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Cafe Society to discuss America’s role as a maritime nation

By Staff | Oct 24, 2016

The next Cafe Society’s session on Oct. 25 will examine our nation’s declining power as a maritime nation and its implications for the U.S. economy and national security. There are many factors that are impacting the nation’s, once dominant position in maritime affairs. One would think that rapidly increasing globalization of the World economy would have resulted in a commensurate increase in the U.S. share of merchant marine resources needed to serve it and a naval capability to protect it. The disparity is enlightening and well-worth exploring. There are important economic, as well as military implications to be considered.

“The metrics for scoping the problem are broad including the predictable demise of a U.S.flag merchant fleet, the attendant loss of supporting shipyards and related skills, the significant loss of basic industrial production capacity needed for mobilization, shrinking of overseas bases for economic or political reasons, and in general, a loss of personnel with “sea-going” experience.

Cafe Society discussions are held from 8:30 to 10 a.m. each Tuesday morning in the Rumsey Room of the Shepherd University Student Center. They are an integral part of the SU Life Long Learning Program. There are no fees or registration requirements. They are intended to facilitate a dialog on current issues between the students and older members of the community.

Society facilitator, Mike Austin said, “The general approach currently pursued by national planners is a “cooperative strategy” based on working with other nations to identify mutually perceived requirements in contrast to our prior assertion of U.S. interests as an international super-power. During the “Cold War” we owned most of the marbles certainly the nuclear deterrent and that posture allowed us to leverage tremendous civil and military resources (including base rights, port access and over-flight rights, pooling of critical resources and priority access to infrastructure) from our allies. Now the cooperative strategy is looking more and more like a “competitive strategy” where nations ask “what’s in it for me” and withdraw if they no longer think the relationship is profitable.

“When the U.S. clearly had command of the sea, and was able to maintain a credible presence in strategic waters all over the globe and thereby ensure unconstrained use of international sea and air space for all nations, it added significant credibility to pronouncements from the White House and the Department of State.”

Austin further added, “The declining numbers of merchant and naval ships, associated crews and supportive infrastructure and industries don’t tell the whole story in themselves. There was always something uplifting and motivating in being out there on the high seas, in foreign ports, shipyards and repair facilities, interacting professionally, engaging in the physical aspects of commerce with other peoples and cultures.

“We had a presence that made being a maritime power a human thing. It started with the Great White Fleet. We may have to do something like that again. Part of the problem is that we have focused far too much of a few selective hot spots in the world like the Middle East while ignoring whole regions like Latin America and the Caribbean (whatever happened to the Monroe Doctrine) and Sub-Sahara Africa. We have ceased being a global power. And others have moved into the vacuum we created like the Chinese. Who operates the Panama Canal, our abandoned facilities in the Philippines, and operates the ports and rail systems of Africa? Global warming has opened up strategically important Arctic waterways and is providing access to vast new resources that we appear to be ignoring while the Russians are aggressively moving in. Our Canadian neighbors, who we often take for granted, may soon be in a much stronger positions to influence the North American economy. We are comparatively weak in the maritime resources to exploit new opportunities in the Far North.”

Austin concluded, “In economics as in war, we can’t keep focusing on fighting the last battle. Rapidly emerging technology, the computer/automation era in all phases of production and movement of goods, and the increasing number of economically competitive nations complicate meaningful comparisons.

“But as we continue to rethink trade and national security policies, we should not assume that we will have access to international infrastructure (particularly maritime resources) that have enjoyed and frequently controlled in the past.”