About Trevor Knight

Memphis Native. Navy Reservist. Architectural Millwork.

The American Imperative for Achieving a Climate Resilient Mexico

Water security in Mexico City provides an excellent example of why climate resilience in Mexico is critical to U.S. national security and economic interests.  This article will establish the role of Mexican stability in U.S. Security Policy.  Next, it will discuss the historical precedent for U.S. action and influence in the Western Hemisphere.  Then, it will discuss climate change and human challenges, such as governance and economics, focusing on water scarcity in Mexico City.  Finally, it will discuss the policy implications of the four instruments of national power, and how they can be used to stabilize and promote climate resilience in Mexico.

Before continuing, it would be remiss not to address the issue of migration. Human migration concerning the U.S.- Mexico border has long been a heated issue; however, the core issues of human migration are natural and economic resource related.  Drought, famine, failed government and economies are reasons that people abandon their homelands in search of better opportunities.  If these issues can be identified and addressed, then much of the core human migration tide can be stemmed leaving smaller, more nuanced, localized issues to work through.

Outside of its oceanic buffers, the Mexican and Canadian landmasses are the second and third most strategically important geographic features to U.S. Homeland Security.  Of the two, Mexico presents a clear priority to ensure stability for two reasons. First, Mexico’s population is four times that of Canada’s within a land mass that is ten percent of the Canadian territory.  Second, as a security threat, Mexican geography acts as a land bridge between the United States and every other potentially unstable country in Central and South America.        

If a nation’s political system is already fragile, the viability of a country experiencing sustained drought, famine, or other natural disaster is quickly tested.  Nations can endure for a time, even with supplemental aid from neighbors, but after prolonged exposure to climate forces, failed government and failed economies become a clear risk.  Unmitigated climate events catalyze the risks unrest, crime, corruption, resource hoarding, hostile foreign influence and revolution. Since these risks are rooted in the struggle for natural resource availability, changing climate and economic uncertainty, U.S. security and economic interest drive an American imperative for a climate resilient Mexico.

Geopolitically, the global commons are experiencing a myriad of changes.  There is the advent of U.S. energy independence through the fracking revolution.  There are shifting sands in trade and treaties such as the Great Power Competition with sanctions against China and other countries. The renegotiation of NAFTA into the U.S. Mexico Canada Agreement (USMCA) and the fragmenting of the EU with the BREXIT are all indicators that the survival of the globalism that has developed for the last seventy years is in question going forward.

This disruptive geopolitical change is accelerated when climate instability is added to the mix. The National Climate Assessment has observed “…that more frequent and intense extreme weather and climate-related events are creating new and increasing risks across U.S. communities. Climate change poses risk to health, ecosystems, agriculture, infrastructure and economically and socially vulnerable populations.”[1]  Given these circumstances, in the name of national security there is a case to be made for prioritizing the stability and security of the northern western hemisphere over the world at large.

The precedent for U.S. interest and intervention in the Americas is not new.  With his 1904 address to Congress, President Theodore Roosevelt articulated the Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine. 

“Chronic wrongdoing, or an impotence which results in a general loosening of the ties of civilized society, may in America, as elsewhere, ultimately require intervention by some civilized nation, and in the Western Hemisphere the adherence of the United States to the Monroe Doctrine may force the United States, however reluctantly, in flagrant cases of such wrongdoing or impotence, to the exercise of an international police power.”[2]

With this proclamation, Roosevelt established as a matter of national policy that the United States would act as policeman to ensure stability in its own hemisphere.  Interpretations of Roosevelt’s intent range from protectionism of the Americas to the first stage of “Big Stick Diplomacy” seeking to execute U.S. interventionist imperialism. 

Future leaders walked back the Roosevelt Corollary with Presidents Hoover and Franklin Roosevelt implementing the “Good Neighbor Policy” which sought to foster more reciprocal trade with other Latin American countries.[3]  However, as the Cold War ramped up, this approach was scrapped in favor of a more proactive policy for fighting Communism in the Western Hemisphere such as Cuba, Bolivia and Nicaragua.  Thus, they returned to the elder Roosevelt’s strategy of 70 years before and practiced that until the fall of the USSR in 1991. Since the early 1990’s, U.S. Foreign Policy at large has been somewhat adrift, unfocused and unrefined.  Yet, given the speed and violence that U.S. executed the Afghan and Iraqi campaigns for so little political and strategic gain, it is absolutely possible for the United States to enact and execute a new military and economic policy based on the Theodore Roosevelt’s original text without great difficulty.

With the strategic imperative and political precedent established, the concept of climate resilience is next to define and discuss along with its implications for Mexican-U.S. relations.

The Center for Climate Change and Energy Solutions defines climate resilience as “…the ability to anticipate, prepare for, and respond to hazardous events, trends, or disturbances related to climate. Improving climate resilience involves assessing how climate change will create new, or alter current, climate-related risks, and taking steps to better cope with these risks.”[4]

Climate resilience and sovereign stability go together and have both natural and human factors which can lead to crisis.  Poor climate can yield bad economy in the same way that bad economics and policy can squander resources. In the second scenario the bad stewardship of the resource makes takes and abundant natural resource and makes it a practical scarcity.  Such is the case of water in Mexico City.

