How to design a naval strategy for a crazy nation

Here is an important document.  Keep a copy of it, so your grand-children can see the insanity of our times — which a crazy people consider unremarkable.  Since they’ll we’ll be paying the price for this folly, they’ll we’ll cry — not laugh.

Consider the following excerpt:

Guided by the objectives articulated in the National Security Strategy, National Defense Strategy, National Military Strategy and the National Strategy for Maritime Security, the United States Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard will act across the full range of military operations to

  • secure the United States from direct attack;
  • secure strategic access and retain global freedom of action;
  • strengthen existing and emerging alliances and partnerships and
  • establish favorable security conditions.

Additionally, maritime forces will be employed to build confidence and trust among nations through collective security efforts that focus on common threats and mutual interests in an open, multi-polar world. To do so will require an unprecedented level of integration among our maritime forces and enhanced cooperation with the other instruments of national power, as well as the capabilities of our international partners. Seapower will be a unifying force for building a better tomorrow.

The report lists many challenges:

  • Globalization:  interconnection of nations, migrations of peoples
  • Increased competition among nations, potentially leading to conflict
  • New technology and mass communications
  • A rising number of transnational actors and rogue states
  • Proliferation of weapons technology and information
  • Social instability in increasingly crowded cities
  • Climate change

What do the authors not mention?  Cost, funds, money, dollars, budget, borrow, and debt.  These words do not appear in the report.  This is a report written for people who imagine themselves so rich that they never need ask how much things cost, or start planning by asking what they can afford.  This is fantasy planning, recklessness of a people doomed if they do not change their ways.

Our government’s solvency depends on the tolerance of foreign powers — Asia (esp Japan and China) and OPEC.  They are the underwriters of our military, which illustrates the foolishness of our grand strategy.  As the US debt (from past spending) grows, the day of reckoning draws near.  Our navy will not help when it arrives.  That’s the key challenge for America, once which refuse to acknowledge.

Command of the seas is essential

Why?  Command of the sea was necessary for Rome, to maintain the military and commercial ties that supported Rome.  The Empire was a profitable enterprise.  When that changed, it died.

Command of the seas was necessary for Britain, to maintain the commercial and colonial ties that made the British Empire so profitable.  When the colonies became unprofitable, the Empire died.

The American hegemony provides little or nothing of profit to America.  We are the global police.  We can learn if this is considered a valuable service by asking the beneficiaries to pay for it.  Does anyone believe that they would?

Where to go for more information

Information Dissemination is the go-to website for news and insights about naval operations and strategy.  In its two years of operation, this site has justly attained high visibility for the depth and range of coverage.  I strongly recommend putting it on your must-read list, if you’re interested in geopolitics.  Here is a discussion of developing US Navy forces to meet our needs in the 21st century:


Please share your comments by posting below.  Per the FM site’s Comment Policy, please make them brief (250 words max), civil, and relevant to this post.  Or email me at fabmaximus at hotmail dot com (note the spam-protected spelling).

For information about this site see the About page, at the top of the right-side menu bar.

For more information from the FM site

To read other articles about these things, see the FM reference page on the right side menu bar.  Of esp interest these days:

Some posts about America’s maritime strategy:

19 thoughts on “How to design a naval strategy for a crazy nation”

  1. Dear FM, I submit that you may not have considered the purpose, origin, authors, timelines, and nature of these documents. An Oct07 document had likely been perking since 2006. Your criticsm:

    “What do the authors not mention? Cost, funds, money, dollars, budget, borrow, and debt. These words do not appear in the report. This is a report written for people who imagine themselves so rich that they never need ask how much things cost, or start planning by asking what they can afford. This is fantasy planning, recklessness of a people doomed if they do not change their ways.”

