Justice, Freedom, and Peace:
The Final Decision
"The world will never be the same again!"
That was the common reaction of the American people in the immediate aftermath of the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks against the Pentagon and New York City's World Trade Center complex.
The time and circumstances were different, but it was almost exactly the same reaction that had been voiced by an earlier generation of Americans some 60 years ago--on 7 December 1941, to be more precise--immediately after the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. That earlier generation of Americans is now belatedly being recognized as the "greatest" generation.
The "world"--a shorthand way of saying people's lives, their prospects for the future, and the political balance of power--had changed several times before, though, irrevocably and irreversibly. Some of those "times" can be pinned down with almost microscopic specificity: the U.S. declaration of war against Germany, and entry into World War I, on 6 April 1917, for example. Other examples are the Wright brothers' "first (manned) flight" at Kill Devil Hills on 17 December 1903; the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima on 6 August 1945; and the moon landing by Neil Armstrong and Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin Jr. on 20 July 1969. In each instance, the world was indeed changed forever--frequently for the worse. But not always.
The Wright brothers had already completed a number of experimental flights with gliders at Kill Devil Hills, but had not yet made that first manned flight, when the Navy League of the United States was founded on 12 June 1902. President Theodore Roosevelt, one of the earliest and most visibly public supporters of the Navy League, had been in office less than a year--he had succeeded President William McKinley the previous September, when the latter died from the wounds inflicted by an assassin.
Fortunately for the Navy and the still embryonic Navy League, Roosevelt--possibly the most proactive of all American presidents both before and since--had read the writings of Alfred Thayer Mahan and was a strong proponent of American sea power, both naval and commercial. It was primarily due to Roosevelt's powers of persuasion, and his occasional bullying of Congress, that funding was provided for the building of a "Great White Fleet" of 16 battleships--which Roosevelt dispatched on a 15-month around-the-world cruise that marked the emergence of the United States as a major naval power.
Since the end of the Cold War it has become increasingly clear that today's U.S. Navy, the lineal descendant of the Great White Fleet, is, despite imprudent budget cutbacks and frequent overcommitments, far and away the most capable naval force in the world and, quite possibly, the most effective force for peace in all world history.
Which, of course, is no guarantee of complete and/or immediate naval dominance in a specific area or region of the world--the Taiwan Straits and South China Sea, to take the most obvious current example. But it does very strongly suggest that in today's world the key not only to winning wars but also to keeping those wars from starting in the first place--deterrence, in other words--is naval power. And not just naval power, but forward-deployed naval power.
This is particularly true in the post-Cold War era, when literally hundreds of thousands of U.S. air and ground personnel have returned home from Europe, South Korea, the Philippines, and other former U.S. bases overseas. Several hundred of those bases also have been closed, and will probably never be reopened.
The utility of forward-deployed Navy carrier battlegroups and Navy/Marine Corps amphibious ready groups has been proved on scores of occasions both during the Cold War and in the now more than 10 years since the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact, the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the breakup of the Soviet Union. Naval forces played a major role in each and all of the wars of the past century in which U.S. combat forces have been involved. Of perhaps much greater importance is the role played by those same naval forces in deterring war. Here the most obvious example is the Cuban Missile Crisis.
From the beginning, the U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps--the U.S. Coast Guard as well--also have been front and center in the counterattacks against the Taliban and in the war against terrorism in general. That war is another, more current--and ultimately, perhaps, more relevant and more important--example of the continued usefulness of forward-deployed naval forces. More important for at least two reasons. The first is the proliferation of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) that started before the breakup of the Soviet Union and has escalated almost exponentially over the last decade. The second is the parallel proliferation of al Qaeda "cells" and other international terrorist units throughout the world. It is already more than three months since two or three anthrax letters were found in the Capitol Hill mail. Most if not all of the anthrax spores now have been killed, but the members of Congress and their staffs, understandably, still do not feel completely safe. The detection and extermination of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of al Qaeda cells will be a much longer and much more difficult undertaking than the cleansing of a few House and Senate office buildings.
The question now, therefore, is this: What happens not "if," but "when," the al Qaeda cells obtain possession of WMDs? Which might already have happened.
Here it should be noted that the 11 September terrorists already have changed the equation by converting commercial aircraft into WMDs--passenger aircraft, which ensured the killing of more than two hundred other Americans in addition to the more than 3,000 innocents, mostly civilians, wantonly slaughtered at the Pentagon and in the WTC office complex.
