This article is adapted from a speech to the United States Navy Strategic Discussion Group on August 21, 2013.

This dialogue is vital and while tonight’s topic is “Too Many Archdukes, Too Many Bullets,” I will manfully try to focus on what this means for the Pentagon and for maritime and naval forces.

The headline or takeaway is that unlike past naval revolutions that were largely technologically driven by transitions from sail to steam; iron to steel; muzzle to breach loading; coal to oil; surface to air and submarine; nuclear power; and precision strike, maritime forces must respond to tectonic changes in the international system in which the adversaries are less enemy armies, navies and air forces but broader challenges to security and stability that are neither conducive and often resistant to military solutions.  Further, a fiscal tsunami looms. More about both to follow.

As you know, one hundred years ago next August, World War I erupted. The casus belli was the assassination of a relatively obscure Austro-Hungarian Archduke, Franz Ferdinand and his pregnant wife Sophie on the streets of Sarajevo on June 28th.

June 28 was a cloudless, cool and stunning early summer’s day, ideal weather for riding in an open Rolls Royce touring car.  The visit of the Archduke and his entourage started badly when a bomb exploded near the convoy.  Only passersby and none of the royals were killed or injured.

After carrying out his official duties, the Archduke felt compelled to visit some of the victims of the earlier bombing recovering in the hospital.  His driver however took a wrong turn.  By bad luck, Gavrilo Princip, a 19 year-old Serbian-Bosnian anarchist and one of several gunmen looking for the archduke happened to be on that road.  The first bullets fired from his 9 mm Beretta instantly killed Sophie.  The archduke died shortly after that.  Because of his age, Princip was given a life sentence, dying in prison in 1919 from pneumonia.

And, as one says, the rest is history.  Perhaps World War I was inevitable.  However, as will be argued, in the 21st century, there appears to be a surfeit of archdukes and an excess of bullets.  And bullets need not be directly aimed at specific targets to have profound impact.  But before making this case, a few reflections on the nature of the world as it was then provide interesting context.

Remember that the last decade of the 19th century was called the “roaring nineties.”  Prosperity linked Europe and the new world in what was a precursor to globalization and economic interdependence.  A RUSI conference in 1910 was convened to discuss this phenomenon and Nobel laureate Sir Norman Angell’s treatise “the great illusion” was on the elite’s reading list boasting that economic interdependence in Europe made war unthinkable because it would be too costly.  But practice exposed theory no matter how rational and logical and World War I began the first of over seventy-five years of struggle, conflict and bloodshed among the great powers.

Technology too shaped that past world.  Underwater cables enabled rapid global communications. Telegrams took minutes to circumnavigate the world. One of the more under-reported campaigns of the First World War was cutting or tapping the enemy’s underwater cables, an early form of cyber war and capturing or destroying worldwide cable relay stations.

Radios, telephones, airplanes, code cracking and WMD were all part of that world least we forget. Einstein’s E=MC2 raised the specter of nuclear energy and weapons.  And regarding cover, deception and misinformation, camouflage played a critical strategic and tactical role. There was even a pre-war global financial crisis, sparked in 1907 in the U.S. That was averted by the intervention of J.P. Morgan. Ironically, in 1908, credit default swaps or uncollateralized betting on stocks were made illegal. Legalized in 1999, CDS’s, mortgage backed and other derivative securities would become financial weapons of mass destruction.

But what has really changed to reshape the global order and to redefine today’s world?

With the demise of the Soviet Union, an era marked by the threat of mass destruction of society ended.  As the post-Soviet world clarified, the threat to advanced societies became one of mass disruption exemplified by September 11th, the financial crises of 2007 and 2008 and, of course, cyber hacking.

Of these many forces and factors impinging on the international system, perhaps the most influential has been the ongoing diffusion of all forms of power—political, military, social, economic, cultural.  Usually considered part of globalization, this diffusion of power has been amplified and intensified by information technologies and the electronic interconnectivity among and between billions of people around the world.

One of the most significant and powerful consequences of this diffusion of power has been the empowerment of individuals and groups, lumped together as non-state actors along with the erosion and decline of American dominance although in a relative sense, the U.S. remains the globe’s most formidable and wealthiest power.

This empowerment has prompted both good and evil results. Regarding the latter, Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden demonstrate the impact individuals can have; Al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations the destructive power of groups.

As Brent Scowcroft suggests, the net consequence has been if not the end of the 350 year-old Westphalia system of state-centric international politics, surely a redefinition.

But, to focus this discussion on defense, several other conclusions are important.  For the U.S., the decline in absolute dominance means that new policies and tools are essential.  For example, how does the most capable military in the world defeat an adversary that lacks an army, navy or air force as in the misnamed war on terror and in Iraq and Afghanistan?

