A couple of weeks ago the U.S. Naval War College hosted the Current Strategy Forum, 2014. It was a two day conference which brought the soon-to-be graduates of the War College programs together with fleet planners and strategists, some of the world’s top scholars, and a few of us strap hangers to discuss maritime and military strategy in the 21st century. The lectures and panels were all livestreamed and then posted to Youtube, so you can watch them yourself here.
One of the things Admiral Greenert said, and was repeated a number of times by the other Admirals, was that the OPNAV staff is looking for help in working on the new iteration of the Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower (CS21). One of the things the organizers of the conference failed to offer, however, was an obvious outlet to provide the feedback. This is reflected in some of the internet “after action” writing, including a post written with obvious frustration by a War College student and published at Steeljaw Scribe and CDR Salamander.
Luckily, the anonymous student stumbled upon the perfect way to provide the feedback: writing about it. CAPT “Barney” Rubel (ret), the outgoing Dean of Naval Warfare Studies in Newport, points this out in his recent monograph “Writing to Think.” He tells us that taking the time to sit down and write about professional subjects like strategy has the ability to clarify and organize things, making our thoughts more useful.
Dispositions of Navies
One of the names which came up a few times at Current Strategy Forum was Alfred Thayer Mahan. One of the godfathers of the Naval War College and professional military education, his name has also become a nearly mandatory cliché when discussing naval strategy. Much of the Mahanian discussion focuses on “The Influence of Sea Power Upon History.” Because of the book’s focus on the age of sail we hear that it’s a shame he didn’t write something more useful for us in the 21st century. If only he had written something relevant to navies with engines instead of sails, that discussed how to dispose of a global fleet in a time of relative peace, with rising great powers. If only.
In 1901 Mahan wrote an essay for the British journal National Review entitled “Considerations Governing the Dispositions of Navies.” It was a study of why, where and how a nation should exercise their naval forces in times of relative peace, “for the dispositions of peace should bear a close relation to the contingency of war.” While the essay is little known compared to his seminal book, the noted strategist of the 1930s and 1940s Herbert Rosinski wrote it was probably some of Mahan’s best work. It gets directly to the heart of the questions a document like CS21 must answer, what are the ideas which govern how we deploy and use our fleet today?
Three Thoughts from The Prophet
The first thing Mahan calls for in his essay is “an antecedent appreciation of the political, commercial, and military exigencies of the state.” At the turn of the 20th century the world was experiencing globalization with an unprecedented scale and speed. Mahan believed any strategic appreciation of how or why to use navies had to be informed by that reality. Because naval power plays a role in military affairs, commercial or economic interests, and the political or diplomatic interaction between states, they should be seen as “an articulated whole,” and all three must be addressed by today’s strategic thinkers. The drafters of a strategic document like CS21 must consider these three factors, and should explain how the Navy views its interaction with each of them individually, as well as a whole, around the globe today.
Another area of the essay for today’s writers to consider is Mahan’s discussion of forward deployed naval forces. Mahan believed America was safest when threats were dealt with far from our own shores. That required not just a navy, but a forward deployed navy which was able to respond quickly because it already had presence around the world. He also highlighted the relationship between offense and defense in naval war, a balance that was a bit different than the way land power strategists have thought about it.
Mahan reminds his readers, “he who has but half way to go does double the work.” Because of this, he writes that the locations for overseas bases are critical and must be selected with strategic elements in mind. He touches on the maintenance of allies and partners as well as the facilities needed to repair and resupply ships in theater, rather than always having to bring them back to the United States. In modern terms he’s talking about the value of forward basing and forward stationing and some of his ideas will likely have direct relevance to those who are working on CS21.
The final element of “Considerations Governing the Dispositions of Navies” I will point out is Mahan’s discussion of technology and fleet constitution. One of the pieces of conventional wisdom about the great navalist is that he was a bit of a Luddite and did not understand the advance of technology, or its importance to naval operations. Thinking about it for a moment, it seems a bit silly to suggest an officer whose career straddled the shift from sail to steam wouldn’t understand how technology impacts naval affairs. In his essay Mahan’s writing also helps to dispel some of that myth.
The airplane and the tactically useable submarine were still a few years away when he wrote the piece. However, he does discuss the importance of the new wireless telegraph technology. He suggests that by using their radios ships could network together and cover much larger distances. Scouting (or what we today call ISR) could be impacted dramatically and the wireless would present the ability for numerous small ships to come together and operate as a massed and coordinated group when needed, but also provide the ability for them to disperse for presence operations.
