Military Strategy Magazine - Volume 8, Issue 1

Volume 8, Issue 1, Summer 2022 23 disintegration of states like Libya, Syria, and Yemen. Global navies, including that of the United States, have continued to focus on areas outside of high-intensity wars with such activities as counterpiracy, disaster relief, disrupting the trade in illegal drugs, and rescuing refugees. While the U.S. Navy has participated in various strike operations in the Persian Gulf and Afghanistan, its tasks in or related to war on the high seas have become obscured simply because the high seas thankfully have been free of large-scale political violence. With this retreat from warfighting missions has also come a retreat from important strategic concepts such as deterrence. Yesterday,AllMyTroubles SeemedSo FarAway… The bygone era of Flexible Response is, well, bygone. From the Navy’s perspective, what are the similarities and differences between integrated deterrence and flexible response? While both ideas appear in strikingly different strategic circumstances of near-peer competition, there are important strands of continuity between these ideas. Flexible Response appeared as a backlash to the Eisenhower administration’s doctrine of Massive Retaliation. Some argued that this doctrine reduced America’s flexibility in dealing with situations short of all out nuclear war.[xix] The United States needed to address Soviet and/or communist adversaries short of this unlikely circumstance, as spelled out in Maxwell Taylor’s book The Uncertain Trumpet (New York: Harper and Row, 1960). President Kennedy agreedwith this perspective and emphasized war-fighting capabilities across the spectrum of combat. Today’s emphasis on integrated deterrence arise due to a perceived shortfall in the ability of the United States to address “grey zone” or so-called hybrid war in which adversaries are drawing upon military or paramilitary instruments in situations short of all-out war to achieve political objectives. China’s “grey zone” tactics across the South China Sea is one example of this phenomenon, in which so-called Chinese fishing vessels and coast guard ships are being used as political instruments to push dubious territorial claims in places like the Scarborough Shoals and elsewhere. A second important similarity between these approaches is their shared recognition that multi-domain operations are a characteristic of the battlefield and an object of deterrence strategy. Both approaches envision deterrence functioning across battlefield wartime domains. Flexible Response envisioned a “seamless web” of combat integration meant to present an imposing mix of capabilities to deter the opponent and, if necessary, control escalation in conflict by having the ability to trump the opponent’s response at any level. Flexible Response clearly linked conventional and nuclear weapons, envisioning the use of nuclear weapons across arangeof tactical scenarios. During the era,America’s forces were equipped with various types of tactical nuclear weapons that formed part of an escalation sequence that included intermediate- and intercontinental range nuclear missiles.[xx] In the escalatory sequence, nuclear weapons served as the vital escalation firebreak in which there was a clear political and military difference between conventional and nuclear weapons on the escalation ladder. Bearing these similarities in mind, there also are important differences between Flexible Response and integrated deterrence. At the top of the list must be the 21st century’s changed geopolitics. Integrated deterrence clearly is directed at China and, to a lesser extent, Russia, on the Eurasian land mass. Unlike the era of Flexible Response where NATO sought to protect its member state territories from invasion, the objectives of integrated deterrence are less well defined. All that really can be said is that the Indo-Pacific constitutes a vast maritime domain that make navies a principal feature of any deterrence framework. In addition, the political circumstances present in Europe that undergirded Flexible Response are absent in the IndoPacific. Other than the Indo-Pacific’s loosely configured Quadrilateral Security Dialogue comprised of the United States, Australia, Japan, and India, there is no collective defense organization in existence. Persistent fractious regional relations prevent the development of a unified threat perception to drive collective planning to develop shared understandings of strategic problems. Thereareother importantdifferences.Whileboth integrated deterrence and Flexible Response envisioned a seamless deterrent web, today’s “web” is much more complex due to a wider number of weapons available for use. The nature of weapons today applied across domains for advanced militaries suggests that distinctions between escalation levels can be blurred and, in tandem, involve a more complex targeting environment available in the different warfare domains. Cyber and space operations, for example, offer up the possibility of decapitating military strikes to cripple critical command, control, communications, and intelligence nodes – thereby blinding an enemy – without kinetic physical destruction. Cyber weapons also can be used against critical civilian and military infrastructure. In some respects, this aspect of multi domain operations returns us to debates of the 1950s about mutual and myriad vulnerability points between adversaries in what was then called the balance of terror. During the 1950s, Albert Wohlstetter analyzed the vulnerability of the Strategic Air Command’s 16 bases and its small number of nuclear weapons storage depots. He concluded that these vulnerable targets created incentives for preemptive strikes – incentives that inherently destabilized the balance of terror.[xxi] Such a calculus clearly remains relevant on today’s battlefields in which multiple targeting vulnerabilities are as problematic today as they were when Wohlstetter grappled with these issues 60 years ago. Changing weapons technologies constitute another source of escalation instability in cross-domain operations. The Flexible Response and Integrated Deterrence at Sea in the 21st Century: Implications for the U.S. Navy James A. Russell