Stop Tiptoeing Around Russia
It Is Time to End Washington’s Decades of Deference to Moscow
AS these lines are written Congress is considering a series of national defense bills which forecast the most dramatic changes in the American strategic picture since the Spanish-American War planted the Stars and Stripes in spots as wide-flung as Puerto Rico and the Philippines. Taken as a whole, these measures provide the greatest peacetime armaments program in American history. If the program is carried through substantially as planned it will go far toward putting our fighting services -- particularly the Navy and our separate air fleets -- on a permanent war footing. Nor can the tremendous strengthening of our national defense now proposed, and particularly the provision of new naval and air bases, be considered except as part of a revised and hardened foreign policy. To carry out that policy the United States will become one of the most strongly armed nations in the world and will cast its shadow across distant seas.
The total cost of the various projected measures of defense is unknown, and must long so remain. But even for just the fiscal year 1940 the total would be more than $1,500,000,000. The various bills which would provide this sum are separate and distinct, each with its own Congressional chaperon. They comprise not only the extraordinary legislation especially urged by the President to meet the present world crisis, but also the regular military and naval annual appropriation measures; and these latter in turn contain some extraordinary expenditures designed to meet special current needs. They are complex pieces of legislation, liable to considerable revision in detail before the Congressional debates are concluded. But it seems certain that their broad aims will be accepted and the bulk of the expenditures involved will be approved, with the possible exception of the Navy's proposal to establish an air base at Guam.
For the sake of simplicity, no attempt will be made here to deal with each piece of legislation separately. Rather, a broad picture will be painted of the principal aims which the President's recommendations and the implementing legislation as a whole seek to accomplish. This will be followed by an analysis of our new strategic position in the light of the projected changes.
In the early months of 1938 President Roosevelt suggested and Congress endorsed the further strengthening of the American Navy by a general increase in tonnage to the extent of 20 percent. The 1940 budget provides for the continuation of this program with the construction of ships and planes, both as replacements and as additions. The sum of $270,000,000 is provided (compared with $154,113,150 in 1939) for continuing the work on ships already started and for commencing work on two more battleships and eighteen other men-of-war.
The two battleships, each of 45,000 tons displacement, will be the biggest men-of-war ever built anywhere in the world. Each will mount nine 16-inch guns and have a speed in excess of 30 knots. They are interpreted as direct answers to reports, now generally accepted in Washington, that Japan is building two or more 40,000 to 46,000-ton monsters. The two new battleships will bring the total of American capital ships to 23, of which 15 are now in commission and eight are building or projected. In all, the new building will increase to 160 the number of naval vessels laid down since President Roosevelt took office, though of course it will not complete the unending task of maintaining the Navy once it is built, nor will it see an end of plans to strengthen the Navy still further.
The naval expansion bill passed by the last Congress directed that a naval board be appointed to inquire into the need for additional air, submarine, destroyer and mine bases. Accordingly a board headed by Rear Admiral Arthur J. Hepburn, former Commander-in-Chief of the fleet, conducted what was probably the most thorough survey ever made of the American need for bases. The resulting report suggested the construction of 12 new naval air bases or stations -- mostly on Pacific islands -- and a very considerable expansion of existing facilities at 13 other air stations. It urged the construction of six new submarine bases and the expansion of facilities at four other stations, and said that two destroyer bases and four mine and ammunition depots needed additional facilities.
Any such program as this would, of course, require billions of dollars to carry through. The Navy Department recognized that even in their present temper neither the American people nor Congress would be likely to endorse it. The Department, therefore requested funds to develop or expand 12 air bases out of the 41 bases of all types itemized by the Hepburn Board. The expenditure involved was relatively modest -- some $65,000,000 over a three-year period for commencing new plane base facilities at Guam, Wake, Midway, Johnston and Palmyra Islands; at Pearl Harbor and Kaneohe Bay on the island of Oahu in the Hawaiian group; at Sitka and Kodiak in Alaska; at Pensacola and Jacksonville (or possibly Miami) in Florida; and at San Juan, Puerto Rico. Preliminary surveys and small-scale dredging operations were started (in connection with commercial airline developments) at Wake and Midway last year. The other bases would be totally new, with the exception of those at Pearl Harbor, Sitka and Pensacola (the latter the training station for naval aviators), where existing facilities would be expanded.
