Common cause, common challenge, common values, common charter: Paul Giarra
Arlington, VA: In this edition of “Indo-Pacific: Behind the Headlines” we speak with Commander Paul Giarra (US Navy, Ret.) about maritime power, United States-India relations, and the idea of an Indo-Pacific Charter.
Over the course of his distinguished career, Commander Giarra was a US Navy pilot, managed the US-Japan alliance in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, led the interagency in the US Department of Defense effort to restructure US national security policy toward Japan during a period of profound transition, and was responsible for the formation of global naval strategy and policy, strategic wargaming, regional strategy, and Navy strategic planning in Asia.
When he was awarded the Defense Superior Service Medal, his achievements were described as “of historic significance” by Secretary of Defense William Perry.
Q: How important is maritime power in geopolitics?
A: Maritime power is the single greatest determinant of geopolitics.
The control of the seas, and thereby the freedom of the seas, is a concept that derived from the writings of Alfred Thayer Mahan, who first wrote that maritime power was so determinative.
Mahan understood the economic basis for the importance of sea power. He understood that sea power was the foundation upon which economic power rested in modern societies—modern in the post-Westphalian context—and that likeminded nations trading and exchanging goods and ideas would do so as often as not primarily by sea, and that the world’s commerce—and power—between Eurasia and the rest of the world would float on ships.
Q: What role has this understanding played in history?
A: The clearest indication, by the time World War II had started, that this idea was in the mind of what became the Anglo-American alliance was the formative discussion between Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill at Placentia Bay in 1941, when the President—who was waging an undeclared naval war in the Atlantic—and the wartime Prime Minister came together and declared the Atlantic Charter.
At the time of this first articulation of the freedoms and rights to be guaranteed by the wartime alliance, the two men thought to include as one of the points of the Atlantic Charter that the entire enterprise of freedom depended on freedom of the seas.
This was no accident—not because they were navalists, but because they were navalists due to the fact that they understood how important naval power is as the guarantor of freedom of the seas. The entire enterprise of freedom of the seas depends on naval power because there will always be conflict and competition that must be deterred and reduced.
Roosevelt and Churchill articulated these thoughts in the context of universal rights and the universal application of maritime power and necessity of freedom of the seas. They named their Charter “Atlantic”, but it could equally have been the Universal Charter. In fact, it became the basis for the United Nations Charter that was to follow—much broader in geographic scope but equally fundamental in its expression of universal human rights.
Q: What does this mean for India today?
A: Of course, the issues of freedom of the seas and naval power extend far beyond the Atlantic. In his brilliance Mahan understood this, and so did Roosevelt and Churchill.
This is a good opportunity at an appropriate juncture to consider what these precepts mean for the United States and India. As for Roosevelt and Churchill in Placentia Bay, this is a perfectly appropriate basis to consider the fundamental issue of our mutual security, not least insofar as it is challenged by the pugnacious and offensive, in many senses of the word, rise of Chinese power.
To begin with, this must be an issue for statesmen charged with the security but also the freedoms of their peoples. There is nothing to hold back India and the US in this regard, and every reason to move forward in agreements at the head of state level regarding mutual interests and common challenges.
However, this great charter would only be rhetorical and empty were it not manifest in substance. Roosevelt and Churchill formed a great alliance built on common interests and common values then seen in new ways. They confronted tyranny with the means of naval power as the enabler and instrument for projecting freedom’s power, and for opposing common enemies who themselves depended on control of the seas.
A: These enduring realities of sea power are the very same circumstances confronting the Chinese, intent by virtue of necessity in this context of geostrategic power on becoming a great seafaring nation. The dialectic of sea power at the same time poses challenges to us and establishes dire vulnerabilities for the Chinese.
China is not playing by the rules of a global economy and universal human rights envisioned by Roosevelt and Churchill and since embraced by liberal democracies. What does that mean for statesmen in the first place, and also for naval commanders and fleets?
On offer is the defence of human and economic rights founded upon the naval strategic concept of interdiction, prevention, and force projection—based first on deterrence but then applying all forms of military, economic, political, and diplomatic power.
If China is not going to conform to the norms of liberal democratic societies—the great early hope of Roosevelt and Churchill—then those liberal societies are going to have to make it clear that there are consequences. Not only will China’s ideas and goods not be welcome, but they will be foresworn and constrained by overwhelming political power based on the sinews of naval power.
This is a simple concept with profound political implications and physical consequences. As in 1941, it must first be envisioned by statesmen, and then be manifest and commanded by likeminded military men who can combine at the strategic and operational level to span not just the Indian Ocean or the Pacific, but the entire Indo-Pacific.
Q: How important is the Indo-Pacific?
A: The fact that the term describing the responsibilities the American regional combat commander in Honolulu was expanded from USPACOM [United States Pacific Command] to USINDOPACOM [United States Indo-Pacific Command] speaks volumes to the emerging view that this region is itself terribly important—and also that it is one coherent theatre of operations.
This is more than an idea whose time has come; this is an idea that has arrived, as evidenced by the burgeoning Quad alliance that further advantages the combination of great democratic political and military solidarity between India, the US, Australia and Japan. AUKUS further adds Great Britain to the Indo-Pacific equation.
Q: What now?
A: So much for the theory—these thoughts are merely a recounting of what is occurring more broadly to many others—but this is the juncture at which we must decide how to proceed practically in the physical dimension of sea power wielded by great sea powers across the span of the Indo-Pacific.
The history of unprecedented and remarkably robust Anglo-American staff talks that preceded Atlantic Charter is instructive for today. These commanders understood that their enemies must not be allowed to come by sea, and must be denied the advantages of sea power. Military staffs, enabled by their heads of state and brought together by a common challenge, made rapid progress toward military-to-military integration, strategic planning, and common objectives.
The same precepts as then exist today—common cause, common challenge, common values. It is time for India and the United States to move forward and agree on common cause—based upon an Indo-Pacific Charter that prescribes this common basis and moves towards common action.