were some of the questions I was looking to explore.

I believe this perspective is helpful for today because it enhances our understanding of leadership and what makes it effective. Complex systems theory helps us recognize the non-linear nature of so much of what we experience. There was an excellent article in the Naval War College Review that discussed this in the context of human conflict—“War is the Storm” by B.A. Friedman—and there is increasing recognition of the value of that perspective. However, most examinations of leadership still embed an assumption of linear causality. They assume that a sufficiently inspired leader can just take the right action and the desired outcome will follow. This is fundamentally misleading and I believe it holds us back. It is not that straightforward or that easy.

Admiral Chester W. Nimitz at his desk in December 1941, following his appointment as Commander in Chief, Pacific Fleet. (Photo via NHHC Photograph Collection, NH 62027)

I wanted to provide what I think is a more accurate perspective, one that recognizes that leadership is not linear. It is not a simple problem with globally applicable patterns. It requires a deft touch, contextual sensitivity, and an ability to foster connections and relationships that may indirectly lead to desired outcomes. A leader cannot just do X; they have to inspire action toward the desired outcome (Y). Nimitz knew this and I tried to illustrate how his leadership can be better understood through the lens of complex adaptive systems.

In the aftermath of the attack on Pearl Harbor, you credit Nimitz’s aggressiveness in having Halsey conduct the early carrier raids into the Gilbert and Marshall Islands, as well as the Doolittle Raid. You describe the raid as having limited tactical impact but significant strategic impact, partly because it slowed Japanese advances against New Guinea and Ceylon, for fear of further American attacks. While historical research offers answers with the benefit of hindsight, by what process can leaders determine their present opportunities which may appear insignificant, but may in fact greatly affect adversary decision-making?

It might be valuable to start with specifics. In those early months of World War II, signals intelligence and codebreaking provided Nimitz with the information necessary to understand that he was impacting Japanese decision-making. However, the point of your question—and the value of it—is to generalize and I think the general point is that Nimitz was open to new information from a variety of sources. He was trying to create what we might call a “sensor network” that would allow him to gather information that he could use to further Allied strategy. Signals intelligence emerged as an effective means to do that, and so retrospectively, we can look to that as the key. However, at the time Nimitz did not have the luxury of focusing exclusively on one source, so he used multiple ones. Submarine reconnaissance is one that doesn’t receive a great deal of credit, but it was very important to those early raids, especially in the central Pacific.

If I were to generalize further, I think an important lesson is that information gathering mechanisms both highlight and filter. They draw attention to the things they expect and dismiss things they don’t, creating a kind of hidden blindness. Nimitz was fortunate in early 1942 that the Navy’s established mechanisms for information gathering were relatively informal. Structures weren’t overly rigid. That meant he could access a variety of sources and shape his relationship with those sources. The fractured nature of the Navy’s intelligence organization—which often failed to reach consensus—at that time might actually have been beneficial in this respect.

Today’s leaders need to be thinking about potential sources of blindness inherent in their organizations and how they might gather alternative perspectives to overcome them. Organizational structures enable, but they also constrain. Nimitz seemed to have an intuitive understanding of this.

By far my favorite historical anecdote in your book is from early in the war. Nimitz and his recovering Pacific staff are “maintain[ing] a clear sense of the unfolding engagement [in the Battle of Midway] at Pearl Harbor, using a large plot ‘laid over plywood across a pair of sawhorses.'” It is amusing to imagine now given our focus on high-end computing and battle management systems at Maritime Operations Centers or on ships today. As you were doing your research, did you have a favorite anecdote or example of how Nimitz, his team, or his subordinates were getting it done given what they had? 

I love the idea of an analog plot on a physical map over sawhorses. I was disappointed when the most recent Midway movie showed a much more sophisticated plot at CINCPAC headquarters. If the film been more accurate, I think it would have made Woody Harrelson’s portrayal of Nimitz more accessible (and more accurate). And while we’re on the subject, I do think there’s a value to physical plots that digital interfaces don’t provide. I’ve seen it in my work; the physical act of moving things on a shared visualization prompts learning and thinking in a way that digital artifacts do not.

My favorite anecdote about Nimitz and his staff “getting it done” happened in late September 1942 during Nimitz’s flight from Espiritu Santo to Guadalcanal aboard a borrowed B-17. When they arrived over Guadalcanal, the weather was poor and the USAAF pilot could not find Henderson Field. Fortunately, Cdr. Ralph Ofstie, who was an aviator on Nimitz’s staff, remembered that Lt. Arthur H. Lamar, Nimitz’s aide, had brought a National Geographic map of the South Pacific. Ofstie borrowed it and used it to navigate the B-17 to a safe landing. I think that was a remarkable “get it done” moment and it is worth imagining what might have happened if Ofstie hadn’t been able to find the field. Unfortunately, I did not include that story in my book. As much as I like it, I sacrificed it for broader themes about organizational structure and planning. I had a word count to contend with and cut a lot of things that were potentially really interesting, but not aligned with my broader themes.

In the past few years in the U.S. Navy, we have seen some fairly high-profile dismissals for cause due to a lack of trust and confidence of leaders in their roles. You do a great job documenting how even coming into the job, Nimitz had to win and maintain the trust and confidence of his superiors (President Franklin Roosevelt, Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox, and Admiral Ernest King) and restore the faith of his new subordinates (namely, the Pacific Fleet staff). Besides the basics of battlefield success, what do you think Nimitz did that improved trust and confidence up and down his chain of command, that Navy leaders at all levels can employ today? 

I was very impressed with Nimitz’s ability to use one-on-one conversations and personal relationships to promote shared understanding and address difficult topics. Three specific occasions come to mind.

