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Sunday, December 02, 2007

Service notes

Rob Farley and Robert D. Kaplan would not appear to be allies. Farley is a progressive who teaches at the University of Kentucky's Patterson School of Diplomacy and International Commerce and blogs at Lawyers, Gun$ and Money and TAPPED.

Kaplan is a neocon journalist who writes influential pieces on military strategy and theory for the Atlantic Monthly and is currently Class of 1960 Distinguished Visiting Professor in National Security at the U.S. Naval Academy.

Yet, despite their different perspectives, both Farley and Kaplan recently published pieces in popular magazines calling explicitly or implicitly for a larger navy.

Farley's pro-navy pieces comes in the form of a provocative call to abolish the air force. Farley wants to give important functions of the Air Force to the Navy:
To the extent that the United States requires a capability to punish other states militarily for political purposes, the Navy can handle the job. The aircraft carriers of the Navy already represent the most powerful concentration of mobile military power in the world. Navy cruise missiles, launched from submarines and surface vessels, can strike most of the surface of the Earth within a couple of hours. Adding certain elements of the Air Force portfolio to the Navy would neither transform nor hinder the Navy's power projection mission.

The strategic nuclear capability of the Air Force should also go to the Navy. The USN already operates its own strategic deterrent in the form of the Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines, armed with the Trident missile. The Navy could also operate the other two legs of the nuclear triangle (ICBMs and strategic bombers) without difficulty, especially since the latter would support the Navy's strategic mission.
In dismantling the Air Force, Farley would give tactical air support missions to the Army.

Kaplan (in a subscriber-only piece) adopts realist thinking about world politics and implicitly urges expansion of the navy for the simple reason that other states -- China, especially -- are likely to pose future threats to U.S. security interests. Kaplan even uses a narrative structure common to academic realists -- "the tragedy of great power politics."
Democracy and supremacy undermine the tragic sense required for long-range planning.
Democracy is dangerous because it can be difficult to sell weapons systems to the American public. Supremacy is foolhardy because it breeds satisfaction and makes it difficult to see the burgeoning new threats in a dangerous world. If this sounds convincing, keep in mind that Kaplan adopts a very long-term perspective:
All of this puts us in a precarious position. History shows that powerful competitor navies can easily emerge out of nowhere in just a few decades.
Act now! Threats are merely decades away!

Of course, Kaplan refutes his thesis in a succinct sentence:
The vast majority of American ships that saw combat in World War II had not even been planned before the spring of 1941.
Some emergency, eh?

Elsewhere, I am developing my own critique of the tragedy narrative employed by realists. I'm working on a book-length argument about the comedy of global politics. Here is a link to a conference paper that is likely to become a chapter.

Note also: Farley criticizes Kaplan's facts and argument here. Yet, it seems obvious that both would increase the size and capability of the navy if they had authoritative power in the Pentagon.

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