The following article was published in Proceedings in December, 2010, and seems prescient given recent comments about the Alliance by President Trump. We are highlighting it today both to stir debate on the topic and to draw attention to a commentary coming in the February issue called “NATO No More” by Michael Kambrod.
As the first American Commander-in-Chief famously admonished, no alliance should be permanent; is it time to bid farewell to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization?
When it comes to NATO, Americans might ask themselves, “WWGD?” (“What would George do?”) In his 1796 farewell address, President Washington advised his nation to “steer clear of permanent alliances.” His words have been dusted off and revisited throughout U.S. history; their relevance seems to be resonating again.DATELINE: OTTAWA, CANADA, 17 DECEMBER 2019—In a move that many international observers long anticipated, Canada officially withdrew from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) today, severing the last transatlantic link of the alliance and effectively ending the organization in all but name. Coming some ten months after Canada’s neighbor to the south pulled out of NATO, the announcement today met muted responses from the 26 remaining European members of NATO. Canadian Prime Minister Mike Meyers explained his government’s decision largely as a necessary cost-saving move, noting that since the American withdrawal from the organization, Canada no longer had ready access to the strategic movement and global logistics resources that the United States had previously provided to other NATO member states. . . .”
This “news” story is, of course, completely hypothetical—but it does represent one potential scenario for an end to NATO. The story only mentions the very end of the alliance, the moment when Canada pulls out as a byproduct of an earlier political decision on the part of the United States. But as the story alludes, the dissolution of NATO would not be a rapid event. Rather, it will be the result of a long series of smaller events, a gradual melting rather than a catastrophic collapse.1 But what might that series of events and shifts look like en route to the end? What might be the motivations that could drive the American political leadership of 2019 to pull support from a treaty organization it had so much of a role in creating? And is this at all plausible? Europeans, after all, have foreseen the death of NATO over and over again, with each shift of American politics. So much so, over the past 20 years, that to their eyes it appears that this is a story very much like that of the boy who cried wolf.
Such an event not only could occur, but it appears that it is increasingly likely to occur. Not soon, and not precipitously, but it is sadly an apparently probable eventuality if conditions within NATO do not change. Due to a fundamental misreading of the state and nature of the domestic American political scene by the political elites of the European NATO members, the alliance already may be well down the trail for this potential outcome. The forecast presented here is one in which the United States maintains friendly diplomatic relations with the individual nations of Europe, and interacts both on the nation-to-nation level and with the supra-national structure of the European Union. The relationship with the United Kingdom, our deepest tie, is certainly secure, as are the linkages with France and Germany and some other major contributing nations. But in the wake of the end of conflict in Iraq, and Afghanistan, it is quite possible that politics may drive the United States in a direction toward which it is historically inclined.
This is a future in which the United States no longer considers itself responsible for the collective defense of Europe. In this evolution, it becomes clear that when former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld made his openly dismissive comments about “New Europe” and “Old Europe,” he was not speaking in isolation, as many Europeans appear to believe was the case. Rather, he was tapping into a raw nerve within American public opinion. Indeed, by 2004 a full 80 percent of the American public believed that the United States was contributing too much to the security of other nations by acting as a “global policeman.”2 In the American context, this includes membership in NATO and the de facto subsidizing of European security by American taxpayers and military members.
In this vision of the future, American relations may be bilateral, trilateral, or involve short-term episodic coalitions created and shaped through situation-unique diplomacy to deal with a specific event. Indeed, over the past 18 years these have increasingly become the main American method for waging war. Such a future is particularly plausible if one understands the forces that today buffet American political leaders. To understand this point, however, one needs to grasp the foundation of those political winds swirling within the United States. And to do that it is necessary to go back almost 20 years, to the momentous period of 1990-1991.
Dust-Up Over Desert Storm
That time period witnessed two momentous events with regard to NATO and popular opinion in the United States of its transatlantic allies. First and most obvious, there was the collapse of the Soviet Union. We need not recount that history here; it is sufficient to note that between January and August of 1990 a series of internal crises ultimately ended in a failed coup and the effective end of the U.S.S.R.3 These events, of course, followed on the heels of German reunification and the de facto collapse of the Warsaw Pact as a viable military threat—the combination of which effectively ended the original raison d’etre of NATO.
But soon after the final act of that collapse came Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait and the U.S.-led responses, first the defensive operation known as “Desert Shield,” beginning in mid-August 1990, and then the subsequent combat operations known as “Desert Storm,” which began in early 1991. Both involved ad hoc coalitions of nations orchestrated by the United States, and neither involved NATO—despite the fact that the nations of Western Europe were the most direct second-order beneficiaries on the basis of their vulnerability to Middle Eastern oil-driven prices.
But the larger part of the rift, as it relates to U.S.-NATO relations, really centered around American domestic political perceptions about the actions of its NATO ally, Germany. Although little remembered now outside of the United States, throughout the period of German reunification problems had surfaced in U.S.-German relations, not the least of which was an attitude of paternalism on the part of the American political elite.4
As early as the second week of September 1990 it was widely reported in the United States that Germany, a nation to which the United States had committed massive resources for more than 40 years, had at that point contributed less to the defensive coalition of Desert Shield than had its much smaller NATO peer (and fellow NATO ally to the United States) Portugal.5 American public opinion started turning against Germany, and was only partially mitigated with regard to NATO by the fact that other NATO allies, most notably England, but also France, were stepping up and committing not only money, but their own soldiers and airmen to the effort.
By the end of the year, and with a U.N. resolution and mandate pending, temperatures in the United States toward its German NATO ally rose to something of a fever pitch of outrage. Significantly, in light of later political developments in the United States, this anger and disdain for Germany came not from the political right, but from the political left. Moreover, it came from some of the people who are right now, in 2010, at the very pinnacle of U.S. political power.
In late December 1990, Representative David Obey (D-WI)—the man who in 2010 is the Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee and therefore by some political estimates one of the five most powerful politicians in the entire U.S. government—said the following:
Germany is absolutely outrageous. They are the worst because they have been the principal lecturers about the behaviors of others, and the principal beneficiaries of the collapse of the Soviet Union . . . . For ten years they have lectured us about the international need of American fiscal responsibility, getting our deficits down, until we nearly gagged . . . . But here they are, looking after their own interests (financing the merger with East Germany, sending aid to the former Soviet Union, and underwriting the cost of Soviet forces still in Germany) but nickel-nursing when it comes to world interests.6
The message to the American public was clear, as stated by one of the highest-placed American elected officials: America could not count on cooperation in military affairs even from the nation that most directly benefited from the contribution of trillions of dollars and more than eight million man-years of American labor in that nation’s defense over the course of four decades. It was a narrative that bit hard into the American public’s political perception of Germany, and to a lesser degree, the rest of Europe and NATO.
‘An A Team and a B Team’
Beginning just two years later, the United States and most of Europe entered into one of the most prosperous periods of the post–World War II era. Not long after this sustained economic boom began, two other trends also made themselves apparent: The European members of NATO commenced, almost across the board, to reduce their defense budgets and defy NATO budget targets of 2 percent of GDP, even as NATO began to advocate the expansion of its defense umbrella to more countries.7 The combination of these factors meant that as every year passed, U.S. taxpayers and troops carried a proportionately higher percentage of the collective defense load for the benefit of European nations, even as European technological prowess and manpower declined, creating an ever-widening capabilities gap. This alone, however, was not considered significant until the first time NATO went on the offensive.
In 1999 NATO collectively decided to initiate combat against the Serbian Republic to end the events taking place in the Serbian province of Kosovo. During and immediately after that conflict, two other realities became apparent to the American voting public that adversely affected U.S. public opinion about Europe and NATO. The first was that because of the reduced European military budgets of the previous decade, almost none of the European NATO allies was capable of conducting combat operations alongside the United States, and this forced the United States to carry the majority of the risk and combat load. American aircraft accounted for 768 of a total of just over 1,000 NATO aircraft.8 The U.S. Air Force commander in charge of the air campaign, Lieutenant General Michael Short, was even publicly quoted as saying, “I don’t think there’s any question that we’ve got an A team and a B team now.” Those nations that failed to invest in precision guidance or night capabilities or beyond-visual-range systems were “relegated to doing nothing but flying combat air patrol in the daytime; that’s all they were capable of doing.”9
Many Americans resented all this and considered it as something of a betrayal, particularly since Kosovo was seen as a European issue, not nearly as much an American one.10 The second factor that incensed U.S. public opinion against NATO was the concept of “consensus” being used by European NATO nations, particularly by those who were making little or no contribution to the actual combat efforts, to control American actions through veto in the tactical targeting process.11
When Popular Opinion Sours
Europe does not seem to acknowledge certain realities about the domestic American political scene or the forces currently in play in the United States. In particular, there seems to be a lack of understanding of how directly the U.S. government reacts to popular opinion, and an apparent inability to recognize what that opinion actually is with regard to Europe and NATO.