Further, bullets do not need a target today to have impact.  A Tunisian fruit vendor sets himself ablaze. Somehow and surprisingly, revolutions are ignited in North Africa and the Arab world.  Two seemingly insignificant I.T. Workers—Messrs. Manning and Snowden—create an uproar through leaks and two brothers disrupt Boston and much of the U.S. detonating a pipe bomb that injures or kills a handful of people while nearly a thousand die or are hurt that same day in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Syria.

In a broader context, globalization and the technology driven diffusion of power have done more than challenge the Westphalia system.  The combination has replaced the old four horsemen of the apocalypse with new riders and mounts that menace mankind and our well-being. The new horsemen are:         

Failed or failing governments from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe with Brussels and Washington in between

Economic despair, disruption, and disparity

Ideological radicalism largely in the form of perverted religion

Global warming and climate change

So as, Lenin asked, “what is to be done?” rather than embark on broader answers to this question and to reining in the new four horsemen, it is more useful to discuss how this really new world order, a phrase coined by G.H.W. Bush, relates to your profession and to the defense and security of the nation.

Perhaps a fifth rider or at least camp follower applies here—budgets and dollars for defense.  For those of you with passing knowledge of finance, the rule of ten underscores the danger of this rider.

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel marveled at how much negative impact, a 10% decrease in defense spending has.  He will be shocked by the rule of ten: at an annual increase of 7%, principal doubles in size in ten years.  At a 10% annual increase, it will double in seven.

The inverse is also true.  A 7% annual decrease will halve principal in ten years and at 10% in seven.

For the Pentagon, if sequestration continues, real defense spending over the coming decade will halve.  Worse, internal annual real growth of about 7% is necessary to sustain the current force as current standards of readiness and modernization—whatever the metaphor—ship and iceberg; train wreck; Armageddon—the fact is that this crisis is real.

In looking for case studies on how to respond to a fiscal apocalypse, Admiral Bud Zumwalt and his Project 60 of nearly forty-five years ago is a model.  Interestingly, when Dave Oliver and I slipped through gate two at the naval academy in 1959, that was just 45 years after World War I started, a time period that seemed light years away in relevance.  Yet, while Project 60 is now that far in the past, it may prove quite relevant today.

Project 60 was one of the best examples of strategic planning on record although the famous “Z” grams may have obscured its importance.  When Zumwalt became CNO, he was consumed with what he believed could be a racially driven mutiny in the navy fomented by a war in Vietnam that seemed unwinnable, public discontent with that war and, more to the point, a soviet navy that seemed to be making the USN obsolete.

With Worth Bagley as the first project leader later replaced by Stan Turner, Project 60 set out to define the navy’s purposes and then restructure the fleet accordingly—in 60 days too.

The four purposes were defined as deterrence; power projection; sea control; and presence.

The response was to cut the fleet nearly in half by decommissioning some 400 World War II vintage ships that had long exceeded their sell by dates in order to modernize the navy.

New ship classes and designs were invented.  As important, Zumwalt pushed technology hard: Harpoon and ultimately TLAM Cruise Missiles in combination with TENCAP—the overhead satellite surveillance program—were envisaged as was stealth.  And from the recapitalization savings, Zumwalt was able to build two additional carrier battle groups and increase the SSN fleet.

I also recall that at one of his last talks shortly before he died, Zumwalt reiterated how he could foresee a 6th or 7th fleet commander operating remotely from a secure location in “Iron Mountain” somewhere in the Rockies—a precursor perhaps of what is occurring with drones being controlled from Creech AFB in Nevada while flying thousands of miles away.

For better or worse, no CNO, service chief of chairman of the JCS today or for years to come is likely to have the authority Zumwalt assumed—it is far, far better to beg forgiveness than to ask permission was his motto.  Try that today.

That aside, what can be done especially with a QDR lurking and an administration well into a second term with no incentive for dramatic or radical change absent a crisis?

 First, an objective assessment of where defense is headed is essential.  For political cover, several options can be developed provided one deal with the impact of the rule of ten.  That means depicting a force structure that will shrink some forty or fifty percent in terms of budget levels as a long-term steady state.

Second, from a DoD perspective, having the capacity and capability to deploy a joint force of about 100,000 from each coast is perhaps a realistic and viable figure. That in turn, if readiness and modernization are to be kept high leads to an active duty force of 800,000-1 million.

Third, while we give lip service to the importance of people, we often do not deliver on these promises.  The all-volunteer force of forty years ago has evolved into a professional force in which there have been virtually no limits on spending or what is provided for the forces.  While only a fraction of this force has actually gone in harm’s way, expectations among the entire force are high. 

