Who needs a navy ? (rewritten)

by John Quiggin on October 4, 2012

First up, I want to apologize to readers of CT and LGM for what has been (for me, and I think quite a few others) an unpleasant experience. The post I wrote about naval expenditures was provocative, but I thought it fell within the normal bounds of blogging license - that was clearly wrong. Obviously, this is a question on which a little provocation goes a long way.

Also, although I had noticed that people had different views about the “lesser evil” question in relation to the US election, I hadn’t thought of this as a “blogwar” between CT and LGM and in any case I had no idea that this post would upset Rob Farley in the way it did. Had I known these things, I would not have put the post up, certainly not written as it was. When the fight blew up, I made a series of attempts to cool things down, but with little success (in fact, probably making things worse).

Coming to the post itself, it contained a fair bit of hyperbole and snark (though not directed at anyone personally). This was returned in full measure, pressed down and running over. I also wrote some things in a loose and sloppy way, leaving opportunities for misinterpretation that were taken up with enthusiasm.

I’ve been duly smacked for the hyperbolic/snarky/loosely worded statements in the post. On the other hand, reflecting the nature of this kind of fight, the critics haven’t engaged at all with the main arguments of the post. So, it seems to me that the best thing to do at this point is to rewrite the post, removing the hyperbole and snark, correcting some points where I think there was a substantive error, and expanding on points where what I originally wrote was misinterpreted, or where the critics have made points that need a response.

The majority judgement is pretty clear that I’m wrong on this one. Maybe so, but as I said, I haven’t seen any real response on what I regard as the central issues, so I’m going to restate my position and leave it at that.

First, there’s the question of specialist expertise. Criticism of the original post relied heavily on the claim that specialist knowledge is critical here, and that as a non-expert I should defer to people who with better knowledge of things like the classification of battleships.[1] Much the same response is often made by economists when arguing about issues like macroeconomics and finance. The problem in both cases is that, unlike the case with the natural sciences, it’s perfectly reasonable to argue that the dominant view of the experts is wrong.

Macroeconomists and finance theorists mostly failed to predict the global financial crisis, and disagree violently about the appropriate policy response. I’ve argued at length that the views that have been dominant in these fields since the 1970s are mostly wrong, and have received responses quite similar to those of the naval experts in this case. Looking at the track record of military and naval experts, it doesn’t seem to me that it’s any better than that of economists, rather the opposite. So, I’m unconvinced by the view that this is a field where expertise is a guarantee of correctness, or even positively correlated with correctness.

As I said in the original post, naval experts at least since Mahan and probably since Trafalgar, have made overstated claims for the usefulness of surface fleets, symbolized by the battleship [1]. The battleship advocates ignored the vulnerability of these ships to much cheaper weapons such as mines, submarines and airplanes. A handful of dissidents (for example, the Jeune Ecole in France) pointed these things out, but were ignored and have been ridiculed by the dominant majority ever since. The most prominent critics of the surface fleet theory were found in the other armed services, from Billy Mitchell in the 1920s to today. But, the nature of inter-service rivalries means that such criticisms are given more little respect than those of amateur bloggers.

The arms race between Britain and Germany before 1914 was focused on ‘dreadnought’ battleships. They helped in building up the fever that led to war, but played at most a secondary role in the war itself. The British fleet was strong enough to keep German battleships in port, but not strong enough to attack and destroy them there. The only major naval battle of the war, Jutland, confirmed this.[2]

Despite this, navies were keen to build more battleships after 1918. Disputes over the postwar naval treaties aimed at limiting battleship construction contributed once again again to the resurgence of militarism. Even before the rise of Hitler, the Germans were seeking to get around the treaties with “pocket battleships”, and Japanese nationalists were upset at not being accorded parity with the US and UK.

But, when the war broke out, it became apparent, in Rob Farrell’s words that “battleships were not an efficient use of resources”. Battleships and cruisers were sunk by planes, submarines, mines and even frogmen, and did not dominate sea battles as expected. Instead, the battleships already in existence were allocated to a variety of secondary roles, supporting land forces and carrier-based fleets, and construction of new battleships was halted.

Since 1945, there has been very little naval warfare in the traditional sense. So, any claims about the capacity of naval power are based on hypothetical reasoning rather than empirical evidence. The one substantial exception, the Falklands War, is scarcely encouraging for advocates of a surface navy. The Royal Navy came to the edge of defeat against the air force of a Third World dictatorship[3] , operating at the limits of its range.

Coming to the question posed in the post, I’m going to try to avoid confusion by talking about countries other than the US first, and by specifying that “navy” refers to a capacity for naval combat (including attacks on land-based opponents, and a capacity for amphibious assaults) undertaken outside home waters. I’m excluding the various functions that might be performed, for example, by a Coast Guard or transport units carrying supplies to ground forces. Also, I’m not considering the option of a force designed to operate under the command of the US Navy.

As in the original post, I conclude that the fact that few such operations have taken place in the 60 odd years since the end of WWII suggests that a capacity to undertake them is likely to have a very low payoff in the future. On the other hand, the cost is substantial - lots of countries spend up to a third of their defense/war budgets on their navies. In particular, as I mentioned in the previous post, China’s recent acquisition of an aircraft carrier (<a href=”“http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/world/china-unveils-aircraft-carrier-despite-lack-of-planes-20120926-26kj7.html”>without, at present, any actual capacity to carry aircraft) looks exceptionally ill-advised. It’s very hard to see how this is going to be more than a vanity item for many years to come. Moreover, missile technology (including China’s) is advancing all the time, making the requirements for defending such a ship more and more demanding. So, I repeat my conclusion that the benefit-cost ratio of an independent naval capacity is close to zero for most countries.

At this point, I may as well address the various ancillary tasks and benefits that might be advanced as arguments for a navy. On the one hand, there are the kind of side benefits epitomized by the claim that the space program gave us non-stick frypans. My view (and that of most economists) is that if you want non-stick frypans you should give money directly to materials scientists, not to space programs that might hire some.

As regards other tasks, the example of anti-piracy actions was cited quite a bit, as part of the traditional ‘keeping sea lanes open’ function, but I don’t think it goes the way naval advocates want. As Robert Farley points out here, it seems unlikely that the designers of the Kirov class battlecruisers had in mind a ship that could overwhelm 10 men in a speedboat, armed with grenade launchers.

And despite the grotesque imbalance of firepower, the anti-piracy campaign hasn’t been all that successful, at least until recently. Piracy has declined this year, but largely due to developments on land. If the problem persists or recurs, it would seem more sensible to have a dedicated international response, with vessels designed for the task at hand, and a proper legal mandate for how to deal with alleged pirates (that does sound like a project for Lawyers, Guns and money).

Now, I’ll turn to the US Navy. The Navy Department’s budget is around $150 billion a year (that should be adjusted to exclude the Marine Corps operates independently). Like other post-WWII navies, it has undertaken little naval warfare of the kind for which its force structure is largely optimized, that is, battles in which the opposing side has significant naval (or air-to-sea) capacity of its own.

Of course, it can be argued that the US doesn’t engage in naval warfare because it doesn’t have to. Its 11 carrier strike groups massively outweigh the rest of the world’s navies put together. Moreover navies benefit from the military equivalent of offshore tax havens, the so-called “right of innocent passage”, by which ships of one navy are entitled to enter the territorial waters of another country, a right not accorded to land or air forces. So, carrier strike groups can be used as a threat without any breach of international law. On a few occasions, this capacity has been used effectively, for example, with cruise missiles against Serbian forces during the Balkans wars. But these examples are rare, and have commonly involved tacit or overt co-operation with ground forces, which is not always feasible. In the original post, I suggested that the benefits from these capacities aren’t great enough to justify the costs. As far as I can recall, no one challenged this, but there’s still room to do so if you want.

Finally, and most important in terms of my differences with the critics, there is the role of the Navy in land wars. The US has been involved in five major wars since 1945, with outcomes that have been at best equivocal. With the exception of Korea, the contribution of the Navy in these wars has not been commensurate with its share of the military budget. Carrier-based planes have played a role, but they are an expensive alternative to Air Force operations from ground bases. Other functions like transporting heavy equipment, enforcing blockades and so on, again don’t seem to go far in justifying the Navy’s share of the budget.

The crucial point, though, and one which the critics haven’t responded to at all, is that the US military as a whole has not succeeded in the tasks that have been assigned to it. By contrast, much of the criticism seems to take as its premises a world where the US can and should have the capacity to dictate whatever outcomes it chooses, and then to work back to the naval expenditure needed to achieve this. That’s not the world we live in. Defense funds allocated to the navy are at the expense of alternatives that might produce better outcomes on land.

An obvious response, and one which I would certainly endorse, is that the US should fight fewer wars and seek to end then sooner. And, as I observed in the original post, it could certainly be argued that the benefits of military activity in general are negative, so that it doesn’t matter if defense funds are allocated to activities with low benefit-cost ratios. But, since these arguments seem unlikely to command much support, I conclude that current US naval expenditure does not pass the benefit-cost test.

fn1. The one amusing thing to come out of the whole sorry mess was this anecdote about William Jennings Bryan and FDR. Told against me, but I don’t see a problem with taking Bryan’s part on this

fn2. Submarines were important in both world wars, but the kind of total war in which merchant ships are sunk without warning (the only kind of conventional war in which submarines are of much use) seems unlikely to recur. Then there are nuclear missile submarines, which are the literal embodiment of overkill, as both first-strike and second-strike weapons. In the event that they are ever used, we will almost certainly all be dead anyway.

fn3. Relevant because the air force was at least as engaged in running the dictatorship as in making adequate preparations for a war, for example, ensuring an adequate supply of Exocet missiles.

{ 334 comments }

1

Tzimiskes 10.04.12 at 10:57 pm

I think it is readily arguable that the US Navy is too big (as it is for the other branches) but there’s a pretty sound argument for it in the fact that for the other branches to fight they gotta be able to get there. It would be difficult for the Air Force alone to move enough cargo for a truly large scale war, especially if the enemy force was trying to interdict supply lines. The Navy also plays a key role in providing air support that doesn’t require the cooperation of other powers. There’s probably also a benefit here in terms of negotiating power, another state that is sceptical of US military action knows that permission to use its air fields is a convenience, not a necessity, for US projection of air power in most plausible theaters. Just because the Navy doesn’t do that much actual fighting doesn’t mean it isn’t essential for military logistics and force projection.

I agree it is still too big, but I see the logic (without even mentioning how politically concentrated it seems that many Navy contractors are).

2

Tzimiskes 10.04.12 at 10:58 pm

I’d also add that a weak Navy would play into the paranoid strain in US politics with regard to making us vulnerable to invasion, a strong Navy helps make sure we’re the ones occupying rather than being occupied.

3

rootless_e 10.04.12 at 11:11 pm

4

Kenny Easwaran 10.04.12 at 11:11 pm

As Tzimiskes says, the Navy isn’t primarily about boats that shoot each other, but just about anything that a military might do with boats. Hence, Top Gun was about fighter pilots, but they worked for the Navy, not the Air Force, because the Navy is where most military aircraft are, because the Navy has the means to get them where they need to go.

Or maybe it’s just the long influence of Alfred Mahan: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Influence_of_Sea_Power_upon_History

5

dsquared 10.04.12 at 11:12 pm

1. About the best that can be said is that a zero benefit-cost ratio is substantially better than that for military expenditure in general..

That may be the best that can be said, but we are economists! It’s a very important point and a massive advantage for the navy over other armed forces. Also, as was demonstrated in Haiti, aircraft carriers can be repurposed for civilian uses in disaster relief.

2. Did you ever in your life hear of a naval coup?

6

gordon 10.04.12 at 11:17 pm

“About the best that can be said is that a zero benefit-cost ratio is substantially better than that for military expenditure in general”.

As far as “military benefits in general” are concerned, people might be interested in the work done by the Political Economy Research Unit at U. Massachusetts on military spending and job creation in the US. Here is a recent article from The Nation, which summarises some research on job creation by the MIC against other possible uses of the money:

http://www.peri.umass.edu/236/hash/2500f7c467a00d640ae41d9f5442fd48/publication/510/

And here is a link to some relevant research done by the authors of that piece themselves:

http://www.peri.umass.edu/236/hash/0b0ce6af7ff999b11745825d80aca0b8/publication/489/

7

Paul Gowder 10.04.12 at 11:26 pm

Of course, it can be argued that the US doesn’t engage in naval warfare because it doesn’t have to. Its 11 carrier strike groups massively outweigh the rest of the world’s navies put together.

Surely this is the point? And:

a threat that is (almost) never carried out is not a particularly credible one.

Surely this is wrong? If one has a sufficient deterrent of any kind then actually using that deterrent is not on the equilibrium path. Imagine a well-policed, and hence crime-free community: “why do we need police? After all, they never get used…”

8

rootless_e 10.04.12 at 11:27 pm

The problem with Polin et al, is that the military is a significant channel for civilian research and development and industrial policy in the USA and has been since Eli Whitney was paid to develop interchangeable parts. The obvious recent example is the role of DARPA in developing the Internet but GPS is also a good example. And this continues, much to the displeasure of the Republicans who, as all good lefties know, are no worse than the Democrats.

http://www.seacoastonline.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20120723/BIZ/207230303/-1/NEWSMAP

The classic works on why military spending is bad for the economy are Seymour Melman’s, which I think are pretty much correct at the same time.

9

Chrisb 10.04.12 at 11:30 pm

“Did you ever in your life hear of a naval coup?”
Yes. In Thailand at one stage the competing coups were referred to as the annual army-navy game; a slight exaggeration, but….
Thailand, 1932:
“On that same evening, one of Luang Sinthu’s supporters in the navy commandeered a gunboat from its dock up the Chao Phraya river, and by morning was aiming its guns directly at Prince Paribatra’s palace in Bangkok. Luang Sinthu himself mobilized 500 armed sailors ready to take the Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall, which was situated at the center of the capital and part of Dusit Palace. “
Thailand, 1951:
“The Manhattan Rebellion of June 1951 was the Royal Thai Navy’s long-expected attempt to overthrow the government of Field Marshal Plaek Phibunsongkhram. The rebels’ defeat resulted in the near-complete dismantling of the navy, as well as the rise to power of Phibun’s two chief rivals, Phao Siyanon and Sarit Thanarat.”

10

Bloix 10.04.12 at 11:31 pm

“2. Did you ever in your life hear of a naval coup?”

The Argentine junta that took power in the 1976 coup was a triumverate headed by Admiral Emilio Eduardo Massera, the naval commander in chief who engineered the ‘dirty war’ that killed between 13,000 and 30,000 people.

11

Matt 10.04.12 at 11:45 pm

The US hasn’t engaged in naval warfare on any significant scale since 1945

As others have pointed out, this is too narrow a reading of “naval warfare”. The navy has been involved in lots of wars (and semi-wars) since then in ways that other branches could not have been- not just aircraft carriers, but coastal bombardment, both with cannons and cruise missiles, through carrying troops for invasions (or even for humanitarian missions) and so on. This is all just the sort of thing these weapons are designed for. Now, I’m completely behind the idea that the US has too many weapons and uses them too often, but this argument seems pretty weak.

(Also the Chinese carrier can _carry_ aircraft, it’s just that the pilots are not trained well enough to land or take off, and even that is only fixed-wing aircraft. Obviously, that’s a pretty big disadvantage for an aircraft carrier, but it’s not quite what’s implied here, and it’s plausible to think that having the aircraft carrier work is a necessary step to training the pilots. Again, this is leaving aside the idea if this is a good idea or not.)

12

Karl 10.04.12 at 11:45 pm

Are you kidding? Navies are not about ships that shoot each other. They have not been since WWII, if not earlier. They are about the ability to project power. An aircraft carrier and its entourage has the ability to provide a military platform anywhere there is water, which at last count was a good chunk of the planet. Thus all the assistance the US (and everyone else) gave Libya was from an aircraft carrier. The marines use naval vessels to get from one place to another and conduct any amphibious landing they need. The first Gulf war was initially all fought with sorties from aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf. . . . The US relies on submarines and the Navy for first, second, and third strike capability in the case of nuclear war.
What is up with half-baked a priori military philosophy?

13

rf 10.04.12 at 11:47 pm

Isn’t the main purpose of the US navy, specifically their aircraft carriers, to act as floating bases so the US doesn’t have to maintain actual bases in hostile territory? (ie the Middle East) In a future of low scale missions, (special ops, drones, running guns providing intelligence, using air support for proxies etc)surely it’s more vital than ever?

14

dsquared 10.04.12 at 11:49 pm

seconding Paul Gowder on this one:

a threat that is (almost) never carried out is not a particularly credible one.

I really don’t agree and the fact that we are all here rather than dead of radiation sickness and nuclear winter in the 80s seems pretty convincing evidence.

15

Brian Weatherson 10.04.12 at 11:51 pm

The navy has done some fighting since 1945. John McCain was captured in Vietnam while fighting as a naval officer.

That’s why I’ve thought it is the Air Force, not the Navy, we should abolish. Air dominance has helped the US, and a big part of that is naval air power. (Helped here is a relative term, since the outcomes haven’t always been great, but they may have been worse without naval pilots.)

16

Brian Weatherson 10.04.12 at 11:52 pm

I see while I was writing this several other people made the same point!

17

john c. halasz 10.04.12 at 11:55 pm

@5:

2) Admiral Horthy

18

john c. halasz 10.04.12 at 11:59 pm

Also, you are all aware that the U.S. Marines are part of the U.S. Navy, no?

19

Medrawt 10.05.12 at 12:06 am

Aside from the already-mentioned deterrent component and the role of the Navy in maintaining readily deployable force-projection and first response capabilities, a Ctrl-F search of this page doesn’t appear to show hits for the words “pirate,” “protect,” “maritime,” “shipping,” “trade,” etc., which to my layman’s understanding is a considerable oversight in a discussion of “wherefore the Navy?”

20

Peter Erwin 10.05.12 at 12:15 am

a status quo ante ceasefire in Korea

As opposed to a complete North Korean victory…

The one exception, the Falklands War, is scarcely encouraging for naval advocates. The Royal Navy came to the edge of defeat against the air force of a Third World dictatorship, operating at the limits of its range.

What an odd argument. (“If it isn’t completely perfect, it must be useless.”) Had the UK lacked a navy, its ability to recover the Falkland Islands would have been nil. Given that it was able to do so, even though the ships were within range of modern, land-based enemy aircraft, that suggests that navy was rather useful and effective indeed. (What the Falklands War suggests is that Argentina’s navy was largely useless beyond staging the initial invasion, since it was unable to challenge the British navy.)

21

Davis X. Machina 10.05.12 at 12:21 am

@ 16 2) Admiral Horthy

That was just sour grapes because he didn’t have an ocean, just Lake Balaton.

22

John Quiggin 10.05.12 at 12:23 am

As regards the Marines, it’s been said that not only does the US Navy have its own army, but the navy’s army has its own air force. To my mind this supports my case, rather than the other way around.

23

John Quiggin 10.05.12 at 12:36 am

More seriously, to support the arguments about power projection, credible threats and so on, can anyone point to a successful instance of post-1945 “gunboat diplomacy”? That is, a case where the use of naval power (actual or threatened) compelled the target government to comply with the wishes of the navy’s owner.

24

gordon 10.05.12 at 12:40 am

Rootless_e at 8: “…the military is a significant channel for civilian research and development and industrial policy in the USA…”

Yes (provided that “civilian R&D” just means US Govt.-supported R&D), and vocational skill training too. But why should Govt. investment in technology and skills be militarised? It was, after all, a civilian agency (NASA) which got Americans to the moon. You don’t need to militarise that kind of investment.

I am also an admirer of Melman’s work, but of course he was an engineer, not an economist, and his critique focussed on how excessive military investment distorted US industry, damaging its efficiency and competitiveness. He did venture into some opportunity cost discussion (in “The Permanent War Economy”) but not into detailed estimates of job creation, so far as I remember, but I might be wrong there.

25

Jason Weidner 10.05.12 at 12:51 am

@5 “Did you ever in your life hear of a naval coup?”

The leaders of the 1973 coup in Chile were from the navy, which has traditionally been the most right-wing of the branches of the armed forces in that country.

26

rootless_e 10.05.12 at 1:01 am

But why should Govt. investment in technology and skills be militarised?

Because it is more politically practicable. Why is the Army Corps of Engineers in charge of levies?

http://globalmakeover.com/
has some good material by Melman and some of his former students.

27

John Quiggin 10.05.12 at 1:02 am

” Thus all the assistance the US (and everyone else) gave Libya was from an aircraft carrier. “

Not according to Wikipedia.

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/05/Coalition_action_against_Libya.svg

28

rootless_e 10.05.12 at 1:04 am

Professor Seymour Melman, an industrial economist and engineer, also examined the employment and output effects of military versus non-military spending alternatives in a series of research projects over the 1960s – 1980s.2 Melman demonstrated repeatedly that the net effects of increasing the proportional share of non-military spending would be beneficial in terms of jobs and overall output. He also stressed that investment in non-defense industries would offer large benefits in terms of encouraging new technologies and raising average living standards in the United States
http://www.peri.umass.edu/fileadmin/pdf/working_papers/working_papers_151-200/WP151.pdf

29

Craig 10.05.12 at 1:05 am

“can anyone point to a…case where the use of naval power…. compelled the target government to comply with the wishes of the navy’s owner[?]”

Sure. Operation Earnest Will. Just the first thing that came to mind. Oh, no, wait a minute–how about the selfsame Falklands War, in which the Royal Navy proved its obsolescence by winning, or something like that. The argument is somewhat difficult to follow.

30

Craig 10.05.12 at 1:10 am

And furthermore, with respect to “it’s been said that not only does the US Navy have its own army, but the navy’s army has its own air force. To my mind this supports my case”–it is not clear to me why the second statement follows from the first. Fitting neatly into exclusive categories has very little to do with military utility. Plus one to earlier comments on “a priori” philosophizing.

31

Peter Erwin 10.05.12 at 1:11 am

…can anyone point to a successful instance of post-1945 “gunboat diplomacy”?

A quick trip to Wikipedia suggests that one or more of the Taiwan Strait crises might qualify, e.g. the 1995-96 crisis.

This article mentions two cases involving the Indian Navy:
“‘Operation Cactus’, which foiled the coup in Maldives, carried out by mercenaries. [An Indian navy] ship rescued the hostages and sank the ship carrying the mercenaries. Subsequently Dr Abdul Gayoom, the President, who was briefly overthrown, was restored to power.”
and Indian naval deployments off the coast of Pakistan in 1999 during the Kargil crisis: “Alarmed that its supply of energy resources from West Asia might be choked in the face of dwindling reserves and an unprepared Pakistan Navy left to face far superior Indian naval forces, the Pakistani leadership yielded. This was an important factor, which led to Pakistan’s humiliating withdrawal from the heights of Kargil.” (The article also has some examples of “gunboat diplomacy” that had little or no effect.)

32

Antti Nannimus 10.05.12 at 1:12 am

Hi,

Our U.S. Navy keeps a lot of people busy in the U.S. of A. It also scares hell out of a few people everywhere else. And what else is a navy for?

Have a nice day,
Antti

33

John Quiggin 10.05.12 at 1:24 am

“a Ctrl-F search of this page doesn’t appear to show hits for the words “pirate,” “protect,” “maritime,” “shipping,” “trade,” etc.”

Does “etc” include “merchant”?

34

dilbert dogbert 10.05.12 at 1:36 am

Some have argued that in an era of increasingly smart and cheap missiles the Navy is a floating target rich environment.
I wonder if all that money spent on the Dept of War, gives us some advantage in the world economy via the rest of the world using the dollar as prime reserve currency. Sort of like the dollar is the rest of the world’s problem, not ours. Didn’t some Sec Tres tell that to the Europeans back in the day?

35

Bernard Yomtov 10.05.12 at 1:39 am

My understanding is that the US Navy is primarily an air force. The surface ships are organized to protect and support aircraft carriers, which function as mobile air bases.

It’s not about sea battles.

36

straightwood 10.05.12 at 1:47 am

The US Navy is the reason there are no shooting wars started among Asian nations squabbling over pieces of the intricate geography of the Pacific Rim. It is expensive for America to be the dominant naval power, but peace in the Pacific is the result. This dominance could be preserved at much lower cost, but bloated defense budgets and obsolescent weapons are the consequence of our institutional inertia and corruption.

As petroleum depletion makes air transport of cargo a dwindling long-term prospect, the sea lanes will become ever more essential to world trade, and the US Navy guarantees that they will be open to world commerce. That is the main practical purpose of the US Navy.

37

Medrawt 10.05.12 at 2:09 am

“Does “etc” include “merchant”?”

To my chagrin it apparently did not. However, I wasn’t thinking of escorting merchant ships and protecting them against the activities of enemy nations (although if we ever do get into a total war again, which I hope we don’t, but wouldn’t be surprised if someday someone does, that’d be nice), but piracy. The USNavy (and other navies around the world) do engage, particularly in the Pacific and Indian Oceans, in anti-piracy actions. And I generally think the overall deterrent effect of the USNavy is being underrated.