Importantly, Mahan also discusses the constitution of the fleet. The kinds of ships a naval force needs, the balance of numbers or types, is a vital part of any vision for naval affairs or sea power. In the 21st century we add aircraft, submarines and other platforms and systems to the question as well. Starting with Mahan’s outline isn’t a bad idea. We are commonly taught he was a battleship man and was focused on big guns and big ships. His writing in this essay clears up some of that conventional wisdom as well. Mahan wrote a Navy needed three elements which made up a balanced fleet. The battle fleet was the obvious starting point and required battleships and armament which could defeat another nation’s fleet. Mahan also wrote that a navy needs numerous cruisers to work with the battle fleet, but which can also deploy independently for the protection of commerce and naval diplomacy. Finally, Mahan suggested a balanced naval force required small craft which could serve as scouts as well as move toward the shore and serve in close to the enemy’s coast.
Mahan was writing about ships, but obviously today aircraft and submarines can complete some of the tasks he discusses, though not all of them. A new version of CS21 will require a discussion of fleet constitution and technology, but it must focus on the “why.” At the very end of his essay Mahan points out that after the qualitative must come the quantitative. Establishing how many ships and assets you need is a vital part of peacetime naval policy.
Sea Power and the 21st Century
Reading Alfred Thayer Mahan’s work will not provide a prescription for today’s issues or a checklist the drafters of a new CS21 should follow. One of the other great myths about Mahan is that his purpose was to provide step by step instructions for maritime success. He is frequently called the Jomini of naval strategy. But Mahan didn’t believe in checklists, he didn’t believe in maxims as hard and fast rules. When he used words like principles or maxims, he was describing historical precedents providing naval officers and strategists with ideas to consider. He wrote the purpose of studying and learning historical principles isn’t to tell you exactly what to do to get things right, it’s to give you a hint that you’re about to do something wrong.
The officers working on the new document likely already have many of these concepts in mind. However, there is a great deal more in “Considerations Governing the Dispositions of Navies” which the modern navy can learn from. I’ve just highlighted three elements I think are particularly interesting and relevant to CS21. But don’t trust me, read Mahan himself. You can find the essay either in Chapter 2 of “21st Century Mahan: Sound Military Conclusions for the Modern Era” or you can do a little bit of searching on the internet and probably find it for free download. Mahan’s great value isn’t in telling us what to do or think; it is in helping us ask the right questions. As he told us in another essay, “the instruction derived from the past must be supplemented by a particularized study of the indications of the future.”
In the summer of 1964 Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz was enjoying his retirement and living in the San Francisco Bay area. He was asked to address a group of young naval cadets and fresh junior officers about their profession and their future. Nimitz had been connected to the sea almost since birth, his father had been a ship captain before moving to Texas to open a hotel, and his grandfather had raised him on stories of the sea. At age fifteen Chester took the Naval Academy entrance exam and passed.
He left high school before he graduated in order to enter Annapolis with the Class of 1905. In those days the entrance exam was the most important qualification for entry, not high school. The Academy was the only source of line officers for the Navy and Marine Corps, there was no ROTC or OCS. (Actually, Nimitz later helped established the NROTC unit at the University of California). When he was invited to speak it had been over sixty years since he entered the Academy, but he looked back across his many years in the service of his country and focused on three lessons for the junior officers.
It is once again commissioning season at the Academy and in ROTC units across the United States. These three lessons from the Fleet Admiral who commanded the war in the Pacific are just as valuable for our rising Ensigns and Second Lieutenants today as they were fifty years ago.
You are on the threshold of a great and honored profession – that of a naval officer. You will find among the naval officers of all countries a brotherhood of the sea which recognizes as a common enemy – the sea itself – and which has a primary duty of understanding that old enemy – the sea – in all its moods – in order to preserve the men, planes, and ships entrusted to them.*
Life at sea brings many challenges. Our history books are full of stories of combat and lessons from battle, but the sea is a danger in itself. It is something we rarely talk about in our training programs prior to commissioning, and the realization usually reaches us after we begin going to sea or taking to the air. As Joseph Conrad wrote, “the sea — this truth must be confessed — has no generosity. No display of manly qualities — courage, hardihood, endurance, faithfulness — has ever been known to touch its irresponsible consciousness of power.”
It’s also important to note Nimitz’s connection with the “brotherhood of the sea.” (I point this out in the most gender-neutral way possible, which is sometimes an issue when using historical sources.) The bond between Sailors and Marines of many nations around the world is a long and historic one. One of the things you’ll realize on your first deployment is that you have a great deal in common with not only our allies, but everyone at sea. Today the CNO talks about building partnerships around the world, but this isn’t new and it is something that can come naturally to Sailors and Marines, if you let it.
You will understand that for a nation to survive it must control the sea and air approaches to the homeland – and that this responsibility will fall primarily on the shoulders of its naval officers who will also have the duties of protecting interests far off shore.
Nimitz knew that understanding the role we play in our nation’s defense is important. To a nation like the United States, with limited borders and friends both north and south, seapower is central to national defense. As Alfred Thayer Mahan once wrote, “every danger of a military character to which the United States is exposed can be met best outside her own territory—at sea. Preparedness for naval war—preparedness against naval attack and for naval offence—is preparedness for anything that is likely to occur.”
