Tuesday, April 24, 2007

The Role of Navies Questioned, Sort Of

George Friedman, founder and chairman of geopolitical analysis engine Stratfor, recently wrote an article entitled “The Limitations and Necessity of Naval Power.” In it, he explains a bit of the obvious that current operations are soaking up resources towards land based operations. So what is the current and future role of a nation’s navy?

He uses an example of a naval blockade against Iran (as a response to the recently held British sailors). If the U.S. implemented a naval blockade, the U.S. would have asked for more trouble:

“1. Iran could mount strategic counters to a blockade, either by increasing anti-U.S. operations by its Shiite allies in Iraq or by inciting Shiite communities in the Arabian Peninsula to unrest. The United States didn't have appetite for the risk.

2. Blockades always involve the interdiction of vessels operated by third countries -- countries that might not appreciate being interdicted. The potential repercussions of interdicting merchant vessels belonging to powers that did not accept the blockade was a price the United States would not pay at this time.”

He goes on to explain the arguments for reducing a naval force structure saying that the tactical response of navies remains a reality mainly in the littorals. But eventually he goes on to say that navies are strategic and therefore are needed to keep the sea lanes open.

Is this a flaw in naval strategic thinking? Is it good enough to suggest continued naval force structure enhancements because of threats down the road? What Friedman fails to do is answer the funding question. Geopoliticians very rarely talk money, but conceptualizing world order steadfastly remains a fantasy without addressing the budget question.

He concludes:

“Whatever happens in Iraq -- or Iran -- the centrality of naval power is unchanging. But the threat to naval power evolves. The fact that there is no threat to U.S. control of the sea-lanes at this moment does not mean one will not emerge. Whether with simple threats like mines or the most sophisticated anti-ship system, the ability to keep the U.S. Navy from an area or to close off strategic chokepoints for shipping remains the major threat to the United States -- which is, first and foremost, a maritime power.

One of the dangers of wars like those in Iraq and Afghanistan is that they soak up resources and intellectual bandwidth. It is said that generals always fight the last war. Another way of stating that is to say they believe the war they are fighting now will go on forever in some form. That belief leads to neglect of capabilities that appear superfluous for the current conflict. That is the true hollowing-out that extended warfare creates. It is an intellectual hollowing-out.”


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