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The Navy has all but ignored blockade as a strategic concept in the 75 years since World War II. Blockade is the offensive use of sea control; the Navy should add it to sea control’s (mandatory) defensive use on behalf of SLOC protection and make it part of a complete 21st century Maritime Strategy.
- has no strategic plan to deal with blockade, which will arise, sought or unsought, in a war with a great power adversary, particularly China;
- forgoes a mission that affected the strategic course of both world wars of the 20th century, and will almost certainly do the same if there is major war in the 21st; and
- casts itself in an ancillary, defensive role at sea; projection of power ashore is the only offensive element of its strategic concept.*
Blockade (and cyber) are the military components of military-economic warfare in a revised national defense strategy.
Military-economic warfare uses the nation’s military capabilities to attack the enemy’s economy, force him into injudicious action, and reduce his ability and willingness to fight as close to zero as possible; it is additional and complementary to action aimed at defeating his armed forces.
If the NCA chooses, mil-economic warfare can extend to air/missile bombardment of the war-economic infrastructure on enemy territory.
Blockade is not an alternative but a complement to all other uses of the naval component of the Joint Force; it is global and maritime in scope; it denies the adversary all uses of the sea; it brings the total force to bear on the center of gravity of the adversary’s power, his (China’s) greatest vulnerability at sea.
Blockade can be used for defense where the geographic focus is on the relatively narrow sea areas the enemy seeks to control to execute his own plans; a leading example is a submarine and mine warfare defense of Taiwan aimed at directly defeating a Chinese attempt to invade or blockade the island or preventing China from resupplying any forces inserted ashore there; action would be entirely at sea, manifestly defensive, and would not involve strikes on the Chinese homeland with consequent risk of a wider conflict (never zero).
Blockade is among the most robust strategies available; it is useful for deterrent effect to underwrite peacetime and crisis diplomacy and in all phases of war. It is particularly so in war termination, where it would give the US and its allies an advantageous position in a chaotic “postwar” where victory itself may be difficult to define.
A propulsion-disabling weapon, though not absolutely necessary, would increase the efficiency of blockade operations and reduce/eliminate blockade’s negative moral, legal, and political consequences.
Blockade would position the Navy for what it was in the mid-1980s but is not today — a force that can affect the course of a major war and possibly determine its outcome.
Re-thinking blockade faces many obstacles within the Navy which must be understood if they are to be overcome.
In integrating blockade into its strategy, the Navy can and should engender change in the National Defense Strategy and the National Security Strategy to bring the three into coherent alignment.
The Navy effectively wrote the national strategy in 1987; it helped win the Cold War; the Navy can/should do the same again.
*Another exception is strategic anti-submarine warfare (SASW); this offensive mission does not appear in CNO strategy documents but has been publicly expressed as the Navy’s intention by flag-level officials; this is not the Cold War; SASW today is an indefensible mistake that opens the Navy to criticism.