The Decline of U.S. Sea Power

TIME: 19th January 2017, 12:00 – 13:00

VENUE: Committee Room 2, House of Commons, Palace of Westminster,
London, SW1A 1AA

Seth Cropsey

Director, Centre for American Sea Power, Hudson Institution

Lord West: Ladies and gentlemen welcome, I think we should crack on we have got to twelve o’clock now. I’d like to thank the Henry Jackson Society for setting up today’s lecture and the opportunity to ask questions of the speaker. The title is ‘The Decline of US Sea Power’ I have to say that if US sea power is declining I’d hate to think how I would describe what various governments have done to the Royal Navy but that is not what the subject is today. This is a fascinating area for us, very much our closest ally; our Navies are actually joined at the hip particularly in the submarine world and actually more broadly. I remember commanding the ASW Striking Force for the Striking Fleet in the Atlantic when Reagan and Lehman who was the Secretary of the Navy at that stage in America decided that the forces would operate north of Iceland and right round up to Murmansk to put pressure on Russia and one could argue that that decision and the huge expenditure that was then entailed was one of the things that put immense pressure on the Soviet Union; it’s certainly something that could be argued. At that time the US were talking in terms of a six hundred ship navy, rather different from numbers today where it is less than three hundred. President Trump I think has mentioned that he wants to make the Navy bigger, no doubt we’ll here about that, he says all sorts of things. I’ve just read his book on deal-making and everything that he is doing fits in with that. I recommend you read it because it’s exactly what he does. He says basically, first of all you throw in the air that something everyone believes in so: should there be a navy at all? I don’t think there even needs to be a navy. Then he says something outrageous like: we will sell every ship we have got, which is an outrageous thing that flies around. Then he says: but actually we might have a deal where I think that we could get a few more and then he goes and does his deal and if you look at every statement, he is actually following his book very accurately. The trouble is, as far as I am concerned, Putin is also good at deals and Putin doesn’t have to get Senate approval for deals that he does, so it is quite a difficult chap to deal with. Also if you go bankrupt and go back on the thing you have done a deal on and sell it, that’s great but it is a very difficult thing to do with a country. Anyway, I mustn’t go too far down that route. We have got for us speaking today, Seth Cropsey; I don’t know if you have any details but he is a very distinguished Senior Fellow of the Hudson Institute, Director of the Hudson Centre for American Sea Power, he actually served as the Deputy Undersecretary to the Navy when Lehman was actually the Secretary of the Navy. He specialises in national and maritime strategy, US policy in Asia and the Middle East, he has been a serving naval officer, he was also the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Defensive Special Operations and I can think of no one better to give this speech today and we are very much looking forward to what you have to say. He will speak for about 25 minutes and then there will be the opportunity for questions and we will have to finish at one o’clock.