Despite various security alerts, the call-up of National Guard units, and the reactivation of thousands of Reservists, there are literally thousands of other potential WMDs, and/or WMD targets, to which terrorists still have relatively easy access: not only passenger aircraft, but also cargo aircraft, which usually would be much easier to hijack; dams, bridges, and power plants; chemical plants and "hazardous materials" warehouses; football stadiums, banquet halls, and high-school auditoriums; hotels, motels, train and bus stations, and not only other office complexes but housing complexes as well. Those who believe any of the preceding to be an "unlikely" target should remember the Tokyo subway, the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia, the U.S. Marine barracks in Lebanon, the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, and the federal office building in Oklahoma City.
Not coincidentally, all of those were targets on land. But there is a plethora of other likely targets either at sea or heading into port from the sea. In an amazingly prescient article in the January 1980 issue of Sea Power, author Merle Macbain provided a partial list: "luxury cruise ships; ... offshore oil platforms and pipelines; ... merchant ships loaded with volatile industrial chemicals; supertankers down to the Plimsoll mark with fuel oil; and LNG tankers inward bound ... with enough liquefied natural gas to fire-storm a city."
From the terrorists' point of view, though, an even more attractive target would be an ammunition ship, preferably one manned by civilians. An estimated 1,500 people were killed "and one-tenth of the city of Halifax, Nova Scotia, was devastated in 1917," Macbain pointed out, "when a French steamer carrying 3,000 tons of TNT collided with a Belgian ship and exploded." Some 30 years later, a French cargo ship and an American steamer--both of which were carrying nitrate fertilizer--exploded on consecutive days in Galveston Bay off Texas City, killing 592 people, injuring another 800, and causing property damage estimated at more than $50 million.
The Halifax and Texas City disasters were accidents. A similar but intentional and very carefully planned explosion of an ammunition ship by terrorists could be much more costly and exponentially more lethal. Macbain's conclusion: "The only safe premise for society to act on may be that any kind of terrorism that can be conceived of will be attempted [his emphasis]."
That seems to be the precise common-sense policy adopted--and being consistently adhered to--by President Bush, Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, and the American people as a whole. To his additional credit, the president did not ignore the traditional capabilities of the nation's armed forces. On the contrary, and following the example set by so many of his predecessors, one of Mr. Bush's first orders, within the first few hours of the first day of this new type of war, was to "call out the carriers." This time, though, it was not to prevent a new crisis overseas from escalating into conflict, but to defend the East and West Coasts of the United States against further WTC-type attacks that might have been planned.
Almost simultaneously, all other active-duty ships, aircraft squadrons, and ground units of all of the nation's armed services--specifically including the U.S. Coast Guard-- were put on full alert, as were the FBI, the CIA, and other U.S. intelligence agencies and offices not only in the United States itself but overseas as well. The exact timing of the Navy's ship movements were and, appropriately, remain classified, but it seems clear that the CVBGs, ARGs, and nuclear-powered attack submarines already overseas were ordered to take positions much closer to Iraq and Afghanistan, the most likely "state sponsors" of the terrorists who had carried out the suicide attacks--and almost all of whom were identified by name and country of origin within a day or so after the attacks.
The attacks had been extremely well-planned, and were carried out with almost military precision. The terrorists obviously wanted to achieve maximum damage at minimum cost, and had selected their high-visibility targets specifically for that reason--and to reap the worldwide publicity that would follow. Just as obviously, though, the terrorists and the al Qaeda "masterminds" who had planned the attacks did not anticipate that a young and relatively untested American president who had been in office less than nine months would take such resolute action. The next surprise was the president's statement that the war against terrorism would target not only the terrorists themselves but also any nation that gave sanctuary to, permitted the training of, or otherwise supported terrorists. There would be no more safe harbors. Never again. And there would be no more outraged presidential statements vowing firm and swift action. Action that very seldom materialized--except for the issuance of a glossy but inconclusive "official report," usually many months later.
This time, President Bush said, will be different. He made it clear, moreover, that it would not be absolutely necessary that the terrorists and their state supporters be brought to justice. It would be quite sufficient if justice were brought to the terrorists. Again, the American people agreed--overwhelmingly, if not quite unanimously.
The first helping of justice started just a few days later with the air strikes against Taliban targets carried out by U.S. Air Force bombers from Whiteman AFB and U.S. Navy aircraft flying from carriers already on station in the Arabian Gulf. The air strikes were complemented by precision Tomahawk missile launches from U.S. and Royal Navy nuclear-powered attack submarines also forward-deployed in the Gulf.
