The superpowers of history like Athens, Venice, the Dutch Republic, and England, with large commercial and security interests in controlling the sea, owed their strength and success to dominating it. Once they forgot their maritime interests their position as great powers was at risk. When they decreased or abandoned their maritime strength their status as superpowers ended.
America achieved great seapower within a century and a quarter after declaring independence from England. However, the U.S. naval fleet has shrunk since the Cold War ended to the smallest number of warships in a hundred years. With the cuts that the current administration has already made to the defense budget and those that lie ahead if a solution to sequestration is not found, the U.S. Navy will continue to shrink. At the same time, other countries, most notably China, are modernizing and adding to their naval strength. Continued U.S. decline will further corrode our dominant seapower, put at risk, and ultimately conclude our status as the world’s great power. A new book by defense intellectual (and former Navy official) Seth Cropsey of the Hudson Institute, MAYDAY, tells this story and offers policy ideas that would help us avoid the fate suffered by other states whose greatness was inseparable from their strength at sea.
While much of the country’s recent attention has been focused on funding and supporting both air and ground combat and intelligence operations in the Middle East, our once top-tier Navy is no longer the great powerhouse it has been for generations. Now that the American presence in Iraq and Afghanistan is winding down Seth Cropsey argues it is time to reevaluate and reexamine the current state of the United States Navy, which in his view should be the backbone of our military. His MAYDAY: The Decline of American Naval Supremacy is an excellent primer on the utility and power of nuclear powered aircraft carriers, submarines, and the array of weapons and platforms that can be deployed from the sea. Cropsey looks over the past, present and future of the Navy’s impact on the United States, what caused our current naval shrinkage, and why it will probably continue. Cropsey said it best when discussing the current state of our naval maritime seapower: “[Our] Wide-ranging seapower is not so much an instrument of force—although that it is—as a condition of stable commerce, and effective diplomacy.”
Today, the U.S. Navy only has 286 ships, which is less than half its size at the end of the Reagan naval buildup. Cropsey says the Chinese are not only aware of our dwindling Navy, but have been able to develop strategies where they will be able to stop the United States from operating freely in the Western Pacific in the not so distant future. The Chinese Navy is also beginning to undertake impressive long distance operations like anti-piracy missions in the Gulf of Aden.
There are many factors that contribute to our declining naval power such as the rising cost of warships and their high-tech capabilities, and the bureaucratic and regulatory overhead inside the defense department. Cropsey’s book could be a catalyst for the Obama Administration to reexamine our current naval fleet, but until there is a crisis or a maritime defeat it will be hard to get the political system’s attention. The sooner Cropsey’s concerns can be addressed as a matter of national security, the higher the chances we will be able to maintain our forward deployed naval supremacy.
For another review on this interesting book, please see former Chief of Naval Operations Gary Roughead’s essay in The Wall Street Journal.
Ryon Huddleston, Research Assistant
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