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Harlan Ullman’s “In Harms Way”

The uncertain future lying ahead for the security establishment of the United States obviously has some rocks and shoals for which the U.S. Navy, and the Submarine Force in palticular, will have to be especially vigilant. In addition to keeping an alen watch for unchaned hazards, a piUdent navigator also reviews all the Sailing Direction-like infonnation for the seaway he is traveling. The purpose here is to point out the general geography through which the Navy will be sailing in the days ahead, to indicate the location of known dangers, and to emphasize the probability of encountering unforseen difficulties. In the year and a half since President Bush’s Aspen speech outlining plans for the post-cold war U.S. strategic posture, two points have become obvious. First, that the reconjiguration of the military is being discussed on several levels, with a growing debate about national purpose taking precedence over force st1Ucture questions. In addition, although our [tScal problems seem to encourage quick action, the final answers to those force stJUcture questions do not appear to be easily resolved. Thoughtful appraisal of the multidimensional problems facing the Navy seem necessary to help in considering the possibilities for the uncenain future. In an elf on to encourage and infomr those considerations some obsetvations about a recent book with just that focus are offered.


by Harlan K. Ullman. Silver Spring, MD: Bartleby Press 27lpp.

The title of this book instantly betrays the author’s concern for the future of the Navy, and by implication, the country. The end of the Soviet Union has made necessary a major review of the kinds and amounts of military forces needed to protect our national security. Such a review is appropriate and potentially a good thing. Unfortunately it is taking place during a protracted and very unpleasant recession, at a time when many domestic concerns press for urgent action, and, now, in an election year. We are already seeing the results. Hardly had the ink dried on the 25% force cut and the new, supposedly enduring base force, than we embarked on a new round of cuts, heralded by the President’s state of the union address. There is now no evident floor for the defense budget, at least not one supported by a theory of requirements.

Into this breach has stepped Dr. Harlan Ullman. He is not alone. But his focus on the problems that confront our Navy will be of interest to readers of this periodical. He can also argue that he was ahead of his time, since the book was published in August of 1991 and begun more than a year before that. It is not easy to write about a subject that is in tumultuous change before your eyes. Undaunted, Ullman steps up to the task, observing that ” .. .’true north’ is the realization that the Navy must make do with far less in a strategic environment where the basic assumptions and solutions of the past will no longer be sufficient for defining many future tasks.”

Dr. Michael Nacht, Dean of National Security Studies at the University of Maryland, identifies four schools of thought on framing issues of national security in our current circumstances. The first school believes that the world situation has eased, but that the fundamental confrontation between the USA and Russia for world power and influence remains, and that a successor state to the USSR will again pose a serious military challenge to the West. A second school believes that the world has been fundamentally changed in the past two years in ways that are irreversible. Their view is that the U.S. cannot continue to be the world’s policeman, but must remain selectively engaged abroad in places where we have strong interests. This school is typified by Zbigniew Brzezinski. A third school may be termed the Gee-economic school. For them the world bas also been fundamentally changed, but for them the global competition for power and influence has been shifted to the sphere of economics. They see the struggle for world markets and resources as unlimited, with winners and losers – the latter doomed to impoverishment and third-worldization. A principal exponent of this view is Edward Luttwak. Finally, a last group sees the dawn of a new age in which nations are equal before the law, and in which the United States bas no special claim to leadership or responsibilities for world order.

Dr. Ullman fits none of these categories particularly well. He frames his analysis in terms of what he calls four “battle ensigns” – four issue areas that are each vital to the Navy’s future. They are strategy, domestic environment, infrastructure and operations. The result, as readers will anticipate, cuts across the lines of N acht’s schools of thought, often in ways that are quite interesting. aearly, dealing with the domestic environment – the elusive matter of the national will – is the key to solving our problems of competitiveness as well as developing the resolve to use our international status affirmatively and constructively. Ullman sees the domestic environment as perhaps the most perplexing of the questions facing the Navy. Although he doesn’t say it explicitly he implies that this is because the domestic debate is about Issues far broader than the usefulness of military forces in the new world order. Whatever the case, Ullman sees three options: (1) Continue to stonewall; (2) A sort of naval glasnost; and, (3) Some combination of the two. He is not attracted to further stonewalling but believes that being completely candid with the Congress might ” … dilute naval control over naval matters by relegating them to a highly amorphous Congress.” He favors the combination approach, and concludes, somewhat ambiguously, ” … the next version of the maritime strategy may best be designed with the domestic environment paramount”