Seth Cropsey: Thank you Lord West, Mr Foxhall, distinguished guests. Thank you for your invitation to speak to the Henry Jackson Society. I received my graduate degree shortly after Jackson retired from the Senate but I have several friends and colleagues who have worked closely with him. While I was a boy my father, then a Professor of Political Theory at the University of Chicago, visited Washington from time to time in order to meet with Senator Jackson. My father had the deepest respect for Jackson’s judgement, his political courage and his principled support for human rights. I’m honoured to speak here today, no less for the Society then for this distinguished venue. Your statement, the Jackson Society’s Statement of Principles, notes the Western moral and strategic blunders following the Cold War’s end specifically in Bosnia. We have just seen a similar abandonment of interest and morality in the West’s inaction to prevent Assad and Putin’s indiscriminate butchery of innocents in Aleppo. This failure solidifies Russia’s position as the major external power in the Middle East, it lessens the chance that the US will reassert its position in the region and weakens the ties that once connected American foreign policy with human decency. The Russian Foreign Minister says that his country seeks peace in the region by fighting terrorists. All nations, wrote Sir Admiral John Fisher over a century ago, want peace but they want a peace that suits them. Britain broke Napoleon’s France twice: first in 1805 when Lord Nelson destroyed the Franco-Spanish fleet at Trafalgar and second in 1815 when the Duke of Wellington defeated Napoleon on Waterloo’s muddy fields. For a century, Britain had experienced nearly uninterrupted success. Three major inter-continental wars had occurred since Britain’s victory at Waterloo but only one of which, that is the Crimean War, required British involvement. Various rebellions threatened the Empire’s grasp on its colonies but the situation remained largely stable. Only a quarter of a century old, Imperial Germany could be integrated, it appeared, into the British led global economic system. To the outside observer, Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee confirmed the picture of British strength. Today, with hindsight, we know the truth of Fisher’s premonition. Two decades later the Kaiser’s Empire decided that peace no longer suited it. Bismarck’s creation drenched the Continent in blood, slaughtered a generation and shattered any pretensions of European superiority. Even the most advanced peoples were capable of savagery: aggression greed and violence had been a part of Western history. Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War that accounted the history of conflict between Athens and Sparta contains these themes. The Great War like the Peloponnesian one involved a great portion of the known world. Athenian and Spartan proxies fought for control of external islands and colonies as Sparta sought to counter Athens’ naval dominance. So great was their ambition that the Spartans subordinated their ancient hatred of Persia and allied with the Empire itself to break Athenian maritime power. Thucydides would have seen, I think, the same characteristic in Europe’s great powers at the turn of the twentieth century. History is cyclical. Periods of violence and change follow those of stability and prosperity. Just as Homer’s poetry beats out the cadence of war drums, so do we march onwards again towards a dangerous future. It is our responsibility to be prepared for conflict, only through strength is there the chance for peace and respect from our enemies. Historians and statesmen have noted the cyclical rhythm of historical conflict since the classical time. One can break the cycle into four stages. Firstly competition between major powers leads to conflict, the clash of political and strategic interests combined with the inclination towards violence and mistrust spark these kinds of confrontations. Secondly the victor imposes a certain order on the world, the new order has various material aspects but it is also indelibly influenced by the ideological and political ambition of the dominant power. Thirdly the dominant power overseas this international system leading to a period of stability and sometimes prosperity of some kind or another. However various rivals begin to chafe under the restraints of the lead actor: their ambition, their embrace of violence and mistrust triggers another period of competition. Last the declining international leader must face a number of challengers that provoke a conflict when the time suits them. This conflict returns us to the first stage when another state establishes itself as dominant. As is often the case when discussing conflict in history, the first clear example of this cycle is the Peloponnesian War to which I referred. After the Greek Victory over Persia, Athens quickly expanded its power by monopolising international trade throughout the eastern Mediterranean. This triggered Sparta’s aggression leading to the conflict. A more recent example is Britain’s struggle with France throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Although multiple powers, including Prussia, the Dutch Republic and Spain, competed for dominance Britain and France were clearly first among equals. France’s population combined with its influence on the Continent and monopoly of the North American fur trade gave it power. The combination of clashing ambitions and French territorial ambition renewed this period in 1701 when Louis XIV attempted to place his grandson on the Spanish Throne. After a century of global warfare, Britain emerged as the preeminent power. Both World Wars exemplify the cycle’s fourth stage. For nearly a century British power, particularly sea power, had deterred its rivals and ensured international freedom of navigation; facilitating British economic growth during the Industrial Revolution. This hard aspect of British international power is possibly the most important criteria for international great powers. Controlling the means of international trade enables strength, surrendering the means of international trade invites challenge. British sea power ensured that it could deter potential challengers from establishing local monopolies on trade resulting in continued freedom of commerce and consistent economic power. By controlling major maritime choke points in Europe and Asia, The Royal Navy held and expanded Britain’s international commercial strength. However just as Sparta grew jealous of Athens’ preeminent position, The Kaiser believed that as he put it his empire deserved ‘a place in the sun.’ However British continental interest had not changed. A singe dominant continental power would be a threat to Britain’s survival especially if that power possessed Europe’s most powerful army and a navy that could rival any in the world. There is much debate over whether the Kaiser himself knew the consequences of Germany’s acts, it is clear however that advisers like Grand Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz, the architect of the Kaiserliche Marine and Jackie Fisher’s international rival, knew that German ambition had threatened British survival. Once again the potent mix of fear and ambition pushed the European continent over the brink. The Second World War bore parallel characteristics. Hitler identified the weakness of the British led international order and attempted to replace it with a Fascist empire founded on the dark lights of perverted science. Allied strategy combined with the will of this Nation’s indomitable Prime Minister and major axis military blunders destroyed that attempt. Nevertheless the combination of ambition and fear led to the eruption of violence. Power is the only prism through which there is hope of seeing international politics for what it is. The confluence of ambition and fear explains how major actors act but power alone does not make these struggles consequential. Major conflicts are consequential because the victor imposes his ideas and his norms upon the world; power supports this imposition. We are not therefore simply interchangeable pieces on a chessboard. Different leaders and different states have varying ideas about these norms. One hundred years pf British power brought about the expansion of global trade and the virtual end of chattel slavery; two discreet events that have done as much to improve the human condition as any. Who knows what Napoleon or the Kaiser’s international order would have looked like? The Holocaust offers us a glimpse of the future that Hitler and his fellow criminals envisioned. The Gulag is as fair a reputation of the Soviet influenced international order as the current Russian Kleptocracy is of the most beneficent aspect of Putin’s order. Human ambition dictates that some actor will always take up the mantle of global leadership; no order is guaranteed on its merits. Just as power is justified by what it upholds, whatever concepts we wish to see in the world require power to flourish. Britain fought two world wars with this clearly in mind. Leaders like Churchill understood that British power, and later American power, was necessary because it was just. Allowing another nation like Imperial or Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union to seize global leadership would threaten the ideals that he has spent his life defending. Only months before the beginning of the Second World War, in a speech given at the Canada Club in London, Churchill said that if the British Empire is fated to pass from life into history, we must hope that it is not by the slow process of dispersion and decay but in some supreme exertion for freedom, for right and for truth. Churchill and Britain went to war in order to defend freedom, right and truth not simply because of the ambition and aggression that also drive human behaviour. Any nation that wishes to uphold an international system must be prepared to do so with force. Disillusion with the impersonal forces of globalisation and international economic transfers means that a growing desire exists on both sides of the Atlantic today from those on both sides of the political spectrum to disengage from international politics. Rather than playing the so-called ‘great game’ of power and interest, why not: withdraw to our borders, defend our territory and citizens and ignore the rest of the world’s problems? First another power will fill any vacuum in the international system. The void left by Anglo-American international withdrawal would enable other nations to fill it. Disengagement leads only to weakness and an acquiescence to a new order. Second nations with the power of the US and the UK cannot choose to be left alone without consequence. The Dutch tried this when they failed to build the sea power needed to sustain commercial power; too late they learned from you the lack of wisdom in this choice. Power is a vehicle to impose a framework on the world. However we are always tempted to believe that ideas can stand without force behind them. Britain indulged in this fantasy once, relying on the collective good will of all nations to prevent conflict. The existence of weapons themselves, it was thought, triggered the conflict that destroyed a generation, thus the weapons had to go. It should not have come as a surprise to the leading statesmen of the day that all sanctions short of war did not check Mussolini’s ambitions in Abyssinia, that sating Hitler’s ambition by dismembering Czechoslovakia enlarged his appetite, that non-intervention in Spain only allowed for the refining of Hitler’s machine. Neville Chamberlain, Stanley Baldwin and Ramsay MacDonald put their faith in the inherent goodness of humanity, in our ability to discuss, compromise and supress our ambition in favour of collective flourishing. Despite Chamberlain’s noble intentions, he was wrong. Without hard power behind them, the noblest of ideas cannot stand. Modern Anglo-American policy once again indulges in the dilution of leadership and absence of power. Nowhere is this more apparent and more critical than in the decline in naval forces on both sides of the Atlantic. The US Navy has declined from its Cold War peak of 594 active ships to a battle fleet of 272 ships today. Defence cuts in the UK have cut the Royal Navy to its smallest size since Henry VIII with its 11 submarines and 19 surface combatants. Of course, size is not the only variable technological advances allow fewer warships to bring more combat power to bear than ships during the Cold War could. However the composition of the American and British Navies indicates a trend away from sea control, likely the Navy’s most important mission in support of international order in the future, and toward projecting force from sea to the shore. The US Navy’s surface combatants and aircraft are now outfitted with land attack missiles and laser guided bombs that provide close air support rather than weapons designed to defeat enemy aircraft and ships. These weapons compliment a growing amphibious warfare fleet designed to transport soldiers and equipment from ship to shore rather than to control the seas. In the Royal Navy there is a similar trend. A case and point is the decision to cut surface combatant numbers to only 19 to preserve funding for the Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carriers. If outfitted with a full complement of aircraft, such a decision would be a good one. Fielding two full carrier battle groups would revolutionise the capabilities of the Royal Navy beyond what they currently possess, giving the Royal Navy a potential it has not had since the Second World War. However according to current plans the Queen Elizabeth Class carriers would deploy only 12 F-35 B Strike Fighters with helicopters compromising the rest of the air wing. This will give a 70,000 tonne super carrier equivalent combat power to a 40,000 tonne amphibious ship. Budgetary restrictions have exacerbated this strategic choice and focusing on low intensity conflicts has enabled this trend. American and British forces along with other Western allies have been at war against Islamist extremist organisations for more than 15 years. This war is justified and it is necessary, nevertheless these non-traditional enemies have supplanted traditional