The United States Naval Institute rarely has contentious ballots.
We, the USNI Editorial Board, the USNI membership, and others, have now experienced one of those rare instances.
It is rare, because of the uncharacteristic lack of open debate concerning the historic motion to propose a change in the USNI mission statement. This motion has the potential to change the character of the institution: its exceptional standing among naval strategists throughout the world, its financial future, and the inevitable second and third order consequences unforeseen at the beginning of such a strategic change in direction. Freedom of thought and expression has been a central tenet of the Naval Institute itself and why, in part, we are witnessing the current passionate and vocal opposition to changing USNI’s mission statement. We welcome this discussion.
As the Editorial Board of the U.S. Naval Institute, we have a responsibility in as objective a manner as possible to review submissions for articles and provide advice to the Institute editors. We recognize that every submission is important and try to provide guidance on those articles that meet the standards of Proceedings, regardless of how controversial they may be, since it is that quality that most often stirs debate, gives pause to readers to think and, we hope, to respond in future issues. We also strive to promote the Institute’s role to provide an independent defense forum with articles representing all sides of the issues. Proceedings provides a vital and, we believe, a unique opportunity for well-articulated dialogue and encourage experienced writers to share their knowledge and newer writers to enter the arena of debate and share their own unique vision for the future of our sea services and, more broadly, our national security.
Therefore, we, the USNI Editorial Board, are submitting this letter to express our desire that the United States Naval Institute remain an independent forum – as it has since 1873. We strongly recommend that the reasons behind the mission statement change be provided to the membership through any USNI forum whether that is through Proceedings, the USNI blog, the USNI website and/or directly to the members via an email. As important as topic this is, an open, respectful debate regarding the benefits and challenges of such a change would help all members make an informed decision whether they vote “yea” or “nay.”
We understand that there are compelling reasons both for and against changing the mission statement.
What we do not understand is why the membership has not been able to hear, debate, and decide collectively what the outcome should be for such a historic determination.
As the noted author Norman Polmar wrote in a recent letter, one of his objections to the change was that the phrase “an independent forum advocating” is self-contradictory. We agree. Individuals may advocate certain points in their articles, but the independence of the Naval Institute allows for those views to be heard.
The opposition to the mission statement change has been argued by such noted individuals as former U.S. Naval Institute Chief Executive Officer Rear Admiral Tom Marfiak, USN (Ret), USNI award-winning author CAPT Victor Addison USN (Ret), Member of the U.S. Naval Institute Board of Directors Dr. Jack London, and Vice Admiral Bob Dunn, USN (Ret).
The independence of the Institute is paramount; without that openness, the Institute risks simply becoming an organ of whatever entity, whatever program, is deemed permissible by only a few, whomever those may be. It would be difficult to find a member or an author who is not a proponent of U.S. sea power, but we must remain open to those who define it differently or who might disagree with it. If we do not, then we remain stagnant in our thoughts, and in the 21st century with all its traditional, non-traditional and unforeseen challenges, that is a concept we can ill afford.
We wish to state for the record that we, the Editorial Board, vote “no” to the proposed mission statement change.