The Maritime Strategy: Full Speed Ahead
SUBJECT AREA National Military Strategy
Title: THE MARITIME STRATEGY: FULL SPEED AHEAD
Author: Lieutenant Commander M.E. Wagner, United States Navy
Thesis: The Maritime Strategy as written, will enable the
United States to preserve its goal of maintaining maritime
superiority well into the 21st century.
Background: The United States is an island nation. As such,
we use the seas to extend our political, economic, and
diplomatic power. We require maritime superiority to ensure
safe seas for commerce. The Maritime Strategy, a component of
the National Military Strategy, enables the United States to
achieve its political, economic, and military goals through
the global employment of naval forces. Along with the
changing world and reductions in force structure that will
follow, some people feel that the Maritime Strategy is
outdated and due for an overhaul to reflect the dismantling of
the Soviet Union.
Recommendation: Despite the dismantling of the Soviet Union,
Russia still possesses formidable naval forces. Additionally,
the United States must focus planning on the area which
experience dictates will involve the most likely employment of
naval forces for the future -- regional conflict. The
Maritime Strategy as written will meet the needs of the United
States well into the 21st century. The United States Navy
must take the Maritime Strategy "off the shelf" and
reemphasize it in everyday and long range strategic planning.
Failure to do so invites Congress (with possible sister
service influence) to determine the future of the United
THE MARITIME STRATEGY: ALL AHEAD FULL
Thesis statement: The Maritime Strategy as written, will
enable the United States to preserve its goal of maintaining
maritime superiority well into the 21st century.
I. Evolution of the Maritime Strategy
A. United States is a maritime nation
1. United States essentially an island nation
2. The sea utilized for political and economical growth
B. Based upon the National Military Strategy
II. Pillars of the National Military Strategy
A. Strategic deterrence
B. Forward presence
C. Alliance solidarity
D. Modified by President Bush in August 1990
1. Strategic deterence
2. Forward presence
3. Crisis response
III. Principles of the Maritime Strategy
A. As originally promulated
2. Crisis response
3. Peacetime presence
B. Revised by Admiral C.A. H. Trost in 1990
2. Forward defense
IV. Application of the Maritime Strategy
A. Naval forces called upon the president to
Respond to over 50 crises
B. Joint operations
C. Operations DESERT SHIELD and DESERT STORM
V. Future of Maritime Strategy
THE MARITIME STRATEGY: ALL AHEAD FULL
by Lieutenant Commander Michael E. Wagner
United States Navy
Isn't it funny that Dictators never,
never, never live by the sea?
John Marin, 1938.
We live in interesting times. Change is coming at us
from many directions. As is human nature, we tend to focus on
the good things which have happened: the demise of the Berlin
Wall, the potential for democracy in previously totalitarian
regimes, the victory of the U.S. coalition in Southwestern
Asia, the end of the cold war with the Soviet Union, and the
dissolution of the Soviet Union. Each republic of the former
union are now independent nations with Russia being the
largest and retaining the bulk of the former Soviet Union
There are many people who believe that with the cold war
over, it is now time to cut the defense budget and reap the so
called "peace dividend." Consequently, the U.S. Navy, along
with its sister services, will face a smaller force structure
in the future.
Along with the changing world and reductions in force
structure that will follow, some people now feel that the
Maritime Strategy is outdated and due for an overhaul. My
goal is to convince you otherwise, for truly, the Maritime
Strategy, as it is written today, will enable us to preserve
our goal of maintaining maritime superiority well into the
21st century. However, we need to reemphasize it.
As the war in the Gulf made clear, the easing of the
Soviet threat does not mean the end to all hazards. As we
seek to build a new world order in the aftermath of the Cold
War, we will likely discover that the enemy we face is less
than an expansionist communism than it is instability itself.
And, in the face of multiple and varied threats to stability,
we will increasingly find our military strength a source of
reassurance and a foundation for security, regionally and
globally. (1:25) In the State of the Union delivered on
January 21, 1992, President Bush proclaimed:
For the world is still a dangerous place.
Only the dead have seen the end of conflict.
And though yesterday's challenges are behind
us, tomorrow's are being born...We must not
go back to the days of "the hollow army." We
cannot repeat the mistakes made twice in this
century, when armistice was followed by
recklessness and defense was purged as if the
world were permanently safe.
The geography of the United States makes it a maritime
nation; thus the United States and its Navy have inescapable
global responsibilities. From the crossing of the Atlantic on
the Mayflower to the U.S. Navy sending a formidable force to
Southwestern Asia last year to assist in the liberation of
Kuwait, our history is replete with dependance of the American
people on the sea.
