Thursday, March 27, 2008

Maritime Strategy: Blogger Roundtable

This evening several bloggers participated in a Blogger Roundtable conference call with Deputy Chief of Naval Operations Vice Adm. John Morgan. It was my first time participating in one of these blogger discussions, and I personally thought it was interesting. Other participants included Eagle1, SteelJaw Scribe, David Axe, and I think the fourth was Greg Grant of GovExec (I might be wrong). Invited but unable to show up was CDR Salamander, Chap, and Thomas Barnett.

First I want to give credit to the Navy. Last Friday I was critical of the Navy not leveraging the internet, and then yesterday I get an email from CDR Salamander who forwards me a message from the host of the blogger roundtable, with a link to that criticism no less, asking how to get in touch with me. Mike, for the record, I'm rethinking my position and you might be right.

The audio of the discussion is available on BlogTalkRadio if you are interested. Listening to myself is a reminder that 8 years in New York has done little to take the Arkansas draw out of my voice, even if I still haven't recovered said voice in full from my recent illness. My wife told me yesterday I sound like I'm going through puberty, but thankfully the voice returned enough that the little boy voice from yesterday won't be broadcast across cyberspace.

I will probably discuss the roundtable discussion further once I get done thinking about some of what was said. I was the only person who was able to ask two questions, perks of arriving first. My questions were (this is not verbatim).

Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Response is featured as one of the 6 capabilities the Navy intends to execute with the MS. Observing the proactive deployments of both grey and white hulls, the Mercy and Comfort missions for example, the Peleliu deployment to SE Asia last year, and the upcoming deployment of the USS Boxer to South America, the Navy is committing budgetary resources including ships and personnel to what some are calling Naval Medical Diplomacy. Conventional wisdom, of which I am a subscriber, suggests these missions do (or should) contribute to the National Interest, but my question is, what empirical data is being measured to determine success or failure of these Medical Diplomacy deployments? What metrics is the Navy using to measure the return on investment of this capability outlined in the MS?
The answer was that the Navy is using the independent analysis by Pew Research to collect the data. At first Vice Adm Morgan started discussing statistics, but he pulled up short realizing those aren't measurements of success, rather measurements of work conducted. I've been thinking about this for awhile now, and it seems to me this is something the State Dept would do if they were worth a shit, and Pew Research data would be crossed reference as a second source. The ability to measure soft power including initiatives like Naval Medical Diplomacy is going to be critical in the development of successful peacetime strategy principles, and right now the government is outsourcing this role. Maybe I am off base here, but if I was the Navy, I would want to measure the degree of success of my own strategy. Every successful large business in America internally measures the success or failure of their strategies, I think the Navy should too.

The second question.
The 2006 QDR lists "Shaping the Choices of Countries at Strategic Crossroads" as one of its 4 strategic priorities, and it goes on to say "The United States will attempt to shape these choices in ways that foster cooperation and mutual security interests." While the QDR goes on to list a number of countries, it spotlights the choices of major and emerging powers including India, Russia and China as key factors in determining the international security environment of the 21st century. The Maritime Strategy makes reference to preventing great power war and announcing the concentration of combat credible maritime power in the Pacific, but does not specifically identify these and other emerging challengers to the international security environment by name, My question is, why does the MS intentionally not discuss the challenges of emerging regional powers? For example, why doesn't the MS discuss the impressive growth in China’s maritime power when we are potentially on the edge of a maritime competition?
I kinda stumbled on myself getting both questions out, oh well. In answering this question Adm Morgan basically said they didn't want to name any names and he didn't offer a reason why. I was left unimpressed by the answer, there was no intellectual reason offered regarding why the Navy would ignore naming the challenges. In my opinion Russia, India, and China each represent a unique challenge, the Middle East represents a unique challenge. This isn't about naming an axis of evil, I simply think if we are going to develop a maritime strategy to manage the disruptions to a world emerging through globalization in the 21st century, it seems a bit silly for us not to acknowledge challenges regarding the nations that will have the most influence on the international security environment of the 21st century.

In reflection, based on the non answer, but also due to the questions asked by SJS and Eagle1, I'm wishing I would have used my last question to discuss the duality nature of the Maritime Strategy. You have to listen to the short conference call to understand what I mean, but the Navy basically has developed two strategies, and we are way beyond the object being command of the sea.

I have two new phrases for the lexicon. Thanks to David Axe I'm thinking the phrase used by Vice Admiral Morgan that "Every budget is a Strategy" is something that we will be using quite often. Also SJS's question brought out an interesting discussion point, something more readily discussed before my generation grew up, but something that I think will be worth several thousand words on this blog in the future: Escalation Control. To me this sounds a bit like a strategic principle for a peacetime strategy.

Other points of interest. Vice Adm. Morgan thinks the fleet is too small to execute the maritime strategy. Vice Adm Morgan somewhat combined several aspects of the strategy to emphasize forward presence.

Final thought, prior to today I had not heard Vice Admiral Morgan speak, but I have read many dozen transcripts and published works that gave me some sense of his vision for naval strategy. A few months ago the question was asked who in the military are the great active duty modern security thinkers of our time, and I answered Vice Admiral Morgan. Today he validated my thinking at the time. I'll have more thoughts on the blogger roundtable discussion this weekend, but I want to digest the discussion before I dig in.

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