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From Preponderance to Partnership: American Maritime Power in the 21st Century - Frank Hoffman, Center for a New American Security
One of the most important national security challenges facing the next president of the United States will be preserving America's maritime power. The U.S. Navy has been cut in half since the 1980s, shrinking steadily from 594 to today's 280 ships. The fleet size has been cut by 60 ships during the Bush administration alone, despite significantly increased Pentagon budgets.
Several naval analysts and commentators, including the observant Robert Kaplan, have argued that America's present naval fleet constitutes an "elegant decline" or outright neglect. A former Reagan administration naval official contends that our current maritime policy and investment levels are "verging towards unilateral naval disarmament."
This is something of an overstatement. The American naval fleet is still substantially larger than any other, and has unmatched global reach and endurance. The U.S. Navy's aggregate tonnage is the equivalent of the next 17 international navies, of which 14 are U.S. allies, and our power projection capabilities retain a 4:1 advantage in missiles. Looking simply at overall naval ship totals may not be the most accurate measure of naval power, but it is an historical standard of measurement. By that criterion, the U.S. Navy has not been this size since World War I, when Britain's Royal Navy was the guarantor of the global commons.
While one can debate whether today's Navy is sized properly, there is little doubt that U.S. maritime capabilities are critical to the execution of any national security strategy. The so-called American Century has largely been coterminous with the U.S. Navy's mastery of seapower. In a global economy that is increasingly interdependent and dependent on the security of the global highways of international trade, maritime security will remain a vital national interest...