    …may be off. The words here will be used to justify subsequent pan-handling in front of Congress. The game is played by turning in a maritime strategy like this as a sales pitch, getting the buy-in that we really want to do these things, and then using all of the buzzwords contained in the document during the POM process. See here. Your characterization is arguably accurate overall, but doesn’t reveal much depth concerning “the game”.
    Fabius Maximus replies: It’s not a game. I prefer to see the authors as blinkered, limited in their viewpoint — not, as you suggest, traitors to their oaths.

  2. “The American hegemony provides little or nothing of profit to America. We are the global police. We can learn if this is considered a valuable service by asking the beneficiaries to pay for it. Does anyone believe that they would?”

    It is called tribute. It is paid to coffers in New York via a global system which rests on dollar hegemony.
    Fabius Maximus replies: Have I missed the treasure ships sailing into New York? Of what are you speaking? It sounds delusional to me. All I see are a pile of debts to foreigners. A weird sort of tribure.

  3. Talisker has indeed pointed out some facts you’ve missed. The treasure ships sail into New York every day, electronically, in the form of the share prices of Monsanto — whose sadistic genetically engineered “terminator” seeds are swiftly developing a monopoly on the world’s seed market. And the most evil part about the terminator seeds is that when 3rd world farmers save grain to plant next year, it won’t germinate — so farmers around the world must continually pay tribute to Monsanto every year in order to plant new crops. Nice protection racket, but it requires the full force of the U.S. military and navy behind it to make it work.

    Likewise, the onerous patent and IP protection schemes which America forces on other countries, including patenting genes and life-saving medicines, extort vast sums from foreign populations… But only as long as America has the big stick of the U.S. navy to force the rest of the world to abide by these crazy copyright laws, which now extend copyright o 80 years after the creator’s death (So Mickey Mouse is still under copyright!)

    Dying malaria patients in the third world must pay immense sums to American big pharma companies. But it wouldn’t happen unless the U.S. Navy could threaten their governments.

    American farmers enjoy high tariff barriers and cozy protectionist measures, including rich subsidies, while 3rd world farmers and small bussiness get exposed to the full fury of the naked laissez faire capitalism. But this rigged system only works because America’s armed forces can threaten any country that refuses to go along. Or, in the case of Europe, threaten to withdraw U.S. protection.

    The WTO meetings display this protection racket in its most naked form: mobs of poor people getting beaten and tear-gassed and tased and shot by armored riot-suited police dressed and armed like the American military. It’s a not-so-subtle reminder of how the world’s economy really works. When America proposes a brutally unfair treaty with lots of scams in it to make sure U.S. companies enjoy monopolies and protected markets, you’d better sign…otherwise “nice third world country you’ve got here, it’s be a shame if something happened to it.”

    FM claims “All I see are a pile of debts to foreigners.” You’re not looking in the right place. U.S. corporate profits have never been higher than during the last 20 years, even in the Gilded Age. The U.S. government’s skyrocketing debt is a classic example of the privatization of profits and the socialization of costs. America’s corporate oligarchy depends on the U.S. military for its profits, but sticks the U.S. public with the cost while they run laughing to the bank with the loot they gain under the protection of their U.S. army hit men.

    Read Smedley Butler’s essay “War Is A Racket” to see how it works. Butler was a brigadier general in the Marine Corps and one of the most decorated soldiers in U.S. history — he knew how things worked.
    Fabius Maximus replies: That’s a one-sided picture. absurdly so. Looking at it one would never guess that the average income of the world had increased more rapidly in the past decade than at any time (perhaps) since the invention of agriculture. The world’s neither perfect nor fair. Has it every been? What’s your standard of comparison?

    The US has many advantages, the inevitable result of wealth and power. But I do not consider treatment of rioting protestors a world historic crime by America. Let them try that in other nations that owe nothing to the US — like China or Russia — and see how they’re treated.

    “U.S. corporate profits have never been higher than during the last 20 years, even in the Gilded Age”

    True, but not relevant to this discussion. That is an internal dynamic, the distribution of wealth and income. The balance of payments (i.e., the continued current account deficits) represent the accumulation of foreign debts.

