|U.S. Atlantic Fleet 1907 (Credit: Wikipedia)|
(One of our longer pieces. The references are not done correctly, but we will update when we sort it out.)
Congress has had and continues to have significant and even overriding influence on the nature of American civil-military relations and in naval policy. More specifically, particular members of Congress established themselves as experts in naval matters and brought strong influence to bear on policy decisions. While the relationship between civil and military authorities in the United States is the subject of much research and there is little disagreement over the notion of civilian control of the military, most of the work concerns the relationship between the military and the Presidency or perhaps the Secretary of Defense. Little is written on the nature of the relationship of Congress with the United States Navy.
An Early Case. In 1785, American commercial shipping began falling victim to depredations along the Barbary Coast of northern Africa. Two merchant ships, Dolphin and Maria, were taken by Algerian pirates. The crew was taken to Algiers and held for ransom at $3,000 per head. Many countries had been dealing with the Barbary States for years, finding that paying tribute was easier than countering the attacks by force. The United States, having dissolved its Navy following the Revolutionary War, had little choice but to pay the ransom.?
The problem was manageable for the next decade or so, but in July 1793, eight American merchant vessels were taken over a three week period. Of the over hundred sailors, seven were to die while in captivity. Despite calls for action, strong resistance to the establishment of a standing Navy remained. The resistance was fueled by a feeling that such action would anger the British who would not want to see the fledgling United States threaten their long-standing dominance of the seas.
The resistance was strong. No less a figure than James Madison, aided by William B. Giles of Virginia advocated “assigning a sum of money to buy a cessation of hostilities from the Regency of Algiers.” Giles predicted great problems brought about by establishing a Navy. “There is no device which facilitates the expense and debts so much as a Navy,” he said.?
Coming to the support of establishing a Navy was William Smith of Maryland and Fisher Ames of Massachusetts. Taking the resistance on fully, they argued that the United States was “peculiarly fitted for a navy: abounding in all kinds of naval resources…” They argued that to pay tribute to the Algerians was “shameful” and that if action were not taken in the form of creating a navy, “we may very soon expect the Algerines on the coast of America.”? When the bill to authorize the construction of six new frigates came up for a vote, it passed by a narrow margin and was signed into law by President Washington on 27 March 1794. No naval officer was involved in the decision, other than voicing a public opinion.? The entire issue was a partisan political argument. Congress established the first naval policy of the new country.?
Theoretical Background. The most recent civil-military theoretical work, Peter Feaver’s Agency Theory, discusses a two-way relationship between a principal and an agent. The theory is generally used to explain a principal-agent relationship between the President and/or the Secretary of Defense and the Military. While it is possible to use the theory to understand a Congressional principality, little has been done along those lines. No work has been done to explain a dual principality whereby both the Executive and Congressional branches exert influence, advice, and pressure and the military.?
Very little work has been done exploring the relationship between Congress and the U. S. military, especially with respect to initiating and effecting policy within the organization. Even less has been done with respect to the United States Navy. Most work on the development of the Navy concentrate on the major proponents within the service or perhaps the Secretary of the Navy. Congress, if mentioned at all, is often seen merely as the necessary step one must take in order to achieve ultimate success. There is a tendency to deal only with the military leaders of change or policy and to assume they were able to achieve success by their own effort in an apolitical environment. If politics were mentioned, it was often with a view that such political involvement was obstructive.
This essay will explore the involvement of Congress with the United States Navy, specifically with respect to establishing and influencing naval policy. It will examine episodes across American history generally dividing into those events which occurred prior to World War II and those after.
Prior to World War II, the general consensus is that Congress was the dominant political power in Washington politics. Woodrow Wilson, writing in 1885, described a government in which “unquestionably, the predominant and controlling force, the centre and source of all motive and of all regulative power, is Congress.”? Following World War II, with the threat of the Cold War, the conventional wisdom is that the President and the Executive Branch have been the center of policy and regulative power. The term “Imperial Presidency” has crept into the lexicon, describing a political world in which the President of the United States extended his powers beyond those understood to be within the intention of the framers of the Constitution and the relative power and influence of Congress has faded.? In the last decade of the twentieth century, some discussed the possibility that civilians may not actually have control over the military, or at least not have control over the details of how the military operates, what it purchases, or have any significant influence over other policies. They are convinced of some sort of civil-military crisis.?