threats in the minds of Anglo-American policy makers. Combined with growing war weariness among the general population, aided in large measures by our elected political leaders’ statements, has driven American and British Militaries to fight wars with as little blood and treasure expended as possible. Drones, special operations forces and airstrikes have become the tools of choice. This is an acceptable situation when our greatest threats drive black Toyotas rather than mainline tanks. Modern Anglo-American policy is a result of these strategic, and budgetary choices. Shadow wars, fought with proxy groups, have replaced focused thinking about major state threats at a time when major state threats are increasing. After the Soviet Union’s collapse, prominent politicians and foreign policy experts foresaw the end of interstate conflict. The global ‘War on Terror’ seemed to prove these predictions right. That is until 2008 when Russia annexed the Georgian territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia and in 2014 when Russia annexed Crimea and began its direct support of anti-government separatists in Eastern Ukraine; the war as you know continues today. In the Middle East, Russia and its Iranian ally used ISIS as a pretext to expand in Syria and Iraq whilst tightening their grip on the eastern Mediterranean. Iranian backed rebels in Yemen complement the Islamic Republic’s strategy in the Levant putting pressure on the Gulf Arab Monarchies from the south. At the same time China has used its artificial islands in the South China Sea and its fast growing military to gain control over various resource deposits and sea lanes in the international waters of the West Pacific. Combined, these incidents point nowhere good. American disengagement, beginning in 2008, was intended to limit the US’ international commitments while maintaining global stability. By working in concert with their allies and using cost saving measures like drone strikes and Special Forces operations, the US and UK it was hoped could achieve their foreign policy objectives on the cheap. Anglo-American goodwill could also ameliorate rivalries. All it would take to improve relations with Russia was a ‘reset.’ Disposition rather than ambition and a clash of interests were thought to be the route of conflict. Similar confusion about the source of conflict played the Obama Administration’s absurd conviction that resolving the Palestinian question was key to peace in the Middle East. I hope that after Brexit, this Island can also separate itself from the Continent’s reversion to its historically based antipathy toward and fixation upon the State of Israel and in fact there are signs that this is already happening. In any event, disengagement solved nothing. Britain and America’s rivals have used the attempt at disengagement to establish their control over major international chokepoints. Russia’s annexation of Crimea and parts of Georgia combined with Russian and Iranian imperialism in the Levant, gives this nightmare alliance the ability to control the Black Sea and eastern Mediterranean. Chinese expansion gives it the same ability except over chokepoints in South East Asia. For better or worse, the hard power calculations of traditional diplomacy are back. Without power behind it, the current Western order is weak and vulnerable. Despite current changes, concerted efforts can still restore the Anglo-American position. Neville Chamberlain released his mistakes after the German invasion of Czechoslovakia and began to prepare Britain for what was coming. Unlike in Chamberlain’s case, I don’t think that war is inevitable today. By properly demonstrating and applying power, the US and UK can uphold the present international order. The West will be required to shift its sea power focus from power projection to sea control. Without control of the seas, the Anglo-American international project is vulnerable. Constructing a fleet designed for sea control rather than projecting power against land is a major step towards preserving maritime dominance. Surface ships and submarines are the backbone of such a force. Surface combatants like destroyers and frigates serve as a visible and conventional deterrent whilst fleet submarines can penetrate hardening Russian, Chinese and Iranian anti-access networks. Ballistic missile submarines have traditionally been devoted to the nuclear deterrence mission but creative thinking and design could modify the boats to carry anti-ship and in some cases land attack missiles much like the Ohio Class SSGN project has done in the United States. Aircraft carriers must also be a part of the mix for nations. A fully complemented carrier battle group with a flexible air wing designed for sea control would thoroughly change how the Royal Navy operates internationally. This of course means an expansion in fleet size. Although individual ships are much more effective than they were, even a decade ago, a single ship cannot be in two places at once. This highlights the deterrence role that naval forces play, a mission arguably more important than war fighting. Strategically, the West must use its ability to dominate major maritime choke points; the object being to preserve freedom of navigation. The Baltic, Black Sea, eastern Mediterranean, Arabian Gulf and the South and East China Seas should be the focus of Western maritime effort. A major increase between not only Anglo-American sea services but also the sea services of such other nations as Canada, Australia and New Zealand would help bring this goal within reach. More frequent exercises that focus on military operations other than disaster relief and peacekeeping missions, stronger military to military relationships and increased inter-operability are all necessary. This expansion in Anglo-American hard power does not occur for power’s sake. Instead these steps are necessary because they help safeguard a set of values. Once again power is merely a vehicle to protect and project ideas. Whatever state has the post power will shape the international order. The current international order is directly tied to the norms within Anglo-American society of freedom of navigation, free trade and respect for human rights. Nations that sanction the killing of political and religious opponents and ban free expression do not share these values. If given the opportunity they will create an international order that is vastly different from todays. In 1945 Churchill had the satisfaction of knowing that even if World War Two shattered British strength, The United States would preserve the key components of British global order. No leader today in Washington or London can rely on another nation to step in and uphold the current Western order. We face a dripping threat to the liberal international order today from the Baltics, to the Levant, to the Arabian Gulf and to the Western Pacific. It could easily become a torrent which for now we are completely unprepared for. The United States’ President-elect has promised to re-arm America, not since the 1940s has there been a more compelling reason for our two nations to cooperate in preserving the international order.