But besides the defense of our country, Nimitz also alludes to work “far off shore.” For today’s new junior officers this is a reminder that for the Sea Services, as the wars of the first decades of the 21st century wind down, we probably won’t be “coming home” in the same way the other services might. We are needed “far off shore” in peacetime as much as we are when war arrives. You’ll be deploying and you’ll be operating all over the world and that means being away from family and friends in order to do your job.
You will learn that you are never finished with your efforts and studies to prepare yourselves for your duties of naval officers. This will continue – as long as you live. You will share with the brotherhood of officers of all nations an abhorrence of war but you must be prepared to confront force with force whenever the interests of your country requires such action. You will learn that bravery is not enough – and that you must do your utmost by professional study and reading of history to perfect your readiness to serve your country.
Admiral Nimitz was not the first to point out the vital importance of self-study and learning your profession. From William Sims and Alfred Thayer Mahan, to Carl Von Clausewitz and Napoleon, the idea that you must continuously be reading history and studying the world around you in order to be a professional military officer has a long pedigree. Nimitz wasn’t the first, nor was he the last. However, today it is something that we all must be reminded of.
You will likely be told that if you do your job today tomorrow will take care of itself. While this may be true from a careerist perspective, it is not true from a professional perspective. You must always be studying, reading, and learning in order to prepare yourself for your next set of orders or promotion. Not just NATOPS, or the standing orders, or other pubs (though you’ll need those too). Professional development comes from books about leadership, history, and strategy. If you wait for someone else to teach you what you need to know you may never learn it. You may be tempted to say, “well, I’ll wait until I go to the War College” or “I don’t have time for that, I’ll do it once I make Department Head.” That is the wrong attitude. There will never be time unless you make time. That is as true today as it will be twenty years into a career in the Navy or Marine Corps. You don’t need to enroll in a correspondence course or an online degree, just pick out a couple of good books to read every year.
The officers that Nimitz spoke to in 1964 were an interesting group. It wasn’t the latest class from Annapolis or the recent graduates of his University of California ROTC unit. No, he was addressing the junior officers and naval cadets of the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force’s Training Squadron. Commanded by Rear-Admiral Kazutoshi Kuhara, who had fought Nimitz’s task forces just two decades before, the four Japanese ships were on a training cruise across the Pacific. Many of the officers Nimitz addressed were small children when their nation was defeated under his command. His advice not only stands the test of time, but has well served a naval force that became one of our closest allies, and one of today’s most professional navies.
Fleet Admiral Nimitz was a great naval officer. He is remembered by most as the man who led the Navy in the Pacific during World War II, but he should be remembered for much more. He was the Ensign who commanded a gunboat off the Philippines, fighting alongside Marines and Army Soldiers in the counter-insurgency campaign during the Philippine Insurrection. He was the Lieutenant that revolutionized submarine tactics and was asked to lecture on it at the War College. He was the Lieutenant Commander that introduced the Navy to diesel engines and helped develop the procedures for the very first underway replenishment.
And maybe that’s the final lesson from Admiral Nimitz, you don’t become a war winning Admiral overnight. Follow his advice: face the challenges of the sea, understand the role you and your Navy and Marine Corps play in our national security, always keep studying history and your profession, and maybe some day one of the members of the Class of 2014 will be our next Fleet Admiral. As he said:
Remember that you have an important place in a highly honorable profession. I wish each of you success and happiness.
* Original copy of Nimitz’s remarks archived at Naval War College Historical Collections, Record Group 29. Digital copy available from the Nimitz Gray Book digitization project.
Adam Gopnik was recently on CNN with Fareed Zakaria discussing the place of the humanities in our world. It was a conversation that continues the recent debate aboutr the U.S. education system and the role of STEM. It also is a mirror to the discussion of officer education and training in the U.S. Navy, albeit somewhat inverted. While the discussion of U.S. education at large is one of too few science, technology, engineering, and math students and practitioners, in the Navy we face an officer corps where STEM educated officers are by far the majority, and according to policy will only become more dominant. But Gopnik said something that caught my attention: “We need the humanities … because we are human.”
The statement reminded me of a conversation I recently had with a Captain in the Pentagon. Following the relief of yet another Commanding Officer, for a leadership mistake that seemed obvious to us, the Captain asked how come, after 238 years of naval history, we haven’t figured this out? We all know what good leadership is, we all know not to be a toxic leader, and doesn’t it all seem so simple? It’s reminiscent of a letter Admiral Hyman Rickover wrote to the editor of Proceedings in 1981. For Rickover, the engineer’s mind could not fathom why people didn’t simply follow the procedure, put the inputs into the equation and get the guaranteed result. There was no need, he wrote, for Proceedings to ever publish another article on leadership. Good leadership was a settled matter.