Which doesn’t mean I think it, and the overall US military complex, isn’t bloated. I don’t think we need quite as many carrier groups as we have. I think the Air Force should be converted back into the Army Air Corps, at which point there’s a clear and logical division of labor: the Navy is first response, forward projection, send-in-the-Marines type stuff, and the Army is national defense + if we ever gear up for major military action. And all of this is subject to the reality of living in the America we live in, which is one where the argument is: should our defense spending outweigh the rest of the world combined, or just come to about 70% of it? If we lived in a different America, which I would be amenable to, then this is a different conversation. (And we’d still have a Navy, I think.) But if we’re going to play the role of hegemonic military superpower, which it looks like we are, a Navy is a critical component of that, both for being first on the scene for what turn out to be major operations and for handling smaller military actions that don’t require mobilizing Army divisions.

38

purple 10.05.12 at 2:13 am

Is this a joke ?

39

Both Sides Do It 10.05.12 at 2:15 am

“can anyone point to a successful instance of post-1945 “gunboat diplomacy”? That is, a case where the use of naval power (actual or threatened) compelled the target government to comply with the wishes of the navy’s owner.”

There was an episode of the West Wing where China starts making threatening moves while conducting war games in the Taiwan Straight and Martin Sheen maneuvers a carrier group to intimidate them and they knock it off. He lets Rob Lowe know about the plan while they play chess! That episode also features multiple members of the WH staff trying to assuage a small-town couple extremely upset at the President about the dire implications for sovereignty caused by fishing rights, if I remember right.

40

john b 10.05.12 at 2:18 am

The original post is a brilliant argument for not building any more battleships, and would have saved a great deal of money and effort had it been adopted by the world’s major powers in 1920.

41

John Quiggin 10.05.12 at 2:31 am

And, had it been posted in 1920, the responses would have been identical

42

MPAVictoria 10.05.12 at 2:35 am

“And, had it been posted in 1920, the responses would have been identical”
And they would have been right if you were posting about “who needs a navy?” All the British civilians who got to keep eating during world war 2 would be one example.

43

Tom Bach 10.05.12 at 2:37 am

In terms of naval coups does Kiel count. In most accounts of the end of the Hohenzollern monarch it was the sailors refusal to sail out to a glorious death that led to the creation of the German republic. Score one for the good coups.

44

Matthew Yglesias 10.05.12 at 2:42 am

The question of whether a Navy is a wise investment is separate from the question of whether or not any particular Navy has a strong organizational culture and high level of competence.

The Fort Raleigh National Historical Site in Manteo, North Carolina doesn’t strike me as an especially crucial public service. If it were gone, probably nobody would miss it and the local economy would hardly be devastated. But it’s still the case that when I visited several years ago they had an excellent facility and a very helpful, friendly well-trained staff that compared extremely favorably to (say) the grouches who work at the National Building Museum near my apartment.

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Cranky Observer 10.05.12 at 2:44 am

= = = The original post is a brilliant argument for not building any more battleships, and would have saved a great deal of money and effort had it been adopted by the world’s major powers in 1920. = = =

Indeed, the Washington Naval Treaty of 1922 did wonders in preventing ocean-based wars from breaking out. All parties adhered scrupulously to the terms right through 1942.

Cranky

Hint for the non-naval-gazers: look up the tonnage of the Bismark and the Yamoto-class ships.

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g6h7j8k904 10.05.12 at 2:56 am

If America didn’t have such a large navy, then China’s attitude to neighbouring countries such as the Philippines, Vietnam and Japan would be quite different. I think China would be a lot more aggressive in such a case. American military power in general has a very significant impact on Chinese policymaking and thinking. In some ways it is positive, in others not. America’s large military reinforces in China the idea that America is aggressive and imperialistic, thus giving traction to those who argue China needs to expand and develop its military. But certainly at the moment America’s naval strength helps to keep China realistic and restrain its actions vis-a-vis neighbouring countries in its territorial disputes.

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JW Mason 10.05.12 at 3:11 am

If America didn’t have such a large navy, then China’s attitude to neighbouring countries such as the Philippines, Vietnam and Japan would be quite different.

Yeah, they might even have invaded Vietnam!

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JW Mason 10.05.12 at 3:21 am

The US Navy is the reason there are no shooting wars started among Asian nations

Funny, I could have sworn there had been some shooting wars in Asia over the past few decades. The US Navy might even have been involved…

49

Glen Tomkins 10.05.12 at 3:51 am

An island of sound budgeting priorities in a sea of fiscal insanity

Look, if you’re going to read science fiction, you just have to suspend your disbelief in things like faster-than-light travel, or just don’t bother getting started with the genre. Something like FTL is necessary as a foundational assumption if you’re going to have your characters out there boldly going where no man has gone before and so forth, meeting all those interesting alien races that scifi needs to have them meet, or no scifi. No suspension of disbelief in FTL, no scifi.

Bringing up cost/benefit analysis as a way to examine US military spending is a similar non-starter. The whole genre’s very existence depends on the assumption that US military spending never have to justify itself in terms of any sort of benefit, or even justify itself in the face of great and palpable harms that would never have come to pass if we hadn’t spent all that money.

Of course, it’s almost inevitable that in this insane context, spending on the Navy is the least insane, and precisely because it’s been the least used since the last time the US was in a war it didn’t clearly not need to be in. The great utility of a strong Navy is that, for a nation protected by two oceans, it makes any Army beyond the corporal’s guard necessary to fend off the predations of Canada and Mexico completely unnecessary. If we had disbanded the Army down to a corporal’s guard after WWII, as we had after all our wars up until then, we would not have been involved in any of the many wars we have fought since then, because without an Army just sitting around not being used for anything, involvement in a war would have required the thought and planning about ways and means, costs and benefits of raising an army, that would have strangled any such involvment in its cradle. It’s not the Navy’s fault that we have done nothing with the huge benefit its strength confers on us of the option of doing without a standing army. Even really strong navies can’t invade and occupy foreign countries, an impotence that is really, really useful for keeping a standing military force out of the trouble it can so easily get into if it lacks this powerful impotence.

That’s not to say that the Navy needs all the spending it takes to keep it at its present strength. To absolutely max out on the real benefits it confers, it doesn’t need to clearly overmatch the combined strength of all navies in the world, just those which it might conceivably have to fight unaided by any allied navies. It could be cut 70-80% and still do that. Sure, the fact that cuts in cost that big could be made without diminution of benefit sure makes the current level of spending seem insane. But compare that to the 95+% cuts you could make to the Army and Marines, and Navy spending starts to look Solomonic and Solonic.

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RepubAnon 10.05.12 at 3:52 am

Someone should mention the amphibious assault on Inchon during the Korean War. It flanked the North Korean army, and turned the tide of the war.

Yes, we don’t need square-rigged 74-gun ships of the line slugging it out any more. However, the submarine-launched cruise missile strikes Bill Clinton conducted against Al Qaeda were but one rather obvious use of the modern Navy’s usefulness. Aircraft carriers have been mentioned above – and the Marine’s amphibious assault craft give us the ability to act where the Air Force and Army bases are too far away.

I should also note that the Navy came in handy after the tsunamis swept through the Indian Ocean a few years back. Ships don’t rely on land bases to operate.

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Jamie 10.05.12 at 4:07 am

It is nice that North Corolina has a military installation that seems competent.

Is that the goal we want to shoot for?

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andthenyoufall 10.05.12 at 4:19 am

With respect to 22: are we arguing about the organizational structure of the American military, or force composition of the American military? No one is going to argue that battleships are the cat’s meow, but not everything the US Navy spends money on is battleships.

The Air Force was divided from the Army in large part because it had built up its own independent logistical structure during WWII. Why did it have an independent logistical structure? Because burning civilians to death actually doesn’t require much coordination with ground forces, and that was the most air-power intensive part of the war effort. Unsurprisingly, once the people who had been in charge of “strategic warfare” got their own service, they were more interested in nuclear weapons and dogfights than in providing air support; and the other services decided to keep their own air capabilities.

You can make a similar point for the Marines. At the point where there are Marines doing counterinsurgency work in a desert it gets silly, but there is a legitimate interest in having troops trained for naval operations and able to work in a single command structure during a naval invasion.

I would like to slice American military spending to the core, but the Navy seems like a silly place to start. If we assume (perilous, I know) that the main justification for a military is to protect the country that pays for it, we encounter the curious fact that for the majority of the world, the most difficult part of invading the United States would be these two massive oceans we have on either side of us. A smattering of aircraft carriers and subs seems like the most efficient way of keeping the Monroe Doctrine alive and well.

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John Casey 10.05.12 at 5:25 am

“More seriously, to support the arguments about power projection, credible threats and so on, can anyone point to a successful instance of post-1945 “gunboat diplomacy”? That is, a case where the use of naval power (actual or threatened) compelled the target government to comply with the wishes of the navy’s owner.”

1962. Cuba. Blockade…err… quarantine zone.

Granted, there were lots of other military elements in play here, but the Navy’s ability to stop and search all incoming cargo was an essential element to the resolution of the crisis.

I’d like to see the US military budget substantially reduced, and the navy certainly should take a big part of the hit. But stupid, a-historical arguments do not support this goal.

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mclaren 10.05.12 at 5:27 am

You’re not going to get any common sense response to your post from Americans, Quiggin. Americanos are prostrate with bully-worship for their useless incompetent military, which gobbles upwards of 1.2 trillion dollars per year, and at present couldn’t even defeat the Tijuana police force. America’s vaunted military certainly can’t defeat barefoot 15-year-olds armed with bolt-action rifles in Afghanistan, so the Tijuana police force is far too much for the U.S. military to handle.

America’s military is a group of rapists and gang members led by sociopathic incompetents.

As for America’s navy, it’s a military joke. It’s designed to fight and win the battle of Midway. William S. Lind has pointed out that the only capital ships in any navy today are submarines (and, post-Cold-War, ballistic missile submarines are militarily useless), while the War Nerd has pointed out that there exists today no defense against the current generation of supersonic pop-up stealth missiles that will sink any naval surface ship today within minutes of the first naval shooting war.

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bexley 10.05.12 at 6:14 am

The arms race between Britain and Germany before 1914 was focused on ‘dreadnought’ battleships. They helped in building up the fever that led to war, but did almost nothing in the war itself.

They certainly didn’t do Germany a lot of good but the RN helped carry out a Naval blockade of the Central Powers.

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faustusnotes 10.05.12 at 6:45 am

John your article completely misrepresents the capabilities and purpose of the Chinese aircraft carrier. The kind of myopia I’m seeing around this topic seems very reminiscent of similar attitudes towards Japan back in, oh, 1930 – they were deemed incapable of having a navy or an air force of any quality, until they swept the British out of Asia. Are you falling for the same silliness as colonial commentators of the 1930s?

As it stands today, the Chinese are incapable of landing troops on Japanese soil, or of strangling Japanese industry, without suffering massive casualties. i.e. right now they are incapable of any form of conventional warfare with Japan. Once they get a couple of carrier groups going, things will be very different. That makes a navy very important for China.

Your article also completely skips world war 2, and especially the Pacific war, the lessons of which are relevant to archipelago states (many of which lie in the Pacific) even today. The stories of Islands like Iwojima would be very different if the US navy hadn’t been able to strangle them, and any policy of military dominance in Asia is going to rely on being able to project air power far from shore. If you look at any of the major campaigns of the Pacific war, naval power was crucial to the success of the army. This is a vital lesson for anyone who wants to have a hand in the geopolitical future of Asia – which is where the future of the world lies for the next century.

I know that you don’t like war, but i don’t think the kinds of half-baked argument you’re presenting here don’t make your case for you.

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PlutoniumKun 10.05.12 at 6:58 am

Even going back to WWI one of the big problems faced by navies was that the main battleships were so expensive and so high profile it was often thought better to keep them in port ‘just in case’ they were sunk. The cost of losing them (in terms of both money and prestige) was much greater than the prospective military benefits of using them. Most of the big German, British and Japanese battleships spend most of WWII in harbour for precisely this reason. I can pretty much guarantee that if the US found itself in a potential conflict with an enemy with the theoretical wherewithal to sink a big aircraft carrier, no carriers would be sent, they would rely on other methods. This basically rules out China, as they may have a ballistic carrier killer. Note that they don’t actually have to have a carrier killer, the mere rumour that they possess one would be enough to dissuade the US from sending a carrier to within a few thousand km of China.

Military history is full of grand expensive weapons which most everyone knew were about dick waving, not military capacity. I’ve often thought the only way of ensuring the economic efficiency of a military is to simply fix their budget as a % of GNP and tell the professionals to spend it as they see fit, but they will not get a cent more. This is the only way I think to prevent the politicking which inevitably bloats spending on useless hardware.

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faustusnotes 10.05.12 at 6:59 am

isn’t that the fleet-in-being argument, plutoniumkun? That by having a big expensive battleship in port, you guarantee no one is going to try and mess with your port…

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Chris Bertram 10.05.12 at 7:00 am

editing faustusnotes:

As it stands today, the Chinese are incapable of landing troops on JapaneseTaiwanese soil, or of strangling JapaneseTaiwanese industry, without suffering massive casualties. i.e. right now they are incapable of any form of conventional warfare with Japan Taiwan.

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faustusnotes 10.05.12 at 7:03 am

Chris I know you’re being facetious, but it is actually the case that nations with pretensions to regional power need to consider all their potential regional enemies, and for anyone in the Pacific Japan is currently number 2. See, e.g. the Senkaku islands.

Chinese regional goals are about a lot, lot more than Taiwan, and a realistic military strategy needs to take into account resource disputes with Japan, as well as the possibility that a future Japan will change its constitution – something they frequently talk about.

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Asteele 10.05.12 at 7:06 am

I’m not a fan of this post, but since Robert Farley came out against it, I have to suppose it’s probably right.

Also I don’t see China as a particularly military aggressive state. I mean I know it’s an act of faith that without the Unites States they’d be invading and conquering from dawn to dusk, but you know, maybe they’re not as terrible as us.

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faustusnotes 10.05.12 at 7:16 am

Asteele, I also don’t see CHina as particularly militarily aggressive and think its military buildup has been both overstated and misrepresented (in terms of China’s economic growth it is actually very moderate). But any realistic geopolitical assessment by China is going to have to involve Japan, Indonesia and Taiwan, even if they have no plans for war (and I think they have no plans for war).

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James 10.05.12 at 7:16 am

From the 1950’s forward China has invaded Vietnam , Tibet, and South Korea.

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John Quiggin 10.05.12 at 7:20 am

Various people, notably Robert Farley, have come down hard on this post, and have relied pretty heavily on the claim that they have superior expertise. This article in Joint Force Quarterly by Lieutenant Colonel Thomas E. Shrader, USA, then Chief of Media Operations for U.S. Forces–Iraq makes most of the same points, starting with the obsolescence of the battleship, and presumably is immune to the combination of ridicule and argument from authority employed by some of the critics.

http://www.ndu.edu/press/end-of-surface-warships.html

His conclusion “the answer is submarines” doesn’t entirely convince me, but seems more plausible than the nostalgic counterclaims this post has provoked.

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faustusnotes 10.05.12 at 7:23 am

John, I think any criticism of the role of battleships compared to other elements of a modern surface force was largely dispelled in the recent movie Battleship, a thoughtful exposition on the limits of modern naval strategic planning. With aliens. You should check it out.

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Gareth Wilson 10.05.12 at 7:43 am

Then there are nuclear missile submarines, which are the literal embodiment of overkill. In the event that they ever used, we will almost certainly all be dead anyway.

True, but that’s the point. They’re second-strike weapons, able to survive and stay hidden after a nuclear attack that destroys all the other nuclear weapons controlled by that country. So no matter how sneaky your pre-emptive strike is, it’s still suicide and mutually assured destruction is maintained.

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Asteele 10.05.12 at 7:49 am

Well in the China versus US sweepstakes, Korea would at best, for the American position be a draw, and I don’t think we can complain about people invading Vietnam, I mean did they kill 2 million people. So basically you’ve got Tibet, and that was 50 years ago, and none of these wars happened in the last 30 years. I’m not saying their moral exemplars, but in the category of waging aggressive warfare I don’t think Americans are in a place to complain.

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ponce 10.05.12 at 7:49 am

“Various people, notably Robert Farley, have come down hard on this post, and have relied pretty heavily on the claim that they have superior expertise.”

Farley just seems to rely on bad mouthing your post instead of providing any constructive criticism.

The U.S. Navy has modestly contributed to all our post-WWII wars, but from an opportunity cost standpoint, the money spent on the Navy would have been better spent on providing members of the U.S. Army with better gear. Remember the soldier asking Rumsfeld for armor for his HUMVEE?

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Random Lurker 10.05.12 at 8:00 am

“The Royal Navy came to the edge of defeat against the air force of a Third World dictatorship”

Some years ago I was attending a course in “international relations”, and the teacher made a similar dismissive assertion about Argentina (since I attended the course twice, I can tell the teacher had a set of jokes that he re-used every year, so maybe he made the same dismissive assertion every year).
It turned out that that year there was an Argentinian student in the course. He was very offended by the remark, and just walked out the classroom. The successive lesson the teacher made official apologies for his remarks, so that student complained to the teacher or to someone else at the university.

Which brings me to: how is Argentina a “weak” nation? It seems to me that it is a quite developed country and that, in order to have more “worthy” opponents, the USA should basically attack his allies. The same goes for most “powerful” countries.
So if you think that army, navy etc. are not to protect their country from powerful enemies, but to boss “weak” countries, the Navy looks very useful.

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faustusnotes 10.05.12 at 8:03 am

Yes, considering Britain and Argentina at that point shared the common experience of an IMF default (or hadn’t Argentina gotten around to it yet?) it seems a bit rich to say “third world” about one and not the other…

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Scott Martens 10.05.12 at 8:17 am

For once, Wikipedia says something informative and useful:

[T]he proven or threatening role of aircraft carriers has an undeniably modern place in asymmetric warfare, like the gunboat diplomacy of the past. […] Admiral Sir Mark Stanhope, head of the Royal Navy, has said that “To put it simply, countries that aspire to strategic international influence have aircraft carriers”.

So: Big capital surface navies serve the same function for countries that convoys of black SUVs serve for Latin American drug lords: Yeah, they occasionally serve an actual purpose, but not as much as a low profile, a small, well-paid, professional force, and a willingness to spend money keeping other people happy would. But they are just thing for being menacing.

And challenging their purpose is probably the same as asking what good it is to have a Ferrari when all you do is drive to the office, a personal jet when all you use it for is Monday morning business trips to New York, and a grotto full of pornstars you’re too old to do anything with: If you have to ask what it’s good for, you missed the point.

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Dave 10.05.12 at 8:20 am

@64 – hmm, yes, there’s nothing like a, what, maybe 1000-word magazine article by an ARMY Lt-col to make a convincing argument for future naval strategy… You have heard of interservice rivalry, I take it?

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ajay 10.05.12 at 8:23 am

OK, after this post Quiggin is no longer allowed to mock Matt Yglesias for opining on things that he does not understand.

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ajay 10.05.12 at 8:33 am

64: you honestly can’t see the difference between saying “naval spending since 1945 has been almost entirely a waste of money” and “in the future, navies should rely much more on submarines and less on surface combatants”, can you?

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ponce 10.05.12 at 8:36 am

Because there’s no way Dr. Quiggan could grasp information a 90 I.Q. U.S. military recruit is expected to learn in a few weeks…

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ajay 10.05.12 at 8:42 am

I would read with slightly more charity a post suggesting that most if not all funding for university departments of economics since, say, 1960 has been not only a waste of money but actually actively harmful. At least most warships have spent most of their careers doing nothing worse than floating around idly being repainted. The same cannot be said of the economics profession, which has caused a lot more misery and avoidable suffering to a lot more people in the last 30 years than every aircraft carrier in the US Navy.

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Roger Gathman 10.05.12 at 8:52 am

The U.S Navy faced its greatest challenge from its real enemy – the U.S. airforce – in the fifties, as I understand it, and they won. Thus, we don’t have a branch of the service called airbase, that is separate from the airforce, but we do still have the navy.
On the other hand, I think sailors are much cooler as cultural figures than airforce men – you have, on the one hand, Pynchon’s V, and on the other, Top Gun. Okay, you also have Catch 22. A recent visit to Annapolis convinced me that if you have to have a government branch that dresses its members in sinister costumes and arms them, at least the sinister costumes of the Navy have some, well, 18th century resonance. And what is government for if it can’t stage masquerades to please the general populace?

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Chris Bertram 10.05.12 at 8:53 am

Just read the Farley post. Apparently, there is an “inexplicable war” between Crooked Timber and LGM. Nobody told me! I had better get my own aircraft carrier, just in case.

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Tim Worstall 10.05.12 at 8:56 am

“More seriously, to support the arguments about power projection, credible threats and so on, can anyone point to a successful instance of post-1945 “gunboat diplomacy”? That is, a case where the use of naval power (actual or threatened) compelled the target government to comply with the wishes of the navy’s owner.”

Can’t remember whether it was aircraft carriers or amphibious landing ships used, but the interventions in Liberia and Sierra Leone were almost entirely run from one or the other of the two.

There wasn’t really any other way that US/UK military power was going to have much effect in West Africa.

“And, had it been posted in 1920, the responses would have been identical”

Not really. There would have been some arguing it, yes. but not all. HMS Argus (first real carrier, landing and takeoff of not seaplanes) launched in 1918. The 20’s saw a great deal of development and refinement of the concept. The 1922 Washington Naval Treaty specifically limited tonnage of carriers allowed.

Depends whether you want to call the military hidebound (they didn’t get rid of battleships immediately after 1918!) or a large and complex organisation (takes a decade or two to work through the implications of a new technology!).

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john b 10.05.12 at 8:59 am

PlutoniumKun: you’ve missed the point on battleships, I think. The development of reliable bomber aircraft meant that battleships were obsolete before the outbreak of WWII. The German non-submarine fleet spent WWII in port because the Royal Navy had effective control of the things in the North Sea and around British waters that it could see (ie not submarines). So the Atlantic war was a war of attrition between submarines, and convoys of destroyers and transport ships.

The war in the Pacific featured a couple of classic battleship battles, but was mostly fought by aircraft carriers. Which, despite their expense, properly fought each other: the US lost Langley, Lexington, Yorktown, Wasp, Hornet, Block Island, Princeton, Gambier Bay, St Lo, Ommaney Bay and Bismarck Sea; while Japan lost, erm, all of them.

Now, in any putative future War in the Pacific, it may well be the case that we can’t run up WWII-style casualty rates for all sorts of reasons. But the suggestion that the sheer expense of aircraft carriers means they’ll have to spend the war in port doesn’t make sense in its own right.

John Q (64): That’s an AWESOME article. I, for one, endorse the development of aircraft-carrying submarines, they are THE FUTURE. However, as Ajay says, I’m sceptical that it does much to support your position on the obsolesence of the Navy in principle, as opposed to the current generation of aircraft carriers in particular (which are likely analogous to battleships a century ago).

faustusnotes: the UK hasn’t properly defaulted on external debt (the 1932 technical default on US war loans doesn’t really count, because it was driven by Germany’s refusal to pay its war liabilities rather than internal factors). It borrowed from the IMF once, in 1976, and repaid the money on schedule. Argentina defaulted in 2001-05. Debt defaults are a bizarre way of measuring “third-world”-ness, incidentally. GDP per capita is more traditional: Argentina’s in 1982 was $2800, compared to $8700 in the UK (UN data).

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faustusnotes 10.05.12 at 9:35 am

john b, I have to butt in here again with relevant information from cinema: rather than aircraft carrying submarines, the true way of the future is hovering aircraft carriers, as seen in Avengers, a showcase of viable near-future tech if ever there was one.

I’m aware that debt default isn’t a good measure of third worldness – I’m just taking the piss, because I lived in the UK in 1982 and and again in 2009, and it does not feel like a developed nation.

Incidentally, someone from Argentina told me recently that at their bbqs, they have a special plate called “the graveyard.” The meat is so plentiful that if someone dumps a cut of bbq’d meat on your plate that is better than you have already got there, you just take your unfinished portion of not-so-good meat, and chuck it in “the graveyard.” Surely this qualifies Argentina to be seen as easily as developed a nation as the USA? (And they have beaten England at rugby, too).

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ajay 10.05.12 at 9:51 am

The development of reliable bomber aircraft meant that battleships were obsolete before the outbreak of WWII. The German non-submarine fleet spent WWII in port because the Royal Navy had effective control of the things in the North Sea and around British waters that it could see (ie not submarines).

These two conflict slightly: the reason that the RN had effective control of the surface of the North Sea and the Western Approaches was not because it had carriers and aircraft, but because it had a battle fleet. No major German surface unit was sunk at sea by bombers. (Quite a lot were sunk in port; Tirpitz, for one.) IIRC there were only two cases when carriers went up against surface fleets in that theatre: in one, Scharnhorst sunk Glorious; in the other, Ark Royal damaged but did not sink Bismarck.

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ajay 10.05.12 at 9:55 am

Just to keep piling on, the idea that an Army press relations bloke “presumably is immune to the combination of ridicule and argument from authority employed by some of the critics” is another comedy moment from naval expert Quiggin. Presumably you won’t mock Richard Dawkins’ views on mediaeval Japanese history; he is, after all, an academic.

I am a scientist! That means I have a degree… in SCIENCE!

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Metatone 10.05.12 at 9:55 am

Someone else has already noted this, but you work up to having a carrier with planes on it by starting with a carrier and then training your pilots to land on it. It’s not an overnight process when you start from scratch.

One thing to consider is that in military/politics terms we are living through a “Great Moderation” – the worry is that just as in finance, everything will be stable until it suddenly isn’t…

To answer the headline question: Who needs a navy? Anyone that wants to invade a country that isn’t close by with a big land border. Now it would be nice to believe that the US doesn’t want to “go invadin”, but it doesn’t match reality.

