We reach a critical junction this week for the future of the Naval Institute. Since February a small but determined group has sought to surface in the light of day plans undertaken to radically change the mission of the Institute and force a new direction which offers little in the way of relevance as a professional organization for serving members of our nation’s maritime services. Leaving behind the good will and collected body of wisdom accrued during the 137 years of existence, the “new” Institute would become yet another inside the beltway advocacy organization – something Norman Polmar noted was anathema to the purpose of the Institute as it was established and functioned:
“an independent forum advocating” I believe these words are self-contradictory. The USNI has established itself as the leading international naval–and increasingly “defense”–forum because it has not “advocated” anything but has let authors (military and civilian, of all ranks, genders, and even nationalities) express their opinions. “Advocating” a position will unquestionably deter the USNI serving as an independent forum. 25 Feb 2011
True to the form and “substance” of the vast majority of “mission/vision” statements issuing forth from any one of a number of self-licking ice cream cone organizations that take up residence on K-street or in/around the beltway, those who would proffer this change say it is to the greater good of promoting “global seapower” – a necessity for “economic prosperity” — and again, Polmar drove the logic stake home:
(2) “global sea power” What does this mean? The Soviet Union from 1970 (the massive Okean exercise) until 1991 was certainly a “global sea power”–does the USNI advocate a rehabilitation of Russian sea power? Or a buildup of Chinese global sea power? Or Japanese? Or …? And, does “global sea power” include a strong merchant marine–which we do not have and will not develop in the foreseeable future? Or fishing fleet? Or ….? Again, “global sea power” is ambiguous and misleading.
(3) “economic prosperity” Again, for whom? The world? Then the USNI is encouraging every nation (including Iran, N. Korea, China, etc.) to develop global sea power. Or only for the United States? How does “global sea power” help U.S. posterity–other than the shipbuilding industry?
The proposed new mission statement makes the USNI appear to be a lobbying and “cheerleading” organization for…. I am not quite certain for what or whom. In the years that I have been associated with the Naval Institute (since age 15), I was taught that those roles–lobbying and cheerleading–were the purpose of the Navy League, not the Naval Institute. (Ibid.)
As this and other letters and correspondence from noted maritime thinkers and leaders tallied their opposition, the naval milblog community – especially Information Dissemination, CDR Salamander and ourselves sought to ensure a wide audience was made aware of what was going on – adding our analysis and yes, individual advocacy to reject the change on the ballot. Along the way, the Editorial Board of the Naval Institute went public with their unanimous recommendation to reject the change. Soon the level of public discourse was such that the Board of Directors could not maintain their silence and the Chairman answered – but instead of illuminating the subject, his answer may be succinctly ascribed to a parental “trust us.” Concerns were voiced about fiscal viability and the future of the Institute – but when one followed the money, something just didn’t quite ring true.
And the roster of those opposing continued to grow. Eventually, the BoD decided to suspend the ballot results while allowing voting to continue (again, only in DC…). And more weighed in against – including an Honorary Chairman. This is not the desired end state, however. Rather, the manner in which the proposed change was undertaken, “studied,” planned and executed without the benefit of public discourse with and input from the membership was and is reprehensible and contemptuously dismissive of the membership body. Not only must that attitude and the underlying philosophy be eradicated at the roots, it must be replaced by a new board more attuned to currently serving members, especially those in the critical junior/mid-grade leadership positions – these officers and enlisted; USN, USMC and USCG members are our future. They are, or should be a central focus of the Institute – a necessary element if the Naval Institute presumes to remain a relevant professional organization. To that end, efforts are underway, now, to engage in an outreach to encourage and assist members of that cohort to surface their ideas, their thoughts – and their concerns through the venue of the USNI blog. More on that in a later post. Suffice to say, however, that is but a couple ticks on the course being charted for the Institute’s future. The most significant steps, and hopefully the corrective ones are still to come at this week’s general membership meeting. There is no charge for attending – in person or via webinar, but you must be a member and you must register. If you are not a member – why not? If you are a member and have not registered – why not? Now – not next month, not next year, not after chores around the house; now is the time to come to the aid of the Institute, to reclaim it and rebuild it, mindful of its roots but with a real vision of an organization for the maritime professional, not another corporate flak pushing an agenda with no room for those who would “dare to think, write and speak” – even if it borders on the heterodoxical.
I’ll be there this Friday – can I count on you too?
26 April UPDATE: An Open Letter Calling for the USNI Board of Directors to Resign