The reason, of course, is that we’re talking about human beings, complete with all of our frailties, failings, and free will. One of the great truisms of military leadership is that our people are our greatest strength, or our most valuable asset. It’s repeated time and time again. Today Chief of Naval Operations Greenert tells us that “Our power comes from our folks, the attributes and their skill which they bring.” A century ago Alfred Thayer Mahan wrote that having a good Navy “consists not so much in the building of ships and guns as it does in the possession of trained men.” Is it true? I certainly think so. But if people matter, we’re not talking simply about end-strength numbers or rack space in berthing. We’re talking about humans. And because we’re talking about leading, working with, partnering with, and eventually even fighting other humans…we need the humanities.
Cultural understanding, emotional intelligence and empathy are fundamental parts of good leadership, and also a part of modern naval concepts like international partnerships. They come from experience. It is my great hope, however, that I will never have to experience all of the trials and challenges my fellow sailors face in life in order to help them. What a tragic life that could be. Instead, I’d rather read my share of Shakespeare, Hemingway, or O’Brian, which might help me learn a thing or two about emotion and about the way people face different challenges in their lives, even at sea. Reading the biographies of great leaders, the histories of battles both large and small, and the classics of strategy, helps me learn from the mistakes and successes of others rather than have to learn only from my own multitude of mistakes.
Many of you right now are thinking, sure but will it give me practical answers? No. Will it help me on my next tactics quiz or NATOPS closed book test? No. And that’s not the point. Empathy is not about perfect answers; it’s about finding a place to begin understanding each other and finding a way to connect. Without that connection, leadership is purely a matter of positional authority. Of course, only barking out orders is one of the worst ways to be a leader. The goal is leadership where, as one of Lord Admiral Nelson’s officers once said, “we all wish to do what he likes, without any kind of orders.” And if you remember that the enemy gets a vote, then the human mind will also play a role in how they formulate that decision.
Admiral Harvey was simply wrong when he told CDR Salamander and Eagle One on Midrats that “this is not a business for poets.” (Actually, his friend ADM James Stavridis, counters the idea directly since he studied English literature instead of engineering as a Midshipman.) It is true that we do need practical answers sometimes though. When running a nuclear plant, the Admiral is of course right that we need technical experts who can give the definite answer. But technical knowledge and execution are only a part of my job as an officer. (And, incidentally, something that Nuclear Power School has taught lots of historians and English majors.) If half of my job is working with other humans, why should I only study science and machines? Shouldn’t we have balanced officers, able to integrate the human and the technical? In order to have that, we must educate in a balanced way as well.
In the critical scene in Lord Jim, Joseph Conrad’s classic novel of the maritime world in the late 19th century, the Second Engineer of the tramp steamer Patna comes up to the bridge from below, long after dark as they head across the Gulf of Aden. The novel’s anti-hero Jim repeatedly checks the clock, as the final minutes of his bridge watch tick down (a moment we all know and identify with). The Engineer and the Captain, who had just come to the bridge in his pajamas, begin to argue about the role that Engineers should play at sea. Without them the ship wouldn’t even move, and they could pretty much take care of all the responsibilities aboard ship, exclaims the engineer. The Captain argues back about the importance of seamanship and command, both men likely having had a nip from the bottle. Jim, paying attention to the amusing give and take, feels the ship give a shudder. Patna struck something in the water. The officers, distracted by their argument and the sudden fear that Patna will sink, abandon ship.
I can’t help feel like the scene tells us something about the debate over officer education. We need both. We need engineers to provide technical expertise and their particular way of approaching problems and we also need a balance of line officers who have studied humans and human interaction, who have studied the humanities. We need diversity. But maybe most importantly, we need both of them to stop arguing with each other and stop maneuvering for position. Stop making official policies that benefit their tribe and take us further out of balance. Stop thinking that only they and their type is what our navy and our nation need.
It’s time to drive the ship. The issue is on the table, but instead of tribal preservation we must figure out how to bring balance back to the Navy, to educate officers and integrate the technical specialist’s skills with the strategic thinking and leadership lessons of the humanities and social sciences. Instead of piecemeal decisions and salami slicing policy, we need a holistic vision. It is time for an official and comprehensive look at the kind of naval officer we need in the 21st century, and how our system develops those officers. If we neglect our professional responsibilities the tragic victims may not be our service, but instead the passengers we abandon: the American people. It’s time to stop arguing at the back of the bridge and start looking outside. It’s time to focus on our profession. We’re headed toward a collision.
In the midst of political battles in Washington, D.C., dramatic cuts to military spending from the sequester and continuing resolutions, and the now infamous government shutdown of 2013, a group of military officers, enlisted, government civilians and men and women from industry gathered in Chicago last fall. The Defense Entrepreneurs Forum was held at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business to bring together innovators from the junior ranks of the military, senior officers with experience and advice, and experienced entrepreneurs who had come from the ranks to make a difference. Speakers ranged from Silicon Valley gurus, to military officers, and even one history geek. It was an inspiring event, and helped to stoke the embers of innovation that have been a central part of American military success time and again, through the ages.