In early February 1942, Nimitz sent Vice Admiral William S. Pye to Washington to meet with Admiral Ernest J. King, the Navy’s new commander in chief. Pye had been the interim commander of the Pacific Fleet after Admiral Husband Kimmel was relieved in the aftermath of Pearl Harbor, and Nimitz kept Pye on as an advisor. February 1942 was a crucial time. The Japanese were advancing rapidly through the Netherlands East Indies and King was pressuring Nimitz to take some aggressive action that would disrupt the Japanese offensive. Nimitz knew he didn’t have the capability to raid in the central Pacific in strength (King urged him to use battleships, for example), but King was very insistent and, in modern terms, was micromanaging the situation.

I am not sure what Nimitz said to Pye before he flew to Washington. I am also not sure what Pye said to King when they met. However, King’s attitude changed after his meeting with Pye. Some of that may have been because of the February 1 raid on Japanese positions in the Marshalls and Gilberts, but I think Pye’s conversation with King was more important for King’s attitude shift. King and Pye had known each other for a long time and worked together before. Nimitz knew that if anyone could clarify the situation at CINCPAC HQ for King, it was Pye. It was a very deliberate choice on Nimitz’s part and the record suggests it had important outcomes.

The second occasion was the first wartime meeting of King and Nimitz in April 1942. Prior to the meeting, King’s impression of Nimitz was not entirely favorable. King thought Nimitz was a personnel specialist who lacked the decisiveness to lead the Pacific Fleet in wartime. This was perhaps not an unreasonable assumption because of the time Nimitz had spent serving in and leading the Bureau of Navigation (which would later become the Bureau of Personnel).

Nimitz showed up to that meeting armed with a plan to ambush a substantial portion of the Imperial Japanese Navy’s First Air Fleet—the aircraft carriers of the Kidō Butai—in the Coral Sea. Codebreaking had given Nimitz insight into Japanese plans to seize Port Moresby by sea, and Nimitz intended to trigger a major battle with all four of his available fleet carriers. King didn’t approve the operation right away, but he eventually did before Nimitz returned to Pearl Harbor. Nimitz’s plan ultimately didn’t work out; two of his carriers failed to arrive in time for what became the Battle of the Coral Sea. However, the two carriers that were there won a strategic victory and, after that first meeting, King was much more willing to trust Nimitz to fight.

The third occasion was immediately before the Battle of Midway. Nimitz had planned to give Vice Admiral William F. Halsey, Jr. command of his carrier forces, but Halsey was ill. Nimitz put Rear Admiral Frank J. Fletcher, who had commanded the carriers at Coral Sea, in charge of the carriers. Now, Nimitz and King were not entirely satisfied with Fletcher’s performance at Coral Sea. King, for example, felt Fletcher should have initiated a night search and attack with his destroyers. So, Nimitz pulled Fletcher aside and had what I imagine must have been a delicate conversation. Nimitz let Fletcher know where his performance appeared to have fallen short. At the same time, Nimitz offered encouragement and expressed his faith in Fletcher’s ability to command the coming battle. Anyone who’s had to have a conversation like that with a subordinate, where you offer critical feedback while also inspiring them to better things, knows it is tricky. Nimitz was good at it.

In each of these instances Nimitz used his interpersonal skills to directly address sources of potential conflict and misunderstanding in one-on-one conversations. He “leaned in” to that kind of friction and used it as a way to increase clarity about what he expected and what he intended to do. This approach increased trust and confidence. I think that commitment to surface potential conflict and address it before it becomes a more serious issue is an excellent lesson to take forward.

Admirals Chester Nimitz and William Halsey aboard USS Curtiss at ‘Button’ Naval Base, Espiritu Santo, New Hebrides, January 20, 1943. (U.S. Navy photo)

Throughout the book, you credit Nimitz for staff adjustments and flexibility to maintain a sensing organization, from fielding the first Joint Intel Operations Center, or making adaptations on ships like directing crews to set up a Combat Information Center. I was especially impressed with how Nimitz provides an end goal without specifics, which creates something like a meritocratic laboratory at sea for lessons learned to bubble up. If you were to distill Nimitz’s sensemaking-to-organization-adjusting process, how can staff or fleet leaders use that today for some of our emerging challenges that include far more services and capabilities than what Nimitz had to organize? As a leader, how do I discern that my organization is not sensing problems effectively anymore and requires change?

There are several aspects to this. First, it is important to have a high-level goal that focuses effort on a desired outcome. Innovation and creativity must be fostered and often the best way to do that is to work across or through existing organizational boundaries. A high-level goal helps with this because if the goal is small or too easily achievable it can easily be broken down and approached within an existing organizational structure. That constrains the solution space and limits potential solutions. Conway’s law, which holds that a solution design mirrors the communication structures of the organization that created it, is an excellent example of this idea.

The Combat Information Center (CIC), and the innovative work that led to it, benefited from cross functional collaboration in pursuit of a high-level goal. The CIC required adjustments to the Navy’s existing shipboard organizational structure. If the problem had been broken down into smaller pieces and solved within that structure, it would not have led to the transformational solution that became the CIC.

Now to the question about how one knows if their organization isn’t sensing problems effectively anymore. I think the best answer to that is not to look for some kind of trigger to see if effective sensing has stopped. Instead, I think it is best to assume that sensing is always slightly off and never fully accurate. Therefore, organizations need an inbuilt capacity to continuously adapt, adjust, and reassess. Otherwise, that capability will not be there when it is really needed. In the book I build off the work of David Woods and use his perspective on adaptive capacity and his theory of “graceful extensibility.” Both rely on having sufficient spare cycles (spare capacity) to reflect on the current state and adjust to new information. I believe that is something that Nimitz and other officers like him actively sought to create, an ability to adapt, adjust, and reconfigure on a regular basis to keep pace with the evolving nature of the war. It is a point I make in the book.