Water is scarce in Mexico City. The quality of the water is poor and requires expensive treatments to make potable again.  The lack of access to clean, potable water is creating internal unrest where tanker truck drivers are being hijacked at gunpoint to deliver their loads to communities without water.  Mexico City has a climate resilience problem regarding water that has potential to become a national security problem for the United States.[5]  

 Mexico City presents a useful archetype for all the water issues that the Mexican Government deals with nationwide.  Since it is the capital, it gets the most federal money to attempt to remedy these issues.  As well, these same issues in less politically significant regions have potential to yield fallout that is exponentially larger because of lack of federal attention, lack of funds and breakdowns in governance.  Failure to distribute economic and natural resources sustainably leads to overcrowding in population centers which amplifies the problems even more.

 Mexico City was once referred to as “the Venice of the New world” with wide lakes and abundant water.  Now excessive development and poorly regulated industrial use, many of those lakes are either paved over, or have been so polluted that their waters no longer sustain a viable ecosystem and require massive treatments to become potable again.[6]

The Mexican federal response has favored centrally planned, engineering mega-projects over de-centralized, local incremental solutions.  Central planning tends to miss the nuance of local political issues and alienates communities from the decision-making process which can foment unrest.  Massive projects are also vulnerable to mechanical failure, which can result in catastrophic breakdowns in local civilization.  Mexico City “is one of the world’s great feats of hydro-engineering”[7] pumping water from reservoirs 120km away and up elevations of 300m within the city.  Finally, maintaining the infrastructure so that it can reliably deliver water becomes a risk for central planners.  Currently 40% of the water in the system is lost through leaks.[8] Instead of doing the very mundane work of fixing the inefficiencies in the current systems, Mexican leadership is looking for to add more pumps and pipes to increase its network size and spend more on new equipment and infrastructure. 

From a governance and economics perspective, mega-projects are ripe for corruption, graft and kickbacks in a way that local sustainability projects just cannot replicate.  The ruling hegemon can fund projects that create short term jobs. This is a good thing.  However, these projects frequently fail to address the underlying issues and create an economic dependence on the perpetuation of mega-projects. Additionally, mega-projects frequently create political and financial windfalls for the politicians who implemented them.  This sequence becomes a perpetual political cycle until it is reigned in or is overthrown in revolution.  When the system ultimately fails to supply the resources to its residents, it becomes a security issue for Mexico and the United States. Citizens are presented with two options: leave for more stable places to live or take up arms and fight the corrupt establishment.  Neither are options that are acceptable to U.S. interests.

Mexico City, the capital of the United States’ southern border country has mismanaged a historically abundant resource.  If the capital of a nation is at risk of failing to provide basic services to its citizens, then by default, it must be assumed that the entire country presents the same risk.

There are four root causes to Mexico City’s water scarcity.  First, there is massive demand unlike anything historically sustained in that region due to the overdevelopment and overpopulation of the city. This is accelerated by the loss of sustainable economics in changing climates in the rural areas.  Second, Mexico City has a pollution problem with its local industries dumping into the local water sources.  Third, Mexico City’s infrastructure is failing to effectively deliver the water they do have as evidenced by a 40% loss of product through the existing infrastructure.  Fourth, government is unaccountable to the local citizens who are deprived of their own local resources.

The good news is that water is and has been historically available to the metropolis.  The bad news is that the proper stewardship of this resource will require a political, economic and cultural shift to renew its practical usefulness.  This sort of change is difficult to execute, and the speed of progress can be painfully slow.  Fortunately, the United States wields an enormously powerful tool to expedite these changes: money.

The incentives of money and prosperity can accomplish rapid cultural change if executed well.  An effective, sustainable way to incentivize Mexico to change their culture and governance is with an effective trade agreement that creates industry, economic opportunity, and improved livelihood for Mexican citizens.

Economically, Mexico has been a significant resource for inexpensive labor and industrial support to the United States.  Before the virus, the Great Power Competition with China incentivized the United States to reduced imports from and impose tariffs on China.  The global pandemic has further reinforced the U.S. interest in having a more local resource for low cost manufacturing and labor.  Mexico is now in excellent position to take over much of the Trans-Pacific Partners (TPP) load as the resource of choice for inexpensive imports. 

Diplomatically, Robert Lighthizer, the United States Trade Representative (USTR), understands that Mexico has every incentive to ensure that it stays on good trade terms with the United States and take market share away from TPP countries.  Anything it can do to avoid tariffs on exports to the United States is enticing.  Countries that manufacture at low costs frequently pay unlivable wages and do not enforce environmental and safety standards for production.  Additionally, foreign producers frequently operate in nationalized businesses in which profitability is not the fundamental goal.  Nationalized industries skew competition against market constrained industries where profit is an imperative for survival.

