The official statement from the White House was that the two carrier groups deployed to the Korean Peninsula were meant to deter North Korean aggression and assure our Asian allies that we were ready to respond to any threat they might pose. Some pundits have chosen to argue that this is all but a cover. A cover for the reality that these carrier groups are there to show China that we are back and that we mean business. The United States has been conducting constant Freedom of Navigation Operations over the past several years, but some have questioned their effectiveness. The reason for the lack of effectiveness is simple; under the Obama Administration we seriously decreased the number of vessels we had in the South China Sea, Asia, and the rest of the world. The consequences of not having a strong naval force are easy to recognize and are not something we want to handle.
Over the past 8 years, China has established their hegemony in the region. They have done this by building artificial islands in the disputed South China Sea. According to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), a nation has the right to, and exclusive control over, any ocean that is within 12 nautical miles of its borders. China has tried to stretch and manipulate that policy by building on reefs that it does legally control and establishing above water islands and then saying that they have sovereign control over ocean within 12 miles of those islands. An International Tribunal in the Hague ruled in July of 2016 that its claims to certain waters off of its artificial islands were illegal in a unanimous decision. Beijing rejected this ruling and has continued to build on its islands, even adding airstrips and landing military aircraft.
Previously, China realized that a power vacuum of sorts had been created in the region and so it moved to fill that vacuum. With the United States not exerting its authority and its influence, countries such as Japan have begun to realize that they would have to build a more conventional navy to defend themselves. The U.S. has been failing to live up to its allies in not just Asia, but all over the world. Currently, the U.S. navy has roughly 274 active ships. This is 34 below its fleet goal of 308. Congress has not funded the navy’s request for the additional 34 ships thus far.
The reality that many in congress have to face is that the U.S. needs to have a strong naval force if we want to maintain our position on the world stage. A large navy has been the common trait of almost every large and successful power in history. It allows for the nation to exert its influence rapidly in all corners of the globe. As the leader of the free world, the U.S. is in a position to protect and promote unrestricted, free trade on the world’s seas, and a strong navy is key to doing so.
A large portion of the U.S. nuclear arsenal is carried on our submarines around the world every day. A strong navy is key to strategic force projection. With countries like China, beginning to build their first aircraft carriers, the U.S. needs to be able to compete. Aircraft carriers give countries the abilities to conduct airstrikes or bombing runs on nations on the complete opposite side of the globe. With the threat of an EMP attack, a strategic first strike type attack knocking out all of our large carriers in one strike, the navy has begun to develop and deploy smaller “amphibious assault ships” that essentially serve as small aircraft carriers. Having a large fleet of smaller aircraft carriers allows us to maintain the capability of launching a strike, even if we are attacked first.
It is of major importance to U.S. foreign policy and to the nation’s interests as a whole to maintain a strong naval fleet. Many hope that under President Trump, the military will see a boost in funding and see major growth. If such prospects can be realized, the U.S. can remain at the center of the world stage.