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The coming age of naval pluralism?

February 12, 2014

For the past several centuries, naval power has been largely concentrated in the hands of one nation.  First, the British Navy ruled the waves for two full hegemonic cycles, and now the United States has inherited the position.  The British faced several near peers during their run of maritime dominance, but the United States Navy has not faced a serious challenge since sinking four Japanese aircraft carriers at the Battle of Midway.  Today, the US Navy has more ships at sea than the next 13 navies combined.

However, those times may be changing.  The combination of technological advances and diffusion, plus strategic need, is fueling a naval arms race in the Indo-Pacific and elsewhere.  Nations around the globe are investing in naval forces at relatively high levels for the first time in decades.  At the same time, the US is facing financial difficulties that are limiting defense spending in substantial ways for the first time since before World War Two.

Prokhor Tebin, an analyst at the Russian International Affairs Center, believes that this heralds a coming era of “naval pluralism,” in which regional powers will exert local control and the US ability to dominate every ocean on the globe is over.  I do not agree with these conclusion – many of these growing navies will be allies of the US, allowing the USN to share burdens and shift the weight of its naval power where necessary.  Also, the technological edge that the US holds should remain substantial for another decade and a half, at least.

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