A lesson in war-mongering: “Maritime Strategy in an Age of Blood and Belief”

Summary:  This post describes an article wells worth reading, a sophisticated example of war-mongering.  For a contrast see Geopolitical analysis need not be war-mongering.  At the end are links to other articles on this topic.

This is a review of “Maritime Strategy in an Age of Blood and Belief“, Sandy Winnefeld (Vice Admiral, U.S. Navy), Proceedings, July 2008 — Vice Admiral Winnefeld leads the U.S. Sixth Fleet, NATO’s Allied Joint Command Lisbon, and Strike Force NATO.

(1)   A case history of provocation and response:  Russia

A classic formula for escalating tensions is to provoke rival states, then declare their response to be aggressive.   With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the region changed from threat to be feared into a ruin to looted.  We sought to dismantle Russia’s sphere of influence.  NATO has expanded into Russia’s sphere of influence, admitting Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, Slovenia, Slovakia, Bulgaria, and Romania.  Russia should tweak and re-release the Monroe Doctrine, and see how we like it. 

As we enter the Age of Peak Oil, Russia returns to the ranks of the Great Powers.  As Russia rebuilds, we have initiated even more provocative programs.

  1. The US has attempted to install missile interceptors in Poland and radars in the Czech Republic.
  2. In response, President Putin threatened that Russia “should freeze its compliance with the 1990 Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) treaty – which limits military deployments across the continent “until all countries of the world have ratified and started to strictly implement it”. (BBC, 26 April 2007).
  3. NATO dismisses Russia’s concerns.
  4. Russia’s leaders makes good on their threat (BBC, 14 July 2007).

Admiral Winnefeld paints a different picture of the situation, in which Russia is the aggressor.

“Let us begin with the biggest change in Europe: the emergence of a new Russia with many of the same ambitions as the old Soviet state. … One of the first things observers detect today is a profound anxiety, especially in Europe and the West, over Russia’s re-emergence strategically.”

“… Current Russian strategy appears to have two fundamental tenets. The first is to divide a Europe eager to avoid conflict and maintain its energy supplies by employing an angry rhetorical drumbeat of Western encirclement and the use of energy as an economic weapon. … The second tenet of Russian strategy is to buy time for energy profits to project the illusion of global power when it is not yet there-a “walk loudly and carry a small stick” approach. 

“… Near-term Russian actions in support of this strategy convey a troubling long-term intent. Russia is too powerful to ignore and — given its new global economic orientation in an energy-hungry world — unlikely to be contained. A successful Western strategy will therefore speak to the Russian governing elite in the only language to which it has ever responded positively: principled cooperation backed by strength. “

To our surprise, Russia is about to build a Navy (again).  Even five or six aircraft carriers (a Cold War staple of US Naval forecasts). 

“On the other hand, hedging our bets will require setting aside the assumption that any stagnation in Russian military capability will continue. Moscow’s conversion of soaring energy profits into proposed military recapitalization includes nearly $50 billion for the RFN over the next seven years to modernize existing forces and build new classes of submarines and surface ships. Russia may even begin construction of a new class of aircraft carrier beginning as early as 2012, with an ultimate goal of five or six.”

The Admiral then warns us.

“While RFN current capability and intent pose no immediate danger, we would be wise to remember that China wasted no time in translating its conversion-to-capitalism affluence into a navy that poses a serious challenge to U.S. influence in the Western Pacific.”

This is bad news, considering the cautionary example of China.  If, that is, the Western Pacific being defined as a that area extending few hundred miles from China’s coast.  Do China’s capabilities at coastal defense obviously indicate a belligerent intent?

(2)  Our enemies are always the aggerssor, no matter what you read in the news

A second classic formula for escalating tensions is to threaten rival states, then declare them to be the aggressors.  If they respond, see section one above.

“Perhaps most worrisome of the threats in the region is Iran’s increasing ability to quickly launch ballistic missiles in an attempt to overwhelm Israel’s organic defensive systems. This is, in my opinion, by far the most likely employment of ballistic missiles in the world today, and it demands our immediate attention in the event of a need for a U.S. or NATO response. This unpredictable adversary could be provoked by an isolated, and perhaps seemingly unimportant, event.”

