Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Crimea - Now What Do We Do?

This is not a political blog but I have commented many times that our military requires a geopolitical strategy in order to develop a meaningful military strategy which can, in turn, be used to guide our procurement, force structure, force levels, training, doctrine, etc.  The lack of a US geopolitical strategy has never been more evident than while watching the ongoing Russia/Ukraine/Crimea issue.  The US is clueless about how to respond because we don’t have a coherent strategy.  It’s no wonder, then, that our military often seems directionless – they have no geopolitical strategy to work from so they’re operating in a near vacuum. 

As I said, this is not a political blog so I’m not going to delve any deeper into this. 


  1. Isn’t all naval procurement and strategy, based on political matters? ;)

    Let’s add a little navy to this, shall we! I pulled open source stuff, and here are our current CV locations and ship deployments for the Med. (It’s amazing what you can find nowadays!)

    Nimitz – in port, Everett as of 16 DEC 13
    Eisenhower – in port, drydock, Norfolk as of 09 AUG 13
    Vinson – in port, San Diego as of 09 DEC 13
    Roosevelt – in port, Norfolk as of 14 DEC 13
    Lincoln – in port, RCOH, Norfolk as of 01 NOV 12
    Washington – in port, Yokosuka as of 05 DEC 13
    Stennis – in port, drydock, Bremerton as of 03 MAY 13
    Reagan – in port, San Diego as of 31 JAN 14

    Truman – North Arabian Gulf (to be relieved by Bush)
    Bush – anchored in Phaleron Bay, Greece as of 04 MAR 14

    Ships in the Med:
    Bush Battle Group (moving to replace Truman Battle Group)
    Philippine Sea
    UNK LA/VA class subs

    Bataan Amphibious Ready Group (8-month training deployment off Spain)
    Gunston Hall
    Mesa Verde

    BMD Mission (Rota, Spain)
    Arleigh Burke
    Donald Cook

    Independent ships
    Taylor (run aground 12 Feb, in repair, Turkey)
    Mount Whitney (Last seen leaving Istanbul 27 Mar)

    Democracies rarely have coherent strategies, even in WWII the infighting between allies, services and within services almost derailed everything numerous times. On the flip side, sole-leader dictatorships (Hitler, Hussein, Mao) don’t seem to fair much better even if they DO have a single strategy.

    But if anything it seems we do have a military strategy, and its one we perfected from 1945-1991. You don’t fight a peer or near-peer, not back then, not today. During the Cold War the US and NATO turned a blind eye towards things like the Prague Spring in ‘68. Georgia was the same. Ukraine is the same. However you deploy the military in ways to contain the “bad dudes”. I think we’ve started to see that with the deployments to Lithuania (6x F-15Cs, 1xKC-135R) and increased military exchanges with Poland. As it seems Russia marches back West, there is a slight, yet noticeable step-up in response. The “talk” (yes its just talk) is tougher than in Georgia, but you have NATO (Poland) invoking Article 4 for only the 4th time.

    While acknowledging this isn’t a political blog (which has been the downfall of many blogs I’ve seen), and purposely ignoring the fact that the military and use of military force is inherently a political tool, I’d be interested to see what folks thought about what the Navy’s roll in all this should or could be.

    Could this be a trial for A2/D2 light? Would the Bush even be able to play a role? Should be load up humanitarian supplies onto the Donald Cook and ram it through the Russian blockage and dare them to shoot?

    1. Robert, be careful not to confuse actions with strategy. The example you cite of WWII and the various disagreements were operations and actions (not always in agreement) in support of the broad Allied strategy of defeating the Axis powers. Yes, there were political and military disagreements about how best to do that but those were not geopolitical strategy debates - they were, essentially, operational debates.

      Of course, the US, Britain, and Russians each had their own ultimate geopolitical strategies and those were not always in accord (Russia, in particular) with each others but each country's grand strategy was internally consistent.

      Also, see my response to B.Smitty about our lack of a geopolitical strategy towards Russia and that impacts our current actions and your postulated actions.

  2. CNO, not sure if you will allow this. But I think it’s a pretty accurate geo-political expose on the current situation. Pretty in-depth research. If not, delete!

  3. CNO,

    The strategy appears to be apply political pressure in the form of sanction threats to start, possibly carrying through on them later, along with sending international observers to monitor claims made by both sides.

    IMHO, this strategy makes sense, given the circumstances.

    1. B.Smitty, the actions you cite are reactions to Russia's actions and they are divorced from a coherent geopolitical strategy. Do we want to be best friends with Russia? Cautious trading partners? Competitors for world domination? Is it our strategy to contain Russia? Be peer regional/world powers? Once we've formulated our position towards Russia (our geopolitical strategy that will hold true for the next 50 years) then we can formulate appropriate responses to any action they may take. The actions you cite may, or may not, be appropriate for the geopolitical strategy we have for dealing with Russia (of course, the problem is that we don't have a grand geopolitical strategy).

      Thus, the actions are not, themselves, a strategy. They are panicked reactions implemented in a strategic void.

    2. Who says we haven't already done this?

      It appears that we recognize Russia under Putin has slid back to a Soviet-style authoritarian regime with the added twist of a oligarch-driven economy.

