President Bush has expressed his hope that a new world order can be created from the defeat of Iraq and the more constructive policies of the USSR. The recent experience with Iraq is that nations acting wisely and decisively can deal with a too·ambitious and ruthless leader if they are prepared to act in common in a timely way; the hope is that success in the common endeavor can open opportunities for peace not previously present. The President has committed American leadership to work for a wider peace in the Middle East, and the creation of a better world order.
What kind of world do we want, and what is our role in it? These are important questions for us, because we are at another of life’s cross·roads; a sea change is occurring in international relations, and we have choices to make. The post·war era is ending, a new era beginning. Western Europe and Japan are vigorous, Eastern Europe is free, and the Soviet empire is breaking up. These are profoundly welcome occurrences. We have played an important part in achieving them. But where from here? Will events in the USSR return us to a bipolar world, highly confrontational, or is a coalition world emerging on the model of the Gulf experience? Will we see a world in which regional powers dominate in their own region, as Iraq might have done if left unchallenged? Or an anarchic world in which no one leads? What world do we want to help create, and what is our part in the creative process? Shall we be the global policeman, trying to manage everything? Or the global fireman, ready but waiting until crises reach their burning point? Or shall our model be, as one of my colleagues puts it, the Yellowstone Fire Department·· let the fires burn? We must choose.
Making choices for this next era seems harder now than it was after the second world war. The world was a starker place then, the war had brought the need for American leadership into focus, and we were far·and·away the world’s dominant economic power, with 40% of the world’s gross national product The Gulf War has been much less dramatic, much more regional, much less consequential. There is neither a vast array of devastated nations needing our help nor an over· powering threat summoning us to commitment and sacrifice. Furthermore, although still by most measures the richest country in the world, we are deeply in debt and cash poor, with a long domestic agenda in need of attention, but little ambition for taxing ourselves further to meet these domestic needs or to pay our debts. Until we get our economy in good order, we will not be well-placed for long-term international leadership, despite the resounding success of American leadership and American arms in the Gulf crisis. This will be a process taking years, not months, and in the meantime there will almost certainly be continuing downward pressure on defense spending.
The dilemma for defense planners, therefore, is how to maintain adequate capabilities in an uncertain world with fewer resources. Moreover, some of the things that a short time ago seemed likely to help planners with this dilemma, are now less certain. For example, the START agreement long anticipated has so far not materialized, and therefore the START II negotiations that were to produce really deep cuts in nuclear weaponry cannot occur. This means we will probably be spending more of the defense budget on nuclear systems and less on conventional capabilities than would otherwise have been possible. Similarly stalled are the conventional arms negotiations in Europe, which were to agree upon and codify reductions in U.S. and other forces in Europe, and allow the demobilization of army and air units. This slow-down is also likely to influence the allocation of defense dollars in the near term.
Nevertheless, unless things go badly awry in the Soviet Union and Europe, the long-term trends are hopeful: a smaller-sized nuclear threat and therefore the need for a smaller American nuclear arsenal and (yet to be proven) a Jesser percentage of the defense budget needed for nuclear forces; and a strategy for Europe that depends much more on mobilization and deployment of ground and air forces that can be maintained in normal times in the reserve components at lower cosl The challenge of designing an Army and Air Force that fits within the new circumstances and budgets is an imposing but essential one. Principal American interests will continue to be at stake in Europe, and the principal mission for both Army and Air Force will necessarily remain that of helping deter major war in Europe and of mobilizing and deploying if things go wrong there or elsewhere.
The challenge for the Navy and Marine Corps, however, may be even more daunting, because naval missions are changing more slowly and less dramatically than army or air force missions, but naval budgets are being equally reduced. Indeed, in some ways, the strategic responsibilities of the Navy are increasing. Ironically, as the political threat from the USSR recedes, Soviet nuclear weapons programs proceed apace, and it is these weapons that represent the fundamental threat to the fabric of our society. Thus the TRIDENT submarine, the only invulnerable nuclear system we possess, and the TRIDENT missile, which with its high accuracy and long range can play a deterrent role previously reserved for the ICBM, assume a greater significance in nuclear deterrence planning, especially as we shrink the size of our nuclear arsenal. Further, as nuclear proliferation becomes a slowly evolving fact of future life, as it seems intent on doing, nuclear-equipped naval fores may be our principal theater-level deterrent to these lesser potential nuclear threats. (Had Iraq succeeded in its vigorous efforts to buy and steal nuclear technology and create a nuclear capability, or had Israel not destroyed Iraq’s earlier attempts to create nuclear weapons, we might have faced a nuclear-armed Hussein this time round.)
Another naval responsibility increasing in strategic importance is anti-submarine warfare and sea-lane defense. This is so in two respects: first, our still-evolving strategy for NATO, relying as it does on mobilization and deployment instead of forward based army and air forces as the hedge against future crisis in Europe, is placing more importance on the safety of the sea-lanes. A European crisis seems distant at the moment, but we know beyond doubt that crises can occur there, and we know how quickly and unexpectedly crises can arise. We also know that, unlike the 1940s, when ships, planes and equipment poured daily out of yards and factories, in any new conflict we would not have access to a similar production base; every ship that goes to the bottom in a future war will be an irretrievable loss, importantly, perhaps vitally, influencing the course of battle. We could not afford to lose many ships in any major crisis. The principal strategic threat to those ships would be from submarines. We ought not to fall behind in antisubmarine warfare.