All of this necessitates a comfort with flexibility, in terms of organizational structure, and uncertainty, in terms of one’s role and the part one will play to achieve desired outcomes. I think that comfort with uncertainty and variability is very important. It is something that can be nurtured, and so if there’s one thing that today’s readers take away, I think it ought to be that. How do they foster the necessary comfort with uncertainty so that they and their teams can be ready to adapt to the new and unanticipated? In a Proceedings article I co-authored with Lieutenant Eric Vorm, he and I called this “intellectual readiness.” I think it is a good model for how to think about it.

One lesser-known story for me was the American efforts to dislodge or deny Japanese attacks on the Aleutian Islands in the North Pacific. It seemed like personality clashes on the ground and staff planning affected joint operations nearly as much as the weather did. What differences do you see in the more flexible Southwest and Central Pacific advances that weren’t present in the Northern Pacific, and what do you think Nimitz might offer as advice for working with conflicting personalities and visions for a mission?

I’m glad you found the discussion of the Aleutians valuable. I think it is an important aspect of the war that is sometimes overlooked. The crucial difference between the Aleutians and the South Pacific and Central Pacific was lack of unity of command. Nimitz expected Rear Admiral Robert Theobald to establish a unified command structure—at least a sufficiently well-aligned understanding with his U.S. Army counterparts if not a shared organizational hierarchy—but Theobald did not do that. In this sense, personalities matter, and those personalities need to be able to subordinate their service loyalties and personal pride to the pursuit of strategic objectives. Nimitz’s subordinate area commanders who were able to do this—Admiral Halsey, who collaborated with General MacArthur in the South Pacific, and Admiral Kinkaid, who worked well with the Army in the North Pacific and then with MacArthur in the Southwest Pacific—succeeded. Those who did not were relieved.

Geography played an important role too, of course. There were more options for maneuver in the Southwest Pacific and Central Pacific, more pathways to strategic objectives. The North Pacific was necessarily more linear because of the arrangement of the Aleutians. Even still, Kinkaid was able to leapfrog Kiska and seize Attu. That was a very creative solution to the resource constraints he and his peers in the Army faced and it ultimately made the Japanese position on Kiska untenable, easing its recapture.

I think Nimitz’s advice would be to collaborate and think creatively across service and national lines. He encouraged this regularly. One specific instance stands out. When he visited the South Pacific in September 1942, before Admiral Halsey relieved Admiral Ghormley, he told the attendees of one conference, “If we can’t use our Allies, we’re god damn fools.”

You recount how in the final planning for the mainland invasion of Japan, the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) realized they can’t choose Nimitz or MacArthur as overall theater commander, as neither was willing to be subordinate to the other, with the General designated Chief, U.S. Army Forces, Pacific (CINCAFPAC), and the Admiral responsible for “all U.S. Naval resources in the Pacific Theater” except for those in the Southeast Pacific. The first de facto Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Bill Leahy, “felt the implications were ‘somewhat academic,’” but you say there were significant consequences, because it “discarded Nimitz’s integrated approach to joint command…. in favor of MacArthur’s centralized approach… in effect [making] the JCS the [General Headquarters] GHQ for the Pacific theater.” Can you expand on those consequences, and as a civilian academic observer, how do those lessons inform your view of our current Geographic Combatant Command structure, which looks very much like the end-of-war model, albeit with a single individual in theater and in command, rather than the JCS?

I didn’t fully appreciate those late war organizational adjustments until I got into them and analyzed their implications. A little background is important. Both Nimitz and MacArthur employed “unity of command” in that all the forces in their respective theaters were under their command (the one important exception being the USAAF’s strategic air force in the Marianas). However, Nimitz and MacArthur approached that idea differently below their headquarters level.

Nimitz maintained unity of command even at lower levels of his command structure. Halsey, for example, commanded all the forces in the South Pacific Area, and Spruance, when he commanded the Fifth Fleet, controlled not just the ships of that fleet, but also its amphibious forces and supporting land-based planes. That meant that when Spruance wanted to use Army B-24s in the forward area to scout for his carrier forces, he could just order them to do so. He didn’t need to request permission from a parallel command. Nimitz’s approach was especially important for major amphibious operations. Command rested with a single commander who could coordinate all the forces involved. Usually, for an amphibious operation, that was a naval officer.

MacArthur approached the challenge differently, and maintained a separation of the services—Army, Navy, Army Air Forces—below the level of his headquarters. So, both MacArthur and Nimitz used unified command, but because they unified at different levels, the implications were different. Coordination in MacArthur’s theater required more cross-service collaboration, and, unsurprisingly, he had a larger headquarters as a result. More officers were needed to deal with the greater administrative burden. That coordination also cost time. Late in the war, once the services started to unify across the Pacific, Halsey wanted land-based air support. Instead of just ordering it like Spruance had, Halsey had to wait for his request to go up the command chain to Nimitz, over to MacArthur, and back down to the USAAF planes he needed. That cost time and effort.

The ramifications of this have largely been ignored because by the time the changes took place the war was almost over. The last major operation, the capture of Okinawa, was already under way and although the invasion of Japan was in the planning stages, it did not take place. However, had it taken place, the implications of the new approach would have been very evident. In effect, unity of command in the Pacific had been abandoned. MacArthur was given the Army (and Army Air Forces, again with the exception of the strategic air force) and Nimitz the Navy. They would have had to coordinate and collaborate to successfully invade Japan, and the only place their command chains met was at the JCS. We can see the challenge this presented even in the planning stages. When preparing for the invasion, MacArthur was quite willing to escalate his disagreements with Nimitz to the JCS and pull them into operational planning decisions, such as command arrangements for the amphibious assault on Kyushu.