It appears to surprise Europeans to discover that during the 1990–2007 period, the general population of the United States developed a more negative attitude toward Europe and NATO. Those American attitudes, moreover, were exacerbated during the 2003–2006 period, when even left-wing American comedians took to mocking European leaders (and by extension, America’s NATO allies). Among the general population, negative attitudes toward Europe accelerated. Positive attitudes toward France, for example, went from 56 percent in 1984 to 45 percent in 1990, then to 39 percent in 1994. U.S. opinion about Germany went from a 76 percent rating of those who believed that relations with Germany were important in 1984 to 73 percent in 1990 and 66 percent in 2004. More recent surveys place the opinion of both of these major NATO members another ten percentage points lower, in large part in reaction to the anti-Americanism that was so evident in Western Europe from 2003 to 2007.12 And this opinion is not limited to the general public but is reflected upward, through American political leaders of both major parties as well.
In 2007, newly appointed U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates issued the first of what has become an annual scathing assessment of NATO and its contributions in Afghanistan. In it, he said, “I am not satisfied that an alliance, whose members have over 2 million soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines, cannot find the modest additional resources that have been committed to Afghanistan.”13 These were harsh words from a man known for maintaining a civil and even diplomatic tone in most of his dealings.
Indeed, American public opinion toward Europe had sunk so low by 2008 that even as Europeans lauded then-candidate Barack Obama following his stirring speech in the Tiergarten in downtown Berlin in July 2008, Obama’s political opponents were actually able to use the very fact that he was popular among Europeans as a political weapon against him.14 And more directly related to NATO, in 1998, a year before Kosovo, when Americans were asked, “Should we increase our commitment to NATO, keep it the same, decrease it or withdraw entirely?” (with “keep it the same” being considered a neutral rating of 0 percent) the response from American political leaders was an astonishing -21 percent.15 The numbers only get worse from there. Yet those deep and building sentiments of a preference for isolationism, a decrease in affection for some of the leading nations of Europe, and a clear desire for withdrawal from international military-aid efforts, do not seem to be known or understood by leaders in Western Europe. Indeed, it seems they are blind to American political history and political forces over time—an irony for a continent which continually reminds us how little history we have.
‘Essentially Foreign to Our Concerns’
In his farewell address to the people of the United States, President George Washington enjoined his nation to “steer clear of permanent alliances.” But he was even more explicit in exactly what he meant when he wrote this often-quoted statement:
So far as we have already formed engagements, let them be fulfilled with perfect good faith. Here let us stop. Europe has a set of primary interests which to us have none; or a very remote relation. Hence she must be engaged in frequent controversies, the causes of which are essentially foreign to our concerns. Hence, therefore, it must be unwise in us to implicate ourselves by artificial ties in the ordinary vicissitudes of her politics, or the ordinary combinations and collisions of her friendships or enmities.16
This is an American political document that has been repeatedly cited and used for more than 200 years. Even today one finds it used regularly by both political parties, regularly, as a foundation for political speeches in major campaigns. And both Democrats and Republicans, for different reasons, may be on track to once again use this document and the underpinning ideas therein not only to drive reductions in the size of the U.S. military, but also to use them as a justification for adhering to Washington’s plea about permanent alliances—and pull out of NATO.
On the left end of the political landscape, the Democratic Party has a tradition of opposing large standing military forces dating back to President Thomas Jefferson.17 The opposition is based on a traditional liberal interpretation of the dangers to liberty that such a force represents.
But there is a similar tradition of opposition to large military forces (and foreign “entanglements”) on the political right, as represented by the Republican Party in the United States. In that case it ties in closely with the thesis of noted military sociologist Samuel Huntington, who noted that true “conservatives” are traditionally opposed to large military forces because the support thereof requires more government, more taxes, and therefore more intrusion into the lives and business efforts of the citizenry.
Both political parties shelved their traditional positions after 1945, as the obvious threat of the Soviet Union and communism trumped the historical American inclination toward isolationism and small military forces. But it is not beyond the pale to speculate that once U.S. forces exit Iraq, and the mission in Afghanistan is either reduced or eliminated, these central elements of American political life may well come to the fore again.
Auf Wiedersehn, Adieu
American public opinion toward Europe has been slowly but steadily dropping over the past 20-plus years. Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee Obey, the man who effectively controls half of the entire U.S. budget, once referred to Germany as “outrageous” for its failure to commit to Desert Shield/Desert Storm, after so many years of Germany telling the United States what it must do. Public opinion polls in the United States have subsequently found that 80 percent of Americans think that the United States spends too much on the security of other countries. This sentiment has leaked over to American political elites who have returned a -21 percent vote of no confidence toward NATO—and that was before the American reaction to NATO operations in Kosovo, let alone the perceived tepid response of NATO to the American call for a “surge” in Afghanistan in 2010. (France, as it reintegrates, is sending more than 1,000 men to NATO headquarters in Belgium, but only agreed to send an additional 80 men to Afghanistan to actually fight as part of NATO there.)
All of these downward factors, combined with traditional American inclinations toward isolationism, a building resentment among everyday Americans regarding European defense budgets and capabilities, and a now nearly 30-year tradition of the United States being forced to create de facto “coalitions of the willing” either alone or under U.N. auspices, are building political pressures on U.S. leaders—pressures that may well see the United States pulling out of the alliance. This seismic shift appears to be occurring without acknowledgment of these pressures by the European members of NATO.
Without the United States, it is not likely that the military aspect of the transatlantic alliance would last much longer. Canada, not out of sympathy but out of a simple lack of resources, would probably follow the United States out of NATO and perhaps into something more akin to a Commonwealth Alliance. The United States, for its part, may well participate in some sort of informal agreements, perhaps an expansion of the much-cited “Special Relationship” that it maintains with the United Kingdom. In any event, the result would be the same: the death of NATO.
1. Personal conversation, Dr. Stanley Sloan, Rome, Italy, 5 April 2010.
2. Chicago Council on Foreign Affairs Survey, “Global Views 2004,” http://www.thechicagocouncil.org/UserFiles/File/POS_Topline%20Reports/POS%202004/US%20Public%20Opinion%20Global_Views_2004_US.pdf.
3. Professor Archie Brown, “Reform, Coup and Collapse: The End of the Soviet State”, BBC History, http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/worldwars/coldwar/soviet_end_01.shtml.
4. Frank Costigliola, “An ‘Arm around the Shoulder’: The United States, NATO and German Reunification, 1989–90,” Contemporary European History, Vol. 3, No. 1 (March 1994), pp. 87–110.
5. Carol J. Williams, “Desert Shield Gets Low Priority in Bonn,” Los Angeles Times, 11 September 1990.
6. Marianne Means, “Our Deadbeat Allies, Germany Worst Deserter of Desert Shield,” Reading Observer, 31 December 1990.
7. Linda Bentley and Robert Leavitt, “The NATO Expansion Debate: Reviewing the Arguments,” Global Beat Issue Brief No. 25 (2 February 2 1998), http://www.bu.edu/globalbeat/pubs/ib25.html.
8. “Clinton increases U.S. troops for Kosovo force,” CNN.com, 2 June 1999, http://edition.cnn.com/ALLPOLITICS/stories/1999/06/02/clinton.graduation/index.html.
9. John A. Tirpak , “Washington Watch: Short’s View of the Air Campaign,” Air Force Magazine, Vol. 82, No. 9 (September 1999), http://www.airforce-magazine.com/MagazineArchive/Pages/1999/September%201999/0999watch.aspx.
10. “North Atlantic Treaty Organization: NATO and the post–Cold War world,” http://www.americanforeignrelations.com/E-N/North-Atlantic-Treaty-Organization-Nato-and-the-post-cold-war-world.html#ixzz0oLY3ER7W.
11. See Wesley Clark, Waging Modern War, for his descriptions of NATO vetoes over targeting.
12. Chicago Council on Foreign Affairs Surveys, 1984, 1990, 1994, 2000, and 2004, http://www.thechicagocouncil.org/past_pos.php.
13. Robert M. Gates as quoted in Ahto Lobjakas, “Afghanistan: US Unhappy with NATO Allies’ Troop Contributions,” Radio Free Europe, 24 October 2007, http://www.frerl.org/content/article/1079011.html.
14. The examples are legion, but this essay at the influential conservative Web site “American Thinker” is typical: http://www.americanthinker.com/2008/07/obamas_berlin_transfiguration.html.
15. Chicago Council on Foreign Affairs Survey, “Global Views 2004.”
16. George Washington, “Farewell Address,” 19 September 1796, full text available at http://avalon.law.yale.edu/18th_century/washing.asp.
17. Allan R. Millett and Peter Maslowski, For The Common Defense (New York: Free Press, 1984), p. 105.
Recently, we asked Dr. John Ballard, Dean of the National Defense College in the United Arab Emirates, to host a Q&A with Ambassador Jonathan Addleton, author of The Dust of Kandahar: A Diplomat Among Warriors in Afghanistan. Their exchange follows.