We utilize the sea for political and economic power and
even for cultural growth. As a nation, we require maritime
superiority to ensure safe seas for our goods and commerce; to
ensure our ability to deny the use of the sea to any
adversary, and to ensure our ability to use the seas, when
required, as a bridge for force projection. (5:35)
The power of the sea has been a fundamental ingredient in
the social life of the republic. More than any other physical
element, it has shaped the character of American society and
has acted as a force of continuity throughout our history of
change and uncertainty. It has broadened our horizons,
intellectual and cultural, and has made us the envy and hope
of the world. It has inspired our dreams and made us respect
nature as no other force can. The sea has been our avenue to
greatness, its intellectual power acting as the foundation of
folklore that will never die as long as the republic stands or
is remembered. (5:41)
The United States is essentially an island nation. It is
the leader of a global maritime coalition for an array of
allies, trading partners, and political interests across the
oceans. Global economic interdependence is a fact of life.
The majority of our trade routes, our economic and political
lifelines, are oceanic. Over 70% of our total trade by value
and 99.7% of our overseas export and import tonnage move by
sea. Our economic well-being has been made possible by and
depends upon political stability. (7:46)
National strategy is the synergistic product of our
economic, political, and military strategies. National
military strategy establishes concepts for the employment of
U.S. military forces across the spectrum of peace, crisis,
limited and general war. While the elements of this strategy
may change from time to time, they are, in the end, a
reflection of how our nation's leadership perceives the use of
its armed forces.
The first element is of the National Military Strategy is
deterrence. Our potential enemies must know that an attack on
the United States or our allies would result in unacceptable
consequences for the aggressor. Our best vehicle for
deterrence is a strategic nuclear force, which gives us the
capability to defend ourselves in a global conventional war,
and a crisis-response capability to deal with lesser areas of
conflict that are localized or regional in nature. It insures
diverse, survivable, highly capable forces.
The second element of the National Military Strategy is
forward presence. It enhances deterrence by ensuring that
naval forces are in position to respond to crises in short
order and maximizes our options should deterrence fail. Our
presence can deter aggression, preserve regional balances,
deflect arms races and prevent the power vacuums that invite
conflict. While our forward deployments will be reduced in
the future, the prudent forward basing of forces and the
prepositioning of equipment reduce the burden of projecting
power from the continental United States. Indeed, certain
regions -- like Europe and East Asia -- represent such
compelling interests to the United States and that they will
demand the permanent deployment of some U.S. forces for as
long as they are needed and welcomed by our allies as part of
a common effort. (1:27)
The third element of the National Military Strategy, when
the Maritime Strategy was conceived, was alliance solidarity.
Alliances, treaties and agreements form our global coalition
defense. As of May 1990, the United States had seven formal
defense treaties with 43 nations. Each nation benefits from
the combined strengths of all the alliance partners.
In August 1990, President Bush modified the National
Military Strategy to what it is today: strategic deterrence,
forward presence, crisis response, and force reconstitution.
Despite our best efforts to deter conflict, we must be
prepared for our interests to be challenged with force, often
with little or no warning. The Gulf crisis was ample evidence
that such challenges will not always be small or easily
resolved. Because regional crises are the predominantly
military threat we will face in the future, their demands
-- along with our forward presence requirements -- will be the
primary determinant of the size and structure force.
The regional contingencies we could face are many and
varied. We must be prepared for differences in terrain,
climate, and the nature of threatening forces, as well as for
differing levels of support from host nations or others. We
must also be able to respond quickly to adversaries who may
possess cruise missiles, modern air defenses, chemical
weapons, ballistic missiles and even large armor formations.
Although our forward deployed forces speed our ability to
respond to threats in areas like the Pacific or Europe, there
are other regions where threats, while likely to be less
formidable, may prove no less urgent. (1:28)
Beyond the crisis response capabilities provided by
active and reserve forces, we must have the ability to
generate wholly new forces should the need arise. Although we
are hopeful for the future, history teaches us caution. The
20th century has seen rapid shifts in the geopolitical
climate, and technology has repeatedly transformed the
battlefield. (1:29) Reconstitution is what enables the United
States to scale back in this period of reduced tensions and
threats and to restructure our forces while maintaining core
The standard by which we should measure our efforts is
the response time that our warning processes would provide us
of a return to previous levels of confrontation in Europe or
in the world at large. We and our allies must be able to
reconstitute a credible defense faster than any potential
opponent can generate an overwhelming defense. (1:30) This
fourth new U.S. national military strategic concept is a
departure from traditional central Navy Planning concerns.