This spring the opportunity is presenting itself again. This time, it’s closer to home for the decision makers in D.C. and the think tank crowd, as well as the U.S. Naval Institute. Not far from where the last Liberty Tree once stood, the gathering place for a previous generation of upstarts and thinkers, DEF[x] Annapolis will be held on 1 March, 2014 on the campus of St. John’s College. Bringing together the ideals of intellectual inquiry represented by St. John’s unique curriculum, the promise of military service from the U.S. Naval Academy, and a proximity to the movers and shakers in Washington, D.C., the speakers, breakouts, and social events show a lot of promise. Some of the events will be sponsored by organizations like Unleashed Technologies and USNI. The list of TED-style talks slated for this one day event are likely to be just as inspiring and informative as Chicago, including successful military innovators, operators, and again, at least one history geek.
If you’re looking to learn a little bit more about innovation in the U.S. military, about successful entrepreneurs, or about operators who have tried something new in the field, this will be the place to be on Saturday, 1 March. Even if you’re just looking for an excuse to escape the beltway and see historic Annapolis, it’s worth the short drive. Registration is limited and the seats are filling up quickly, so click through to sign up.
“Our objective must not be “safety first” in the sense of adherence to already tested practices and implements, but safety first in being the first to recognize, the first to experiment with, and the first to adopt improvements of distinct military value.” – Admiral William S. Sims, 1921.
In an era of defense draw down, technological acceleration, and globalized connections, doing the “same old, same old” is not an acceptable answer. Come join some folks who are interested in trying new things, and looking for creative solutions.
Mid 20th Century the “Happy Hour” was a common occurrence in the USN. It was an opportunity for sailors to blow off some steam, and maybe even get a little exercise. Also known as a “smoker,” in those days a “Happy Hour” was usually series of boxing or wrestling matches when the ships weren’t busy.
In our post-prohibition world it means something a bit different, but still gives us a chance to blow off some steam. On Thursday, 12 December, The Naval Institute will host a Happy Hour in Newport, Rhode Island for members, prospective members, or anyone who wants to show up to talk about daring “to read, think and write” about sea power and national security.
A member of our Editorial Board will be there to answer questions, and some writers and thinkers who have contributed to the Institute to share some of their experiences. While there will be no punches thrown, sparing over strategy and grappling with the naval issues of the day will be encouraged.
If you are in Newport, please join us to splice the main brace at the USNI Happy Hour/Social:
12 December 2013, 1700 until the tab runs out or the grog runs dry.
Over the Columbus Day weekend I had the great opportunity to participate in the first national Defense Entrepreneur’s Forum conference. The event was hosted at The Booth School of Business at the University of Chicago and a number of other organizations, like USNI, sponsored events from breakfasts to happy hours. At its heart, however, the conference was independently organized by a group of mid-grade and junior officers to explore the nexus of innovation and entrepreneurship with military affairs and defense industry.
Off the top, the very existence of the event was something to behold. Over a hundred men and women from the junior ranks of the military, civilians from the defense world both inside and outside government, and innovation/silicon valley folks, got together for three days to talk about how to make the military better in the 21st century. They paid their own way. The government is shutdown. Even if it wasn’t, sequestration meant there was no travel money. They filled out a leave chit and pulled out their personal credit cards. These individuals have such a belief in the idea that the military needs new ways of looking at things and doing things, and such an overwhelming desire to be part of that, that they all dropped hundreds of dollars and their long weekend to go to Chicago to meet with one another.
I do have a personal note about attendance that I think should be made: while many junior personnel had the guts to vote with their wallets and their time, only one General officer showed up, and a couple of Colonels. I’m not sure what any of that means, but it is worth noting because ALL ranks, rates, and grades were invited. In fact, there was some pretty significant outreach to the Flag and General Officer community by the organizers.
So, the Defense Entrepreneur’s Forum 2013 set out in part to inspire, in part to educate, and in part to execute. The events were livecast with the support of Google, and there is a DEF Youtube Channel. The Tweetwall went up and participants were encouraged to tweet as the event went on to highlight ideas and lessons. You can read back through the tweets from the weekend at #DEF2013 if you are interested.
Over the next week or two I’m hoping that there will be a number of blog posts across the web about what we all experienced at DEF. LT Hipple has already reported back at USNI Blog and there are a few others (here, here, here) to get us started.
I just wanted to share one observation that I took away from the weekend. On Sunday, Sean Maday, a former USAF Captain who now works at Google pointed out in his Keynote that a few short years ago, when he was wearing baby blue with railroad tracks on his collar, a three or four-star wouldn’t even acknowledge his existence, never mind listen to his ideas. Today, just because he put on a pair of jeans and a t-shirt instead of a uniform, they travel to Palo Alto to meet him, desperate to know what he thinks. This illustrates one of the great truths that was only hinted at in the excitement of DEF: Innovative junior officers don’t have the power to execute their ideas.
