By lex, on January 30th, 2010
I woke up this morning with the answer to many questions in my head, foremost among them this: What on earth is Navy doing? I mean, after all, these are smart men atop the leadership ladder at Navy and in the Navy. Excellent competitors and achievers with brilliant political instincts.
How could they be so dumb?
What is it with that whole “diversity is the number one mission” at the Naval Academy thing? How did that fit with our professed mission of preparing midshipmen mentally, morally and physically to be naval officers?
What is it with the retention of Midshipman 3/C Curry, an apparently outstanding athlete but demonstrably inadequate midshipman?
Why did naval leadership go on a country-wide “listening tour” seeking guidance on roles and missions? Why did we settle on “Navy – A global force for good **“?
What does that even mean?
With the lucidity that comes from a good night’s rest, and the ability to focus fully on a problem the answer came to me. As always, it is useful to rely upon first principles – what is the thing in itself, what does it do?
It’s ought to be helpful to go to the mission of the Navy in search of first principles: “The mission of the Navy is to maintain, train and equip combat-ready Naval forces capable of winning wars, deterring aggression and maintaining freedom of the seas,” but while that points us in the right direction it misses center mass. First and foremost the Navy is a bureaucracy, and the first instinct of any bureaucracy is always survival.
Seen in this light, all of the foregoing makes perfect sense.
Consider these facts:
- The US spends more on national defense than the rest of the world combined.
- The Navy faces no peer competitor in any Mahanian clash of “fleets in being.”
- The country’s demographics are changing rapidly*
The pressures of federal mandatory spending continue to squeeze the fisc, and those pressures will not abate but rather multiply over the out-years. We simply lack the national, political will to do anything about it, and the result will be ever diminishing discretionary spending (certainly as a proportion of GDP, and potentially in real terms) and brutal competition within DoD for a slice of the shrinking resource pie.
The closest thing to a non-allied “fleet in being” is the People’s Liberation Army Navy. But while they are taking their first, tentative laps around the blue water pond they are primarily organized around coastal defense, with a growing emphasis on in-close area denial. A fight with China – especially for what amounts to symbolic reasons – would be ugly, costly and stupid for everyone involved. In the near term, it ought to self-deter.
The long term threat will be the “resource wars” that become increasingly more likely as emerging countries with enormous populations and ravenous appetites for growth grapple for hydrocarbons, steel, cement – everything required to build and sustain economies to support unstable billions of people with rapidly growing expectations. And all of that commerce – and all of that fighting – will occur in the maritime domain, because everything worth anything in bulk will always move by sea.
The resource wars are probably at least 30-40 years away, but the fiscal pressures are here now. How does a capital intensive Navy built by a finite base of trained industrial labor that lacks a peer competitor survive to maintain relevance in the really bloody wars for national survival fought three or four decades hence?
The strategic answer seems to be that you build good will. You show that you “get it.”
In a country growing more rapidly brown and feminized, you get that you’re perceived as a white boy’s club, especially at the top. You buy good will in Congress and with the people by worshiping at the unexamined altar of diversity and do whatever it takes to put the right kind of faces * in place to one day stand as flag officers before Congress and beg for resources.
And as you’ve done in the past, you beat the other services to it.
In a world increasingly grown tired of the cost and stupidity of war, you downplay the notion of combat capability and deterrence in favor of worldwide “goodness,” and when a natural disaster strikes, you divert combat forces from routine deterrence deployments to humanitarian rescue operations, ensuring that the press embarks with you.
You do whatever it takes to survive because that’s what bureaucracies do. You hope that all the petty deceptions, broken promises and compromised standards are worth the fact that thirty or forty years from now when the country really needs you again, you’ll be there for her.
It’s all so clear to me now.
Whether it is correct or not, I suppose we shall see in time.
* 09-24-2018 Link Gone; no replacements found – Ed.
** 09-24-2018 Original link gone; replacement found – Ed.