General MacArthur and Admiral Nimitz arrive on USS Missouri for the signing of the Japanese instrument of surrender, September 2, 1945. (NHHC photo)

I appreciate you linking the combatant commands to the late-war Pacific organization; I hadn’t considered that. As someone who studies naval history, I think the Geographic Combatant Command structure is problematic, but for a different reason. Naval strategy ought to be global in scope. Unfortunately, the combatant command structure assumes that U.S. strategic interests can be geographically compartmentalized. I don’t think that’s true, and I think the emphasis on combatant commands has hindered—or, perhaps more accurately, disincentivized—the development of a global strategy that maximizes the nation’s ability to achieve its geopolitical goals. Instead, the emphasis on optimizing each individual command has led to suboptimizing the whole, which, if you think about it, is a logical outcome from a systems theory perspective. It is like the high-level goal idea from your earlier question about sensing organizations. The current structure constrains the solution space and confines it to things combatant commands can solve. The challenges the U.S. faces are bigger than that. 

Is there anything we haven’t talked about from your book that you feel is important and would like to share?

I alluded to risk earlier, but I think it’s important to stress Nimitz’s approach to it and how it differs from today’s accepted wisdom. Nimitz is famous for emphasizing “calculated risk” at Midway, and appropriately so, but most analyses I’ve seen emphasize the “calculation” and not the “risk.” That makes sense from a contemporary perspective; we tend to assume risk is something we can design out.

Nimitz felt it was something that had to be embraced, that great victories were not possible without embracing a corresponding degree of risk. I think that’s a more appropriate way to view Midway. Nimitz was definitely calculating, but the great risk was not the positioning of the carrier forces. Instead, it was the decision to fight for Midway, to make it the focal point of the ambush Nimitz had been seeking since late April.

Because Nimitz’s gamble worked out, it’s hardly ever questioned, but it was a significant risk. If the Japanese had focused elsewhere, if Midway had been a feint, our view of Nimitz might be very different. He was willing to take that risk because he thought the upside was worth it. He was willing to gamble.

For some final takeaways, what are you reading, what’s next for you, and where can people interact with you or your work in the future?

I’ve got a reading stack that grows faster than I can consume it. One really interesting book I read lately was The Dawn of Everything by David Graeber and David Wengrow, which presents an alternative view of human societal evolution. It is powerful because it undermines the narrative that society evolved in a linear, predictable way and suggests that there are many more alternative approaches to organization and government than we tend to assume.

I also really enjoyed Mike Hunzeker’s Dying to Learn. It is a great complement to my own Learning War. I believe Dr. Hunzeker did an interview with CIMSEC about it. He and I were on a panel together at the Society for Military History’s annual conference, so I wanted to get up to speed on his perspective.

I am also working on a number of things. I recently published an article on the evolution of World War II Pacific logistics in the Journal of Military History. I have co-edited a newly released volume on naval night combat called Fighting in the Dark that covers the period from the Russo-Japanese War through World War II. The U.S. Navy’s approach to night combat has always been of great interest to me, and for that book, I wrote a chapter on the U.S. Navy which focuses on the increasing use of the CIC in 1943 and 1944. I have also got a chapter planned for a Naval War College project, and another book in the works with the Naval Institute Press, on another famous admiral.

Trent Hone is an authority on the U.S. Navy of the early twentieth century and a leader in the application of complexity science to organizational design. He studied religion and archaeology at Carleton College in Northfield, MN and works as a consultant helping a variety of organizations improve their processes and techniques. Mr. Hone regularly writes and speaks about leadership, sensemaking, organizational learning, and complexity. His talents are uniquely suited to integrate the history of the Navy with modern management theories, generating new insights relevant to both disciplines. He tweets at @Honer_CUT and blogs at

Lieutenant Kyle Cregge is a U.S. Navy Surface Warfare Officer. He is the Prospective Operations Officer for USS PINCKNEY (DDG 91). The views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily state or reflect those of the United States Government or the Department of Defense.

Featured Image: Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, Commander in Chief, Pacific Fleet and Pacific Ocean Areas, in his office at CinCPac / CinCPOA Advanced Headquarters at Guam, in July 1945. (NHHC photo)

Dobbs v. The Ocean

By Claude Berube

The Supreme Court ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization at first glance may not appear to have any relevance to the sea; however, it is indicative of how even domestic issues may have an impact on maritime operations. The ruling reinforces the reality that non-governmental organizations (NGOs) can use the high seas to conduct activity or bring attention to their cause. For example, one physician has proposed “a floating abortion clinic in the Gulf of Mexico as a way to maintain access for people in southern states where abortion bans have been enacted.” It is not clear at this point what kind of ship would be used, but the concept is not a new one.

Women on Waves is proof of this concept. Founded by Dr. Rebecca Gomperts, Women on Waves used ships to provide abortions off the coasts of countries which had restrictive laws. Some of the operations included Ireland (2001) using the Dutch fishing vessel Aurora; Poland (2004) on the Langenort; Portugal on the Borndiep which also saw a response by the Portuguese Navy; and Spain (2008) on a sailboat as well as a later Trojan Horse operation in Smir, Morocco (2012), and Mexico in 2017.

On January 29, 2010, this author had the opportunity to interview Dr. Gomperts regarding Women on Waves for a set of profiles about how NGOs use the maritime environment. The following is a transcript of that interview that reveals some important points about changes in technology and the visual impact of maritime operations. Although conducted over ten years ago, the interview is relevant now more than ever. When applied to a post-Dobbs world, the following interview positions Women on Waves as a case study for how abortion services might be operationalized in maritime environments.

Claude Berube: When did you first think about using ships?

Rebecca Gomperts: I first thought of using the sea to provide services when I was a physician on a Greenpeace ship. 

CB: What was the advantage of providing services on the sea rather than going to the border of a country to provide those services?

RG: Because it’s the Dutch law that applies in international waters, you can help women legally and safely. 

CB: Was it also cheaper to do it, logistics-wise, to provide the ship rather than another country?

RG: Women do that all the time. Women travel. That’s why it’s one of the main social injustices because women who do not have the money cannot travel to other countries. The ship is a visual; it makes the problem visual. Women travelling to other countries, it’s often under the radar, they do it secretly, they suffer tremendously but it’s not public. With the ship we are making the problem that exists visible. 

CB: Have you found that the countries visited, do they prevent you from going into the harbor or do they prevent women coming out to you?