  4. FM: “As the US debt (from past spending) grows, the day of reckoning draws near. Our navy will not help when it arrives. That’s the key challenge for America, once which refuse to acknowledge.

    This is wishful thinking on my part, I realize, but since our level of indebtedness threatens the underlying prosperity that makes our military possible, shouldn’t our senior military and strategic leaders at least be talking and thinking about this problem, and sounding the alarm that having so many operations all over the world is draining the treasury? After all, they know the cost of these operations, or should. Then again, that would mean that the guys with all the gold braid, gold-encrusted caps, and stars on their shoulders would have to develop some moral courage, and the willingness to risk their careers or future promotions for “talking out of school.” I wish John Boyd were alive, you can be sure he’d have had some pungent things to say! We need more of his like today, guys willing to call a spade a spade, and be damned the consequences. Maybe we are fortunate enough to have some majors, colonels, LCMRs and CMDRs in the pipeline who will do just that. FM, is there a present day military reform movement in any way remotely similar to the one led by Boyd and his compatriots back in the 1970s and 1980s, one that can restore even a hint of fiscal sanity to our defense establishment?

    I am in complete agreement with your thesis; no international threat is as consequential to our future security, as our present domestic financial and economic state; our level of indebtedness, near-insolvency, corrupt political process, and out-of-control spending. The fact that foreign capital plays so large a role in our economy is reason enough alone for grave concern and worry. My father and grandfather are doubtless spinning in their graves, that the USA has in effect handed over control of its economy to others, by being the world’s debtor nation. When they were alive, we were the creditor to the world. How things have changed! I still can’t believe it has happened, and so quickly; but there they are, the facts and figures in black and white.
    Fabius Maximus replies: Yes, that is wishful thinking.

  5. Pete it happened bacause it suited certain individuals. The ultimate ‘tragedy of the commons’. Not a new thing, some people had been predicting it for years, even decades.

    But when you have a fragmented, hierarchical society (backed by a lot of violent power) it is, sadly, human nature to use that power to enrich yourself now, even if it empoverishes your society or even yourself in the longer term. Nothing new in this, we look so disdainfully at various 3rd World countries, where everyone lives in abject poverty but the dictator (plus family, cornies, etc) has billions. Or the rise (and increasing fall these days) of the Russian ‘oligarches’.

    We see the splinters in everyone elses’ eyes and not the huge pieces of 4×2 in our own.

    Re the US Navy, that great producer of targets. What can you say about living in the past. A Navy (to paraphrase Lind) that is perfectly equiped to deal with a resurrected Japanese Imperial Navy .. and not much else (though the F-18’s might just be able to take out Zeros). The mindboggling cost and yet we know for a fact that the US Navy cannot protect ships against some pirates in Zodiacs. The adsurdity is of Monty Python dimensions.

    I remember an incident some years back, Clinton era, when the US sent 4 carrier groups near China ‘as a show of force’, typical Taiwan paranoia stuff. Some enterprising journalist managed to talk to a senior Chinese military offcial. His comments were “we can hande a carrier group, even 2… 4 NOT YET”. That was nearly 20 years ago. I expect the “NOT YET” has happened (as was demonstrated by the Chinese conventional sub ‘popping up’ near a carrier group a couple of years ago and that Australian subs regularly embarrass the US Navy in exercises). I mean nowadays you only have to get within 20 miles with a sub and the carrier is dead (or is that 50 miles now?).

    Not that will change the US Navy one whit in the near future. The UK Navy didn’t change either until there was no money left to support it (and then instead of being creative it just slid into total irrelevence).

  6. FM, Following up #1, you say: “I prefer to see the authors as blinkered, limited in their viewpoint — not, as you suggest, traitors to their oaths.