Lord West: Thank you very much Seth. That is great. I’ll open it up to questions. If people have a question could they say who they are and who they represent and nice short questions not great long statements I would prefer. The gentleman there.

Question 1: My name is John (inaudible). Bearing in mind what you said about the importance of international chokepoints, do you think looking back to 1956 that Eden was right and Eisenhower was wrong in regard to the Suez?

Seth Cropsey: Yes.

Lord West: Nice short answer, yes gentleman with the bead there.

Question 2: Hi I’m (inaudible) I work for a think-tank called the Democracy Forum. I was wondering if you could just comment a bit on China’s (inaudible) capabilities that you mentioned?

Seth Cropsey: China’s military budgets have been increasing by double digits for the past twenty years. They have gone from being a small coastal Navy to one that can project power globally, with difficulty but globally. This is supplemented by commercial acquisitions around the world from the Caribbean to the West Coast of South America. They’re not close to challenging the American Navy at sea yet but if you had told an American Admiral twenty years ago that the Chinese would have a ballistic missile that could be maneuvered to have a good chance of hitting an American aircraft carrier a thousand miles away, the American Admiral would have asked you whether you had lost your mind. Yet this is the situation that we face today. There doesn’t seem to be any sign in the future that the Chinese emphasis on modernising their sea forces will reduce. There is every indication that it will accelerate and that at the same time is the possible subject of another question of the new Administration’s ability to increase the Navy, the West Navy, which is restricted by money.

Lord West: Thank you. This Gentleman here.

Question 3: Thank you very much. Euan Grant, I’m a former law enforcement agency intelligence analyst covering the ex-Soviet Union and have worked extensively in countries there. My question is partly based on what I believe is a major failure on Western law enforcement agencies to realise that with the former states of the Soviet Union you are dealing with a semi-militarised legacy and their assets specifically naval and merchant crews has a very long legacy across the world. What about the continental Europeans? You have made some strong words so are they listening to your message?

Seth Cropsey: Well the Turks are listening but I don’t think that is what you were driving at. I think that you are in a better position to know then I am but my sense is that they are not listening and that they are at least as interested in seeking accommodation as they are in strengthening themselves against precisely what we are talking about. That trend is not a good one and to cite one example: if Trump were to be taken seriously, if he means it that is to say, about his concern about Alliance members’ two percent then it might have a positive effect but we will see.

Question 4: I’m (inaudible) a Member of the Henry Jackson Society. The telephone conversation between President-elect Trump and the Taiwanese President threatens to break down a balance which has existed over Taiwan. How do you see Taiwan’s relationship with China over the next few years? What chance does china have for the forcible reintegration of Taiwan which calls itself the Republic of China?