On 1 July 2020, the USMCA, went into effect which updated the older North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) to a trade agreement with tighter accountability for labor and environmental standards for the participating countries.  In his negotiations, Lighthizer required the treaty to include passage of a Mexican Act of Congress on labor standards, environmental standards and governance standards.  USMCA Annex 23A codifies for each country the right to collective bargaining, elimination of compulsory labor, abolition of child labor and elimination of discrimination.[9]  USMCA 22 discusses state owned enterprises and monopolies and goes to great detail into concerning the definitions and requirements to establish parity for these organizations in a free market.[10]    USMCA 24.2 provides that “Parties recognize a healthy environment as an integral element of sustainable development.”[11] As a part of the trade agreement, the USTR leads the enforcement panel which monitors Mexican and Canadian producers to ensure they are maintaining the environmental obligations of the treaty without violating any country’s sovereignty.  USMCA 27.2 establishes “measures to prevent and combat bribery and corruption relating any matter covered by this agreement.”[12] In USMCA 27.6, the enforcement article, “parties affirm their commitments to cooperate with each other, to enhance the effectiveness of law enforcement actions to combat the offenses in Article 27.3.”[13]

Diplomatically, the treaty framework promotes sustainable environment stewardship, labor standards, anti-corruption enforcement and requires Mexican Congressional law to be passed to codify compliance with the agreement.  The agreement presents an excellent foundation for the other tools of U.S. influence in the climate stabilization for Mexico.

Economically, the government owned industry regulations will prevent the Mexican government from exploiting American imports and ensure that trade remains desirable for both parties. The fair labor portions of the USMCA will provide for more livable wages for Mexican citizens.  The abolition of child labor or compulsory labor will alleviate human rights abuses and the squalor that accompanies them.  As a result, more of the money generated by Mexican industry will arrive in the hands of the workers which will have a stabilizing effect. 

Both of these provisions open the door for additional foreign direct investment (FDI) where “an investor resident in one economy establishes a lasting interest in and a significant degree of influence over an enterprise resident in another economy.”[14] In 2018 alone, Mexico received over $31 billion in FDI from international trade partners.[15] One example is Ford Motor Company’s 4.3 million square foot plant in Mexico City which employs approximately 885 hourly employees.[16] With the USMCA going into effect and the difficulties presented in the Great Power Competition, it is likely to see FDI in Mexico increase in the years to come.  Beyond the initial investment, this practice has one characteristic that is particularly beneficial to the receiving nation. “FDI is an important channel for the transfer of technology between countries, promotes international trade through access to foreign markets, and can be an important vehicle for economic development.”[17]  Technology transfer will yield production efficiencies as well as environmental best practices that will improve sustainability for challenges like water scarcity.

Diplomacy, Information and Economics have all been discussed, but the Military portion plays a truly unique role in this effort.  Presently, there is no clear and present danger which requires the United States to mount a major land invasion, bombing campaign or naval embargo of Mexico.  There is no need for President Roosevelt’s “Big Stick” at this point. The justification does not exist. However, President Roosevelt’s Corollary, Mr. Lighthizer’s treaty and Mexican Government’s new USMCA compliant legislation have opened the door for the use of the U.S. military in Mexico pursuant to the Anti-Corruption Articles of the USMCA.

If the Mexican Authorities are unable to effectively police and enforce their own laws autonomously, the USMCA language allows for parties “to cooperate with each other, consistent with their respective legal and administrative systems, to enhance the effectiveness of law enforcement actions to combat the offenses described in Article 27.3”[18]  All the Mexican Government has to do is ask for help, and the U.S. can support Mexican Federal Forces to enforce its laws with its sharper tools of sovereign power.  Given the depth and expanse of American expertise in small wars and special operations over the last 20 years, nuanced and surgical military operations executed jointly with the Mexican government to ensure the enforcement of the USMCA and stability of Mexico are highly probable in the years to come.  In effect, President Roosevelt’s Big Stick Diplomacy has been updated to include a sharp scalpel.

As stated before, climate resilience, economic stability and national security go hand in hand.  To that end, the United States has developed a framework with the USMCA to improve the stability of Mexico on all fronts.  Assisting Mexico in enforcing the rule of law and providing the Mexican economy with stable and livable wages will go far in reducing the pollution or exploitation of the local resources.  As technology transfer continues with the new wave of FDI, there is opportunity to decentralize the population centers.  If the Mexican government can reasonably distribute these investments and windfalls throughout the country instead of concentrating them around the capital, it will ease the burden on natural resources and critical infrastructure required to deliver those services.  Mexico can then focus its funds and resources on sustainable infrastructure such as transportation and energy networks.  All these developments would yield a more stable and secure nation to the United States’ southern border in a time where the structural pillars of the last century’s globalism are collapsing.

[1]Center for Climate and Energy Solutions. “National Climate Assessment,” accessed 20 June 2020, https://www.c2es.org/content/national-climate-assessment/

[2] Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine, accessed 28 June 2020. https://teachingamericanhistory.org/library/document/roosevelt-corollary-to-monroe-doctrine

[3] Office of the Historian of the United States of America “Good Neighbor Policy, 1933” accessed 25 June 2020. https://history.state.gov/milestones/1921-1936/good-neighbor

[4] Center for Climate and Energy Solutions. “Climate Resilience Portal,” accessed 20 June 2020, https://www.c2es.org/content/national-climate-assessment/

[5]Jonathan Watts, “Mexico City’s Water Crisis -from source to sewer” The Guardian, 12 November2015, https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2015/nov/12/mexico-city-water-crisis-source-sewer

[6] Ibid

[7] Ibid

[8] Ibid

[9] USMCA, Chapter 23. Article 23.3, accessed 29 June 2020, https://ustr.gov/sites/default/files/files/agreements/FTA/USMCA/Text/23-Labor.pdf

