Peter Swartz on Creating Maritime Strategy, Pt. 3: The End of an Era

In Part Three, Swartz describes tensions with the Joint Staff over strategy in the aftermath of Goldwater-Nichols, how the forward presence mission consumed maritime strategy after the Cold War ended, and how the interacting communities of Navy strategists that created the 1986 Maritime Strategy faded away.

Read Part One, read Part Two.

Swartz:…The other thing we had…was the continuity. Three CNOs, five generations of action officers, and we stayed with a similar message and we can reach back and say we had a pedigree of Sea Strike, Sea Plan 2000, early OP-603, and other antecedents of the strategy, and we had the SSG doing what it was doing, so we had that continuity all through the decade. I mean, it took the collapse of the Soviet Union to knock it off its pedestal. Not bad.

And then, CNO Admiral Kelso pulled the plug on the name. Now, he had a different problem. It was 1990–91. The Navy was on the ropes: Desert Storm. Maritime Strategy dead. “Okay,” he said, “I’m putting it up on the shelf and I’ll take it down if I need it. Right now we need a Navy policy.” I would not have done that, I would have said we’re changing our strategy, the world is changing, so we’re changing with it. Here’s our strategy now.

But, they didn’t do that and so the word “strategy” became an anathema. And, of course, he was trying to be real joint and so he was buying into the “services don’t do strategy” line of the Joint Staff. Now, his situation was: He’s a CNO. He’s a four-star. He’s a member of the JCS [Joint Chiefs of Staff] and he’s up against Powell. I ain’t going to second-guess his ability to get stuff done, right? But when he pulled the plug on the name and on the very concept of the Navy having a strategy, that gave “strategy” sort of a bad name in the Navy and you had to call it something else—concept of operations, this, that, the other. And then, people started critiquing the old Maritime Strategy and saying, “Well, you know, it wasn’t really a strategy anyway, the way Peter is talking. It was an OPLAN.” Okay, guilty as charged. I don’t know what the hell it was. I know it was effective and we called it strategy.

We told a story. I learned that, later on when I did war games, one of the reasons why war games are so effective as a teaching device and, as you know, you internalize stuff from participating, is because the scenario in the war game tells a story and stories are powerful. And we told a story: “You start off in peace and then all hell breaks loose and there’s a crisis and then there’s a war and the war starts, you’ve got guys mobilizing and transporting themselves and then bullets start to fly, and then, finally, you kill them. Oh, and then—hey, here’s all the problems with the story I just told you.” So, that was a story, that was a powerful message.

Some of this other stuff, man, you read it, I mean none of this is a page turner, but I mean you really don’t want to turn that page on some of this other stuff. You know: The 9 “-ilities” and the 7 “-isms” and the 14 characteristics and the 9 opportunities and the 4 challenges. Who can keep that stuff straight? Ours, I thought we could keep straight.

Peeks: You mentioned…From the Sea and those sort of documents that came out right after Desert Shield/Desert Storm…From the Sea is the one that seems to have had the biggest, longest-lasting impact on the Navy and, I guess, well, two-part question: One, I guess, do you agree with that assessment of…From the Sea, and two, if so, what made it more enduring than The Way Ahead and documents of that nature?

Swartz: On one level, you’re right, and I think that’s because of “document fatigue.” I think that most analysts that got into it—and you’re talking to the main analyst who got into it—we’re appalled at the fact that when you wound up adding it all up, you discovered that the Navy had come up with 35 separate capstone documents since 1970. Only the Maritime Strategy era—which was about eight years or so, let’s say from say ’81 through ’89—that was pretty consistent. They called it the same thing and it had the same outline and it had the same underpinnings, conceptual underpinnings, but all these other things were all different. Nobody could keep track of them.

If you had been in the Pentagon in the 80s and you then went to sea and came back, it was the same old Maritime Strategy you remembered from your earlier tour except now it had been updated. But, if you had been in the Pentagon in the 90s and you went to sea after…From the Sea came out, then when you came back you discovered that…From the Sea was defunct and now it was supposed to be Forward…From the Sea. But meanwhile, it was a new CNO because Boorda had gone and so therefore the new CNO—there was a new article out signed by him called “Anytime, Anywhere.” Is that replacing Forward…From the Sea?