RG: We have done four campaigns with the ships so far. It was only Portugal that sent warships to prevent our ship from entering. That was the only time a government tried to stop the ship from coming in.

CB: How did that happen? Did they contact you on bridge to bridge?

RG: The Minister of Defence contacted the captain of the ship through a fax. They said Women on Waves was a threat to national security and health and they were preventing the ship from entering national waters. We filed a court case against the Portuguese government because they did this and we won this through the European Court for Human Rights. 

CB: How did you decide to use the types of ships you used for your campaigns? Is your decision on what types of ships centered around the A-Portable [an 8×20 foot container that serves as a mobile clinic aboard the ship] or are there other things in the decision-making process?

RG: We used the Mobile Treatment Room three times and the ships had to be proper to carry that – it’s basically a container and so the ships had to be outfitted for the Mobile Treatment Room. That was the size of the ship that was determined by the Mobile Treatment Room; however there have been a lot of developments recently especially concerning medical abortions – abortion with pills – it has been proven very safe to take outside the surgical theater. The last campaign we did which was in Spain we actually had a yacht and we worked with the local organization because the miscarriage happens back on shore so follow-up care was provided by us. So we used a yacht without the mobile treatment room. For us, that is a much better solution.

CB: Is that because it’s cheaper?

RG:  It’s much easier for us because you don’t need big harbors so you’re more flexible.

CB: You lease the boats on a short-term basis?

RG: Yes.

CB: How did you identify the crew? Were they volunteers? Were they paid?  Did you have to vet them for qualifications for seamanship, for example?

RG: It depended what ship we used. Two times we had a ship registered under the Dutch shipping certificate and all the crew had to have their certificates in order. Most of the crew volunteered. Some were reimbursed. The captain was reimbursed. They had to do extra training sometimes to update their certifications. On the other side, the yacht for example, there were just two crew and they had sailing experience – they had been sailing for thirty years. But that’s different than having a ship under a Dutch shipping inspection.

CB: Did you decide to use the Dutch flag because of the flexibility that offered? 

RG: I’m Dutch so we knew the situation here. I think there might have been other countries where we could have registered the ship but it was much more complicated.  

CB: When you’re ready to go into a country’s waters do you know ahead of time what you will do in the case of their navy or coast guard approaching you?

RG: It was a European ship so we have European protection, but we have lawyers always that work very closely with us but we never expected to have what happened in Portugal. That’s why we have a group of lawyers standing by in case of such a situation.

CB: You’ve done four voyages in the past ten years; do you have any plans for the future?

RG: Yes. It’s a complicated thing to prepare. We only go to countries where we are invited by local women’s organizations and it’s like a year-long preparation with mobilizing on the ground because they’re the ones who know we’re there to support them in the legalization of abortion in their country. 

CB: So your organization is more grassroots and you will wait to be invited.

RG: Sometimes we will meet to decide when the ship will come. 

CB: What have you found to be the greatest logistical challenges to these voyages – that might be fuel, or food or water?

RG: Portugal was the most difficult but they can’t do that anymore because they lost the court case. The government fell and abortion was legalized. It was also the most effective campaign. 

CB: Why was it the most effective, because it was the response of the Portuguese government that generated the most interest?

RG: Of course, that is absolutely the case. It was worldwide front page news. It was widely discussed in the European Parliament and basically it was considered a big scandal. 

CB: You saw a lot of political changes immediately?

RG: Yes. It was one of the main issues in the campaign. So it brought a lot of interest especially because of the Minister of Defence. 

CB: If the Portuguese government and the Minister of Defence had not done that, do you think it would have been as successful? 

RG: No. But we were there to help women and a lot of women in distress who were calling.

What did that interview and subsequent research suggest? First, NGOs evolve based on changing technology. While Women on Waves originally used a larger vessel to transport the mobile clinic, abortion pills later allowed them to use sailing vessels which could enter more ports as well as smaller ones, therefore reaching a larger target audience. In 2015, the organization started using drones to deliver abortion pills in Poland and the following year in Ireland.

Second, the use of yachts instead of the larger vessels meant that the NGO did not require licensed ship captains and had more flexibility as well as reduced costs to the maritime operation. Third, and perhaps most important, was the term Dr. Gomperts used: “the ship is the visual.” This characterization is similar to how other NGOs use ships to garner media attention to their cause in a way that is not conveyed via a land-based operation. While the post-Dobbs concept of using vessels to provide abortion services in the Gulf of Mexico is still early in how it will be applied, the case of Women on Waves may be one way of understanding how it might occur and evolve.

Area of operation for a proposed abortion-providing vessel. (Credit: Google Earth)

Finally, there is the perennial challenge of logistics. Assuming the organization does not use a sufficiently-sized sailing vessel, fuel consumption for a ship like an offshore supply vessel on which the organization could mount an A-portable would be problematic. Where, for example, would it refuel in the Gulf of Mexico? Assuming abortion services would be intended for states that would likely have more restrictive environments, the Gulf of Mexico – Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida – might find ways to impede a vessel from entering or exiting a port.  The distance from the Texas-Mexico border to the west coast of Florida is approximately 850 nautical miles (nm). This suggests the vessel would require support from nearby countries like Mexico, Cuba, Belize, or Cuba depending on the fuel consumption and range of the vessel.

While the latter two would encounter various restrictions, Mexico legalized abortion in 2021, but Mexican states can provide their own levels of legislation. The Mexican state of Tamaulipas is the most geographically proximate state to American Gulf states but abortion there is illegal with exception for rape, maternal life, health, and/or if abortion were accidental. The Mexican state of Yucatan is approximately 450nm from the coast of Florida. Abortion is also illegal there with exceptions for rape, maternal life, fetal defects, economic factors, or if abortion were accidental.