The original bill was subsequently modified by the House Naval Affairs Committee to provide for the establishment of a small naval air station at Tongue Point, Oregon; the expansion of the air station at Hampton Roads, Virginia; and the construction of an aëronautical engine and materials laboratory at the naval aircraft factory at Philadelphia. And as passed by the House and sent to the Senate the bill omitted provision for the Florida base (pending further study as to the best site) and deleted the authorization for an air base at Guam. The Florida base seems likely to be dealt with later in a separate bill. As for the Guam project (discussed at length below), it is sure to awaken considerable debate in the Senate. But even if the Senate concurs with the House in refusing to sanction it, the plan will probably be revived in future years, for it has won the favor of many naval minds.
The appropriations for ship and plane construction now pending in Congress would be used mainly to continue a program endorsed by previous Congresses. If voted, the monies in question will not only modernize our Navy and should provide for subsequently adding to it at such a rate as would maintain our naval strength -- barring a speed-up in the world naval race -- at roughly the same ratio it bears to other navies today.
However, the replacement of old ships with modern ones, of old planes with new ones, does in itself make our Navy able to operate further away from its bases than formerly. Recent advances in marine engineering; greater economy of fuel consumption; the development of new and improved Diesel engines for submarines (which enable modern submarines to cruise from Tokyo to London and back without refueling); the improvement in the technique of refueling at sea; the use of planes able to patrol between 3,000 and 4,000 miles (planes able to do 8,000 miles are already in the factories) -- these and other developments are giving a modern fleet, from the merely engineering point of view, a radius practically without limit. This remark would apply particularly to the two 45,000-ton ships projected in next year's construction program. With their great speed, great range and great power, these vessels -- even acting alone -- would be a strategical threat of some consequence in case we engaged in war. And their speed would enable them to escape from any superior forces with which they came into contact. Similarly, our new patrol planes will be characterized by long-range striking force.
It is the establishment of new bases, however, which is destined to have a dominating influence upon our strategy; for although the improvements produced by modern engineering are notable strategically in the sense that the limitations of fuel consumption are no longer of primary import, nevertheless the limitations of geography are still in operation. Thus 5,000 miles may be a small matter for a well-found ship, but the same 5,000 miles may prove fatal to a ship wounded in battle far from her base. Strategy is permanently affected, too, by enemy coast lines, narrow waters and mine fields. Possession of naval bases therefore still tends to give a fleet dominance over a certain adjacent area of ocean; and the area of predominance shades imperceptibly into the enemy's area of predominance the further one departs from one's own base and the closer one approaches the enemy's.
For these reasons, then, the proposals to establish or reënforce a number of naval air bases -- taken, as they must be, against the broader background of the Hepburn report -- represent a far-reaching modification of the American strategical picture.
Incomparably the most important of all the proposed bases is Guam. An American naval base there would alter materially the strategic picture of the Pacific. When the Hepburn Board discussed the Philippine Islands and Guam it touched on the basic problem of American participation in Far Eastern affairs. "The defense of the Philippines," it said, "involves matters of national policy which take precedence over the military problem involved. The military problem itself is one whose solution requires measures beyond any that could be recommended by this Board within the limits of its precept." And as to Guam it remarked: "The establishment of a fully equipped fleet base at Guam, capable of maintaining at least the major part of the fleet in all types, would in itself practically assure the impregnability of the island . . . a fleet base in Guam would provide for the security of our Asiatic Fleet in time of sudden emergency . . . a strong advanced fleet base at Guam, developed to the practical limits which the natural resources invite, would assure -- 1. Practical immunity of the Philippines against hostile attack in force. 2. The most favorable conditions that could be brought about for the prosecution of naval operations in the Western Pacific . . . 3. The ability of the fleet to operate with greater freedom in meeting emergency conditions that might arise in the Atlantic."
The amounts provided in the legislation presented to Congress would make possible none of these things. Only $5,000,000 of it was earmarked for Guam; and of this $2,200,000 was to go for the construction of a breakwater; approximately $2,000,000 was for the dredging of Apra Harbor and the removal of coral heads to allow safe take-offs and landings by patrol planes; while the rest was for the construction of seaplane ramps and parking space, gasoline storage, a small power plant and necessary accessories. No submarine facilities at Guam were mentioned, nor was any provision made for the "advanced fleet base" or "fully equipped fleet base" discussed in the Hepburn Board's report. However, the testimony of Admiral William H. Leahy before the House Naval Affairs Committee and the analysis made by the Hepburn Board show that the Navy would consider this $5,000,000 only a start toward a larger objective. In fact, responsible officers in the Navy Department say quite frankly that they hope Guam will be fully and completely fortified "to the practical limits which the natural resources invite." They point out that it would be better not to initiate the project at all unless we were prepared to "go the whole way."