The effect on the terrorists and the Taliban--and, of equal and perhaps even greater importance, the other state sponsors of terrorism--was both immediate and profound. This would not be a replay of the Soviet Union's frustrating and ultimately fruitless 10-year war (1979-1989) against the Mujaheedin but a repeat--in the caves of Tora Bora and the other mountain redoubts of Osama bin Laden--of Desert Storm. But with better and more sophisticated sensors and weapon systems, improved reconnaissance, intelligence, and surveillance capabilities, and the support of a broader coalition of allies.
Few if any knowledgeable observers, even on the American side, expected that the Taliban would be routed so quickly. As of mid-December there were still some pockets of resistance, and an uncounted number of international terrorists who had been trained in Afghanistan could not be accounted for. Nonetheless, it seemed that not only justice but also freedom, and perhaps even a reasonable period of peace, had been delivered to that beleaguered and long-suffering country.
Which is cause for a muted celebration of sorts, but no reason for complacency. President Bush warned from the start that the war against terrorism would be a very long war and would require resolution, fortitude, sacrifice, and--maybe the greatest sacrifice of all--an unprecedented degree of patience from the American people.
If "Phase 1" of the war is indeed over it will buy a few weeks or months of precious additional time to prepare for the next phase. But that is about all. The homeland-defense efforts of Homeland Security Director Thomas Ridge and his deputies must be expanded and accelerated. Additional laws might have to be passed, including one requiring "national ID cards" for all American citizens and similar easily verifiable identification cards for non-citizens. U.S. embassies overseas must be reinforced and made more secure. The security of all gates of entry--seaports and land borders as well as airports--also must be significantly upgraded. There might even have to be certain time-limited and very carefully monitored restrictions on traditional U.S. Constitutional liberties.
Numerous polls and surveys show that most Americans would support all of these measures and, depending on the circumstances, even greater changes to their previous way of life. To those who are already protesting these reasonable proposals there is an obvious answer, also subscribed to by the majority of Americans: Adherence to Constitutional principles does not require the abandonment of common sense.
In addition, and of much greater importance: All of the nation's armed services will have to be both increased in size and upgraded in capability. The cost would be significant, but it would be affordable as well, if only because it always costs less to prevent war than to wage war. It should be clear from the start, moreover, that the upgrading of the armed services--the reserve components as well as active-duty units--is required not simply to improve their counterterrorist capabilities but their traditional warfighting capabilities as well. This is because, even though the current focus is on terrorism, the threat of yet another Gulf War or Korean "conflict" or other "brushfire" or "guerrilla" type of war, under whatever carefully camouflaged name, may still be lurking just over the horizon in the brave new world of the 21st century.
The most immediate post-Taliban problem facing the United States and its allies, in all probability, is the new escalation of violence in the Mideast between Palestine and Israel that started in early December. It is possible that yet another cease-fire will be achieved, but how long it would last is impossible to determine.
The most ominous long-term threat, though, is posed by the People's Republic of China (PRC), which--despite numerous conciliatory gestures, and several substantive concessions, by a series of U.S. presidents--has never deviated from its long-term goal of re-annexing Taiwan, the most loyal U.S. ally in the Western Pacific and now probably the best showcase for democracy in that part of the world as well. The PRC has continued to build up its offensive naval and military capabilities, and only on rare occasions--when it is seeking additional trade concessions, usually--softens its bellicose rhetoric against the United States for the grudging assistance still being provided to Taiwan.
Here the most relevant point to remember is that the PRC does not have to be militarily superior to the United States throughout the world to achieve its goal; it needs to be superior, for a limited period of time, only in that narrow stretch of ocean covering the South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait.
There are other threats to world peace hiding in the shadows, some of them obvious--Iraq and/or Iran, for example--and others (North Korea and Indonesia) more or less quiescent for at least the time being. The United States should be prepared to meet and defeat any or all of those threats--but not necessarily all of them at the same time.
To rebuild the nation's military capabilities--President Bush's highest-priority promise during the memorable 2000 presidential campaign--the first priority, obviously and always, must be to maintain the nation's strategic forces. Not only the Air Force's strategic bombers and the Navy's nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines, but also the space-based satellite systems that complement those systems and make them much more effective. As a corollary, more funding should be provided for area, theater, and national ballistic-missile-defense systems. The argument frequently heard that these systems would never be "100 percent effective" is irrelevant. Systems that would be effective 95 percent or more of the time, a fiscally and technologically achievable goal, would be an extremely effective deterrent, and well worth paying for.
Both in the Gulf War and in the war against the Taliban, the Navy's SSNs (nuclear-powered attack submarines) proved their value time and again. The replacement-SSN building rate, only about one new-construction ship per year, is grossly inadequate, though, and should be at least doubled. The building of additional Tomahawk missiles and other precision weapons also should be significantly increased. The rule of thumb for all weapon systems, in fact, and for all weapons platforms, is that the cost of having "too many" is always much lower than the cost of having too few.