However, despite the conventional wisdom of the latter half of the twentieth century, Congress continued to impact military and particularly naval policy to an extent not generally understood. Members of Congress have established themselves as naval, experts, exerting incredible influence on the nature of naval policy. The pattern, which was established during and in the years following the American Revolution, continued through the nineteenth century and continues today with only slight modification.
Review of the Literature. Scholarship exploring Congress’ role in naval policy is limited. The majority of the writing concerning the United States Navy concerns specific operations or biographies of significant individuals. These works concentrate on the inner workings of the Navy or the details of battles and the decisions, primarily by naval officers, surrounding them.
Not until the early twentieth century was much accomplished exploring the involvement of political forces in the establishment of naval policy. Most of that completed is good, but is concerned principally with either the Revolutionary War (1775-1783), the post-Revolutionary War/Early National period (1785-1827) or the years following the American Civil War (1865-1889). Very little is written of the early twentieth century and almost none concerning post-World War II.
The development and operations of the United States Navy during the years of the American Revolution are particularly well documented. William Bell Clark edited a multi-volume collection of documents pertaining to the naval portion of the war. While it is but a collection of primary sources with little or no analysis, it provides a look into the details of personal opinions concerning naval policy and operations and includes specific documentation of the direct involvement of the Continental Congress in naval matters.?
Charles O. Paullin was among the first to begin writing about the political origins of the Revolutionary Navy. Writing in the years following the prolific output of Alfred Thayer Mahan, the preeminent naval strategist of the late 19th century, he began a detailed look into the origins of the American navy. For the first time he explored the administration of the Navy, specifically looking into the relationships between the Continental Congress and those charged with carrying out policy. The naval committee was the earliest demonstrated direct involvement of Congress in naval policy.?
The first work taking into account the role of the United States Congress in shaping naval policy was the seminal study into the development of American naval power by Harold and Margaret Sprout. Disciples of Alfred Thayer Mahan, the first of the notable American naval strategists, Sprout and Sprout followed up in a study of how the American Navy’s rise to eminence by the end of World War I was in Mahan’s tradition. Most notably, they carefully noted where the leaders in the Navy interfaced with civilian leaders, especially those in Congress and others who had direct impact on the establishment of naval policy.?
The Sprouts followed up a year later with what was essentially a second volume, further exploring the naval development of the United States following World War I. Again, much attention was placed on political interaction, especially with Congress.?
The intervention of World War II slowed further scholarship and it was not until the late 1950s when Marshall Smelser began to write about congressional involvement with the United States Navy. A prolific historian, Smelser explored the origins of the Navy. He observed astutely that historians who had ignored the political issues surrounding naval policy were avoiding an important issue.
Continuing in the tradition of studying early naval policy, Craig Symonds explored the debate between what he described as the navalists and the antinavalists. Those early American politicians who supported the establishment of a Navy were in direct conflict with those who were not convinced that the United States ought to even attempt to enter the venture. The antinavalists argued that a navy would anger the British and bring on another dangerous war. The navalists believed that since the United States was dependent on maritime commerce, a navy was absolutely necessary. The entire discussion was political in nature and rarely involved naval officers.?
The next historical period that brought about serious scholarship concerning the politics of naval policy was the years following the American Civil War, particularly the 1880s. Most of that work is in unpublished PhD dissertations, although a few managed to emerge as books or chapters within books. Slightly different than the earlier body of work about the Revolutionary and Early National periods, the emphasis in the post Civil War period is primarily descriptive in nature, concerning itself with the technological aspects of decisions as well as some of the more controversial characters. Congress is mentioned, and research was accomplished into some of the details, but little in the way of process was completed.?
Two distinct bodies of scholarship, that of the Revolutionary/Early National period and that of the post-Civil War years represent the near totality of scholarship on the influence of Congress on naval policy. Some later works touch on the subject, but only as part of a biography? or of a specific event.?
Another Historical Example. The beginning of serious writing on American naval strategy was with Alfred Thayer Mahan. A Captain of long sea service in the United States Navy, he was asked by Commodore Stephen B. Luce, the President of the newly established Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island, to teach naval history. Following a year studying in the New York Public Library, he began his teaching project in 1885.
The Navy at that time was in serious decline, having been badly neglected since the end of the American Civil War. Naval Officers had been interested in reforming the Navy, but despite several attempts, little had been achieved. The establishment of the Naval War College was one of the few successful initiatives, although from the beginning was itself the target of much opposition from naval traditionalists.?
