World commerce is dependent on America's fading naval power
The world is free-riding on the U.S.' role as the Ocean Police.
I was writing something about Bitcoin today, but then the U.S., in cooperation with the UK and a few smaller nations, launched a campaign of airstrikes against Yemen’s Houthi militia. So I guess today I’m writing about Pax Americana again.
Back in October, following the Hamas attacks on Israel, I wrote a post about the end of Pax Americana:
Some people are inevitably going to claim that subsequent events have proven me wrong. The U.S.’ naval presence in the Mediterranean for three months after the Israel-Gaza war began may have stopped Hezbollah from joining the fray. And U.S. strikes against Iranian-backed militias in Syria and Iraq may have also helped prevent the spread of conflict throughout the region. Meanwhile, rival powers aren’t exactly looking invincible; as many have pointed out, Russia continues to struggle in an all-out war against a much smaller and much poorer neighbor, while China is purging its military and struggling with an economic slowdown.
Today’s strikes against the Houthis — which have already reportedly taken out one of the militia’s leaders — might seem like further evidence that Pax Americana is still firmly in place. The strikes are in response to a barrage of attacks on Red Sea shipping that had effectively closed down one of the world’s major seaborne trade routes:
Fighting piracy to protect international maritime trade is something the U.S. has been doing since its inception. The Marines’ Hymn mentions the “shores of Tripoli”; this is a reference to the First Barbary War, in which the newly formed U.S. dispatched its ships to battle Ottoman-backed North African pirates. So this may seem like business as usual.
But the truth is that the U.S. can’t really afford this conflict. Its naval resources are stretched very thin by global deployment, fiscal austerity, and industrial weakness, at a time when a Chinese naval buildup threatens to outmatch and overwhelm the U.S. in its most crucial theater of operations. The problem is that the entire world has basically gotten used to the U.S. singlehandedly protecting the entire world’s oceans over the last 75 years. So now, instead of stepping up as U.S. capabilities get stretched thin, they’re free-riding and expecting America to do what it always did.
And this is very dangerous, because if U.S. sea power is stretched to the breaking point — or smashed in a war with China — the world will suddenly find itself without a guardian of the seaborne trade that the entire global economy depends upon.