As Dr. Gomperts said, the ship is the visual. Now, over a decade later, her words in a post-Dobbs world carry a different weight, one that Women on Waves has known for some time. The question now is how that visual might take shape and play out when the arena is Dobbs v. the ocean.

Claude Berube, PhD has taught at the US Naval Academy since 2005 and worked on Capitol Hill for two Senators and a House member. He is a Commander in the US Navy Reserve. He was the co-editor of Maritime Private Security: Market Responses to Piracy, Terrorism and Waterborne Security Risks in the 21st Century (Routledge, 2012). His next novel, The Philippine Pact, will be released in early 2023. The views expressed are his own and not of any organization with which he is affiliated.

Featured image: A Women on Waves ship near Morocco (Credit: Paul Schemm). 

General Anthony Zinni (ret.) On Missed Opportunities, Integrated Deterrence, and Ill-Advised Red Lines

By Mie Augier and Major Sean F. X. Barrett

This is Part IV of our conversation series with General Anthony Zinni, USMC (ret.) on leadership, strategy, learning, and the art and science of warfighting. Part I can be found here, Part II here, and Part III here. In this iteration, we focus on how the decline in strategic thinking following the end of the Cold War, which we discussed in Part I, helped lead to the situation in Ukraine, how to construct credible red lines, and what integrated deterrence may mean.

You talked about how winning the Cold War led to a decline in strategic thinking, poorly defined aspirations for a “new world order,” and how expanding NATO was not necessarily going to be a positive development or without challenges in the long term. This seems particularly important for understanding how we got to where we are now in Ukraine.

Zinni: Yes, originally when the Wall came down, and in the immediate aftermath, there was talk about redefining NATO’s role. The first question was, “Do we need NATO, or should we disband it now?” The answer was we should rethink NATO. We actually thought of not only expanding NATO, but also perhaps even bringing Russia into NATO and redefining NATO’s role in some way, as maybe more of a global defense organization. That kind of died. We made all sorts of gestures to Russia, not only in terms of a military-to-military connection, but Secretary of State Baker also started this “modified Marshall Plan” for the former Soviet Union republics and Russia. We emptied war stocks out of Germany and other places, things like hospital equipment and medicines, as a gesture of goodwill. We ran Operation PROVIDE HOPE and brought these things to the orphanages. We ran it out of EUCOM and sent supplies to places that needed it.

Secretary Baker had Ambassador Armitage go to Japan and other places to talk about helping Russia, helping the eastern European countries, helping them meet international auditing standards, and working with them to get a convertible currency. He was going back and forth, and I was the military coordinator for him. I was impressed with Russia, all these young people who came in at the top to the cabinet positions, and I watched them just get so discouraged as we were doing this because underneath it all was still the old bureaucratic communist mentality, and that was hard to change. People with that old thinking were stifling the reform efforts, but early on, people were cheering democracy and had high spirits. Then, people became disillusioned with Yeltsin, and the oligarchs saw this guy, Putin. They figured they could control him and put him in as a figurehead. Putin, however, took them out and put in his own guys, and that takes us to where we are today.

I look at this and see mistakes that were made on both sides. I go back to President Bush 41. He and Gorbachev both said there would be this “new world order” and a “peace dividend.” Since the Cold War had ended, military spending would go elsewhere. I’m in Germany at this time watching this, and there’s a euphoria, but there are also things that are starting to come apart, like the Balkan states. In a different part of the world, Saddam was starting to give us problems in the Middle East.

I was thinking about what Kissinger wrote about reordering, and this was another major reordering, but if you are not orchestrating the reordering or trying to influence it, it is going to reorder itself in a nasty way. At the end of World War I, we didn’t do it. At the end of World War II, we did a great job. But then, after the Cold War, despite the words, it never really happened. Bush was challenged on this. Reporters asked Bush, “Where is the strategy?” However, he dismissed it as a “vision thing.” Even Obama said he didn’t need any Kennans and dismissed strategy in a sense. Well, if you are not strategic, you are transactional. If you don’t have a plan or a long-term vision, you just hop from one crisis to another, and things tend to orchestrate themselves in nasty ways.

We are perhaps paying the price for that decline in thinking now.

Zinni: A couple of observations about Ukraine. One thing that has really shocked me is how incompetent the Russian military is, virtually across the board. At the strategic level, they greatly misjudged the Ukrainians and their own ability to defeat them rapidly. From a military perspective, they moved on seven axes when they could not support them. Logistically, they got spread too thinly, they didn’t move enough logistics forward, they reached culminating points, they overran their lines of communications, and their rear area security was bad. They never put their combined arms together in any real way. The quality of their soldiers, especially the conscripts, is horrible. The morale is bad, and their command and control is unbelievably bad. Supposedly, this is the modernized Russian Army.

When I was in Europe, the SACEUR, General Galvin, wanted us to connect with the former Warsaw Pact and Russian militaries, but in particular the Russian military, to reassure them. We had an agreement to connect and run these series of conferences. I used to go to Moscow, and we’d meet with their senior leadership. They even gave me a Russian aide, and they were very open about the problems they had in the Russian military. I couldn’t believe how bad a shape it was in. There were serious problems about hazing in the barracks, no real NCO corps, morale was low, troops were stranded and couldn’t get home, a lot of revolt among their junior officers, senior officers had real problems with alcoholism, and so on. They shared these things with us and even allowed their dissidents to talk with us, and they were vocal and defiant toward their senior leaders.

I heard that they had rehabilitated and modernized their military since those times, but here we are, hearing more than 100,000 conventional forces have been committed to Ukraine, and God, it is horrible. I told someone the other day, I’d love to have a Marine Expeditionary Force and fight these guys. We would go through them like a knife in melting butter!

In watching this, I have been trying to think about where the Russian generals’ heads might be at. First of all, they are demonstrating a lot of incompetence at the senior leadership ranks. Secondly, they have been thrown into this mess, and they have to see that this is taking a heavy toll on their forces. They have had trouble with encryption and even with basic communication. These are like 1950s-level problems that they have. It’s amazing.