Seth Cropsey: As you know, China’s official policy remains something like ‘peaceful rise’ and their diplomatic policy is still not to be seen as the aggressive power and to try to achieve their political and military objectives by diplomacy by threat and to avoid violence. That situation was more so fifteen years ago, Xi Jinping is not consistent with that and China’s actions in the South China Sea are definitely a demonstration of that. I think that whilst China says that the use of force to solve their dispute with Taiwan remains on the table, that doing so in fact would demonstrate without a doubt that China is a large, expansionary and aggressive power. I don’t think that China is yet willing to make that bet, I also think that they understand that is the United States wanted to stop them from doing that, it is within their power and that this would not be a good time to go to war with the United States. So I don’t see that as something that is likely to happen over the next five years or so. A lot of that depends upon what kind of negotiation Trump envisions with China. My guess is that he is more serious about re-examining the One-China Policy of the United States then he is about bargaining away Taiwan’s security, I don’t see that. You don’t make the US great again by telling the world that you don’t stand by your alliances.

Lord West: The Gentleman at the back then you after that.

Question 5: My name is (inaudible) and I work for a cyber-security think tank. There are two major issues in naval power. One is the safeguarding of international maritime trade and the other is the projection of power over long distances. How do you see the role of cyber in (inaudible) capabilities and perhaps whether it weakens it and how do you see the overall development of the naval balance and (inaudible).

Seth Cropsey: As you know, ships don’t go to sea by themselves. They require a large amount of logistic support which includes everything from spare parts to missiles to petroleum, it is a big deal and so it is not a coincidence that really significant naval bases sit at the end of railroad lines because those supplies come in by railroads. So if an unfriendly country was to be able to stop the logistical supply including railroads for example it would go a long way to making it extremely difficult if not impossible for the fleet to go to sleep. I don’t know but I suspect that this understanding is not idiosyncratic. So I think cyber warfare is extremely important and as far as the sea services are concerned, it is vital. Which, by the way, is one reason why the American Navy set up a new directorate for cyber warfare last year or in the past couple of years. I hope that it is doing its job.

Lord West: Thank you. Yes Please

Question 6: My name is (inaudible) Watson and I am a former Navy person. I was talking to some Indians a few weeks ago about their government’s decision to buy six Akula submarines from Russia and what they intended to do with them. What is the American view of India, a growing power, buying Russian submarines?

Seth Cropsey: I can’t speak for the American Government yet, or ever.

Lord West: Ah, we’ll watch this space for Trump’s next appointments shall we?

Seth Cropsey: I’m looking at my cell phone. I can tell you my reaction which is that it is a disappointment. However I have dealt in a former position as a director of the United States’ international broadcasting organs with the Indians at length and I found out after a couple of years that one of the best ways of working with them is not to be surprised by anything that happens. So I don’t think that that changes what ought to be a fundamental strategic and shared interest of India and the United States and that interest is in making sure that India controls the Ocean which is named for it and that it is able to control the sea lanes that pass between China and the Middle East. Which is to say also to protect itself and I think that one of the virtues of the George W. Bush Administration was their understanding of common strategic interest with India. I’d be surprised if General Mattis, as Secretary of Defence, who was the Commander of the Central Command doesn’t know where India is or doesn’t know why it is important. So I expect that wherever the strategic rapprochement between the US and India left at the end of the Bush Administration will be revived in some form by the Trump Administration.

Lord West: Ok. Yes.

Question 7: Gordon Wilson, I’m a former naval person and a detailed question. How many carrier air groups can the US generate at the same time and is it sustainable at that number.

Seth Cropsey: If pushed probably five and that would be an extraordinary push because the normal ratio is something between three and four are necessary in order to keep one deployed. So that would mean that all sorts of things have to be pushed to the side. The interesting question here is if the United States was going to deploy four or five carriers at once, are we practicing such right now that we could perform integrated operations between those carriers; that was not the case during the First Gulf War. The carrier operations there were sequential and not integrated, we did not do that and we should have. I am interested in the number, I think we should have more and I think that we should have some smaller carriers in the mix. I have doubts about whether it is a good idea to put those carriers in the position that they are in right now and a more imaginative use of surface action groups as a means of applying force directly, immediately and in a punishing way is something that we should be thinking about. I would focus more on integrated carrier operations then we are right now.

Lord West: Yes.

Question 8: Johnathon Grant asking in a private capacity, as a very wise naval person, what was your impression of Putin sending an aircraft carrier down the English Channel recently.

