Academic journal article McNair Papers

7. Perspective

Academic journal article McNair Papers

7. Perspective

Article excerpt

   A State may be neutral, insofar as it does not participate in
   hostilities, even though it may not be impartial. Whether or
   not a successful position of nonparticipation is possible, in the
   absence of complete impartiality, is quite another question. (1)


Remember the MAINE!--that is, remember that no one can be sure if MAINE was actually attacked. And, if MAINE was attacked no one could prove it was Spain and not the Cuban insurgents who attacked her. We only know there was a predisposition to believe she was attacked and that decisionmakers at the time believed it enough to go to war. Further, consider the lingering doubts that continue to be raised about the Gulf of Tonkin incident. From these examples, the dangers of December 1971 should give us pause.

The entire Indo-Pakistani episode illustrates an ever-growing problem that will confront U.S. naval planners through the remainder of this century and beyond. The dangers of unneutral U.S. policy have been minimized to date by the preponderance of power behind the U.S. flag at sea. The objective or absolute measurement of U.S. power can be expected to retain its edge against likely adversaries; however, the subjective or relative power of the United States is less than only a decade ago. "Right-sizing" our forces is appropriate and an economic reality. This does not mean forces can do all the things they once could do simultaneously, nor does it mean they will be perceived the same way by coastal states empowered by what has been referred to as the military technological revolution with potent sea denial forces. The local relative combat power balance is shifting, and combined with perceived U.S. reluctance to act when the stakes in terms of likely combat losses are high in comparison to the benefits obtained through military action, will likely embolden coastal states as never before in this century.

Remember, the Monroe Doctrine was asserted against the European monarchies when our Navy was small and new by international standards. Young self-confident governments with small military forces can be quite adventurous. This problem is especially clear when the potential for problems is viewed situationally. U.S. forces operating close to troubled shores far from friendly bases could prove quite vulnerable in the given place and time. (2)

The foregoing analyses illustrating the inability of the United States to deal with the impartiality requirements of the law of neutrality is not a condemnation of U.S. policy. Neither is it an attempt to claim that naval forces are inappropriate for assigned missions. On the contrary, it clearly demonstrates the versatility and utility of naval forces even in exceptionally adverse circumstances. But why make those circumstances any more adverse than necessary? This historical review demonstrates there is good reason to examine more closely the legal consequences of otherwise useful policy to ensure that there are no hidden costs which would argue for a different course of action. Or, if the policy is affirmed by this legal examination, U.S. forces can then proceed to influence the execution of that policy better informed and thus less exposed to risk.

Remember, surprise is on everyone's list of the principles of war. Therefore, denying a potential enemy the advantage of surprise is part of effective preparation for action. It is clear, in light of the previous chapters, that a fuller understanding of the law as it pertains to a naval commander's mission and situation will help reduce the enemy's element of surprise. Viewed this way, understanding these aspects of international law becomes a subset of the principles of war for naval commanders operating in the vicinity of belligerent forces or territory.

In the 20th century the United States became a world power, offering the country many advantages but also bringing many responsibilities the United States was slow to recognize and reluctant to accept. …

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