[10]USMCA, Chapter 22. https://ustr.gov/sites/default/files/files/ agreements/FTA/USMCA/Text/22_State-Owned_Enterprises.pdf

[11] USMCA Chapter 24. Article 24.2 https://ustr.gov/sites/default/files/ IssueAreas/Environment/USMCA_Environment_Chapter_24.pdf

[12]USMCA Chapter 27. Article 27.2.  https://ustr.gov/sites/default/files/files/ agreements/FTA/USMCA/Text/27_Anticorruption.pdf

[13] USMCA Chapter 27. Article 27.3.  https://ustr.gov/sites/default/files/files/agreements/FTA/USMCA/Text/27_Anticorruption.pdf

[14] Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) iLibrary accessed 28 June 2020 https://www.oecd-ilibrary.org/finance-and-investment/foreign-direct-investment-fdi/indicator-group/english_9a523b18-en

[15] Americas Society/Council of the Americas accessed 28 June 2020 https://www.as-coa.org/articles/chart-breakdown-foreign-direct-investment-mexico

[16] Ford Motor Company, accessed 2 July 2020 https://corporate.ford.com/company/plant-detail-pages/cuautitlan-stamping-and-assembly-plant.html

[17] OECD iLibrary

[18] USMCA Chapter 27

The “Thucydides Trap” Squared


Perhaps we are too prone to paradigms and stereotypes. Perhaps there’s a “Thucydides Trap” Trap where we fool ourselves into believing that the paradigm’s course is terminal when the ascendancy of the rising power may look and talk like a duck, but it doesn’t really walk like a duck. 

From reading Peter Zeihan, George Friedman, and their analysts we know that China has major debt problems, orders of magnitude beyond the United States.  Their economy is export led.  They lack the agricultural and energy resources to sustain themselves.  The southern coast likes making money through trade, and Beijing, to the north, is the driver of the authoritarian ideology.

Ruling authorities based on ideology do not endure the loss of face associated with the public dissent of free ideas and the free markets that accompany them. This dissent presents an existential threat to the ruling ideology. When this happened in France (Vive Le Revolution!), Robespierre reigned in terror under the banner of ideology until his own head found its way to the guillotine basket.  Ideology above the well-being of its citizens yields terror.  (Uighurs, Great Leap Forward, Cultural Revolution in China, the Khmer Rouge, Red Terror and Stalinist Famines, the Holocaust, Ethiopian Red Terror, etc.)

From a military standpoint, China is not the Germany of WWI or WWII or Japan of WWII.  The military and economic position are fundamentally different. I believe it is possible that we are dealing with a paper Dragon like the USSR’s paper Bear. The People’s Liberation Army may have tanks, aircraft, and ships but too few trained operators, none with combat experience and no culture as an expeditionary conflict nation. Their latest tactical exploits have either been Hong Kong related or beating Indian soldiers with clubs and sticks in a mountainside melee.

One of Peter Zeihan’s fundamental theses is that the Bretton-Woods act established a security agreement that guaranteed the safety of non-Soviet countries. As incentive to sign the agreement, it gave them access to the largest and only market who was prepared to consume. China was admitted to the trade agreement and flourished because of American consumption and investment. America is now losing interest in maintaining this system, and with the dams and levees of the security alliance removed, the tides of history are about to come roaring back in.

My own extrapolation is that now that the Cold War is 30 years over, the new strategy is beginning to look like the United States investing in its own neighborhood. It is offering its market to different countries under new terms to stabilize the western hemisphere.

Economically, one of the things that John McCreary of Nightwatch taught is that in an insurgency, the stronger power funds both sides of the conflict.  China’s growth over the last 40 years appears to have been funded primarily by American consumption and investment. A simple yet effective strategy to winning the Great Power Competition is for the U.S. to stop funding the other side of the conflict. They need our dollars more than we need their imports. 

Unlike the American experience, where our growth was funded by European exports, the Chinese do not possess the resources to be self-sustaining. As Zeihan is fond of saying, their One Child policy…worked. So, the potential for a consumption led recovery of their economy with a burden of aging demographic is unlikely. The Americans sustained growth in the 20th Century by being the last man standing after the last Great Power Competitions of WWI and WWII with natural resources, energy, manufacturing, a population boom to drive consumption and the best technology in the world at our disposal.

Currently, the most commanding presence in this Great Power Competition is not any general or head of state, but Robert Lighthizer, the U.S. Trade Representative.  By re-tooling the NAFTA into the USMCA, he has set the precedent for the re-engagement of the Monroe Doctrine and a migration from Roosevelt’s “Big Stick” policing policy to what I will call Lighthizer’s “Light Saber”. The Light Saber cuts through all the cultural and political fluff and requires treaty signatories to codify the terms of their compliance in their own sovereign legislation. Otherwise, no trade. Yes, Mexico and Canada must pass and enforce U.S. prescribed laws on their own books to participate in the treaty. USMCA went into effect 1 July 2020 with all sides complying.