One of the mantras of the weekend was that we must have results. Ben Kohlmann quoted fellow board member Micha Murphy that “execution is the new innovation.” This is a valid observation, but only after the innovator is given the nod, a green deck if you will. Someone in a position of power and influence has to buy into the idea that a) there is a problem and b) this is a good solution. In the world of Silicon Valley they don’t have Flag and General Officers who are part of a massive, centuries old bureaucracy. However, they do have the venture capitalists and money men, and if you can’t get a money man to buy into your grand IT innovation or start-up it’s going to be pretty tough to get anywhere.
It may be that the best way to look at this is to think about military strategy, maybe think a little bit about Sun Tzu and stir in some Liddell Hart with a touch of John Boyd, and look for an indirect approach. In the closing hours of the conference Colonel Michael-Bob Starr (USAF, one of the few senior officers at DEF) tweeted:
Implementation is not the goal. Goal is to INFLUENCE the implementers. #DEF2013
— Michael Bob Starr (@mbobstarr) October 14, 2013
So how do you influence the decision makers? While it was not formally talked about, it did come up again and again with comments about communicating your idea. As Howard Lieberman said on Sunday in a breakout: “Publish your idea and get credit for it.”
So, here’s my lesson observed from DEF 2013: It isn’t good enough to have a great idea or to figure out how you would implement it. Neither of those things matter unless you figure out how to influence the influencer, how to get your idea in front of someone who can make a decision and get the green-light. We heard repeatedly this weekend that one of the best ways to get your idea in front of someone is to publish it. The hyperlink, the pdf, or the hard copy of the magazine are a lot more likely to find their way in front of the person with that power than you are just wandering aimlessly around your base with a great innovation in your head.
I think we’ve heard this before: Dare to read, think, write…publish.
As this week’s addition to the USNI Blog series in the run up to the release of LCDR BJ Armstrong’s book “21st Century Mahan: Sound Military Conclusions for the Modern Era” we are republishing his article from the May issue of Proceedings. The call for sailors and Marines to become active participants in the debates of the 21st century has long been a rallying cry here at USNI. From Senior Chief Murphy’s “A Pseudo-Intellectual Wanna-be” in the March issue to the 2008 article “Read, Think, Write, and Publish” by ADM Jim Stavridis. While critical for the future of the Sea Services, it also applies to our brothers and sisters in arms, as illustrated by Jason Fritz at FP’s Best Defense Blog.
When the latest issue of Proceedings arrived in June 1906, Naval Institute members and the American people heard from a renowned global expert, a retired naval officer whose pen had been quiet for some months. His name was Alfred Thayer Mahan. His article, “Reflections, Historic and Other, Suggested by the Battle of the Japan Sea,” derived from the recent Russo-Japanese naval war lessons for U.S. fleet design and battleship construction. Just a few years away from Great Britain’s launch of HMS Dreadnought , which would revolutionize ship design by bringing speed together with an all-big-gun main battery, Mahan advocated for smaller and more numerous ships with mixed batteries of different calibers. As the leading naval expert, Mahan’s articles were voraciously read worldwide, and his analysis matched well with the “Big Navy” party line.
The U.S. Naval Institute, then as today, was a members’ organization. It didn’t exist for the sake of itself, but to share ideas and debate the future of the Sea Services. A naval arms race was developing in Europe; after the U.S. victory in the Spanish-American War, the nation stepped onto the global stage as a naval power. A year away from the Great White Fleet sailing around the world, the USNI members understood that their ideas, innovations, and wisdom mattered. Even though many considered Mahan the greatest living navalist and a strategic genius, he was not impervious to challenges from Naval Institute members.
In the December issue of Proceedings, a member responded to Mahan’s assertions. The article didn’t come from a civilian contractor who was building the next set of battleships, or from an academic expert who made his living advising politicians. The response came from an upstart lieutenant commander on staff duty in Washington, D.C. Then-Commander Mahan had once written him up for being disorderly at the Naval Academy as a first-class midshipman. Lieutenant Commander William Sims’ article “The Inherent Tactical Qualities of All-Big-Gun, One Calibre Battleships” dissected and refuted Mahan’s arguments. He argued that “if we are to remain a world power,” the large, fast, heavily gunned battleship was the future of naval warfare.
President Theodore Roosevelt read with great interest the exchange between the renowned, retired officer and the active-duty staff officer. The articles were republished in public-affairs magazines and entered into the record during debate on the floor of the Senate. The names of two great officers and naval thinkers make the story interesting, but it was the mission and membership of the Naval Institute that made it possible. The exchange didn’t happen in the pages of The Atlantic or Harper’s. It happened in Proceedings. Both men were USNI members and understood that ensuring the future of their Navy required discussion, debate, and participation of the membership.
