Ask a naval professional which nation is the greatest sea power in the world today. By most common definitions of the term, the answer is the United States. With a presence on every ocean, the most capable surface warships, naval aviation, Marine Corps, and submarine force, it is hard to argue that any other navy even comes close in terms of naval power. Yet, does this equate to the Mahanian definition of sea power?
Ask the same naval professional these questions:
- What three flags fly from 40 percent, by tonnage, of the world’s commercial fleet?
- Which three nations built 90 percent of the world’s ships?
- How much of the world’s container trade is controlled by the three mega-alliances?
- Who are the five largest operators of tanker tonnage?
- Where are the three largest passenger ship operators located?
Coming in at Number 22
The answers to the five questions above demonstrate the scope of globalization of the world’s oceans.
1. U.N. Conference on Trade and Development, Review of Maritime Transport 2018, 35.
2. See Rodney Carlisle, Rough Waters: Sovereignty and the American Merchant Flag (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2017).
3. U.N. Conference on Trade and Development, Review of Maritime Transport 2018, 37.
4. “South Korea to Combine World’s Two Biggest Shipbuilders in $2 Billion Deal,” gCaptain, 31 January 2019, and “CSSC-CSIC Megamerger Confirmed at Last,” Maritime Executive, 1 July 2019.
5. See William H. Thiesen, Industrializing American Shipbuilding: The Transformation of Ship Design and Construction, 1820–1920 (Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 2006); Frederic C. Lane, Ships for Victory: A History of Shipbuilding under the U.S. Maritime Commission in World War II (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1951); and Government Accountability Office, Naval Shipyards: Actions Needed to Improve Poor Conditions that Affect Operations, GAO-17-548 (September 2017).
6. International Transport Forum, The Impact of Alliances in Container Shipping (November 2018), 13–14.
7. U.N. Conference on Trade and Development, Review of Maritime Transport 2018, 73.
8. “Tanker Operator’s Top 30 Owners and Operators,” Tanker Magazine (March 2019), 31−44.
9. Cruise Market Watch.
10. Salvatore R. Mercogliano, Fourth Arm of Defense: Sealift and Maritime Logistics in the Vietnam War (Washington, DC: Department of the Navy, 2017), 11–20.
11. Naval History and Heritage Command, “U.S. Ship Force Levels, 1886–Present.”
12. See U.S. Navy’s Military Sealift Command 2018 in Review. This includes 29 Combat Logistics Force ships (oilers, dry cargo/ammunition ships, and fast combat support ships) and 31 command and support ships (salvage ships, tenders, fleet tugs, ocean surveillance, command, expeditionary fast transport, expeditionary transfer dock, expeditionary support bases, prepositioning dry cargo/ammunition ships, and high-speed transports).
13. Government Accountability Office, Actions Needed to Maintain Viable Surge Sealift and Combat Logistics Fleet, GAO-17-503 (October 2017).
14. See Clark G. Reynolds, Command of the Sea: The History and Strategy of Maritime Empires (Malabar, FL: Robert E. Krieger Publishing, 1973).