Professor Ballard: Ambassador, your book really helps readers understand the Afghan conflict from the perspective of a diplomat and development expert. How did you view your mission or main objective(s) when you arrived in Afghanistan in 2008?
Ambassador Addleton: I expected to engage in three very different worlds, one involving responsibility for 140 Embassy officers assigned to fourteen locations across southern Afghanistan; a second related to the ISAF military presence in Kandahar and beyond; and a third focused on Afghans from various walks of life including government official, tribal leaders and religious figures. At some level I wanted to connect to all three worlds, where possible attempting to explain them to each other. From the beginning, I consciously worked to “humanize” each encounter, looking beyond our mutual stereotypes while also trying to help move Afghanistan toward a better and less violent place.
Professor Ballard: Thank you. That is very interesting. What kind of preparation did you receive before arriving in Afghanistan Ambassador?
Ambassador Addleton: I enrolled in a couple of required short courses on Afghanistan offered by the Foreign Service Institute (FSI) in Washington, D.C. I attended the “crash and bang” course in West Virginia, learning how to drive a Humvee, break a road block and tie a tourniquet. And I participated in the pre-deployment Third Infantry Division planning exercise at Fort Stewart, GA. I was already familiar with some aspects of Afghanistan, having visited the country several times over the years and served in neighboring Pakistan as well as in Central Asia. I also read and talked to people who had served in Afghanistan beforehand.
Professor Ballard: Still, for someone going to war for the first time at age 55, what you saw in and around Kandahar must have been shocking. Ambassador, in your book you seem to be quite impressed with some of the aspects of military customs and culture that you saw, as “a diplomat among warriors” what impressed you most about the young men and women of today’s military?
Ambassador Addleton: My oldest son was serving in the U.S. Air Force during my time in Kandahar and my second son plans to enlist during the coming months. However, the military culture and traditions that I witnessed in Afghanistan were indeed entirely new to me. More than anything, I was struck by the sacrifice as well as the cost of war, having attended dozens of Purple Heart pinnings, ramp ceremonies and memorial services across southern Afghan during my deployment there. I was impressed with the efforts made to honor that sacrifice, despite the ambiguous nature of the war in Afghanistan. And I was struck by the youth of many of those around me.
Professor Ballard: Ambassador, you write quite movingly about the service and supreme sacrifice paid by the five colleagues who walked with you outside the Zabul PRT on 6 April 2013, how did their loss affect your approach to your work?
Ambassador Addleton: The attack in Zabul occurred eight months into my twelve-month assignment in southern Afghanistan. I accompanied the remains of my colleagues on the long flight to Dover and then returned to Kandahar Air Field two days later to complete the remaining twenty weeks of my allotted time. I continued to engage in outreach and meet Afghans. But the drawdown in civilians serving in southern Afghanistan gathered pace and my own movements were in some instances further restricted. My biggest concern during those remaining months was the safety of my colleagues – I lived in dread that something might happen to one of them.
Professor Ballard: That is absolutely understandable, many of us underwent changed attitudes when we experienced the loss of those working closely with us in war. You noted at one point that the battleplans you saw developed seemed impressive, but that notable portions of Afghan reality were missing. How could we have improved our civ-mil coordination in Afghanistan?
Ambassador Addleton: ISAF was the dominant foreign presence during the year that I spent in southern Afghanistan. The number of civilians was miniscule by comparison. Yet they did play an important role in engaging with Afghans, both politically and with respect to development. At Kandahar Air Field, Embassy staff were closely integrated with the military’s civil affairs structure; they were similarly integrated with military counterparts at the provincial and district level, even as the number of locations where expatriate civilians deployed outside of Kandahar went into steep decline. Having traveled in Afghanistan during the 1970s as a teenager, I was astonished at the remoteness of some of the places where we had attempted to establish a military as well as a civilian presence. It seemed incredibly ambitious and even audacious to me. But increasingly (and appropriately) it was the Afghans that were taking the lead – guided to some extent and in mostly positive ways by the example set by the ISAF forces that preceded them.
Professor Ballard: Your view that the approach was extremely ambitious is a very insightful perspective. You address issues of poor governance frequently in your book, but also of meeting several capable Afghan leaders, do you think Afghanistan can develop leaders who will confront the corruption that you encountered so frequently?
Ambassador Addleton: I tried to place myself into the shoes of those Afghans with whom I interacted – what was their personal history, what was their life experience, what motivated them, what were their hopes and fears about the future? At times, I thought of ISAF as yet another tribe, imposing themselves on the political, economic and social landscape of Afghanistan even while having to adapt and change because of it. Competition is a reality among male Afghans, worked out first within the family and then at the level of clan, tribe and country. Leaders inevitably emerge within that context, based on long-held precepts of courage, honor and respect that would be regarded as hallmarks of effective leadership anywhere, not just in Afghanistan. At the same time, there is a fierce and never-ending competition for scarce resources that undoubtedly drives corruption in Afghanistan. The magnitude of resources deployed by ISAF as well as the perception that its presence would be fleeting drove many Afghans to look for ways to benefit from it before it became too late.
Professor Ballard: That is certainly understandable; as you know the issue of stating an end date was very controversial. In 2013, you agreed that the number of ISAF soldiers should be greatly reduced, but felt the slope for our departure was too steep—becoming an unseemly “rush for the exit.” How might we have gotten it right?
Ambassador Addleton: By 2013 the Afghan military was already increasingly in the lead and accounted for at least 80 percent of the casualty figures from southern Afghanistan. At the same time, a continued ISAF presence provided training to Afghan security forces while sending a message to the Taliban and others that Afghanistan was not on the verge of being “abandoned.” My focus was more on the American civilian presence which, while already small, was being drawn down at a much faster pace than our own military. The issue of the appropriate “balance” between “planning” and “implementation” is a permanent fixture in any bureaucracy. However, at times it seemed that the parameters within which we were asked to operate were always subject to change – to such an extent that our latest “plan” was already obsolete, even before it reached Kabul for further review. My concern was that the combination of uncertainty and constantly shifting timelines would damage our credibility, strengthening the hand of those Taliban seeking total victory.
Professor Ballard: You wrote that “even now you cannot leave Afghanistan behind,” what do you see in the future for Afghanistan? You write of tactical successes but a murky strategic future, do you think America’s efforts have helped it?
Ambassador Addleton: During my last months in Afghanistan I often told local counterparts that the ISAF chapter of their history was coming to a close and it would now be up to them to write the next one. Some embraced this idea while others were skeptical about it, asserting that “it is our neighbors who will write the next chapter for us”. Now a new chapter is indeed being written, albeit with a continued though modest ISAF presence in several parts of the country outside of Kabul including Kandahar. Whatever else might be said, Afghanistan has changed dramatically and irrevocably over the last fifteen years, not only in Kabul but also elsewhere. The most obvious signs include the cell phone revolution and unheralded yet significant improvements in health and education. Although the security that Afghans long for has yet to be established, the Afghan military appears to be more resilient than perhaps some expected. Afghanistan’s narrative is still being written. But, at the very least, efforts by the United States and its allies have given Afghans a chance for a different kind future, one not dominated entirely by the Taliban.
Professor Ballard: Thank you for your book and for sharing more of your insights in this discussion Ambassador. For my part, those of us who served in Iraq and Afghanistan will always be thankful for the committed service of men and women such as yourself from other departments of the U.S. government. If nothing else these conflicts have taught us that modern war has to be a whole-of-government endeavor engaging the minds of professionals from a variety of perspectives. The Dust of Kandahar is an important contribution to our understanding of this least-well-understood of our recent conflicts.
Those who follow naval history will note the recently marked 100th anniversary of the Battle of Jutland—a story masterfully told by Dr. Andrew Gordon in his book, Rules of the Game. Great Britain’s naval mastery was perceived as a birthright, but after what Gordon termed “the long, calm lee of Trafalgar,” he assessed that the Royal Navy had strayed away from its fighting past. The Royal Navy was undeniably full of what Gordon termed “regulators” – people who advanced within the established bureaucratic framework and were comfortable thinking inside the box – rather than the “ratcatchers” who were dearly needed in the prosecution of war.
In the Navy’s “A Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority” Adm. Richardson calls for “a Naval Force that produces leaders and teams who learn and adapt to achieve maximum possible performance, and who achieve and maintain high standards to be ready for decisive operations and combat.” In this call to action, in our own age and our Navy, ratcatchers are once again needed to safeguard our prosperity as a maritime nation.
The news surrounding the anti-ship missile attacks on USS Mason (DDG-87) from armed militant groups in Yemen while Mason operated in international waters in the Red Sea and the Bab al-Mandeb was shocking. Our subsequent shift to the “active defense” by the USS Nitze (DDG-94), however, is a telling example of how Surface Forces operate where sea control and power projection are not guaranteed and a reminder that the ability to maintain even temporary superiority will be contested.
America truly is a maritime nation, and our prosperity is tied to our ability to operate freely in the maritime environment. Threats ranging from low-end piracy to well-armed non-state militant groups to the navies of high-end nation-states pose challenges that Surface Forces are prepared to counter and, should the call come, defeat.