In the case of battleship design, the lieutenant commander won the debate. After studying the response and new information about the Pacific battles, Mahan admitted that his argument didn’t stand up. Nevertheless, his expertise and experience as a retired naval officer-turned-civilian expert was central to the development of the future Fleet, as was his willingness to debate an upstart like Sims. The Royal Navy launched HMS Dreadnought before the United States could put its first large, fast, heavily gunned battleship to sea. But we weren’t far behind, because the ideas had already been debated in Proceedings.
In the first decade of the 1900s, the United States was fighting a counterinsurgency war in the Philippines. An Asian power, the Empire of Japan, was rising to become a major economic and military force, rapidly building up its navy. USNI members faced shifting alliances and adversaries, new technologies, tactical innovation, and globalized economics. These challenges should sound familiar today. We need the expertise and experience of our senior members to keep us from repeating past mistakes. We also require the exciting and innovative ideas of new, younger members, junior officers and enlisted personnel, to propel the discussion and debate forward.
The pages of Proceedings (and USNI Blog!) need your well-developed research, thoughtful articles, and best ideas to ensure that we continue the vital debate in the 21st century. To provide an independent forum to advance the professional, literary, and scientific understanding of sea power and national defense, we must first have those who dare to read, think, speak, and write. The U.S. Naval Institute is a members’ organization—help us continue the debate!
As this week’s addition to the USNI Blog series in the run up to the release of LCDR BJ Armstrong’s book “21st Century Mahan: Sound Military Conclusions for the Modern Era” we are republishing this post from USNI NEWS. First published July 7th of last year, it remains a relevant discussion today. The potential for negative impacts from globalization was the subject of ADM James Stavridis’s oped “The Dark Side of Globalization” in the Washington Post on Sunday, and it reminds us of the dangers that Mahan saw in an interconnected world.
“It seems demonstrable, therefore, that as commerce is the engrossing and predominant interest of the world to day… The instrument for the maintenance of policy directed upon these objects is the Navy.”
— CAPT Alfred Thayer Mahan
Much of today’s discussion of international relations is based around the core idea that globalization has radically changed the political landscape of the world. Today’s thinkers, writers, and strategists tell us that because the world is flat, and we are closer to each other than ever before, we are in uncharted seas. In 2011 LCDR Matt Harper suggested in an award winning article in the pages of Proceedings that the economic ties between China and the United States, the “WALMART factor,” made military conflict almost impossible. Recently the discussion has once again been taken up in the pages of Proceedings. In the April issue LCDR Rachel Gosnell and 2LT Michael Orzetti wrote a piece suggesting that great power conflict was still something that should be planned for in the twenty-first century. LT Doug Robb responded in May with his Now Hear This…, “Why the Age of Great Power Conflict is Over.” He made a familiar case familiar to readers of the writing of Tom Friedman today or the idealism of Norman Angell, early in the last century.
Both articles suggest that this is a new question and the question is a new challenge to be tackled. The dawn of the twenty-first century, however, is not the first time that the world has dealt with globalization. Alfred Thayer Mahan wrote about it in a number of his essays at the turn of the last century. In 1905 he published “Considerations Governing the Dispositions of Navies,” which opened with what he called “an antecedent appreciation of the political, commercial, and military exigencies of the state.” He felt that before he discussed how and where naval forces should be deployed it was important to first talk about the condition and political state of the world because the use and deployment of a fleet in peacetime should be done in anticipation of the needs of war. ATM believed that any military policy had to be in tune with political and economic realities. This opening discussion centers around what readers in the twenty-first century recognize as globalization.
The adoption of steam power, transatlantic telegraph cables, and wireless telegraph technology had dramatically shortened the connections around the world. This created a global economic and political system that ATM called “an articulated whole.” He foresaw that as commerce and economic considerations increased in their power, there would be a desire to maintain the global status quo for reasons of economic power. The economic, political and military power of a nation, according to ATM, was all intertwined and he wrote, “This is the more necessary to observe, because, while commerce thus on the one hand deters from war, on the other hand it engenders conflict, fostering ambitions and strifes which tend towards armed conflict.”
In other writings ATM warned that “civilizations on different planes of material prosperity and progress, with different spiritual ideals, and with very different political capacities, are fast closing together.” He saw the rise of new powers in Asia as a source of future conflict. When the rising powers and the great powers come into commercial and economic competition ATM saw it as a recipe for the development of armed conflict. With economic conflict leading to potential political conflict, which would lead to military conflict, he believed that America required a solid strategy based in naval strength. Why? Because, “it seems demonstrable, therefore, that as commerce is the engrossing and predominant interest of the world today, so, in consequence of its acquired expansion, oversea commerce, oversea political acquisition, and maritime commercial routes are now the primary objects of external policy among nations. The instrument for the maintenance of policy directed upon these objects is the Navy.”
