For American leadership, these crises were not directly linked. But the Chinese saw them in a different light. As he sought to influence global events, Mao Zedong viewed developments such as the establishment of U.S. military bases in Taiwan and elsewhere through the lens of strategy. As he put it, fixed overseas facilities are indeed “nooses” that often hamper more than they help.
But investing in ships creates a different dynamic than building bases on foreign soil. Sea-based forces are immune to the political noose. Naval forces enable U.S. national-security flexibility in the face of dynamic geopolitical and technical change. The Fleet can be shifted around the globe—rapidly in crisis or methodically during strategic developments. Operating on the high seas, the President doesn’t have to ask permission of another country before ordering naval forces to take action. Ships have proved adaptable to technical and operational requirements that change over time. Aircraft carriers, the preeminent Navy capital investment, are true mobile bases. Their flexibility allows them to slip the noose while supporting multiple generations of aircraft and adapting to a wide range of missions throughout their 50-year lifetime.
Additionally, unlike pouring concrete overseas, building ships creates economic and technical dynamism within our nation. According to the Department of Commerce, every $1 million spent on shipbuilding creates 18 direct and indirect years of employment. Putting our capital-investment resources into ships for the Navy rather than temporary bases overseas could employ tens of thousands of Americans. This would strengthen the shipbuilding industrial base, which remains one of largest manufacturing chains in the nation that has not been outsourced to China. Investing in ships strengthens this industry and allows shipbuilders to flexibly support other arenas, such as key engineering requirements for energy infrastructure.
Perhaps pouring concrete was appropriate during the Cold War, but today, we must be able to adapt to rapid changes. The nation is at an inflection point where reassessing paths of doing business is not only possible, it is necessary. Our national requirements drive the simple conclusion that we must loosen the noose. The United States should be very judicious in pouring concrete overseas and focus on building reusable U.S. Navy platforms in our shipyards.