Ever since the signature of the Washington Naval Treaty in 1922 Hawaii has been the hub of our Pacific naval strategy. Lately we have realized the strategic importance of Alaska and the Aleutian Islands -- near the Great Circle route to the Orient -- in our effort to secure American predominance in the northeastern Pacific. Our naval forces, both surface and air, have manœuvred frequently in this area, operating from Sitka, Kodiak, Unalaska and other "cold front" points. The proposed bases in Alaska therefore will simply provide necessary facilities in areas where our fleet long has been operating and is clearly predominant, and will tend to strengthen our so-called "strategic triangle," the three apexes of which are situated in Alaska and the Aleutians, in Hawaii and in our west coast bases.
The proposal to expand the facilities on the island of Oahu, where Pearl Harbor is located, speaks for itself. Ford Island in Pearl Harbor has long needed certain specific improvements. These are now to be made, and an overflow base is to be provided at Kaneohe Bay, on the same island, to relieve the congestion at Pearl Harbor. But these changes will not remedy the two principal weaknesses of Hawaii. One, for which no adequate solution has yet been found, is its lack of self-sufficiency in foodstuffs; the other, which the pending legislation will do much to remedy, is the lack of advanced air bases in the surrounding islands.
The need of some sort of outpost at Midway Island, 1,149 miles northwest of Honolulu, began to be felt as soon as the increased range of the great flying boats made the flight from Pearl Harbor a relatively simple "hop." In some of the Navy's recent war games Midway has been set as the focus of action, with both sides struggling for its possession. There is no doubt that in the hands of an enemy Midway would expose Pearl Harbor to serious attacks from the air, and that this would diminish its value as a naval base. The same can be said of other islands which fan out from the Hawaiian Islands, especially Johnston Island, 810 miles to the southwest, and Palmyra Island, some 1,000 miles to the south. The development of these in accordance with the present modest recommendations (dredging, seaplane ramps, gasoline storage, etc.) ought to make Pearl Harbor immune to serious air attack. But the development of these new advance bases would do more than make Pearl Harbor secure; in conjunction with the projected development of bases in Alaska and the Aleutians it would enable our Navy to maintain a far-flung aërial and submarine patrol and establish more securely its predominance from Alaska and the Aleutians southward to the latitude of Panama and eastward from the International Date Line.
The proposed bases in Guam and Wake do not fall within this category. The developments which the Hepburn Board proposes to make at Wake, a rather isolated atoll 1,034 miles southwest of Midway, are so modest (facilities for a patrol plane squadron and a submarine division) that the Board evidently considers this island merely as a way-point to Guam. The arguments for developing facilities there stand or fall according as whether or not Guam is to be developed.
Guam lies 3,318 nautical miles west of Honolulu and 1,353 miles southeast of Yokohama. The report of the Hepburn Board and the testimony given regarding pending legislation show that the arguments for developing a base there are, in general, these:
1. It would be valuable as a "defense" for the American coasts and Hawaii.
Put thus, the argument can be reduced to absurdity. By the same argument, we should have bases at the North Pole, in Europe and Asia. What really is meant is that a base such as Guam would be invaluable for operations against Japan in case of war with that country. Indeed, this is exactly what the Hepburn Board says in more polite terms when it reports that "a strong advanced fleet base at Guam . . . would assure the most favorable conditions that could be brought about for the prosecution of naval operations in the western Pacific. . . ."
2. It is necessary for the security of the Asiatic Squadron in time of war and as a repair base for this squadron in time of peace.
This argument seems to the writer to be specious. Prior to 1898, our ships used the British facilities at Hong Kong. For decades the American Asiatic Squadron has been repaired in the Philippines. If we were to relinquish our base in the Philippines following the grant of independence to those islands, we would have little reason to maintain an Asiatic Fleet. If it continued in existence, our ships in time of peace undoubtedly could again use British drydocks at Hong Kong and Singapore, just as American ships in European waters have long used British facilities at Gibraltar. In time of war, the Asiatic Fleet could more easily retire southward towards the Dutch East Indies and Singapore and thence towards the immensity of the South Pacific and the Indian Ocean than it could retire toward Guam through the maze of Japanese-dominated islands surrounding that island.
3. It would "practically prohibit an invasion of the Philippine Islands."
If Guam could be transformed instantly into a fully-equipped and fully-fortified base this argument would be more convincing. The existence of a strong base there would undoubtedly act as a deterrent to any Japanese expedition to the Philippines. But its development would require years; the process might be viewed by Japan as a threat to her own vital interests and this might in itself induce war. Moreover, this argument for the fortification of Guam is predicated upon the premise that we shall retain our full interests in the Philippines and accept complete responsibility for defending them -- a course not provided under existing legislation and one to which a large school of both military and naval thought is opposed. To this extent, then, the fortification of Guam would establish, indirectly but effectively, a Far Eastern and Philippine policy not in accord with the one which Congress and the President have so far seen fit to define.
