Anthony C. “Tony” Zinni is the chairman of the board of directors of BAE Systems, Inc., the company’s wholly owned U.S. subsidiary that employs approximately 55,000 employees in the United States, United Kingdom, Sweden, Israel, Germany, Mexico, Switzerland, and South Africa. Zinni joined the Marine Corps in 1961 and was commissioned an infantry second lieutenant in 1965. His 39-year military career included command of a Joint Task Force and a unified command. His final tour of duty was as the commander in chief of U.S. Central Command. After retirement from the U.S. Marine Corps in 2000, Zinni served in numerous diplomatic positions, including U.S. peace envoy in the Middle East and the special envoy to the Henri Dunant Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue (Indonesian, Philippines, and Sudan peace effort). Zinni is also a Distinguished Military Fellow for the Center for Defense Information, a part of the World Security Institute, and he has been an instructor in the Department of International Studies at the Virginia Military Institute. He is a graduate of Villanova University with a bachelor’s degree in economics. He holds master’s degrees in international relations from Salvae Regina College and in management and supervision from Central Michigan University, as well as honorary doctorates from Villanova University, The College of William & Mary, and the Maine Maritime Academy. His books include the bestsellers Battle Ready and The Battle for Peace, and his Leading the Charge was published in August 2009. Zinni sat down recently with John D. Gresham and Susan L. Kerr for an exclusive and wide-ranging interview.
Let’s return to your first love, the Marine Corps, and the Navy too, because as you know, there’s been a recent effort to change the name to the Department of the Navy and Marine Corps.
I’m right up front with that initiative.
I was wondering what your thoughts on that were going to be.
The Marine Corps is a separate service. We are proud of our naval heritage and our service with the Navy but we also do other things, as we are doing in Iraq and Afghanistan. We need a secretary that has the title and mission to deal with Marine issues. This also recognizes the service the Corps has given this nation for over two centuries.
Since 9/11, the Corps has fallen somewhat out of its amphibious and expeditionary specialties to primarily having been used to reinforce large Army units hundreds of miles inland, frequently in barren places with very little resemblance to the littoral doctrines for which they were created. Give us your view of how the Corps has evolved in the past decade, with the Navy as well.
Well, first of all, I don’t think “expeditionary” just means naval. I think that the fact that Jim Mattis [now a general and commander of U.S. Joint Forces Command] and his Marine expeditionary unit were projected 1,500 miles inland into Afghanistan proves that point. They were some of the first troops in there. Also remember that in World War I, we provided a brigade into the trenches and eventually the commander, Gen. John Lejeune [the 13th commandant of the Marine Corps], commanded the Army division that the brigade was part of. We’re the only service whose mission and structure is set in law. It is primarily amphibious, but it is also “as the president may direct” and to do other things. I think that is unique to the United States in having a fourth service that has this ability to engage in all the other dimensions with all other services. It can provide air power, it can provide projection of power from the sea, and it can engage in land campaigns. It has full service status. Ever since we became a full-service component under Goldwater-Nichols, our operational units are no longer just the Fleet Marine Forces.
Which takes us to something you were talking about, that issue of humanitarian and peacekeeping and disaster relief operations. They’ve really become a major share of those operations from the sea over the past decade or two. Do you feel, as it sits right now, the Navy-Marine Corps team is really well-structured and equipped for such operations? What would you do to improve it? For example, do we need more hospital ships? What would you say we need to be doing and how are they set right now?
The advantage they [the Navy/Marine Corps team] bring is sea basing, where you don’t have to have a big footprint ashore and they can operate from offshore. But then the problem becomes, because the shipbuilding budget is so tight, having sufficient numbers of ships that fit that mission, be they amphibious ships or support ships. We have MPF [Maritime Prepositioning Force] ships and other assets that provide the logistics, hospital facilities, and other capabilities to such an effort. If this were a different world, and we could afford more, you could build more components to a sea base.