I just wonder how long Putin can last. I don’t know how effective the punishment of the oligarchs will be. I don’t know his handle on power, but if he gets desperate, what does he do?

I’m trying to figure Putin’s calculation. Maybe he thought NATO was no longer effective and that after Afghanistan, the current administration was too weak, or at least not willing to take him on in any serious way. I think he thought NATO solidarity wasn’t there and that he had the Germans over a barrel, literally. After Afghanistan, we were weak, and he probably thought this was going to be an easy grab. But how does he get out of it now? Everybody is talking about trying to find an offramp. I don’t see how. It’s not going to be easy. How does this end? NATO’s solidarity seems stronger than it has been in decades. Putin has created something that didn’t exist before. He has actually strengthened NATO.

Concerning what the situation is teaching us, particularly about integrated deterrence, Congressman Mike Gallagher recently noted (for example, here and here) that as a concept, integrated deterrence failed, and we should probably study and learn from that. Congresswoman Elaine Luria has also been critical of the concept. It reminded us of your approach in some parts of your “Combat Concepts” lecture, trying to figure out how to make sense of nice words.

Zinni: Well, the only thing I know is, whatever it is, it failed. From a Combatant Commander’s perspective, you have war plans, but the way the war plans are constructed, it is, “Okay, bad stuff is happening, let’s go to the plan, start flowing the TPFDD [Time Phased Force Deployment Data], let’s get into the action.” However, war plans are never going to go down the way they are planned.

There is always going to be a beginning, a middle, and an end. The beginning will entail tensions mounting. Warnings start coming, and we are going to make deterrent moves or containment moves. In the Pacific, you are probably going to hear the Japanese, the South Koreans, and our allies out there scream, “Hey, help us out here, these guys are getting ready to do something bad.” You are going to see the need to establish freedom of navigation in the South China Sea. We are going to start putting forces forward. Look at what we did in Poland and in the Baltic states. We started moving forces forward, NATO forces, as an attempt to deter. Reinforcing Japan is the first thing that is going to happen in the Pacific. You may be required to support the defense of Taiwan, including actually putting troops on the island to help defend it. In the stages leading up to this, 7th Fleet could rush to the South China Sea. If the balloon goes up and we start to get into a fight, I, as a Combatant Commander, have to start with all this stuff that was originally done to deter and contain. Integrated deterrence is supposed to be all these moves you take that make the other guy unwilling to take you on.

But then you go back to your plan, and let’s say you buy Commandant Berger’s strategy of putting guys on islands with anti-ship missiles. That’s overcome by events. You already have a MEF in Korea, another MEF in Taiwan or someplace, and the whole idea of a plan working out sequentially in the way you planned is only to get the basics down, of what you would employ, how you would employ it, the allocation of forces, and the sequencing. But you know darn well decisions are going to be made early on that will lead to that work being overcome by events.

Then, you have the middle, and you must fight from these positions that aren’t part of the nice, logical build-up you had in your war plan. There is no logically flowing reception, staging, onward movement, and integration as you get inside the opponents’ area of influence. By definition, you are already there because you have 26,000 troops in Korea, and you have 56,000 in Japan. No one’s going to be worried in the beginning about what you can put on small islands in the Philippines and elsewhere—you are already in his grill, so you have to go from there. The middle is the fight.

The third thing is the end state. Nobody goes home anymore. We are still in Germany, we are still in Japan, we are still in South Korea, and we are still in NATO. We know there will be an alliance, and we are going to support it. I might be stuck with what you lay down if I’m a Combatant Commander. How do we arrange that? What are we doing to support that?

So, back to integrated deterrence. I think it was supposed to mean we would make moves in a combined joint way that would put the potential adversary off balance, and put them in a position where they would either be unable to react or would find themselves in a position where they were trumped in their ability to do something. Now, the problem they ran into in Ukraine is the self-imposed limit that nothing would happen outside of NATO’s borders. You can make all the moves you want back here, but Putin is no fool. He said if NATO attacks him, he will attack NATO, and he started to make noises about nukes and tactical nukes. “Integrated deterrence” had a line, and we couldn’t cross it. And by not crossing it, we couldn’t change his mind and actually deter. Integrated deterrence is only good if the other guy thinks it is a deterrent. If the other guy doesn’t see it as deterrence and understands its limitations, then you have got a problem.

Now, in the case of China, you can make a case that we are already there. They want us to be out of the East and South China Seas, to possess Taiwan, and probably as an adjunct, have us out of South Korea, too. The deterrence here might be stronger if you immediately reinforce those positions, which are in his grill. Make the taking of Taiwan very difficult because you are there. We weren’t there in the Ukraine. The U.S. Navy will not sail into the Black Sea now. We are not making any moves that could be perceived as provocative or threatening, so we have limited ourselves. President Biden has made all these declarations about what we won’t do, which defines the parameters for Putin. He didn’t leave anything ambiguous. He didn’t say, “Nothing is off the table.” He told everyone what was off the table. So, Putin understood the space he had to operate in.

The term is still a little fuzzy and based on some assumptions. Some may say it seems to mean mostly integration, and less deterrence.

Zinni: I am assuming that integration means either integrating elements of power, or we are integrating our military forces in some way, or both. But go to the word “deterrence.” That is the key word. A strategy can only be effective if the other guy is deterred by it. You can’t have a deterrence strategy if he doesn’t see it as a deterrent. It hasn’t happened with Putin—he wasn’t deterred in any way. He knew economic sanctions would be put on him, and he probably reasoned that NATO would not try to start any direct military confrontation. He could always throw out the nukes, tactical or otherwise, as his form of deterrence. Think about the reverse: his deterrence has worked to a certain degree and certainly in a military context. By threatening tactical nukes or other weapons of mass destruction, he has basically deterred NATO.

