22 January 2013

Gray Matter for Gray Hulls: The Intellectual Software Powering the U.S. Navy’s Asia-Pacific Rebalance

Gabe Collins, Gray Matter for Gray Hulls: The Intellectual Software Powering the U.S. Navy’s Asia-Pacific Rebalance,” Information Dissemination, 22 January 2013.

The following guest post is by Gabe Collins. Gabe Collins is the co-founder of China SignPost and a former commodity investment analyst and research fellow in the US Naval War College’s China Maritime Studies Institute.

The Naval War College is poised to play a pivotal role in America’s Asia-Pacific refocusing. Here are the programs and professionals that the Navy will draw on.

U.S. Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Jonathan W. Greenert recently penned “Sea Change,” a landmark article for Foreign Policy that explains America’s rebalancing toward Asia. Building the Admiral’s Sailing Directions (PDF), Posture Statement (PDF), Navigation Plan (PDF), and Position Report (PDF), it represents his definitive public statement on what the U.S. Navy is doing to support the Asia-Pacific Rebalance.

Admiral Greenert’s assessment highlights the centrality of the Asia-Pacific region to American interests, but even more importantly, notes the need for the U.S. Navy to “establish greater intellectual focus on Asia-Pacific security challenges” and to help create the intellectual software that will enable Washington to employ its military hardware to maximum effect in the region. Having Navy institutions play a leading role in formulating Asia-Pacific strategy makes sense given the region’s maritime geography and manifold commercial and military maritime security challenges.

As a part of rebalancing, the Admiral notes that “[the U.S. is] refocusing attention on the Asia-Pacific in developing and deploying our intellectual talent.” He cites The Naval War College as “the nation’s premier academic center on the region,” with strong and growing programs on Asian security. Illustrating the comprehensiveness of the Navy’s commitment to Asia-focused strategic thought, Greenert adds that the Naval Postgraduate School has also “expanded its programs devoted to developing political and technical expertise relevant to the Asia-Pacific.” The Admiral highlights a core strength of the Navy’s thought centers—their focus on continually developing human capital and actionable operational concepts that can be sent right back out to the fleet, pointing out that “we [the Navy] continue to carefully screen and send our most talented people to operate and command ships and squadrons in the Asia-Pacific.”

This top-level recognition of the need to focus on intellectual software is refreshing given that the subject typically receives far less attention than the hardware end of naval activities (i.e. ships, planes, missiles). It is also important because as the U.S. and China move forward with their “frenemies” relationship that mixes cooperative and competitive aspects, it will be vital for Washington to base its actions in the Asia-Pacific area on a firm, comprehensive, and forward-looking intellectual foundation.

Among bastions of naval strategic thought in the U.S, the Naval War College is singularly well-positioned to play a leading role in formulating the foundations of American naval power in the Asia-Pacific. Having furnished critical inputs (PDF) to support the formulation of the latest U.S. maritime strategy (PDF) —the first endorsed by the chiefs of the Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard—the College is already making substantial contributions to U.S. strategy regarding how to grapple with China’s rising maritime power, as well as the evolving roles of India and U.S. allies such as Japan in a dynamic and strategically-vital part of the world. To understand and how Newport will continue shaping policy in coming years, it is necessary to consider its three major Asia-Pacific programs and the individuals that lead them.

First is the China Maritime Studies Institute (CMSI). Founded in 2006 by Dr. Lyle Goldstein and led by current director Prof. Peter Dutton, a retired naval flight officer and judge advocate who enjoys considerable policy influence (PDF) through his research on Chinese maritime strategic and legal perspectives, CMSI aims to enhance the U.S. Navy’s understanding of the maritime implications of China’s rise. CMSI draws on the work of both dedicated researcher professors and affiliated teaching faculty who are able to read and analyze Chinese-language original source materials from the Institute’s library, which offers the most specialized collection of China-related military maritime publications outside of Greater China. In 2008, CMSI was praised by then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates as a model for conducting open source research on China’s military.

CMSI draws on these unique resources to offer multidimensional research capabilities covering a range of issues including China’s naval policy and development, civil-military relations, civil maritime organizations, territorial and maritime claims disputes and associated legal positions, defense science, technology, and industry, aerospace dimensions of naval operations, seaborne energy security, and maritime relations with the U.S. and other nations. In addition to developing and curating its library, CMSI holds an annual conference, publishes the China Maritime Studies monograph series, and hosts regular guest speakers.

Second is the Asia-Pacific Studies Group (APSG). Established by Dr. Jonathan Pollack, now a senior fellow in Foreign Policy and acting director of the John L. Thornton China Center at the Brookings Institution in Washington, DC, and led by current chairman Dr. Terence Roehrig—like Pollack, a recognized expert on Korean peninsula affairs —the APSG focuses on policy and strategy issues concerning the entire Asia-Pacific region, including Australia and Russia. APSG’s research serves the needs of the Navy, U.S. Pacific Command, and other elements of the U.S. Government responsible for formulating policy, strategy, and planning related to Asia and the Pacific. In addition, at the Naval War College, APSG performs vital outreach and academic functions by hosting guest speakers and seminars and offering course for students.

Third is the John A. van Buren Chair for Asia-Pacific Studies, endowed in 2010 with a generous grant through the Naval War College Foundation. Dr. Toshi Yoshihara, the inaugural recipient of the chairmanship, is a leading analyst of Chinese maritime power and has authored multiple books and numerous scholarly articles on the subject.

Supported by the Naval War College leadership and the chairs of their respective departments, the heads of these programs work closely with a wide range of faculty members whose teaching, research, and scenario evaluation covers a full range of regional issues, as well as relevant strategic and cross-cutting functional specialties. A critical mass of faculty, for instance, conduct research using original Chinese-language sources; at no other institution outside of Greater China is such a substantial group of Chinese language-capable professors devoted to military maritime matters. Students participate directly in these activities, contributing important operational and technical insights and applying their knowledge in the fleet and its various support organizations following their time in Newport.

The U.S. Navy has a long and storied history of constructive engagement in the Asia-Pacific region. The rapid settlement and growth of the Western U.S. in the post-Civil War period, coupled with the subsequent statehood of Alaska and Hawaii as well as the affiliation of Guam and other U.S. Pacific territories—which together confer on the U.S. the largest territorial waters and claimable Exclusive Economic Zone of any nation, has bound the U.S. national interest inextricably to economic and security events in the Asia-Pacific.

This bond continues to animate Washington’s foreign policy to this day. Indeed, as Admiral Greenert points out, “The importance of the Asia-Pacific, and the Navy’s attention to it, is not new. Five of our seven treaty allies are in the region, as well as six of the world’s top 20 economies. We have maintained an active and robust presence in the Asia-Pacific for more than 70 years and built deep and enduring relationships with allies and partners there.”

Continuing to build on that powerful legacy will require new approaches as the world becomes increasingly Asia-centric and the need for naval presence and engagement becomes more acute. Research and analysis from the Navy’s bases of Asian studies excellence in Newport, as well as Monterrey and Annapolis, will help lay the intellectual foundation of these approaches and the strategies and policies that result. As the U.S. prepares to continue its indispensable role in the world’s most dynamic region, watch for contributions from its critical centers of naval thought.