The Navy claims that Guam, a mountainous, rugged island rising to 1,300 feet in height and with an area of 225 square miles, can be made "invulnerable." But nearly any place with naturally favorable physical characteristics like Guam's can be made more or less "invulnerable" (i.e., very difficult to reduce) if one is willing to pay the price. In the case of Guam the price would be tremendous. The cost of the unfinished Pearl Harbor base and its defenses already has been in excess of $700,000,000. A major fleet base at Guam would probably cost at least as much, and even a defended submarine and air base would require a garrison of 12,000 men and would cost $227,000,000. Moreover, a base in Guam would almost certainly stimulate the Navy's appetite for the retention of the Philippines and an expanded base there; the Navy would then discover that it required a larger fleet to hold Guam, and the costs would pyramid.
In fact, Guam is at a disadvantage in many major respects which might make it less than "invulnerable" even after the expenditure of millions. For it lies behind a screen of the Japanese mandated islands -- the Carolines and Marshalls to the south and southeast, the Marianas around it. There are some 1,400 islands in this Pacific "milky way," many of which have undergone harbor, port and landing field developments at the hands of the Japanese but which, so far as is known, are not fortified. Saipan, one of the best natural bases in the Japanese Marianas group, lies only ninety-one miles from Guam; the naval base of Amami-Oshima lies on the route from Guam to the Straits of Tsushima; Wotje (with a Japanese seaplane base) is southeast of Wake Island; Japanese Jaluit, Kusaie, Ponape, Truk, Palau, and Yap -- all strategically important and either developed or susceptible of development for naval use -- are not far off, as Pacific distances go. And even Japan proper is only some 1,300 miles away.
Guam fails to fulfill Admiral Mahan's definition of a first-class naval base. Its geographical situation -- an exposed salient in the midst of enemy "territory" -- is unsound. It has a civilian population of 21,000, a liability in case of a siege or blockade. It is not self-sufficient and lies more than 5,400 miles from its main American source of food supplies, ammunition, etc. Above all, it is extremely vulnerable to air attack. To be adequate, a naval base must be reasonably secure against continuous bombing attacks from the air; otherwise ship repairs and other similar activities are impossible. But American planes operating from Guam would have to attack dispersed targets (in the form of enemy air bases) on a number of Japanese islands; whereas Japanese planes operating against Guam could center their full attack on a single target.
American influence in the eastern Pacific is already secure, and will be made even more so by the other bases now to be developed. The development of Guam as a strong base would, in the writer's eyes, seem an adventure into what has recently been a sphere of Japanese naval predominance. The idea of "Hemispherical Defense" would have to be modified and replaced by a new, more far-reaching formula for "defense" in harmony with a new phase of foreign policy. In other words, the naval development of Guam would definitely commit us to participate in the problems of the Orient.
The bases projected in the Atlantic-Caribbean area do not carry any such grandiose implications. The Caribbean is already, to all intents and purposes, an "American lake." The projected main air base in Florida will be able to care for two to four carrier groups comprising from 150 to 300 carrier-based planes, and from three to six patrol plane squadrons comprising 36 to 72 flying boats. It will back up the proposed outlying base in Puerto Rico, key-spot of the Caribbean, which is to accommodate from 72 to 100 carrier-based planes and from 24 to 48 patrol planes. In conjunction with the already established naval and air activities at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, at St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands, and at Culebra Island east of Puerto Rico, these developments will consolidate our hold on the Caribbean and further safeguard the eastern approaches to the Panama Canal. Even more important, the facilities of the Florida base and of the projected air base in Puerto Rico and of that already established at Coco Solo in the Canal Zone (which the Hepburn Board would like to expand) will enable us to use our sea and air power more effectively in the South Atlantic and in South American waters. In addition, our fleet's use of the Dutch island of Aruba and the British island of Trinidad as bases in its recent manœuvres indicates that other facilities might be available for our forces in the West Indies in case of war. These developments would harmonize with our formula for "Hemispherical Defense" and would give it concrete expression. And the Monroe Doctrine would be provided with new possibilities of effective implementation.
