Event Summary: ‘The Decline of U.S. Sea Power’


By Adam Lomax

On Thursday 19th January 2017 the Henry Jackson Society welcomed Seth Cropsey, a former naval officer and current Director of the Centre for American Sea Power at the Hudson Institute, to talk about the notable decline in recent years of US and British influence (both naval and ideological) in the world as well as the potential dangers of ceding such influence to authoritarian states such as Russia and China. The event was chaired by Lord West of Spithead, former First Sea Lord of the Royal Navy, and Dr. Andrew Foxall of the HJS Russia Studies Centre.

Mr. Cropsey began by lamenting the current inaction of the US government towards President Assad’s atrocities in Syria, comparing this reticence to that seen in the 1990s towards Bosnia. Unfortunately such behaviour proves extremely detrimental to the US as it weakens its influence in the Middle East as well as solidifies Russia’s own growing power in the region. Drawing on previous historical conflicts such as the Peloponnesian and Napoleonic Wars, Mr. Cropsey went on to explore the history of military conflicts and their inevitably cyclical nature which he claims consists of four principal stages: (1) different powers compete for global hegemony (2) the victor of this conflict imposes a new world order (3) this new period of stability is eventually undermined by rivals within the new leadership (4) the ruler is weakened by these new challenges and the cycle begins again. Hitler had attempted to exploit Britain’s weak international leadership in the early 20th century and replace it with his own fascist interpretation. The Holocaust and the GULAG were mere glimpses of what such a world order would have looked like.

Mr. Cropsey thus stated the main message of his talk: the US must be prepared to maintain a strong military force since it is only through strength that peace can be attained. Any vacuum in international power will inevitably be filled by another force (regardless of its merits) and disengagement will ultimately result in weakness and acquiescence of this new leadership. Despite good intentions Neville Chamberlain was wrong to try and avoid confrontation with Hitler (preferring to broker a collective agreement with Nazi Germany) since without hard power the noblest ideas simply cannot stand.

In the present day the US and UK are beginning to show a trend away from naval control of certain regions, preferring simply to project an image of power and to prepare for low-intensity conflicts. Meanwhile Russia is increasing its own global power as first seen with Georgia in 2008, followed by Crimea in 2014, and now it is using ISIS as a pretext to develop its presence in the Middle East.

Mr. Cropsey ended by reiterating that, in order to counter the rise of such authoritarian influence, it is essential for the US and UK to develop greater sea-surface cooperation since it is insufficient to simply try and project power. Winston Churchill had always felt reassured that, even if WWII were to completely shatter British global might, the US would be present to support and maintain this power structure. However such reliance and cooperation appears less viable today. Following a series of questions from the audience, Lord West thanked Mr. Cropsey for his talk and the lecture was adjourned.

For a transcript of this event click here


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