Academic journal article Naval War College Review

ADMIRAL RICHARD G. COLBERT: Pioneer in Building Global Maritime Partnerships

Academic journal article Naval War College Review

ADMIRAL RICHARD G. COLBERT: Pioneer in Building Global Maritime Partnerships

Article excerpt

Most people who serve in navies or devote their days to writing and thinking about naval power take almost for granted the concept that navies are an expression of national power and therefore, in modern terminology, reinforce nationalism. We have become almost hypnotized by the idea that there a is continuum from national policy to naval strategy and tactics. Indeed, that is one powerful thought that lies at the foundation of Alfred Thayer Mahan's writings and Sir Julian Corbett's analysis. Yet it is not the only way matter. the view to Mahan and William S. Sims in the U.S. Navy of the early twentieth century had thought about possibilities for an Anglo-American maritime alliance. But there is an even older thought: the idea that there is an essential commonality among those who go down to the sea in ships. Richard Colbert has been one of a very few senior admirals in the U.S. Navy to champion this other view. At the first International Seapower Symposium, in 1969, an occasion that brought together for the first time many heads of free-world navies, Colbert outlined his own view:

The experience of this conference has strongly confirmed what all of us already knew by instinct and experience: that the common aspects of so many of the problems we each face in operating at sea creates a strong fraternal bond. This unites all of us in blue suits who share similar professional concerns.

We recognize that there are political problems and interests which sometimes limit our co-operation. But it is equally clear that the broad interests of the world community we serve are enhanced by bringing our common perspective to bear on common problems. Much can be done on a Navy-to-Navy basis.1

An acquaintance of Colbert's in the Italian Navy defined the concept even more sharply when he wrote, "Probably the underlying philosophy lies in the idea of considering navies of the world as a social system to a degree separated or divorced from the states they defend."2 In other words, it is possible to discern a kind of global brotherhood of naval officers, indoctrinated with a concept of international naval cooperation and nurtured by close, personal relations.

In a sense it seems an idealistic concept, founded on a belief in peace and friendship on a global scale that should be the basis for all human relations.3 Yet at the same time, Colbert's notion can be viewed as a realistic, pragmatic strategy for the free world as the United States and its allies faced Soviet naval power.4 As some of his contemporaries noted, Colbert was not a theoretician given to working out new concepts in abstract form, but once someone else had formed a concept, he was superb at developing it further and bringing it to fruition.5 It is in this sense that Colbert was accurately described in an honorary degree citation as "Sailor- Statesman of the Navy, creator, innovator, educator."6

In the thirty-six years of his naval career, Colbert slowly but increasingly became interested in concepts and ideas relating to international naval cooperation. By the time of his death in 1973 he had reached the rank of full admiral and had truly earned the title that Admiral Elmo Zumwalt gave him: "Mr. International Navy."7


Colbert came from an unusual family background. He was born in Brownsville, Pennsylvania, on 12 February 1915, the son of Charles R. Colbert, Jr., and Mary Louis Benford Colbert. His father, a prominent leader in the coke, coal, and alloy business, was president of the Pittsburgh Metallurgical Company. Colbert attended Shady Side Academy, an established college preparatory school in Pittsburgh. During his years there he developed a passionate desire to become a naval officer, despite his father's fond hope that he would join the family business. Young Colbert decided to test out his desire and, with his father's help, obtained a berth on board the steamship Robert Puckenbach for the summer of 1931,on a voyage from New York to Seattle and back via the Panama Canal. …

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