On this planet Earth, unlike that of Vice Admiral Winnefeld, the “unpredictable” States folks worry about are Israel and the US, and the “most likely employment” of massive force is one of them launching “an attempt to overwhelm” Iran’s “organic defensive systems.”  In a post-Westphallian world where the prohibitions against preemptive attacks have faded, where Israel and the US both declare preemptive attacks as a routine part of their military strategy, nukes have become the only guarantee of sovereignty.

Iran might also be fearful of a global hegemon with our thirst of oil and a history of attacking and occupying states with flimsy reasons and less evidence.

(3)  Conclusion

Successful strategy requires the ability to see things from the point of view of other states.  Our government’s top leaders, especially our senior military officers, seem unable to do so.  No wonder the Admiral considers Russia an “enigma” and Iran as “unpredictable.”  This is a serious disability.

(4)  For More information

Other posts about Israel and Iran:

  1. The Fate of Israel, 28 July 2006)
  2. Posts about the possibility that the US or Israel will attack Iran

For more information about the US Navy

  1. DoD Death Spiral – the US Navy version, 31 January 2008
  2. Update to the “Navy Death Spiral”, 22 April 2008
  3. A step towards building a Navy we can afford, 16 July 2008
  4. “Amphibious Ships are the Dreadnoughts of the modern maritime era”, 2 September 2008
  5. What Tom Barnett should have told Congress about America’s 21st century Navy, 3 April 2009
  6. How to design a naval strategy for a crazy nation, 16 July 2009
  7. Dr. Gross asks “Can The Case Be Made For Naval Power?”, 5 July 2010

To see all articles on the FM sites on this topic (including piracy):  Naval warfare and strategy.

For in-depth coverage of Navy-related issues, see Galrahn’s work at Information Dissemination.  His blogroll has many other sites of interest discussing these matters.

Grand Strategy and our national security

Does America need a grand strategy?  If so, what should it be?  Answers to these questions illuminate many of the questions hotly debated about foreign policy and national security.

  1. The Myth of Grand Strategy , 31 January 2006
  2. America’s Most Dangerous Enemy , 1 March 2006
  3. Why We Lose at 4GW , 4 January 2007
  4. America takes another step towards the “Long War” , 24 July 2007
  5. One step beyond Lind: What is America’s geopolitical strategy? , 28 October 2007
  6. How America can survive and even prosper in the 21st Century – part I , 19 March 2007; revised 7 June 2008
  7. How America can survive and even prosper in the 21st Century – part II , 14 June 2008
  8. America’s grand strategy: lessons from our past , 30 June 2008  – chapter 1 in a series of notes
  9. President Grant warns us about the dangers of national hubris , 1 July 2008 – chapter 2
  10. America’s grand strategy, now in shambles , 2 July 2008 — chapter 3
  11. America’s grand strategy, insanity at work , 7 July 2008 — chapter 4
  12. The King of Brobdingnag comments on America’s grand strategy, 18 November 2008
  13. “A shattering moment in America’s fall from power”, 19 November 2008
  14. Is America a destabilizing force in the world?, 23 January 2009

6 thoughts on “A lesson in war-mongering: “Maritime Strategy in an Age of Blood and Belief””

  1. Robert Petersen

    I am a bit ambivalent when it comes to the subject of Russia. On the one hand they did the world a favor in 1991 when they let the Soviet Union die with a whimper and not with a bang. They could have chosen to defend the Berlin Wall with force, instead they followed the advice of Reagan and let people tear it down – peacefully. On the other hand it is important to stress that the old Soviet Union was build on three pillars – the military, the intelligence service (KGB) and the Party. And only the party was abolished after 1991. Another thing to remember is the degree of militarism that the old Soviet Union was build upon. It was not a dictarial wellfare state like some might imagine – it was a warfare state, where everything was prepared for warfighting against the West and China. Officially it was for defensive purposes, but in reality they wanted to go on the offensive from day 1 in case of WW3. The degree of war preparations is hard to exaggerate. I remember once listening to a Russian expert explaining how even buildings and city blocks were build in a seemingly chaotic way. But there was a reason: In case of war where everything was reduced to rubble this kind of city planning would ease the work of rescue workers. Even today the armed forces (not only the army) and the defence industry employs thousands and thousands of people.

