Special - Naval Forces Underpin Economic Success

By Gordon R. England

‘Two Sides of the Same Coin’

For the United States today, two long and costly land wars with high sacrifices by our men and women in uniform are coming to a close. This is a time when President Barack Obama is calling for the rebuilding of America and when political leadership and our citizens are rightfully looking to reduce national expenditures. Hundreds of billions in defense-spending cuts are being planned with more expected. The question is being asked, “Why do we need to maintain such large forces—and at such a high fiscal cost?” 

In response, I would comment that security and economic development are two sides of the same coin. Security, and the stability it brings, is necessary for economic development. Capital quickly leaves countries or regions that are not safe, secure, and stable. In turn, economic development longer-term is necessary to afford security. Since the end of World War II, deployed U.S. military forces around the globe, backed by a strong military at home, along with committed political leadership and advanced technology, provided the security blanket for Europe and Asia to thrive economically. Many European nations are now squandering that wealth, and the United States, unfortunately, is on the same path and not far behind.

In this fiscal environment, the Department of Defense can certainly be more effective and efficient. Defense budgets should be reduced. But if U.S. forces shrink too much, or pull back too far to U.S. shores, the nation and the world could find themselves without security or economic development. Security, and the stability it brings, is essential if the world is to recover economically.

Here, we must sound a caution. The President and the Congress, as they look to reduce deficits and hopefully one day again balance the budget, must be mindful that our economy and the world economy are inextricably intertwined with security and the stability that security brings. A strong military, and especially strong naval forces, are crucial for the nation to thrive economically.

Beyond Politics

Over the 40 long years of the Cold War, work on these issues by America’s leadership transcended politics, and Congresses, and administrations. It was not a question of being a Republican or a Democrat, or a conservative or a liberal. Everyone came together and put national security first. After World War II, President Harry S. Truman and his Republican Congress rarely saw eye to eye. But they created strong, flexible, new national-security institutions, to include the Department of Defense. They forged a consensus on national defense to defeat the Soviet threat. That same consensus is needed now.

During the Cold War, Soviet shipyards on the White Sea, the Baltic Sea, the Black Sea, and the Pacific Ocean were building new generations of submarine and surface combatants. Throughout the 1950s, ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s, the nation knew the U.S. Navy was needed. The nuclear superpower rivalry framed the debate and shaped decisions on the size of the Fleet and funding. With the tearing down of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, the economic and security forces of the world entered a process of change that continues and is accelerating.

The nation entered a new, long, asymmetric war against extremists that is today only a part of the security challenge. We are faced with state-based nuclear and conventional threats, and the threat that non-state actors may acquire and use weapons of mass destruction. The future courses of major powers such as China and Russia are not clear, and they continue their sophisticated military modernization. The nation’s responsibility is to be prepared for the future. The global role of the Navy is essential to this preparation. President Theodore Roosevelt’s words from more than a century ago ring truer than ever: “A good Navy is not a provocation to war. It is the surest guaranty of peace.”

In today’s world, naval forces are ever more vital. The U.S. Navy is forward-deployed globally with embedded Marines. Naval forces and the Coast Guard are contributing to the nation’s homeland defense. The Navy’s Aegis cruisers and destroyers conduct ballistic-missile defense operations. Naval forces operate freely on the world’s oceans, exercising sea control, collaborating with allies and foreign partners, deterring strategic and conventional aggression, providing sealift, and projecting power ashore when and where needed, all day, every day.

Humanity and Technology

The strength of the Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard starts with their men and women in uniform. Those serving are without peer. To see them in action is to witness talent, training, capability, and commitment.

The Navy’s strength—surface, subsurface, and air—builds from its technological prowess. Since the launch of the USS  Nautilus  (SSN-571) in 1954, the Navy’s use and advances in nuclear propulsion in submarines and surface ships of the Fleet is an unmatched, incredible achievement, embracing science, research and development, shipbuilding, seamanship, strategy, tactics, and vision. That Fleet today includes ballistic-missile submarines providing strategic deterrence, guided-missile submarines with missile-power projection and special-forces-power projection ashore, and carrier strike groups, forward deployed and acting on some of the nation’s highest security priorities.

A sampling of the work of these carrier strike groups, sea-based, largely self-sustaining, operating in places with no need for bases across the world’s oceans, is instructive. In late 2010, President Obama ordered the USS  George Washington (CVN-73) carrier strike group to the waters off the Korean Peninsula to commence operations with our South Korean allies following the North Korean shelling of the island of Yeonpueong. Thousands of miles away in the Arabian Sea, the USS  Abraham Lincoln  (CVN-72) strike group was conducting air operations against insurgents in Afghanistan. Within hours of the March 2011 catastrophic earthquake/tsunami/nuclear power-plant disaster in Japan, the USS  Ronald Reagan  (CVN-76) strike group was operating in waters off the stricken nation bringing relief supplies and searching for survivors.

During Nelson’s time, there was a clear connection between the Royal Navy’s control of the seas and British commercial success. Today, the connection for the United States is not as evident but just as strong, as our nation relies on the freedom of the seas for much of our international commerce and wealth.

Maritime Security is Crucial

Multinational corporations are responsible for an ever-increasing percentage of world trade. Some 90 percent of that trade is moving by sea. Upward of 200 million containers on board cargo ships are on the move each year. Trade to and from the United States around the world is carried almost entirely by ships. The U.S. Navy, U.S. sea power—on-scene and from afar, strategic and tactical, surface, air, cyber, and space—provides a stabilizing presence for the world’s global economy. The safeguarding of seaborne commerce is an enduring part of the Navy’s global mission.

Bear in mind, security and economic development are intertwined. A strong national defense is essential for economic strength. Strong naval forces are central to that defense. The Navy and Marine Corps exercise a strategic concept of global operations that contributes uniquely and indispensably to the defense, security, and economic well-being of the United States. Control of the sea, deterrence of aggression, projection of power from the sea, and stabilizing global presence are functions of first-order importance to the nation. They underscore the wisdom of our Founding Fathers who gave Congress explicit power  to provide and maintain a Navy in Article I, Section 8, of the Constitution of the United States. That guidance has withstood the test of time as our nation has grown in wealth and influence. It is especially relevant today.

Secretary England is president of E6 Partners LLC, which advises on defense business strategies, consults with U.S. and international businesses, and assists with mergers and acquisitions. He served as Deputy Secretary of Defense, as Deputy Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, and for two terms as Secretary of the Navy.


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Maritime Security Dialogue

Mon, 2016-06-13

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2016 Naval History Conference

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