The 1991 Joint Military Net Assessment by the Joint Chiefs of
Staff acknowledge the preserving the potential for "timely
expansion" applies "to a lesser extent" for maritime forces.
The Maritime Strategy is the maritime component of the
National Military Strategy and lays the groundwork for the
global employment of naval forces. The Maritime Strategy is
not a set of war plans, but rather a concept of operations
which are based upon elements of the National Military
Strategy. However, the Maritime Strategy today remains "on
the shelf", with Atlantic and Pacific operations plans as
bookends, ready to be retrieved if a global threat should
Moreover, the Maritime Strategy recognizes that the
unified commander and specified commanders fight the wars,
under the direction of the National Command Authority ((NCA),
the President and the Secretary of Defense), and thus, does
not purport to be a detailed war plan with firm timelines,
tactical doctrine, or specific target sets. Instead, it
provides a global perspective to operational commanders and
provides a foundation for advice to the NCA. (8:4)
Deterrence is the first element of the Maritime Strategy.
We want to convince any potential adversary that any attack on
the United States or our allies would result in an
unacceptable consequences for the aggressor. This requires a
strategic nuclear force, the capability to defend ourselves in
a global conventional war, and a crisis-response to deal with
lower levels of conflict that are regional in nature. (7:45)
The second element of the original Maritime Strategy was
crisis response. Crisis response has long been the business
of the Navy and Marine Corps. Since 1945, U.S. naval forces
were involved in over 200 crises -- 50 in the last decade
alone. (8:8) The very nature of naval forces make them ideal
for use as the instrument of choice for crisis management.
Naval forces forward deployed posture and rapid mobility make
them readily available at crisis locations worldwide. Naval
forces maintain consistently high states of readiness because
of forward deployments, ensuring operational expertise and
day-today-preparedness. Naval forces increasingly operate
with friendly and allied armed forces and sister services.
Naval forces can be sustained indefinitely at distant
locations, with logistics support relatively independent of
foreign basing or overflight rights. Naval forces bring the
range of capabilities required for credible deterrence.
Perhaps, most importantly, naval forces have unique escalation
control that contribute to effective crisis control. (8:8)
The third element of the original Maritime Strategy was
peacetime presence. By its peacetime presence throughout the
world, the Navy enhances deterrence daily. Our forward
deployments maintain U.S. access on fair and reasonable terms
to oil, other necessary resources, and markets, and deter and
defend against attempts at physical denial of sea and air
lines of communications critical to maintenance of the U.S.
interest in a given nation or region, and of U.S. commitment
to protect its interests and its citizens. (8:8)
When Admiral Carlisle A. H. Trost promulgated the Maritime
Strategy in 1990, he emphasized the principles of the Maritime
Strategy as deterrence, forward defense, and alliances.
Forward defense enhances deterrence by ensuring that
naval forces are in a position to respond to crises quickly,
and it maximizes our response options should deterrence fail.
Many of our allies and trading partners are located on the
periphery of the Eurasian land mass. If the United States is
to participate effectively in the mutual defense of our own
interests and those of our allies, then it is imperative that
we have forces deployed in the regions where those interests
lie. (1:1) Overseas bases, homeporting of U.S. Navy ships,
and continuous deployments of carrier battle groups and
amphibious task forces form the basis of forward defense and
peacetime presence. Forward defense essentially combines the
principles of crisis response and peacetime presence of the
original Maritime Strategy.
The strategy rests firmly upon a network of alliances.
Since World War II, the United States has established
agreements with more than 40 countries -- in Europe and in the
Pacific -- to provide mutual security. By defending our
allies, we defend ourselves. Each individual nation benefits
from the combined strength of all the alliance partners.
While the Maritime Strategy is focused on a global
conventional war with the Soviet Union, it is designed to
support the entire spectrum of responses needed to represent
the United States' global interests as a maritime nation and
a superpower. It is adaptable to the planning required for
the type of conflict the United States will face in the future
-- regional conflict.
As the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Colin
Powell has said: " The superpower shingle hangs outside the
door of only one nation!" (6:3) For the United States -- a
maritime nation -- to remain a superpower, it needs a Navy and
Marine Corps that are capable to meet the uncertain challenges
In the past decade, U.S. naval forces were called upon by
the president to respond to over 50 crises. Why? Because of
all the armed forces, naval forces are the most flexible.