There is a common tendency for us to look at our challenges and strategic questions as new, with more complexity, or wickedness, or whatever other new adjective we can think of, than ever before. However, history and the strategic thinking of the past frequently helps us develop the right approaches to those questions, or can provide realistic starting points for debate and research. Reading and studying ATM, who addressed globalization in his thinking and writing, can help add to our modern discussion, debate, and strategy formulation.
The vast majority of naval theory and strategy has focused on fleet engagements during times of war, rather than the smaller engagements and expeditionary operations that, more often than not, occur in times of relative peace. Counter-piracy operations have long been one of the irregular missions conducted by naval forces that didn’t fit the traditional mold. The writing of Alfred Thayer Mahan is a common foundation for many naval thinkers, and they remember his strategic focus on blue water and fleet engagements. In his book Naval Strategy ATM lamented “police duties” and emphasized that these operations detract from the central principle of concentration of military power.
However, ATM’s dislike of anything that would distract from the concentration of effort for naval formations did not automatically mean that he disliked expeditionary operations or naval irregular warfare. He believed that counter-piracy missions, in particular, were a valid function of naval forces. In writing about Nelson’s operations in the Mediterranean in the early 19th century, ATM agreed in theory with the Admiral’s desire to attack the Corsairs of Algiers and end the Barbary menace. In Nelson’s own words, “My Blood boils that I can not chastise these pirates,” and Mahan identified with the sentiment. In practice, however, he supported Lord Nelson’s decision not to attack because it would split his force, and detract from his primary mission, which was the destruction of the French Fleet.
It wasn’t that attacking piracy was an invalid naval mission, as some who claim to be part of a Mahanian tradition maintain; it was that Nelson’s Fleet had a higher purpose that required concentration. Without that higher purpose, an attack on the Barbary Corsairs would have been an important and distinctly naval mission. In his biography of Admiral Pellew, ATM championed the 1816 attack on Algiers which did finally end the Barbary menace once and for all, an operation that would today be described as a multinational force conducting power projection against an asymmetric menace.
ATM also wrote about the American 1820’s counter-piracy campaign in the West Indies which was led by Commodore David Porter. In his brief discussion of the subject in his biography of Admiral Farragut, he approved of Porter’s decision to leave the heavy frigates and traditional naval warships behind in favor of Sloops-of-War, armed schooners, and gun barges. What he termed the Mosquito Squadron, fulfilled his thoughts on concentration, as the ships worked together to attack the pirates both offshore and in the shallows of Cuba. It also illustrated the point that he would made in his debates with William Sims over the need for a balanced fleet rather than a myopic focus on battleships.
In ATM’s eyes the effectiveness of the squadron fulfilled the important naval mission of providing for “the security of commerce.” Ultimately, because they could not take or occupy territory, ATM realized the influence that navies could exert on an enemy was based in the ability to impact economics. First and foremost the battlefleet had to be ready for fleet engagements to drive the enemy’s naval forces from the sea, to fight the decisive battle in blue water. However, naval forces also needed to be ready to conduct irregular missions, like counter-piracy, because ultimately Mahan believed that “Navies exist for the protection of commerce.”
This is the first post in a weekly series about the writing and thinking of Captain Alfred Thayer Mahan, leading up to the release of “21st Century Mahan: Sound Military Conclusions for the Modern Era” by The Naval Institute Press.
This week is Commissioning Week at The U.S. Naval Academy. It’s an exciting time of ceremonies, balls, parties, and obelisk climbing. At this year’s ceremony the new Ensigns and Second Lieutenants will hear advice from many, including the CNO, SECNAV, Governor of Maryland, and the Commander-in-Chief. Ultimately much of it comes down to the central question: What are the skills, the requirements, the qualifications, of a good naval officer? Or to put it another way: What does it take to earn that “Special Trust and Confidence” from the President of the United States?
It is well known that the passage memorized by Plebes at the Academy entitled “The Qualifications of a Naval Officer” never actually flowed from the pen of Captain John Paul Jones. The story is well documented in an article from Naval History, debunked by a writing team of a Midshipman and an Academy Professor. However, the ideals listed in the passage are worth considering as a benchmark and sometimes we still see them in official Navy documents.
- The Virtue of Being a Generalist, Part 3: Viper and the Pitfalls of ‘Good Enough’
- Midrats 21 Sept 14 – Episode 246: “When the short snappy war goes long, with Chris Dougherty”
- The Virtue of Being a Generalist, Part 2: Are All Nuggets Created Equal?
- Back to Basics: Restoring the United States Merchant Marine
- On Midrats 14 Sep 14: Episode 245: “The Carrier as Capital Ship” with RADM Thomas Moore, USN, PEO CVN