Now even so, there could be a much smaller Navy, but that’s a more complicated question.

Finally, I think picking on Yglesias here is unwarranted – the US Navy works pretty well as far as we can tell. I for one am glad that we haven’t had to find out how well they match up to the Russian or Chinese Navy, because peace is better than war. Still, on TQM measures alone, they do fairly well – and are a decent starting point in the USA for questioning the Hayekian consensus about government, because there is (in the USA) fairly broad agreement that they want to keep the ability to “go invadin…”

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rf 10.05.12 at 10:05 am

The ‘Navy to prevent piracy’ argument is weak enough. Ships should just hire their own private security and anyone caught by the pirates should be bailed out/left to fend for themselves. Pirates show a lot of initiative and should be celebrated for it not killed. Of course the US Navy should be disbanded or sold to the UN, but we live in a dark age where all but libertarians love war, see it as little more than a jolly heroic adventure, so it’s impossible to argue the case when the militarists choose the starting point. And surely there’s more preventing the Chinese from invading *everywhere* than the US Navy?

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faustusnotes 10.05.12 at 10:08 am

Ships should just hire their own private security and anyone caught by the pirates should be bailed out/left to fend for themselves.

A recipe for success in the cruise ship industry, for sure.

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rf 10.05.12 at 10:13 am

Cruise ships should arm their passengers

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Hidari 10.05.12 at 10:14 am

Is no one going to quote Orwell?

“The essential act of war is destruction, not necessarily of human lives, but of the products of human labour. War is a way of shattering to pieces, or pouring into the stratosphere, or sinking in the depths of the sea, materials which might otherwise be used to make the masses too comfortable, and hence, in the long run, too intelligent.

Even when weapons of war are not actually destroyed, their manufacture is still a convenient way of expending labour power without producing anything that can be consumed. A Floating Fortress, for example, has locked up in it the labour that would build several hundred cargo-ships. Ultimately it is scrapped as obsolete, never having brought any material benefit to anybody, and with further enormous labours another Floating Fortress is built.”

This is obvıously not wholly true; Americans consume a lot of worthless crap that they don’t need but the essential poınt ıs surely correct; ıf the money was not beıng wasted ın absurd mılıtary Heath-Robınson contraptıons that are never used and were never ıntended to be used, the money would have to go to schools or hospıtals or Unıversities or making things whıch met real human needs “which might … make the masses too comfortable, and hence, in the long run, too intelligent.”

And ın case you are wondering what a Floating Fortress looks like, ıt looks like thıs;

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/apr/01/aboard-uss-kearsarge-off-libya

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John Quiggin 10.05.12 at 10:16 am

“I would read with slightly more charity a post suggesting that most if not all funding for university departments of economics since, say, 1960 has been not only a waste of money but actually actively harmful”

Zing! Because no economist would ever dare to write such a post. Let alone several dozen of them on this very blog, or a book with an academic press. But I guess, if they did they’d be sure to screw up the dates by setting the point of decline 10 years or so before the counter-revolution against Keynesianism.

90

John Quiggin 10.05.12 at 10:19 am

And to several contributors, I have to apologise for missing the elementary point that, if you want unbiased opinion on naval matters, you should ask the Navy.

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ajay 10.05.12 at 10:24 am

But I guess, if they did they’d be sure to screw up the dates by setting the point of decline 10 years or so before the counter-revolution against Keynesianism.

Son, this post is exactly the wrong place for you to be criticising other people for an imperfect command of the facts.

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ajay 10.05.12 at 10:29 am

Because no economist would ever dare to write such a post. Let alone several dozen of them on this very blog, or a book with an academic press.

And I think you are missing the point. I saw those posts, and read them, with considerably more charity, because they were written by someone who knew what he was talking about. Unlike this one.

missing the elementary point that, if you want unbiased opinion on naval matters, you should ask the Navy.

Or someone who knows something about the Navy, sure.

93

rf 10.05.12 at 10:36 am

As an addendum to my points about how best to tackle piracy. Those of us opposed to the Irish Army tend to ask, why do we need an Army when we can just use the Rangers (special forces)? To which the reply is, you can’t have a special forces without initially having an army. So the question is why do you need a special forces? And the answer, of course, is pirates.

http://www.independent.ie/national-news/armys-elite-to-take-on-somali-pirates-in-aden-3233271.html

Is this a deal-breaker? Stay tuned.

94

D 10.05.12 at 10:44 am

A) In terms of navies preventing piracy, don’t forget that Somalia’s lack of a navy, even a small fleet of third-world patrol boats that mostAmericans would dismiss as useless, is one factor that prompted Somali fishermen to take matters into their own hands when foreign ships started fishing in their waters. Until the fisherman realized simply seizing ships for ransom was even more lucrative than fishing. One good example of why we usually prefer the state to monopolize the threat and use of violence, rather than relying on merchants or cruise ships to protect themselves.

B) That’s not to say it isn’t very easy to waste lots of money on naval capabilities that turn out to be useless. But I haven’t seen many convincing arguments on how to avoid that problem in any large, capital-intensive project in which you make investment decisions today that will not pay off for 10 to 20 years. Battleships turned out to be inadequate for their intended role in WW2 because no one yet understood the capabilities of the aircraft carrier. They still had significant other roles (supporting amphibious assault, air defense around the carriers), but I think everyone acknowledged they were too expensive for that, hence no one built anymore after the war. Maybe aircraft carriers and the fleet structure supporting them are at that point today, though I’m not quite convinced yet.

C) Relying on the “expertise” of either the Army or the Navy to justify their own or each other’s budget is more like asking the math department how much the university should spend on sociology. One reason we’re supposed to have civilian oversight of the military.

95

John Quiggin 10.05.12 at 10:45 am

@ajay 92 In that case, you need to work on your subjunctives.

96

ajay 10.05.12 at 11:15 am

I would add to #91 “…or of grammar”.

97

ajay 10.05.12 at 11:17 am

88: if the objective of post-war US military spending has been to prevent the US masses from becoming more materially comfortable or better educated, then it has been a complete failure.

98

Matt 10.05.12 at 11:17 am

The USA is a nuclear weapons state, China is a nuclear weapons state, and Japan is a virtual nuclear weapons state. Is there a plausible scenario where violence escalates between China and Japan or the USA to the point that conventional-forces differences at the margins, like number of aircraft carriers, makes a difference — AND it doesn’t just keep escalating all the way to mushroom clouds? This is the same question that always goes through my mind when someone says that the USA needs faster/stealthier/more numerous military aircraft to stay ahead of China or Russia. It seems like spending a lot on exotic war elephant breeding, training, and upkeep when everyone who can afford war elephants also has machine guns.

99

lurker 10.05.12 at 11:18 am

‘In terms of navies preventing piracy, don’t forget that Somalia’s lack of a navy’ (D, 94)
Somalia has no government, a much bigger problem than the lack of a navy.

100

ajay 10.05.12 at 11:21 am

Is there a plausible scenario where violence escalates between China and Japan or the USA to the point that conventional-forces differences at the margins, like number of aircraft carriers, makes a difference — AND it doesn’t just keep escalating all the way to mushroom clouds?

War over Taiwan is the obvious one. The US isn’t going to first-strike China if China tries to invade Taiwan. But conventional forces in the region are going to decide whether that invasion succeeds or not.

101

Hidari 10.05.12 at 11:23 am

All thıs talk of expertise reminds me of a possibly apocryphal story (normally told about George Bernard Shaw). Anyway GBS was apparently at a dınner party where he was sat next to a homeopathy acolyte. Thıs tedıous lıttle man droned on and on throughout the fırst course, the second course and then through dessert about the vırtues and benefıts and scıentıfıc wonderfulness of homeopathy, whıle GBS stroked hıs beard and saıd “hmmmmm” and “aaaaaaaaaaah” and “yesssssss……” and made other non-committal noıses a lot.

Eventually coffee was served and over biscuits and cheese GBS fınally managed to get a word ın edgeways.

“You know” he remarked “ıt occurs to me that between the two of us we know everythıng there ıs to know about homeopathy”.

“How ıs that?” saıd the dull lıttle man.

“Because” saıd GBS “You know everythıng about ıt…..apart from the fact that ıt’s all a lot of nonsense. And I know that!!!”

Lıkewıse a lot of people commentıng on thıs topıc know all there ıs to know about the Amerıcan Navy (they say). They know all about the Battle of Mıdway, they know all the names of the destroyers, they know all about the hıstory of the Marınes and so forth.

In short they know everythıng about the Amerıcan Navy except for that fact that it’s all a complete waste of everybody’s tıme and energy and that every breath spent dıscussıng it ıs a breath wasted.

And I know that!!

102

heckblazer 10.05.12 at 11:26 am

What has the US Navy done since WWII?

Kill Osama Bin Laden. Navy SEALS were the guys on the ground inside the Jalalabad compound. SEALS are also a key part of anti-terrorist special operations more generally.

Nuclear deterrence. Ballistic missile submarines form part of the US nuclear arsenal triad, and are the most survivable part in case of war.

Logistics. Military Sealift Command is part of the Navy. When the US has an overseas war that’s how most of the supplies get in theater.

Air and missile strikes. Libya 1981. Libya 2011. Sudan and Afghanistan 1998. Korean War. Vietnam War. Gulf War. Afghanistan War. Iraq War.

Blockades. Korean War. Vietnam War. Cuban Missile Crises (as mentioned above). Iraq under sanctions. Yugoslavia during the break-up.

Anti-piracy. Somalia gets the most attention now, but the US patrols lots of other places like the Straits of Malacca. Indeed, I’d say that guarding the sealanes by itself fully justifies the Navy’s existence.

None of this is to say that there’s no waste (e.g. I’d be happy to see fewer carrier groups), nor that the capabilities are used wisely (e.g. Iraq).

mclaren @54:
The War Nerd gets a whole lot of the technical issue wrong about that proposed Chinese missile system. Just for starters, a Garmin Satnav is not going to be the threat he portrays it because civilian GPS receivers are specifically designed to be unusable as missile guidance systems.

103

rf 10.05.12 at 11:40 am

” In terms of navies preventing piracy, don’t forget that Somalia’s lack of a navy, even a small fleet of third-world patrol boats that mostAmericans would dismiss as useless, is one factor that prompted Somali fishermen….. “

The main reason for the growth in piracy of Somalia is a national army (Ethiopia) dislodging the UIC, with Western support. So sure, a Navy is useful if you don’t want to commit the time, resources and political will to actually resolving the issue.

104

ajay 10.05.12 at 11:46 am

“In short they know everythıng about the Amerıcan Navy except for that fact that it’s all a complete waste of everybody’s tıme and energy and that every breath spent dıscussıng it ıs a breath wasted.
And I know that!!”

And yet, for some reason, you’re still here, discussing it.

105

Peter Erwin 10.05.12 at 11:47 am

The original post is a brilliant argument for not building any more battleships, and would have saved a great deal of money and effort had it been adopted by the world’s major powers in 1920.

Um… actually, there were a series of naval treaties in the 1920s and 1930s limiting fleet and ship sizes, and the number of battleships went down rather significantly.

Between the end of WW1 and the late 1930s, the UK scrapped 21 battleships (and sold another to Chile) and commissioned a grand total of 2 new ones. The US scrapped 7 and commissioned a total of 5 new ones in the early 1920s (most of which had been started while WW1 was still going on); it also scrapped a total of 11 battleships and battlecruisers that were under various stages of construction in 1922, when the Washington Naval Treaty was signed (2 others were converted to aircraft carriers, as allowed by the treaty).

So this statement in the OP:
Many more battleships were built after 1918, contributing once again to the resurgence of militarism…

is simply not true.

106

ajay 10.05.12 at 11:52 am

104: good point. You could compare that to the number of carriers commissioned in the same period (five for the RN and six for the USN).

107

D 10.05.12 at 12:05 pm

Lurker @ 99

That’s very true, and Somalia is an oft used case study for “Who needs the state?”. Similarly, Germany had much bigger problems than its decision to build the Bismarck battleship.

108

Bruce Wilder 10.05.12 at 12:22 pm

The War Nerd is almost certainly correct, though, that a Carrier task force is absurdly vulnerable, in the environment, say of the Persian Gulf, where the Navy, against its better judgement, must frequently deploy one or more such task forces, for grand strategic purposes, which grow increasingly questionable. It really is easy to imagine U.S. Naval dominance ending quite dramatically. What comes after is even less likely to satisfy Quiggin’s cost-benefit test.

109

ajay 10.05.12 at 12:30 pm

The War Nerd is almost certainly correct, though, that a Carrier task force is absurdly vulnerable, in the environment, say of the Persian Gulf, where the Navy, against its better judgement, must frequently deploy one or more such task forces, for grand strategic purposes, which grow increasingly questionable.

In the Gulf? Or in the western Indian Ocean?

110

Bill Harshaw 10.05.12 at 12:38 pm

Re: Marines, team spirit thereof. Having just read “Little America”, by Mr. Chandrasekaran, I’m depressed. According to his thesis, the insistence by the Marines on having complete control of their area of operations totally undermined President Obama’s whole Afghanistan strategy. Maybe it’s time to do away with the Corps?

111

Peter T 10.05.12 at 12:57 pm

Not to pile on to JQ, but an article that mentions “Hellcat fighter jets” operating in WWII has possibly not been past a fact-checker. And that was just the first error spotted – there are numerous others.

112

Anderson 10.05.12 at 1:01 pm

The Internet is wonderful. Post something provocative on a subject of which you know nothing, and you get a mini-seminar on how wrong you are.

Next week from Quiggin: who needs the Pauli exclusion principle?

113

Earwig 10.05.12 at 1:09 pm

I think it’s a shame that some of the most important comments have gone entirely unremarked, so I’ll just say that I think between them, Glen Tompkins (“The whole genre’s very existence depends on the assumption that US military spending never have to justify itself in terms of any sort of benefit, or even justify itself in the face of great and palpable harms that would never have come to pass if we hadn’t spent all that money.”) and Hidari/Orwell (“The essential act of war is destruction, not necessarily of human lives, but of the products of human labour.”) — have said very useful things.

114

Craig 10.05.12 at 1:39 pm

Challenged on the arguments in his post, which the author himself entitled “Who needs a Navy?” John Quiggin seems to be spending a lot of time on “the obsolescence of the battleship.” A post entitled “Who needs battleships?” would have drawn a lot less ire… but of course, no navy in the world has any more battleships.

I don’t know–I think he just felt like a bit of a fight. But, John, if you want to have a debate, if you want to talk about (a) whether navies are valuable today, (b) whether battleships would be valuable today, (c) whether battleships were ever worth having, (d) whether it makes sense for a Navy to have a Marine Corps, or whether it makes sense for a Marine Corps to have their own air forces, (d) whether any particular program of any particular Navy, such as China’s aircraft carrier or America’s Zumwalt-class destroyers, are a net positive to that country or the world as a whole, or (e) whatever else, let’s do that sometime.

115

bexley 10.05.12 at 2:01 pm

Whoever was listing wars China has fought in the last 50 years: the Sino-Indian war just about squeezes in (for another few months).

116

C-Low 10.05.12 at 2:04 pm

Don’t really know what to say to this except maybe you should open a history book. The Navy means fighting at distance which if you look to history is much preferable to being the front line.

For Germany or say any number of other land border nations with major land enemies on their flanks maybe your argument rings. Fortunate for US and unfortunate for your argument the US whose two border nations are weak allies and the navy keeps the few nations with the power to threaten US at bay, your argument is just foolish.

117

Glen Tomkins 10.05.12 at 2:12 pm

@111

Well, if you don’t believe that the details of what weapon systems the US possesses matters very much, you aren’t likely to know much about the details of what weapons systems the US possesses, and you’re going to end up referring to US jets in WWII. But look at this from the other point of view. You’re not likely to know enough to spot such errors unless you believe that such details matter.

Knowledge and belief seem to operate on different planes here, as they so often do, such that no amount of knowledge can make up for getting the belief part wrong. People with even the most detailed and extensive knowledge in a field that other people believe is untethered from reality are never going to make any headway with those people. Our problem isn’t a knowledge deficit, it’s a belief deficit. We fail to believe that US military policy since WWII has much relationship to real military needs. Without that belief, the most detailed knowledge of what aircraft the US has deployed since WWII seems about as relevant to the question as a detailed knowledge of Romulan vs Klingon cloaking devices, and the stardates of their respective deployments.

I actually have a fair amount of knowledge of the post-WWII US military. But I tend to shelve it in the same part of the mental library as my knowledge of elven lore, or angelology and demonology. It’s interesting stuff, to a certain sort of mind, but the interest doesn’t arise from practical application. And, as critic of this sort of fantasy, I have to state a strong preference for the work of authors who deploy all this arcana in the service of telling us a good solid story. But the folks who do the US military have just been phoning it in the past sixty years. At first they had something they called Global Communism cast as the villain that needed to be stopped at all costs, however high those costs might be. Now, Global Communism was definitely not the Axis, but at least, if you looked at it in the right light, and squinted a lot, you could convince yourself of the outlines of some military threat you could design US forces to counter. They lost this leading villain a while back, and the best they’ve bothered to do since is to hallucinate Global Terrorism as the replacement archvillain. Now, Global Terrorism is so insubstantial as a military threat that it gave them pretty much a blank slate on which they could have let their creativity play untrammeled, and we mihgt have seenm something new and interesting. But their response just serves to underscore a poverty of invention that now seems even more clearly to have been present even when it was the Red Menace we were about to be crushed by — whatever the threat, the answer is always bigger, better and more expensive versions of three things: 1) tanks, 2) aircraft carriers, and 3) fighter-bombers. This trinity is the answer to all defense needs, just as the right response in all economic conditions is to cut taxes on the wealthy.

I’m as much a fan of fantasy as anyone, but, especially in fantasy, I demand something new and inventive. You just keep throwing the same tired old weapons systems, and other plot devices, at me, and soon enough I’m confusing Wildcats with Hellcats and jets with warp drives.

118

rf 10.05.12 at 2:15 pm

“I don’t know–I think he just felt like a bit of a fight. But, John, if you want to have a debate, if you want to talk about”

Yeah but the main points are being ignored, that the US/British militaries don’t really do much besides fight, and generally lose, idiotic wars. That a number of the security issues raised in this thread are partly the result of US military actions, that the time and money spent ‘trying to resolve’ these issues through pseudo military actions would be better spent on diplomacy and development, that military actions tend to be more successful when multilateral and with some sort of international legitimacy, that there really aren’t any major security threats, and haven’t been since Hitler. (Taking into consideration what we now know about the Soviet Union’s non-existent aspirations on Western Europe)
As with all threads on this topic it has just become a recounting of victorious battles, irrelevant to the premise of the post, or the larger point, of how counterproductive and inefficient most military actions are.

119

LFC 10.05.12 at 2:16 pm

mcclaren 54:
America’s vaunted military certainly can’t defeat barefoot 15-year-olds armed with bolt-action rifles in Afghanistan

One of the more ludicrous things I’ve read in a while.

Have you have ever heard of the AK-47 assault rifle? From a WaPo article of 6 years ago:

In their battles against U.S. forces, many al-Qaeda fighters and tribal groups still carry the same AKs that the CIA had purchased more than a decade earlier [for the Mujahideen]. The first U.S. soldier to die by hostile fire in Afghanistan — Sgt. 1st Class Nathan Ross Chapman of San Antonio — was killed by a teenager shooting an AK.

“bare-foot 15-year-olds armed with bolt-action rifles” — yeah, right.

120

Watson Ladd 10.05.12 at 2:22 pm

So after Hungary and Korea the Soviet Union wasn’t a proven military threat? It’s possible that conventional forces weren’t required to counteract the threat: we would just nuke them if they tried anything. Such a policy is quite cheap. But it’s also one that is deeply dangerous: if the response to a mistake is immediate nuking cooler heads will not prevail. (Imagine if the Soviets were going to nuke anything stopping them from approaching Cuba).

As for the trinity of tanks, aircraft carriers, and fighter-bombers, they enable you to utterly destroy a country without them, anywhere in the world. That tends to solve the problem.

121

Gepap 10.05.12 at 2:27 pm

Who needs a Navy?

Any country that wants to be able to project military power across any large body of water.

Simple enough answer.

122

Brandon 10.05.12 at 2:27 pm

I think Craig’s (#114) implicit point in his second paragraph is quite right: the problem with this post is that it muddles together several clearly distinct questions, e.g.,

What important functions does the U.S. Navy actually perform, and what benefits does it deliver?
What does the Navy actually deliver that is worth the current amount of money spent on it?
What actual benefits come from navies generally?

and then, the title of the post, Who needs a navy? — which is a different question again. Most of the people in the comments are quite sympathetic with where the post is going on the second question; what baffles them is why one would conflate this question with such completely different questions, none of which admits of exactly the same answer, and each of which requires completely different kinds of arguments and evidence — it takes arguments that can be made cleanly and turns them into a muddled mess.

123

christian_h 10.05.12 at 2:27 pm

The US needs a navy because it is an essential component of imperialist power projection. But I imagine what John meant was, who needs a Navy for self defense, the putative raison d’etre of our armed forces. And he is 100% correct the answer is, nobody. It is interesting to see that the people defending the imperial navy are largely the same defending racist terror campaigns in Waziristan. Liberalism has always been wedded to imperialism, and lately we see this well demonstrated on this and other blogs.

124

rootless_e 10.05.12 at 2:40 pm

125

ajay 10.05.12 at 2:41 pm

“The whole genre’s very existence depends on the assumption that US military spending never have to justify itself in terms of any sort of benefit, or even justify itself in the face of great and palpable harms that would never have come to pass if we hadn’t spent all that money.”

But the problem with that statement is that it’s bollocks. This thread contains a very large number of suggested benefits that the US Navy is supposed to have provided. Tomkins hasn’t engaged with any of them. Nor does he seem to realise that there are a lot of proposed military projects which didn’t become reality because they couldn’t justify their cost with any sort of benefit: B-70, F-108, ABL, DIVAD, Crusader, Comanche, DD-X, Seawolf, and so on. I appreciate that Tomkins can’t actually address these without abandoning his wonderfully de haut en bas approach to the grubby business of defence, but that might be the core problem, mightn’t it?

126

Anderson 10.05.12 at 2:42 pm

the US/British militaries don’t really do much besides fight, and generally lose, idiotic wars

When you have, among other things, a bad-ass navy, idiotic wars are the only ones you fight, because no one’s going to get into a serious war with you.

Thought-experiment: we scuttle the entire U.S. Navy, this month, and close the Navy down. Zero negative consequences in the future?

127

ponce 10.05.12 at 2:46 pm

heckblazer @102

The Chinese are building their own GPS system:
http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-205_162-57348687/china-gps-rival-to-u.s-goes-operational/

128

MPAVictoria 10.05.12 at 2:46 pm

“It is interesting to see that the people defending the imperial navy are largely the same defending racist terror campaigns in Waziristan. Liberalism has always been wedded to imperialism, and lately we see this well demonstrated on this and other blog”

christian_h your ability to work Waziristan into any post on any topic is impressive! Would love to see you work your magic on the Say Anything post from a view days ago. I am sure you could connect them somehow if you really thought about it.

129

ajay 10.05.12 at 2:50 pm

the US/British militaries don’t really do much besides fight, and generally lose, idiotic wars

UK MILITARY’S WAR RECORD OVER THE LAST THIRTY YEARS:
Falklands conflict: win
First Gulf War: win
Kosovo: win
Sierra Leone: win
Iraq: loss? I suppose?
Afghanistan: continuing

THINGS THE UK MILITARY HAS DONE OVER THE PAST THIRTY YEARS THAT AREN’T WARS
Aid to the civil authorities in Northern Ireland and mainland UK
Peacekeeping in Cyprus, Bosnia, Macedonia
Garrison duty in Falklands and Cyprus
Training and mentoring in Africa, various nations
Disaster aid in the Caribbean and elsewhere, various
Anti-drug enforcement in the Caribbean
Counterpiracy in the Indian Ocean

130

christian_h 10.05.12 at 2:53 pm

Well I think we can be quite certain that without the Navy there would no drone campaigns all over the world. The two are part of the same basic setup, the military component of US imperialism. Since the glorious killing of a sick old man hiding in Pakistan was brought up to justify the existence of the Navy what is wrong with mentioning other glorious military campaigns enabled by it?

131

christian_h 10.05.12 at 2:56 pm

The larger point of course being that the veneration of our military tells us more about those doing the venerating than about our military.

132

ajay 10.05.12 at 2:58 pm

Well I think we can be quite certain that without the Navy there would no drone campaigns all over the world.

The Air Force (and the CIA) run the drones.

133

rf 10.05.12 at 2:58 pm

No Watson the sentence said.

“Taking into consideration what we now know about the Soviet Union’s non-existent aspirations on Western Europe”

Specifically, what we have learnt about Soviet ambitions with the opening of their archives. That doesn’t say anything about the rights or wrongs of how the Cold War developed, or the perception of the threat at the time, but how we might categorize and approach the various other security threats now emerging. (Primarily China will invade everyone!!)

“Thought-experiment: we scuttle the entire U.S. Navy, this month, and close the Navy down. Zero negative consequences in the future?”