What many of us have learned from recent Distributed Lethality Task Force sponsored events is that while more lethal and distributed Surface Forces are designed to increase the offensive options available to the Joint Force Commander when the shooting starts, equally important is the ability to enhance conventional deterrence postures that limit an adversary’s options for escalation and buy time for leadership to make informed decisions on the further use of force. Simply stated, a more lethal and distributed Surface force gives an adversary a much more difficult operational problem with which it must contend.
We’re seeing the direct results of the concerted effort to provide the right tactics, talent, training, and tools to detect, deceive, target, and destroy enemy forces. Moreover, this warfighting ethos – that of toughness and tactical mastery of sea control operations at and from the sea – is being ingrained in every one of the crews that fight our warships.
The recent incidents in the Bab al-Mandeb involving Mason and Nitze serve as an unambiguous reminder that adversaries who wish to challenge U.S. interests in strategically vital sea areas do in fact get a vote, and it is unlikely that all of the elements of the Navy’s Fleet architecture will be available when the shooting starts. Available assets are based on the day-to-day presence and persistence of the Surface Force, which means it must be prepared to absorb the first salvo and immediately go on the offensive in order to create conditions for the success of follow-on forces. As Under Secretary of the Navy Janine Davidson recently stated, “credible conventional deterrence can only be achieved through lethal forces distributed globally with the staying power and endurance to absorb or deliver the first punch.” To be sure, forward, visible, and ready Surface Forces backed by credible combat power is a cost imposition for which an adversary must consider in its decision calculus.
The gravitational center of the Navy is controlling the sea in order to project more power, in more places. Recent events in the Red Sea highlight that we must get this right. And making sure we get things right is all about shaping the future, a future in which our men and women have the tools, the training, the tactics and the talent they need to fight and win against opponents who wish to challenge our interests and do us harm.
Our Surface Forces are indeed forward, they are visible, and they are ready. In a world where the pace of operations has clearly never been higher, my main job as the Surface Forces Commander is to ensure all our surface warships are ready. I’ve also directed a redoubling of our efforts in pursuit of a renewed emphasis on sea control to ensure we maintain the advantage.
To the ratcatchers in USS Mason and USS Nitze, and throughout the Surface Force, thank you for your fighting spirit. I am ever more hopeful for our future!
I had the opportunity to attend the program on 24 September to celebrate the College of Holy Cross NROTC Unit’s 75th Anniversary. I received Naval Institute CEO Vice Admiral Peter Daly’s permission to post his abridged remarks here.
* * *
. . . This superb NROTC unit whose 75th anniversary we salute came into being in 1941.
Pearl Harbor was just 90 days away when the first 115 NROTC students enrolled. J. William Middendorf and Edwin Meyer—here tonight—were in that first group. In those days, Holy Cross enrollment was about 1,200 male students, taught primarily by Jesuit priests. They taught more than the liberal arts; they imparted values. Values that Holy Cross students—and even some notable faculty—would carry with them to war.
The country was preparing for war—total war. And America needed more naval officers than the Naval Academy and NROTC could produce—and fast!
Today, it is hard to imagine the total national commitment required to fight and win World War II. Everyone was involved and, with so many young men going to war, a small school the size of Holy Cross may not have survived without some affiliation with the military.
As an example of the times, my father Joseph Daly was Holy Cross ’43. The Navy came in February 1943 and said: “College is over; consider yourselves graduated.” The Navy ordered my dad to report to V-7 Midshipman School at Columbia University a few days later. Ninety days after that he was Ensign Daly, U.S. Naval Reserve, gunnery officer on a destroyer escort in the North Atlantic.
In the next 24 months, his ship escorted convoys in the North Atlantic nine times. After that, his ship was modified to carry frogmen (to blow up beach obstacles) and sent to the Pacific. First place they went was Okinawa in March of 1945.
The fact Holy Cross already had an NROTC unit played large in the school being selected in 1942/1943 as one of the schools to take part in the V12 program which included course work and training right here on campus. NROTC plus V12 ensured that Holy Cross had enough students! Many also enlisted, and many entered combat.
Our O’Callahan Society namesake—Father Joseph T. O’Callahan, S.J.—received the Medal of Honor for his heroic actions on the aircraft carrier USS Franklin (CV-13) in 1945. One of Father O’Callahan’s students, First Lieutenant John V. Powers, U.S. Marine Corps, would also receive the Medal of Honor for courageous actions during the Marshall Islands Campaign. These men combined Holy Cross values with Navy and Marine Corps values such as honor, courage, and commitment and carried them to war.
NROTC and the other officer programs at the school were important for Holy Cross and important to the nation.
After the war, after so many had served and so many died, what was Holy Cross’s relationship with the military going to be? Would it continue? Following the war, the Navy was at a major personnel crossroads. Ninety percent of the officers who had fought in the war were not Naval Academy grads. Three million officers and men had been demobilized.
Rear Admiral James L. Holloway, Jr., led a Navy board to recommend the best system and approach for educating officers in the Navy. They looked at three schemes:
- Following coursework civilian college, channel all career officers through the Naval Academy for one or two years.
- “Double down” on the Naval Academy. They examined whether to build a second Naval Academy and expand the Academy at Annapolis.
- Use both the NROTC and the Naval Academy. Maintain the four-year undergraduate program for each.
The third option—that became known as the “Holloway Plan”—was recommended and adopted because of the proven track record of NROTC, and because of the strategic flexibility it provided in dealing with change.1 Under this plan, most NROTC grads would now receive regular Navy—not Reserve—commissions.
In the early 1980s, Admiral Holloway, long since retired, reflected in an interview on some of the inner sanctum deliberations of the board. Thinking back, Holloway—said, “I was confident that the four years at Annapolis was the optimum system to create—I don’t like the word ‘dedication’—‘a habit of service’ in people who would stay with you. Some would get out, of course, but in most cases the imprint of those four years of almost Jesuitical preparation would produce a career commitment.”2
“Almost Jesuitical preparation” and “habit of service” are interesting words from a Naval Academy grad like Holloway! Upon commissioning, Holy Cross graduates know the meaning of service and, through the decades, have and are serving with honor and distinction. We rely upon the midshipmen here tonight to continue that tradition of service! When Holloway talked about commitment, he also meant career commitment.
The NROTC unit here at Holy Cross has provided more career flag and general officers (16) per capita than any other NROTC unit in the country. . . .
The Navy includes people of all faiths. As you may know, Roman Catholics have the highest representation as a religious group within the military. In the Navy, the officer corps is skewed even more toward Catholicism. Maybe these two groups—Catholics and Navy—really do go together:
- Lots of rules
Or maybe, more seriously, it is the shared values: The notion of the servant leader; empathy and concern for others that arises from a liberal education; and a standard of critical thought and responsible action.
Those same values carried then Lieutenant Commander Thomas Gunning Kelley to “disregard his injuries and lead his men to safety” as commander of River Assault Division 152 in Vietnam in June 1969. Tom Kelley was the third leader from Holy Cross to earn the Medal of Honor.
Four years after Tom Kelley’s actions, when I was a new midshipman fourth class in early September 1973, I was looking around the NROTC unit spaces in O’Kane Hall and wandered into the large, old NROTC lecture room—wood slat construction, tin ceiling. I am sure many here can picture it. At the base of the room were several large tables. Each was piled high with textbooks. I was curious and started checking out all these books, each stamped “property of NROTC.”
As I looked, I realized each table represented a different school . . . all the first table said, “property of NROTCU Harvard.” The next was all books from NROTCU Dartmouth . . . next Yale, then Brown. . . .
In 1969, in protest to the Vietnam War, those Ivy League schools decided NROTC had to leave. No new midshipmen entered those schools, and the number of NROTC students dwindled through the spring of 1973. I remember wondering about all the students who used those books. I knew how important having a NROTC scholarship was to my family and my opportunity to attend Holy Cross and become a naval officer.
Now, at these schools, the program was banned. Their books were now collected and stacked high on those tables. So in the fall of 1973, Holy Cross was the last full-up NROTC school in New England. The fact it was still standing is testament to College President Father John Brooks, S.J., who could have accepted the political trend and the recommendation of a report from the “Ad Hoc Committee for the Study of ROTC.”
It was almost his first order of business as president when he took over in 1970. He decided to reach out to the officer who led the NROTC unit: Captain Harry Moore, U.S. Navy. Father Brooks started a dialogue and invested himself in it. John Brooks and Harry Moore worked over the ensuing months to engage students and faculty on the critical need for an officer corps with a diverse set of values and a strong moral compass.
Less than six months after a campus-wide strike and demonstration, the majority of students participating in a student body referendum voted in favor of retaining ROTC. A bit after that, Father Brooks convinced the faculty to do the same.
The year 1973 was a turning point for the country and military overall.
The majority of troops were pulled out from Vietnam. The national draft ended in early 1973. The draft—which had ensured at least a basic measure of diversity across layers of society—was now gone.