    The viewpoint in play is that of the military-industrial complex, and the context is one of vast moral hazard. I’m not accusing anyone in particular of treachery. I am accusing Federal Government in general, and the DoD in particular, of organizational behavior. It’s cheap and easy level accusations such as “authors as blinkered, limited in their viewpoint” on a weblog. It’s also easy to post replies to such. So what?

    The acme of skill is going to be locating visionary, principled candidates for office and mustering “We the People” at the ballot box to support them. Otherwise, the authors of this document that seems to raise your hackles will continue their sheepish production of fantasy whitepapers that turn into vast budgets and unsustainable policies.
    Bureaucracy ain’t no rose bush. It’s not pleasant to look upon, produces no perfume, and, crucially, goes untrimmed. Hence this document you decry.
    Fabius Maximus replies: As you note, it all comes down to the ballot box. That is one of the great themes of this site. For links see the FM reference page about America – how can we reform it?

    Organizational behavior is an abstraction we invent as a communication shorthand and a simplification for analysis. There is no such thing as organization behavior at the moral level, and accusations or implications of bad faith IMO should be made carefully.

  7. “Command of the seas” is essential in the sense of patrolling the sea lanes and ensuring the security of trade, but I’d agree that the Navy is less effective – possibly non-effective – as a general fighting force in this era. Perhaps there’s a need to restructure surface Navies from pure national forces to smaller, multinational fleets to assure trade.

    Navies are, in this era, more of strategic than tactical value anyway. The most effective ships are submarines, followed by carriers and their support fleets, but even the carriers are becoming less so by the day.
    Fabius Maximus replies: While at some level you are certainly correct, how much is enough? Nobody is challenging our command of the seas, which suggests that justification is lagely nonsense (cant, mindless repetition of something). Our naval forces are a force projection mechanism: the Carriers project airpower; the Expeditionary Strike Groups project land power.

  8. FM: “Have I missed the treasure ships sailing into New York? Of what are you speaking?

    They don’t sail into New York but into Los Angeles. Everyday, cargo ships from China unload a ton of cheap plastic garbage into our ports. The sheep get their 72″ DLP televisions and the investors on Wall Street get to avoid paying Americans slightly more in wages to make them. Sounds like a win win to me!
    Fabius Maximus replies: That’s a perfect expression of the modern American mind at work. You ignore the IOU’s we give in exchange for those goods. China will demand their money back.

  9. FM: “Organizational behavior is an abstraction we invent as a communication shorthand and a simplification for analysis. There is no such thing as organization behavior at the moral level, and accusations or implications of bad faith IMO should be made carefully.

    That is certainly an interesting reply, especially in light of the second sentence of this post. Allow me to clarify: I’m not intending any specific accusations or implications of bad faith on anyone. I’d point to Pournelle’s Iron Law as my basic argument here.
    Fabius Maximus replies: I understand your point. It is, as anyone writing about this soon learns, a very sensitive subject. Extreme careis needed when writing about motives of men and women in the Armed Services, to avoid distracting conflicts.

    Also, by “people” I always mean “the American people.” I’ve tweaked the text to make this more clear.

  10. FM: “The American hegemony provides little or nothing of profit to America. We are the global police. We can learn if this is considered a valuable service by asking the beneficiaries to pay for it. Does anyone believe that they would?

    Our modern liberal order was build by the United States. The UN, the WTO, free trade, politics internal and international, even our moderne culture were created and shaped by american beliefs and interests. That’s what hegemony gives you, a world fashioned into your own image, a world open to your trade, your industrial investements, your culture, your armies. Even today in the midst of a global economic crisis the ideelogy championed by the United States dominates the debate. People define themselves with or against the United States. And you ask what are the benefits for you, the americans?

    You know very well that if the chinese, the japanese, the arabs and hundreds of investors across the world gives you money it’s because they expect something in return. It’s the safest investement in the world, far safer than european or asian bonds, backed by military power and the most innovative economy in the entire world. If they stopped lending, their economies would be in ruin and their political stability devastated. Really, all this doom and gloom is strange, you’re in a far stronger position than the europeans, chinese, etc(and let’s not talk about the decaying Japan).

