'The trendiest subject of the season'

Congress, the media and the American people seem to be abrim with confident expectations that our national resurgence will be led by the Navy, and the better salons are purring with talk of strategy, the trendiest subject of the season.

Indeed, I am officially encouraged to repeat and repeat that our national strategy requires "naval superiority" without euphemism or hedge words.

Maritime superiority is necessary because America, unlike the Soviet Union, is an island nation. Geographic location can be a great advantage, no doubt, but Alfred the Great learned from his struggles with the invading Danes that "there is no advantage in living on an island unless you control the waters that wash its shores." That is an embryonic appreciation of the importance of seapower. We now know that there is no advantage -- in fact there is great disadvantage, to living in an island nation -- unless you control the seas that wash its shores and the sea lines of communication that sustain it.

Maritime superiority means that we must be capable --and be seen to be capable -- of keeping our sea lines of commerce and communications secure in those areas of the world where our vital interests depend on them. If we are to survive as a free nation, our access to our allies, our energy sources, and our trading partners cannot be hostage to the offensive power of any combination of adversaries. We must have the Naval and Marine Corps power to defeat militarily any attempts to interfere with such access.

A second principle is that we must restore the viability of our deterrent posture, at all levels at which it may be needed. Since possible hostile acts range from hostage taking to thermonuclear attack, our capability to dissuade must be commensurately broad and assure successful action if an adversary is not deterred. Bluffs will not work over the long run. Tacitus, in his annals, said , "Nothing is so weak and unstable as a reputation for power not based on force."

Russian ambition to have direct access to the Gulf goes back 200 years. Stalin renewed it, and after World War II, the West's initial confrontation with the USSR was over the province of Azerbaijan.

The problem for us to face is to decide to what extent our presence and capability in the southwest Asia area should be a land presence, an air presence , or a naval presence. I believe that, for political reasons, an extensive land-based presence in the area would have many drawbacks and that consequently our presence should be primarily naval. Most of the important assets are near the coast. Indeed many within range of 16-inch naval gunfire. Most of the bases we are looking at are more than 800 miles from the areas we are interested in -- which is beyond range of land-based tactical aircraft.

We must have the flexibility to put some forces into an endangered area quickly, backed by the ability to build these forces up rapidly by forces not in the theater at the time the crisis erupted.

There are three main things we must do to provide a sound basis for strategy. First, we must restore the prestige, compensation, and quality of life of our naval and Marine Corps people. Second, we must establish and manage a shipbuilding and modernization program that will ensure that we regain a margin of maritime superiority. Third, we must reform the research, development, and procurement cycle for parts, weapons, and aircraft in order to shorten the time from concept to the fleet.

We used to be able to turn out high-quality equipment rapidly in large numbers. USS Monitor, a revolutionary new weapons system, was turned out in 100 days. We produced the atomic bomb, in complete secrecy, in four years. Until the 1960s we could build, test, and deploy a major new weapon in four or five years, but now we spend 10 or 12 or even 20 years on a system. In the last 10 years US acquisition times have about doubled and are now so long they are diminishing US technological superiority. Reform of the entire process is an immediate need because interminable delays are crippling our ability to compete with Moscow at the very time they are driving for military superiority.

I think that Clausewitz, whose spirit is usually invoked by any self-respecting speaker on strategy, and who could be very abstruse on occasion, put it most simply and most clearly when he said: "The best strategy is always to be strong." If we follow this simple precept, the future of our Navy, our Marine C orps, and our nation will be assured.

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