Such is the sobering context for the United States’s new maritime strategy, just released after many months of study—particularly at the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island. The study was commissioned by Chief of Naval Operations Michael Mullen, recently promoted to chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. It was released by the Navy, Marine Corps, and the Coast Guard—the first time the three maritime services have jointly authored a common strategy.
This is very much a diplomatic document, meaning it is necessary to read between the lines. Without mentioning China and without going into specific numbers—or even asserting the need for more ships—the 16-page document makes the case for a Navy that must do, if not everything, then nearly everything. And it makes its case within an intellectual framework that should resonate with the public and a Democratic Congress: the dialectic of globalization. “Our Nation’s interests are best served by fostering a peaceful global system comprised of interdependent networks of trade, finance, information, law, people and governance.”
As this document sees it, our world is interconnected, its population clustered in dense, pulsing demographic ganglia near the seas that will be prone to disruptions such as asymmetric attacks and natural disasters. The document pointedly does not rule out great-power military conflicts, asserting that “peace does not preserve itself.” But according to the new strategy, even great-power conflicts are apt to be subtle and asymmetric. There is little talk here of conventional sea and land battles and the need to spread democracy. This is a post-Iraq document, with an emphasis on soft power. Indeed, the war in Iraq appears less relevant to the document than the Indian Ocean tsunami emergency of December 2004/January 2005. To wit: “Building on relationships forged in times of calm, we will continue to mitigate human suffering as the vanguard of interagency and multinational efforts ... Human suffering moves us to act, and the expeditionary character of maritime forces uniquely positions them to provide assistance.”
The title of the report aptly describes its essence: “A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower” is all about cooperation between the three maritime services and, more significantly, between the United States and allied nations. For the past few years, Admiral Mullen has been talking about a 1,000-ship Navy—an international coalition of friendly navies to share intelligence and help each other police the world’s coasts and seas. The phrase “1,000-ship Navy” does not appear in the document. (I heard reports and rumors that the Bush administration did not like it.) But the spirit of the 1,000-ship Navy and “collective security” is everywhere in these pages. In fact, the new strategy goes further than Admiral Mullen’s concept, expanding the definition of partnership beyond friendly navies to other institutions. “No one nation has the resources required to provide safety and security throughout the entire maritime domain. Increasingly, governments, non-governmental organizations, international organizations, and the private sector will form partnerships of common interest to counter ... emerging threats.”