The new-construction building rates for aircraft carriers, surface combatants, and amphibious and support ships--specifically including sealift ships of all types--also should be increased and accelerated. The Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) have told Congress for many years that the Navy needs a minimum of 15 aircraft carriers to carry out all of the missions assigned to it by the national command authorities and the regional commanders in chief. The role played by the CVBGs in the war against the Taliban validates that requirement once again, and the use of carriers for homeland defense in the days after 11 September unexpectedly reinforced the JCS position.
The U.S. Marine Corps and U.S. Coast Guard also should be increased in size and upgraded in capability. The efficient and extremely effective role played by the Marines in Afghanistan, a totally landlocked country, surprised some, but not the Marines themselves, or their supporters. The Marines are the great enablers. They are the finest fighting force in the world. The most forward-looking as well. They do not confine their thinking to amphibious landings, quick helicopter assaults, or small-unit skirmishes in the jungle. They can fight, and win, at any time in any clime.
The multimission Coast Guard is much the same, in attitude, in performance, and in capability. Its motto is Semper Paratus (Always Ready), and it always lives up to that motto. It is also quite possibly the most cost-effective agency in government, returning to the American taxpayers an estimated four dollars in services for every dollar in appropriations allocated to it by Congress. Even before 11 September, though, the Coast Guard was massively overburdened and overcommitted. Since that new date that will live in infamy the Coast Guard's duties, particularly in port and waterways security and homeland defense, have again increased. The full funding of the Coast Guard's carefully crafted and exceptionally cost-effective "Deepwater" program--which would incrementally replace the USCG's long-range cutters and aircraft over a period of 15-20 years--would be a good start at matching capabilities with requirements, and would be a judicious fiscal move on the part of Congress as well.
Along with all of the preceding there should be a major augmentation of the nation's airlift and sealift capabilities, much of which is provided by the private sector. These, particularly sealift, are the weakest links in the overall U.S. defense infrastructure. Remedial action is urgently needed.
To put this overall message in context, three points should be carefully noted, and emphasized. The first is that the most important ingredient of combat success is now, as it always has been, people. Well-trained, well-led, and well-motivated people, at all levels of the chain of command. Here the evidence is irrefutable: The men and women now serving in the active and reserve components of the U.S. armed forces are the finest ever to wear their country's uniform, and they deserve the full respect and support of all Americans.
The second point involves political and budgetary decisions, some of them already made, some of them pending a more detailed review of the recently released report on the 2001 Quadrennial Defense Review. Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, Secretary of the Navy Gordon England, and the leaders of all of the nation's armed services have made a careful and subtle distinction: They want to build a "capabilities-based force" to meet future U.S. defense requirements, not a "threat-based force." This does not mean, though, a reneging on the administration's commitment to rebuild the current physical inventory of the armed forces, which is rapidly wearing out due to too many missions and more than 10 years of insufficient funding for procurement and recapitalization. Secretary England, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Vern Clark, and other senior Navy officials already have told Congress, in fact, that the Navy alone needs an estimated $34 billion additional for procurement and acquisition, and $12 billion or more annually for shipbuilding. Those funding requirements are not likely to go away in the near future.
Policy statements are important. They set the course, postulate the guidelines, and serve as a road map. But in the long term, of course, and despite the semantics, it is obvious that capabilities do not come from position papers or policy statements. Capabilities--naval/military power in all its dimensions, in other words--are directly represented by ships, aircraft, and weapon systems that are actually in the inventory. In current operational terms this means forward-deployed ships, aircraft already in the air or ready for takeoff, and, in immediately recognizable Army and Marine Corps parlance, "boots on the ground."
The third and final point that should be remembered: The purpose of rebuilding the U.S. military is not to win wars, but to prevent new wars from starting. Wars that in all probability would be the most destructive in all world history. The most worthwhile defense expenditures ever authorized by Congress during the Cold War were not for the ships, aircraft, and weapon systems used in the Vietnam and Gulf Wars but the hundreds of billions of dollars spent on several generations of strategic bombers, intercontinental ballistic missiles, and ballistic missile submarines--none of which ever had to be used in an actual war.
It is not the president and his administration, and not the nation's military leaders, but the American people who will make the final decision. If they stay the course the United States and its allies will win the war against terrorism--and perhaps prevent future wars of any magnitude or for any reason from ever starting.
If that happens, the world will truly never be the same again, and future generations will know war only from what they read in history books.