If the pending bills are approved, the Army will have its biggest legislative year since the World War. The regular annual appropriation bill of about $462,000,000 submitted by the War Department has already been revised, as this is written, to allow the expenditure (including contract authorization) of about $540,000,000 in the next fiscal year. In addition, it is proposed to make extraordinary appropriations of about $450,000,000, to be spread over two years. The bulk of this extraordinary appropriation, namely the sum of $300,000,000, would go for the purpose of adding about 3,032 planes to the Army's authorized plane strength. That strength would thereby be raised over a period of two years to 5,500 or 6,000 planes, about 2,163 of which, under present plans, would be kept in reserve with no trained personnel to operate them. This sum of $300,000,000 would also provide funds for barracks and other equipment at new Army air bases in Puerto Rico, Panama and Alaska, and in the northeast and southeast sections of the United States (where the Navy, incidentally, is also planning or already has established air bases). It also would provide for maintenance and research, the purchase of bombs and training of new pilots. In all, there would be an increase of 2,334 regular officers and 31,079 enlisted men in the Air Corps, bringing it up to a total strength of 4,663 officers and 44,537 enlisted men. The strength of the Army as a whole would be increased to about 220,000 officers and men, as compared to about 180,000 today.
Further monies would be allocated "for educational orders to prepare industry to meet, on the outbreak of war, with a minimum of delay, the urgent demands for munitions of a noncommercial nature." About $27,000,000 would go for an increase of 6,400 men and 180 officers in the garrison of the Panama Canal Zone (bringing the troops stationed there up to 21,000). The sum of $6,539,287 would go for coast defenses at Panama, Hawaii, and in the United States. The sum of $110,000,000 would provide modern equipment, including 37 mm. anti-tank and anti-aircraft guns, semi-automatic rifles and gas masks, for most of the units of our Regular Army and National Guard, known in our mobilization plan as our "I.P.F." or Initial Protective Force. These plans of the Army do not appear to affect American military strategy so fundamentally as do the Navy's plans for new bases and new ships.
Nevertheless an Army of 220,000 men, with an air force of 5,500 army planes,[i] is really more than seems dictated by sound requirements of home defense. If we add the Navy's 3,000 planes, we see that the United States is scheduled to have 8,500 planes by 1944. Now there is no readily apparent way in which such a mass of planes can be used effectively to defend our own continental borders. No air threat of comparable magnitude can arise against the United States in the near future, or even against any part of the Western Hemisphere. Hence the supposition that part of the planes in question might be considered not so much as a reserve for the defense of our own territory but as a possible pool out of which British and French air fleets might be replenished in case war comes in Europe.
If the planned improvements and enlargements are judiciously made, and if a considerable proportion of the new planes are long-range bombers, the United States Army will find itself considerably better able to defend South and Central America, Canada and Mexico against external invasion than is the case at present. Most particularly, the Army should be better equipped tomorrow than today to dispatch an expeditionary force in case of need either to some part of Latin America or to our island possessions. However, there is as yet nothing in the announced program to indicate that the small, mobile, flexible, highly-trained, thoroughly-equipped and instantly-ready American Army (a sort of American Reichswehr) which so many have advocated is on the way to becoming a reality. Rather, our military policy still looks toward the creation by volunteer enlistments and conscription of a huge mass army after M-Day -- an army of which the first 1,000,000 of our Protective Mobilization Plan will serve merely as the nucleus. That sort of a mass army could not be used effectively in defense of our coasts. Thus the current improvements, though adding a certain mobility to the Army, on the whole do not modify but only implement our existing wartime plans, which are predicated on the idea that our troops might in some contingencies have to be used outside the borders of the United States.
The improved defenses envisaged for the Panama Canal should go a long way towards making our important link between the two oceans practically invulnerable. The project includes construction of a third set of locks for the Canal, a cheaper alternative (upon which official opinion has now settled) to the digging of a Nicaraguan Canal. Execution of the Army's projects in Panama and the Navy's plans in the Caribbean will facilitate our "two-ocean" plan of naval defense, in which the interior line of the Panama Canal plays such an important -- though not vital -- part.
If the pending naval and military plans are for the most part adopted, and if they are implemented by fiscal appropriations both now and in the future, they will consolidate the American hold on the northeastern Pacific and the Caribbean. If the plans adopted include the Guam project, that would mark the beginning of an attempt to extend our area of dominance into Japanese spheres of influence in the western Pacific.
The pending measures do not provide certain security for the Philippines (or for Guam) and do nothing to enable our Government to maintain the "Open Door" in China. But there can be no doubt that our resulting military and naval air forces, plus our fleet, backed up by a strengthened coastal defense system and a modernized army, will make any foreign use of force against the continental United States or its possessions as far west as Hawaii and as far north as Alaska an extremely risky undertaking. Any invasion of our borders in force, even by a combination of Powers, becomes virtually impossible in the foreseeable future.
[i] The greater part of the increase in personnel is necessitated by the increase in plane strength.