The authors rightly frame the need for a far-reaching reassessment of our nation’s strategic interests as prerequisite to developing American sea power for the 21st century. The tendency to say that the Navy’s force structure needs to remain the same as it has for the past 70 or so years risks the lives of sailors and squanders the political and financial capital needed to provide and maintain a navy.
The international environment has undergone fundamental structural changes since the end of the Cold War, turning many of the country’s core assumptions on their heads: The global economy is interdependent and complex, with the Chinese and U.S. economies inextricably intertwined. Iran remains undeterred by shows of force or international political will. The progressive fracturing of nation-states has changed the dynamics of power in the Middle East. Russia’s resurgence, largely driven by energy prices, has destabilized nuclear politics further, and the Gerasimov Doctrine has ushered in a new playbook for competition and conquest in the 21st century. Our adversaries continue to launch cyber, economic, and information warfare operations.
The United States, meanwhile, clings to the fading reality of the post–Cold War security environment. Driven by experiences in the 1990s and the forever wars in the Middle East, the U.S. military finds itself in rough shape, to say nothing of domestic politics, the seeming ambivalence to world events of the average citizen, or a crippling national debt.
As David Kilcullen notes in his book, The Dragons and the Snakes: How the Rest Learned to Fight the West (Oxford University Press, 2020), our adversaries have spent the past 20 years waging war on the liminal frontier, while we have been preoccupied with a myopic, militarized foreign policy elsewhere. The nation needs to reassess its grand strategic political objectives before it can start looking at the role of the Navy.
But while debate rages at the national level, we can at least start discussing potential political outcomes to better prepare ourselves for the critical debates we must have, and set the governing assumptions of the new international environment. The Navy helps deliver national and political outcomes. The role of the Navy in this new environment, and what we need it to do, must be reevaluated in light of these new assumptions. Do we still need to defend sea lines of communication in a hyperglobalized world? What do deterrence and compellence look like in an era of digitized hybrid warfare? How might the Navy help employ other elements of national power? Do we need to maintain a forward presence? What can our industrial base support?
It is a long-overdue debate, required before we set off to build a larger fleet and tighter integration with the Marine Corps.
—LCDR Ryan Hilger, USN
American Sea Power depends on a robust U.S. maritime industry. We need civilian mariners to crew the commercial ships that accompany military vessels in times of war. We need shipyards capable of rapidly repairing and building replacements for damaged commercial and military vessels. We also need a strategic sealift force that can deploy on demand.
The Maritime Administration is responsible for promoting the U.S. maritime industry, and it is critical that it has a seat at the table when the future of the nation’s sea power is discussed. Maritime Administrator Rear Admiral Mark H. Buzby testified before Congress on 11 March 2020 that only one shipyard in the country “retains its expertise to build large commercial type ships.” In addition, he shared that the 46 Ready Reserve Force Ships struggle to maintain adequate readiness, and the United States has only 87 U.S.-flag vessels in international trade.
The situation is grim and in need of a significant course correction. The Maritime Administration is uniquely qualified to advise this process.
—K. Denise Rucker Krepp, former Maritime Administration Chief Counsel and former Coast Guard officer