The Monroe Doctrine now has a functioning framework for a multinational trade partnership requiring governments to align with U.S. Trade Interests. From a security standpoint this quite logical. We shorten the supply lines, and we co-locate production and consumption. We improve the standard of living of the nations to our south. So, if we stabilize Mexico and send them dollars to grow their economy, then the human migration and narcotics problems in the United States can slow down. The next target is likely the Northern Triangle countries of Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras. From a strategic security standpoint, the Northern Triangle countries are next because they are our buffer’s buffer.

Along with sanctions, the USMCA begins the process of de-funding the Chinese, and their American trading partners who have made a killing offshoring jobs from the U.S. to China. American industry is in a lurch right now trying to revive the infrastructure of Chinese imports. It appears, though, that the ship has sailed with the takeover of Hong Kong as Beijing pivots from 1 country 2 systems to 1 country 1 system.

We are experiencing the growing pains of de-China-ization and Corona Virus at the same time. Some hands will fold, but new players will come to the table with new money. So, if China is de-funded and cannot import materials for energy and food supply and cannot trade, then there is high potential for civil unrest.  As we know from Chinese history, listless, idle Chinese workers like to get sporty.  Xi is aware of this and appears to be accelerating the speed of authoritarian rule for the survival of the Party and its ideology. China is an ancient culture and plays the long game, and its collective mindset is bigger than Xi or Deng or Mao, but rather operates as trans generationally Chinese. This is counter-intuitive to western and entrepreneurial minds (like my own). Victor Davis Hanson discusses the western vs eastern mentalities in his books The Western Way of War and Culture and Carnage. In this cultural context, the Chinese people think less of “self” and more of themselves as an extension of their culture or nation–“another link in the chain”, perhaps. Old grudges die hard because they are recorded not individually but corporately and culturally. Because of this, China is not going to “go gentle into that good night” and let the system which gave it prosperity and technology die.  Rather, it will “rage against the dying of the light.”

The Chinese security, influence and propaganda machines are marvels of modernity. Their reach and impact are vast. They are masters at manipulating media and opinion to their demands (so are the Russians, by the way.) American’s view war as a digital concept: on or off. China subscribes to a range of diplomacy and military operations other than war. They use an analog spectrum of influence and low intensity incursions that strive to achieve Sun Tzu’s goal: “to subdue an enemy without fighting is the acme of skill.”

In the absence American trade and security, China’s neighborhood gets rough quick. The Chinese dragon can roar and claw and breath fire where it can at the U.S. until the Rising Sun Battle Flag flies again. The Massacre at Nanjing was only 90 years ago. The U.S.S.R. and China were shooting at each other in a border dispute as recently as 1969. Uniformed soldiers from India and China were playing “red rover” and pushing each other off of cliffs in 2020. There are more than a few nations that are more than a little opinionated about China’s influence and policies. With the departure of the Americans, their new imperative will be playing a good offense as the best defense.

My perception is that we are about to see history repeat itself, but not in Thucydides’ paradigm. I think we will see China go down swinging and lighting fires where it can. Ultimately it will shut itself off from its western trading partners and continue to clamp down hard on its own internal unrest. Lack of food, trade and energy will foment unrest from its people which will be subjected to more and more authoritarian measures to “act right.” Whether it is an internal event such as another Long March or a secession of the trading provinces or another Japanese or Russian conquest. My suspicion is that something will give in the governance of China as we know it. It seems to be just a matter of time.

So, the Thucydides Trap can be a Trap unto itself; if the rising power is not actually as rising or powerful as it seems. The Danger in the Trap squared is that the tail can wag the dog if we are not careful and nuanced in our analysis, decisions and military strategy. It is important that we not let the popularity if this concept develop enough gravity of its own that it sucks us in. War with China does not need to become a self fulfilling prophecy.  Communist regimes have a history of putting on airs and so far, none has survived more than 100 years.  If the Soviet Union is any indicator, the last years of the Paper Bear were more paper than bear. Conflict with China may be pending, but it is our responsibility to be the cooler head. Don’t take the bait of another unrestricted war until the situation demands an overwhelming and violent response on our terms with a clear political endgame.

The above writing is my opinion and is not academically researched, although I do read heavily from Peter Zeihan’s book series, George Friedman’s analysis and spent a decade reading the late John McCreary’s daily threat assessment. So, if something sounds familiar, its because those influences run deep, but I want to give credit where it is due.  I appreciate perspective from Andrea Cameron, Daniel Keller, and Samantha Clayton as they helped me hone some of my thinking. As always, I am interested in deliberate criticism to challenge my thinking.



Sailor 2025

Welcome to the New Year!  For those of you that have been paying attention, the CNO has released his strategic guidance, “A Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority”.  What is very evident in this document is the lack of rhetoric related to “winning the war of terrorism”, defeating Communism or any other such bellicose statements.  Rather, it is a document that appears to take one step back, review the global landscape and assess the Navy’s role in shaping it.  
In a Globalized world where individuals are connected via various elements of the Global Information system, news travels fast and an idea can catch fire in an instant.  In this document, Admiral Richardson, recognizes that his Sailors and Officers are part of this global network.  The “new” generation of Sailors and Officers has instant access to information and global social networks.  This is both a curse and a blessing.  Sailors and Officers can be more informed about issues, potentially.  On the negative side, these same individuals can transmit information or ideas that may be counter to wearing the Uniform.  Social media and the military is an interesting topic and it deserves its own discussion.