    I want to stress that even in the best circumstances there would have been a blackclash in Russia. No political party in Russia and no politician has ever accepted what happened between 1989-91. Especially not the dissolution of the Soviet Union. One way or the other they will have to accept the independence of Ukraine or Estonia. But I also want to stress that this doesn’t mean a new cold war, rearmament and new crisis. I am confident the current Russian leadership – how unpleasent it might be – is interested in cooperation and trade. There will always be powerful groups pushing to a neo-imperialistic foreign policy, but as long as there are not in the center of power it won’t matter. Unfortunately we don’t listen. We haven’t listened since the fall of the Soviet Union because the Russians were weak, so why bother? They are still weak and this gives us reason to continue not to listen, but we forget that they are becoming stronger now that we are becoming weaker because of our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. We should deal with them now. Its the right moment and they might still be willing to strike a deal that benefits both.

  2. One of your best posts, Fabius!

    Mr Petersen’s comments are also excellent, but I disagree that Russia’s military build-up was not defensive, when Russia was surrounded by countries that wanted to eliminate its regime and cancel its global influence. In my understanding, Russia’s military build-up was always overstated to justify our own military programs, and always trailed behind ours.

    The more important question though is what are Russia’s intentions now? Surely, they would have to be called defensive today.
    Fabius Maximus replies: Perhaps we should consider our own actions. How do they look to others, such as Russia?

    Without subjecting our selves to examination, we wind up judging these things by a child’s grammer. I am defensive, you are threatening, he is aggressive.

  3. Robert Petersen

    Dear Plato’s cave

    Thanks for your comment. But what do you mean by “defensive”? According to President Bush the American army is defending the United States by fighting Al Qaeda in Iraq. Denmark got around 700 soldiers in Afghanistan defending us against the Taleban. We still call our military the Danish Defence. As far as I know even the Russian general staff today has accepted the idea of preemptive war, so in theory the Russians would be entirely in their right to launch an attack against the West in order to “defend” themselves from a future, possible surprise attack.

    I wish things were clear-cut, but as a matter of fact only Russian military weakness prevents to act more strongly. And I understand that this weakness might not last so long (especially if we continue to get bogged down in wars in Central Asia and the Middle East).

  4. Great post FM. Do you think you could dig something up on the capabilities of the Chinese Navy? I had always thought that their spat with Taiwan was a semi-moot point because of our overwhelming Naval (and thus Air) superiority, combined with a lack of Navy to invade the island, not to mention resupply, etc.

    As to Russia, one of the simplest explanations for their national buildup and the whole concept of the Soviet Union is one that I came across in a Tom Clancy novel. Take it (as I do) with a grain of salt. Clancy postulates that Russia has been invaded for centuries (and not lightly either, with millions of casualties every time). This fear of the homeland (the Rodina) being invaded and raped and pillaged was so engrained in the Russian pysche that massive military buildups and ‘spheres of influence’ in the form of countries merely served as a buffer to protect against where those attacks have always come from, the West.
    Fabius Maximus replies: Lots of material out there about the Chinese navy, a volume that seems disproportionate to its actual global role for the near future. A confrontation over Taiwan is possible, and probably an important factor driving the design of China’s navy.

    As for Russia, this is no fancy of Clancy. They face threats on both sides, both historically and in the modern era. Japan in WWII, and today about China going for eastern Russia mineral wealth.

  5. FM: I have to take exception to one statement you make in this article: ‘On this planet Earth, unlike that of Vice Admiral Winnefeld, the “unpredictable” States folks worry about are Israel and the US…’

    While I agree people are worried about the unpredictability of the US (with good reasons, but mine aren’t yours), Israel is in fact perfectly predictable: if you threaten them, they will attack. Given their size and history, not to mention the attitudes of their neighbors, can anyone really be surprised?
    Fabius Maximus replies: Thank you for joining the conversation! Please give us the answer to the question on which millions of words have been written — obviously predictable to you, if not to the rest of us (including the top experts in these things): will Israel attack Iran? And if yes, when?

    For more about the prospects of a strike by Israel at Iran, see section 4 of the FM reference page “Iran – will the US or Israel attack Iran?

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