For example, when we were in Somalia, we did not want a big footprint ashore, so we had MPF ships and amphibious ships offshore, which we used for our medical treatment. We ran our air off them, our helicopters, medevacs, and other things. We had an MPF ship that we could bring in and offload what we needed, and put back what we don’t need. So the sea basing is the biggest advantage of the Navy/Marine Corps team in these things and the ability to sustain it from the sea, in the littorals primarily. Naval forces can also loiter offshore, over the horizon, minimizing security and political problems that may come from being committed ashore.
Looking forward, 2025 will be the 250th anniversary of the Navy and the Marine Corps. Linked as they are, what do you see them looking like and what do you see their roles and missions like in the decade after next?
In terms of the Marine Corps mission, I don’t see it changing. The defense budgets will be strained. There will be more emphasis on technology. There will probably be drawdowns on larger units, but the ability of the Marine Corps to reinforce on the ground and to provide the projection of force onto land from the sea will be there. The ability of the Marine Corps to operate in an austere environment in an expeditionary manner with a light footprint and to work humanitarian disaster relief and other missions will still be there. I don’t see a real change in their mission, and the Navy’s part in that, too.
I do think that there’s going to be a bigger issue, maybe, in terms of protecting the sea lanes that may be coming up. The need is going to be there for the Navy to maybe go back to the ideas of sea control and sea denial and, really, more sea presence. The question becomes budgetary constraints and affordability, and what they can do within those limitations. The question is “How many ships can we afford?” I think it’s going to be a problem in those terms. I don’t see a major change in roles and missions in 15 years.
You talk, though, in all your books to some degree about the failed opportunities of that decade after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of communism as we knew it. You made the point that this has led to instability in nations and that that instability is the cause of the world that we live in right now. Can you talk a little bit about those two decades of instability and what the current state of discourse and dialogue among nations of the world, the working ones, are?
I think in the last century, the 20th century, the world reordered itself three times. The first two times were after the world wars. At the end of World War I, President Woodrow Wilson felt that we had to change. He felt that as a result of centuries of colonialism, imperialism, and militarism, that the world community had to come together in a League of Nations based upon his “14 Points.” Obviously, it was rejected by our isolationist Congress and population. Then at the end of World War II, you had [President Harry] Truman and [Gen. George C.] Marshall, along with [Sen. Arthur H.] Vandenberg in the Congress, a Republican and basically an isolationist originally. And now in this situation, the world had changed and the United States – and this is after a military victory over the Axis nations – restructured its government, restructured our military, and restructured the world. We’ve also invested much of our treasure to change the societies we had just fought.
It used to be that the guys who lost wars paid reparations to the nations that won. Now the winners were going to pay the losers to rebuild. I mean, these actions are totally crazy by previous standards of behavior of governments. Things like the Marshall Plan, setting up the World Bank, creating the National Security Council, and the 1947 National Security Act revamping the U.S. government were radical ideas. Republicans and Democrats, they remarkably saw that even though we’re at the top of the heap and have just won World War II, it’s a different world. Now fast-forward to the third reordering following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Maybe because it didn’t come at the end of a hot war, here’s [President George H.W.] Bush, [General Secretary of the Communist Party Mikhail] Gorbachev, and the other leaders, and the best they can do is say, “Well, there’s going to be a new world order and there’s going to be a peace dividend.” And no one knew what that meant. No one said, “We have to create the new world order.” You can’t just let it self-order, because the chaos theory holds that everything will reorder itself but it could reorder itself in bad ways if you don’t influence the reordering.
What I think happened, and this is arguable, when the Soviet Union collapsed, it unleashed a number of things. First and foremost, the biggest influence on the new world was globalization. Globalization is to the 21st century what industrialization was to the last, but it’s creating “haves” and “have-nots.” Not everybody shares in its benefits; there are all sorts of problems. Globalization then really challenged the nation-state model. Business globalizes easily, because it knows no borders. It never has. So, right away business said, “If we don’t have East and West, communism and democracy, if those aren’t as meaningful now and as sharply divided, and we’re free to do business, we’re going to globalize.” Economically, we globalize. Then we globalize in other ways, including the idea of a World Court among other things. So, that was the first of the changes, and we [the United States] didn’t see its effects clearly.
