The notion that shelves at Wal-Mart could be depleted or gasoline could cost $5 a gallon may seem inconceivable to most Americans.
But that is exactly what would happen if a foreign country or a stateless terrorist organization managed to disrupt the ocean shipping routes along which thousands of cargo and tanker vessels travel every day, Navy officials insist.
An armed conflict at sea that interrupts commerce, in other words, is bad news for most of the civilized world and should be prevented at all costs.
Those are some of the underpinnings of a new naval planning document — “A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Sea Power” — that was recently endorsed by the Navy, the Marine Corps and the Coast Guard.
The strategy is not expected to bring about any major changes in the services’ organization or ways of doing business. Rather, it is intended to remind Congress and other non-military audiences that the sea services are relevant to the nation’s security.
“I found that people do not appreciate the role that sea power plays in this country … They take it for granted,” says Vice Adm. John G. Morgan Jr., deputy chief of naval operations for plans and strategy.
“We have an obligation to better explain why sea power is important, how it affects our way of life,” Morgan says in a recent interview. About 90 percent of the world’s commerce travels through the oceans, he notes. If commerce is upset, “everyday life is affected.”
The Navy’s attempt to articulate its views for future maritime operations come, not coincidentally, at a time when the Defense Department is in the midst of a huge expansion of ground forces and is consumed by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Navy officials are trying to get out the message that maritime forces still matter.
Defense analysts have speculated for some time that the Navy — as well as the Air Force — will see their budgets come under increasing scrutiny as the Pentagon seeks funds to pay for a larger Army and Marine Corps, and to finance escalating military health care bills.
These issues, however, were not taken into account when the naval strategy was conceived and developed. “Budget concerns were not factored,” Morgan says. “Our strategy was done in a resource unconstrained environment,” he says. “We did not want to be hampered by the debate of which service gets a larger share of the defense budget.”
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