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The Tipping Point

The strength of the U.S. Navy is declining. But it’s a choice.

12:00 AM, Apr 30, 2010 • By SETH CROPSEY
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But is there an answer to the question of where the tipping point is, i.e. when the U.S. Navy ceases to be “the global navy?”  “We conclude,” argue the authors “that there is not a specific number at which the navy ceases to be ‘the global navy.’”  This is reasonable as an analytical tool but unhelpful as a political one.  The paper correctly observes that a more definitive answer to the question rests on threats, demand for naval forces, and political-military objectives.  But in the political world, the failure to draw lines is usually a prescription for failed policy.  An arms treaty that called for “significant reductions” in nuclear weapons would mean nothing and suffer an according political fate.  Telling Congress that there is no point at which the U.S. cannot operate its navy as a global trans-oceanic instrument provides the rationale for reducing the nation’s sea power without limit.  The paper’s authors did not intend this and should not be blamed for it.  But the Navy should be prepared. 

If the weights align as the C.N.A. paper describes, there will indeed be a tipping point.  Besides relying on unforeseeable events to make the public case for reversing decline, the Navy’s strong argument will be that it cannot do its job if it has insufficient force distributed among a given number of combat vessels.  

But the bottom line is this: The threat that the “Tipping Point” paper envisions is internal.  The issue is a question of will, not the caprice of a foreign ruler. At least for now.  

Seth Cropsey is a senior fellow at Hudson Institute in Washington, D.C.  He served as an officer in U.S.N.R. from 1985 until 2004 and as deputy undersecretary of the Navy in the Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush administrations.

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