The second of the changes was, “Now that the world has become much friendlier, it appears we’re free to move and migrate.” And then I think major diasporas occurred. Many moved into Europe, and people from south of our border moved north into the U.S. Everybody goes where the opportunity is, so you have the migrations beginning to come into the developed world.
The third part was the rise of the Information Age – the Internet, communications, access to information – with no assurance on the quality of the information. So now we’re flooded with unverifiable information, and the ability to communicate it anywhere.
The fourth was the rise of the non-state actors, some of them good – I mean, the NGOs [nongovernmental organizations] are well-intended, they focus on humanitarian issues and building capacity in troubled areas. However, these borderless structures now challenge existing nation states – and include bad ones like organized criminal gangs, warlords, and religious extremists. So you have their rise.
The fifth one is urbanization. [As of] about two years ago, for the first time in the history of man, more people live in cities than live outside the cities. Urbanization has created its own set of problems.
The sixth one is the effects on the environment. Whether natural or man-made, you burn down the rain forests, you release fluorocarbons in your manufacturing processes, and you deplete arable land, you create massive environmental problems that know no borders.
All these things – and there are about five or six more that I mentioned in the book The Battle for Peace – these things created the perfect storm. This meant that the world was changed in the course of less than two decades in major ways, creating instability in many cases. Unfortunately, because it also created a great interdependence, people could move and act more freely. Mighty oceans didn’t protect you. You ended up with the fact that instability became the enemy – instabilities where a society can’t cope with its hostile environment, whether man-made or naturally occurring. When it can’t cope, it does bad things. It grows poppies and coca leaves. It becomes a sanctuary for terrorists. It packs up its bags and moves somewhere else and creates a problem for its neighbors. It depletes its resources. It could be anywhere. It could be Haiti, it could be Somalia, and it could be Afghanistan.
And these become the failed states of today’s world?
They become failed or incapable states. And now in remote parts of the world, where we thought we shouldn’t care except out of a sense of altruism, problems were washing up on our shores. The real problem is everybody in this town [Washington, D.C.] still thinks we’re in the Cold War. We have a government that’s a bloated bureaucracy, and we can’t think strategically anymore. There are no more Marshalls. We don’t plan. We don’t see the world the way it is. We have unrealistic themes like “self-sufficiency” and “buy American,” and other things that deny the realities of the present-day interdependent world. We have relics of the post-World War II era, global structures like the United Nations and others that need to be revised to reflect today’s world. We still have post-World War II positioning of our military forces. Why are we in Germany? Why are we in Japan? Why are we in South Korea? All exacerbate the problem. We have a military that looks like a smaller version of the Cold War military. As a matter of fact, Gen. “Black Jack” Pershing could come here today, command this military, and understand it. Yeah, the guns shoot a little further and the communications are a little better. But it never has changed or adapted or transformed as it was supposed to.
Remember all the discussions of transformation? Actually, [George W.] Bush and [Al] Gore ran on that. Both were committing large amounts of money to the transformation process, and the U.S. military never transformed. Remember before Sept. 11, 2001, the Rumsfeld Pentagon was going to cut the Army down to three or four divisions. The argument there was that large ground units were passé and were no longer needed. And now we’re building up the Marine Corps and the Army, which shows you how much they didn’t get it. It was all going to be things like space-based intelligence systems, precision weapons systems, and network-centric warfare. Even in the intelligence community, I think we’re woefully inadequate and have had many failures in predicting events and threatening capabilities of potential adversaries.
This interview, published in four parts for the Web, was first published in its entirety in the 2010 The Year in Defense: Naval Edition.