Naval forces outline new national maritime strategy

The leaders of the three U.S. naval forces -- the Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard - on Wednesday unveiled a "national maritime strategy" that focuses more on protecting global commerce and using the oceans to enhance cooperative efforts to promote stability, provide humanitarian assistance and deter conflicts than on fighting wars.

The forward-looking document addresses politically sensitive issues, such as global warming and the emerging dispute over access to the previously ice-bound Arctic seas, as well as the national security impact of rapid population growth in poverty-stricken developing nations, economic globalization and the spread of extremist ideologies. And it urges greater application of the nonmilitary aspects of national power and the development of widespread cooperation among other navies and coast guards around the world to address those challenges.

As such, the new document is a huge shift from the last major maritime strategy, unveiled in the 1980s, which focused on using U.S. naval forces to attack the coastal perimeters of the Soviet Union and to counter the expanding Soviet fleet.

"We believe that preventing war is as important as winning wars," the new strategy declared. But it also warns of the persistent threat of asymmetric conflicts with extremists, non-state actors and so-called rogue nations.

"These conditions combine to create an uncertain future and cause us to think anew about how we view seapower," the strategy said.

The strategy was announced by Adm. Gary Roughead, chief of naval operations; Gen. James Conway, Marine Corps commandant, and Adm. Thad Allen, Coast Guard commandant, at an international naval conference at Newport, R.I. The symposium attracted officials from the navies or coast guards of 98 nations, the largest such gathering ever, U.S. officials said.

The new strategy could be seen as an effort by the naval forces to increase public awareness of their contributions to national security and global stability at a time when news coverage -- and a growing share of defense spending -- goes to the ground forces fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Conway noted that the prolonged commitment of his troops to those conflicts has forced them to acquire heavier equipment and become "a second land army." He expressed the hope of returning soon to the Marines' traditional "expeditionary" role and close ties with the Navy.

The document and comments by the three naval leaders focused on the flexibility and responsiveness of their forces, the ability to project power or influence even when access to land bases is denied and the economic importance of the seas, which carry 90 percent of the world's commerce and most of the petroleum.

Roughead said the Navy and Marines would remain forward deployed to enhance that responsiveness, with regional concentrations of "credible combat power" in the Western Pacific and the Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean. Those forces would be capable of applying force, providing disaster relief and humanitarian assistance and conducting "sea-control operations" to ensure the free flow of commerce.

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