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The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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Bush School hosts reflection over one man’s national security experiences

A+statue+of+former+U.S.+president+George+H.+W.+Bush%26%23160%3Boutside+the+Bush+School+of%26%23160%3BGovernment+and+Public+Service+on+Sunday%2C+Sep.+4%2C+2022.
Photo by Cade Gossett

A statue of former U.S. president George H. W. Bush outside the Bush School of Government and Public Service on Sunday, Sep. 4, 2022.

The Economic Statecraft Program at the Bush School of Government and Public Service hosted a discussion with the Andrew W. Marshall Foundation, Reflections on Net Assessment, a compilation of interviews with one of the longest-serving defense intellectuals. 

On April 26, the editors of Reflections on Net Assessment discussed how Andrew W. Marshall’s long service to U.S. national security applies to the modern day by connecting Marshall’s experiences to current events. 

Editor Jeffery S. McKitrick said he and his fellow editor Robert G. Angevine wanted to take previously recorded transcripts and collect them together to publish a book that showcased Marshall’s thinking over national security. 

“It was our intent for people to really hear Andy speak in his own voice, and so we didn’t want to edit much of what he said,” McKitrick said.

Starting the discussion, McKitrick noted how Marshall viewed the relationship between the United States and the former Soviet Union as a long-term military competition. 

“If you start that as an organizing principle, your first order of business is to understand the competitor, and this is something that is not often looked at in the Defense Department because there is so much focus on ourselves,” McKitrick said. “Andy’s view was to get a good sense of where the strategic competition was going, and to him, you needed to have a deep understanding of the competitor and that means their strategic and military objectives, their history, their strategic culture and a number of national dimensions that go across the entire national spectrum.”

Noting the nature of the competition, McKitrick said the competition with the former Soviet Union was complex but not as complex as the ongoing competition with China. 

“It was primarily military with the Soviet Union but had a lot of different dimensions to it, so Andy’s approach was to take the competition and break it into different spaces and those became the Functional and Regional Net Assessments that were developed over the years by the office,” McKitrick said. “There was one on NATO and the Warsaw Pact, another on strategic nuclear balance, and one on maritime balance. There were a number of areas that Andy divided and it would usually take about 10 years to develop a net assessment, the research that was necessary to develop the tools needed.”

Shifting the conversation, Angevine discussed how Marshall employed certain principles throughout his career in regards to the West’s attempt to understand Soviet intentions towards Norway.

“For most of the Cold War, the conventional wisdom in the West was that Norway and the entire northern flank was an adjunct theater to the central front, therefore Soviet operations were likely to be small and not particularly important,” Angevine said. “Andy came up with a very different view after being asked by the Deputy Assistant Secretary for International Security Affairs Harry Rowan to accompany a U.S. military delegation to Norway.”

Angevine said the Norweignans were concerned that NATO was not paying sufficient attention towards Soviet intentions, citing that the Soviets had placed a far greater importance to Norway than how it was typically understood by the West. 

“In the event of a conflict, the Soviets would try to seize the northern portion of Norway in order to protect key insulations on the Kola Peninsula,” Angevine said. “Andy absorbed the Norwegian message and while he did not have a much larger role, when I interviewed him about this 50 years later, he could remember everything. It wasn’t until the 1970s when the Soviets constituted a change in their naval and nuclear strategy where they had a nuclear submarine come online, one that could range the United States from waters just off the Soviet coast in the Bering Sea.” 

Angevine noted how many open-sourced analysts began to pick up on the Soviets’ change in strategy and how the U.S. Navy disregarded the information.

“There were many who were skeptical, but Andy had paid attention, recognizing that if the Soviets were choosing to keep their surface and subsurface assets close to shore to protect their ballistic missiles, that this was a major strategic advantage for the United States and that the U.S. had to do everything in its power to encourage the move,” Angevine said. “Andy had concluded that the United States was looking at Norway in the wrong way, and he began to argue that the area was in reality a maritime theater, a theater that the Soviets would value very highly in order to protect their ballistic submarine bastions.”

Tying back to what McKitrick had discussed about the nature of competition, Angevine noted how another key aspect to understanding your competitor is focusing on not just strengths, but also their weaknesses. 

“The U.S. Navy feared Soviet interdiction of the sea lines of communications to Europe because that was seen as a potential strength of the Soviet Union and a potential weakness of the United States,” Angevine said. “What Andy recognized is that it is also important to understand what does your opponent fear, what does your opponent really concern about. Andy saw that for the Soviets, it was the survivability of their ballistic missiles and their submarines. It is important to understand not only what your opponent is good at, but also what they are not so good at, at what they fear is also important to understand your opponent.” 

Angevine added that listening to the concerns of those closest to the issue, particularly allies, is also a part of understanding your opponent.

“I would argue that the U.S. tends to downplay warnings of allies, particularly smaller allies as we tend to see that as they just want more aid and protection, but in many cases those allies are closest to the problem and have a unique understanding of the issue,” Angevine said. “The Norwegians had established listening posts all along the Norwegian-Soviet border with many of the summer camps along the Norwegian north being clandestine listening posts.”

Angevine discussed how there are many experts who have particular knowledge or a unique point of view that are often not valued by academia and the intelligence community. These would be the people Marshall would often contact when conducting his net assessments, Angevine said. 

“Andy would go out of his way to find people who had a different perspective that was potentially valuable and would listen to them,” Angevine said.

Citing a story about an economist that Marshall met, Angevine said Marshall was interested in the economist’s skepticism on the Soviet economy and the example that the economist set.

“At the time, the skepticism was not widely embraced, but Andy always pointed to Warren Nutter’s experience as an example of ‘hey, here’s somebody that in the end proved to be far more accurate than conventional wisdom,’ and that it is worthwhile to seek out alternative views and give them a listen,” Angevine said.

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