Mahan collected his lecture notes and in 1890 published his most famous work, The Influence of Sea Power upon History, 1660-1783. ? With this well-received and highly acclaimed book, events favorable to the U. S. Navy appeared to begin moving the right direction. Conventional wisdom has it that Mahan’s book so impressed naval leaders that it was almost inevitable that a new and more modern navy would be built and sent to sea.?
However, decisions made over a decade prior to the publishing of the book involving men who were not naval officers and who did not know Mahan actually began the process of rebuilding the Navy. These events are demonstrative of a pattern of political dynamics that had occurred previously and would occur again and again.
At the end of the American Civil War in 1865, the United States Navy was the largest in the world and arguably the most modern in terms of the use of rifled guns, steam power, and use of armor plate. Despite such technological advances, within months of the end of the war, the Navy had been reduced to a handful of operational ships, all primarily sail-powered and retaining the use of muzzle-loaded smoothbore cannon. Many of the ships were literally rotting at piers in various under funded naval shipyards. Standing Navy orders to Captains forbid the use of steam power and required using red ink in the ship’s log to highlight when he found it necessary to raise steam and start engines.?
Congressman Benjamin W. Harris of Massachusetts, first a member and later chairman of the House Committee on Naval Affairs, had been pressing since the late 1870s for a fundamental review of naval strategy with an eye toward taking advantage of the newly developing technologies of steam and rifled guns.? Strong resistance by Navy Admirals kept forward progress at bay for some years. Some of the Admirals, famous from Civil War exploits, were tremendously influential in keeping the Navy from moving beyond sail power into the steam age despite strong support by junior navy officers.?
President Chester A. Arthur named William E. Chandler to be Secretary of the Navy in 1882. With his appointment began the most forward reaching reforms to date. He quickly named Admiral Robert W. Shufeldt as chairman of the Naval Advisory Board. Chandler and Shufeldt then began to work with Congressman Harris and the Naval Affairs Committee which, after an extensive investigation, concluded the Navy needed to change its nature and move into the future. Congressman Harris went on record for the “immense moral value in a 15-knot ship,” and that the United States needed “all the moral power which can be crowded into iron and steel.” In March 1883 a bill was approved by Congress appropriating funds for four steel warships to be built of American steel. ?
Thus the pattern first seen in the establishment of the first American naval policy was once again observable. Initial proposals of change were met by intense reactionary obstruction. The obstruction was effective until strong civilian “champions” were found, in this case the Secretary of the Navy and the Chairman of the Naval Affairs Committee. With the civilian leadership in place, particularly in Congress, the early resistance fades and the proposals of change are achieved.
The Dynamics of Policy Change.
Since the earliest days of the United States, individuals in the Navy and Navy Department have attempted to modernize or otherwise enable major transitional change within the Navy, often due to new technological advances. It also appears that not all such attempts were successful, despite active "championship" by senior naval officers. A cursory review of history indicates that strong involvement on the part of Congress, particularly certain influential members, was significant in ensuring change actually took place. The influence of Congress appears to be so important that it is possible for changes in the Navy to be initiated by Congress without any desire on the part of the service for such change.
The work of encouraging and implementing major transitional change in any organization requires the effort of individuals who are personally dedicated to the issue. These individuals, termed “champions” in this study, are critical to the success of initiatives. In the case of the United States Navy, most significant change required the presence of a civilian or civil “champion.”
As critical as the civil champion might be, a protagonist from within the Department of the Navy is never the less required. This person, often a naval officer, is necessary to guide the technical and administrative details necessary to implement the desired change.
Change will find enemies. The inertia of the status quo will nearly always ensure that when a major transitional change is advocated, strong resistance to such change will immediately appear. This resistance will emerge even in the face of effective, early, and powerful advocacy by the champions. The primary source of the resistance is likely to be from within the ranks of senior naval officers, as well as some within the senior civilian leadership.
With sustained support and advocacy on the part of the naval and civilian champions, and particularly the congressional champion, resistance can be overcome and the goal of change achieved.
Observation 4: In order to overcome the strong resistance to change, advocates must engage Congress early, and a congressional champion must emerge.
Writing about the American military, Samuel P. Huntington notes, “..despite widespread belief to the contrary, [the United States Constitution] does not provide for civilian control.”? He goes on, though, to describe a system, in spite of the Constitution, in which military services are firmly under civilian control. Civilian control of the military in the United States is so firmly in place that a major change in the military services cannot occur without a civilian advocate or “champion.” Even in the case in which a “military champion” does exist, significant progress is not possible without the “civil champion” instigating or at least permitting the change to begin. The civil champion is critical to ensuring the existence of an environment in which the change can be maintained even in the face of inevitable organizational resistance.