    Unfortunately, there’s one little drawback, you have to keep order, you have to keep the word’s lifeblood, oil, flowing( operation Earnest Will in the persian gulf is a good example), you have to keep trade open . You’re the center of the system and the guardian of a global equilibrium.

    The world of today is an american creation.
    Fabius Maximus replies: Ah yes, the past. How wonderful that was. The rest of your comment is an figment of your imagination. Can you cite anything by those foreigners actually saying such things?

    “It’s the safest investement in the world”

    How odd that our largest creditors are saying the exact opposite, that they are very concerned about their investment in US government bonds. They are locked into a merchantilist system which requires them to buy large amounts of US bonds, and they are working to find a key that will get them out of it. Success at that is inevitable. Only our debts will remain.

  11. Actually, until fairly recently, the United States was paying for the debt and foreign investment that was flowing in.

    It was paying for it by, in effect, exporting financial services. All of the “complex financial instruments” were perceived as stellar achievements; so foreigners wanted their finances served by the alchemists of Wall Street. This made all the borrowing – both public an private – possible. Indeed, it made it look smart.

    What has happened over the past decade or so – and what the current financial crisis has underscored – is that all these complex financial services, like alchemy, are a sham. ( For my immediate purposes, I am discussing the perception of things – not the underlying reality; so it is not immediately necessary to sort through whether these financial services are inherently unsound or whether and when at some point they were abused. )

    The Chinese, et. al., like us on this blog, are to some extent stuck with the Wall Street scenario even though they, like us, don’t like it. Nevertheless, they view the status quo as a problem; and history suggests they are resourceful at solving problems.

    Meanwhile, Wall Street is increasingly being perceived as being something like the Renaissance papacy or Versailles.

  12. “how odd that our largest creditors are saying the exact opposite, that they are very concerned about their investment in US government bonds.”

    oh, Certainly they are, but where else could they possibly go? Where? If they are countries which exports, other countris need to consume. The US is the numer one consumer, people may complain but they don’t have a choice. The motor needs to keep going. Where else could they possibly invest? In Europe? Since the beginning of the crisis, the euro actually fell. In China? Ah yes, such a beacon of stability. T
    Fabius Maximus replies: This is a common delusion — common to decadent people ruled by their hubris — assuming that the future cannot differ from the past. It will. The assumption that Asia — with its fantastic history of growth — is not a suitable place to invest is nuts. Their growth brings with it inevitable volatility — just like the US during the 19th century. Assuming that world consumption patterns must rely on the US is false, as Asian and OPEC economies have already began the process of shifting to internal consumption.

  13. An addendum to my prior post:

    Fairly recently on this blog we were discussing whether education is viable; whether women were better educated than men, and other topics pertaining to education.

    However, the thrust of education has been to prepare students for the alchemical economy which I have described above. It therefore would be pure dumb luck if that education also prepared students for the post-alchemical world that they are going to experience. We might as well require students to memorize the Confucian classics or to compose Latin poetry in beautiful calligraphy.

    As for what educational policy we should pursue; we would need a far greater understanding of the needed post-alchemical skill set before we could discuss that.

  14. Thank you FM for making me aware of Information Dissemination., a superb blog.

    The paper which initiated this post is an airy tour of the horizon which is meaningless to anyone who does not follow the services closely. Freedom of the Seas has been and should continue to be the foundation of our foreign and strategic policies. Certainly this now includes space above as well- a long way up. I believe we are not properly defending any of our borders including the sea well and we will pay a serious price for this. The Navy needs to assume control outside of 25 miles and provide a comprehensive in depth defense.

