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Control of the Seas

A strategy to meet the challenges to the U.S. Navy.

Jan 27, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 19 • By SETH CROPSEY
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U.S. grand strategy should aim at preventing either China or Iran from becoming the hegemon of its region. In the Eastern Mediterranean, forestalling a widespread plunge into tribal/religious warfare, deterring regional nuclear proliferation, eliminating existential danger to our friends and allies, and securing recently discovered and likely future major energy deposits are among America’s vital interests. The challenges come primarily from radical Islamists and are sharpened by Russia’s growing permanent naval presence where we have none, as well as the Obama administration’s tenacious view that resolution of Israeli-Palestinian problems offers a royal road to regional harmony.

The new maritime strategy should identify the ability to project dominant expeditionary and sea control force into the Western Pacific, the Persian Gulf, and the Eastern Mediterranean as critical to defending both the nation’s maritime and broad foreign policy interests. The strategy should include the kinds of forces needed to accomplish this: large surface combatants equipped with long-distance weapons-capable drones; submarines whose lethality is magnified by extensive use of undersea drones; and modernized conventional, as well as smaller, surface vessels that are as capable of performing standard naval missions as they are proficient at the swift movement of well-defended, small Marine detachments.

But no maritime threat trumps the self-inflicted diminution of U.S. seapower, whose retreating goals are unsupported by the monies to pay for them. Strategy is supposed to make difficult choices among competing needs with limited resources. It is not expected to move mountains with teaspoons. An October 2013 report of the Congressional Budget Office is one of several that foresees continued shrinkage of America’s combat fleet. “The total costs of carrying out the 2014 [shipbuilding] plan,” it says, “—an average of about $21 billion in 2013 dollars per year over the next 30 years—would be one-third higher than the funding amounts that the Navy has received in recent decades” (emphasis added). In other words, the Navy’s goal of reaching the fleet that the 2014 fiscal year plan envisions depends on large, sustained, and historically anomalous increases to its shipbuilding budget. The largest strategic challenge facing the United States is to rebuild the seapower on which our status as a great power rests.

Seth Cropsey, a senior fellow at Hudson Institute, is the author of Mayday, an account of American seapower’s current challenges. He served as a naval officer and deputy undersecretary of the Navy in the administrations of Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush.

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