The new strategy, in Ullman’s view, will feature two new elements. The first is to promote and protect international stability. By this the author apparently means the exercise of influence and management of crises in ways to avoid challenges to U.S. interests. This is clearly consistent with Nacht’s school of selective engagement. The second new element is that the Navy should serve as a “transitional force.” That is, as an insurance policy against things going badly wrong on the international scene. The Navy, in this concept, would be most likely to be first on the scene of confrontation or conOlct. Marines and Navy task forces would stabilize such situations locally or secure lodgements that would enable insertion or Army and Air Force units as needed. This is very likely an idea whose time has come. While it has always been implicit in Title Ten, the long cold war, featuring a face-off in Central Europe, has led to the atrophy of the notion of Navy expeditionary forces. We are bound to hear more on this subject in the future.

On the infrastructure issue Ullman points first to the fact that the base structure — 500 bases at home and over 90 abroad – is a legacy of World War Two, and no longer appropriate to a Navy of 450 or fewer ships. Whether the structure can be shrunk and rationalized is a question not trivially related to the question of political will. Ullman’s view is that it will take a comprehensive and cooperative effort involving OSD, the White House, Congress and the public to resolve the issue. He is not explicit on how to mount such an effort. It is certainly true that we cannot afford the base structure we have now, any more than we can afford to retain substantial overcapacity in military aircraft manufacturing or in naval shipbuilding. But the devil is in the details here, and one could wish that Ullman had pursued this issue further.

The last of Ullman’s “battle ensigns” is operational issues. Here he raises the perennial Issue of how to package naval forces to achieve desired effects without Incurring undue risks. Must a battle force always include a large deck aircraft carrier? The author explores the alternatives from super-super carriers of 250-300,000 tons to much smaller air-capable ships. He appears to lean to the conclusion that large carriers will not always be needed in the future, but points out at the same time that technology and the proliferation of advanced weapons are driving warships of all types towards larger, multi-purpose configurations.

The analysis of the issue areas outlined above leads Ullman to conclude that ” … the Navy should have at its core 8 to 9 CVBGs or their equivalents, about 350 ships, and a MEB assault capability on both coasts.” This is assuming that the Russians behave. The author believes that in getting from where we are now to the minimum core goal we should engage the Russians in a naval arms control dialogue to ensure their good behavior. In any case the ships that are made excess in going to the core force should, in his view, be laid away in Inactive status as a fleet in being against the emergence or a greater than anticipated threat. This interesting idea corresponds closely with that of reconstitution as advanced in current versions of the National Military Strategy. Exactly how, and how fast the fleet in being could be brought on line is left by Ullman to later, detailed study.

Unfortunately the author leaves a good deal in this book to further detailed study.” The book abounds with interesting ideas and insights. But much of the hard work is left to the interest ed student. The Administration and Congress must get together and solve the infrastructure problem and the mess that the acquisition system is in. Our foreign policy goals and objectives must be clearly articulated so that military leaders may build appropriate force packages that Congress will approve because they are right for national security. The intelligence community must rid itself of its preoccupation with the Red Menace and become expert on the regional bad actors who will be the real troublemakers of the future. It is hard to disagree with all this. It would be stupid to disagree. But these issues have been around for some time, and had they been easy to solve no doubt someone would have done it.

These qualifications should not deter people from reading this book. Ullman has a lively intellect, an interesting style, and many challenging ideas. These ideas, among others, will be in play as the country decides on the nature of its future military forces. They are well worth knowing about, debating, and developing as we go forward

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