With an all-volunteer force, what would it mean if certain parts of society completely abandoned the idea of military service? Father Brooks was a strong advocate for the need for a professional officer corps that was exposed to a broad diversity of academic thought and underpinned with a solid grounding in Judeo-Christian ethics. He knew we needed to a bridge between the nation and the military.
That bridge extended to a broader consortium of schools in Worcester. By January 1979, the unit enrolled ten scholarship students from Worcester Polytechnic Institute and included other students from Clark University, Assumption College, and Worcester State. Currently included are Worcester Polytechnic and Worcester State and now, Brown University.
Just two years ago, an emissary from the Navy visited the Dean and outlined a Navy proposal to modify to the NROTC program to reduce the Navy’s scholarship commitment to liberal arts grads. Under this scheme, only technical/STEM majors would receive the full scholarship. Non-technical, liberal arts grads would get a significantly lower tuition stipend. The “draft” STEM program already was baked into the Navy’s budget!
Concerned members of the O’Callahan Society saw this as a call to action. In a team effort, the Society collected its points and wrote to the Navy to make the case for all NROTC students at Holy Cross and throughout the country. The key points made by the O’Callahan Society were:
- Holy Cross consistently has produced quality officers who can succeed in the Navy’s technical programs.
- For example, Holy Cross grads performed very well in nuclear power training.
- Under the proposed scheme, liberal arts disciplines would be priced out by tech majors and tech grads.
- Liberal arts institutions would be adversely affected.
- The Society made the point that, just as diversity of race, color, and creed are valued, so too should diversity of thinking.
Happily, the O’Callahan Society’s letter caused the Secretary of the Navy to reconsider the proposal, and it was stopped at his desk at the 12th hour . . . .
The NROTC units at Holy Cross, at Worcester, and units across the land bring the Navy to the nation. In that regard alone, NROTC is important. Through this program students, parents, neighbors, educators, influencers —side-by-side—develop a greater understanding, appreciation, and respect for each other.
The officers commissioned through NROTC units across the land bring a diversity of knowledge, talents, expertise, and backgrounds. They provide a far stronger and more capable Navy and Marine Corps, than if the ranks were filled from Annapolis alone. . . .
Simply stated, we need more than specialists to man today’s Navy and Marine Corps. We need broadly educated officers with diverse backgrounds, who possess sound character and a strong moral compass.
That is why Father Brooks supported ROTC at Holy Cross. He saw this need. He knew that bringing together all facets of society—serving one another—was and is to key to strengthening the nation.
Whether it is on the Navy’s side or the college’s side we have to work at this relationship. We can never stop building that bridge, and we can never take this very special relationship for granted! For 75 years Holy Cross has epitomized the spirit and faith that have served our Navy and Nation, and it will continue to do so for our future.
- Rear Admiral James L. Holloway, Jr., U.S. Navy, “The Holloway Plan – A Summary View and Commentary,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, vol. 73, no. 11 (November 1947).
- Admiral James L. Holloway, Jr., U.S. Navy (Ret.) with Jack Sweetman, “A Gentleman’s Agreement,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, vol. 106, no. 9 (September 1980).
Recently, we asked LTG H. R. McMaster, USA, to host a Q&A with Fox News commentator MG Bob Scales, USA (Ret.), author of Scales on War: The Future of America’s Military at Risk. Part I of their exchange appeared on the USNI Blog yesterday. Part II of their conversation follows.
McMaster: You begin chapter 11 with the observation that “good soldiers perform best under good leaders.” What attributes are most important in XXI century military leaders and how should the services develop those leaders?
Scales: First, I’d be clear about what type of leader we are talking about. In the military there are two: tactical leaders and strategic leaders. Thus XXI century leader development would follow two tracks: The tactical track would seek to find those with the technical and tactical right stuff, essentially those with the intuitive abilities, physical fitness and courage to lead men in close combat. They would be the doers, those who make the military engine run and who know how to maneuver and lead tactical units. The strategic track would consist of carefully selected men and women who have the right strategic stuff: the ability to think in time, conjure what might be rather than what is; and be willing to participate in a decades long program of study and practice that would prepare them to be leaders at the highest national strategic level. Preparation would consist of civilian graduate school, political and combatant command internships and time as an instructor at a service school or civilian university. Such a program would be highly competitive and very selective producing about 100 superbly qualified officers to be promoted to senior colonel and general officer. These would not be not progressive programs. Tacticians are tacticians and strategists are strategists.
McMaster: Popular culture tends to water down and coarsen what it means to be a warrior. Soldiers are often portrayed as fragile, traumatized human beings. Hollywood tells us little about the soldier’s calling or commitment to his or her fellow soldiers or what compels him or her to act courageously, endure hardships, take risks, or make sacrifices. You write about what it takes to steel soldiers and units to overcome fear and fight in environments of uncertainty and persistent danger. Will you share your thoughts on the human dimension of combat and why Americans should try to understand the social, psychological, and moral requirements to fight and win?
Scales: War is innately a human not a technological enterprise. The lower the level of the fight, the more human it becomes. I invented the term “Human Dimension” in 1992 when writing my book Certain Victory as a means of closing a hidden void in the conduct of the Gulf War that technology couldn’t alone explain. The idea came to me when listening to GEN Barry McCaffrey’s testimony before Congress when he opined that we still would have beaten Saddam even if we exchanged equipment with him. I found this observation both profound and true. It was the soldier not the equipment that provided the margin for certain victory. I also discovered that we knew too little about the soldier in combat. We knew we were better but how were we better? What was the evidence?
My Desert Storm research team set to work to find specifically what makes us better. In fact, we asked why western armies were better than native armies in general at higher-level mechanized warfare. Much of the answer was cultural. Only western militaries produce noncommissioned officers; western armies know how to self-select leaders without regard to social distinctions; western soldiers tend to bond more easily with peers and they are practiced with all forms of technology. But we discovered that such explanations were not enough. As good as we were the social, behavioral and cognitive sciences could make us much, much better. Unfortunately, our initial efforts to better exploit the human dimension fell of the rails after 9/11. This is always the problem with terms that become too popular and are overused and exploited. In this case the term Human Dimension was intentionally and cynically diluted and misdirected by uninformed bureaucrats who didn’t understand the concept and how it could be exploited. We wanted to make better performing soldiers by exploiting the human sciences, seemingly a simple enough enterprise. But in time the “spirituality” team got involved trying to show that fighting prowess depended on being a Christian. Later the cultural awareness crowd hijacked the human dimension to push for putting sociologists in the field to inform tactical leaders about native cultures in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. Finally, in about 2006 well-intended psychologists and physicians hijacked the human dimension effort and applied it to the Army’s “resiliency” effort. Suddenly the human dimension moniker was about treating damaged soldiers rather than making healthy soldiers more deadly in combat. I still believe that the greatest potential for increasing the fighting prowess of our close combat forces comes from exploiting the human sciences. I write about how this might be done in my book.
Click here to view MG Scales’ September 19th talk about Scales on War at the Heritage Foundation.
Recently, we asked LTG H. R. McMaster, USA, to host a Q&A with Fox News commentator MG Bob Scales, USA (Ret.), author of Scales on War: The Future of America’s Military at Risk. Part I of their exchange follows.
McMaster: Your call for a historical-behavioral approach to military strategy and defense policy is consistent with Graham Allison’s and Niall Ferguson’s recent essay in the Atlantic in which they call for a board of historical advisors to advise the president to improve the wisdom of foreign policy. What is the value to contemporary affairs and why do you think it is underappreciated?
Scales: Not only do I think Presidents need historians to provide advice I believe the military does as well. War is the only profession that’s episodic. Soldiers don’t practice war (thankfully) as much as they study it. Thus the intellectual backbone of our profession should be the study of past wars. Sadly, it is not. Reluctance to study war among our senior leaders is, in a way, understandable. A newly appointed general has spent half his or her life (or more) actively engaged in fighting or preparing to fight a war. It’s reasonable for a serving officer to question the merits of study when he’s fully engaged in practicing the profession. As we witnessed with the British Army in the late nineteenth century these habits are hard to break. Imperial officers published under a pseudonym for fear of being labeled an intellectual. Conversation in the officer’s mess was about sport, not tactics. And the British paid a painful price when they were unable to adapt intellectually once they shifted from a native to an industrial age European enemy. The lesson is clear. We must artificially induce our young officers to shift from the visceral to the vicarious, an unnatural act for a contemporary Army on active service.
McMaster: The military seems to be increasingly disconnected from those in whose name they fight and serve. A very small percentage of Americans serve and few seem to understand the requirements for military readiness, especially what it takes to fight and win in ground combat, what you call the “crucible of courage.” You make a strong case for maintaining the all-volunteer force, but do you agree that this is a problem? And how might the bonds between the American people and its military be strengthened and how might Americans become more familiar with the requirements for national defense?
