Naval War College President Charts 4-Year Strategic Plan

The U.S. Naval War College's Luce Hall is located at Naval Station Newport in Rhode Island. Named after Rear Adm. Stephen B. Luce, the hall is used by the Naval Command College and College of International Programs. (US Navy photo/Haley Nace)
The U.S. Naval War College's Luce Hall is located at Naval Station Newport in Rhode Island. Named after Rear Adm. Stephen B. Luce, the hall is used by the Naval Command College and College of International Programs. (US Navy photo/Haley Nace)

NEWPORT, R.I. -- As he begins his second year as president of the Naval War College, Rear Adm. Jeffrey A. Harley is leading implementation of a new four-year strategic plan aimed at preserving tradition while steering the 133-year-old institution in new directions.

Some of those directions might be a bit unexpected.

Example: Aggressive recruitment and support of faculty, even those who may not always agree with the Pentagon. In their research and instruction, all will be allowed the academic freedoms that characterize flagship liberal-arts institutions of higher learning.

"We're really a university," Harley said during a wide-ranging interview with The Journal in his office overlooking Narragansett Bay. And it's a university with several schools and centers, not all directly associated with fighting wars, he said.

As such, Harley said, he expects the War College to more closely resemble schools such as Brown University or the University of Rhode Island. One way is offering professors tenure -- "indefinite appointment," as the War College calls it. Another is protecting a faculty member's right to truthfully speak her or his mind, Harley says.

"We have to ensure that our academics have academic freedom to express those dissenting viewpoints, regardless of how painful sometimes that might be," Harley said. "You want the institution to look and feel like a civilian institution."

Another direction in the 2017-2021 Strategic Plan builds on the traditions of this oldest war college in the world while aiming to move the institution more deeply into the numbingly complex global economic, political and military environments. Harley wraps that into the term "internationalize" -- essentially, involving more officers and scholars from around the world in War College education and research.

"We are an international school," Harley said. "One out of every six students here is from the various countries around the world." Among the 1,502 students attending graduation in June were citizens of 68 foreign nations, from Algeria to Vietnam.

"The participation of top-flight international officers and senior enlisted personnel in the classroom greatly broadens and enhances the education of all U.S. students," the strategic plan states. "A series of initiatives will increase the capability and capacity of the College ... to build a network of reliable partnerships." The path to peace could be smoothed.

Harley became the 56th president of the Naval War College in July 2016, succeeding Rear Adm. P. Gardner Howe III, who during the transition ceremony said, "I can think of no other officer in the United States Navy [who] is more excited or well prepared to take over the reins at the college than Rear Adm. Harley."

Harley began work on the strategic plan shortly after arriving in Newport, and it has received the blessing of his boss, Adm. John M. Richardson, Chief of Naval Operations. Implementation is now under way.

Change notwithstanding, the school's central objective will remain, Harley said.

"The primary mission is to educate and develop future leaders" of the Navy and all branches of the armed forces, he said. Or, as the plan states, "The main priority of the College will always be to educate and develop future leaders through the development of strategic perspective, critical thinking, and cultural awareness, as well as enhancing the capability to advise senior leaders and policy makers," in and out of the military.

Maintaining combat proficiency alone is an increasing challenge in this era of cyberwarfare, aerial and underwater drones, space weaponry and other technological developments. "It's incredibly complex and demanding," said Harley.

Still, as a scholar and a lover of history and books, Harley places academic stature on an equal footing with war-fighting -- a new emphasis at the college. On the last page of the strategic plan, the officer now at the helm writes:

"In all actions we take, we will protect the academic integrity of our educational and research programs. We will maintain our relevancy to the needs of the Navy and the Department of Defense. We will respect the worth of every individual on our College team, and we will demand the highest levels of ethical behavior from all."

Evidence of protecting academic integrity was found as recently as Thursday, when @NavalWarCollege tweeted a link to an article in The National Interest by James R. Holmes, professor of strategy and coauthor of "Red Star Over the Pacific," about China's rise as a naval power. The article, "This Is What the Navy Doesn't Want You to Know about Its Deadly Ship Crashes," reflecting Holmes' views, concluded:

"Chances are the blame for recent woes lies with some malign confluence of material and human failings. Reputable commentators point out that the U.S. Navy fleet is overworked. The United States has taken on countless foreign commitments over the years while shedding ships, planes and armaments to save the taxpayers money. In short, the nation is living beyond its naval means."

The Journal interviewed Harley shortly before the Aug. 21 collision of an oil tanker and the U.S. destroyer John McCain off Singapore. The Navy has since referred all media inquiries about the collision to the office of Richardson, who last month ordered an "operational pause" for all of the Navy's 277 vessels and told reporters at the Pentagon that the episode gives him "great cause for concern."

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