restricted access A Strategic Misstep: The Maritime Strategy and Deterrence in Europe
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A Strategic Misstep1John J- Mearsheimer The Maritime Strategy and Deterrence in Europe A core element of the Reagan Administration’s defense buildup lies in its plan to increase the size of the U.S. Navy to 600 ships.’ This 600-ship force is purportedly required to implement “The Maritime Strategy,” which is the Navy‘s blueprint for fighting a global conventional war against the Soviet Union. It is being built at the expense of American air and ground forces in Central Europe, which have not been significantly strengthened during the Reagan Administration’s tenure, even though the Administration has expressed the view that the NATO-Warsaw Pact conventional balance in Europe clearly favors the Pact.2 Serious controversy has surrounded both the naval buildup and its attendant Maritime Strategy. Critics have charged that the Maritime Strategy is not coherent or complete, and does not provide an adequate rationale for This article was originally prepared for the Naval War College’s May 1985 conference on the Maritime Strategy. I would like to thank James Kurth, who was then Director of the Strategy and Campaign Department at the War College, for suggesting the topic to me, as well as the many conference participants who offered comments on my original draft. I also am deeply indebted to the following individuals for comments on later drafts of this article: Robert Art, Richard Betts, Daniel Bolger, Michael Brown, Owen Cote, Michael Desch, Benjamin Frankel, Charles Glaser, Karl Lautenschlager, Robert Pape, Barry Posen, George Quester, Rade Radovich, Jack Snyder, Peter Swartz, and Andrew Twomey. None bears any responsibility for the arguments offered here. Finally, I would like to thank the MacArthur Foundation for providing support. John Mearsheimer, an associate professor in the political science department at the University of Chicago, is completing a book on B.H. Liddell Hart. 1. See Richard Halloran, “Reagan Selling Navy Budget As Heart of Military Mission,” The New York Times, April 11, 1982, p. 24; James Meacham, “The United States Navy,” The Economist, April 19-25, 1986, pp. 57-69; Peter T. Tarpgaard, Building a 600-Ship N a y : Costs, Timing, and Alternative Approaches (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Congressional Budget Office, March 1982); and Caspar W. Weinberger, Annual Report to the Congress, Fiscal Year 1983 (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1982), pp. 1-30, 11-12-11-17, 111-19-111-36. 2. President Reagan, for example, told a press conference in his first year in office that NATO is ”vastly outdistanced” by the Warsaw Pact in terms of forces on the Central Front. See The New York Times, October 3, 1981, p. 12. Admiral Watkins, former Chief of Naval Operations, recently wrote that the Soviets have a “massive ground force advantage” over NATO. Admiral James D. Watkins, “The Maritime Strategy,” in The Maritime Strategy, Supplement to U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, January 1986, p. 8. The supplement is hereinafter cited as The Maritime Strategy. On the Reagan Administration’s defense allocations, see Michael R. Gordon, ”The Pentagon Under Weinberger May Be Biting Off More Than Even It Can Chew,” National lournal, February 4, 1984, pp. 204-209. ~~~ ~~~~ International Security, Fall 1986(Vol. 11, No. 2) 0 1986 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College and of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 3 International Security 1 4 increasing the size of the Navy. They also charge that no sound rationale can in fact be offered for investing so heavily in the Navy.3 The Navy has answered that the Maritime Strategy and its attendant buildup are vital to the protection of American interests and the preservation of peace. This article explores the wisdom of the Reagan Administration’s naval buildup by assessing the overall effect of the Maritime Strategyon deterrence in Europe. America’s central military objective, aside from deterring a direct attack on the United States, is to deter the Soviet Union from starting a European war. Strategically, Europe is the most important area of the world for the United States, and is the place where the Soviet Union has concentrated its most formidable military asset^.^ A European war would therefore directly threaten America’s vital interests. Such a war also could jeopardize...