Instigating and maintaining major change in large organizations is difficult at best. Rarely does such change occur quickly and most requires a period of years to reach fruition. Stephen Skowronek, looking at the period on either side of the turn of the twentieth century, describes a system of governmental revision beginning with what he calls “patchwork” and ending with reconstruction. Patchwork is the method the bureaucracy uses in the early stages once it is understood that change is required. The leaders begin to make small, incremental changes with parts of the process or organizational structure. Eventually, it becomes necessary to redesign the organization, a process he calls reconstruction. His description of such reconstruction shows a system in which various political powers struggle to determine the best outcome. The struggle typically results in a fundamental change to the organization’s structure. This process suggests that in order for change to become systemic, a fundamental change in the organizational structure is required.? Organizational research into the methodology and theory of change in large complex organizations reinforces this notion.?
The emergence of new technology will instigate a need for change. Jan Bremer, writing about the influence of technology on change within the Navy, argues that while politics and culture are factors that cannot be ignored, “…the logic implicit in technological developments may have the power to override both.”? The rise of a significant new technology, particularly the introduction of the practical application of a significant new technology for the United States Navy, requires a major transitional change effort, despite organizational, cultural, and political resistance.
The introduction of the new technology will enable new operational capabilities and naval strategies. For major transitional change to be successfully integrated into the military organization, civilian leadership, whether in Congress or in the Executive branch, must act to cause the military leadership to make the organizational changes necessary to engender the new operational capabilities and strategy.
A Twentieth Century Case: Carl Vinson and the Navy.
I simply don’t like the idea of Congress being thought of as a kindly old uncle who complains but who finally, as everyone expects, gives in and raises his hand in blessing, and then rocks in his chair for another year, glancing down the avenue once in a while wondering whether he’s done the right thing.?
Carl Vinson, Congressman from Georgia since 1914, Ranking Minority member of the Naval Affairs Committee since 1923, Chairman since 1933, and then Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee since the unification of the services, had established himself as the patriarch of the Navy and then the armed services. He never submitted to the authority of anyone in the Executive branch or in the military and always appeared to make up his own mind as to the correct thing to support.?
In the years following War II, the newly established independent Air Force began to push for approval of the new intercontinental bomber, the B-36. The Navy was firmly against the program and was pressing for authorization and funding of a new super aircraft carrier, the USS United States. Despite strong support by the Admirals and the civilian leadership within the Navy Department, Vinson was convinced that the Air Force offered the best line of defense against the Soviet Union. Carl Vinson led Congress to support cancellation of the USS United States in favor of the B-36 despite the protestations and resignations of Admirals and the Secretary of the Navy. Once again, despite the desires of the naval administration and senior officers, Congress decided on major issues of naval policy.?
A Joint Case.
The Chief of Staff of the Army, General Wickham, was not alone when he made the statement above to the Senators Barry Goldwater and Sam Nunn at a meeting with the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the Pentagon on the impending Goldwater-Nichols. The proposed law would increase the authority of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and make the holder of that office the sole military advisor to the President of the United States. Additionally, the legislation would require the services, the most recalcitrant of which was the United States Navy, to ensure that all officers would have experience on Joint Staffs prior to being considered for flag or general rank.? Resistance among senior officers of all the services and within the Department of Defense was powerful.
Sam Nunn was the Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. A protégé of fellow Georgian Carl Vinson, Nunn was considered a defense expert by other members of Congress. Joining with the ranking minority member of the committee, Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona, he began a process that would take nearly five years to shake up the Pentagon organization and shape policy within the military. All this he would do without any serious support by senior military officers or officials of the Executive Branch.
Provincial arguments among the four services in the Department of Defense had nearly stalled any possibility of real progress in thinking about national defense. None of the services would ever consider backing down from a preferred course of action nor would they be likely to defer to another services plan over one of its own.? In private conference following the explosive confrontation with the Joint Chiefs, Senator Goldwater exclaimed, “If the Pentagon is ever going to be straightened out, the only hope is for Congress to do it. The services are so parochial and powerful, there’s no way the executive branch will ever get it done.”?
Over the next months, despite strong and uniform resistance on the part of senior flag and general officers, the Secretary of Defense, and even other members of Congress, Nunn and Goldwater were able to garner unanimous support from the Senate and a 406-4 majority vote in the House. On October 1, 1986, President Reagan signed the Goldwater-Nichols Act of 1986 into law, ending a process that took four years and 241 days.? Congress, and more specifically, a few dedicated champions within Congress, forced policy upon the military despite active opposition.