I think…From the Sea stayed on the books because nobody—having done it, being the guy who finally did it [in the CNA Capstone Strategy Series]—nobody had the stamina or the time or the funding to slice through all that stuff and figure out what was what. So, in retrospect looking back, there was the Maritime Strategy era and then the…From the Sea era, so that’s at the 10,000-foot level.

But, when you came back you had a new CNO and you had a new Secretary and you really had to slave everything to that new document, and so there was a constant scampering to change around everything you were doing to be justified by the new document that had just come out. And so, people were busy and trying seriously to use each document as they came along…I mean a new guy comes in and says, “I don’t want to do what the old guy did, I want to do what I want to do,” everybody saluted and said, “Yes sir.” Many people saluted, it’s not just the Marine Corps, many people saluted and said, “yes sir,” and we’ll work on that and here you go.

Another dynamic that’s going on, of course, while all this is going on is: Back in the ’80s when we were doing the Maritime Strategy and I’d go down and brief it to the Joint Staff, Joint Staff colonels (I wasn’t paying attention to the Navy guys there) would be sitting there like this looking at me, like, “Son, you have no business writing the strategy. That’s the job of us, like any other joint strategic document.” And I would say, “Yes, but your joint strategic documents are either pablum or log rolling. This is different. And, what we ought to do is just sit down and have an interservice—let’s not call it joint—strategy based on the Maritime Strategy. You can easily add the Army and the Air Force in to it—they’re already there—and have a global multi-service approach.” They’d say, “We don’t do multiservice. We do joint and it’s got to go through the joint system and Goldwater-Nichols just gave us a shot in the arm.” And I’d answer, “We’re not going to do that. I didn’t come down here to give you either the pablum or log rolling. That’s not what we’re doing.” So, that was going on in the ’80s.

What was going on in the ’90s? Same briefing. Navy would go down to give the briefing. Joint Staff guys, which now include front-running Navy guys sitting there, going, “That’s baloney, you have no business doing that, that’s not yours, you can’t call it strategy and I’m going to have the Chairman write a letter to the CNO saying that you can’t call it strategy.” So, the climate is very different, the word “strategy” disappears. Kelso said so in his testimony when he became CNO, “I don’t need a strategy, I need a policy. We’ve got a strategy. It’s up on the shelf. If we ever need it again we can take it down.”

Incidentally, I once got a call a couple of years ago from a retired captain, old friend of mine, now senior Navy civilian, Chris Melhuish—head strategy guy at Fleet Forces Command— and he asked me if I had copies of the old Maritime Strategy and NATO CONMAROPS, and if I could send them to him (which I did). And, that’s my date. I have it written down, the date at home (it’s 9 March 2017). I said that’s the date that he took it down off the shelf. It was that phone call—the date the Maritime Strategy came back down off the shelf again.

Peeks: …did CNO Kelso’s changes to OPNAV organization have an effect or was that just sort of shuffling the deck chairs?

Swartz:…So what about OP-06? Well first of all, we’ve got to change all the nomenclature and make them N3/N5 cause we’re “joint-izing” everything and, second of all, we don’t really need an N5 because we’re getting all this pushback from everybody saying that N5 is strategy and planning, but that’s all done jointly now. What we need is an N3, so we should all have strong operators, not necessarily strong planners, in those jobs, in N3/N5.

And so, you can see where this is headed: N3/N5 is being downgraded by a number of pressures. The people that are supposed to be in N3/N5, they’re now down on the Joint Staff, so it’s a weaker staff. It’s designed that way by the guys who created Goldwater-Nichols…The N3/N5 had real jobs, and real things, and there were really important people who worked there during that time, as I mentioned some of them, Joe Bouchard, Sam Tangredi, smart guys, but they were up against an N8 juggernaut that was deliberately created.