Scales: No I don’t agree this is a problem. The military, and the Army in particular, is a fighting force, not a civilizing agent. Strengthening bonds between the fighting force and the people might make soldiers feel better about what they do but social bonding will not make them better fighters. We are the only Western democracy that has never been ruled by its Army. We should strive to maintain that separation such that we are never temped. Part of the passion on this issue is due to internally imposed self pity. I witnessed the phenomenon after Vietnam when many senior leaders blamed their failures on a media driven “stab in the back.” Watching this low level Dr. Strangelove period in our history was emotionally destructive to a young officer like me. We serve so that Americans don’t have to think of us…or fear being us. It’s enough for me to have someone say: “thank you for your service,” even though I know they probably mean “thank you for doing this so that my son can go to graduate school.” No, this new emerging mantra of self-pity mainly comes from retired officers who decry the dangers of civil-military separation. You hear words like, “99 percent of America never served” or “two thirds of American youth can’t pass the military physical, etc…” Many of these same generals call in the wilderness for universal service. The military has more important things to concern them. Let’s get on with learning and practicing our profession and leave the [discussion] about the civil military divide to academics.
McMaster: And, as you point out in Scales On War, Americans have a tendency to want to simplify the problem of future armed conflict and solve complex land-based problems from stand-off range. While stand-off capabilities will remain important to national defense, the war against ISIS, a terrorist proto-state that does not even have an air force or a navy, seems to validate your point that fighting and winning in war requires land forces that possess the will, capability, and capacity to defeat an enemy, secure territory, protect populations, and consolidate military gains politically. Why do you think there is a tendency to undervalue the need for ready land forces and how might you and others administer a corrective to flawed thinking in that connection?
Scales: Much of our attitude about defense is baked into our social DNA. We still view ourselves as an Island nation that can choose to advance or retreat, join or leave a conflict at will. Since there is no occupying force on our land we can fight in faraway places not worrying about our loved ones being threatened. So it should come as no surprise that killing bloodlessly at a distance should from the nexus of our policy. This would all be fine if our enemies didn’t have a brain. But they do. And because of our fixation on distant killing they have an equally baked-in strategy for defeating our style of war: meet Americans in distant an unpleasant places, defend their hegemonies by making defeat too painful and then broadcast our pain to the American people such that they will tire of the exercise and demand that the troops come home. It works every time. The most vulnerable and assailable of American forces are Soldiers and Marines. So ground forces are the enemy’s point of attack and our most vulnerable center of gravity. Trying to convince our policymakers that the nation should expend more resources on those most likely to die is a hard sell to those who fear that if we buy ground forces we are only more likely to use (and lose) them. Thus, buying air and sea forces is an easy sell. Buying ground forces is hard…
McMaster: The subtitle of your book is “The future of America’s military at risk.” The active Army is more committed than ever and is undergoing a reduction in size from 570,000 to 450,000 while the modernization budget has fallen by 74% since 2008, creating a bow wave in deferred Army modernization. You observe that your grandchildren will fight with Reagan-era weapons. As a recent Center for Strategic and International Studies report concluded, the recent Army modernization drawdown is a triple whammy for the Army because these cuts in force structure and modernization are larger in percentage than previous cuts and the two previous drawdowns came after the Army had already modernized much of the force. And you warn against a “silent creeping atrophy that sends the Army into another tragic dark age.” What might be done prevent that and reduce risk to the nation?
Scales: Social and political activism, pure and simple. The default position for defense policy makers is to buy more high tech air and sea platforms. In peacetime there is no down side to this policy: high paying jobs in the U.S. are created; the research and development community is enriched; the public sees powerful bright shiny objects floating or flying by that give them a warm sense of security; most of the big stuff is kept at home, relatively safe; images of bright young technicians and digital warriors relieves the people from thinking about the true nature of war; black and white digital images of explosions from drone strikes make Americans believe that we are taking the fight to the enemy without looking more closely at images of what the explosions leave behind. The counter narrative is tough: soldiers and marines lying dead after an IED strike; a ground level image of dead and wounded innocents lying amid the rubble. So those of us who advocate for the soldier and marine have to go the extra mile to explain and educate our fellow citizens about the consequences of neglect. History is our most effective media weapon. Those who advocate for no more “boots on the ground” lose the argument when folks like us tell and re-tell the stories of soldiers and marines who died due to the neglect of their fellow citizens. But to be effective the message must be delivered with unrelenting force and drama such that Joe citizen can’t turn away. Problem is that ground service leaders, particularly Army leaders, simply aren’t very good at telling this story. If we want our Army to avoid breaking next time then it’s the responsibility of today’s ground service leaders to craft the narrative and project it to everyone in Washington who writes the checks. Our greatest allies are not the solons on the Hill; it’s the American people. Get to them directly. Convince them that their blue-collar sons and daughters will be at risk if life and death decisions are left inside the Beltway. Let’s build on what I have written in this book to write a greater narrative crafted by our most senior Army leaders. Speak to mister and missus America. Explain the consequences to their children of institutional neglect and ask them to demand that the Army gets its share of our national resources so that their children will not die in another debacle like Task Force Smith in Korea.
McMaster: The American public is largely disconnected from ongoing wars. How many Americans, for example, could name the three main Taliban groups that their soldiers have been fighting for fifteen years? You stress the interactive nature of war, but so little of the coverage of today’s conflicts cover that interaction. Reports focus mainly on discreet strikes or raids, friendly casualties, or announcements about the numbers of troops deployed. Do you think there is a problem with the media coverage of the wars in Syria, Iraq, Libya, and Afghanistan-Pakistan? If so, how would you change the way wars are covered?
Scales: I work for the media, in my case, Fox News. A senior media official told me a few months ago that when we both started at Fox in 2002 over 60% of the discretionary broadcast time was devoted to war. Now it’s less than 5%. But, that’s OK. We are essentially an Island nation that can voluntarily choose to join or leave foreign engagements. This is a privilege very few other nations can claim. Thus is should be no surprise that Americans can choose to watch whatever they want on TV depending on how world events affect them and they, thankfully, don’t have to worry that events affect them very much. I do lament that too often that the news gets things technically wrong or that the news fails to add context to events so that conflict is too often depicted as a stop action video game to our youth. But at the end of the day the media is a consumable product and the consumer decides how to buy it. If Joe or Jane America want to watch reality TV rather than war news that’s their privilege and we who sacrificed gave that privilege to them. And we did it (and do it) without expecting a great deal of thanks in return.
McMaster: There is a tendency in the United States to confuse the study of war and warfare with militarism. Thinking clearly about the problem of war and warfare, however, is both an unfortunate necessity and the best way to prevent it. As the English theologian, writer, and philosopher G.K. Chesterton observed, “War is not the best way of settling differences, but it is the only way of preventing them being settled for you.” What is your advice to the Academy? Is there a role for universities in improving not only our thinking about defense, but also the connection between our society and its soldiers?
Scales: I’m a product (and a victim) of the academy so I know a little about this. In the distant past the academy was a willing gold mine of imbedded wisdom that the military mined with profit. It’s hard to believe now but before the 60s social revolution professors provided useful advice and did meaningful research that added depth and new ideas to our defense intellectual communities. This was in many ways a partnership. Most of these academics were World War II veterans and, although most were politically liberal, they understood war and its consequences and they viewed America as a bulwark against international evil. Today it’s different. If the academy writes about the military it’s normally about social issues within the ranks or it’s generally condemnatory in nature. There is very little in the literature about the “acts” of war. Thus most young military intellects have to be homegrown, service sponsored, and come from Army funded graduate schools. This must change. I hope it will as the revolutionary age elders of the sixties leave the academy. But nothing will change until the atmospherics change. One way to force change is to create a true military academic partnership in universities known for war studies. Here’s how it might work:
- The Army chooses a cluster of about 10-15 named universities that receive funds for educating ROTC cadets and officers attending graduate school as well as funds for defense research.
- These schools should be geographically dispersed and of the highest quality. If possible they would already have a vibrant defense studies graduate program. Some of the best are Texas A and M; Notre Dame; Ohio State; Stanford; Princeton; Florida State; University of North Carolina; Duke; etc.
- The Army pays for a program or a Community of Practice, essentially a subordinate unit of a department or school such as the Wilson Center or the Hudson Institute. The community would consist of ROTC students, military graduate students, civilian graduate students sponsored in part by the Army, War College Fellows, contracted civilian researchers, traditional faculty and senior military PhD students scheduled to be tenured faculty at West Point or the War College.
- Together this internal community would work with and mentor each other to provide a powerful intellectual and fiscal power on the campus. Some link would be necessary with the staff and war colleges and think tanks specific to the Army such as the Arroyo Center. The Commandant of the army War College would run the program and report directly to the Chief of Staff.
- The Army would schedule all of its signature seminar and senior meetings at one of these communities. I would also add an Army Press, affiliated with one of the better-known University Presses. The relationship might be similar to the Naval Institute Press at Annapolis or the Belknap Press at Harvard.