    We are a Pacific Power and should not be on the mainland of Asia, period! Guam should be made a state to underline our total commitment. Taiwan remains a tricky issue but allowing the Chinese to pressure all the surrounding islands with potential gas and oil holdings without pushback is unwise. We need to reaffirm our alliance with Japan or it will go nuclear quite soon with unpleasant consequences for everyone. Lots more to say on our poorly managed but still remarkable naval forces and marines, but for another time. Again, many thanks.

  15. Although a bit over the top, McLaren’s comment #3 hits on an important point that I believe goes a long way to explaining the seemingly irrational maintenance of an unprofitable empire. For the country as a whole, yes, it’s a bad investment, but the costs and profits are distributed among different actors. The costs are paid by taxpayers, i.e. everybody, whereas the profits are reaped by a few, who, as a consequence of those profits have the influence to steer our foreign policy in their chosen direction. Socialize the costs, pocket the profits. The same institutional dynamic played out with Wall Street.

    Adam Smith famously criticized the British Empire on similar grounds.
    Fabius Maximus replies: What a wonderful quote. Thank you for posting it. I’ll post this Smith excerpt as a post in the next week or so.

  16. sonotimpressed

    While we may never see Navy battles again as we did in WWII, command of the seas is still essential. With out it we can not put our fighter planes where we want when we want, we would completely be at the mercy of other nations allowing us air bases to use that put our planes with in range of our targets. Ships are also still the best way to move cargo and fuel, both essential to supporting any other kind of fighting force.
    Fabius Maximus replies: Does this make sense?

    (1) Is anyone contesting control of the deep seas with us?

    (2) Is it possible to control the littoral zones (see this graphic) and further off-shore areas against even a moderately strong military?

  17. @Sonotimpressed

    Command of the Sea may or may not be “essential” but is it affordable? Is the ability to have “planes within the range of our targets,” wherever on the globe those targets may be, worth the enormous cost? Other nations seem to do fine without the ability to bomb anything, anywhere, at a moments notice.

    Perhaps they are reaping the benefits of our ability to do so? I am doubtful, but if so, as FM half-seriously suggests, we should ask them to chip in.

    A finer point is that even if we could afford our current naval budget, the spending priorities are misplaced. If we aren’t going to see large-scale naval battles again, why should we spend so much on preparing for them? The “Amphibious Ships are the Dreadnoughts of the modern maritime era” link (#7, above) argues that our naval spending is too focused on further enhancing our already-uncontested command of the sea and not enough on exploiting it with the capability to support other kinds of fighting forces. It’s as if, after obtaining uncontested air superiority over enemy territory, one just kept sending in more and more air-to-air fighters, rather than following through with the ground attack and bomber craft that make air superiority truly useful.

  18. sonotimpressed

    FM – 1-Would our enemies not contest, harass, or destroy our ships (both commercial and Naval) if they could, if we didn’t have a navy? What if we realized we needed a navy, could be build one again like we did in WWII? I’m thinking we no longer have the infrastructure, the factories to convert to do so.
    2-We managed to land on D-Day, neither side was in control of anything. But what I think your suggesting here misses my point, I don’t think we need a Navy to control shore or sea, but to command our passage on it.


    I know we cant afford it. I’m sure spending is miss managed. My only contention was that we still need a Navy.
    Fabius Maximus replies: Please re-read my comments. Nobody else has a substantial blue water navy, so there is no threat. Close to land, it’s unlikely our navy could withstand serious attack from land by any serious modern military.

  19. Read Rickover’s comments to Congress upon his retirement. We need a powerful navy to remain the country we used to be and would like to be, with some modifications, again. But the new Navy has to be largely underwater. Not all, but most of it and whoever does the breakthrough designs is going to rule the seas. No more carriers. Give the Chinese 3 or 4 of ours and watch the fun. India is showing some mush brains by building one, copying the Russians of all people.
    Fabius Maximus replies: Who would our submarines fight? The NAZI and Imperial Japanese Fleets lie in the past. Mars Attacks in our future. But there is nobody at present to fight. This harping on imaginary enemies I find quite odd.

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