Back to the CNO’s guidance and one of the many important topics mentioned within this document.  Sailor 2025, or the Navy’s Talent Management initiatives covers a wide range of separate lines of effort that are all designed to improve the Navy’s ability to recruit, develop and retain the best talent for the future.  In particular, these Talent Management initiatives recognize that even with the best tools in the world, if we don’t have the “right” people working with them, it will make very little difference.  

To recruit, develop and retain the right people, the Navy has embarked on its most ambitious series of personnel changes in decades.  These efforts, for organizational purposes, are separated into the 3 broad headings, each of which is chaired by an Admiral.  The three pillars are Personnel Systems Modernization, Ready Relevant Learning and Enriched Culture.  

Of particular note is the Personnel Systems Modernization Pillar as it covers a number of related initiatives designed to broaden opportunity, update antiquated personnel systems and provide greater career flexibility.  Among the early roll-outs are the Secretary of the Navy’s Tours with Industry, Fleet Scholars Education Program and CIP (Career Intermission Program).  Tours with Industry places top performing Enlisted personnel and Officers with a sponsoring organization for 11 months, during which they will immerse themselves in the sponsoring corporations culture.  Currently, the Navy has 5 Officers with the program, 3 with Amazon and 2 with FedEx.  Next year, they program is expanding to 34 Officers and Enlisted.  Fleet Scholars will place up to 30 Officers with a top University of their choice to earn a graduate degree.  Currently, 3 are involved with the program.  The Career Intermission Program allows Sailors to take time away from their Navy career to pursue and individual goal or to facilitate family planning.  The Navy will be expanding this program with the hopes that more will be able to take advantage of this great opportunity.
For the first time in many decades, money, technology and leadership are aligning to make significant improvements to the Navy’s talent management efforts.  Understanding that people are the Navy’s greatest asset has facilitated a true effort at making wholesale changes in hopes of becoming an employer of choice for generations to come.  These are exciting times and the Navy that our children will enjoy will most likely be very different than our Navy.

Paris and the Days that Will Follow

In the wake of the overwhelmingly tragic events in Paris tonight, there’s one question that comes to mind.
So now what?
How will the world be different in the aftermath of a violent assault on the Western way of life?
Here are the first thoughts that come to mind:
The world is about to get a lot more Nationalistic and much less hospitable to those that “aint from around here.”  In its extreme format, this is called Jingoism which effectively is shutting out all foreigners and posturing on a war footing to anyone that comes to call.  
Jingoistic policies have their own risk as they damage trade, foreign relations as well as the  expatriate populations living in a now unfriendly host country. 
Clearly the current feeling is that terrorist operatives are hiding within the ranks of the refugees that are streaming into countries like France.  Europe is about the get much less friendly to refugees than it was on 12 November 2015.

Since authorities cant tell the bad guys and good guys apart, this will likely get messy from a social media standpoint.  There will be efforts to control “suspect” populations in western countries that are viewed as infringing the rights of those populations.  To some degree it is hard to fault the logic, if the recent great terror incidents were perpetrated by people who looked and acted Amish. We’d all get wary around the next horse and buggy we saw. 

Still, there will be civil rights infringements against innocent people who are Muslim which will feed the social media escalation and extremist Islamic groups public agendas in their home and expatriate populations.

This will stoke tension and political strife.  There will be a modern version of the Japanese internment camps during WWII in the States.  It may be an actual refugee village, or it may be a digital variety.  Time will tell. 
Mob justice will rise. If the governments do not act, then the citizens will.  We will probably see more racially and religiously motivated crimes against people and families that look Muslim. Calais just reported a refugee camp being burned.  Things will escalate from here.  

This challenge echoes of Hercules’ Hydra which sprouted more heads each time he cut one off. This asymmetric advantage is founded in social media and the instantaneous speed of tactical, operational and strategic communication and the devastation that can be wrought by modern weaponry. These coupled with an extremist bent and fearlessness of death gift an unbalanced advantage to the small group wielding it well. This is magnified especially when exported into a culture where the rule of law governs vice the rule of might (where you expect to defend yourself daily). 
How do you approach this? More on that in the days ahead.

Apply Board Primer for JO’s

Its APPLY Board Season again.  Get your package in by early August to participate.  What does this mean for you?  If you’re a newly minted JO reservist and looking to move up in the world, this is the place to start.  The old adage holds true that the most important thing to advancing as an officer is sustained superior performance in an Officer-In-Charge or Commanding Officer position.  Here’s an important thing to know though.  As a JO (O-4 and junior) the Navy is required to either pay for your travel to drill or allow you to be cross assigned from a NOSC OSU.  However, as the holder of an OIC or CO billet, you forfeit such flexibility.  So, if you allow yourself to be selected for ANY AVAILABLE command billet.  You could be schlepping it across country to lead your unit.  You have the ability to control this somewhat by restricting the area or billets that you apply for on your dream sheet.

Here’s the disclaimer on the APPLY Site, read and heed:

“I understand declining billets specifically requested on my Dreamsheet will prevent returning to my previous assignment, and I will be subject to transfer to non-pay. I understand that transfer to a non-pay status affects eligibility for certain incentives and benefits including TRICARE Reserve Select and Post 9/11 GI Bill Transferability. Detailed information regarding the change in benefit eligibility is available through the local NRA personnel department and online on the private side of The Navy Reserve Homeport.”

