Loren Thompson, the chief operating officer for the Lexington Institute, recently wrote an op-ed for the Forbes website strongly stating that the current coronavirus pandemic should refocus the government’s attention to rebuilding the U.S.-flag fleet.
In an April 17 article titled “Coronavirus Makes the National Security Case for Rebuilding U.S. Maritime Power Compelling,” Thompson states as China continues to expand its maritime footprint around the world, especially in shipbuilding and global port operations, America is sailing away.
“The problem here isn’t that China is competing with U.S. maritime interests and winning,” he notes. “The problem is that official Washington has largely deserted the field, failing to frame policies that can maintain a reasonable balance of maritime interests.”
After recalling how U.S. maritime capabilities were severely lacking at the start of both World War I and II, Thompson reflects how in the present time, “This could be disastrous for the United States. In a major conflict, the U.S. might lack the capacity to import essential goods from other countries, it might lack the shipping tonnage to sustain a protracted sealift effort, and it might lack the merchant seamen to operate what vessels it does possess.
“Without a reasonably robust American-flagged commercial fleet, there won’t be enough experienced seamen to sustain a military sealift operation in wartime,” he adds.
Thompson saluted the efforts to support and protect the Jones Act (the nation’s freight cabotage law) and the Maritime Security Program (which provides annual stipends for 60 militarily useful U.S.-flag vessels capable of being deployed in military or national emergency operations), but they are not enough: “Such policies are helpful but inadequate.”
He proposes Congress “bolster the American commercial oceangoing fleet and mariner community by raising the cargo preference requirement for all federally assisted loads to 100 percent.”
In addition, he believes there should be a comprehensive domestic shipbuilding program and an effort to “defray the differential operating costs of U.S. ships once they went to sea, since some nations impose virtually no requirements on the credentialing and work conditions of merchant mariners.”
Thompson wraps up his case by stating, “As policymakers rethink economic priorities in the aftermath of the coronavirus crisis, now would be a good time to recommit to being a first-class commercial seafaring nation.”
The Lexington Institute is a Virginia-based public policy think-tank that focuses on national security-related issues.