What can be done to get the American public to recognize the danger to maritime trade and approve of a larger U.S. Navy to counter it?
As a nautical nation, the United States is best served by a maritime policy. Although the U.S. Navy frequently uses the statistic that 90 percent of international trade occurs at sea, this has not led to a popular uprising in favor of shipbuilding.
19FortyFive notes that there was no clear and present danger to shipping lanes during the early Cold War, even with the Imperial Japanese Navy and the German Navy littering the seafloor. While the Soviet Union was a formidable threat on land, their navy was hardly a threat at sea.
The Navy collapsed after WWII, taking the number of ships in service with it. By the 1970s, the Soviet Navy existed, and by the 1980s, the Soviet Navy’s strategy, doctrine, and fleet architecture were all specifically designed to disrupt American, European, and Pacific-based supply lines. By the 1970s’ end, there was a clear and present danger to the sea lanes, and the politics of shipbuilding transformed once more. By the time of Carter and Reagan, the officialdom had a compelling argument regarding threat and response.
U.S. naval forces shrank in proportion to the anticipated danger, returning to transoceanic missions similar to those undertaken by Huntington in the Persian Gulf and the Balkans.
Communist China has developed into a powerful rival in today’s global economy, but it is distinct In spite of the tensions of recent years, China is still a significant commercial partner for the United States, while the Soviet Union was always economically isolated from the West.
If trade between the United States and China continues to deteriorate, China might become a credible threat to global trade, much like the Soviet Union was in the waning years of the Cold War.
Beijing may come to consider blocking U.S. trade as a good idea if doing so no longer hurts Chinese trade. The American people might be asked their opinion on the matter of shipbuilding, and their leaders would have a good chance of winning over some skeptics.
U.S. Navy expansion seems to require a worsening of commercial conditions before it can occur.