You Cannot Surge Trust is a valuable review of the unique relationships that bind the U.S. Navy and its British, Canadian, and Australian counterparts. Edited by Sandra Doyle of the Naval History and Heritage Command, the book is a collection of essays by naval historians from the United States, Australia, Canada, and United Kingdom (UK) that provide insights drawn from common experiences derived from combined peace support operations between 1991 and 2003. These insights offer useful pointers for the U.S. Navy leadership as it seeks to establish close cooperative arrangements with other navies around the world.
As all the essays make abundantly clear, two key factors lie at the heart of the U.S.-UK-Canada-Australia cooperative relationship. The first, so obvious it rarely is mentioned in the essays, is common language and heritage. Communication is far easier when the communicants speak the same language, share the same values, and, to a great extent, draw upon a common heritage. As an example of the latter, this author recalls that at a Pentagon meeting of British and American planners during the 1982 Falklands War, the senior U.S. Navy representative was a direct descendant of Captain John Strong, who claimed the islands for the British.
The second factor is a history of cooperation. The Anglo-American “special relationship” generally is dated from World War II, but it had its informal start in the previous world war. Thus, by the time the U.S. and Royal navies worked as a combined team to enforce sanctions against Iraq by conducting maritime interdiction operations in the aftermath of the 1991 Gulf War, they had nearly a century’s experience of cooperating with each other.
The U.S. Navy’s relationship with its Canadian and Australian counterparts dates to World War II as well. The U.S. and Canadian navies fought side by side in the Atlantic; the American and Australian navies did the same in the Pacific. In the case of American combined operations with both Canada and Australia, as indeed with their mother country, Britain, formal arrangements were supplemented by close personal and professional ties among the sailors in all four fleets.
Nevertheless, despite these ties, effective and successful combined operations among them have never been a foregone conclusion. Each of the case studies—the aforementioned maritime interdiction operations and those that followed during Operation Iraqi Freedom; Operation Sharp Guard off the coast of Yugoslavia during the Balkan Wars; Operation Stablise in East Timor; and maritime operations in support of Operation Enduring Freedom—highlights the complications caused by politically driven variations in national rules of engagement and by a lack of clarity regarding command relationships in ad hoc coalition operations. Either, and certainly both, of these factors could have prevented the four operations from achieving their goals.
What was remarkable, however, was the degree to which those constraints were overcome in operations that were joint as well as combined, involving air and/or land forces. As Sarandis Papadopoulos, author of four of the book’s chapters, writes in his introduction, “coalitions always have seams, especially in politically complex situations, but the trust built on common doctrine, shared training, and technically interoperable systems minimized any fraying of relations” (p. 14). Indeed, as all the authors point out to a greater or lesser extent, sailors from the four fleets often had to overcome shortfalls in interoperability as well, rendering their success that much more remarkable.
Papadopoulos’s observations are borne out throughout the volume, one of whose most valuable features is its presentation of the same operations from both American and allied vantage points. Thus, Stephen Prince and Kate Brett, of the UK Naval Staff, offer their perspectives on Sharp Guard alongside that of Papadopoulos’s recounting of the U.S. Navy’s role in that operation. David Stevens, of Australia’s Sea Power Centre, and Papadopoulos do the same in evaluating the performance of their respective maritime forces, notably including amphibious forces (pp. 130–131), in supporting land-based operations that ensured Indonesia’s withdrawal from East Timor. Two essays by Jeffrey Barlow, of the Naval History and Heritage Command, on the U.S. Navy’s role in coalition maritime operations in the Arabian Gulf from 1991–2001, and on its support for maritime interdiction operations in the first 2 years of Operation Enduring Freedom, complement that of Robert Caldwell, of the Directorate of History and Heritage at Canada’s National Defence Headquarters, who carries the story up to 2008.
Unlike the twinned chapters relating to the other operations, which follow immediately upon each other, Barlow’s review of Arabian Gulf operations, the first such essay in the book, is not collocated with his other chapter and that of Caldwell. Instead, it is followed by intervening chapters that address the other operations. As a consequence, the reader will not obtain as clear a sense of comparative Canadian and American perspectives as would have been the case if the three chapters appeared in succession. But this is a minor quibble.
All the essays provide the historical context for each operation and recount the challenges that had to be overcome in every case, not least of which was the fact that other allies also were involved in these efforts, and, like the four English speaking navies, were subject to their own national rules of engagement. In addition, every chapter bears out the critical and central role of the U.S. Navy, whose resources have long outstripped those of its allies. Even in those cases, like Operation Stabilise, where the Navy did not lead the operation, its role was crucial as a unique provider of intelligence and logistics support without which success could not have been achieved.
Summarizing the volume’s main findings, Edward Marolda, formerly of the Naval History and Heritage Command, reprises and underscores its central thesis. His observation deserves to be quoted at length:
The key to the success of several post–Cold War multinational naval operations involving Australian, Canadian, British, and American navies was the trust, understanding, and mutual respect of leaders and commanders for one another in often challenging situations. Years of experience with combined . . . operations, at-sea exercises, shore-based education and training, and professional and social interaction had created a corps of allied naval officers confident in the abilities of their foreign counterparts. The human element was and is the key factor that binds the operations of [the four navies] (p. 279).
With the ongoing shrinkage of its force levels, which now comprise about half that of its order of battle in the 1980s, the U.S. Navy must work even more closely than before with allied and partner navies worldwide. It would do well to draw upon the lessons of its successful combined operations with its sister navies from Britain, Canada, and Australia, and apply them to others with whose countries America shares common interests. The fact that English is the international lingua franca for most partner navies creates opportunities for ever tighter and more fruitful operational relationships between them and the U.S. Navy.
The Navy already conducts numerous exercises with its partners across the globe. But exercises are not enough. The Navy should redouble its efforts to make its communications technology in particular available to more allies and partners. Even the three close partners highlighted in this volume have difficulty accessing technologies that would significantly enhance their ability to pursue combined naval operations with the United States.
In addition, and in line with the principle that “you cannot surge trust,” the Navy should sponsor more professional and educational exchanges between its officers and their many counterparts. In a budget-constrained environment, such exchanges are tremendously cost-effective. Relatively speaking, they are low cost items. Yet they provide the foundation for creating the kinds of relationships that have enabled the navies of the United States, Britain, Canada, and Australia to work so closely and well together.
With the Navy likely to play an increasingly important role in a variety of operational contexts for the foreseeable future, its ability to work with a host of different partners will be critical to its success. You Cannot Surge Trust demonstrates how that success can be achieved. It should be required reading for all officers who aspire to lead combined maritime operations some time in their careers. JFQ
Dov S. Zakheim, Ph.D., is a Senior Fellow at the Center for Naval Analyses. He served as Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller) from 2001 to 2004.