Monday, March 31, 2008

Maritime Strategy Monday: Work & van Tol's assessment

Last month, I was half-way through a post "Critique of the Critiques" about the lack of good commentary on The Maritime Strategy outside blogs (stuff in Proceedings has been horrid on the subject; i.e. Lehman's punt), when it morphed in to this.

I think I may have been ahead of myself though, as more and more is starting to come out from quality old-school people and mediums that are starting to poke and sniff at the MARSTRAT with a clear, slow, methodical process. With time, the MARSTRAT's inadequacy and "leadership by committee" feel has set in for most who read it from Congress to the YN3 - and the 100# heads are starting to join the party.

From the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, Robert O. Work and Jan van Tol have produced one of the better write-ups on MARSTRAT titled, A Cooperative Strategy for the 21st Century Seapower: an Assessment.

It came out last Tuesday while I was gone absorbing taxpayer money, and I believe you were all ordered by Galrahn to read it. If you haven't - please follow the link above and block out 15 minutes then come back and throw in your $.02 in comments after giving this post a quick read. Here is my brief take on it.

Being that the MARSTRAT is out there, we have to deal with it and its implications. It is to late to fix it. In that respect, Work and van Tol's article is a valuable addition to the discussion on where we as a Navy are going, as it is a combo critique and explanation of the MARSTRAT. It is the later part that gave me a grin early, as this is the added value of this article. The MARSTRAT is, as mentioned after it came out, a mush-mash of a read. The explanation of our Navy's MARSTRAT needs explanation, though it really needs a v2.0. We won't see that for awhile, so the larger Navy community has a lot of work to do to fix it. Consider yourself like the USS SAN ANTONIO (LPD-17) plankowners. You have a lot of work to do, because what you were given is the possibility of a great thing - but not quite ready for prime-time as delivered.

As a suggested guide, even if you are comfortable with the MARSTRAT, go through the explanations part as it sets up the detailed critique that is folded in. Don't cheat.

Early on, the authors mention the useful part of the MARSTRAT along the same lines we did back in OCT - the 6-6-3.
Aside from listing its strategic imperatives, core capabilities, and implementation priorities, A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower is relatively short on how the core capabilities will be “synchronized and integrated” to achieve its strategic imperatives beyond a spirited explanation of the benefits of forward presence in a globalized world ...
I still believe that is the only functional part of the MARSTRAT, but they also go a bit further and make a very good point,
... the strategy suffers the same general weakness that inflicts many US strategy documents, which are often long on lists of laudable goals, sub-goals, and core capabilities, but short on how these goals and sub-goals might be achieved.
Bingo. The MARSTRAT isn't really a strategy. It is, by proper meaning, a "concept." Words mean things - and this shortcoming is a critical weakness of the whole MARSTRAT document. It didn't happen in isolation though.
In short, the document does not address what should be a core element of any strategy—namely, how both the goals and the capabilities needed to pursue them will be brought into balance with available resources.
Lack of clear, upfront, direct discussion, a type of intellectual cowardice I call Happy Talk, is rampant throughout our service from FITREP language, the inability to develop a clear plan for a warship from design to pier, to the complete lack of challenge to the cancer of the discredited theories pushed by the Diversity Bullies.

We have few who want to use clear and precise language in what they do, or who want to challenge the concepts of those in a senior position. When you round all the sharp edges, compromise away any firm positions, edit through a too cautious chop-chain you get the predictable result of rudderless drift.

Getting back to the Strategy vs. Concept point; if you look at the MARSTRAT in that context, things do look a little better - a bit.
By recognizing A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower as a maritime strategic concept instead of a comprehensive strategy, its glaring lack of resource priorities and implications and concrete organizational initiatives becomes more understandable, as does its sweeping, visionary style.
Yep. It is also helpful to look at it in regards to the National Defense Strategy and the 2006 Quadrennial Defense Review.

