The abrupt fall of the Soviet Union and the need for the U.S. military to adjust to a new world order clearly reinforces the unpredictability of world events and the need for governments to prepare for and expect change to challenge the existing order.
Governments that do not attempt to deal with this issue will risk have their credibility, and potentially their legitimacy, questioned.
Alex Miller '71
What 20th century event had the most significant impact on your profession or field of study?
The fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989 and the subsequent demise of Communism in the Soviet Union dramatically and irrevocably changed the principle focus of the U.S. Navy and significantly altered the challenges facing U.S. Naval cryptology.
As the Sixth Fleet Staff Cryptologist and Electronic Warfare Officer, I watched the Berlin Wall fall via a satellite TV feed to the USS Belknap, the Sixth Fleet Flagship, in the Mediterranean Sea. While most of the officers and men onboard knew that the event was a significant milestone in the Cold War, few realized that we were witnessing the precipitous fall of the Soviet Union and the triumph of Western ideals and values over communism. It was too much to hope for. Yet, it occurred.
Throughout the Cold War, U.S. Naval forces trained and exercised relentlessly to be ready to meet and defeat Soviet Naval forces in the open ocean. Success in this endeavor would have ensured freedom of the seas and enabled the projection of U.S. Naval power into waters adjacent to the Soviet Union in support of U.S. air and ground forces meeeting the Soviet threat in Central Europe. Had this tragic scenario unfolded, U.S. Naval cryptologists would have played a key role in ensuring that U.S. forces maintained information superiority.
For over 40 years Naval cryptologists studied Soviet Command and Control and honed their skills to enable them to provide national decision makers and U.S. Naval forces valuable data on Soviet naval force locations. Naval cryptologists periodically turned their attention to Third World conflicts; however, the Naval cryptologist trident was clearly aimed at the Soviet Union. While this was a challenging task, the ponderous Soviet bureaucracy did not change quickly. As a result, U.S. Naval cryptologists were able to remain abreast of improvements in Soviet C2 technology.
U.S. National security interests in the post-Cold War era quickly drove the creation of a new naval strategy. Termed "Forward from the Sea," this new strategy reflected a changed focus from preparation for open ocean warfare to projecting U.S. naval power ashore from forward deployed locations throughout the world. No longer was it sufficient to prepare primarily for war at sea with one enemy. Today the U.S. Navy must be able to face a variety of threats of varying levels of sophistication in a multitude of locations. Not only must naval forces be able to fight and win in a traditional military scenario, but they also must function successfully in limited conflicts, while conducting non-combatant evacuations, supporting human response disaster relief efforts or UN Peacekeeping missions. These missions are conducted in a world where the threat of terrorism and the possible spread or use of weapons of mass destruction by nation-states and other international actors is ever present. These missions require constant training, diverse skills, selective and very careful employment of force, and tremendous flexibility from naval forces. This new naval strategy required a new cryptologic focus.
To meet the new challenge, Naval cryptologists had to shed quickly their preoccupation with the Soviet Union and learn to operate in a more diverse information environment. Change is never easy for large organizations and fast change is even more difficult. It requires good leadership, the commitment of the people, and adequate resources. Fortunately, the Navy is blessed with all these. A multiple year effort followed to redefine the cryptologic skill set, recruit the right people, integrate new technologies, and force new doctrine and operational procedures. Central to this effort was the need to remain ahead of the continuously changing communications technology being adopted by most countries of the world at record pace. While there was uncertainty with each step, we were guided by a visionto save American liveswhich was the same vision that inspired the cryptologists of World War II to break the Japanese code.
To date our effort has been a success, but just as a successful high technology company must quickly identify and adopt new technology to maintain an edge over its competition, Naval cryptologists are engaged in a continuous process of assessing new technologies our potenial foes may employ and preparing accordingly. It is a prodigious challenge, but one which we have fully embraced.
The abrupt fall of the Soviet Union and the need for the U.S. military to adjust to a new world order clearly reinforces the unpredictability of world events and the need for governments to prepare for and expect change to challenge the existing order. This is a difficult task for governments given their natural bias toward focusing on today's issues and inherent problems with trying to predict the future. It is my opinion, populations of nation-states will increasingly place pressure on their governments to develop and institutionalize mechanisms to anticipate, recognize, and accommodate the rapid change affecting societies. Governments that do not attempt to deal with this issue will risk have their credibility, and potentially their legitimacy, questioned.