Monday, November 5, 2012

The Emerging Politics of U.S. Naval Power

Started writing this post in July. Since it expires tomorrow afternoon, time to get on it...

Having played some role in formulating the question, I must confess that I was a bit disappointed in the responses of both John Lehman and Richard Danzig during June's maritime seminar. Over the last month things have improved, especially with Chris Cavas' interview of John Lehman that laid out some details for the Romney campaign's vision of naval power. I wasn't particularly impressed by Governor Romney's comments on fleet sizing, but at least they spurred some national discussion of maritime affairs.

This election will not turn on fine distinctions between theories of maritime power.  Nevertheless, both campaigns have expressed more interest in naval affairs than any Presidential campaigns since the 1980s.  Given the stakes, the impressive amount of intellectual firepower on either side, and the audience, I think that we could have expected more sophisticated discussions of how each campaign understands the relationship between political commitment and maritime strategy.

While Secretary Lehman invoked a vision of naval power that is broadly grounded in Mahanian lines, he didn't connect grand political strategy with naval power in terms more complex than a request for more resources. Perhaps because he felt the need to respond to Secretary Lehman, Richard Danzig similarly offered little in terms of a genuine appreciation of naval strategy. In particular, I would like to have seen the two responses grapple in some fashion with the difficulties presented by the Cooperative Maritime Strategy.  I have argued elsewhere that elements of the Obama administration (primarily Secretary of State Clinton) appear to have understood and fully adopted the cooperative framework of CS-21, although whether they have sufficiently linked the framework to a progressive understanding of America's role in the world is a different question.

In his latest book (The Future of Power) Joseph Nye invokes the Cooperative Strategy as an example of "smart power," within context of an argument about America's place in a liberal internationalist order.  Given Dr. Nye's association with the Democratic foreign policy apparatus, the idea that the principles of the cooperative strategy might find their way into a detailed Democratic foreign policy vision is hardly absurd.

What grand strategic role would Mitt Romney's Navy play? Apart from the potential addition of more ships, I have no idea.  There are certainly many good conservative accounts of what the Navy ought to do, as compared to what it's doing right now; our own Bryan McGrath has developed a strong critique of the Cooperative Strategy, and various other voices have also argued that the Cooperative Strategy represents a fundamentally wrong-headed approach to the current international environment.  I don't know what Secretary Lehman thinks of these critiques, and I certainly don't know what Governor Romney thinks of them. On the other hand, I don't think it's too much to suggest that the Romney campaign has developed an embroyonic (or perhaps atmospheric) critique of the cooperative strategy that mirrors the critiques posed by many of the campaign's supporters (including Bryan).

Again, we shouldn't expect too much from what amount to campaign statements.  However, in context of the audience that reads Information Dissemination, of the relevance of maritime security to the foreign policy positions of either campaign, and of the expertise of the authors in question, we should have expected a bit more than what we got.

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