  Tribal knowledge says that you should accept any billet you’re selected for that you’ve put on your dream sheet.  Let me rephrase that.  If its on your dream sheet, and you get picked, you should follow through with that process and take command.  Therefore choose your billets wisely and dont list filler items that you really can’t accomodate or aren’t willing to personally pay to travel for.  Turning the billet down will only do bad things for you unless its for reasons in extremis.  If you aren’t selected for a billet on your sheet, no harm no foul.  You get to choose from whats left on the board room floor or pick a staff billet at another reserve unit via the IAP process.

Citizen Sailor Tip:

Before you haul off and apply for a bunch of stuff in APPLY, have a serious conversation with your spouse about the realities of this job and what it will require of you.  This will go so much better if you’re both onboard.

Leadership Above and Beyond

 As Citizen Sailors, we tread a unique path between military and civilian life. We have positions and interact daily with our local communities, but, one weekend a month or more we don the uniform of a US Navy Sailor. This means we are both part of the many, our civilian brothers and sisters, and we are part of the very few, our fellow Sailors.

 As our civilian brothers and sisters wrestle with the many “ism’s” that plague our society, we have come to learn that regardless of race, religion, gender, orientation or socio-economic status, we are all Sailors unified by the oath “To support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic.” Consequently, our nation is calling upon us to lead them in ways in which we are already very familiar.

America wants to know if all people, regardless of how they identify themselves, have a shot at success. In the Navy we have been led by all types in arguably the most demanding circumstances anyone can find and we have succeeded where others may have failed. We have demonstrated to our civilian brothers and sisters that our diversity is what makes us strong, especially when unified towards a common goal.

This does not mean that we don’t have different opinions, argue or even yell at one another. Quite the opposite. The Navy has always celebrated the independent mind as it is part of the very fabric of our culture. Think of the Commanding Officer on an independently steaming vessel and the decisions he or she needs to make regarding the ship, the mission and lives of those who are entrusted to him or her. Despite different opinions, despite the noise or “fog of war”, the CO has always been asked to make the right decision for all concerned. As leaders in our military or civilian lives, our Nation is asking us to do the same.

Our Country is asking for all of us to rise above the noise, the vitriol, the divisive speech and lead them forward. The Nation needs to know that diversity is OK. In the Navy, we know we are the world’s “melting pot” and that we are better off for it. We demonstrate this daily in all of our missions around the world. Although we haven’t always been the best at respecting one another, we have learned from our mistakes and we continue to grow and challenge old assumptions.

As Citizen Sailors, let’s share the lessons we have learned. Let’s show America that it is ok to have a different point of view, but, at the end of the day, we are all bound by the same mission. What is the mission? Well, it’s the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness, of course.

Over this Fourth of July weekend as we are celebrating with family and friends. Let us not forget that the United States still represents the World’s greatest experiment. Unlike other Nations, our Military takes and oath to support and defend an Ideal, not a person or party. Unlike other Nations, we are not bound together by a single religion, race, or particular ideology.

We are bound together by the rule of law and the concept that all people are equal in the eyes of that law. Let us also not forget that we have taken an oath to support and defend these ideals and when we confront those who wish to destroy them, we do so with the strength of our brothers and sisters behind us.

A Fabian Career Strategy – The Long Way Around

During the Second Punic War, the Romans, under the leadership of Quintus Fabius Maximus Verrucosus, were pitted against the great general, Hannibal, and his Carthaginian army.  Rather than risk his army in a direct frontal assault against the legendary skill of Hannibal, Fabius, decided to wage a war of attrition.  Fabius understood that as long as Hannibal’s army was in the field, he had the advantage of time and access to resources.  Hannibal was not so fortunate.  Fabius would go on to be victorious and the rest, they say, is history.  
As an O4, I could at least make 20.  In that sense, I had time, but not much.  Like all strategy, it’s a balance between risk and reward.  For myself, I did my best to balance work, family and the Reserves.  Not everyone is so fortunate.  Although I joke that I outlasted the promotion board, there was solid performance in good billets behind it. (Even Fabius made the calculated offensive strike).   I did take longer to promote because I was a SWO in many HR type billets.  My ride towards O5 was anything, but conventional.  So, for those who feel they are up against a glass ceiling, take heart as your time may well come.
  What have I learned?  Well, as a warfare qualified officer, warfare qualified billets are best to propel your career.  If they are non-warfare type billets, do your best to ensure they are either CO/XO or OIC type-billets.  Demonstrate leadership in challenging positions when possible and be sure to highlight your leadership experiences on a letter to the board.  Yes, write a letter to the board.    
For most of us, the board will be made up of a bunch of fellow officers that do not know us and we don’t know them.  One of them will be handed your electronic record and asked, in 30 seconds or less, to explain why you deserve the next highest rank.  Without a letter, they do not know you.  They do not have any reason to support your advancement other than what they see on paper.  For many of us, especially those outside of a fleet concentration area, there may not be a whole lot of sexy warfare qualified type jobs in which we can excel.  Consequently, you need to use your letter to highlight what you have done that can be considered valuable to the Navy, to the Reserves and your warfare community.  I did not write one for years and when I finally did, I had success.  
Finally, be involved in your local Reserve community.  Become valuable to your NOSC, to your unit and to your peers.  Understand that good work is hard to hide and that will certainly help your chances.  Additionally, as you become more involved, you will find that your time in the Reserves is more rewarding.  (I can always peruse the end of the internet on my own time!)  
I cannot guarantee that any of these things will cause you to promote, but, you will have a more interesting time in the Reserves.  Who knows, the stories built upon being actively involved may make all the time and effort worth it.  Remember, there were many active elements of Fabian’s strategy.