      Putin appears to be promoting the US as an external threat to deflect internal dissent.

      I don't believe we consider Russia an enemy. They are more a regional power these days, though they appear to be trying to regain some of their former Soviet hegemony.

      Our goal is to contain this hegemonistic streak, within certain practical bounds. Would we like regime change in Russia? Assuming it put them back on the path to a stable democracy, yes. But we need to take the long view here. We aren't going to war to "liberate" Russia. I seriously doubt we'd go to war to "liberate" Crimea.

      We must recognize that we are limited in the levers we can (and, ultimately, want to) pull to exert our will. Our strategy has to reflect this.

      So I would describe it as "peaceful containment of their hegemonistic tendencies".

    3. B.Smitty, peaceful containment would be one perfectly reasonable strategy. It might or might not be my choice but it's valid. However, it's clear that we have not had such a policy because we've had many opportunities to deal with Russia and implement that policy over Putin's time period. I won't bother listing the many actions he's taken over the years that we haven't responded to in any coherent way. We're clearly reacting on a spur of the moment panic.

      If you see our actions as evidence of a coherent strategy then we'll just have to disagree.

    4. Well.. I think each situation has to be evaluated on its own. Again, we may not respond to every situation, and we will definitely graduate our response based on the situation. It's a fine balance. Containment can be provocative, and we don't want to give Putin easy nationalistic fuel to use against us with the Russian people.

      An overt announcement of a "containment" strategy would do that. We have to be more subtle than that.

      I would also modify the strategy to add "Take advantage of opportunities to improve relations." We clearly don't want to be enemies of the Russians.

      Is it a reactive strategy? Yes. But it's still a strategy, IMHO.

  4. I don't think we can ever have a coherent strategy, as long as the President get's to call all the shots. One President does this, another one does that.

    1. And our political parities do their best to improve their own standing by demonizing the strategy of the President if he is in the opposing party. Both sides do it, no exception What ever happened to the "Loyal Opposition:? Did that ever exist or was it a myth?

    2. One example of calling their own shots is Clinton signing that memorandum on Ukraine without putting it before Congress to get a vote and make it actual US law. And as pointed out Presidents of both parties go around the world and issue statements and sign things which have no force of law and don’t last past the Presidents term if that long.

      The US is not a kingdom, nothing is law and therefore US policy until both the President and the Congress sign off on it.

      There are a lot of promises that have been put out around the world about US policy yet few of them are actually backed up by US law

  5. Everyone, be careful about confusing actions (the equivalent of military operations) with strategy. A strategy is an overarching objective. So, a geopolitical strategy would define what we want to achieve as a nation in relation to the rest of the world. How do we want to relate to China? Russia? Africa? For example, during the Cold War we did, indeed, have a consistent geopolitical strategy that transcended several presidents and both political parties. Our strategy was containment and ultimate defeat of communism with a secondary, supportive goal of spreading democracy. Yes, each president and each Congress tried to implement their own actions (treaties, laws, sanctions, etc.) but they were actions taken under the umbrella of a guiding strategy.

    Today, we lack a geopolitical strategy. How do we want to fit into the world? Savior? Policeman? Shining beacon? Peer? How do we want to relate to China? Russia? Africa? And so on.

    Are we going to contain China (confrontational strategy)? Are we going to accept China as a regional leader (appeasement)? Are we going to cede world leader status to China (capitulation)? Some combination? Something else entirely?

    I ask these questions not to incite a political discussion but to illustrate the difference between a strategy and isolated actions divorced from strategy which is what we're doing now towards Russia, China, and the rest of the world.

    It's important for everyone to grasp the difference. Once that difference is understood, it becomes clear that we lack a strategy and it becomes clear what the benefit of a strategy is (whatever that strategy may be).

    For those of you who think we do have a strategy, look at the relatively recent history of our actions (or inactions) regarding Iraq, Syria, Libya, Egypt, Africa, etc. There is clearly no guiding geopolotical strategy at work.

    I'm getting further into this than I wanted but it's important to understand the role that a national geopolitical strategy plays (or should play) in formulating a military strategy and the resulting procurement and doctrine.

  6. George Friedman, at, wrote that one key strategic interest of the US is to never allow a single power to control the Eurasian landmass. He was stating his own opinion of what US strategic interests appear to be, not stating that this is necessarily a recognized official policy. And you know what? This sort of educated speculation might be the best we, the military leadership, and the rest of the world, can do in figuring out the strategic interests of the US.

  7. i assume the US are trying to stop Europe and Russian getting closer together economically and politically. A Russian / German / China behemoth would be a bit troublesome and a tad unacceptable to US/UK/France.

    This is still the same 'Great Game' played by the previous empires , British Empire is one Example and they played for a loooong time. Now it is America on the steering wheel. Personally i do not agree US do not have long term strategy in this game. The strategy existed , but it's execution and implementation might not be totally worked as planned, so it give the impression that america is clueless etc erc.

    and in this Game there are no right and wrong side, every side do anything to their own advantage. I see many naive people still believed america always right and russia/china/whoever is evil and their leader is demonic .. we should be past that childish propaganda level as we all should know better.


Comments will be moderated for posts older than 30 days in order to reduce spam.