In recent speeches to the Atlantic Council, the United States Coast Guard Academy, and the AFCEA and USNI WEST Conference, both the Chairman and Vice-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff have emphasized a new paradigm to determine how best to employ Department of Defense resources. It relies heavily on assessing risks to vital national security interests, and then applying adequate resources to protect them. Those interests (derived from the National Security Strategy) are: the survival of the nation; the security of the global economic system; prevention of catastrophic attacks on our nation; secure, confident, and reliable allies and partners; protection of American citizens abroad; and protection and, where possible extension of universal values. When considering this new paradigm in the light of the current budget uncertainties, it is helpful to remember that even before the United States was a nation, the Navy proved its worth to such a degree that it was consistently spared the proverbial budget axe: “If congressmen needed a better argument, they only had to look to the prosperous Mediterranean trade made possible by the U.S. Navy…” noted Jefferson’s War author Joseph Wheelan. Thus, I would like to quickly outline what the modern United States Navy does every day – what it is capable of doing every day – to defend these vital national security interests.
No non-state actors currently possess the capability to threaten the survival of our Nation, and it seems that the nations that do possess the capability have today neither the desire nor incentive to do so. Nevertheless, the Navy provides a ready force, both forward stationed and rotationally deployed, to promote stability, prevent crises, and combat terrorism. As Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert has made abundantly clear, we must be where it matters and ready when it matters.
On any given day, our aircraft carrier strike groups stand ready to answer the Nation’s call, our submarine force provides intelligence to alert national security decision makers to impending strikes, and ballistic missile submarines remain globally stationed to provide strategic deterrence and immediate strikes should the need arise. Finally, surface forces such as Aegis class cruisers and destroyers are also strategically positioned around the globe to rapidly defend the nation and our allies from ballistic missile strikes. Absent these Navy assets, our Nation and its allies would be left unprepared to respond to the security challenges of the 21st century.
The global economic system relies heavily on open sea lanes and the unimpeded flow of commerce across the world’s oceans, evinced by the fact that 90% of global trade in goods is transported by sea. The United States necessarily has an interest in the free and open movement of this commerce, and therefore it is clearly in our best interest to ensure the maintenance of a secure maritime environment. Your Navy consistently provides this service by conducting the full range of operations to guarantee security such as: unilateral assistance at sea, maritime interception operations, multi-national counter-piracy operations, and freedom of navigation operations in places such as the South China Sea and Black Sea. It helps willing allies and partners to develop their own capacity to do this as well.
The same Navy assets that defend against a threat to the survival of the nation also contribute heavily to the prevention of catastrophic attack from non-state and rogue actors. In addition to defending against ballistic missile threats, Navy surface vessels launch unmanned intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance drones that can monitor terrorist activity, provide early warning of impending attack, and provide precise targeting information to offensive platforms. The Navy monitors sea-borne activity on the global commons, and in conjunction with its maritime partners, conducts interdiction and boarding operations to prevent rogue actors from entering the nation by sea to inflict catastrophic damage, such as the attacks on 9/11.
The Navy also consistently partners with nations around the world to conduct joint operations and exercises to build partner capacity. This includes everything from an international task force defending against piracy near the Horn of Africa, to frequent exercises with allied nations (such as the recent joint US – South Korean naval exercises in the East Sea last month), to large-scale multi-national exercises such as the Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercise that includes 20+ nations. Consistent Theater Security Cooperation (TSC) efforts such as African and Pacific Partnership build a rapport with partner nations, and help ensure their growth in naval expertise and professionalism, while simultaneously providing aid to those who need it most. All of these efforts provide friendly partner and allied governments with a domestic capacity to defend their own trade and security interests, the confidence to do so, and a relationship based on mutual trust with the United States.
The world is subject not only to man-made disasters, but natural disasters also occur frequently. When they do, America’s Navy is able to answer the call. Because its forces are forward positioned and not reliant upon airfields or port facilities, when a tsunami occurs (such as the one which devastated southeast Asia in 2004), the Navy can employ its organic medical forces, strategic and tactical lift, logistics support, and robust communication tools to save lives during the critical period after the disaster. Further, American citizens living and working abroad can rely on Navy carrier strike groups and Amphibious Ready Groups to be prepared and available throughout problematic regions for protection or evacuation. Additionally, the Afloat Forward Staging Base concept provides the capacity for staging special operations teams prepared to support hostage rescue operations or counterterrorism missions. Because of its full-time forward posture, Navy forces can respond rapidly to defend American citizens, property, and interests abroad.
Whether providing offensive strike capability and electronic attack as occurred recently in support of the Arab Spring in Libya, the recent rescuing of distressed mariners in the Persian Gulf by the John C. Stennis Carrier Strike Group, or providing lift and medical support to earthquake and tsunami victims; the Navy is uniquely posed to preserve and extend universal values and serve as an example of those values to the international community. The Navy’s globally deployed forces defend other vital national interests while simultaneously possessing the capacity to execute humanitarian assistance and disaster response missions when required. In fact, the sea space in which we operate is growing as we observe a shrinking polar ice cap and longer seasonal transit times through the Northwest Passage and the Arctic Ocean. This presents a whole new series of challenges to our Navy and our Allies. Without preserving the Navy’s capacity and forward deployed posture, the nation loses the ability to defend these interests with any credibility.
In times of fiscal austerity, we are called to review our vital national security interests to determine the most efficient and effective method to advance them while minimizing risk. The Navy’s role in defending national interests and the capacity of the nation to employ those capabilities is as old as the nation itself. President John Adams said, “A naval power…is the natural defense of the United States”. Today, the Navy’s mix of large deck carriers, surface combatants, submarine forces, amphibious ships, special operations forces, and the logistics network that supports them provide unique and essential capabilities to effectively defend our vital national security interests. We must provide those capabilities efficiently; however, (without reconsidering what remains a vital national security interest and what does not) the Navy’s structure, forward operating stance and overcoming the challenges to quickly reconstitute them after neglect remain critical to the defense of those interests.