Perhaps for the global economy in the medium term, but isn’t that debatable?, but for US security? Na, none
(Anyway that wouldn’t be my aspiration, I was/am being slightly facetious. I really have no idea how you realistically resolve the consistently tendency to wage idiotic wars)

134

MPAVictoria 10.05.12 at 2:59 pm

“Since the glorious killing of a sick old man hiding in Pakistan was brought up to justify the existence of the Navy what is wrong with mentioning other glorious military campaigns enabled by it?”

Yes! Damn those bastards for killing an admitted mass murder! Damn them to hell!

135

ajay 10.05.12 at 3:00 pm

Perhaps for the global economy in the medium term, but isn’t that debatable?, but for US security? Na, none

The US Air Force is provably incapable of defending the country from air attack, and that doesn’t seem to have led to the US being conquered by a foreign power. But would the same be true of the Navy?

136

MPAVictoria 10.05.12 at 3:00 pm

“but for US security? Na, none”

None? Really? So having open sea lanes has no effect on US security?

137

JW Mason 10.05.12 at 3:03 pm

we scuttle the entire U.S. Navy, this month, and close the Navy down. Zero negative consequences in the future?

Great positive consequences. Enormous numbers of people who would otherwise die in wars of aggression by the US and UK now remain alive.

It’s amazing to me that so many people who think the war on Iraq was a terrible mistake (and who probably agree that the war on Vietnam was a terrible crime and mistake) just can’t see the logic in reducing the ability of the “West” to make more mistakes like that in the future.

138

christian_h 10.05.12 at 3:06 pm

But ajay the point – that has been made by many here – is that the US navy is essential for the international projection of US power. Thus without the Navy, no drone campaigns in Pakistan or Yemen. That was my point, not which military branch runs what. Who cares.

139

Glen Tomkins 10.05.12 at 3:08 pm

@110

Well, part of the answer is that, while we may need the Army or the Marine Corps, we definitely don’t need both. Maintaining a land force capable of defeating the land forces of potential enemies is so horrendously expensive that through most of history most nations have scraped by with the minimum. I’m not sure there are any examples of a nation outside of the post-WWII US funding two separate land forces.

But you were going beyond the mere lack of utility of having two armies where one would do, to the drawbacks of maintaining any standing force. Yes, the Marines have evolved some fairly scary internal cultural pathologies lately. But before you think about abolishing that institution in order to stop funding a nest for cultural pathology in an organized group of people with guns, you have to consider that the other services foster the same sort of pathology. Our society is getting more and more creepily deferenial to people in uniform, and people in uniform have gotten to expect such deference more, and just gettign rid of the Marines would only serve to make militariusm in the ranks fo the Army more concerning. I have the sense that the Navy is the least threat here, perhaps because it has the least unreal mission.

Part of the reason to not maintain standing military establishments larger than the absolute minimum is the horrendous expense. But perhaps more important is the need to keep military culture from going malignant on us. Even if a small standing force were just as likely to develope pathologies as a large establishment left mostly idle, at least the resulting pathology would be confined to a small group. Next time we actually needed to be in a war, the peacetime establishment would have to balloon so much that the influx of new people not acculturated in the pathologies would swamp them. This is exactly what we experienced in WWII as we built up from our meager standing Army. Our Army after 1939 was led by people who had been colonels and lieutenant-colonels in 1939 because the huge expansion of the Army made it possible get rid of a whole generaton of deadwood that had floated to the top of the interwar institution.

So, absolutely, get rid of the Marine Corps, or the Army, dealer’s choice, but one of them has to go. But, even more important, cut the surviving institution back to a brigade or two at most.

140

LFC 10.05.12 at 3:12 pm

Further to 118, see:

http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/67043/c-j-chivers/small-arms-big-problems
(summary; subscription required for full text)

141

ajay 10.05.12 at 3:20 pm

without the Navy, no drone campaigns in Pakistan or Yemen. That was my point

But I don’t think that’s true or at least not obviously so. You don’t need to have the US Navy to station your troops in someone else’s country with their consent.

I’m not sure there are any examples of a nation outside of the post-WWII US funding two separate land forces.

Raj-era Britain, Saddam-era Iraq, Iran, Nazi Germany, France, Saudi Arabia, the USSR, Imperial Japan, pre-WWII US…

142

rf 10.05.12 at 3:21 pm

Ajay
I would see a lot of those wins as more ambiguous (and the successes generally as part of a somewhat legitimate multilateral force) but I take your point that I got carried away.

“None? Really? So having open sea lanes has no effect on US security?”

As an actual threat to US sovereignty? No, I don’t think so.
As a threat to the US economy? I honestly don’t know. I always bought the premise behind US oil policy in the Middle East, (even without agreeing with most of it), but there’s a lot of convincing pushback recently that the last three decades of US military posture in the Middle East wasn’t necessary even on those terms.

Ajay @134
I think so, what say you?

143

christian_h 10.05.12 at 3:24 pm

What’s Farley’s claim to expertise based on btw? On anything more than being an avid reader of Jane’s Defence Weekly? You know this might surprise you all but Tom Clancy for example is not a military expert. Being fascinated by weapons systems or military history doesn’t make one an admiral.

144

ajay 10.05.12 at 3:25 pm

And the “two separate forces” complaint is missing the point. If the US government’s view is that it needs 780,000 ground troops to pursue its foreign and defence policy objectives, then you are not going to argue them out of it by starting with the position that they ought all to be wearing the same sort of hat. The debate should be over the number of heads, not the shape of the hats thereupon.

145

MPAVictoria 10.05.12 at 3:26 pm

rf sovereignty and security are two very different things.

146

ajay 10.05.12 at 3:27 pm

I think so, what say you?

I don’t think the US needs a navy to avoid having its territory conquered, no. But I think there are other benefits that it (and other nations) reap from having one.

What’s Farley’s claim to expertise based on btw? On anything more than being an avid reader of Jane’s Defence Weekly?

Google “Robert Farley”.

147

MPAVictoria 10.05.12 at 3:28 pm

“What’s Farley’s claim to expertise based on btw? On anything more than being an avid reader of Jane’s Defence Weekly? You know this might surprise you all but Tom Clancy for example is not a military expert. Being fascinated by weapons systems or military history doesn’t make one an admiral.”

Here let me google that for you:

“Robert Farley, Assistant Professor, started at the Patterson School in 2005 as a post-doc scholar. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Washington Department of Political Science in 2004. His dissertation, “Transnational Determinants of Military Doctrine,” investigated the role that transnational networks of military officers play in the diffusion of military doctrine. In addition to a book on the history of anti-submarine warfare, he is working on projects involving piracy and naval doctrine, nuclear power in second tier states, and the relationship between military procurement and national prestige.

Areas of Specialization

Military Doctrine, Transnational Politics, National Security”

148

rf 10.05.12 at 3:30 pm

MPA, okay, to clarify this then, what effects on US security could you forsee

149

christian_h 10.05.12 at 3:32 pm

Thanks fair enough. Doesn’t change the incontrovertible fact that the world would be much better off without the navy.

150

MPAVictoria 10.05.12 at 3:34 pm

“MPA, okay, to clarify this then, what effects on US security could you forsee”

Well the US is one of the largest trading nations in the world and its economy benefits greatly from the free and safe passage of goods. The US Navy is the prime guaranteer of this.

151

ajay 10.05.12 at 3:36 pm

what effects on US security could you forsee

More attacks on US vessels and US citizens overseas.

152

Gepap 10.05.12 at 3:37 pm

@148
“Thanks fair enough. Doesn’t change the incontrovertible fact that the world would be much better off without the navy.”

Why? Cause other countries could use their navies to their hearts contents? Because if I wanted to recreate the escapades of Bluebeard I would be able to?

Yes, the world without fighting would be wonderful – but that world has never been, and as long as we remain humans, never will be.

153

rf 10.05.12 at 3:39 pm

Sure, and I mentioned the threat to the US/global economy in the response, replying that ‘I honestly don’t know’ what would happen in the extremely unlikely event the US Navy was scuttled tomorrow.

154

rf 10.05.12 at 3:41 pm

above was to MPA

“More attacks on US vessels and US citizens overseas.”

Fair enough

155

Asteele 10.05.12 at 3:44 pm

There may be an excluded middle between 11 carrier groups, and allowing mostly, imaginary pirates from crippling international trade.

156

James 10.05.12 at 3:46 pm

No one needs a military until you actually NEED a military. By that point it is too late. At the end of The War to End All Wars, the United States significantly drew down its military. Then some idiot European decided that he wanted to run the world. Now after The War to End All Wars part 2 we have a website that both complains about the US tardiness in entering TWEAW part 2 while at the same time suggesting that the US significantly reduce the very forces needed for a quick entry into TWEAW part 3. Very inconsistent.

157

ajay 10.05.12 at 3:50 pm

There may be an excluded middle between 11 carrier groups, and allowing mostly, imaginary pirates from crippling international trade.

Arguably a navy whose main objective was to protect trade would not be based around 11 nuclear-powered carrier battle groups. That would actually be a very fruitful conversation to have, viz: should the USN’s main or indeed only job be to protect trade, and if so, what ships should it have?

158

ajay 10.05.12 at 3:51 pm

Because if I wanted to recreate the escapades of Bluebeard I would be able to?

If you want to emulate Bluebeard, the US Navy is unlikely to be the bit of the US government tasked with stopping you.

Blackbeard, on the other hand…

159

Anderson 10.05.12 at 3:54 pm

What’s Farley’s claim to expertise based on btw?

As compared to *you*?

160

Turbulence 10.05.12 at 4:03 pm

This article in Joint Force Quarterly…

This is a joke, right? Shrader seems to believe that Google Earth gives you realtime satellite views of the world’s oceans. He writes:

We can sit at our desks, type in an address, and have Google Earth show us the current view.

See, now, that’s not how Google Earth actually operates. At all. If you haven’t yet figured out that google maps/earth don’t show realtime views of the world, I don’t think you should be giving strategic military advice to anyone.

161

Glen Tomkins 10.05.12 at 4:15 pm

@143

Well, the fundamental reason I’m not going to argue the US governemnt out of the idea that it needs 780,000 ground troops is that no one argued them into that idea. It’s a completely arbitrary number, and the foreign and defense policy rationale to support it was cobbled together around justifying the number, the number was not cobbled together to meet any actual policy need.

Somewhere around 50,000 ground troops, you get what we might conceivably need to defend our shores. Any number above that is overkill for the only at all obvious need the US has for any ground troops.

Even if you could come up with non-laughable policy reasons for the US to need 780,000, and not 800,000, or a round million, well, there actually are plenty of considerations, both monetary and for military effciency, that would make you not want to duplicate effort and have whatever number of ground troops you settle on belonging to two different organizations. Even if it were just a matter of hats, why not save even the trivial amounts involved by having only one type of hat? But it isn’t just hats. Do you know any universties that have two different French Lit departments? You could make a case that a university needs a French Lit department, but I don’t see how you make the case it needs two, even if each just has 1/2 the number of professors. You need twice the administrators if you have your professors in two departments where one would do. Much, much worse, you need twice the useless departmental committees and their concommittant deadly committee meetings. Pretty soon you woudl see the two departments inist on meaningless differences in how each operates designed solely to mark territory. And if you do go with two departments, you probably do need to come up with different design funny hats for professors belonging to the two departments to wear at graduation. That expense might not be great, but why bear any such expense? Again, any sort of “why” is the sort of question not allowed in this genre of any expense.

As for the shape of the hats, well, one reason the Corps has survived is because they are snazzier dressers than the lumpish old US Army. They win the interservice fashion show every year, hands down. I wouldn’t know from personal experience if they’re also great dancers.

And really, the point of Bill Harshaw’s post wasn’t anything to do with the shape of hats. He’s worried about the growing pointiness of heads under some of those hats. I think that’s a real concern, unlike whatever mystical theological considerations dictate a separate Marine Corps.

162

Zamfir 10.05.12 at 4:27 pm

Apprently, the combined advertising budget of the US military is 1.7 billion, of which 250 million for the navy and marine corps each. Though I have heard (from unreliable sources) that the US navy spends far more than the other branches on support for movies etc, which is why TopGun and JAG etc are about the navy.

163

Glen Tomkins 10.05.12 at 4:29 pm

@161

And aren’t all of our fantasy lives a little richer for this generous funding of the arts?

164

Anderson 10.05.12 at 4:29 pm

Any number above that is overkill for the only at all obvious need the US has for any ground troops.

So the U.S. should not belong to NATO or any other defensive alliance? Pure 1930s-vintage isolationism?

I had no idea there were so many old-school Republicans at CT. Bring back the Bricker Amendment!

165

ajay 10.05.12 at 4:31 pm

Somewhere around 50,000 ground troops, you get what we might conceivably need to defend our shores. Any number above that is overkill for the only at all obvious need the US has for any ground troops.

Based on what, exactly? Why not 100,000, or 20,000? What’s your reasoning process that leads you to think that the US needs a two-division army rather than a one-brigade army or a five-division army? What threats are you considering?

If you are worried about Canada or Mexico, you will need more than 50,000 troops to defend against them. If you aren’t, why would you need any? Or, if you think (absent a US navy) they will need to defend the coasts as well, you are essentially saying that you can defend everything from San Diego to Seattle with (optimistically) 10,000 combat troops, and everything from the Rio Grande to Maine with another 10,000 (given that some of those 50,000 will be under training, working in non-combat specialities like supply and medical, defending Alaska, defending Hawaii and so on.)

That’s about three soldiers every mile. What kind of threat is it that can put an amphibious invasion force together, but can’t land enough troops to overwhelm a force that lines up at intervals of one man every six hundred yards?

166

ragweed 10.05.12 at 4:50 pm

A few points on Piracy -

@86 – Cruise ships do have onboard security and cruise ships likely to enter piracy prone waters often have some sophisticated on-board equipment to deter piracy – not 5-inch guns or anything, but some of the same tools that modern police forces use. Also they are significantly faster than any cargo ship out there. That is part of the reason there has not been a successful pirate attack against a cruise ship. In the last attempt, the cruise ship deployed a sonic deterrant device and then outran the pirates. The actual pirates operating today are not too interested in taking a cruise ship anyway – the resulting “attention” they would get would seriously cramp their business model, and they know that.

Merchant marine ships are very restricted as to what on-board armaments they can carry. Many if not most ports prohibit armed commercial ships from entering ports, so even keeping a locker of small-arms to defend against pirates could get them into deep trouble. Plus, commercial shipping companies do not want to get into the liability issues having arms on board, or having crew have access to them (one disgruntled sailor loosing it at sea could cost more than all the ransome they have ever paid). It also greatly complicates the process of identifing who the pirates are – a fishing boat with a a stash of AK47s can claim they are armed for defense against pirates.

Hiring private security for all the ships in the merchant fleet would be enormously expensive. That is one of the reasons why Piracy has been so sucessful in the Horn of Africa. The pirates have a very carefully thought out business model. They charge a ransome which, according to one analysts estimate I have seen, are only a fraction of a percent of what it would cost the shipping companies to hire private security to defend their ships. The pirates are careful to avoid casualties, and treat their hostages well in order to insure that ransome is the most cost-effective way to respond to siezed ships.

Finally, the modern US and British Navy, at least, are very poorly equipped to handle recent incidents of piracy, which is one reason that Blackwater has been involved in outfitting a ship for piracy interdiction (which brings up the issues with pirates – vs – anti-pirates I mention above). The navies of both countries are woefully short on the frigate-class ships and police evidence-gathering techniques needed to fight piracy. Pirate operate from small, fast-moving boats that are difficult to identify prior to attack and difficult to counter once they have taken command of a vessel. Being able to thwart a pirate attack is extremely difficult when there are thousands of potential targets and hundreds of square miles of sea to cover. It is not something that carrier groups, cruisers or submarines are really good at – we don’t need the Navy to counter piracy, we need the Coast Guard, or a navy that is more like the coast guard than the current one.

167

William Timberman 10.05.12 at 4:51 pm

In my opinion, ajay @ 156 wins the thread so far. It seems pretty clear that without a navy, any country that depends on a large maritime trade risks having that trade threatened, intimidated and harassed by another country that does. In fact, that was the justification for building the U.S. navy in the first place. Eleven nuclear-powered aircraft carriers, and the frigates, cruisers and destroyers in their Carrier Strike Groups can no doubt do this job effectively, but they do seem like an awfully expensive way to do it.

Like everything else in the current U.S. military, though, these CSGs owe their existence not to defense as it was understood in 1812, but to Forward Defense a post-WWII euphemism that originally meant defending Germany by attacking east of the BRD border with nuclear weapons, but for the navy came to mean operating in wartime as close to the Soviet Union as possible. Post-war carrier strategy was also influenced by experiences in the early phases of the Korean War, when the aircraft carriers of the navy were the only force available capable of delaying the North Korean advance long enough to bring reinforcements to the ground battle.

Now, though, 20-odd years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, we’re suffering from the biggest case of mission-creep imaginable. It’s as though someone in the Pentagon suddenly realized that gunboat diplomacy might now be within reach again, and the White House, for reasons of its own, found that to be a really swell idea, and just in the nick of time, too.

Imperial power projection by aircraft carrier strike groups is a big deal when your potential adversaries are largely armed with RPGs and obsolete air-defense missiles. Against an adversary with even a rough parity in military technology, though, they’re horribly vulnerable, especially when operating close to land. The problem is that modern developments in military technology are such that these days you can never be absolutely sure that you’re facing the former rather than the latter. And meanwhile, of course, you’re going broke.

So yes, I think ajay has the right idea. Let’s re-think this, and let’s do it publicly. (Insert the usual boilerplate about living in a democracy.)

168

ponce 10.05.12 at 4:54 pm

“Pirate operate from small, fast-moving boats that are difficult to identify prior to attack and difficult to counter once they have taken command of a vessel. “

Sounds like its time to bring back convoys in pirates troubled areas.

169

ajay 10.05.12 at 4:57 pm

the modern US and British Navy, at least, are very poorly equipped to handle recent incidents of piracy, which is one reason that Blackwater has been involved in outfitting a ship for piracy interdiction

The Blackwater (or rather Xe) ship never actually sailed, though – just another Erik Prince publicity stunt that went nowhere. And while I would agree that the USN and RN are not optimised for fighting pirates, and that a navy along the lines you describe would do better, they have done rather well (with their allies) in suppressing it – Somalian pirate attacks are about 60% below where they were last year, and entire months are going by without even a single attempted attack.

170

Hidari 10.05.12 at 4:59 pm

“If you are worried about Canada or Mexico, you will need more than 50,000 troops to defend against them. If you aren’t, why would you need any?”

Well…..quite.

171

MPAVictoria 10.05.12 at 5:00 pm

“So yes, I think ajay has the right idea. Let’s re-think this, and let’s do it publicly.”

Agreed. I see no reason why a US navy with 50% of its current funding wouldn’t be adequate. However this is not the argument being made by the OP. There is a big difference between advocating a smaller, differently configured nave and no navy at all.

172

Substance McGravitas 10.05.12 at 5:01 pm

When it comes to turbot Canadians will drop the gloves.

173

ajay 10.05.12 at 5:02 pm

There is, though, the point that trade needs protecting from more than pirates. A navy of FACs and motherships would be all very well in the Arabian Sea, but what if the people trying to interfere with your trade are a foreign government, and they have destroyers?

174

Glen Tomkins 10.05.12 at 5:03 pm

@158

I don’t have a degree in Theology, therefore I am indeed careful to never discourse in public on the difference between Transubstantiation and Consubstantiation.

But not having a degree in Theology not only allows me to say that both these ideas are flat nuts, lacking all connection to reality, it greatly decreases the chances that I will even begin to take either idea at all seriously, and that’s a good thing.

The difference between these fantasy world ideas is indeed of considerable historical importance. If you’re trying to understand European history in any sort of systematic fashion, you can hardly fail to try to do your best at appreciating consubstantiation vs transubstantiation as a phenomenon you need to be able to describe. For several generations, half of Europe tried to kill the other half over this difference, totally insubstantial as it is. But no one anymore gets lost in the delusional belief that the difference matters in and of itself, that it matters except as a delusion with murderous consequences.

The “defense” policy of the US in many way serves as the contemporary world’s insubstantial theology. I have never found Farley to be at all unreliable in explicating the theological state of play. That is very definitely a useful body of knowledge to have mastered. But because we lack the perspective of the half millenium we have on Reformation and Counter-Reformation theology, it’s impossible to find any theologian of the contemporary military affairs scene who is completely able to escape the trap of believing that the ideas he or she has ben at such pains to master have to make some sense, have to have some real-world connection aside from the murderous grotesque that is their frequent consequence. We take for granted the difference between description and prescription when we’re talking about things that the world mercifully lost interest in 500 years ago, but predictably stumble over the same vital distinction when we’re talking about what the US should and should not be doing today.

The experts in miltary affairs are an invaluable resource as long as they at least make an effort to merely describe current military affairs. But the state of that particular asylum is so untethered from reality that their prescriptions, should they so lose sight of the real value of their expertise as to give prescriptive advice, carry no authority. The inmates should most defintitely not be running the asylum.

175

ajay 10.05.12 at 5:10 pm

Glen, no matter how many times you assert that ignorance is virtuous, it won’t make it so.

176

L2P 10.05.12 at 5:16 pm

“‘None? Really? So having open sea lanes has no effect on US security?’

As an actual threat to US sovereignty? No, I don’t think so.”

Hey there! The ghost of the Confederacy just called to say it strongly supports your position that open sea lanes have no effect on sovereignty! It expects to to force Lincoln to his knees any day now.

177

William Timberman 10.05.12 at 5:16 pm

MPAVictoria @ 169

Silly of me, I suppose, but I took the OP to be more provocative than substantive. Looking at the comments so far, it seems to have worked — in the sense that it has indeed provoked a discussion of the fundamentals. Although JQ might argue that I lack sufficient evidence to accuse him of being devious, I’d argue that I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt. ;-)

178

Sintra 10.05.12 at 5:16 pm

“Who needs a navy ?”

Well, i can think of a multitude of chaps that in their time would have loved to have a trully combat capable navy, we can start by Muamar Kadafi, Foday Sankoh, President Hudson Austin, a certain Manuel Antonio Noriega Moreno, a General Leopoldo Galtieri, Kim Il Sung (Inchon, remember?), etc, etc, etc…
This text is a classical example of someone forgeting that there´s no such thing has a Strategic status quo, if the US Navy retreats from the high seas, someone else will ocupy that niche.

179

rf 10.05.12 at 5:18 pm

” It seems pretty clear that without a navy, any country that depends on a large maritime trade risks having that trade threatened, intimidated and harassed by another country that does.”

But these threats can be met with any number of responses, short of military action, by the worlds main power. (Or even, as per the topic of the thread, by another branch of the military) Apart from the strait of hormuz, where is a US Navy presence vital?

180

Medrawt 10.05.12 at 5:19 pm

I think had Quiggin’s original post been on the general subject of US defense budgeting as a symptom of its hegemonic military goals, and questioning all of that, (a) there would have been less contention (b) a great number of the comments in this thread would magically be more responsive than they actually are.

181

rf 10.05.12 at 5:19 pm

“Hey there! The ghost of the Confederacy just called to say it strongly supports your position that open sea lanes have no effect on sovereignty! It expects to to force Lincoln to his knees any day now.”

In the context of the world today

182

MPAVictoria 10.05.12 at 5:25 pm

“Silly of me, I suppose, but I took the OP to be more provocative than substantive. Looking at the comments so far, it seems to have worked — in the sense that it has indeed provoked a discussion of the fundamentals. Although JQ might argue that I lack sufficient evidence to accuse him of being devious, I’d argue that I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt. ;-)”

Could be William but JQ has made some posts in the sister thread to this one over at LGM that make me doubt this interpretation.

/LGM and Crooked Timber are two of my favorite internet destinations and I check both of them WAY too often.

183

Stephen 10.05.12 at 5:28 pm

I fear that JQ’s original post was less well connected to reality than usual. When he cites Admiral Woodward’s interview with the Guardian as showing that ” The Royal Navy came to the edge of defeat against the air force of a Third World dictatorship, operating at the limits of its range” he is inaccurate. Read the article cited and you will see that Admiral Woodward says nothing about the prowess of the Argentine air force (supersonic planes with very brave Israeli-trained pilots, not exactly your average Third World lot). Rather, he was concerned that “rations and ammunition were running low”. For an expeditionary force operating at the limits of their range (UK to Falklands), that may not be surprising; but it has nothing to do with “the edge of defeat against the air force of a Third World dictatorship”.

That they were fighting a dictatorship – and causing its overthrow, greatly to the benefit of their subjects – is of course true: will they ever be forgiven by dedicated Third World supporters?

A more basic point: there is general agreement that the RN’s difficulties in the Falklands would have been far less if previous governments had not scrapped the older, larger aircraft carriers with their supersonic jets and early-warning aircraft. In the Falklands, the RN had to manage without either. It is an extraordinary logic that holds that SINCE the RN were handicapped by a great reduction in carrier forces THEREFORE carrier forces should be abolished.

Mind you, the argument, that SINCE battleships were replaced in WW2 as the most important warships by aircraft carriers THEREFORE aircraft carriers are equally obsolete, does not (as other posters have pointed out) match normal standards of logic, either.

184

ajay 10.05.12 at 5:28 pm

I think had Quiggin’s original post been on the general subject of US defense budgeting as a symptom of its hegemonic military goals, and questioning all of that, (a) there would have been less contention (b) a great number of the comments in this thread would magically be more responsive than they actually are.

