Former U.S. Navy Secretary John F. Lehman: "The U.S. Navy must be restored to a size commensurate with its responsibilities."
Dr. John F. Lehman has shaped the history of the U.S. Navy like few others. Aged only 38, he was assigned Secretary of the Navy in 1981 during the Reagan Adminstration. He subsequently became one of the key supporters and designers of Reagan's election pledge for military modernization and remarmament to enhance the strategic retaliation capabilities vis-a-vis the former Soviet Union. Lehman devised the "Lehman Doctrine", a strategic concept to respond to a possible Soviet advance on Western Europe. Lehman resigned in 1987 and was subsequently promoted to the rank of captain in the U.S. Naval Reserve in 1989, later retiring from the U.S. Navy as a reserve officer after 30 years of service.
In 2002 he was involved in the important 9/11 commission and is a member of numerous prestigious think tanks. He is a first cousin of the late Princess Grace of Monaco, and is Chairman of the Princess Grace Foundation-USA, a public charity established after Princess Grace's death to support emerging artists in film, dance, and theater. In his interview with World Security Network Junior Editor Constantin von Wangenheim he talks about the U.S. Navy's role in the 21st century.
Constantin Wangenheim: The U.S. Navy now has the smallest sized fleet since the 1930's. Is naval power no longer a moat?
John Lehman: The Cold War’s conclusion led to a reduction in fleet size whose end point remains unknown. Land wars in the Southwest and Central Asia worsened the decline by shifting attention away from China’s ambitious maritime challenge in the Western Pacific and Iran’s rise as a regional naval power. Additionally, the prospect that the Arab Spring will again return the Mediterranean to its historic position as an intersection of conflicting interest cannot be ignored.
At a time when danger to the U.S. and its allies and interests is growing the Obama administration has embraced the view that American power is in decline and that this decrease can be safely accommodated, even welcomed, in the interest of a safer world.
Constantin Wangenheim: What is the significance of “Sea Power” in this day and age?
John Lehman: The nations best suited by geography, wealth, and national ambition to succeed the U.S. as the world’s great naval powers do not share America’s historic commitment to safety on the world’s oceans, to free trade, free markets, or an international system based on these goods as well as free political systems. The surrender of American naval superiority would embolden and nourish these opposing values at the expense of American prosperity, prestige, and power. The U.S. Navy must be restored to a size commensurate with its responsibilities and with the nation’s future security and position as the world’s great power.
Constantin von Wangenheim: The Navy has many important tasks - one of which is humanitarian relief. In light of the in recent years frequently recurring natural desasters across the globe, is humanitarian relief becoming more important?
John Lehman: Since the first half of the 19th Century and its role in bringing relief to the famine in Ireland, the U.S. Navy has been involved in humanitarian assistance around the world. Most recently the U.S. Navy was first on the scene with medical teams and supplies, food assistance and support for the Tsunamis in Southeast Asia and then Japan, and the earthquakes in Haiti. Humanitarian relief will always be an important mission for the U.S. Navy.
Constantin Wangenheim: Has the Navy become less impoortant in ensuring national security vis-a-vis the Army and Air Force and how does this compare to the years before 9/11?
John Lehman: Since 90% of the world’s trade must travel by sea, and 95% of all military logistics must go by sea, the Navy is utterly essential to the freedom and security of all nations. This was not changed by 9/11.
Constantin Wangenheim: What exactly is the primary focus of the U.S. Navy?
John Lehman: The U.S. Navy has been the backbone of the nation’s global power since the Barbary Wars. In modern times our Navy played a central role in winning World War II and deterring aggression in the Cold War that followed. Americans today assume that our Navy will continue to protect allies, guarantee the safety of the oceanic highways on which our prosperity depends, and maintain the stabilizing international presence that are the foundation of the U.S.’s global reach and international prestige.
Constantin Wangenheim: The days of soldiers fighting in trenches are long gone. Modern technological innovation allows us to construct the most precise and deadly weapon systems which can be navigated unmanned across the whole globe. Will we no longer use manned aircraft in the future?
John Lehman: UAVs or drones are an important component of modern sea power but there will always be a requirement for manned aircraft. UAVs have been particularly effective in Iraq and Afghanistan, but they faced no serious threat from enemy fighters or integrated air defenses. The next war may not be with an opponent without effective air defense, and UAVs will have a much harder time.