Example Letter to the Board

Well board season is in full bloom. People are calling 1800-U-ASK-NPC with a myriad of questions about their package and the rules and regs governing the board. Beyond ensuring your record is up to date and accurate a letter to the board  is your most valuable tool. 

Here’s an example of a Letter to the Board that I wrote based on my review of packages during a previous selection board. Good letters are effective in communicating the “other stuff” to the briefer. Writing one of these can feel like you’re blowing your own horn, but its literally the only way you can fill the gaps in your record with narrative to give the briefer a sense of who you are and what you do.

Be careful though, if your language is too flowery or full of bullshido, it’ll get glazed over without a mention. This is a tactical document with a strategic goal, getting you selected. To quote Sherlock Holmes, give them straw with which to build bricks.  Or in Marine parlance, there is no fire support without ammo. 

Every senior officer wants to be a king-maker in “The Tank” and I watched more than 1 O-6,7,8 try to make a selectee from scratch. Do them a favor and give them overwhelming evidence why you should be selected. 

This won’t cover for glaring misses or poor performance for the past 5 years, but it gives you the chance to explain anomalies and have your story heard.

Where this ammo becomes invaluable is in the crunch. Two candidates side by side with the same record, the bid likely goes to the one with better advertising.

I’ve swapped out the PII details for more humorous items to keep the reading interesting, but the form and intent are clear. This is your last resort to tell the board how awesome you really are.

From: LT Quinton M. McHale, USN, SSN (123-45-678910-11-12)/ 1115


Ref: (a) SECNAVINST 1420.1 (series)

Encl: (1) Fitness Report for the period 14FEB01-15JAN31

Sir or Ma’am,

Thank you to the board for considering me for promotion to O-4. Being a Naval Officer is one of my proudest achievements, and I look forward to future opportunities to serve and lead in the Navy. Below I have provided some points for your consideration while briefing my record:

1. I had 1 PRT failure onboard the USS CHUNDERBUCKET during Cycle 1 2010, but I have since lost 40lbs and changed my lifestyle with regard to diet and exercise.

2. In my civilian job, I serve as the Assistant Vice President of Inland Harbors Incorporated in Bluff City, TN. We are a Western Rivers harbor and fleeting service for towboats and big-ass barges. We are a 24/7 marine port operations company as well as a full service barge and towboat repair shipyard.

My responsibilities for the company include the following:

A. Maintenance and repair for 24 towboats, 4 mobile dry docks, 4 cranes and a wharf facility made up of 8 barges and a floating office building.

B. Maintenance support for 6 outlying locations between Bourbon County, Kentucky and Moonshine, MS.

C. Port manager for operations in Mosquito Haven, Arkansas.

D. USCG, EPA and DOT Compliance manager.

E. Assistant contracting manager for USCG Buoy Tender yard periods (8 overhauls completed in 2014 including 3 vessels with complete engine repowers)

F. Boat operator of the M/V DIRT SQUIRREL – a 600hp truckable push-boat

G. Leadership, direction and influence over 150 people across the entirety of our operations.

H. Skilled labor recruiting for welders and mechanics. Advisory board member of local community colleges representing the needs of local industry.

3. As a reservist, I have been working to establish a SURGEMAIN Shipyard Support Unit at NOSC Hometown with sailors in the OPS Support Unit. There is a Sea Bee unit that is decommissioning and we are working hard to cross-rate those sailors into SURGEMAiN to improve their opportunities for advancement. Currently being established as a detachment under NOSC Somewhereelse, we have 20 sailors interested in joining the SURGEMAIN ranks. As the detachment grows, our goal is to establish a separate SURGEMAIN UIC under NOSC Hometown complete with APPLY selected leadership. Additionally, SURGEMAIN rates make a great hiring pool for the River industry. We have already succeeded in finding a civilian job for a First Class Machinist Mate on the river.

4. I have completed the Strategy and War segment of JPME.

5. I am also the Director of Finance of Mama’s Home Business LLC, an online boutique specializing in the production sales and custom embroidery of high quality baby and children’s clothing. I oversea purchasing from overseas suppliers, seamstress contracting, equipment maintenance and general book keeping.

6. As a personal project, I am the leading member of a small cohort of reserve Naval Officers from NOSC Hometown who manage a website called www.thecitizensailor.com. The mission of The Citizen Sailor is to be resource for new reservists who are transitioning from active duty to understand how to succeed in the reserve world. We are using our reserve mentors and experiences to write how-to articles on reserve career management, VA issues, etc.

7. Per reference (a), please include enclosure (1) in my official record for consideration by the FY16 RESERVE LINE O-4 SELECTION BOARD. Due to inclement weather and rescheduled drills, I have enclosed my most recent fitness report to ensure its inclusion in my package for the board.

Very Respectfully,