They make a very solid point about one of the examples of the areas of excessive hyperbole that weakens the entire MARSTRAT.
It is also difficult to support the claim that the concept’s very laudable emphasis on more closely integrating the three Sea Services is something radically new. While it may be true that this is the first time that all three leaders of the Sea Services have actually signed a joint strategic concept, it is simply factually incorrect to assert that the Navy, Coast Guard, and Marines have never come together to follow a “unified maritime strategy.” Indeed, the three leaders will be hard-pressed to match the thorough integration of the three services in World War II, when the Coast Guard fought forward in the Atlantic and Pacific and manned over 300 Navy ships, or when the Navy-Marine-Coast Guard team fought the brilliant island-hopping campaign in the Pacific. Similarly, although the 1980s Maritime Strategy was not signed by the Commandant of the Coast Guard, it was based on a close integration of the three Sea Services.
That comment in the MARSTRAT still bothers me, and I am glad they hit on it too. It is an insult to everyone's intelligence.

In the Empty Bottles section of the article, they point out what they consider four significant omissions.
The first and most obvious is that although the concept argues that maritime security is central to the success of globalization, it fails to acknowledge that the threats to the maritime commons are now likely as low as or lower than at any time in the last century.
The concept’s second notable omission is the absence of any discussion of China. The 2006 QDR said, “Of the major and emerging powers, China has the greatest potential to compete militarily with the United States and field disruptive military technologies that could over time offset traditional US military advantages absent US counter-strategies.” Yet beyond an oblique reference to preventing great power war and announcing the concentration of combat credible maritime power in the Pacific, the concept is completely silent on the impressive growth in China’s maritime power, and what that might mean over time for the three Sea Services.
Did China-friendly ADM Fallon have a part in that?
A third obvious omission is the concept’s lack of any substantive discussion of “seabasing.” The idea of using the sea as a joint base of operations in both peacetime and wartime has been a central theme of the Navy-Marine Corps story since the mid-1950s, and especially since the late 1990s. Its absence suggests that this central theme no longer pertains in the Global Era’s cooperative phase. When asked why seabasing had been dropped from the Sea Services’ primary narrative, one of the authors of the strategy responded that the Services had purposely steered away from addressing or highlighting any specific “program.” This answer is itself quite revealing. It suggests that framers of the concept now view seabasing simply in programmatic terms (e.g., what platforms to buy) rather than as a strong foundation for any maritime strategic concept.
That is my favorite pull-quote of the whole article; the best part of the critique. The point he makes about "programmatic" is something we should all ponder and ask where else we see that mindset.

I would add that a large part of that problem is too many leaders and decision makers are spending too much time in DC and its environs and not enough time at sea or forward deployed. Too many SES and all the attitude that comes with them (NAVSEA spy knows what I mean). Not enough pier and plane focus. Get that right, and the programmatic issues will work themselves out - not the other way around.

And the 4th,
The fourth important omission is the general lack of any acknowledgement of how joint forces contribute to the maritime strategic concept, and how their contributions allow the Sea Services to re-allocate their own resources for other purposes.
Funny thing is, all the authors were JPME I & II complete, right? Haruph, I won't tip over that rock today. That is so critical, right? Goldwater-Nichols fixed everything and is perfect, right?

Good summary and clear point.
None of these four omissions are damning in and of themselves. Collectively, however, they may work to undermine the concept’s long-term relevance.
I would add credibility as well, but the authors make a boldface point (boldface in the original) that I think they got exactly right.
It explains neither how the three Sea Services will help win the war we are in (the Long War against radical extremists) nor what wars the three Sea Services are most interested in preventing.
And we are all still working on it, mostly because this whole thing was started and constructed poorly. The authors touch on one of those poorly constructed failures at birth.
While having open and frank discussions with the American people about the role of seapower is a worthy endeavor, and perhaps well worth the effort for other reasons, designing a maritime strategic concept to “meet the expectations and needs of the American people” based on “Conversations with the Country” is highly suspect intellectually. Who participated in the conversations? Did these efforts offer the participants clear choices?
the whole idea of designing a strategic concept based on “conversations with” or polling of the American people overlooks a fundamental reality. It ignores the central fact that it is the Members of Congress (the elected representatives of the American people) and the appointed officials of the Office of the Secretary of Defense (who are responsible for the development of the military component of national security policy), who are the true target audience of the concept if it is to have any practical impact. These two groups have little time or interest in rhetoric. They deal in specifics that can help them make decisions and choices.
Talk about an embarrassing and insulting episode. Ungh.

This is good. More talk, more discussion.

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