Control of the sea-lanes is important in a second respect also: regional conflict. Our military success in the Gulf depended absolutely on safe sea-lanes. Safe sea-lanes were necessary to avoid ships being sunk and to enable ships to sail. The latter is relevant because much of our sealift capacity comes from chartering civilian ships, many flying foreign flags. We had access to these ships (i.e., their owners agreed to sail) because the risk to them was low. Recall that Sherlock Holmes, in one of his remarkable, mystery-solving deductions, noted the significance of a dog that didn’t bark. Well, threats to our use of the sea is another “dog that didn’t bark: That it didn’t do so — that the risk to civilian ships was low –was not an accident; it was the product of a powerful Navy. It will be useful in our defense planning if we, like Holmes, observe and be mindful of the dogs that don’t bark as well as those that do.
The Gulf crisis most dramatically emphasizes the traditional naval missions of presence and crisis response. The Navy and Marines have long been, and are likely to remain, the front line representatives of American interests and commitment in most of the world. Foreign governments have·welcomed American ground and air forces only in very few places, principally Germany and Korea; most countries do not feel the need or do not have the political strength to tolerate a foreign military presence within their borders. Naval sources have the great advantage of being handy without being intrusive, characteristics of considerable political advantage. The Gulf illustrates the varied dimensions of the presence and crisis response missions. Naval forces have been in the Gulf for many decades, and have been politically important there since the late 1960s, when British forces were withdrawn from east of Suez. The Middle East Force has done the day-in, day-out job of providing American military presence and signaling American political interest in the region for all these years. Originally a small force of a flagship and several destroyer/frigate ships, it was supplemented in 1979 with the revolution in Iran and the increasing tension in the region, tension that boiled over in 1980, when Iraq attacked Iran and precipitated an eight-year war. Naval forces, U.S. and allied, kept open the oil routes through the Gulf during that war.
Again in the most recent Gulf crisis, naval forces were first on the scene, providing the initial combat-ready forces for the early defense of Saudi Arabia, should a defense have been necessary, and the cover for the build-up of army and air forces. The naval commander facilitated the introduction of the first allied forces in the crisis, and created a coalition naval force of political importance and military effect. This coalition naval force enforced the United Nations embargo on Iraq during the months leading up to hostilities, bringing pressure on Iraq and buying time for diplomacy and for the military build-up. This naval action was the most rigorous embargo since the Cuban missile crisis, and continues though hostilities have ended and our forces are returning home.
Ultimately, we know, neither pressure nor entreaty dissuaded Hussein from his course, and the crisis became war, a war in which the coalition fares were remarkably successful. It was the first completely “joint war”, with all the Services contributing in the expected and apparently well coordinated ways. The Navy and Marines chalked up some new experiences along the way, including the first operational deployment of the Maritime Prepositioning Ships for the Marines, the first employment of aircraft carriers in the northern Gulf, and the first (apparently highly successful) combat firing of Tomahawk cruise missiles from surface ships and submarines.
When the Gulf crisis is resolved, as it shortly will be, and most American forces have returned home, it will be naval forces that remain to do the presence job. Submarines played a valuable but not large part in the Gulf crisis, as far as we know. I add “as far as we know” not because I know there is more to the story than meets the eye, but because submarines, being largely invisible, do things we cannot see; and the habit of submariners is to be silent about their missions. These two characteristics tend to make submarine operations unknown outside the Navy, and perhaps lead us to under-value submarines.
On the other hand, it is precisely the covert character of submarines that makes them unique for certain strike and strike-related missions: operating in high threat environments, gathering intelligence, delivering special forces units, evacuating people from dangerous places, rescuing downed airmen in hostile waters, etc.
Now we have the first combat firing of Tomahawks, which puts the submarine squarely into the strike mission, a fact that would have received much more attention in a less noisy crisis. But each crisis has its own conditions and peculiarities; if the latest Gulf crisis did not require the heavy use of submarines, it is easy to envisage crises in which the submarine would be the wisest platform of choice. If analysis indicates that cruise missiles were highly successful in their tasks, there will be recommendations to buy and deploy them in much larger numbers and, down the road, to improve their performance and ease the present difficulties in their planning and handling, making them operationally more useful. Submarine planning must now incorporate the strike mission in a more vigorous way.
Picking up new missions and new capabilities is easier to propose than to accomplish. Leaner years are before us, and the shrinking defense budget will be an unrelenting task-master. We will not be able to pick up what is new without laying down something of what is old. Some still hope we will do more with less, but we will not. We will do less with less, and one obligation we have is to decide where doing less will have he lesser impact on our defense posture. Hard choices lie ahead.
If we cannot do more with less, we can do better with less. We can use our defense dollars more imaginatively, more productively, more wisely. This will require a very high order of leadership; Total Quality Leadership, like the cavalry, is arriving just in time. In the new world order, a new order no less likely than the old to require American leadership and American armed forces will have a prominent part. The challenge is to shape them to fit the world that is coming within the budgets we can afford.
(Editor’s Note: Robert Murray is a defense analyst, fonner Director of the National Security Program, Harvard University, fonner Dean of the Naval War College, and served previously as Under Secretary of the Navy.]