Fletcher Features

Sustaining the World’s Only Global Navy: Secretary Ray Mabus on People, Platforms, Power and Partnerships

Navy Secretary Ray Mabus speaks at The Fletcher School on July 2, 2014.

“What the Navy and the Marine Corps give the United States, uniquely, is presence—not being in the right place at the right time, but being in the right place all the time,” opened Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus on July 2 in his remarks to a packed room of students, faculty, administrators and guests of The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service at Tufts University.

Since 2009, Secretary Mabus has led “the world’s only global Navy” and America’s Marine Corps, managing a budget in excess of $170 billion and more than 900,000 people. “There’s a big difference between Navy forces—Navy and Marine—and our sister forces,” he explained. “We are expeditionary. We are always forward moving. The operational tempo between the so-called peacetime Navy and wartime Navy, there’s practically no difference.”

Maintaining that tempo requires strategic thinking and careful application of precious resources. In his remarks, Secretary Mabus addressed four pillars that create a strong Department of the Navy: people, platforms, power and partnerships. He also highlighted the need for Navy and Marine forces to adapt to new conditions after the conclusion of major land-based military campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Regarding power, he noted the particularly important role that energy issues play in international security and said that by moving away from a dependence on fossil fuels, the military would be less vulnerable as it prepares to face new challenges.

“Energy is and can be a military vulnerability. It can be a geo-strategic weapon. All you have to do is look at Ukraine today to see how that’s being used,” said Secretary Mabus. “It’s also—oil and gas—is a globally traded commodity. We don’t set the price… One of the things that reduces military vulnerability is to move us off fossil fuels.” The Secretary then went on to outline the many ways how and the many reasons why the Navy and the Marine Corps—“afloat and ashore”—will reduce its consumption of fossil fuels to no more than half of its total energy use by 2020.

During a brief question-and-answer session, Secretary Mabus also fielded inquiries about a broad range of regions and topics. When asked about the role of the Navy in the Arctic, he spoke out strongly in favor of U.S. ratification of the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, which he claimed would reduce the likelihood of conflict and facilitate future joint operations, such as search-and-rescue missions. He also noted that piracy on the high seas remained a concern, though he was much more concerned about threats in the Gulf of Guinea than about piracy near the Horn of Africa, where there have been no successful pirate attacks for more than a year.

Secretary Mabus concluded the event by remarking on the importance of education and human capital for developing a force prepared to deal with the challenges of the 21st century. He said that graduate degrees had become “almost a requirement” for officers rising through the ranks, and that this emphasis on merit-based promotion made for a far more vibrant force.

Noting that he had presided over the naming of the Navy’s first female four-star admiral just one day earlier, he said that the best candidate for the job had been selected solely on the basis of her performance—but that the value of this approach was also evident in the high level of diversity in the armed forces. He concluded, “The military should reflect the society it protects.”

-- Aaron Melaas, PhD candidate

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