- The product of these university defense intellectual communities would be a generation of soldiers and civilian scholars who have a balanced education and cultural experience. My hope is that, in time, these communities would spawn a new age of civil-military collaboration useful for both the military and the nation.
Part II of this Q&A session between LTG McMaster, USA and MG Scales, USA (Ret.) can be viewed here.
Click here to view MG Scales’ September 19th talk about Scales on War at the Heritage Foundation.
There’s a growing realization that we must leverage the value of unmanned systems across the full range of naval missions—not to pursue “unmanned” for the sake of “unmanned” in a zeal to be more technologically advanced, but because it makes sense, taking us to the next level and beyond. As natural complements to our existing ships, aircraft, and submarines, unmanned systems bring the ability to efficiently increase both the capacity and capability of our force; there are missions where unmanned will bring comparative advantage over existing manned counterparts. In man–machine lash-ups, unmanned technology will take us even further.
Against the backdrop of an increasingly dangerous and volatile world, unmanned systems offer an opportunity to meet defense requirements at every level. Making this case, and making headway on mainstreaming unmanned across all warfare domains, begins with understanding the most fundamental aspects of warfare. Through this deconstruction, the value-added of unmanned becomes readily apparent, cutting through existing practices, communities, domains, and mission sets—all sources of friction when introducing disruptive technology. If we make this case effectively, our force and its many constituents will press to mainstream unmanned as expeditiously as possible. With bottom-up energy and creativity teamed with top-down leadership and fiscal support, we have the best chance to harness unmanned’s potential. This is an imperative in a world where competitors and adversaries already are moving out with unmanned technology.
To Understand — So what? . . . Then what?
When we think about what we do in the realm of warfighting, it comes down to four essential elements: observing, orienting, deciding, and acting—the OODA loop. Air Force Colonel John Boyd crafted this concept in part from observations of air combat engagements in the 1950s, but its relevance is more broad, and scalable from the tactical to the strategic. In simplest form, we “observe” with sensors, we “orient and decide,” then we “act” with effectors. This process takes place across all domains and is iterative. Technology is both accelerating and fusing the steps, taking us to the point of forecasting.
Increasingly, it is not so much the “with what” (the province of things and the communities that employ them) and the “where” (the domains in which we operate), but rather the “how” and the “how fast.” The result is to understand and then take appropriate action, faster than the adversary and inside their OODA loop. Protecting one’s decision process while confronting the adversary’s is increasingly valued today; it is a foundation for both information warfare and the growing realm of electromagnetic maneuver warfare.
Unmanned brings game in each phase of the process, across all domains (traditional and nontraditional), and in doing so improves the speed of response and subsequent ability to adapt—faster than the adversary. Ultimately, the ability to see farther, understand more quickly, act faster, and adapt continuously become the essential elements of a winning team in today’s fast paced threat-filled environments. Unmanned systems are key elements in realizing a learning warfighting system that senses, evaluates, acts and, adapts continuously.
If we accept that the main thing is to understand—and to be able to take appropriate action, faster than the adversary—then we must plumb our system and processes to function as frictionless as possible, and we must populate these systems with platforms, vehicles, and payloads that permit us to fight in constantly adaptive ways. The ability to adapt as rapidly as possible, with as little friction as possible, with systems and lash-ups that permit adaptability—by design—is essential to winning in today’s fast-paced battle environments. This concept is not new. The value of “plug-and-play” is well established in the consumer world as an efficient means to leverage rapidly evolving technology. Coupled with modularity and open architecture, these tools can be put together in adaptive, creative configurations producing new ways; and the tools themselves can be adapted, leveraging the best that technology offers, providing new means. This approach arms us to first survive, then operate, and ultimately prevail in an increasingly contested world.
Speed of action and agility are valued in a fight. Improved speed can be realized both in terms of executing faster and by executing differently, using the same things in new ways. A prime example is how we think about what it takes to execute successfully at the tactical level. Traditionally, it is a linear process progressing through “find, fix, finish”—the sequential steps to consummate full mission execution. Technology and the speed it offers bring nonlinear and cross-domain opportunity. The prospect of executing faster through increased connectivity and multipath solutions is here now.
Unmanned systems can be an efficient means to populate connection points. Increasing connection points—or nodes—both manned and unmanned, brings density and resilience to our warfighting architectures, whether they be systems, systems-of-systems, or services on demand, and with it the means to prevail in contested environments. Unmanned systems can populate nodes in an increasingly connected/connectable force, bringing the ability to adapt more rapidly to changing environments.
Unmanned systems also bring the possibility of disaggregating functionality for the larger purpose of enabling dispersed fleet operations over much larger areas—scalable and tailorable to ever-changing missions and threats. Over time, many, if not most, of our ships, submarines, and aircraft have evolved into multimission systems, highly capable but also concentrated and expensive. Disaggregating the functions of sensing, understanding, and effecting with unmanned systems brings the potential to more efficiently mass effects without massing force, increase reach, and present the adversary with operational dilemmas.
Unmanned systems largely have evolved by matching warfighting need to emerging technology—a requirements pull. Whether as an immediate extension to an existing platform, to see over the hill, extend beyond the visible horizon, or augment existing sensors, they’ve expanded reach in a linear manner. The ability to distribute and net unmanned systems also has demonstrated great value, bringing with it improved spatial coverage, to include cross-domain opportunities and reach. This compounds the linear contribution even further. Ultimately, with improvements in autonomy comes the prospect of human–machine collaborative teaming, which may well equate to a step change improvement in capability and capacity when compared to forces composed of manned systems exclusively.
Together, these three aspects span the value-added proposition of unmanned systems, natural complements to our existing manned force vice outright replacements. Along this continuum of application is a corresponding relationship that shifts from human-assisted to human-supervised and ultimately to human–machine collaborative teaming. As unmanned systems’ use and reliability grow, so too will the confidence we place in them. Trust will drive the pace of man–machine teaming within the larger context of human command and increasing levels of machine control executing human intent.
Fighting at Machine Speed
The case for unmanned rests in how it brings value to existing capabilities. Ultimately, fighting at machine speed is to combine what humans and machines do best, to create a sum greater than the parts. Unmanned systems make this vision executable. Unmanned systems complement manned through a continuous process of cognition and execution, where machines and humans interact seamlessly—the essence of teaming.
The speed of calculation and raw processing power machines bring in a deterministic realm coupled with the skill, imagination, and wisdom of humans operating in chaotic environments results in better decisions faster. In the fights of today and into the future, the side that harnesses this lash-up most effectively will prevail. With our fusion of technology and talent, coupled with a warfighting philosophy that values initiative, we’re the best equipped force to reap these benefits. A well-trained fighting force armed with these ways and means becomes super-empowered down to the mission command level, a combination hard to beat.
Editor’s Note: USNI will be publishing a three-part series of execution plans—for undersea, aviation, and surface—in upcoming issues of Proceedings.
It was history in the making on Sunday, 26 June, as an international contingent celebrated the opening of the expanded Panama Canal. I was proud to be there with the U.S. Presidential party, led by Dr. Jill Biden. For Panama, the expansion represents a potential for growth in the country’s maritime sectors and serves as a symbol of national prestige. In recognition of its strategic maritime significance, and the value U.S. Southern Command places on forward engagement with the region, the USS Oak Hill (LPD-51) sailed through the canal a few days earlier (using the older and narrower set of locks). The Oak Hill was pierside at the canal’s Pacific entrance during the ceremony to recognize this Panamanian accomplishment, to celebrate this second engineering marvel that dramatically expanded the path between the seas, and to signal our continued commitment to working with our partners to ensure its defense.
From the very beginning the Canal—both the original and this expanded addition—offered both great promises and significant challenges. It required an investment of time, talent, and treasure—in blood and dollars—as well as great commitment and patience to turn opportunity into reality. At U.S. Southern Command we see transregional opportunities and challenges and the need for multinational solutions everywhere we look—especially standing beside this new Panama Canal.
It was great to visit the Oak Hill the day before the ceremony and talk to the officers, chief’s messes, and assembled crew. Embarked was a U.S. Marine detachment with equipment to help illustrate our humanitarian-assistance/disaster-relief (HA/DR) capabilities and our commitment to rapidly respond to any neighbor in need, such as our support after the recent earthquake in Ecuador. U.S. Ambassador to Panama John Feeley eloquently captured what the Oak Hill represents: “a warship, coming in peace, symbolizing a legacy of partnership, commitment, and ready assistance in times of need.”
On board the Oak Hill, we talked with one officer who said that his earlier UNITAS deployment (an annual multinational naval exercise we host) as a lieutenant (junior grade) kept him in the Navy. We talked about how the Navy runs out of ships long before it addresses all the global requirements we face. We talked about the prioritization of requirements to other important regions and how that inevitably results in minimal allocation of Navy ships to help safeguard our interests in this vital region. I told him that once the littoral combat ship comes on line in greater numbers, U.S. Southern Command will seek to increase its presence in collaboration with maritime forces of the region to better protect our southern approaches and counter threat networks.
