This past week I had the pleasure of attending the WEST 2012 Conference in San Diego, where the theme was America's Military at the Crossroads: What's Out and What's In for 2012 and Beyond. I was encouraged to attend by the involvement of the event co-sponsor, the United State Naval Institute. The USNI has been in the forefront of offering a platform where those with an interest in the Navy and all the attendant aspects of strategy, history and tactics are given a forum to express and discuss their interests. The attention to the future of the sea services became all the more important in the recent changes being described as the "Strategic Pivot" to face west into the Pacific and prepare to confront what some see as a potential adversary, China, as she builds her own blue water navy. How big is this threat? Are we building the right fleet, or are we building a fleet based on the last major war WWII? What in the light of the current economic times, can we afford to build. And finally, what kind of Sailors and Marines and leaders do we need for the next two decades and beyond? Those are some of the questions that the conference's many panels attempted to answer.
I was able to attend some of the many panel discussions and was able to hear former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Admiral Mike Mullen (ret), as he spoke of his vision and hopes, for the future of our defence strategy and the needs to return to the traditional role of the Navy, as both an instrument of war, and diplomacy. Now retired, he gave a visionary speech, that was refreshing in the lack of boilerplate rhetoric that some still in uniform were obligated to profess in their comments.
After watching several panels discuss topics, I noted that many of the attendees were brought to the point of being glassy eyed, stealthily texting, or playing with their iPhones or pads. Thankfully, each panel had at least one or two, who stepped up to show both leadership and and voiced an opinion that proved the Navy and Marines have real leaders who care about their men. These were the admirals and generals who talked about their men first, and used ample references to history to formulate their thoughts. I can't name them all, but a few stood out like, VADM Beaman, VADM Richard Hunt, and RDML Peter Gumataotao. from the Navy. The Marines were most vocally represented in the four panels I observed; and were best represented by BGen O'Donohue and BGen Daniel Yoo who shined brightly in their knowledge of history, and demonstration of leadership skills, as did the other attending Marine generals.
For an overview of the conference take the time to visit these links to the USNI blog where a summary of the message it conveys is discussed. Read each of them for ample food for thought.
The Navy-Marine Corps Team-the-Jointest
We have run out of money
The Naval Century and Global American Sea Power
Vital Roles and Surface Warfare
Where does this leave us in relation to the Strategic Pivot? Consider this, post from Thomas PM Barnett that examines US Debt and Petroleum, and their relationship to Obama's Pivot. As you examine the list of nations holding US public debt, note that besides China holding 8%, other counties together, hold 14.9% and are important to our global naval posture to ensure that they remain confident in our ability to protect free trade, and ensure the global sea lanes that carry 90% of all the goods across the planet, remain secure.
Charts of the Day-US Debt and Petroleum