Sunday, 25 May
Good Morning Jack…
The boundaries that matter most to the United States are those consisting of water. America exists much as an island. Our commerce is predominately conveyed across vast stretches of ocean. This nation has historically been blessed with self-sufficiency with its vast mineral riches, oil, forests and abundant agricultural land. Our level of industry has come to outstrip our supply of some strategically important materials, titanium among other metals are examples, but we remain in good fortune for the most part. Despite this continent’s material largesse the United States has always been a nation heavily invested in trade. We’ve been the world’s purveyor of tobacco, cotton and even oil at various points in our history. Early industrialization enabled us to export manufactured goods. Today we still provide the world with high technology items such as aircraft as well as products like software and information systems that don’t meet the traditional definition of being manufactured.
Thomas Jefferson, our third president, provided us with an early lesson in international trade. At the time of his second term England and France were at war with each other, as was often the case, and they freely preyed upon American shipping to supply them with men. It wasn’t uncommon during these times for a powerful navy to forcibly induct citizens of another country to fill their military ranks. Jefferson’s protests were ignored. There was little we could do to protect our merchant marine. The United States had no navy of any consequence. Jefferson decided to embargo these European nations, denying them the sale of our goods. The move left much of our shipping without business and it threw this young nation’s economy into a recession. The embargo became increasingly difficult to enforce and, ultimately, it failed.
Nations with a heavy reliance on sea lanes for commerce provide their shipping with a measure of navy protection. They view it as part of the cost of doing business. Great Britain during its rule over a colonial empire is maybe the best example of this. The island nation of Japan is another. The United States spends an enormous sum of money each year on its navy to insure our commerce flows unobstructed around the world. The U.S. Navy has in its inventory ten Nimitz class aircraft carriers to patrol the seas. Each carrier in turn has its own Strike Group – made up of one or more frigates, guided missile cruisers, guided missile destroyers and one or two attack submarines. Obviously, this is overkill if the Navy’s only mission is to ensure a container ship loaded with Nike shoes from South Korea is able to safely dock at San Pedro Harbor near Los Angeles.
A Nimitz carrier with its typical complement of about 65 aircraft is an extremely expensive item. No other nation in the world currently burdens itself with such a cost. The carrier has a strategic purpose that might best be expressed as force projection. The carrier is a weapon having enormous destructive potential. It is free to move to most any ocean of the world. With water making up seventy-five percent of the globe’s surface that means the carrier can influence the politics of a good number of countries populating the Earth. It isn’t wise policy to be the world’s bully. It isn’t in this nation’s interest to arrogantly throw our weight around, seeding resentment with frequent acts of intimidation. We are but one among a community of nations. We hold ourselves to a set of principles that value reason, judicial temperament and something we might call ‘fair play’ as being among the arbiters that are used to settle disputes. Still, having such military tools at the ready tends to make Washington first among equals in the ranks of capitols of the world. Weapons such as these carry with them enormous responsibility and that means we are all best served when they remain mostly holstered.