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By Sarah Smith and Tyler Will

 

NEWPORT, R.I. -- Prominent academics, military leaders and government officials spoke about military policy and the importance of building relationships June 16 and 17 at the Naval War College’s (NWC) 60th annual Current Strategy Forum. 

 

About 1,100 people gathered in the Hyatt Regency Newport hotel in Newport to hear a variety of opinions discussed in panels and keynote speeches.

 

“I will tell you that I am processing right now,” Rear Adm. Phil Wisecup, NWC president, said at the end of the forum. “I heard about the economy, I heard about history, I heard about anthropology, I heard about the difficulties we face.”

 

Hosted annually by the Secretary of the Navy, the two-day conference presented the perspective of the nation's leading experts on how the Navy can both meet future challenges and identify opportunities to promote a more stable world with this year's theme, "Seizing Strategic Opportunities: Challenging the Paradigm." 

 

Wisecup said one aim of the forum was to develop critical thinking.  As the capstone event for NWC’s resident academic year, CSF provides a fitting conclusion to the students’ academic experience.

 

Naval War College Foundation (NWCF) Executive Director and retired Rear Adm. Roger Nolan said this year’s CSF was exceptional. 

 

“It is the best content we have ever had for a Current Strategy Forum,” Nolan said. The Foundation provides support to the Naval War College, and approximately 300 Foundation members and guests attended.

 

The Secretary of the Navy, the Honorable Ray Mabus hosted the event with a welcoming address on the first day.  Mabus, sworn into office on May 19, introduced himself and praised the Navy and Marine Corps for being flexible, for their diplomatic role, and for their combat readiness.

 

The panel “Hard Power, Soft Power, and Smart Power” assessed the need for military flexibility. Panel speaker Pat Cronin, from National Defense University, said the American military faces opposition from unstable states, such as Somalia and Iraq.

 

“The problem is that we face this world in which globalization and geopolitics coexist,” Cronin said. “So we have to balance this complex world we are in.”

 

Panel speaker Michael O’Hanlon from the Brookings Institution said demands on the exercise of American power have also changed with conflicts. In the post-World War II environment, politicians focused on diplomatic achievements.

 

In the 21st century, military conflict has new demands on military power and objectives. Author Greg Mortenson, who wrote the book “Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace…One School at a Time,” said education will help fight the war on terror.

 

“I think education is the key to hope and peace,” he said, praising military leaders for building relationships with locals in the Middle East.

 

Mortenson said educating Afghan girls is important. Since they spend more time with their mothers than sons do, girls can read newspapers to their mothers and write letters for their mothers to their families.

 

“Ultimately, the real enemy is ignorance, and ignorance breeds hatred,” Mortenson said. 

 

Dr. Anne-Marie Slaughter, the Director of Policy Planning for the U.S. State Department, discussed the difficulties of non-state actors taking independent action in the world. Dr. Slaughter explained that the world is shifting from a “state-centered to a people centered” political paradigm.

 

“When I say we’re shifting to a people-centered world, it’s all those individuals who now have the ability to destabilize politics in ways only states once did,” she said.

 

A forum panel called “Strategic Challenges and Opportunities” touched on the topic of a step back from state-centered society. John Ikenberry, of Princeton University, said there is a transition away from western order, but the U.S. will still remain as the power center. After describing post-war diplomatic relationships between the U.S. and other nations, he said there are new dangers.

 

“The kinds of threats that we are likely to confront in the future years are not old,” he said. “We are confronting an agenda of new forms of 21st century security cooperation.”

 

Adm. Gary Roughead, Chief of Naval Operations, emphasized the importance of the Navy's ability to adapt in the face of modern warfare.

"We believe that preventing war is as important as winning war," Roughead said.

 

He explained the sea’s importance in terms of commerce, communication, and resources. The ocean holds 95 percent of the world’s trade routes, 65 percent of its oil reserves, and 35 percent of its natural gas reserves. With a greater need to provide security on the seas, wage irregular warfare and combat piracy, the Navy must be multi-mission capable and always ready to perform.

 

"I think one of the greatest challenges we will have in the future is being able to exercise sea control wherever and whenever we will be called to do so,” he said.

 

His Marine Corps counterpart, Gen. Conway commented on personnel deployments. The Commandant said the Corps is continually working to make sure deployments to Iraq or Afghanistan remain at seven months. He concluded his speech with a statement about quality Marines rising to substantial challenges.                                                  

“We are optimistic in the Corps. Where there are challenges, there are opportunities,” he said.

Nolan and retired Vice Adm. Tom Weshler, a NWCF member, said the speakers were phenomenal. “It was highly motivating,” Weshler said. “This is one of the best I have ever attended.”

 

A majority of the speeches and panels are available for viewing online on the Naval War College’s web site.