“…without a Respectable Navy, Alas America!” Captain John Paul Jones, 17 October 1776
The Earth is covered with 139.9 million square miles of water, so why would a tiny strait of water matter much to anyone? Because that little stretch of water is known as the “Strait of Hormuz” and is one of the most strategically important waterways in the world today.
The Strait of Hormuz is extremely important geographically because it is considered one of the world’s foremost chokepoints. A chokepoint is a narrow channel (in this case a strait) that is used as a sea route for the shipment of goods. The main type of good passing through the Strait of Hormuz is oil from the Middle East and, as a result, is one of the world’s most important chokepoints. It is the only sea route where oil from Iraq, Iran, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, and much of the United Arab Emirates can be transported. The majority of the world’s oil reserves today resides in the Arabian Gulf region, with few options for exporting this oil out of the region besides the straits.
Iran and Iraq’s anti-western regimes oppose the United States presence within the Persian Gulf and the security that the US provides for many of the Gulf States. 15% of the world’s commerce is routed through Hormuz. Should war break out in this region, any aggression by Iran or any other nation would disrupt a large portion of the world’s economy.
Two countries lay claim to the territorial waters in the strait, Oman and Iran. While Oman has been a relatively benign landlord, Iran has on several occasions threatened to shut the strait down with a naval blockade.
The U.S. Navy has been protecting trade and commerce as early as 1801, when U.S. leaders decided to take action against Barbary pirates who constantly kidnapped the crew of American ships and held them for ransom in the Mediterranean.
A strong U.S. Navy is just as important today as it was when Thomas Jefferson took on the Barbary Coast Pirates. Sadly, over the last eight years under the Obama administration, our naval forces have been dramatically reduced. Taking advantage of this perceived weakness, Iran was emboldened to seize a U.S. Naval vessel and hold 10 American sailors captive. Meanwhile China continues to build a military base on an artificial island in the South China Sea.
The following is a breakdown of Naval Strengths by country:
North Korea: 967
United States: 415
These are the top five Navies in the world as of 2016, although sheer numbers don’t always tell the tale of the tape, as the U.S. still possesses an advantage in war technology.
Despite that, a Chinese warship recently seized an underwater drone deployed by a U.S. oceanographic vessel in the South China Sea.
U.S. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus cited a “growing China” as one of the reasons that the Navy needed to expand its fleet to 355 ships, including 12 carriers, 104 large surface combatants, 38 amphibious ships and 66 submarines. The seizure of our underwater drone added to concerns about China’s increased military presence and aggressive posture in the disputed South China Sea, including its militarization of maritime outposts.
One of Ronald Reagan’s campaign platforms was to re-build our Navy into a 600 ship Navy. It peaked in 1987 at 594 ships before a sharp and steady decline into our 415 ships currently active today. Having a strong Navy will always be a strategic necessity of the United States. This is the only way to ensure a strong presence overseas, which provides the ability to forward deploy combat ready troops, aircraft and armor that can be ready to act, if needed.
In order for America to regain its military strength, President Donald Trump will have to find potentially tens of billions of dollars a year for new ships, amid falling federal revenues, something Trump and his political allies in Congress agree on.
Strategic chokepoints around the globe must be able to be kept open by force, if needed. We conduct forward naval operations both to ensure unimpeded use of the seas and to project American influence and power into the littoral areas of the world. We must have a strong Navy to be able to continue those operations.
This article was originally published in Volume 11 Issue 1 of AMAC Advantage Magazine.