A Potential Case of Failure.
Network Centric Warfare was the term applied to a new concept of warfare drawn on recognition that the platform, that is the ship or airplane, was the central object in conducting warfare. The chief proponent, Vice Admiral Arthur Cebrowski, began arguing for this concept during the 1990s as he watched the massive growth of computers and computer/information networks. Resistance to his idea was immediate, as it threatened major shipbuilding and aircraft production programs in favor of a new and different way of conceiving of warfare.?
Donald Rumsfeld was appointed Secretary of Defense in 2000 and immediately embraced the network centric concept, embarking on a major program of modernizing and transforming not only the Navy but the entire armed forces of the United States. He appointed Cebrowski as his Director of Force Transformation and directed a major new program of changing the way the Navy and the other services thought about warfare and how they fought. Resistance to Rumsfeld’s plan was immediate and powerful, with some of the strongest language against him coming from senior military officers.
Rumsfeld has also had difficulty convincing members of Congress that his vision of transitional change is the best course of action for the United States.? The Director of Force Transformation, Vice Admiral Arthur Cebrowski, while stating that there is “general consensus that transforming our military is a good thing,” is concerned that “there is less agreement on the details of where we should go and how fast we ought to get there.? Analysts question the existence of a strategic need for transformation and argue that transformation is neither a requirement for winning the global war on terrorism nor required to maintain American military dominance.? Other researchers show that despite the rhetoric of transformation, an analysis of the defense budget shows “business as usual.”?
To date, no single member of Congress has taken up the mantle of champion on behalf of Rumsfeld’s vision. As a result, while small gains are being made along the path to ultimate fruition, the predictable resistance remains firmly in place. Such resistance at least slows progress and may completely stop it.
Conclusion and Observations.
Resistance to change is normal, expected, and the subject of much research and discussion.? If the advocates of change within the Department of the Navy (or Department of Defense) are to be successful, they must engage Congress early in the process and develop support. The involvement of Congress on issues of import, especially those that rise to the level of major transitional change, require more than passive permission. An active proponent from within the ranks of Congress must arise in order to engage other members of Congress and convince them that the proposed change is both necessary and possible.
A traditional method for an organization’s members to resist change is to wait for those who are attempting to impose the change to leave or lose interest. Since it is not uncommon for the champions to depart the organization prior to full actualization of the change, a useful and apparently required method for ensuring the change is fully incorporated and internalized is to make a significant organizational change. In the case of the Department of the Navy, such change often requires Congressional legislation.
A corollary to the problem of champions departing the organization is unless such action as mentioned in the paragraph above has taken place, the early resistance to the proposed change will re-emerge, possibly even stronger than before, and will significantly reduce the probability that the change will be successful.
Congressional influence is powerful enough, particularly if an individual member of Congress is personally involved, to initiate a major transitional change within the Navy even without the existence of a proponent from within the Department of the Navy. The Congressional champion can impose sufficient political pressure to create a naval champion where none existed and to foster the change through to completion despite any resistance to such change.
Senator Sam Nunn of Georgia was the last of the great naval or military champions. An apostle of Carl Vinson, he carried on as the protégé of the patriarch. By recognizing a necessary change in the fundamental organization of the American military he single-handedly pressed a law into being against the strongest of resistance and without any serious support on the part of the military itself.?
Without congressional support, the greatest and most well thought out ideas will founder. Donald Rumsfeld has discovered that his ideas of transforming the military into a new, twenty-first century force utilizing the latest in information technology has been slowed by lack of strong support within the ranks of Congress. One senior official in the Department of Defense observed that a principal reason Rumsfeld may be having trouble with Capitol Hill is that he failed to engage with Congress early in his administration.?
Another possible reason for his difficulty, other than the intervention of the war in Iraq, could be the lack of a strong congressional leader with the same influence as earlier “champions.” Currently, no member of Congress has the same prestige in military or naval matters as did Carl Vinson or Sam Nunn.
Congress has had, does have, and will continue to have considerable influence on the nature of naval policy in the United States. The pattern begun during the American Revolution continues to this day and, despite much of the writing, is recognized by those in the seat of power. Secretary of the Navy Gordon England was quite clear in his understanding of the relationship when he said, “If dollars are not put on the line by Congress, then it does not matter what we want. It will not happen.”?