In an atmosphere of deep defense cuts, many are questioning whether America really needs to maintain its position as the world’s only true superpower. Perhaps America can nation-build at home at the expense of our military posture abroad.
However, American power underpins the most prosperous global order the world has ever seen. The American umbrella of protection allows other nations to remain secure while focusing on economic growth, driving global prosperity while minimizing the destabilizing impact of arms races.
With 90 percent of global commerce crossing the open seas, American naval power promotes global prosperity—including our own—by ensuring freedom of navigation. A smaller U.S. Navy has already faced problems stopping piracy off the Horn of Africa.
Imagine a world where goods and resources could not be reliably shipped overseas due to rampant piracy. That world would be poorer, less stable, and less interconnected than anything we have seen in our lifetimes.
Some might be tempted to split the world with China, reducing America’s defense commitments while allowing for a transition to Chinese hegemony in the Western Pacific. Unfortunately, hegemonic transitions, more often than not, produce unprecedented violence and human suffering. Great Britain eventually passed its superpower status off to the United States, but in between, the world fought two great wars that brought untold misery and suffering to millions across the globe. Centuries earlier, the decline of the Holy Roman Empire led to the 30 Years’ War, which until the 20th century was one of the most apocalyptic conflicts the world had ever seen.
Even if this transition were managed peaceably, however, we would be left with a world where China controls Asia. During the Cold War, George Kennan identified five centers of industrial strength—the U.S., the U.K., Germany, Japan, and the Soviet Union—that formed the commanding heights of the global economy. Kennan’s articulation of containment was intended to prevent the Soviets from seizing control of these vital areas.
Today, we are rapidly facing a future where Asia may stand as the lone commanding height of the global economy. With over 50 percent of the world’s GDP centered in Asia by 2050, China may not need a global presence in order to control the global economy—it can simply control Asia.
American military power is a bargain to avoid seeing an authoritarian nation—one that does not respect the rights of its population—control the future of the global economy.
Charles Morrison is currently a member of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please visit: http://www.heritage.org/about/departments/ylp.cfm