For now, we will make the most of the short deployments like that of the USS Lassen (DDG-82), which over a period of weeks wreaked havoc on drug traffickers in the tropical eastern Pacific; and with other Navy ships changing home ports from one coast to the other, such as the USS George Washington (CVN-73) and crew who excelled in partnering engagements and conducted multiple exercises during their South American transit. We are eager for the transit of the USS Zumwalt (DDG-1000) and the USS Wasp (LHD-1). I commented to the young officer that transiting ships should not make quick dashes to their new ports; their time in the Americas should be maximized because our presence is so limited and their ability to create goodwill is something on which you can’t put a price tag.
The Oak Hill was the only warship from any nation to attend the Canal Expansion opening ceremony. When it comes to defending the Canal, however, the duty is shared by many. Following on the ceremony’s heels, civilian and military organizations from 21 regional partner nations, with forces led by Panama, Colombia, Peru, Chile, and the United States, will conduct PANAMAX 2016, an exercise to demonstrate our shared commitment to the defense of the Panama Canal.
Standing beside this great achievement, I see the Canal as a metaphor for the region. It is the embodiment of transregional connections. Its defense depends on a partnership of nations—no one can do it alone.
Transregional Opportunities and Challenges
This region has never held such opportunity. The last remnants of the Cold War may finally be fading as a new chapter in U.S.-Cuban relations unfolds. Political change in Argentina also shows the promise of improved relations. In Colombia, a peace accord is progressing toward closing more than 50 years of political violence. Yet the obstacles to turning these and other opportunities into reality are large and growing. Astounding violence and related murder rates; transregional criminal networks trafficking not just in drugs, but also humans, illicit natural resources, weapons, and more; endemic corruption; small but concerning numbers of radicalized fighters joining the Islamic State in Syria—all these elements pose challenges to the region. Those challenges flow up to the southern approaches of the United States; what affects our neighbors soon enough is felt on our streets and cities.
Just as the Canal has global reach and impact, so do many of the challenges and concerns that touch Latin America and the Caribbean. More and more, geographic combatant commanders, focused on regional areas of responsibility, are seeing and responding to transregional challenges. In our interconnected world, we need to pay attention to those nations and non-state organizations that may be pursuing strategies across multiple borders and regions. If we are concerned about Russia’s conduct in Eastern Europe, we should pay attention to what they are doing in Latin America as well. If we are concerned about China’s performance as a responsible actor in a transparent rules-based system in the South and East China Seas, we may want to better understand their activities in the Western Hemisphere. If we are concerned about Iran’s use of surrogates and proxies in the Middle East, we should keep an eye on their clandestine activities across Central and South America.
The Panama Canal stands as a testament to vision, tenacity, and an enduring symbol of partnership—opportunity turned to reality through patience and perseverance. In Latin America we can achieve great and necessary things with the same patience and perseverance. In the face of these challenges, the United States is fortunate to have stalwart friends, allies, and partners throughout Central America, South America, and the Caribbean, who are committed to working with us and one another to ensure our hemisphere remains a beacon of stability, security, and prosperity.
On a closing note – you never know when you will bump into a fellow Academy Alum. Sitting next to me at the canal inauguration ceremony was Maximo Mejia, the Government of the Philippines Administrator for Transpiration and Communications and USNA class of ’88.
In 1955 Air Force General Curtis LeMay, Commander of the Strategic Air Command, built the service’s first base hobby shop in Offutt, NE. His vision was to provide a facility with tools, material, and resources to allow Airmen the opportunity to repair, modify, or completely rebuild their personal automobiles. The first hobby shop was an overwhelming success and soon become popular among all ranks, including LeMay himself. Auto hobby shops soon proliferated across all SAC bases and eventually, along with their sibling wood hobby shops, to most American military bases around the globe. Many of these workshops eventually formalized their training, so service members could achieve recognized certifications for their efforts.
These hobby shops were widely viewed as constructive outlets for military personnel to learn interesting, practical skills and to make positive use of off-duty time by tapping into, or fostering, their inherent desire to “tinker” with things. By the late 1990s they began to lose their appeal and many were closed for financial reasons. The causes for their demise is unclear, whether because cars simply became too complex for the “shade tree mechanic” to repair or as a reflection of American society, where servicemen and women would rather pay someone else to do work they no longer wanted to do themselves.
I do not believe the inherent desire to tinker with things, or using individual experimentation as a learning tool, has gone away. It may, however, be occurring today in new forms. Because the cost of technology continues to decline, it has created an environment where sophisticated tools and devices are now at the fingertips of the average citizen, a condition commonly referred to as the democratization of science and technology.
For the past several years the White House has been championing the “Maker Movement” to stimulate innovation across America. Cottage industries in coding, drones, electronics, robotics, and 3D printing are sprouting up across the country in reflection of and to support this renewed interest. It is clear that the naval services are tapping into the resurgence of the tinkerer as well.
The first naval “Fab Lab” was created in Norfolk in 2015. This joint venture with DARPA and MIT provided sophisticated manufacturing equipment, materials, and world class training to Sailors in the fleet. The fundamental premise for this project was that by putting tools and capabilities into the hands of Sailors closest to our operational problems, they would develop new and innovative solutions. Since its inception, for example, LT Todd Coursey has achieved significant results, expanding interest and demonstrating the utility of this capability across the fleet. His outstanding efforts at Norfolk were recognized by the White House and Secretary Mabus. SECNAV’s Task Force Innovation has funded additional Fab Labs and over the next two years additional facilities, some of them mobile, will be operational at Navy and Marine Corps bases around the globe.
An extension of the FAB LAB concept is the Expeditionary Manufacturing Mobile Test Bed (EXMAN) project led by the Marines and SPAWAR. EXMAN offers the ability to digitally manufacture parts in the field, often at a reduced cost and in much less time. This past week EXMAN was successfully demonstrated to General Neller, a strong advocate of fielding these new facilities with the operational forces. This capability has the potential to fundamentally change how we do battlefield logistics, by making items instead of buying, storing and shipping them across the world.
3D manufacturing is not the only field where the tinkerer movement is making its military comeback. The Naval Postgraduate School built its Robo Dojo to allow students and visiting Sailors and Marines the opportunity to tinker with robots and control systems. In the future it is likely we will see coding bootcamps springing up on naval bases as well. These fora provide the opportunity for Sailors and Marines to learn basic coding skills and eventually build smart phone apps or virtual games. Ideally, all of these complementary capabilities will be connected in an integrated ecosystem, properly resourced and supported by senior leaders, and available everywhere.
These emerging capabilities fundamentally draw upon LeMay’s vision – provide the resources, tools and safe spaces to our people and allow them to cultivate their talents and creativity. We have no idea of the great things they will achieve when allowed to tinker with their own bold ideas, such as STGC Ben Lebron.
The Chief had a vision for a new decision aid to improve ASW operations on the USS Fitzgerald. After finding a JO who taught him some coding skills, Chief LeBron designed the Single Leg Bearing Range program, for which he subsequently won a 2015 SECNAV Innovation Award. His software substantially improves ASW sonar solutions by more than half.(SECNAV granted Chief Lebron a waiver to enroll in the NPS Master’s ASW distance learning program in addition to his formal award.)
The military has long practiced such problem solving. In an examination of culture’s impact on military innovation, Dima Adamsky notes the cultural difference between the US and Soviet militaries during the Cold War. One significant contrast was their approaches to technological adaptation. The Soviets would develop concepts and strategy for use ahead of delivering a technology, whereas the US military usually had the technology and then often took a decade to figure out how to turn it into an operational advantage. We may be experiencing the same phenomenon here with the maker movement.
As mentioned, today’s democratization of science and technology is enabling this tinkering resurgence to occur – not only for us, but for our adversaries. Recently, scholars CAPT Mark Hagerott (ret) and Col TX Hammes (ret), outlined their thoughtful visions of the future operating environment, where naval forces will have to contend with the challenges posed by a new reality of destructive, technology-based capabilities operated in very decentralized and unpredictable ways by our adversaries. The naval services must lead this wave, adjusting our strategy not only to counter these decentralized threats, but to use the skills of our creative workforce to create an operational advantage over our adversaries.
We are entering an era where the operational environment will be characterized by complexity, uncertainty, and unpredictability; to succeed, our naval forces must respond in kind. Simply relying on exquisite weapon systems and massed fire power will be insufficient. One way to overcome this challenge is to fully exploit the ingenuity and talents of our Sailors and Marines. The burgeoning naval tinkering movement is just one step in creating a fundamentally important operational capability that is already resident in the naval services. Failing to harness our tinkerers, and recognize their work, will be to the nation’s detriment.
Today, 27 May 2016, the Class of 2016 will be graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy. The Naval Institute shares the words of a commanding officer to his son on the occasion of his son’s graduation from the Naval Academy in June, 1955.
As today’s graduates enter commissioned service, these words of sixty years ago ring true.
To the Class of 2016, the Naval Institute extends heartfelt congratulations.
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