And if my grandmother had a towed sonar array and a helipad aft, she’d be a frigate. It’s inarguable that if Quiggin’s post hadn’t been so wrong, fewer people would have disagreed with it…

185

Anderson 10.05.12 at 5:32 pm

I just remembered that the guy asking who needs a navy is from *Australia*.

Surely this post is a hoax.

186

Peter Erwin 10.05.12 at 5:43 pm

christian_h @ 122:

who needs a Navy for self defense, the putative raison d’etre of our armed forces. And he is 100% correct the answer is, nobody.

Nonsense. Genuinely landlocked nations do not need a navy, of course (and Bolivia’s “navy” is at least in part just an exercise in nostalgia for their lost Pacific coastline). But nations with a coastline will need some kind of coastal patrol, inspection, and defense capability, even if they decide to rely on someone else to keep the sea lanes safe. And any nation that extends across more than one contiguous segment of land will need a navy of some sort for self-defense. This even applies to the US, given the existence of Alaska and (especially) Hawaii.

187

Hidari 10.05.12 at 5:59 pm

If I may be so bold, I thınk that part of the problem here ıs that two questıons are beıng rolled ınto one. The fırst questıon ıs; does the US need a navy per se, that ıs, for the stated, offıcıal, “putatıve” reasons? And the answer ıs clearly “no”.

The next (so to speak. hıdden) questıon ıs, well, ın that case, why does the US have a navy?

Whıch leads on to the next questıon, whıch ıs: does the US then need a navy for reasons other than the “offıcıal” ones? And the answer equally clearly ıs “yes”.

And what are these “other” reasons? Well I thınk ın our heart of hearts, we all know.

188

Asteele 10.05.12 at 5:59 pm

Then again wikipedia tells me that the Somali pirates still hold hostages and ships. Maybe they need that 12th carrier group before they can eliminate actually existing threats to trade. For obvious reasons I won’t bring up the israeli naval blockade of gaza.

189

Peter Erwin 10.05.12 at 6:04 pm

Glenn Tompkins @ 138:
I’m not sure there are any examples of a nation outside of the post-WWII US funding two separate land forces.

Good Lord. Separate infantry forces under the control of the navy rather than the army are not quite ubiquitous, but they are extremely common. A semi-random set of examples:
Colombian Naval Infantry: 24,000 troops (army: 235,000)
ROC (Taiwan) Marine Corps: 15,000 (army: 130,000)
Spanish Navy Marines: 11,500 (army: 61,000)
Philippine Marine Corps: 11,000 (army: 80,000)
Royal Thai Marine Corps: 36,000 (army: 790,000)
Royal Marines: 8600 (army: 139,000)
Venezuelan Marine Corps: 11,000 (army: 120,000)

The US Marine Corps is really unusual only in its size (both absolute and relative to the US Army) and in having its own fixed-wing aircraft.

190

Soru 10.05.12 at 6:13 pm

Of course, a arguably significant feature of the world today is that the US navy exists.

Is there a formal name for arguments of the type ‘your blood has been circulating normally for decades, so what’s the problem with volunteering to be a heart transplant donor?’

191

Anderson 10.05.12 at 6:24 pm

And the answer ıs clearly “no”

Oh yes, clearly.

192

Glen Tomkins 10.05.12 at 6:46 pm

@164

I suspect from your comments about the practical considerations of defending the US against Canada and Mexico, that you aren’t even a very learned military affairs theologian. Again, not that that proves you are wrong, because the question of what sort of forces the US needs, and how much of each element of that mix it needs, is not at all a matter in which expertise is terribly important. The fundamental questions aren’t military in nature, they relate to what we want that military to do, and we are so terribly confused about that, that discussions of force structure and size are just about of zero relevance at this point.

While the number of personnel in a division is about 16-24K, a division slice — the division plus all the support elements you woild deploy with that division — has usually been calculated as more like 50K. So my 50K US Army is down to only one division right there. Even allowing for a less generous allotment of side boys and dancing girls in the divisional slice of the Gtomkins New Model Army (the GNMA!, always wantd to have my own military acronym), the fact is that you would need more admin and support people than just the division slice, so we’re really talking a brigade or two, tops, rather than two divisions.

I figured on a brigade or two based on the idea that the GNMA would have as its main and only continuing mission, the role of mobilization base for the US. I think that your suggestion of 20K would fit in just fine with that mission, though if you get it much below brigade strength, you are going to have trouble keeping up large unit training. I went with 50K just to mollify those who might be given to anxiety and vapors at the thought of the Canadian and Mexican threats to our precious liberties, but I’m fine with you moving it down if you aren’t given to such vapors.

But I could see how you might suffer from anxiety over defending our borders if you imagined that the way to do so would be to space soldiers evenly along the borders, and even along our coasts. Even a 100 divisions wouldn’t be enough if that were the case. All we need to be able to do is counter whatever the Canadians or Mexicans could throw at us. That force wouldn’t cross the border evenly dispersed along its entire length, and so our forces wouldn’t have to be everywhere, just where the invaders were headed. What is your idea of the largest force they could hurl at us right now? Keep in mind that they would have to be able to support this force as it moved to occupy Buffalo, San Antonio and points further in. I can guarantee that whatever the national order of battle of either country, however many brigades they have, the force they could project into the US and sustain there doesn’t exceed battalion strength. I know that without looking into the matter because force projection and sustainment capabilities are quite expensive, largely specific to where you intend to project and sustain, and so aren’t acquired by nations unless they are intended to be used some day, and I can’t imagine either country intending to invade the US.

Of course either country could build up its forces, and acquire forces large enough that could be projected and sustained into the US that we could no longer rely on the Girl Scouts to police them up. But that’s the point of keeping 20-50K as a mobilization base. We would build up in response, we could start from as little as 20K and run no risk at all of falling behind in such a buildup.

And while we’re on the subject of what I propose, you should try to avoid straw men. I said I think the Army should be cut by 95%, but the Navy should only get a 70-80% haircut, leaving plenty enough force to have whatever Terry and the Pirates adventures you please, plus send that Mexican invasion fleet to Davey Jones’ locker.

A reasonable and honorable case could be made for disarming completely, zeroing out our military, which is more than I think possible to say about the case for the status quo US military. But I’m not making that case. I’m for standing military forces only insofar as we have a need, can express that need more concretely than “foreign and military policy objectives”, and relate the military force we buy to those needs. I don’t preclude our ever again sending expeditionary forces overseas, or using our navy to keep sea lanes open or close them as we might find in our interests. But I think even those highly non-pacifist goals are best met by keeping the standing force, the force we keep in the long intervals between the immediate need for any forces, as small as possible. Forces not kept for specific reasons mutate free of any selection pressure into strange and dysfunctional monsters. We have the two-ocean luxury of doing this right, not being forced to maintain large forces all the time because bordering nations maintain large forces capable of invading us tomorrow. We should not forego that advantage, and certainly not when the only reward is unnecessary wars and fantastic expense.

193

ragweed 10.05.12 at 6:51 pm

“Sounds like its time to bring back convoys in pirates troubled areas.”

Actually, there has been some work in that area, and apparently some shipping companies have talked about setting up convoys through some key points. The problem is that it requires a lot of coordination between private ships of different speeds and various different destination throughout a pretty wide area. In an industry where time is money, compliance is difficult. Part of the issue is that the maritime industry wants governments to solve this, but are unwilling to take on much cost themselves.

But (updating my info from when I was following these developments a few years back) the piracy problem off of Somalia is a lot less than it used to be. Many countries, including those in the EU, India, South Korea, China, Japan (which is unusual in and of itself) contributed ships to the international flotilla. Several fishing boats used as pirate base-ships were captured and destroyed and several pirates capured and tried in Kenya. It has apparently has made things less profitable for the pirates, and there are far fewer successful hijackings than . The size of the forces committed are relatively small – again, it is really a Coast-guard level effort, coordinated among many nations, and not a major naval operation.

194

rf 10.05.12 at 6:51 pm

Farley says in a 2007 American prospect article:

“Broadly speaking, navies have two missions; warfighting, and maritime maintenance.”

And that maritime maintenance can be done by collaboration. He includes in maritime maintenance -“piracy, interdiction of drug and human smuggling, and disaster relief”- but not protecting trade.
A number of countries have an interest in keeping sea lanes open (primarily China) so how important is this in US strategic thinking? Are there any other areas as vital to US interests as the Persian Gulf? How much of US Naval policy is dedicated to projecting force and how much maritime maintenance (although these will overlap at times) Any ideas?

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L2P 10.05.12 at 6:59 pm

“But these threats can be met with any number of responses, short of military action, by the worlds main power. (Or even, as per the topic of the thread, by another branch of the military) Apart from the strait of hormuz, where is a US Navy presence vital?”

Off the top of my head, South America, Central America, the Pacific Coast, the South Pacific, East Asia, the North Atlantic, the South Atlantic, the North Pacific, the Arctic, and the Atlantic Seaboard.

You can argue we have MORE navy than we need to protect our interests in these regions, but we definitely have vital interests in these regions that we need a navy to protect.

I guess the argument is do you think it’d be cool if North Korea just landed a few battalions of marines in Vermont the next time we asked them to stop giving nuclear secrets to terrorists, or do you think it’d be cool if we just want straight to nuking North Korea instead, or do we just keep that navy?

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rf 10.05.12 at 7:04 pm

It’s a genuine question. I don’t know anything about it, I’m bored, have little to do and it’s an interesting topic. I don’t see why retaining a naval presence in all those areas is a vital national interest, on par with the Persian Gulf, and the North Korean seathreat isn’t convincing. I’m not calling for the scuttling of the US Navy, btw, heaven forfend.

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Stephen 10.05.12 at 7:10 pm

rf @118: “Taking into consideration what we now know about the Soviet Union’s non-existent aspirations on Western Europe.”

Genuinely curious on this point. What do we in fact know about

a) the SU’s aspirations re Western Europe, given the actual NATO forces in WE?
b) what would have been the SU’s aspirations, if the CommunistNeutralistDefeatists’ policies of ending NATO, expelling US forces and one-sided nuclear disarmament had been followed?

Am I right in thinking you’re Irish? If so, delusionary neutralism is understandable.

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Donald Johnson 10.05.12 at 7:26 pm

Dsquared’s joke about naval coups was funny, but someone else mentioned Chile (which I haven’t looked up) and I’m going to mention Argentina, notably this guy

On the substance of the post, I’ll mostly stay out, but from my childhood reading about US naval warfare in the Pacific during WWII, battleships and cruisers were obviously less important than carriers and subs, but they were necessary to protect the carriers from enemy surface ships and provided some antiaircraft screening and they did participate in some surface battles with Japanese cruisers and battleships. The Japanese ships would otherwise have been free to bombard the Marines on Guadalcanal and cut off supplies, for example. Carriers and subs couldn’t do everything by themselves. Battleships also would do the initial bombardment of Japanese-held islands before the Marines landed, but my vague impression is that the Japanese mostly sat tight in their shelters while this was going on, so that might be a point in John’s favor.

Possibly someone said all this–I didn’t read much of the thread.

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JanieM 10.05.12 at 7:29 pm

…if North Korea just landed a few battalions of marines in Vermont…

…and the North Korean seathreat isn’t convincing…

Did someone postulate an alternate universe where Vermont has a seacoast?

Maybe I should just be glad that I haven’t had time to follow this thread closely.

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JanieM 10.05.12 at 7:29 pm

Or who knows, maybe my snark detector is on the fritz.

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Gene O'Grady 10.05.12 at 7:33 pm

Different kind of warfare, but the greatest of all American naval leaders, Chester Nimitz, was also the leader of the anti-loyalty oath forces on the UC Regents in the fifties.

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Donald Johnson 10.05.12 at 7:40 pm

“Did someone postulate an alternate universe where Vermont has a seacoast?”

They might have come in by way of Lake Champlain. North Korea or New York or one of those two-word places is on the western side.

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rf 10.05.12 at 7:41 pm

Stephen

I thought the consensus was that Stalin wanted to avoid confrontation with the West after World War 2 and was willing to sacrifice any aspirations on Western Europe to do so? To be honest I’m mainly going on Geoffrey Roberts book Stalin’s Wars, and I have a foggy memory of it at best – so I’ll accept someone with more knowledge telling me where it’s wrong.

“Am I right in thinking you’re Irish? If so, delusionary neutralism is understandable.”

You would be correct. Although I’d see it as less a delusion than a realistic assessment of what a nation of 4 million can achieve militarily.

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Glen Tomkins 10.05.12 at 7:54 pm

@189

How many of these Marine Corps are actually separate from their country’s main armies? Of those, how many still exist to do what Marines were originally intended for, military police on ships, and landing parties to secure harbors, versus have become like the US Marines, haivng the same mission as the regular army, to win main battles against opposing armies? And how many have separate Marine divisions or brigades because, like say the 82d Airborne, they have a separate main battle mission, they presumably specialize in beach landings where a parachute division would specialize in airdrops?

Are any of those on your list have the same peculiar arrangment as the US Marines. Our Marines have a separate command structure, have often separate equipment, have a separate training infrastructure, and all without even any remaining functional specialization.

Where the Marine thing is just an empty, traditional designation, like being a fusilier or a grenadier, or a Highland regiment (Sweet Jesus, have I just done myself in with that crack?) that would be one thing. That would involve little extra expense (just thoise different hats ajay talks about), and no risk of doctrinal or organizational incoherence.

If the Marine Corps in question has a separate functional role, like a parachute division, the utility of that role might be questionable, whether that utility justified the extra expense and the potential for incoherence it incurred wold be questinable, but at least that country wojuld be doing that specialization for a reason, wrong or right.

What purpose would ever be served by a separate command structure? Forget aobut the extra expense, though that’s not trivial, what would justify the risk of discohesion?

When you put all these separate irrationalities together, the separate command structure, the lack of any separate functionality,the gratuitous introduction of unnecessary equipment and doctrinal distinctions important only in the service of turf wars — is it really true that any nation on your list has anything at all like the US Marine Corps, God bless it?

Having a Marine Corps these days is a whole lot like having Zouaves was in the early 19th Century. A whole lot of contriues had Zouaves at that time. Many regiments of Zouaves were raised early in our Civil War. Marines are like Zouaves. They’re cool. They have a mean reputation. They have snazzy uniforms But no one can quite explain what they do that’s different from plain old boring regular infantry.

Like the Zouaves of the early American Civil War, I wouldn’t expect the Marine Corps and the Army to both survive long under the stress of a war we were actually hard-pressed to win, had to get serious to win. One of them will be abandoned as a useless duplication of effort and a danger to cohesion.

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JanieM 10.05.12 at 7:58 pm

Ah, Donald, of course, I get it now. They had already started where you would expect, on the west coast of the U.S., and worked their way across the continent to the western shores of Lake Champlain, yes?

Or maybe they managed to come in through the St. Lawrence Seaway without getting stopped along the way, and then…and then…google…okay, there’s the Chambly Canal linking Lake C. to the Seaway. I can just see the North Korean Marines navigating (so to speak) all that French-speaking countryside south of Montreal.

Kind of undercuts the premise of a sudden undefendable attack by sea, though, doesn’t it?

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GiT 10.05.12 at 7:59 pm

@ 190

“Is there a formal name for arguments of the type ‘your blood has been circulating normally for decades, so what’s the problem with volunteering to be a heart transplant donor?’

No, but there is a formal name for arguments of the type “ever since your blood has been circulating normally, you’ve had an appendix, so we better not remove that appendix.”

Logic has nothing to say about whether the Navy is a heart or an appendix. It’s probably a bit more like the kidneys. Maybe it’s like having 3 or 4 kidneys.

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Donald Johnson 10.05.12 at 8:07 pm

JanieM–You and I should start our own military consulting business. Invasion strategies, military forces as needed, buy one division, get one free–that sort of thing. A one time offer of military superiority on Lake Champlain, unless “Champy” shows up (Guarantees only valid against human forces using non-magical weaponry. Promises of superiority are rendered null and void in the event of attacks by dragons, legendary lake monsters, Nazgul, rings of power, or any apparatus from any other fantasy world.)

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JanieM 10.05.12 at 8:18 pm

@Donald –

Thanks for my laugh of the season, if not of the year. I think we’re in business.

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Roger 10.05.12 at 8:23 pm

DSquared:

‘Did you ever in your life hear of a naval coup?’

a) You really never heard of the Cruiser Aurora and the Kronstadt sailors?

b) The Kapp Putsch of 1920 had as its main military element Captain Ehrhardt’s Naval Brigade and after its formal disbandment this formed the basis of the Operation Consul terrorist network.

c) In any South American state big enough to afford large armed forces C20 military juntas generally consisted of the heads of the army, navy, air force and occasionally police.

When you have a disarmed populace a sailor or airman with a gun is every bit as dangerous as a soldier or policeman.

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Roger 10.05.12 at 8:41 pm

Glen Tompkins:

Like the Zouaves of the early American Civil War, I wouldn’t expect the Marine Corps and the Army to both survive long under the stress of a war we were actually hard-pressed to win, had to get serious to win. One of them will be abandoned as a useless duplication of effort and a danger to cohesion.

Lefties really do talk the most utter tosh about matters military….

What was WW2 if not a war that the US took seriously – and did it abolish the marine corps? – no it expanded it to a huge degree.

And if you try to No True Scotsman that away as WW2 wasn’t really a serious war (something that the American forces on the ground and at sea would hardly have agreed with through 1941-3 – although admittedly from 1944-5 they almost always had overwhelming force on their side), look at their Japanese opponents whose army and navy were so divided that a sane and moderate admiral like Yamamoto had to actually spend all his time at sea or in naval bases to avoid assassination by fanatical army officers who regarded him as a traitor.

So did the Japanese dissolve their quite substantial marine corps? – no the very rivalry between army and navy ensured that the navy needed their own ground forces for political as well as prestige reasons.

And as for ACW Zouaves they were just volunteer infantry regiments in silly romantic uniforms and they gradually disappeared because being formed in the early enthusiasm for war their terms of enlistment ended before the war did and they disbanded or more frequently they got merged with other regiments with sensible uniforms when casualties and desertion reduced to non-viable size.

They were never at any point a separate arm of either the USA or CSA military.

It’s not as if this military nerd stuff is difficult to find out any more – you can google any of it in minutes now.

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Hidari 10.05.12 at 8:43 pm

“And the answer ıs clearly “no”

Oh yes, clearly.”

Yup. That’s ıt. The US ıs bordered by the mighty military powers of Canada and Mexıco on two sides and by the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean on the other two. In reality the US has faced no threats for whıch a Navy might be needed as a defence force (i.e. from a sea invasion) since 1945* arguably and since 1992 most definitely.

*Actually arguably arguably sınce the early 19th century. The last country to actually attack and ınvade the US was the UK.

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TheSophist 10.05.12 at 8:43 pm

What? Over 200 responses and nary a mention of the cod wars? If any CTers are ever in Reykjavik (which you should be) the museum in the harbor is well worth a visit. The basic theme is “They had the whole Royal Navy, you know “Britannia rules the waves” and all that, and we had 3 fishing boats armed with giant pairs of garden shears. AND WE WON! Yay Iceland!”

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Ed 10.05.12 at 8:48 pm

I don’t have time to go through the entire thread, but Glen Tompkins at post 192 embarks on a fascinating exercise, imagining a defense policy for the United States based on repelling incursions into American territory. It may surprise people that this is NOT what the national security strategy of the United States (a public document that is downloadable from the internets) or what the forces under control of the Department of Defense are organized to do. In fact one argument in favor of the abolitionist position that the U.S. armed forces are so poorly aligned to a mission centered on defense of U.S. territory, that if you want to recenter the mission it may be better to just start over from scratch.

Actually you wouldn’t have to do that, since American police forces have been increasingly militarized and dispose of a considerable amount of firepower. You also have the Coast Guard. The DoD forces most directly involved in actual defense of American territory and airspace are probably the various National Guard bureaus, and they provide a foundation for a more modest military establishment.

There is also the issue of the overall strategic situation of the United States. There is not really a near-term or medium-term threat of a country seeking to occupy parts of the fifty states. The United States used to be the world’s foremost industrial power and had a disproportionate share of the world’s national resources. However, exploitation of the resources peaked some decades ago and the American elites have gone some distance towards deindustrializing the country. What is left is a semi-continent of 300 million people with a rather distinct culture (and many of them are armed), that borders on the territory of only two countries. One of these countries is a democratic federation with a tenth of the population of the U.S, which would be hard-pressed to assimilate even a small U.S. state without upsetting its domestic political equilibrium. The other country is finding it hard to keep control of its own territory. Strategically, the situation of the United States is comparable to that of the 17th century Ottoman Empire or 18th Century China, in that the ability of the elites to project power into other countries and regions may fluctuate, but there is simply no danger of them losing their core territories, even if the elites themselves are extremely corrupt, delusional and/ or disorganized.

That said, the U.S. armed forces currently have a very important role in providing jobs and transfer payments to millions of Americans, many of them from low-income backgrounds, and defense spending keeps alot of what is left of American industry and American middle management afloat. So even an abolitionist program would probably have to pension the soldiers, sailors, airmen, and bureaucrats off and would not save that much money initially. Even the cuts to the defense budget projected for next year are expected to have a devestating impact on the economy.

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JW Mason 10.05.12 at 8:53 pm

Hidari makes the essential point. The US Navy, like the rest of the US military, exists to wage offensive war, not defensive. The US has been the aggressor in the vast majority of wars in which it has participated since World War II. A world in which the US had less military capacity would be a more peaceful world.

For many people, unfortunately, the idea that the US ever engages in war except in response to unprovoked attack seems to be literally unthinkable. Thus we get things like North Korean forces landing in Vermont, when any conceivable future war between the two countries will take place on Korean soil. Which of these countries has actually invaded the other? But for a lot of Americans, our victims abroad are invisible. As Alain Supiot says,

The United States of America appears to have a special talent for suppressing the past, which never fails to betray itself in the most ingenuous way—for example, by using the Hiroshima epithet of ‘ground zero’ for the target of the 9/11 attacks; thus making America’s earlier victims in Japan disappear for a second time, so to speak.

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Anderson 10.05.12 at 9:02 pm

Another post in the continuing series, “Provocations That No One Should Have Taken to Mean What They Actually Said.”

Worth remembering before one comments on, or even reads, anything else by Quiggin.

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William Timberman 10.05.12 at 9:04 pm

Hidari @ 211

I’m not a great fan of the U.S. military fetishists, but I think it’s plausible to argue that the ability to enforce Kennedy’s blockade on Cuba in 1962 did deflect a genuine military threat to the U.S. without resorting to outright war with the Soviet Union. Given that there were already nuclear warheads in Cuba, it’s not inconceivable that they might have been used in the event of an attempt to invade Cuba.

It’s nice to have options, although I admit that the option of allowing Soviet missiles and their warheads to remain in Cuba while negotiating their withdrawal in exchange for withdrawing those the U.S. had encircling the Soviet Union might have been more reasonable.

On the other hand, to argue that such reasonableness was available in 1962 to a U.S. administration in the context of a Cold War already far gone into the senseless and bizarre is at best to argue out of context. The hope is to do better in the future, but at the moment that looks to be as forlorn a hope as any of the others that get hashed over here at CT.

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Anderson 10.05.12 at 9:06 pm

The US has been the aggressor in the vast majority of wars in which it has participated since World War II.

Korea – U.S. not aggressor

Vietnam – iffy, since you may recall that South Vietnam was not the one invading North Vietnam

Gulf War – U.S. not aggressor

Iraq War – yep, that was all us

Can you please help me out some on this “vast majority”? Looks more like 50% at best.

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Medrawt 10.05.12 at 9:07 pm

There really is a difference between “maybe the US doesn’t need eleven carrier battle groups to accomplish its strategic goals” [cosign!] and “what has the US ever gotten out of its Navy, anyway?” which makes the posture of surprise at “misreading” Quiggin’s original post a little annoying. But not as annoying as the move from “the Navy isn’t useless” to “you just like starting wars.” I’m only a minor participant in this conversation, but I absolutely cosign the statement “the US has been the aggressor in the vast majority of wars in which it has participated since World War II.” I wish that weren’t the case, but it is. I’m agnostic on “a world in which the US had less military capacity would be a more peaceful world,” but I’d certainly like it to be true. I also think the Navy as it currently stands isn’t optimized for the missions I think best justify its purpose.

Which still doesn’t get us to “who needs a navy?”

219

rf 10.05.12 at 9:12 pm

Stephen

This is interesting on the topic of Stalins intentions (which I found when I was looking to see if I misremembered the book)

http://www.chathamhouse.org/sites/default/files/public/International%20Affairs/2011/87_6roberts.pdf

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John Quiggin 10.05.12 at 9:16 pm

“There really is a difference between “maybe the US doesn’t need eleven carrier battle groups to accomplish its strategic goals” [cosign!] and “what has the US ever gotten out of its Navy, anyway?”

True, but if you actually read the post, you’ll see that the first of these is the conclusion, and the second a rhetorical question, to which some responses are actually offered, leading to the answer “not nothing, but not value for money either”.

