Sea Power Makes Great Powers

Sea Power Makes Great Powers

TIMO LENZEN ILLUSTRATION FOR FOREIGN POLICY

History reveals a country’s rise and decline are directly related to the heft of its navy. So why is the United States intent on downsizing?

The number of ships a country possesses has never been the sole measure of its power at sea. Other factors, of course, play a role: The types of ships it has—submarines, aircraft carriers, destroyers—the manner in which they are deployed, the sophistication of their sensors, and the range and lethality of their weapons all make a difference. Still, on the high seas, quantity has a quality all its own. And over the past several decades, U.S. ship numbers have seen a dramatic overall decline.

The 1980s and 1990s marked the beginning of this downward trend. The U.S. government at the time cut subsidies for the nation’s commercial shipbuilding industry, eventually hobbling the shipyards it would need to build a bigger fleet. With the end of the Cold War, policymakers went a step further, slashing funding to the U.S. Navy to create a shortsighted peace dividend.

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