The POM build began with Bill Owens and one of the things Bill Owens did was revive systems analysis in the Navy. So did Kelso. Systems and campaign analysis had been under a cloud because Lehman was unhappy and Watkins was unhappy and Small was unhappy, and systems analysis was downgraded. That all changed. Owens said, “I want N81 to run the show at the beginning of the POM build.” Well, for the previous eight years, it had been a Maritime Strategy presentation that opened the POM build because everything was supposed to be strategy-based allegedly and that was Lehman’s mantra, and, for that matter, that was shared by Hayward and Small and Trost. But it wasn’t shared by Owens and Kelso.

So, what happened to starting off the POM with an OP-06 presentation, N3/N5? It went away. “We got…From the Sea. Are you going to use that?” “Yeah, that’s…From the Sea. That does what it does, whatever it does. Meanwhile we got a POM to build, with lots of campaign analysis, so there’s no time in the schedule for a…From the Sea briefing, let alone for a flag officer discussion of what it means for the POM and budget. And besides…From the Sea is unclass, so not to be taken too seriously.” So, that was going on also…

Peeks: …you’ve just talked about how the rise of the programmers and the downgrading of N3/N5 changes the process of developing Navy strategy. Did it have an impact on the substance of Navy strategy and policy?

Swartz: In general, broad-brush terms, very general broad-brush, I would maintain the answer is “no.” Specifics, “yes.” Specific threats were different. Specific weapon systems were more salient in one era then another. But, in general, the U.S. Navy was still the U.S. Navy. Global. Joint (the way the Navy likes to be joint, which is coordinated, not integrated. But, we became a lot more integrated just because it was the law of the land). Forward.

Combat-credible forward presence replaced the Maritime Strategy as the underpinning for the Navy. It always had been part of the Maritime Strategy too, but now it consumed the Maritime Strategy: You keep as much stuff as you could possibly get away with, ready, as far forward as you can, near the world’s trouble spots, and sure enough they’ll find things to do, which, of course, they did. We’ll keep a full-up fleet in the Middle East and a full-up fleet in WESTPAC. We haven’t got enough ships any more to keep one in the Med, but during the ’90s, when the Yugoslav mess went, we had to take stuff away from the Pacific and Middle East in order to feed the Med. But, once the various Yugoslav problems resolved themselves, the carrier strike group and the amphibs were yanked out of the Med to go elsewhere because we had a much smaller fleet…

Combat-credible forward presence in two hubs, as much as you can get out there, was the strategy, and of course what the Navy did was it wound up breaking the force, but it didn’t know that at the time. This was the thing it was delivering to the country, and “Please don’t cut us anymore because we’re delivering something to you, look, we’re really straining, we got ships out there now, we got rid of all the old rules and they’re out there for nine months at a time and we’re really stroking, because we need to be there.” That was central to all of these documents— offensive, aggressive. “Why are they out there?” “Well, because they can smack somebody right away.”

…So, in 2005, after Admiral Vern Clark was the CNO, Admiral Mike Mullen was chosen to be his successor. Mike Mullen was a former N8, Mike Mullen was a programmer, I think his academic stuff was all science and technology of some type, and he became the CNO and he said, “I think we need a strategy.” Everybody was like, “Oh, we don’t do strategy anymore.” But he said, “I do strategy. In my last job I was over in Naples and I had to be the guy who worried about Yugoslavia in my NATO hat and I had to worry about Europe, and I needed strategy and my staff wasn’t equipped as well as I hoped it would be. I brought one member of my staff back with me, Commander Wayne Porter, my strategist, and I want a strategy. You, N3/N5, John Morgan, write me a strategy.” Morgan said, “Got it. We’re going to have a strategy.”

And Morgan said, “The way you do it is you cast a wide net. You create a whole lot of buzz about strategy.” So, he cast a wide net and created a whole lot of buzz about strategy. He went to [Naval History and Heritage Command] and said, “Write me, whatever.” He came to CNA and said, “Run me a conference.” He came to Lockheed Martin and said, “Run me a workshop.” He went to Johns Hopkins’s APL [Applied Physics Laboratory] and said, “Do me war games.” He went to the Naval War College…So, there was all of this activity and there was money. We all got money and we all did stuff. We did war games and we wrote think pieces and organized debates.

