The Navy exists for one reason and one reason only: to fight and win wars. The Navy (and the military, in general) is the gorilla that is let out of its cage to destroy the enemy when diplomatic efforts have failed and conflict is the only means of resolution left. As such, the Navy must be bigger, meaner, and more powerful than any possible enemy. The Navy must be capable of delivering vast amounts of destruction on demand. CNO Greenert recognized this imperative with his “Warfighting First” slogan, although he has spectacularly failed to implement it.
The far, far, far, far secondary task is to patrol the world’s seas during peacetime and, insofar as possible, keep and promote that peace by providing presence, deterrence, security for global shipping, and the hundreds of other necessary peacetime tasks.
The irony is that the secondary task makes up 99% of the Navy’s activities. Nonetheless, the Navy’s leaders must firmly grasp the reality of the Navy’s priority and that is warfighting. Every ship design, every piece of equipment purchased, every manning decision, every research project, and every weapon system must be focused with laser precision on the Navy’s core purpose of warfighting.
Unfortunately, the outlook of the military, in general, and Navy leadership, in particular, suggests that we have been too long without a reminder of the Navy’s true purpose and that not only has a peacetime mentality taken hold but, even more disturbing, the lessons of history are being misinterpreted. Consider this passage from a recent Proceedings article (1).
“Senior U.S. military officers now say, ‘We are not posturing to plant the flag in the capital.’ At the high end, warfighting today is IAMD-centric [Integrated Air and Missile Defense] and not about regime change. Deterrence and conflict prevention are all about competitive strategies, as we know from winning the endgame in the Cold War.
combatant commanders today are tasked with shaping the regional security environments in the areas of responsibility.” U.S.
That seemingly simple and innocuous statement encapsulates a great deal of folly, ignorance, and naiveté.
Let’s break it down. “We are not posturing to plant the flag in the capital.” Nothing should be further from the truth. Consider the multitude of historical examples involving the planting of the flag versus not. WWII was a prime example of planting the flag, firmly and unequivocally, in the capitals of
and Germany . The result? Both are now pillars of the global community. On the other hand, consider the examples of Japan N. Korea and (Desert Storm). In each case, we fought a partial war to an indefinite conclusion, chose not to plant the flag, and have had to live with years of costly and difficult consequences. For decades we’ve had to pay an enormous price to contain a now nuclear armed, belligerent, and insane Iraq N. Korea. Our failure to plant the flag at the conclusion of Desert Storm led directly to having to fight a second time. The cost to plant the flag in Iraq and Germany was a bargain of untold magnitude compared to the ongoing problems resulting from our failure to do so in Japan N. Korea and . We see then, that the statement, “We are not posturing to plant the flag in the capital.”, derives from a failure to learn the lessons of history and demonstrates a folly and ignorance of the action-consequence link that is staggering in its magnitude. Iraq
Consider the next sentence, “At the high end, warfighting today is IAMD-centric [Integrated Air and Missile Defense] and not about regime change.” At the high end, war is all about regime change or at least it should be, as we just pointed out. If we don’t end a war decisively and overwhelmingly we’ll continue to pay for it for years to come and may well wind up refighting it. This statement is a complete failure to recognize what war is and what the Navy’s purpose is. This is ignorance on a grand scale.
“Deterrence and conflict prevention are all about competitive strategies, as we know from winning the endgame in the Cold War.”
The Cold War was not won because of our deterrence or conflict prevention strategies. The Cold War was won because we committed to preparing for the ultimate war and demonstrated that we were committed to winning it totally and decisively. Our preparation for total war led the
Soviet Union to engage in an arm’s race that their economy could not sustain. Yes, there were many other factors at play and I’m simplifying but the point is that timid, half-measures of conflict prevention were not what won the Cold War. Americans seem to have a chronically hard time recognizing that the rest of the world respects strength. But, I digress …
Our current crop of military professionals appear to be misinterpreting the lessons of history. We seem to want to re-interpret history through a lens of wishful thinking and a haze of peaceful intentions. Well, it didn’t happen that way and it won’t happen that way in the future.
, for example, has no more respect for our peaceful gestures than the China Soviet Union did. We can remember our lessons or we can pay in blood to have them re-taught to us by countries that have learned the proper lessons.
(1) US Naval Institute, “Modernize Aegis for Naval Dominance”, John Morton, May 2014, p.60.