Forward presence essential to American interests

Forward presence essential
to American interests

By Admiral Jay L. Johnson, Chief of Naval Operations, and
General Charles C. Krulak, Commandant of the Marine Corps

WASHINGTON -- Keys are turning in the front doors of thousands of American business offices "forward deployed" literally all over the world. American companies invest in overseas presence because actually "being there" is clearly the best way to do business.

Also this morning, United States Navy amphibious assault ships carrying 4,400 combat-ready American Marines are forward deployed in the waters of the Mediterranean Sea and the Persian Gulf. And at sea in the Mediterranean and in the Persian Gulf are aircraft carrier battle groups with 16,000 Sailors and two air wings of combat ready aircraft. And finally, in the Far East, the United States has permanently deployed a third aircraft carrier battle group and a third amphibious ready group. The vigilant "forward presence" of these forces is vital, but not always as visible to Americans as it is to the rest of the world. Their routine daily efforts don't always make the headlines, but they are vitally important to world peace and stability.

Some argue that the forward presence these forces represent is no longer necessary. They argue that forces reacting from the United States are enough to maintain international stability. They further maintain that "brushfires," or outbreaks of regional instability, are insignificant, or incidental at best. And they argue that America can no longer afford the forward presence of these forces on what amounts to a near continuous basis.

We would argue just the opposite. Forward deployed U.S. forces, primarily naval expeditionary forces -- the Navy-Marine Corps team -- are vital to regional stability and to keeping these crises from escalating into full-scale wars. To those who argue that the United States can't afford to have this degree of vigilance anymore, we say: The United States can't afford not to.

These brushfires, whether the result of long-standing ethnic tensions or resurgent nationalism in the wake of the Cold War will only continue. The Cold War was an anomaly.

Never again will we live in a bipolar world whose nuclear shadow suppressed nationalism and ethnic tensions. We have, in some respects, reverted back to the world our ancestors knew: A world in disorder. Somalia, Bosnia, Liberia, Haiti, Rwanda, Iraq and the Taiwan Straits are merely examples of the types of continuing crises we now face. Some might call this period an age of chaos.

The United States and the world cannot afford to allow any crisis to escalate into threats to the United States', and the world's, vital interests. And while the skies are not dark with smoke from these brushfires, today's world demands a new approach. The concepts of choice must be selective and committed engagement, unencumbered global operations and prompt crisis resolution. There is no better way to maintain and enforce these concepts than with the forward presence of the U.S. Navy-Marine Corps team.

There are four basic tenets to international security in today's world; prevention, deterrence, crisis resolution and war termination. The underlying assumption of these tenets is that the U.S. and its allies should not be forced into winning a war in an overwhelming (and expensive) fashion. Instead, it is much better -- and cheaper -- to resolve a crisis before it burns out of control.

The Iraqis, Central Africas, Somalias and Bosnias inevitably destabilize and erode world order and respect for the rule of law. Indeed, a failure to respond to them encourages future -- more serious -- crises.

The United States must foster stability around the world, today and tomorrow. The peace insurance premium is a small price and is the cost of leadership. Who else is capable of this type of forward presence on a global basis? For the United States, maintaining a steady commitment to stability will be a challenge. But maintain it we must, or the price, literally and figuratively, will be much greater down the road.

The example of fighting forest fires is precisely applicable. The philosophy is simple: Prevention through living in the environment; deterrence through vigilance; and resolution through quick and selective engagement. Ninety-five percent of all forest fires are contained -- the direct result of the watchful presence of the local initial attack crews who attack flashpoints. As for the other five percent, once the window of opportunity for decisive early action is missed, firefighters must be brought in from outside the region, and it is exponentially more expensive. Sometimes there are casualties -- casualties that would not have been incurred had the fire been contained before it had the opportunity to flare.

America's Navy-Marine Corps team is underway, ready and on-scene at trouble spots around the world. Forward presence makes it -- and will keep it -- the right force, tailor-made for these uncertain and sometimes fiery times.


Reviewed: 17 August 2009