A detailed study issued by two professors from the Hawaii Pacific University came to the conclusion that “the Maritime Security Program (MSP) and the Jones Act are vital to the maintenance of the U.S. merchant maritime industry, which is critical to the U.S. national security.”
“Sea Strangulation – How the United States Has Become Vulnerable to Chinese Maritime Coercion” was released in November by Dr. Patrick Bratton, associate professor of political science and chair of the university’s history and international studies department, and Capt. Carl Schuster (USN, Ret.), who has taught China’s Modern Military Doctrine and 20th Century Maritime Operations at the facility.
The basis for the study was to show the possible vulnerabilities that could be faced by the United States should a foreign power like China build up its merchant and naval fleets (which it has been doing) while the U.S. continues to reduce its numbers. Bratton and Schuster noted America’s commercial and military fleets are at a modern-day low, comparable to the position faced by the nation at the start of the Spanish-American War.
“In the absence of a sufficiently large fleet and a sufficient labor pool of qualified mariners, our defense needs will not be met,” the report stated. “Without a vital merchant maritime industry, the U.S. could fall prey to Sea Strangulation or be unable to have a sufficient number of trained mariners available for an armed conflict.”
The authors show how important the relationship between a nation’s merchant fleet with its navy is to that country’s strength. They compared the power held by the British in the 18th and 19th centuries to that position held by the U.S. post World War II. Then they used that data to show what is happening in China today.
At the end of the study, the authors concede their concern that weakened U.S. seapower could lead to a possible economic downturn for Hawaii and American possessions located throughout the Pacific.
The report challenges recent attacks on the Jones Act, citing two different Government Accountability Office studies that found it difficult to back statements that eliminating the cabotage law would provide any cost reductions: “Savings on maritime transport costs may be negated by the increased land transportation costs.”
Additionally, it stated that any monetary savings that might be gained by opening America’s domestic waterways to foreign vessels and crews “will be negated by the expanded security requirements placed on [the Department of Homeland Security] to vet and monitor those crews and vessels.”
It further noted: “In the United States, many Jones Act ships meet U.S. requirements for transportation and supply of military forces. Moreover, U.S.-flagged ships crewed by American citizens have the ability to travel in crisis or combat areas that might prove problematic to foreign-flagged and crewed vessels.”
To support this finding, the authors recalled the efforts at the beginning of the Vietnam conflict in which the foreign crews aboard seven foreign-flagged vessels refused to move U.S. materiel during 1965. (The report failed to note similar actions taken by foreign crews aboard Effective U.S. Controlled vessels who refused to sail into the Persian Gulf during the 1991 Kuwaiti war.)
“Without the strategic reserve and the pool of trained mariners available due to the Jones Act and MSP fleets, America’s options would be limited,” the study added.
Regarding the MSP, the authors called upon several reports and statements showing how much more money would be needed by the military to match what is made available by the commercial sector for shipping and intermodal operations.
“In fact, the National Defense Transportation Association – Military Sealift Committee concluded that ‘the likely cost to the government to replicate just the vessel capacity provided by MSP dry cargo vessels would be $13 billion. And the United States Transportation Command has established it would cost the U.S. government an additional $52 billion to replicate the global intermodal system that is made available to the Department of Defense by MSP participants alone.’”
In conclusion, Bratton and Schuster wrote, “The U.S. needs to supply its military in far-flung locations, maintain supplies to states and territories dependent on sea transport and have a merchant marine presence for economic security on the mainland.
“The Maritime Security Program and the Jones Act keep the U.S. Merchant Marine and merchant marine industry afloat. A vibrant merchant marine helps to make experienced seamen and suitable military transportation vessels available to the U.S. at times of conflict and crisis. The investments in the U.S. shipbuilding industry and port facilities assist the U.S. Navy and Merchant Marine in having appropriate vessels and ship repair facilities.”