The military is highly respected and well paid.  Go to most bases and look at the cars in the parking lots next to the barracks.  Because of pay and bonuses, rarely does one find clunkers.

So what is going to happen?  With the ending of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, training and routine peacetime operations, to the degree funding allows, could become boring, unfulfilling and rare.  Driving into Henderson hall the other day, marines and not civilian security staff were standing gate duty.  With cutbacks, sailors and marines are going to take up the slack in performing many menial duties that had previously been privatized.  Admiral and now Dean Jim Stavridis remarked to me the other day that his newly commissioned navy nurse daughter is standing port and starboard duty at Bethesda because of furloughing civilian technicians—another anecdotal piece of evidence of the power of the rule of ten.

To deal with these challenges, realities and a political and regulatory environment that will only become more septic, here is what I believe Bud Zumwalt might have done.

The first priority must be people.  Clearly, we will see a downsizing in numbers.  That must be accomplished fairly and with appropriate compensation for service rendered. 

But as we move from a professional force with high expectations, some say pampered, there will be a natural attrition. We also need to redefine incentives and we need to have people far better prepared to meet future challenges especially those in which it is the new four horsemen that are the threat; threats that are not always conducive to military solutions.

Central to this and in order to retain people, a real revolution in knowledge and learning to enhance understanding is essential at all levels from seaman to admiral. I will expand on that in the Q and A if anyone is interested.

Second, the role of maritime forces is to support and defend U.S. policies by helping to influence and shape favorable outcomes.  This in turn requires far better understanding of the operational environments and how influence works or does not.

Third, a sustainable operational navy of about 150-200 active duty ships and a Marine Corps of about 140-150,000 if properly deployed, trained and equipped will be sufficient to deal with the majority of crises and routine duties likely to be faced irrespective of budgets. This level should surely be viable even with a total reduction of active duty forces to a million or fewer.

To achieve this, navy and marine corps should be organized around three cycles: deployment, preparation and standown along with a surge capacity.  This will mean fewer ships on station at any given time. And rather than decommission many useful platforms, for example CVs and Air Wings and SSNs, why not place these units in a cadre or semi-reserve status from which they can return to active duty in say 6-12 months?For example this could lead to 6-8 active CSG’s and 2-3 in cadre status.

As CNO Jon Greenert and Commandant Jim Amos are doing in joint appearances, the maritime main battery in today’s world is the Marine Corps with the Navy in more of a supporting role. That does not mean well-understood naval missions such as power projection are dismissed or could not reemerge at warp speed.  But they are not the immediate priority except on limited cases such as in SWA and the Middle East. 

And examining how the RN embarks Royal Marines on smaller warships and the role of the new type 26 combatant that in essence is a large modular box to be fitted per mission might be beneficial.

And a strategy for regeneration and reconstitution of forces including retaining a tepid industrial and intellectual property base that can be expanded over time must be put in place.

Last and a final critique: dial back on the air-sea battle concept. Actually there is little new here.  When Tom Hayward became CNO, he brought with him “sea strike” that was an operational plan for the equivalent of thirty seconds over Vladivostok—a conventional strike on soviet land bases.  This evolved into the maritime strategy created by Jim Watkins when he became CNO and then captured by John Lehman in marketing the 600 ship navy.

Later in the Reagan administration, Andy Marshall seized on this notion as a countervailing strategy in which if the Soviets made a grab for Europe, we would occupy or attack Kamchatka in the Pacific as a counterweight.  What we never realized was that the soviets believed world war meant nuclear war and were planning and prepared to use nuclear weapons against our forces including ocean area bombardments to destroy Polaris submarines on patrol with multi-megaton weapons.

Air Sea battle has a legitimate role in the gulf vis-a-vis Iran and should be directed at that contingency.  But the Kabuki dance in which this is somehow portrayed as a counter-Chinese strategy is to me as geostrategically dangerous as the countervailing strategy was thirty years ago.

General Jack Sheehan, former SACLANT commander put it succinctly if not inelegantly after his first visit to China years ago. In pure Sheehanese, Jack noted:  “we don’t have enough …… bullets.”

Deterrence, diplomacy and regional partnerships are the best and most effective way of dealing with china.

To conclude, today’s world has a surfeit of archdukes and an excess of bullets.  The new four or five horsemen are dangers about which we have collectively given too little thought and too little attention.  And the ending or reshaping of the Westphalia era remains too invisible in our thinking.

The best antidote is common sense, hard headed realism and knowledge.  And in that regard, the naval academy has at least one thing right—ex scientia tridens—from knowledge, sea power.  And knowledge is what we need and lack most.