The USS Enterprise CV-6. Ordered in 1933 she was one of the most decorated and battle proven ships ever to fly the flag of the United States
“A good Navy is not a provocation to war. It is the surest guaranty of peace.” Theodore Roosevelt
“A powerful Navy we have always regarded as our proper and natural means of defense; and it has always been of defense that we have thought, never of aggression or of conquest. But who shall tell us now what sort of Navy to build? We shall take leave to be strong upon the seas, in the future as in the past; and there will be no thought of offense or provocation in that. Our ships are our natural bulwarks.” Woodrow Wilson
As the economic crisis continues to envelop the nation there is much talk about the certain reduction in the size and capabilities of the U.S. Military components. At the present time it seems that politicians of both parties are more interested in the immediate savings that can be derived from cuts. Regardless of how they are done each service will see force reductions but coming at a time when we are at war those responsible for the cuts must be conscious of the effects on the capabilities that the United States has to defend itself and its interests overseas and to influence world affairs.
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistanhave been ground intensive requiring the strengthening of the Army and Marine Corps to conduct counter insurgency operations. After 9-11 the Navy voluntarily reduced its fleet and personal strength in relatively dramatic fashion intending the savings be used to rebuilt the fleet. Personnel strength was reduced by nearly 40,000 sailors and many ships were retired well before their anticipated retirement dates. Unfortunately the Defense Department under then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld shifted the savings to fund the ground campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan. Navy shipbuilding was cut and the Navy failed to help itself by investing much of the service’s budget to the development of three classes of ships and that are over budget, under performing and full of controversy, the Zumwalt Class Destroyers, the Freedom and Independence Class Littoral Combat Ships and the San Antonio Class Landing Ships.
Further cuts are already occurring or envisioned based on the planned cuts in Federal Government programs. These cuts would reduce the Navy which is now smaller than at any time since the early 1930s following the 1922 Washington Naval Conference which limited the size of the Navies of the signatory countries. From 1922-1932 the Republican Harding, Coolidge and Hoover administrations not only reduced the force but failed to lay down a single new ship to replace outdated ships and reduced maintenance funds to keep up the ships in service. Budget cutting gutted the Navy during those years and it was only theRooseveltadministration which realized that a strong Navy was essential to national security began to rebuild the fleet in the 1930s and funded the development of the ships that would win World War Two. The shipbuilding program had economic benefits as shipyards which had been inactive were able to employ skilled American workers which helped military preparedness, American business and American workers. The ships that came out of that building program sustained us at the beginning of the war and those designed in the years just before the war served us for decades to come. Even so the build up byRoosevelt, constrained by the dire economic crisis of the Great Depression could not add ships fast enough to have us fully ready for the Second World War and left us dangerously stretched by the demands of the Japanese advance in the Pacific and the German U-Boat campaign in theAtlantic. Many good Americans died and the war was decidedly more difficult because of what was done to the Navy in the 1920s by successive short sighted Republican administrations.
The current ship production is at a level not seen in decades and bad surface ship designs and poor workmanship have hurt the Navy. If the Navy is cut back significantly without a change in mission or corresponding shift in National Security Policy it will degrade the Navy’s ability to respond to emerging threats. Likewise if a coherent shipbuilding program is not undertaken that meets the projected threats American interests can and will be harmed as other nations gain local superiority in critical areas and sea lanes. While the U.S. Navy currently enjoys a vast superiority over any current or potential adversary there are places that a cunning adversary could hurt American and allied interests simply because we are already spread very thin in regard to the number of ships available and the increasing number of missions and threat areas.
The challenge now is not to give in to the temptation to make indiscriminant cuts until we actually decide on a National Maritime Strategy that is not simply about the Navy but also the Coast Guard and Merchant Marine. The strategy must include the interrelationship that we have with our allies and other nations and their navies.
The necessity for this goes beyond military preparedness it goes to our economic security since the vast majority of our commerce exports and imports are by sea. If we take the time to think through a comprehensive maritime strategy it can go a long way to strengthen American industry, labor, commerce as well as national and economic security for us and the world. A strong Navy, Merchant Marine and Coast Guard are far more important to the United Statesthan large ground forces.
This is demonstrated in our history as well as that of Great Britain. When we are strong at sea we are strong, when we commit to long wars of attrition overseas we cause ourselves untold problems. As our first President George Washington said:
“It follows than as certain as that night succeeds the day, that without a decisive naval force we can do nothing definitive, and with it, everything honorable and glorious.”
This is something that our politicians inWashingtonand those that populate the think tanks need to learn.