221

mclaren 10.05.12 at 9:20 pm

The absurdities mouthed by various critics of Quiggin’s article lean heavily in favor of China’s alleged swaggering militarism. Such arguments betray a comprehensive ignorance of Chinese history. China has historically proven reluctant to pursue expansionist empire-building inasmuch as its geography predisposes it to the concentration of power in a single unified empire. China is so large and has historically had such trouble maintaining its internal unity, that the mandarinate which has historically ruled China (and does in a slightly different guise today) obsesses principally over dangers of internal rebellion, rather than dreams of naval conquest.
In point of fact, the Chinese decided to burn their exploration fleets in the 5th century and hardly looked back until external threats like the Opium War in the 1890s fought by Britain to force the Chinese to accept a debilitating British-run drug trade, and the Japanese invasion of Manchuria in the 1930s, required the Chinese to emerge slightly from their self-imposed isolation.
L2P reaches new heights of dementia with a post positively dripping with paranoia: in response to the reasonable question, “Aside from the strait of Hormuz, where is a US navy presence vital?” with:
“Off the top of my head, South America, Central America, the Pacific Coast, the South Pacific, East Asia, the North Atlantic, the South Atlantic, the North Pacific, the Arctic, and the Atlantic Seaboard.”
That’s just goofy. Guatamala is going to invade the U.S.? Our vulernable coastal California 7-11s will be overrun by unstoppable waves of Cubans with knives in their teeth? Tahiti will fall to the [fill in the blank: Chinese Communists? North Koreans? Syrians?] unless the US navy protects it? Thailand will be conquered and absorbed into the awesome empire of Burma without the U.S. navy to keep it safe? France will invade Britain unless our navy insures a Pax Americana? The Moroccans will swarm ashore in Spain unless American aircraft carriers put a stop to it? Washington state will fall to the relentless onslaught of the Esquimaux unless America has 11 carrier battle groups to repel them? Our fragile artctic bases will be overrun by Putin’s spetznatz unless we have nuclear subs to threaten retaliation? Manhattan will find itself under siege from the [trying to come up with some non-absurd possibility here…not getting anything…British? French? Newfoundlanders?] unless American aegis missile cruisers can stand them off?
This is gibberish. L2P’s post must have been satire. Right?
…Right?
(Unfortunately, in 2012 it has become hard to differentiate twixt satire and alleged realpolitik.)

222

Hidari 10.05.12 at 9:29 pm

@216

Fair enough but ıt’s worth thinking about it another way; from ‘the poınt of vıew’ of ınternatıonal law. Thıs vıew (whıch was oh-so-ımportant, we were told, when ıt came to the Gulf War) ıs rarely ıf ever dıscussed when ıt comes to Cuba. However:

“The British government had a very different view. Before the crisis, the issue of trade and shipping with Cuba had generated antagonism between London and Washington.

The suggestion that trade with Cuba should be restricted, for example, was dismissed by the prime minister, who told his foreign secretary, Lord Home, on 1 October: “There is no reason for us to help the Americans on Cuba.”

Three weeks later, the missile crisis presented a different and dramatic context.

Nevertheless, the British government’s legal officers – the lord chancellor, the attorney-general, the solicitor-general and the Foreign Office’s legal adviser – were unanimous that the American blockade was illegal under international law.”

It’s also worth thinkıng: how many tımes has Cuba attacked the US or tried to kill the US President? On the other hand…..

223

Hidari 10.05.12 at 9:30 pm

224

Hobble D. Hoy 10.05.12 at 9:42 pm

Nature abhors a vaccum. That should be blatently obvious. Who would you prefer to fill that vaccum in place of the United States Navy, hmm? China has the best intentions toward it’s neighbors right, no disagreements over resources there? Iran would do a fabulous job of ensuring the unimpeded flow of shipping through the Strait of Hormuz, cuz they would have nothing to gain at all by ransoming passage through that strategic waterway. Remember the last time the Iranians attempted to mine the gulf? Didn’t work out so well for them, did it?

Also, and this is important becuase this fact is completely lost on most casual observers: Maintaining 11 carrier groups is neccessary so that 3-4 can actually be deployed at any time. Persistence is key to power projection, because if you can’t maintain presence 100% of the time, the bad actors can simply wait to act until you go to the can to relieve yourself. At that point you find yourself caught with your pants down, as they say.

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Asteele 10.05.12 at 9:56 pm

I’m sure China is jumping at the Gate to try and maintain 11 carrier groups so that it can fill the vacuum of having 3-4 that can actually be deployed, so that they can stop Iran from mining the straights of Hormuz. I’m convinced. Ransoming passage through strategic waterways is all the rage, that must be why we’re doing it all the time.

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William Timberman 10.05.12 at 9:56 pm

Hidari @ 222

I can’t fault your analysis, or that of the British Foreign Office, nor would I contest the fact that prior U.S. actions toward Cuba were what traditionally any country able to defend itself would consider acts of war, much as U.S. and Israeli actions toward Iran are now.

Historical judgment, however, is not without its ambiguities about such situations. Not too many people would argue today that U.S. sanctions against Japan in the Thirties constituted a justification for Pearl Harbor, or that Lend-Lease and armed American escorts for British convoys justified a declaration of war by Germany on the U.S. There are some who do, of course, but the consensus tends the other way.

227

rootless_e 10.05.12 at 10:07 pm

Of course the cost of the US Navy presence in the Persian Gulf is vastly higher than the cost of transitioning to a petroleum lite economy.

228

Anderson 10.05.12 at 10:09 pm

Not too many people would argue today that U.S. sanctions against Japan in the Thirties constituted a justification for Pearl Harbor

Not that you meant the distinction necessarily, but I think the “sanctions caused Pearl Harbor” argument nowadays hinges more on the steps taken in 1941, not “in the Thirties.”

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Anderson 10.05.12 at 10:11 pm

Of course the cost of the US Navy presence in the Persian Gulf is vastly higher than the cost of transitioning to a petroleum lite economy.

Link, please.

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Medrawt 10.05.12 at 10:19 pm

‘True, but if you actually read the post, you’ll see that the first of these is the conclusion, and the second a rhetorical question, to which some responses are actually offered, leading to the answer “not nothing, but not value for money either”.’

I think if those were the conclusions you wanted people to draw from the original post you constructed it in an unfortunate manner. Re: the US, I find the way in which you frame naval (or military in general) power so as to dismiss the effects of spending all that money on weapons we rarely if ever get to use unconvincing. (I should acknowledge and then set aside the general critique of US military funding that it’s almost certainly true we’re not getting full value for our money because of the vagaries of the procurement process. There are more efficient ways for us to be spending our hundreds of billions of dollars on death machines than the one we actually engage in, but I think that’s a question better addressed to the US Congress than it is to the Pentagon.) If nothing else there’s a tension between what I took to be the intended critique of the post – the US is spending money in the name of a goal that isn’t being achieved by that spending – and the tenor of much of the commentary in your defense afterwards – the US is spending money in the name of a goal (military hegemony) that it shouldn’t be pursuing. And in regards to the actual effectiveness or not of our carrier groups as deterrents, I think you need to bring a lot more to the table if that’s going to be taken as obvious. Even aside from the specific effect of retasking a floating air force to sidle over towards a country that we think is getting a little too aggressive, I think it’s odd to dismiss the idea that the fact of US dominance in this arena hasn’t foreclosed whole avenues of strategic possibility to other countries. Whether the US should be pursuing this state of affairs is a debate very worth having, but the fact is that everyone with decision making power in the US gov’t at the moment thinks it is a worthwhile pursuit. If you think the goal isn’t even being achieved, it’d be helpful to come up with more in the way of argument. (And reducing your point to “the US is building the wrong kinds of ships, and maybe a few too many of them” rather deflates the grandeur of your post, and also replicates an argument being had permanently by the sort of people who argue about these things on the regular.)

As to other countries, they have their own ends to pursue and I can’t speak to them, but I presume the Chinese are really excited to deploy an aircraft carrier not just because it’s a status symbol but because they would like to wind up having a much better Navy – one that could rival the US in the Pacific, for example? – and they figure you gotta learn how to walk before, etc., etc.

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William Timberman 10.05.12 at 10:21 pm

Anderson @ 228

Point taken. The crucial measures were taken later than I indicated, but I was thinking of the effect of Nanjing on the hardening of American attitudes toward Japanese expansion prior to passage of the Export Control Act, and the full embargo of 1941.

Neither side was impressed with the other’s arguments, or in the case of Japan, daunted by the other side’s sanctions, and it was seen as likely on both sides in the late Thirties, that sooner or later, one way or another, war was coming.

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John Quiggin 10.05.12 at 10:26 pm

US imports from Persian Gulf countries are about 2 million barrels a day, or about 10 per cent of total

http://www.eia.gov/tools/faqs/faq.cfm?id=727&t=6

At a cost of $100/bbl, that’s about $70 billion a year.

Suppose you could reduce consumption by 10 per cent using energy efficiency measures or alternative energy sources, at a cost of $150 bbl (this seems generous to me, but feel free to substitute your own number). That’s sufficient to eliminate Persian Gulf imports.

That would entail an extra cost of around $35 billion a year, equal to a bit over 20 per cent of total naval expenditure, or 5 per cent of total military expenditure.

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Substance McGravitas 10.05.12 at 10:28 pm

Link, please.

There may be some irony in that one.

Whether the US should be pursuing this state of affairs is a debate very worth having, but the fact is that everyone with decision making power in the US gov’t at the moment thinks it is a worthwhile pursuit.

Countries relatively well-assured that they’re allies offload their problems onto the US and spend money on more useful things. As a result of being a global cop the US gets a subsidy to its own military industries that no amount of free trade will ever dislodge.

It’s hard for me to see how the US turns off the money-spigot or why allied countries would want it to.

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William Timberman 10.05.12 at 10:31 pm

I should probably add (to my 231) that given the diplomatic impasse in 1941, the big mistake of the Japanese government was to sell Pearl Harbor to itself as a tactical, rather than strategic decision, much as bombing Natanz might be sold to the morons in Congress today.

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rootless_e 10.05.12 at 10:32 pm

Stern’s paper pegs the cost of the U.S. military presence in the Gulf from 1976 to 2007 at $6.8 trillion. Last week, he estimated — at Battleland’s request — that the cost through 2010 was about $8 trillion

Read more: http://nation.time.com/2011/04/24/a-question-for-the-obama-administration/#ixzz28SvuWZ00

and here’s a start
http://www.nirs.org/alternatives/factoid6.htm

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Anderson 10.05.12 at 10:41 pm

the big mistake of the Japanese government was to sell Pearl Harbor to itself as a tactical, rather than strategic decision

Oh yeah, big time. Neither Japan’s leaders nor Hitler had the slightest grasp of American politics. Suppose (HOBBYHORSE WARNING) Japan had simply gone around the Philippines and left the U.S. alone while seizing the UK and Dutch colonies where the oil etc. were. No way would the U.S. have gone to war to prop up European colonialism. (/HOBBYHORSE)

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rf 10.05.12 at 10:42 pm

This is interesting on the ‘neccessity’ of a US presence in the Persian Gulf to prevent oil spikes. Can’t find the papers it’s based on at the minute/and don’t know how accepted the argument is

http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/ideas/articles/2011/02/13/crude_reality/?page=full

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Anderson 10.05.12 at 10:52 pm

You may be right about that, rf (237), but the memory of the gas lines in the 1970s is probably going to live on in the American political consciousness the way that Weimar inflation has lived on in Germany’s.

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John Quiggin 10.05.12 at 11:16 pm

“the memory of the gas lines in the 1970s is probably going to live on in the American political consciousness”

On that, at least, we can agree.

One way and another, that event has led the US into an amazing series of policy disasters. As this discussion shows, that doesn’t seem likely to change any time soon.

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mclaren 10.05.12 at 11:34 pm

@rf 237: “This is interesting on the ‘neccessity’ of a US presence in the Persian Gulf to prevent oil spikes. “

Didn’t work too well in 2008, did it?

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MPAVictoria 10.05.12 at 11:35 pm

“As this discussion shows, that doesn’t seem likely to change any time soon.”
Is that really what this discussion shows John? I love your work as an economist but from my vantage point this discussion has shown nothing but your lack of knowledge regarding the history of naval warfare and strategic policy. I whole heartedly agree that the US spends far too much on its military but that is a different question than whether the entire US navy has been a waste of money.

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John Quiggin 10.05.12 at 11:52 pm

“I whole heartedly agree that the US spends far too much on its military but that is a different question than whether the entire US navy has been a waste of money.”

And, as I pointed out in the update, I didn’t say it was, just that it wasn’t value for money.

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Total 10.05.12 at 11:58 pm

Re: update.

It’s hard to respond to the main argument of the post when the entire post is so mind-numbingly badly framed, ignorant, and (just to reinforce the point) ignorant. You’re really going down to the birther-style “I just want to ask questions so we can have a discussion?” rhetorical device?

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Chaz 10.06.12 at 12:53 am

I really like Glen Tomkins post at 164. And I actually did look up Canada’s standing army–it’s a glorious 64,000 men across all branches. So yeah, 50,000 could hold them off just fine.

As for the Chinese hordes threatening to land in California, how many ships does China have which are designed to carry infantry across the Pacific? And of these, how many have any kind of amphibious landing capability? Is it zero? Fine, I’m being picky. After we foolishly allow the Chinese to land soldiers in port on repurposed container ships, how big do we expect this expeditionary force to be? Should Jerry Brown call up the National Guard or can the LAPD handle it?

Oops, I forgot no one suggested scrapping the Air Force yet, so the container ships got blown up as they passed Guam. Unless someone wants to suggest that our Air Force is less capable than 1980’s Argentina’s.

But there’s still pirates! That’s probably why we’re building those 12th and 13th carriers. You see, right now the pirates have 13 ships, so we don’t have enough carriers to chase them all!

In reality, of all the potential pirates that might start up shop around the world, 97% are deterred by the police force of their home country. Another 2 percent get chased down by the local coast guard. Unfortunately Somalia doesn’t have police or a coast guard, so we have elected to send destroyers to take their place. This grand effort, including navies from around the world, has succeeded in reducing Somali piracy by 60%! Hopefully once they get more experience they will be able to rival the anti-piracy success of Kenya’s elite PIM units (Policeman In Motorboat).

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Salient 10.06.12 at 1:16 am

the Navy’s budget is around $150 billion a year. What does it deliver for that money?

The ONR and NRL spring to mind, but perhaps only because they’ve funded several of my friends’ research and hired away a number of them upon graduation. Probably there are equivalents in every other military branch, but the Navy seems to have a vague reputation of being where the smart sciency people go (among those who seek or accept a military career). I have no idea whether that impression is based on anything more than TV ads, but if that’s the case then maybe the ads are remarkably persistently effective, in that plenty of grad students specifically consider a Navy career but would scoff at or be put off by the prospect of a career in the Army. (I have no idea about the Air Force, but it seems like most of the good sciency jobs in aeronautics are farmed out to private-sector contractor companies.)

Happy to argue for the downsizing of any branch of the U.S. military in any available context, but arguing specifically against the Navy would leave me feeling a little antsy because I’d feel I had the weakest case, especially if the argument was more narrowly about transitioning funds Navy ←→ Army, say, instead of just lowering the total budget. But then, maybe the research is entirely independent of the Navy being an actual navy (or maybe not; we have nuclear submarines but not nuclear tanks or fighter jets, so far as I know).

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Eric H 10.06.12 at 2:49 am

I agree with most everything in the OP. However, I think many regular readers of this blog would normally tend to endorse statements like, “Ah, yet another example of how many of our most important technological breakthroughs come from big government. Integrated circuits, hybrid seed, internet… the list is endless.” Two of three of the breakthroughs in that list are the result of military spending (and if we went on, we would likely include GPS, jet travel, and many other military derivatives). Does anyone here agree that there is a cognitive dissonance between such pro-government cheerleading and pacifism?

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LFC 10.06.12 at 3:12 am

I’m inclined to think the US does not need 11 carriers (or carrier groups) but I’m not sure what the right number would be.

Btw, last February a commenter at my blog linked to this http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/ops/where.htm (Where are the carriers?) which shows the status of each carrier (deployed, maintenance etc) and seems to be updated and kept current. There’s no question these things are expensive. Costs ~$12 billion to build a carrier and apparently they have a life cycle of about 50 yrs. (wouldn’t swear to that last figure, but that’s what i’ve been told).

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Brett 10.06.12 at 3:23 am

I don’t agree that 11 carriers is a waste of money. 11 carriers in the whole fleet translates to 3-4 out in the actual arenas, 3-4 in dock getting repairs/etc, and 3-4 in transit between those two positions. It’s sort of like how the US military rotates segments in and out of active duty. If you figure the total number of areas where a carrier task force could be in terms of surface area, four active carriers (each in its own fleet) really isn’t that much.

@Salient

But then, maybe the research is entirely independent of the Navy being an actual navy (or maybe not; we have nuclear submarines but not nuclear tanks or fighter jets, so far as I know).

The science can come first, but a lot of the actual technology develops in response to the engineering requirements (or at least it did historically). So, for example, the President and national security policymakers say, “We need ICBMs to deliver our nuclear warheads”, and then the military guys say, “We need miniaturized integrated circuits for our Minuteman missiles – get them ASAP, we’re willing to spend a lot of money to do it”.

As for nuclear tanks and nuclear jets, they actually did do research into the latter. The problem was that the weight of the shielding necessary to keep your crews from dying due to radiation sickness was too much to make it worthwhile. My guess is that’s it’s probably the same thing for nuclear tanks.

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MPAVictoria 10.06.12 at 3:29 am

“Isn’t the US Navy more like the award-winning hospital with no patients in Yes Minister?”

Seems to imply you think the Navy is pretty useless John.

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rickstersherpa 10.06.12 at 3:50 am

If you are a world hegemonic power that wishes to to project power around the world, particularly where it comes to shipping vast quantities of goods and resources to and from the homeland, some sort of Navy like the current one would be necessary. Of course if the U.S. withdrawals from that role, Professor Quiggin, I expect your country’s naval expenditures would start climbing as you would have to deal with regional rivalries with India, Indonesia, and China. Our foolishness is your boon, so to speak.

The U.S. waged an aggressive war of conquest in WWII. It might have been sparked by Pearl Harbor and the initial Japanese aggression, but from Guadacanal on the U.S. waged a ferocious attack. The U.S. offensive strategy since WWII just is a continuation that mindset that it is always preferable to fight war (an irrational, crazy, hateful, way of mass murder) on someone else’s homeland as opposed to one’s own. The British taught us this lesson during the Revolution and 1812 experience, and our own experience during the Civil War confirmed it (the North, where hardly any battles were fought, came out very well economically, the South, not so much).

A real waste of money is a Navy that is only second best, as the Germans discovered with the Imperial Fleet during 1914-18. If those naval guns had placed in shore batteries, augmented by torpedo boats and submarines, and the manpower and money spent on the Army, perhaps the Germans would have not felt so weak versus the combined forces of Russia and France that they would not have gambled everything on the Schiefflen plan.

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LFC 10.06.12 at 3:56 am

Brett @248

I don’t agree that 11 carriers is a waste of money. 11 carriers in the whole fleet translates to 3-4 out in the actual arenas, 3-4 in dock getting repairs/etc, and 3-4 in transit between those two positions. It’s sort of like how the US military rotates segments in and out of active duty. If you figure the total number of areas where a carrier task force could be in terms of surface area, four active carriers (each in its own fleet) really isn’t that much.

The link I gave at 247 shows 4 currently deployed and one ‘forward deployed’ for a total of 5 at the moment “in the actual arenas.” Is that too much? Just right? Not enough? One can only answer these questions after an assessment of what it is that carriers actually do when they are at sea (deployed) and how important what they do is. But I start from the (eminently reasonable) assumption that the chance of a great-power war (incl. US-China) is v. low. Then one wd have to assess what else carriers are good for, wh wd involve assessing what the planes, missiles etc they carry are good for and how they’re used. It may turn out on analysis that a lot of the (arguably) useful things the Navy does, i.e. humanitarian relief, piracy interdiction etc., do not, or need not, centrally involve carriers. So you can’t just say 4 or 5 “really isn’t that much” and leave it at that. Much more in the way of analysis wd be required. When I said I’m inclined to think 11 may not be needed, the word “inclined” was deliberate: I’m open to persuasion that 11 are needed. But just saying 3 or 4 or 5 at sea “isn’t that much” doesn’t persuade me.

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LFC 10.06.12 at 4:00 am

See also comments upthread 157 and 167.

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chris 10.06.12 at 4:01 am

The US has been the aggressor in the vast majority of wars in which it has participated since World War II. A world in which the US had less military capacity would be a more peaceful world.

Non sequitur, even aside from the fact-checking already delivered by others, to which you can add Bosnia: US intervened and maybe escalated but didn’t start the war, Libya: ditto, and Afghanistan: US action was definitely in response to provocation; you can classify the provocation as not technically military if you really want to, but most would regard that as mere sophistry.

Most wars may be initiated by the country with the biggest military because it thinks it can get away with it, but if the US didn’t have the biggest military someone would. What makes you think that someone would initiate fewer wars than the US?

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LFC 10.06.12 at 4:08 am

To put the question differently: to what extent is the current size and org. of the US Navy a result of assumptions that are quite divorced from reality (e.g. the notorious must-be-able-to-fight-2-major-wars-simultaneously)?

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Brett 10.06.12 at 4:24 am

@LFC

Then one wd have to assess what else carriers are good for, wh wd involve assessing what the planes, missiles etc they carry are good for and how they’re used. It may turn out on analysis that a lot of the (arguably) useful things the Navy does, i.e. humanitarian relief, piracy interdiction etc., do not, or need not, centrally involve carriers.

If it were just humanitarian relief and piracy interdiction, we probably wouldn’t need the the full-blown carrier groups. You could have smaller carriers and destroyers do a lot of that.

I think the main purpose is keeping the sea lanes open, and keeping other nations from threatening to close the sea lanes, do stuff like threatening to mine other country’s ports, or escalate naval clashes beyond what we see now (where it’s stuff like Chinese “fishermen” harassing other country’s military boats in the South China Sea). Carriers are a very potent way of doing that, since you can bring a lot of air power to bear without needing bases nearby on land. And if you want to cover all the major sea lanes and areas, you probably need 4-5 different fleets to do it operating simultaneously. Think of the possible arenas: North Atlantic, Northeast Asia, Southeast Asia, the Indian Ocean, the Persian Gulf, the eastern Mediterranean, and so forth.

I think there’s a better rationale for that than there is for a large Army, which is more or less superfluous in this day and age unless you actually do plan to have them overseas fighting in various wars. Without those kinds of interventions, you also don’t really need a stand-alone Air Force aside from strategic deterrent (such as a means for delivering nuclear warheads, and possibly some home-based fighters in case other people use bombers).

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Asteele 10.06.12 at 4:43 am

253 we don’t have to look for a generic someone, we can look at the actual someone(s) and the answer is because they don’t have nearly the ability to project force like the united states does. China, (someone) couldn’t invade Iraq. This might be because of their secret nefariousness, but then again it might be because they don’t have this deep desire to lose wars with everyone all the time. You don’t see any Americans north of the 38th do you.

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Gene O'Grady 10.06.12 at 4:47 am

I’ve only read about half the comments, but I’m curious if anybody has mentioned that Professor Quiggin’s ideas about abolishing the Navy were very much where things were heading ca. 1947, resulting in something called the “Revolt of the Admirals,” about which I know very little, some really weird designs for aircraft carriers (never built) that could carry nuclear bombers, and were finally squashed by the actual experience of the Korean War, in which the conventional navy built around the Baltimore class cruisers and the Essex and FDR class carriers, plus the sealift capacity, basically bailed out the rather poorly performing army.

It may be that both my parents were World War II naval officers, but it’s my impression that the leadership and professionalism of the navy is usually higher than that of the army and air force. Certainly in the Second World War if you exclude Eisenhower and Marshall the army leadership was far inferior to the naval leadership, perhaps especially at staff level.

Back to the 1946-8 period, the idea behind getting rid of the navy was that widespread use of the nuclear weapon monopoly would make it obsolete. Perhaps good that that didn’t succeed.

For what it’s worth, I would abolish both the marines and the air force, moving the tactical/ground support elements of the latter back to the army and placing the strategic (nuclear) portion under the Secretary of State — of course depending on who that is that they might be a lot more warlike than the military!

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Gene O'Grady 10.06.12 at 4:48 am

You’ve all probably had enough of me, but I forgot to mention what a kick it was as a kid in San Francisco about 1953 going to the big parades on Market Street with the humongous floats depending aircraft carriers with full complements of aircraft advertising the navy.

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Andthenyoufall 10.06.12 at 5:47 am

If I said “aren’t welfare recipients pretty lazy?” and then backtracked into, “well, human beings are a shifty lot, aren’t we all pretty lazy?”, I think I would get accused of being provocative, and then some. Saying “The navy is worthless” when you mean “the u.s. spends too much on military aggression, toys for generals, and playing officer krupke to the world” rubs people the wrong way for the same reasons: the former insinuates a set of comparisons and an agenda, the latter is sort of banal.

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Maggie 10.06.12 at 6:30 am

We need to be able to fight two wars at once because there are two oceans constituting the strategic depth which has kept actual battle away from our shores for so long. But of course the depth isn’t ours unless we defend it. Ideally we need never fire a shot, but the defense is useless unless everyone knows that we will act if necessary – which, if it happened, would be the fighting of the proverbial war or two. East and West. It’s already worked once so I don’t see why it’s supposed to be such a ridiculous idea. Unless the real objection is a moral one about nasty Yankees and their guns, but that’s a whole different conversation. Whatever you think of the present geopolitical order of things, the US Navy is essential to it. It’s not there by accident. Take it off the board and you’ve no hope of controlling what happens next, no guarantee that it will go how you like, materially or morally.