Maybe it is overcompensation for when President Biden was in the Obama administration. They drew red lines then, and now they are telling us that they are specifically not going to draw any red lines. Instead of leaving some ambiguity in the middle that could possibly lead to more deterrence, we are now spelling out exactly what we are or are not going to do.

Zinni: Here’s the trouble with red lines. First of all, when you establish a red line, you turn the initiative over to the other guy. In other words, if he finds it advantageous to start something, he will cross the red line, so you don’t have control over the initiative. That’s what happened in the Obama administration. At the most inopportune time, they challenged him, knowing, or assuming, that he wouldn’t do anything. And red lines also mean that if you say, “Okay, you crossed the red line, I’m going to punish you,” but the adversary is not deterred by the punishment, that is not very useful either. I had this discussion with Gen Mattis. I said, “Whoever prepared that strike on the airfield must have been Mother Teresa or something, since you didn’t do anything really damaging.” There were some potholes in the concrete that the pothole crew was able to fix the next day.

I go back to the Clinton administration, when we were told that if Saddam crossed our red lines—there were two: take a shot at our airplanes or start interfering with the inspectors—we are going to hit you. President Clinton gave us the freedom to pick the targets, and we picked the entire air defense system. The UN went crazy, but we used the justification of the UN Resolution, which was vague on all this stuff, so we sort of expanded its authorization. But it shocked the hell out of Saddam when some guy with a little anti-aircraft gun took a couple of shots and we took out their defense headquarters in Baghdad. You don’t get motivated when that happens.

The second part of the red line is that the punishment for crossing it has to hurt or reduce capability in some way. We knew that Saddam would test us on these red lines and mess with the inspectors, so we designed plans to systematically take down their air defense system.

When we struck in DESERT FOX, it paralyzed them. My fear was the government was going to collapse. They were so shaken. They were so paralyzed they couldn’t even come up on the net and say hostile things to the United States. And, of course, our inspectors were back in the next day.

I’ve been doing some thinking about no-fly zones. I did a few TV appearances on it, too. I did it because I wanted to help people understand that you don’t just snap your fingers, and then you have a no-fly zone. You need to understand what is involved in doing it: what the cost is, what it entails to put together, what the risks are, and how complex the rules of engagement can be. If the Russians put an anti-air system in a built-up area with a lot of civilians around, what are you supposed to do if it shoots at you? What are you going to do if a plane comes in from Russia, takes a shot, and goes back into their airspace? What will you do if you see their airplanes bombing the heck out of civilians, and you have a plane up that can take it out? Is that pilot just going to watch it, be witness to it? That is a tough scenario. Then the question becomes, what else can fly? Can the Ukrainian Air Force fly? There are lots of these difficult questions. No one answers them. They just say, “Oh, let’s put in a no-fly zone.” And then I keep reminding people the no-fly zone in Iraq lasted over 12 years.

Red lines, however, are not like no-fly zones. People have to understand what no-fly zones are. With a no-fly zone, you must have bases to operate out of. You must have some legitimate authority to do it. Is it going to be NATO, is it going to be the UN, is it going to be something you can hang your hat on? Where are the bases, and who is going to give them to you? Is anyone else going to operate with us? Then, you have to realize that, in Ukraine, you have an area the size of Texas, and you have to keep that air space sanitized. The number of combat air patrols you need to do that, the radar systems, the refuelers, the base operations you need . . . you are going to constantly patrol because the Russians can see when you are in and out, and they will test you, they will come in when you are out and try things. So, the rules of engagement are going to be very complex in what you do. How long can you keep that up? You also need search and rescue. What happens if a plane has a mechanical failure or gets shot down? You have to go in and get the pilots. You have to answer all these questions. And pilots will tell you that it is crappy duty. Pilots lose proficiency by just going up and patrolling and coming back. They don’t go through all the wickets they need to stay current, so you must rotate units regularly. All these people screaming for no-fly zones don’t understand how this works.

It’s similar with humanitarian corridors. You can’t have a humanitarian corridor unless you are sure that both sides fully agree and there will be no violation. If you are going to secure the corridors, who is going to run it? Is it the United Nations? Are you going to have peacekeepers or observers in there? Hardly anyone thinks this through. This is the “inch deep” crowd that comes up with these ideas. They are around the Beltway and have no idea what is involved.

General Anthony Zinni served 39 years as a U.S. Marine and retired as CommanderinChief, U.S. Central Command, a position he held from August 1997 to September 2000. After retiring, General Zinni served as U.S. special envoy to Israel and the Palestinian Authority (2001-2003) and U.S. special envoy to Qatar (2017-2019). General Zinni has held numerous academic positions, including the Stanley Chair in Ethics at the Virginia Military Institute, the Nimitz Chair at the University of California, Berkeley, the Hofheimer Chair at the Joint Forces Staff College, the Sanford Distinguished Lecturer in Residence at Duke University, and the Harriman Professorship of Government at the Reves Center for International Studies at the College of William and Mary. General Zinni is the author of several books, including Before the First Shots Are Fired, Leading the Charge, The Battle for Peace, and Battle Ready. He has also had a distinguished business career, serving as Chairman of the Board at BAE Systems Inc., a member of the board and later executive vice president at DynCorp International, and President of International Operations for M.I.C. Industries, Inc.

Dr. Mie Augier is Professor in the Department of Defense Management, and Defense Analysis Department, at NPS. She is a founding member of the Naval Warfare Studies Institute and is interested in strategy, organizations, leadership, innovation, and how to educate strategic thinkers and learning leaders.

Major Sean F. X. Barrett, PhD is a Marine intelligence officer currently serving as the Executive Officer for 1st Radio Battalion.

Featured Image: CAMP FUJI, Japan (June 13, 2022) – U.S. Marines with 3d Battalion, 2d Marines, prepare to begin Exercise Shinka 22.1 at the Combined Arms Training Center (CATC), Camp Fuji, Japan, June 13, 2022. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Michael Taggart)