We had conferences and meetings and seminars and then …the strategy finally came out, and all that activity stopped. Bryan McGrath and John Morgan’s CS21: A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Sea Power came out. In 2007. It said that the job of the Navy was to support globalization and to facilitate the fantastic global world economy, especially the enormous amount of trade that was increasing exponentially, and which benefited the U.S. and U.S. national security greatly. The following month, the economy collapsed, and trade shriveled. It was bad luck, and bad timing. Moreover, all the Navy money went away for all of these workshops and war games and everything else. And so, the multi-organizational naval network that had helped create the strategy unraveled…

Peeks: …with your work with N5, you’ve sort of had a unique vantage point on the Navy’s strategy enterprise and so, since your retirement, how would you assess the Navy’s efforts to nurture a cadre of strategy-minded officers?

Swartz: They went straight downhill. Well, no, that’s not exactly true. The way you ask the question: The Navy continued to educate officers—very, very good officers—in the same subjects that I and my colleagues had been educated in and at some of the very same schools, most notably the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy…The Navy continues to educate. Right now, they’ve got guys in school learning about China and Russia and whatever. That part is continuing, I believe…

But…when it comes to assigning these guys to a shop or related circle of shops, which used to happen routinely in the ’70s and ’80s, the Navy doesn’t do much. So, maybe one of those guys might wind up in N50 or N5I, or maybe he won’t. Maybe there’s some guy who used to be in N5I, who comes back again later as a captain (there is one right now, Rome Ruiz, who had been a lieutenant in the nuclear shop and now he’s the deputy to Admiral Will Pennington). Or not. What used to happen was that the OP-06 flag officers who were involved—and we have fewer of them now—used to call the Bureau all the time and scream for bodies—educated, experienced bodies. That dialogue almost doesn’t exist anymore, to my knowledge.

Now, I don’t know everything and I haven’t been in the Navy for years, and maybe if Bruce Stubbs was sitting here he’d say, “No, no, I was on the phone with the Bureau just the other day.” But I doubt it. And, the reason they could do that back then was because the people at the other end of the line at the Bureau knew that if they hassled the two-star or the captain who was calling for him, that pretty soon their boss’s boss, the three-star, the Chief of Naval Personnel, would get a call from Vice Admiral Bill Crowe or Vice Admiral Art Moreau or Vice Admiral Ace Lyons or Vice Admiral Chuck Larson as OP-06 saying, “I need X and he’s appropriately educated and experienced as a strategist, so why are you sending him to, say, N4?” And, that was the system and it worked, and that’s why you had all of these educated and experienced guys crammed into OP-603 in the 1980s: a combination of self-selection and the Bureau putting up with it and active recruiting by the flags who were in the business. That created both the hard core of guys who were in OP-603 [and] the wider area of guys who were in OP965 and OP-00K and related shops, and at Newport and Monterey, and so we all knew each other and it was a powerful network. It’s what gave the Navy the Maritime Strategy. Today, none of that happens, or almost none of it happens…

…the heart of it should be the three-star picking up the phone and calling the Chief of Naval Personnel and saying, “I can’t run my shop for the CNO and to further Navy equities without sub-specialists, and I’ve only got five out of 35 officers who are sub-specialists and that’s a lousy percentage and I need more.” I don’t believe those conversations take place. One of the reasons they don’t take place (my theory) is that usually the three-star himself had never had a tour in N3/N5. He’s not Crowe, Moreau, Lyons, Joe Moorer, whoever. To him, his officers are interchangeable, and the questions he’s asked and the things he’s asked to do by the CNO are largely in his N3 hat, not his N5 hat, and in his policy hat, which is close to the N3, not to the N5. And so, he’s comfortable taking just normal competent fleet sailors who can do that kind of work.