Naval forces possess credible means to promote regional
stability, support foreign policy, support our allies, deter
aggression, defuse crises, and conduct sustained combat
operations. U.S. Navy ships conduct fleet exercises
independently and with allies to show both friend and
potential adversaries of our capabilities and resolve, thus
commanding a perception of forceful intent and insuring a
visible presence. Due to the nature of overseas homeporting
and routine deployments of naval forces, the U.S. Navy is able
to respond quickly and effectively to a crisis, wherever it
may occur in the world with diverse capabilities and the
sustainability to remain on station until the crisis is
Naval forces play an role in joint operations. In a
crisis, naval and air force units (if basing restrictions
permit) are forward deployed for deterrence, stability and
readiness. Because of forward deploying and overseas basing,
naval forces are among the first on scene in a crisis
situation. Naval forces can be rapidly augmented by airborne
and Marine contingency forces airlifted into the theater of
operations. At this stage, naval forces will play an enabling
role, helping cover follow-on introduction of ground troops
and air force assets to finally create a fully deployed joint
force ready for sustained, heavy combat. At this later stage,
naval forces complement and enhance the capabilities of land
based forces. When the objectives are met and the crisis is
over, the joint force redeploys, with the U.S. Navy eventually
resuming primary responsibility for regional stability.
Operations DESERT SHIELD and DESERT STORM are excellent
examples of the sort of conflict that we may face in the
future. Forward deployed naval forces were the first in the
area of operations and combat ready upon arrival providing
cover; enabling the rapid introduction of heavy ground and air
forces; ensuring the safety of the seaborne logistics train;
and enforcing the sanctions imposed by the United Nations.
This was made possible by U.S. Navy ships already in the
Persian Gulf comprising the Middle East Force, which has had
a naval presence in the gulf since the late 1940's, and
carrier battle groups routinely deployed in the Indian Ocean
and Mediterranean Sea.
As a result of the decline in (or demise of) the Soviet
military posture, we are now able to focus our planning on
that area which experience demonstrates will involve the most
likely employment of naval forces in the future -- regional
conflict. This poses a dilemma -- what do we do with a
maritime strategy focused on global conflict with the Soviet
Union? The answer is to extract the "enduring principles"
contained in the maritime strategy and apply them to current
planning. We can extract from the Maritime Strategy the
principles of quick transition to combat, seize the
initiative, carry the fight to the enemy, and conclude war
termination on favorable terms and apply them to current
planning of evolving strategy, dealing with change and
uncertainty, forward peacetime presence, and forces matched to
American naval presence is needed more than ever to
support the National Military Strategy of the United States.
The environment the U.S. Navy will face in the mid-nineties
and beyond will be one of many unknowns. While the potential
for U.S. - Soviet conflict has diminished, Russia still
possesses significant strategic weapons and a formidable navy
which possesses more submarines than the United States. The
Mediterranean and European areas of operations are of Interest
to the United States due to the recent developments in the
former Soviet Union, the unification of Germany, and the
pending European Economic Community scheduled to come on-line
this year. Then too, the United States' commerce with nations
from the Pacific Rim exceed that of Europe. The Importance of
oil in the Middle East has already compelled a military
response to aggression. Will it again? The Maritime Strategy
continues to allow the United States to continue to project
deterrence, allow for forward defense, preserve alliances, and
reconstitute forces in the foreseeable future. It must not be
merely placed "on the shelf" awaiting further contingencies.
The Maritime Strategy must be a part of our everyday and
long range strategic planning. This must be done to
demonstrate to Congress that the Navy is forward thinking and
not merely "living in the past." We must again take full
account that our geographic and strategic posture as a nation
whose trade and defense is dependent upon access to the
world's oceans and whose power is largely dependent on its
ability to project power by sea and air. We cannot afford to
ignore the need to emphasize our roles, missions, and need
for a strong force structure to carry out the Navy's mission.
We must act quickly or allow Congress (under possible
influence of our sister services) to determine what type of
Navy we will need.
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The White House, August 91.
2. Bush, George H.W. "The State of the Union." The White House, 21
3. Garrett, III Hon. H. L. "The Way Ahead." Naval Institute Proceedings
April 91: 36-47.
4. McCain, Senator John S. "The Need for Strategy in the New Postwar
Era." The Armed Forces Journal International January 90: 43-47.
5. To Use The Sea, Readings in Seapower and Maritime Affairs, 2nd
Edition, Naval Institute Press 1977.
6. "Seapower and Global Leadership: Maritime Concepts for the 90s and
Beyond." Briefing by the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations (OP-603).
25 February 91.
7. Trost, Admiral C. A. H. "Maritime Strategy for the 1990's." Naval
Institute Proceedings May 1990: 92-100.
8. Watkins, Admiral James D. The Maritime Strategy Washington, DC: U.S.
Naval Institute, January 1986.
9. Weeks, Stan. "Crafting a New Maritime Strategy." Naval Institute
Proceedings January 1992: 30-37
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