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Hidari 10.06.12 at 7:16 am

@William Timberman

Well yes things obvıously look a lot more complıcated ıf we go back prior to 1945 and yes I am glad that World War 2 was fought and yes I am glad that Germany and Japan lost. I am not a Nazi.

However, and gıven that general context, ıt’s worth rememberıng that WW2, like all wars, was a prolonged exercıse ın grotesque hypocrısy, from the (segregated) Amerıan Army (and navy) fıghtıngagaınst Germany racısm to the objectıons to Japanese “ımperıalısm” ın attackıng Pearl Harbour (on the Amerıcan colony of Hawaii) to the fact that a major Brıtısh (and French) war aım was recoverıng theır colonies ın the Mıddle and Far East and, of course, objectıng to Nazı war crımes and genocıde when a Key Ally was the Sovıet Unıon under Stalin…..logically speaking the Allıes’ claıms to moral superıorıty were very very far from watertıght.

So; yes things look dıfferent ıf one goes back to the 1930s. But ıt’s not because WW2 was a battle between Good and Evil. It’s because WW2 was a battle between Evil and Slightly-Less-Evil. I’m still glad ‘we’ won but let’s get a sense of proportion here.

After 1945 the case looks even murkier… although after 1992 it doesn’t look murky at all.

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GIMP 10.06.12 at 8:24 am

A better question is: why maintain anything but a navy?

Having a huge land army is great is your plan is to occupy foreign lands. It also leads to war plans that involve occupying foreign lands.

We would be better off today if we had destroyed and killed, then went away without an occupation in both Iraq and Afganistan.

The navy has subsurface, surface, air, land, and special operations forces. One expeditionary strike force has more combat power than many of the world’s militaries. It has its own excellent infantry (Marines), strike fighters, AEW, attack helos, special forces (SEALs), a sophisticated integrated air defense system, subs, and surface combatants with TLAM.

It’s a good enough force to do some real damage, and it has its own floating home, so it doesn’t have to take hostile land to build forts for self protection. You send naval forces in, they break things, then they go home. They can repeat this until everything is broken if they need to, and we don’t end up with hundreds of thousands of soldiers occupying nations for decades.

Naval forces can’t go in, overthrow governments, and occupy nations in perpetuity. Only a very large army can do that, and really is that even a smart thing to do at all if you’re not planning on simply taking the land and making it yours? What a navy can do is project power very quickly and very violently, when and where we need it.

For the money, the navy is the most cost efficent force we have. Mobile, able to respond rapidly to everything from a tsunami to full scale state vs. state battle to the death. The navy is useful at all times to go around the world and build good will, help with civil disaster relief, protect shipping, and provide credible combat forces a few days away from anywhere, any time.

The real question is “why do we maintain anything but a navy?”

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christian_h 10.06.12 at 8:38 am

Reading Anderson at 217 it does become a bit hard to convince oneself that this is a blog where liberals hang out, not a PNAC message bard. Besides ignoring most US wars (maybe because they weren’t called “wars”in the US), like the invasion of Honduras in the 50ies or the attackson Grenada and Panama, the 4 wars he does list are classified in a curious fashion: by asserting that is there was some kind of war in a place prior to US involvement, that involvement cannot have been aggressive in nature. A reasonable person might ask what on earth the US was doing in Korea, fr example – last I checked it is nt part of the US.

Even so, he gets Vietnam very wrong. The US aggression was originally against the people of South Vietnam.

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William Timberman 10.06.12 at 9:17 am

Hidari, judgments such as yours — I’m thinking about the accusations of hypocrisy, etc. — are always to some extent ahistorical. They’re useful largely because judging the past with our eyes open can be a good way to assess how we got where we are, and what we should do differently in the future, assuming that our goal is not merely to atone for the sins of the past, but to keep from repeating them.

I’d never argue that we should forget how the U.S. came to be the victim of an attack in Hawaii, of all places. An even better example might be the Philippines, where U.S. atrocities were well enough documented at the time they were taking place, and were also recent enough, one would think, to give some context to U.S. pretensions to be the saviors of the Philippine populace in 1942-44. On the other hand, each generation has to maneuver within the confines of a world already made before it appears on the scene, and one’s choices as an individual are invariably even more constrained by circumstances not easily escaped without something akin to divine intervention. We do the best we can, but I do agree with you that, at very least, we should refrain from lying to ourselves about the choices we’ve made. We’ll never have any hope of breaking the circle until we do.

When we talk about navies and world order in the same breath, we’re tacitly accepting the idea that somebody will have a navy big enough to prevent lesser navies from bullying those without navies at all. The American presumption is that the U.S. should — come hell or high water — have the biggest navy, and that it should have the biggest navy because only the U.S. is capable of conceiving and defending a just world order. In 1945 this nonsense was more widely accepted than it is now, but it was nonsense then, and remains nonsense now. Unfortunately, the U.S. government continues to be addicted to this nonsense, and seems unlikely to give it up unless, somehow, it is forced to. This is a very sad and very dangerous addiction, and before we start discussing the technical details of keeping sea lanes open, or military tables of organization, we should take a moment to acknowledge as much, as you have attempted to do here.

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john b 10.06.12 at 9:24 am

GIMP’s point at 262 is a good one. Naval occupations, in this sense, are like dsquared’s naval coup upthread: while someone here can probably cite one, they don’t create the same impetus for doing Really Stupid Things as a standing army.

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Craig 10.06.12 at 11:36 am

“…a rhetorical question, to which some responses are actually offered…”

Well, one thing we can take away from this discussion is the discovery of a new principle in argumentation: the semi-rhetorical or selectively rhetorical question: it is substantive to the extent that the first speaker chooses to engage with it, and rhetorical to the extent that the responders do.

267

rootless_e 10.06.12 at 11:56 am

The ONR and NRL spring to mind,
—–

How many American economists even know what the ONR is, let alone the role it has played in the US post WWII economy?

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John Quiggin 10.06.12 at 12:03 pm

@rootless_e I’ve seen thanks to ONR on quite a few papers in econ and related fields, so I’d guess US economists are generally aware of it.

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Watson Ladd 10.06.12 at 12:54 pm

Hidari: If you ignore the role the US Navy has in providing stability and protecting global commerce, then yes it looks one sided. The Navy works in such a way it doesn’t have to be used: if it was much smaller, other people would be emboldened to use their navies to do bad things. Imagine Southeast Asia without the US Navy in control of the sea lanes. The effect would probably be a few wars.

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rootless_e 10.06.12 at 1:11 pm

The primary role of the US Navy is to prevent Australian aggression against the USA. Some years back, they slacked off and allowed Murdoch into the country, and we continue to suffer from that. Imagine the effects of hundreds of Murdochs – and only a thin blue line floats between us and that dystopian nightmare.

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Barry 10.06.12 at 2:40 pm

But rootless, can’t that job be done by Murdoch-seeking drones? :)

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rootless_e 10.06.12 at 2:56 pm

Barry: This calls for a wider ranging more provocative debate. Freddy de Boer perhaps could be called in to judge the morality of proposals, with an ONR grant provided to the winner and a stuffed platypus to the runners up.

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john b 10.06.12 at 3:00 pm

Rootless: In which case, I’m concerned at your suggestion that the NRL plays an important role in the US economy. The levels of Australian plot occurring are frankly disturbing.

Does this mean that Prof Q is an agent for the NRL and the Murdoch family, using his privileged position to undermine the Navy’s thus far successful defen(c/s)e against Antipodean interlopers?

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rootless_e 10.06.12 at 3:06 pm

john b : Like Jack Welch, I am just asking questions here. My comment was intended as a provocation, to get people to think about whether the standard justifications for spending lots of money on naval power are just smokescreens that obscure the real danger.

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LFC 10.06.12 at 3:51 pm

Since Gene O’Grady @257 mentioned ‘the revolt of the admirals,’ I’ll add another historical note.

As late as 1890 the US had a small navy (though it was starting to grow), something noted by Oscar Wilde, whom one usually doesn’t think of in this connection (or at least I don’t). In From Wealth to Power (1998), p.47, Fareed Zakaria observes parenthetically that:

After touring America in 1890, Oscar Wilde had his “Canterville Ghost” react with surprise when told by an American that her country had “no ruins and no curiosities.” ” ‘No ruins! no curiosities!’ ” replied the Ghost; ‘you have your navy and your manners.’ “

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Anderson 10.06.12 at 6:05 pm

“The U.S. waged an aggressive war of conquest in WWII. “

If “conservative” just means “not the dumbest motherfucker in the room,” then fine, I will be a conservative.

… Yes, the US got on the imperialism bandwagon in the first half of the 20th, which was a crime and a blunder. WW2, which despite Hidari was not fought against racism or imperialism (we would have tolerated both had no one attacked or declared war on us), did nonetheless discredit both of those isms.

As Mazower pointed out, the shocking thing about Germany was how it treated Europeans like “natives.” Mutatis etc, same with Japan’s seizure of European colonies.

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TM 10.06.12 at 8:06 pm

-Mariner witnesses the painful and dramatic destruction of his boat.

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Chris williams 10.06.12 at 8:38 pm

The Bolshevik coup was a naval coup insofar as once you’ve got a battleship onside, you have by definition a group of trained technicians who can operate the water, power and comms services of a major city. This of course works both ways: if you’re in government and the sailors are loyal, there’s your strikebreakers.

Quite a lot has already been said in this thread, but I feel a few more points need to be made. First, battleships were not useless in WW2, as the crews of Bismarck, Scharnhort, Jervis Bay, Pola, Fuime, and Hood, inter alia, would attest, were they alive. Second, the Allied way of war in WW2 was entirely predicated on command of the sea. No navies, very different war, and possibly one where the baddies win. John Q, you really ought to read the relevant chapter of David Edgerton’s ‘Britain’s War Machine’, which is very good on this. Third, post cold war the capitalist countries have been tooling up their capacity to project power globally, by maintaining (USA), increasing (UK) or introducing (FRG) such capacity. The problem with this isn’t that it’s ineffective: quite the reverse. Personally I’ll be happy with the RN when it’s got 8 SSNs and not a lot else: but this position is best defended on ethical grounds, not those of cost.

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Jake 10.06.12 at 10:24 pm

Oddly enough, there is a strong case that the US gets the most net value from the Navy of all the services. The US benefits massively from global international trade, not least in oil. The US also likes to go on far-flung military adventures. All of this requires the safe and reliable transport of stuff by sea. Ensuring that safe and reliable transport needs a navy of some sort. Shipping is easier to disrupt than protect, so being able to protect shipping around the world is going to take a very big navy.

Maybe John was trying to start a discussion using the principle that the bed way to get an answer is not to ask a question but to make an incorrect assertion. But it’s pretty hypocritical to do that and then complain that everyone is saying you’re wrong.

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gordon 10.07.12 at 12:14 am

Hidari (at 261) and Wm. Timberman (at 264).

Hidari: “…WW2, like all wars, was a prolonged exercıse ın grotesque hypocrısy…”

We shouldn’t get confused between the real reasons for the war and the justifications for it. Claims that the war was fought for freedom and liberty and individual rights and so on fall mostly into the latter category. From the British viewpoint, I think the real reasons are best understood as an old-fashioned war of nationalities, British + allies vs. Germany + allies, with the British trying to prevent the domination of Europe by a Power hostile to British interests both in Europe and the world. Failure would have reduced GB to a German satellite, and one which would be treated badly and exploitatively, a status they wanted to avoid. There are parallels with the long war against Napoleonic France.

I am not an American and am a little diffident about the US’ reasons for supporting GB with Lend-Lease and in other ways prior to Pearl Harbour and the German declaration of war, but it seems to me that the US Govt. of the day was also reluctant to see Europe dominated by a Germany thoroughly militarised and probably intent on taking over the French and British Empires wholesale. It would not have been a regime friendly to the US, it would have been very powerful and very warlike and its global ambitions were apparently limitless.

Things like the Atlantic Charter and the UN Charter, by contrast, were justifications aimed basically at public opinion, and were/are certainly easy to poke holes in on the grounds of inconsistency and hypocrisy.

Wm. Timberman: “The American presumption is that the U.S. should — come hell or high water — have the biggest navy, and that it should have the biggest navy because only the U.S. is capable of conceiving and defending a just world order. In 1945 this nonsense was more widely accepted than it is now, but it was nonsense then, and remains nonsense now”.

There again I suspect that the justification is getting confused with the real reasons. A Govt. may try to sell “a just world order” to taxpayers, but the real reasons for such a gigantic US Navy seem more to be the protection and extension of very material US interests, which include the interests of those who annually make a fortune from the MIC.

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Mao Cheng Ji 10.07.12 at 12:22 am

278 “Shipping is easier to disrupt than protect, so being able to protect shipping around the world is going to take a very big navy.”

But maybe it should be the International Navy, like the Interpol. Because protecting shipping around the world is an international utility. In which case, arguably, the US is, indeed, wasting its resources by providing it.

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faustusnotes 10.07.12 at 8:43 am

John, I think your rewrite still fundamentally misrepresents or underplays the role of the Navy. Just looking at this paragraph, for example:

As in the original post, I conclude that the fact that few such operations have taken place in the 60 odd years since the end of WWII suggests that a capacity to undertake them is likely to have a very low payoff in the future. On the other hand, the cost is substantial – lots of countries spend up to a third of their defense/war budgets on their navies. In particular, as I mentioned in the previous post, China’s recent acquisition of an aircraft carrier (without, at present, any actual capacity to carry aircraft) looks exceptionally ill-advised. It’s very hard to see how this is going to be more than a vanity item for many years to come. Moreover, missile technology (including China’s) is advancing all the time, making the requirements for defending such a ship more and more demanding. So, I repeat my conclusion that the benefit-cost ratio of an independent naval capacity is close to zero for most countries.

I see a lot wrong with it. First of all, it seems uncontroversial that a lot of countries should spend “up to a third” of their budget on their navy, since most countries have three armed forces. Furthermore, for countries like Indonesia, Japan or much of Scandinavia, where protection of sea approaches is a crucial part of defense strategy, surely “up to a third” of military spending would be potentially too little?

You then mention the Chinese carrier, and again misrepresent the circumstances of its development, as if the Chinese are so stupid that they are actually fielding a weapon that doesn’t function. You can’t present this carrier without considering the context of military development, which sees technology being improved across the board, and potentially disfunctional in many areas as they train and develop. You also can’t present it without considering China’s full strategic context, or its recent military history – which you don’t discuss at all. You can’t expect a nation that was defeated and occupied by naval powers twice in 100 years to be sanguine about its navy, especially when one of those naval powers (Japan) is its closest maritime neighbour. Finally, in that paragraph you also mention missile technology, but in the absence of consideration of China’s strategic priorities that’s unhelpful. Maybe this aircraft carrier is actually aimed at remaining ahead of the ASEAN nations rather than direct conflict with the USA? Or maybe the Chinese have different opinions of the usefulness of missile technology to you – or maybe this carrier is an intermediate stage, or part of a mixed naval strategy that you aren’t privy to. You don’t even speculate about this.

I think this post still misses much of the strategic context for naval power and its historical importance in the Pacific. It also has been pointed out above that there is no such thing as a strategic status quo, and if the big powers don’t field a fleet capable of doing the things they need, someone else will grab that space from them. China is increasingly dependent on maritime trade from farflung partners, especially Africa and Australia, and this means that – just as Japan did in WW2 – they will need to be able to defend far flung sea lanes in the event of major conflict. If they cede that strategic space Japan, India or the USA will take it by default. You need to talk about that rather than just ignoring it.

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Tim Worstall 10.07.12 at 9:56 am

I’m not wholly sure the rewrite is all that much better:

“Since 1945, there has been very little naval warfare in the traditional sense. So, any claims about the capacity of naval power are based on hypothetical reasoning rather than empirical evidence. The one substantial exception, the Falklands War, is scarcely encouraging for advocates of a surface navy. The Royal Navy came to the edge of defeat against the air force of a Third World dictatorship[3] , operating at the limits of its range.”

You’re using this to show that navies aren’t worth it. The same story could be used to show that having a great big navy is a rather sensible thing to have if you’d like to make sure that Third World dictatorships cannot take over small islands thousands of miles from the core nation.

“Coming to the question posed in the post, I’m going to try to avoid confusion by talking about countries other than the US first, and by specifying that “navy” refers to a capacity for naval combat (including attacks on land-based opponents, and a capacity for amphibious assaults) undertaken outside home waters. I’m excluding the various functions that might be performed, for example, by a Coast Guard or transport units carrying supplies to ground forces.”

But one of the core functions of a navy is to protect transport units carrying both ground forces and supplies to them.

“So, carrier strike groups can be used as a threat without any breach of international law. On a few occasions, this capacity has been used effectively, for example, with cruise missiles against Serbian forces during the Balkans wars. But these examples are rare, and have commonly involved tacit or overt co-operation with ground forces, which is not always feasible.”

You’re missing Sierra Leone and Liberia again.

“Sierra Leone is the largest independent military operation carried out by Britain since Margaret Thatcher dispatched a British task force to the Malvinas (Falklands Islands) in 1982. Its forces are made up of 800 members of the Parachute Regiment, 40 Special Air Service operatives and a further 600 Royal Marines stationed offshore in combat readiness. The aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious, the helicopter assault ship Oregon, three support ships and a frigate are stationed in the capital Freetown’s harbour.”

Useful things navies. I’d certainly regard getting rid of Foday Sankoh as a win for civilisation.

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John Quiggin 10.07.12 at 9:58 am

@faustusnotes&Tim Thanks for engaging in civilised discussion, and inviting a response. For the moment, though, I’m going to let the post speak for itself and leave debate to others.

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rf 10.07.12 at 11:45 am

A few things that Farley, who does seem like a decent sort, mentioned over at LGM (I’ll retract any misunderstandings etc); (1) The US Navy isn’t designed for maritime maintenance missions, (anti piracy, anti drug smuggling etc) but is primarily built to project power; (2) We really don’t know how a lack of US hegemony in international waters would affect trade etc, although obviously we can speculate reasonably. Most arguments here seem to assume dire consequences that wouldn’t necessarily occur; (3) Most successful maritime maintenance activities such as anti –piracy have, like military interventions, been collaborative, with some form of international legitimacy. Again multilateralism isn’t an easy thing to sell when the knee jerk response to any criticism of your military is to bend your knee towards the JCOS. A mature democracy should despise every branch of their armed forces with abandon. All of this is wrapped up in an antiquated view of the international environment, so it’s worth bearing in mind that (4) The US faces no serious threats to its security, by any reasonable interpretation of what a serious security threat is.
There are also obviously other ways to deter threats. So it doesn’t hold that a huge reduction in the size of the US Navy would lead to the sinking of US boats, attacks on US citizens abroad, interruptions in US trade. There are still the potential uses of sanctions, access to the US market, the other branches of the armed forces and diplomacy, to begin with.

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Tim Worstall 10.07.12 at 11:49 am

BTW, that Sandy Woodward point about the RN having fought pretty much to a standstill. It wouldn’t have got that far without the US Navy. Essentially Caspar Weinberger opened up the US Navy stores to whatever the RN wanted. The UK didn’t have the stock to equip the fleet.

Just couldn’t have been done without taking from US stores. On this logistical point it’s possible to at least partly chalk the Falklands (for good or ill, whatever your own opinions about what happened) up to the US Naval budget.

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rf 10.07.12 at 11:58 am

Google tells me the acronym for Joint Chiefs of Staff has no O in it, so I’ll correct before the pedants attack!

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William Timberman 10.07.12 at 1:46 pm

gordon @ 280

There again I suspect that the justification is getting confused with the real reasons. A Govt. may try to sell “a just world order” to taxpayers, but the real reasons for such a gigantic US Navy seem more to be the protection and extension of very material US interests, which include the interests of those who annually make a fortune from the MIC.

That may be so, but in all modesty, I don’t think I’m the one confusing them. I understand that Realpolitik and domestic political explanations/justifications are not the same thing, and that the former is more likely what lies behind the bloated U.S. naval forces than the latter. If I were discussing real reasons, rather than the jingoism and imperial pretension that underlie them, I’d have to agree with JQ’s assertion that we aren’t getting our money’s worth. Then again, neither did Spain with her bullion galleons, nor England with her dreadnoughts. Sooner or later modesty will be forced on the U.S., just as it was on Spain and England. We may not have heard it here first, but I’m grateful to JQ that we did hear it here, despite all the hoo-ha about Inchon, etc.

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Watson Ladd 10.07.12 at 2:39 pm

Imagine the US abandons the defence of its allies. That’s what military cuts on the scale some of the commentators are imagining would mean. Regional conflicts stabilised by the US taking both sides in effect would become more critical. Israel is probably going to feel a lot less safe: A world in which Saudi Arabia has its own military capacity rather then taking secondhand US supplies is one in which it develops parity with Israel.

Europe changes in interesting ways. The EU will be forced to have a common defence policy.

The chances of conflict in Southeast Asia rise, and with it disruption to trade. Each country now has to build its own navy, and has more freedom of action then when they relied on the US.

I’m not sure these changes are a net positive. The US pays less, but at the cost of increased global instability, which may inflict economic damage. The countries paying more are generally smaller and poorer.

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Will McLean 10.07.12 at 3:01 pm

” They helped in building up the fever that led to war, but played at most a secondary role in the war itself.”

No. The British fleet did exactly what it was supposed to: it allowed Britain to control the seas, maintaining its essential maritime commerce, blockading the enemy and allowing the Allies to seize all of Germany’s overseas possessions. If it had had an inferior fleet at Jutland it would have lost the war.

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Anderson 10.07.12 at 4:06 pm

290 is of course 100% correct. Britain’s commerce was in enough danger from Germany’s submarines; imagine if the surface navy hadn’t been able to bottle up the High Seas Fleet.

Naval superiority is not a luxury for an island.

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Tim Worstall 10.07.12 at 4:39 pm

“290 is of course 100% correct. Britain’s commerce was in enough danger from Germany’s submarines; imagine if the surface navy hadn’t been able to bottle up the High Seas Fleet.”

Precisely why Germany built the submarines of course…..

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Alex 10.07.12 at 4:52 pm

The Kapp Putsch of 1920 had as its main military element Captain Ehrhardt’s Naval Brigade and after its formal disbandment this formed the basis of the Operation Consul terrorist network….When you have a disarmed populace a sailor or airman with a gun is every bit as dangerous as a soldier or policeman

Germany in the 1920s was very much *not* an unarmed populace. There were literally hundreds of thousands (possibly getting on for a million) of unofficial paramilitary goons running about with guns, killing people and blowing stuff up and, you know, trying to overthrow the state every five minutes. Equipment included mortars, crew-served machine guns, light armoured vehicles, and even the occasional aircraft (although more for the leader to cut a dash in, and perhaps a bit of observation, than for any directly violent purpose).

Now, most of that kit originally belonged to the army, and some of it had even been deliberately distributed out of the army’s surplus stocks, but quite a lot was either taken home illegally, bought on the black market, or just bought over the counter. Because after all, quite a lot of Germans own guns to this day.

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LFC 10.07.12 at 5:26 pm

One underlying issue here, as I see it, and one that goes beyond only naval budgets, is that some (substantial) fraction of world military expenditures, certainly including the mil. budget of the U.S., is premised on the assumption that another major war involving major powers is a genuine, ‘live’ possibility. (The U.S., btw, is planning an expensive refurbishment of its tactical nuclear weapons in Europe, which is complete insanity, afaics.) I think this assumption is wrong and that devoting a lot of preparation to worst-case scenarios that have little chance of occurring is probably not a sensible way to do defense budgets. JQ’s rewritten post makes a subset of this point w/r/t the future unlikelihood of the traditional naval warfare for which many countries’ navies are apparently still designed.

China and India are going to continue their expensive military ‘modernization’ and the U.S. is going to continue its so-called Asian pivot, regardless of what rational appraisal might suggest about whether the benefits are worth the cost. But the benefit-cost assessment is nonetheless still worth conducting.

Finally, JQ’s rewritten post says it could be argued “that the US should fight fewer wars and seek to end them sooner” but then says he doesn’t think this will garner much support. I’m puzzled by this. I would think that statement would garner a lot of support.

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Hidari 10.07.12 at 6:00 pm

“Finally, JQ’s rewritten post says it could be argued “that the US should fight fewer wars and seek to end them sooner” but then says he doesn’t think this will garner much support”

I thınk ıf you go outsıde the Beltway and (heaven forfend) actually talk to people ın South Amerıca, the Mıddle East, or Afrıca, I thınk there would be a lot of support for the ıdea that the ıdeal number of wars the US should fıght should be ın the regıon of about “none”.

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LFC 10.07.12 at 6:05 pm

@295
Which if anything reinforces my point.

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John Quiggin 10.07.12 at 7:01 pm

Yet further clarification: I was thinking in terms of “Inside the Beltway”, or in the US policy elite more generally.

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GiT 10.07.12 at 7:15 pm

“Coming to the question posed in the post, I’m going to try to avoid confusion by talking about countries other than the US first, and by specifying that “navy” refers to a capacity for naval combat (including attacks on land-based opponents, and a capacity for amphibious assaults) undertaken outside home waters. I’m excluding the various functions that might be performed, for example, by a Coast Guard or transport units carrying supplies to ground forces. “

“As in the original post, I conclude that the fact that few such operations have taken place in the 60 odd years since the end of WWII suggests that a capacity to undertake them is likely to have a very low payoff in the future. On the other hand, the cost is substantial – lots of countries spend up to a third of their defense/war budgets on their navies. “

What’s the point of evaluating hypothetical navies that restrict themselves to “naval combat” in light of the costs of maintaining real navies that do not so restrict themselves?