And, the idea that he’s going to have guys write strategy? He’s not asked for it by his Secretary as Lehman demanded from his CNOs. The CNO’s not being asked for it by his colleagues on the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The Chairman doesn’t need his advice on strategy because he’s got a Joint Staff to do it, some of whom are the very guys that the CNO should have on his staff, thinks Peter. But instead, they’re down in the J5 being socialized by sitting next to Army and Air Force officers, so they’re first-rate joint guys, but they don’t know Navy. “Good,” Arch Barrett and Jim Locher would say. “I didn’t want them to know that. I want them to know Army and Air Force.”

Back to my view: The Navy’s different. The medium is different. Water is different from land. The legal regime of water is different from land. Mobility is different. Et cetera. Therefore, the Navy’s different. There is a thing which is a separate body of knowledge called Maritime Strategy. It’s a component of the National Strategy. It’s not against it, but it’s got its own roots and its own reasons and its own raison d’être and its own expertise, and we’re shortchanging it and not using it right…

…The big exercises, the big fleet exercises against submarine fleets? We got rid of the forces and got rid of the exercises. NATO staffs, over-staffed, just a waste of time? Get rid of all of them. NATO consolidated and got rid of all the staffs. So, the fleet staffs that knew strategy all contracted, and the relationship with the allies atrophied and went away. The exercises, war games, [and] strategy work at the SSG dwindled…in the ’90s, the very elements that interacted, plus the interactions, went away. So yes, it’s different now due to the SSG change, the N51 change, Global War Game going away, and SECNAVs and CNOs no longer interested in enunciating a strategy…

I already mentioned that N3/N5 no longer kicked off the POM build with a statement and discussion of strategy. And, far fewer follow-on tours…follow-on tours became a rarity, right? You did it once, and then that was it.

Peter Swartz is a retired U.S. Navy captain, a former CNA Research Program Director, and currently an adjunct Principal Research Scientist at CNA. Most of his Navy assignments related to strategy, policy and allied engagement, including two tours as an advisor with the South Vietnamese Navy; helping set up the Navy’s Zumwalt-era intercultural relations program; coordinating Navy staff talks with key European allied navies; helping conceptualize, draft and disseminate the Maritime Strategy of the 1980s; directing the US Mission to NATO’s operations division as the Berlin Wall was coming down; and serving as Special Assistant to CJCS General Colin Powell during the First Gulf War.  At CNA he primarily focused on analyzing U.S. Navy and Marine Corps strategy and policy, including their historical roots. In 2020 a Festschrift was published  in his honor (Conceptualizing Naval and Maritime Strategy) by several of his colleagues, and the Naval Historical Foundation awarded him its Commodore Dudley Knox Lifetime Achievement medal.

Ryan Peeks is a historian at the Naval History and Heritage Command, and the author of Aircraft Carrier Requirements and Strategy, 1977-2001.

Justin Blanton is a historian at the Naval History and Heritage Command.

Featured Image: August 8, 1983. An aerial port quarter view of the battleship USS NEW JERSEY (BB-62), foreground, underway with a Spruance-class destroyer. (Photo via the U.S. National Archives)

0 thoughts on “Peter Swartz on Creating Maritime Strategy, Pt. 3: The End of an Era”

  1. Missing from Peter’s discussion is Vern Clark’s Seapower 21, which was not a strategy, true, but it did offer a coherent force structure for the way the Navy was being used, as on call strike forces for the spoiled COCOMs.
    That equated to 375 ships and 12 carrier airwings. But….9/11 happened and so no new ships since we were now a land-war in Asia nation, and that meant armies (that included Marines), not navies, so we tried this 1000 ship idea, but the COCOMs never bought into NATO and our allies as provided replacement value, but rather as (doubtful from their perspective) “added” value–with no cutbacks in fleet forward presence. It is only in our own day, with ships going on 10, 11, and even 12 month deployments in what is effectively peacetime that people are starting to question the wisdom of ignoring sea power, the recapitalization of the fleet, and just what the heck that fleet is for in the first place.

    John T. Kuehn, Platte City MO

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