Academic journal article Naval War College Review

Nonintervention: Limited Operations in the Littoral Environment

Academic journal article Naval War College Review

Nonintervention: Limited Operations in the Littoral Environment

Article excerpt

THE USE OF FORWARD-DEPLOYED MARITIME FORCES to gain military access to the vital "littoral" areas of the world is now established doctrine in the United States and its principal allies. "Intervention" in regions and crises around the globe will be the lot of Western naval forces for as long as we can see ahead. Not all naval operations, however, no matter how close to shore, entail the employment of force on or against that shore. "Maneuver as core doctrine must be tempered by the pragmatism of stationary operations in littoral waters off an enemy coast."1

Forward presence will, and is intended to, create influence. Influencing the behaviour of other states and affecting the outcome of local crises and events must to some extent be "interventionary." Nonetheless, the limited nature and mandate of many contemporary naval operations fall short of the direct and forceful application of power sometimes implicit in the term "intervention." In particular, the neutral, nonterritorial nature of the operating environment permits presence and action without intrusion into someone else's sovereign jurisdiction. Numerous, diverse, and important limited operations stop short of direct intervention ashore. Such missions are to some extent overlooked in the current emphasis on power projection and "battlespace dominance." The self-- and externally-imposed constraints placed upon naval forces having limited mandates and tasks are considerable, especially in the complex and congested littoral environment.

The end of the Cold War and the demise of the Soviet Union brought about a profound change in maritime strategy and doctrine. The essence of this change was a marked shift in focus away from operations "at sea" against a substantial naval opponent, and toward operations "from the sea" against lesser, localized foes. The new thinking is encapsulated in the U.S. Navy white papers ". . .From the Sea" and "Forward . . . from the Sea," and the U.S. Marine Corps concept paper "Operational Maneuver from the Sea" (OMFTS). Similar ideas permeate the maritime doctrines of other Western nations, albeit in more modest terms, reflecting more limited objectives and smaller force structures. 2 American doctrine puts it this way: "Our naval focus has shifted to the world's unstable regions holding critical and vital interests of the United States, placing a new emphasis on littoral operations. Naval expeditionary forces play a central role in safeguarding national interests. . . . We maintain a strong peacetime forward presence capable of projecting sustainable power from the sea."3 There is also a growing body of literature on the use of naval forces in peacekeeping and related "low-intensity" tasks, sometimes expressed as "military operations other than war" (MOOT).4 Such operations necessarily take place within the same physical and operational littoral environment.

It would be wrong, however, to suggest that in the new maritime security environment, all is new. Naval warfare has far more often than not been conducted adjacent to the land, and with direct reference to operations ashore. Moreover, even when the main focus of naval attention has been an opposing blue-water battle fleet, much actual activity has still been concentrated on tasks in coastal waters, as reflected in the 1986 U.S. Maritime Strategy.5 U.S. and Nato maritime forces were to counter the Soviet Navy at sea but also "support campaigns in ground theaters both directly and indirectly."6 The strategy also identified "the continuing and widespread existence of localized conflicts and crises, mostly in the Third World, but often with global implications."7 Between 1946 and 1982, naval forces were the sole or principal element in 250 American military operations.8 A similar story holds true for Britain.9

Despite all this continuity with naval tradition and Cold War strategy, however, there is a fundamental difference today, as Jan Breemer has pointed out: "There has been a tendency . …

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