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Watson Ladd 10.07.12 at 7:18 pm

Unless you talk to people in Kuwait, or Saudi Arabia, or even Iraq if they don’t like the dictatorship or Iranian domination. The war in Georgia in 2008 shows the consequence of not being in the US orbit: being vulnerable to regional powers with bigger budgets. That has far more to do with US alliances then the threat the US represents.

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Will McLean 10.07.12 at 8:52 pm

Unlike land warfare, naval forces can refuse combat by staying in port. Actual combat at sea is historically rare, so rarity is a poor measure of importance of the capability.

301

Will McLean 10.07.12 at 9:04 pm

“Despite this, navies were keen to build more battleships after 1918. Disputes over the postwar naval treaties aimed at limiting battleship construction contributed once again again to the resurgence of militarism. “

You are mistaking cause and effect. The postwar treaties were a response to an arms race *already in progress*.

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Jake 10.07.12 at 9:32 pm

I’m excluding the various functions that might be performed, for example, by a Coast Guard or transport units carrying supplies to ground forces.

This is just begging the question. Defending ships carrying supplies to ground troops overseas is one of the primary purposes of a navy. It’s also one of the two missions the US
Navy is built around. As you may notice from all of the destroyers and cruisers with tons of SAMs, big radars, and a few small anti-ship missiles. Or the aircraft carriers with early warning aircraft, long-range interceptors. Which is what you need to defend cargo ships (or aircraft carriers, or amphibs) against missile attack from aircraft or gunboats.

The US was only able to fight its five land wars overseas because it had a massive navy. Maybe it’s been so long since we didn’t have the biggest navy that you’re taking it for granted.

(land-based aircraft in neighboring countries have their own non-monetary costs. Osama bin Laden was famously angry about US troops in Saudi Arabia, and no one is particularly happy about having to prop up random dictators of ex-Soviet republics that happen to border Afghanistan.)

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Will McLean 10.07.12 at 10:26 pm

“Battleships and cruisers were sunk by planes, submarines, mines and even frogmen, and did not dominate sea battles as expected.”

Still, they were often essential, since aircraft could not reliably stop ships at sea at night or in bad weather, and this was rather more than half the time.

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Gene O'Grady 10.08.12 at 4:07 am

290 — Is it really true that the High Seas Fleet, coal powered and incapable of operating without access to overseas basis it didn’t have, was a threat to British international commerce? I know that’s always been asserted, memorably by Winston Churchill, but I have serious doubts as to how true it is. Scheer (a lousy admiral, by the way) could have shot the hell out of Scarborough, but I doubt that would have won the war.

Also a propos of nothing, back when I was the financial analyst for SUMC utilities and facilities, which meant I prepared a lot of cost allocation reports for inter alia Federally funded medical research, it was the US Navy who sent the auditor to keep us honest. I was warned that they were both good and strict (they were) and that I had better have my act together. A lot of people I could bluff with piles of paper, but this guy knew his stuff and asked very cogent questions. Fortunately for me what he mostly focused on was something that looked funny on a financial statement but had a perfectly reasonable operational explanation. I suspect it’s not an accident that that kind of thing is located in the Navy.

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ajay 10.08.12 at 8:44 am

Is it really true that the High Seas Fleet, coal powered and incapable of operating without access to overseas basis it didn’t have, was a threat to British international commerce?

The fact that one end of a commerce route is five thousand miles away and out of range is irrelevant when the other end is a few hundred miles away in (say) Liverpool or Glasgow or London, well within range. To stop Britain getting its beef from Argentina, it is not necessary to blockade the River Plate – just to blockade the Western Approaches.

And, of course, the High Seas Fleet did have overseas bases – that’s how it was able to do things like send cruisers sailing all round the world and fight battles at Coronel and the Falklands.

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Peter T 10.08.12 at 10:09 am

JQ has both the history and the strategy wrong here. The strongest component of a force dictates the terms on which other elements operate, in that all other elements have to avoid or evade a clash with the strongest element. In naval warfare pre 1935 this was battleships, although it had been recognised from 1920 or so that aircraft carriers would be a complementary strength with further development (larger aircraft, aero engines reliable enough for long overwater flights and much else). Carriers could not operate at night or in heavy weather, and were initially much more vulnerable to air attack than battleships – so the latter carried the brunt of the war in the Arctic and the Mediterranean in WWII. The UK and the US started changing the mix in their fleets from the mid 20s. All this was extensively debated in naval circles from 1900 on, and the experience suggest the professionals got it broadly right.

A battleship or carrier group keeps the area it dominates clear of any enemy lighter craft, so your light craft can operate unimpeded (this includes convoy and escort, which counter submarines), and the enemy’s cannot. That is, you have relative freedom of the seas. The UK enjoyed this in both world wars by virtue of its superiority in capital ships, just as it had in the Napoleonic wars. Fighting is beside the point if you have this dominance – the other side has to challenge or concede to blockade and calculate in the possibility of amphibious intervention. The jeune ecole were never able to explain how they would get around this (and various attempts, from the torpedo boat to the submarine, were all quickly countered).

As for the main point of the post, that the US Navy has too many carrier groups, the answer is probably yes. But the issue is not that these are vulnerable in new ways, or have been rendered obsolete, but that no threat the US is likely to meet with carriers is likely to require more than two carriers operating together. Calculating two in maintenance, one in transit and two on station would mean five required in total. If two threats emerge simultaneously, then ten would be needed at most – in a worst case where the US was acting unilaterally and could not yield time on one area. So eleven is excessive, ten is worst case, fewer would be reasonable.

I realise that this does not address the issue of whether the US should be seeking to maintain maritime dominance at all, but that is better addressed directly, rather than hidden behind dubious historical propositions or amateur force capability analysis.

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Andrew F. 10.08.12 at 1:28 pm

It’s a bit odd to see a discussion like this include no mention of Air Sea Battle, A2/AD, etc.

For starters:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/what-is-air-sea-battle/2012/08/01/gJQAlGr7PX_graphic.html

http://www.the-american-interest.com/article.cfm?piece=1212

http://www.defense.gov/qdr/images/QDR_as_of_12Feb10_1000.pdf

Let’s get somewhat clear on the intended purpose of the US Navy, and its role in conjunction with other branches, before we ask whether it’s worth having one.

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tomsk 10.08.12 at 1:49 pm

JQ: “Moreover, missile technology (including China’s) is advancing all the time, making the requirements for defending such a ship more and more demanding.”

This kind of thing seems to be solidifying into the conventional wisdom. It may be worth noting that anti-missile missile technology is also advancing all the time. China’s new carrier-killing wonder-weapons have got an awful lot of hype on the internets lately, but I’m inclined to treat these claims with caution. Recent version of the Aegis missile system (for example) are already supposed to be able to shoot down certain ballistic threats, and presumably this ability will improve over time, just as the anti-ship ballistic missiles will. (Obviously both America’s and China’s claims about the near-miraculous abilities of their respective militaries need to be approached with scepticism.)

It’s an arms race, and the long-term implications are totally unclear. I don’t see how anyone can claim to know with much certainty that carrier warfare is over, even against peer opponents. People were saying similar things about Russian air- and sea-launched anti-ship missiles during the later stages of the cold war meaning the end of the carrier era, and yet the US still has a lot of carrier battle groups about the place. Carriers are so vastly useful that it’s going to be worth putting a lot of resources into trying to protect them.

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Gene O'Grady 10.08.12 at 2:18 pm

ajay, The German overseas bases were very deliberately eliminated at the cost of some effort by the Allies and the Japanese by the middle of 1915 — the German East African army under von Lettow-Vorbeck hung on until a month after the war ended, but they were cut off from the coast long before that. Jutland was in 1916.

Given the inevitable damage to the German ships (fewer sunk but the ones that survived were in worse condition) and the difference between fighting a battle near home bases and maintaining a blockade I’m still not sure I buy the argument that the High Seas Fleet was going to bring England to its knees. Hell, the Royal Navy submarines might have done them in. The battleships were to my mind less significant than the vast British global superiority in cruisers, especially given that the Japanese were on their side by that time.

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P O'Neill 10.08.12 at 5:47 pm

Mitt Romney today –

The size of our Navy is at levels not seen since 1916. I will restore our Navy to the size needed to fulfill our missions by building 15 ships per year, including three submarines … I will restore the permanent presence of aircraft carrier task forces in both the Eastern Mediterranean and the Gulf region

Mitt wants to pour more money down the hole.

311

ajay 10.08.12 at 6:10 pm

308: Given the inevitable damage to the German ships (fewer sunk but the ones that survived were in worse condition) and the difference between fighting a battle near home bases and maintaining a blockade I’m still not sure I buy the argument that the High Seas Fleet was going to bring England to its knees

I agree – the HSF was outmatched by the Grand Fleet. But your argument was that the HSF, because it was limited in range, couldn’t threaten British commerce; I’m saying that limited range wouldn’t have stopped it doing so. If the British fleet had been decisively defeated at Jutland, then the German fleet would have been able to blockade Britain on the surface as well as underwater, and Britain would have been starved out of the war. Having a lot of cruisers in the South Atlantic or wherever wouldn’t have meant much when the Germans had dreadnoughts in the Western Approaches.

Hell, the Royal Navy submarines might have done them in.

Very unlikely. Remember, after all, that the German navy’s submarines were unable to do the same to the British, when it was Britain blockading Germany.

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DaveL 10.08.12 at 7:13 pm

“… it should have the biggest navy because only the U.S. is capable of conceiving and defending a just world order. In 1945 this nonsense was more widely accepted than it is now, but it was nonsense then, and remains nonsense now.”

I’m curious in what respect it is nonsense: “only,” or “just,” or “order”? Should the US awaken and recognize that this is nonsense, would the result be more justice, more order? Who would provide it? Would it just arise from the untroubled sea foam like Aphrodite?

On the more substantive question of the “new” Chinese aircraft carrier, news reports have pointed out that the Chinese have no aircraft capable of landing on an aircraft carrier. If this is true, developing aircraft which can do so is considerably more difficult than learning to land them once one has them. I have little doubt the Chinese can build such aircraft eventually, but they don’t have them now.

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William Timberman 10.08.12 at 8:01 pm

DaveL @ 312

In what respect? In all respects. American exceptionalism, a well-documented phenomenon with antecedents based at least in part on dubious historical accidents, bequeaths us the only part. Especially since 1945, the just part has been the most flamboyantly displayed compulsion of successful American politicians. Even President Obama has learned to wear an American flag lapel pin. Order is what the folks lecturing us on military niceties, and our supposed ignorance of them, call their handiwork. (To accept Peace Is Our Profession painted on the side of a strategic nuclear weapon without succumbing to a fatal attack of irony is a neat trick, but most Very Serious People in the American foreign policy establishment accepted it without a murmer.) A not inconsiderable number of people in the rest of the world look upon this sort of order as a very nastily leveraged chaos, and see themselves as its victims. They have a point.

Should the U.S. awaken, other solutions to the dilemma of a world where bad people do bad things with the assistance of world-shattering technologies might eventually be found. At very least, there would be more people looking, and correspondingly fewer people besotted with the notion that it was already in their possession.

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Patrick C 10.08.12 at 9:28 pm

“My view (and that of most economists) is that if you want non-stick frypans you should give money directly to materials scientists, not to space programs that might hire some.”

This is a view that is almost certainly wrong, despite its ubiquity among economists.

First, it is easy to underestimate the benefits of small advances like non-stick frying pans. This is a comic, but it makes my point well::
http://www.smbc-comics.com/index.php?db=comics&id=2725#comic
People are not naturally quantitative.

Second, people generally ignore the big spin-off technology developments from space & military applications. E.g. The integrated circuit that makes all modern digital technology possible was well too expensive for consumer applications before government investment via military and space programs. It seems likely that this one development(which probably would have been considered an impractical engineering curiosity without said investment), justifies all the spending of the last 50 years.

Third, your view ignores the contingency involved in R&D. Many developments are accidental because we don’t know, ex ante, what we *can* do. If you tell engineers and scientists to make a better frying pan they might spend all their time on an automated frying pan and fail, ’cause they didn’t know that it was infeasible with their resources and technology. But who knows? They might end up with a design for a better Roomba. Should that money have been spent on Roomba development instead of frying pans? If they spent the money on Roomba R&D they might have ended up with a better Predator drone instead of a better Roomba. It regresses ad infinitum. We just don’t know what the end result of R&D will be.

Fourth, your view ignores human psychology. Engineers are humans, they need motivation. They’re likely to be more productive if working on projects that are ambitious ideologically as well as in terms of scale/scope. They’re just as likely to underestimate(and be unmotivated by) the benefits of their spin-off non-stick coating, as you are. I believe, although I imagine data will be hard to find on the topic, that engineers on ambitious projects will be more productive dollar for dollar both in terms of the primary goal and spin-offs, than they would be if focused directly on specific spin-offs.

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Hobble D. Hoy 10.08.12 at 10:58 pm

@ William Timberman

Wow… During the later part of the 1930’s, Japan was engaged in the wholesale rape and slaughter of vast swaths of SE Asia, and by your account the United States’ attitude was one of not letting a good crisis go to waste. You’re obviously very intelligent but good grief man, have a little perspective. The blotch of racial segregation is, in your view, juuuuuust a teenie weenie bit “less evil” than the genocidal conquest being waged at the time in two separate theaters, as if there is really not any meaningful distinction to be made between the party who starts a global war and the one who ends it. This, quite frankly, makes me want to pull my hair out in clumps.

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William Timberman 10.08.12 at 11:12 pm

Hobble D. Hoy @ 314

I think you’ve misunderstood me. In fact, I’m sure of it. I also think that you’ve substituted self-righteousness for historical accuracy. I can’t do much about your hair, except to suggest that before you go snatching yourself bald-headed, you read what I’ve written again.

317

Peter T 10.08.12 at 11:29 pm

William You may have a point, but the interval between the US awakening and the arrival of the other solutions might be a somewhat rocky time. Maybe even worse than nastily leveraged chaos. With no guarantee that a solution would indeed be found. So even people other than the Very Serious People might be unwilling to make the experiment.

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PeterC 10.09.12 at 2:11 am

Much of the benefit of a strong military, or navy, is reaped without a shot being fired. That value, although very real, is difficult to measure or estimate.

In chess it’s called the “Sword of Damocles motif”, often “the threat is stronger than the execution”, and even if not stronger, significant nevertheless.

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johne 10.09.12 at 4:33 pm

Isn’t this very much like the earlier thread in which there was debate about whether woters were morally justified in voting for a merely preferable candidate, when they might instead hold out for one that is ideal?

In the same fashion, why should citizens support a fleet that comes close to the edge of defeat in a minor conflict? They should instead have one that at least stalemates a major opponent; but better a navy that would win any conflict. Except that such a formidible force, in that it might never have to fight at sea, would demonstrably fail to meet the very raison d’etre of a navy. QED.

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PeterC 10.09.12 at 6:04 pm

The US is at risk of doing to itself, through unnecessarily grandiose military expenditure, what the Soviets did to themselves. Sure, many other factors were involved in that empire’s collapse, but their level of expenditure was a very large and needless straw to break that ‘camel’s back’.

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Jon Tessler 10.09.12 at 9:57 pm

John Quiggin 10.05.12 at 12:36 am
More seriously, to support the arguments about power projection, credible threats and so on, can anyone point to a successful instance of post-1945 “gunboat diplomacy”? That is, a case where the use of naval power (actual or threatened) compelled the target government to comply with the wishes of the navy’s owner.

1987, Operation Earnest Will And Operation Nimble Archer. The US Navy responding to Iranian Mining of the waterways of the Persian Gulf Deployed Naval units including the USS GuadalCanal(LPH-7) to lead minesweeping and convoy operations ensuring that tankers were able to freely travel to and from the Gulf. During these operations the US Navy captured the Iran AJR which was deploying mines in international shipping lanes, attacked and destroyed oil platforms that were being used by the republican guard to attack shipping, and in a 2 day engagement, took on and defeated the Iranian Navy in both surface and air engagements.

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Nahim 10.09.12 at 10:34 pm

Patrick C @314

What you’ve given is an argument for governments spending on R&D in general, not just military R&D. It is true economists have difficulty outlining optimal R&D spending strategies, because the costs are obvious and certain whereas the benefits are uncertain and often unexpected. The spillover benefits of research are many and very difficult to capture in any quantitative fashion e.g. even a “failed” research program may provide the foundation for a future technological breakthrough. Simplistic cost-benefit analysis will usually fail to capture these benefits and end up prescribing reduced R&D spending, or leaving R&D decisions to (often) short-sighted private players.

But I do not see why this is necessarily a justification for spending on military R&D as such. Is there any reason why spin-off benefits and accidental breakthroughs are more likely from military R&D rather than, let’s say, research carried out in university labs? It is one thing to look at history and list the civilian technological breakthroughs made possible by military research; it is quite another to decide that this justifies greater spending on the military R&D (as opposed to greater spending on other government R&D programs). To do that, you’d have to show that the advantages of military research (things like the massive scale at which research can be carried out, or factors of motivation and discipline) somehow outweigh the fact that the vast majority of the R&D will still result in the dubious benefits of better, bigger and faster weaponry.

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Andrew F. 10.10.12 at 12:13 am

On the broader question (I don’t think the post scratches the surface of the function of the US Navy in contemporary or predicted future conflict):

A black box, rational actor approach to explaining US military expenditure is obviously inadequate, and to some extent the interests of various players – bureaucratic, firm, and individual – would likely push the total to a location other than optimal (though conceivably less than optimal as well, I suppose).

To diminish the complexity of figuring out how the Navy contributes to overall military force, I think it would make more sense to ask whether the total military expenditures, and capabilities and expected values of end states achieved, is good value for the expense.

The short of it is that – imho – the humility that comes with having endured the massive wars of the 20th century between great powers, the long train of conflicts preceding them, the uneasy status quo of the bipolar Cold War, and the very unpredictable future of great power conflict, urges in favor of the maintenance of overwhelming military advantage, to the point of dissuading any other nation from investing in anything other than strategies for a stalemate in a localized conflict. Weighing against this idea are the obvious opportunity costs, and the notion that this military advantage carries harm beyond opportunity costs.

Military expenditures must be viewed with both short to medium term needs in mind – low-intensity conflict in certain areas of the world – and long-term possibilities such as a major war with the PRC in mind. Such a conflict seems almost unthinkable today; but then our ability to predict major conflicts decades in advance seems lacking.

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LFC 10.10.12 at 12:37 am

I think great-power war is obsolescent, as per here and here and here, and hence orienting the US mil. budget around the notion of a major war w China makes relatively little sense.

Not long ago I got a direct-mail piece from Am. Friends Service Ctr, which opens w the sentence “The U.S. spent $1,165,907,000,000 on the military last year, including the…wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.” This equals, the letter goes on to say, $2.2 million per minute. A sobering way to think about it.

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LFC 10.10.12 at 12:41 am

correction: Am. Friends Service Committee

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faustusnotes 10.10.12 at 3:29 am

But LFC, surely great-power war is only obsolete so long as at least 2 great powers spend a great deal of money maintaining military budgets … and rising powers catch up?

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Peter T 10.10.12 at 6:19 am

Gen Rupert Smith makes a good case that major conventional war is a thing of the past, a view shared by many other defence policy people in my experience (see his The Utility of Force: http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Utility-Force-Modern-World/dp/0713998369). But that does not rule out, in their view, other sorts of conflict, nor the need to maintain forces that keep large-scale conventional war off the table. Not saying they are right, but working defence policy-makers often have a more nuanced view of the world and of force capability requirements than the OP suggests.

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LFC 10.10.12 at 1:01 pm

faustusnotes:
First: I said obsolescent, i.e. becoming obsolete (which is different from obsolete).

Second (and more important): if you follow my links above you’ll see the perspective with which I’m agreeing does not hold that “great-power war is only obsolete so long as at least 2 great powers spend a great deal of money maintaining military budgets … and rising powers catch up.” It’s more like “great-power war is obsolete [or becoming so] so long as 1 great power does not have such a huge, overwhelming military advantage over other great powers as to be assured that it could defeat them without any cost to speak of.”

Great-power wars are obsolete/obsolescent b/c great powers no longer have any interest in fighting them. They have been effectively removed from the options considered by policy makers, they do not appear any longer in their minds as realistic options, although the implications of this cognitive erasure have not yet been transferred to mil. spending. This is a very big change: a hundred years ago policymakers of the great powers sat down and said “when shall we attack country X?” or “when is country X going to attack us?” This no longer happens, afaict.

Countries, for the most part, are simply not interested any more in seizing and conquering large chunks of territory belonging to another country. Even China’s territorial claims (putting aside the Taiwan issue) are focused on a few islands and a few bits of territory along its border with India. China has no interest in marching its army into New Delhi, bombing Mumbai, and conquering India. So does India need to invest heavily in missile technology to deter China? No. At most it prob. needs one or two missiles capable of delivering a nuclear warhead (the latter of which it already has). But try telling that to official circles in India: they know China is not going to attack New Delhi but the implications of that knowledge have not yet been allowed to affect their military spending. Rinse and repeat, substituting the names of other countries.

I mentioned upthread that the US is about to start an expensive refurbishing of its nuclear arsenal, incl. its nuclear weapons in Europe (there are still some there). Hello? Does that make any sense?

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ajay 10.10.12 at 2:03 pm

Countries, for the most part, are simply not interested any more in seizing and conquering large chunks of territory belonging to another country. Even China’s territorial claims (putting aside the Taiwan issue) are focused on a few islands and a few bits of territory along its border with India

That’s a fairly big issue to put aside, though!

But your larger point is correct: countries are becoming less warlike and some countries are becoming massively less warlike. Most countries, for example, despite growing economies and growing populations, have fewer people under arms than they did 10 or 20 years ago, and there’s every reason to suppose that this trend is not going to reverse.

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Andrew F. 10.10.12 at 3:18 pm

LFC, I respect and learn from such constructivist accounts, but I’m very wary of relying on them.

First, one would need to have a great amount of confident insight into the specifics of how the PRC will be governed, the mindset of the governing individuals and institutions (including the PLA), and the attitude of the populace, going forward decades. I certainly don’t know enough to say with a high degree of confidence that a military conflict with the PRC will not happen, much less that the odds diminish with each year.

Second, whether governments consider military options seems to depend very much on the capabilities of the government and its adversaries. I’m suspicious of the degree of influence constructivists give to certain norms when governments consider options in the military sphere (there is some influence, no doubt). I’m equally suspicious of the degree to which constructivists seem to think those norms are stable, and not susceptible to changing circumstances.

Third, it’s really early days yet. Projecting the end of great power war at this point in history, much less relying on such a projection for one’s military budget and planning, seems audacious.

I do think there are solid reasons to suppose that great power conflict is less likely than during the 20th century, including the growth of democratic governments, international trade, and international organizations. But, given the long lead time necessary to develop a military with a technological and skills advantage, the high cost of being behind in military development AND being wrong about great power conflict, and the (likely imho) beneficial deterrent effect of an overwhelming US military advantage, I think matters still weigh in favor of the maintenance of overwhelming advantage.

Reasonable minds can and do differ on this, of course.

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johne 10.10.12 at 3:39 pm

Countries, for the most part, are simply not interested any more in seizing and conquering large chunks of territory belonging to another country. Even China’s territorial claims (putting aside the Taiwan issue) are focused on a few islands and a few bits of territory along its border with India.

The “few islands” coveted in East Asia and elsewhere are usually associated with large chunks of undersea territory that seem to offer key natural resources — either that or an economically crucial location, even if it’s a watery one. And for crying out loud, it was only a historical eyeblink ago that my own country was “seizing and conquering” not large chunks of territory belonging to another country, but a whole other country itself (Iraq), even if the ostensibly innovative idea was to set up a client regime there that would run things for us.

The pre-WWI predictions that major conflicts were something of the past, superficially rational as they were, are endlessly brought up nowadays as examples to be avoided; obviously to little avail.

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LFC 10.10.12 at 5:35 pm

Andrew F.:
You put your case well, and I would favor some hedging of bets, so to speak, precisely b.c of “the high cost of being behind in military development AND being wrong about great power conflict.” I would still end up favoring a considerably smaller US military budget than you do, but I would incorporate, as I say, some hedging of bets. I’m not enough of an expert to know exactly how that would translate into the budgetary details. On the basic issues about influence of norms etc., we can agree to disagree.

johne:
1) I opposed the US-led invasion of Iraq but conquest, as I understand the word, was not its aim.

2) The pre-WWI predictions that major conflicts were something of the past, superficially rational as they were, are endlessly brought up nowadays as examples to be avoided; obviously to little avail.
A lot of people think Norman Angell said WWI couldn’t or wouldn’t happen, but that’s not what he said (see here).

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LFC 10.10.12 at 5:53 pm

P.s.
A few things have happened betw. 1913 and now, which means that you can’t go from “predictions that major conflicts were something of the past were stupid in 1913″ to “predictions that major conflicts are something of the past are equally stupid in 2012.” Of course predictions in general are hazardous, which is why I have added some qualifications.

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johne 10.10.12 at 9:21 pm

LFC:
Thank you for the explanation of Angell’s argument, and your perspective on the Iraq war. Both could usefully be explored in separate threads.

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