Seth Cropsey: I had a bad impression. They are challenging the Trump administration before Trump becomes President. What they are saying explicitly is: you sent a destroyer as a freedom of navigation operation last year and how convincing is that. One destroyer is not a convincing demonstration by the United States that illustrates the concern of the United States that China building islands and trying to extend sovereign territory in international waters. I think China understands what a convincing demonstration is.

Question 9: (inaudible) from the Voice of America, how do you see the development of a European military headquarters and is it a good thing?

Seth Cropsey: I hope that this is not a diversion from NATO.

Lord West: It is.

Seth Cropsey: I know. To the extent that it is a diversion from NATO it looks like an unserious diversion and there are good and bad sides to that but generally speaking I think that it is unhelpful.

Question 10: Alex (inaudible) I’m a researcher of (inaudible). I was wondering what practical options that the new Administration will have to stop the Chinese dredging up these artificial islands?

Seth Cropsey: If we were to start operating more ships in the West Pacific and bigger ships and cruisers and more deployments, as expensive as they are, of aircraft carriers. Also using aircraft carriers rather than destroyers or frigates to demonstrate our concerns about the island building campaign. More frequent and more substantive arms sales to Taiwan, including assistance to Taiwan in its indigenous submarine building programme. Direct military to military contact at the flag level between the Pacific Fleet Command and the American Pacific Command and Taiwan. All of those things would demonstrate to China that there are some teeth in that pivot to Asia, right now China is convinced that the pivot to Asia is a paper tiger.

Question 11: My name is John (inaudible), I’m a businessperson focusing on Asia. Two questions: is it significant that there is no mention of China on this agenda yet half the questions are related to China? And yesterday the first train ever from the China East Coast came all the way to London loaded with things and we are now part of the belt and braces initiative of China, do you see that as significant?

Seth Cropsey: Yes and yes. I was trying to give an overview that looked at where American sea power is focused and how we can work together more closely along with the sea services of other English speaking states. I was also trying to emphasise my concern that great power competition is remerging and the great power is China so if I was going to speak longer I would have spoken more directly to the Chinese question but I think that the Chinese question is the large one. One of the reasons for that is the arrival of goods that you mentioned came yesterday. They I think have read Alfred Thayer Mahan, the principal theorist of American sea power, because they understand about sea lanes and the connection between a large merchant marine and a countries economic and industrial development and the importance of naval forces not only to project power but to defend merchant marines. The Chinese are not confused about this, they know who Mahan is and they have these ideas down clearly.

Lord West: One last question.

Question 12: (inaudible), here in a private capacity. Given that India is capable of operating two aircraft carriers in two oceans at the same time why is the United States incapable of fielding more than five aircraft carriers?

Seth Cropsey: A large carrier has something between ninety and a hundred planes. They are advanced and they require maintenance and repair, they require a lot of training and advanced missiles and weaponry go along with them, so it is a little more complicated than that. The bang that you get for that carrier is proportionate.

Lord West: Well, Professor Cropsey thank you very much. You’ve given us a run through all the way from the Peloponnesian War, the Dutch Wars, the French Wars, the Pax Britannica, the German Wars, the Cold War and hard and soft power. You’ve given us an awful lot to think about and a lot of questions still to be answered. Thank you very much for that. Interestingly I think on the choke points, we used to control eight of the nine choke points and now we don’t and one has to worry about who does control some of those chokepoints. I will throw in loosely the missile that will attack the carriers, the Type 45 Destroyer and the reason it costs so much money is because it was designed particularly to kill that missile which we got the first details of in 1996 when I was Chief of Defence Intelligence. The person in control of procurement could not believe how much money we were going to spend to shoot this thing down but actually thank goodness we did. We had cyber mentioned, I think the issue of carrier air wings is important for the UK now bearing in mind that we are going to start doing that, I mean twelve F-35s are no bloody good at all if you are going to have a real fight and numbers are very important as well. I think what is clear is that both the US and UK need to actually put their money where their mouth is in terms of naval power. The Secretary of State Fallon has said that this is the year of the Navy in this country and immediately decided to get rid of our surface to surface missiles which I find quite extraordinary. Anyway, thank you very much indeed. We didn’t even mention North Korea and they are all barking mad. So thank you very much indeed and if we can just show our appreciation.


Lost your password?

Not a member? Please click here