A 2005 report on US naval doctrine stated that protecting US shipping and the transit of international trade is a vital national security interest of Washington. It also recognized the necessity of US naval strategists better preparing for the defense of allied merchant marine in future conflicts. While recognizing the importance of maintaining parity with Chinese and Russian rivals, a recent plan proposed by the admiralty also urged for greater consideration of the changing strategic environment of the world’s oceans, as limited budgets, burgeoning technologies, and new sea-lanes present novel challenges for the next generation’s leaders. Nevertheless, the overarching objectives ultimately remain the same. In peace or future conflict, US naval operations must ensure the unimpeded movement of the goods, supplies, and troops of itself and its allies while destroying or containing those of its adversaries. Given the predominant role played by the US navy in maintaining global access to maritime trade and sea-lanes, however, the US stands poised to capture a commanding position over the world’s maritime sea-lanes in the event of a future large-scale, conventional conflict.
The United States, in conjunction with its allies, has enjoyed naval supremacy since the end of the Cold War, with fleets larger than even a combination of competitors. Overall, in addition to supplying and transporting troops and material to bases or conflicts around the world, it has maintained a policy of maintaining free maritime access of the sea-lanes for international trade as a global public good for which it receives limited recognition. This gives it a global predominance over the corridors of international trade. Yet, to date Washington has so far not integrated this policy with the broader benefits it provides to its own naval strategy. This is surprising, for at present the US protection of the ocean’s major sea-lanes allows for the easy transition from maintaining access, to dominating, the key corridors of naval traffic. Given its preponderant position, US naval doctrine should better direct its naval focus to rapidly transitioning towards controlling these strategic locations in the conflicts of the future
Based upon Mahanian theories of naval operations, US strategy recognizes the value of seizing or protecting the narrow places of the world like the Straits of Malacca, the Dardanelles, or the Suez and Panama Canals. These choke points serve as funnels that channel the world’s traffic from one ocean to another, and which are far easier to block or control than traversing the open sea. It is for this reason that pirates often haunt these locations, hoping to prey upon the numerous vessels forced to pass by their shores. By a similar token, the US boasting the largest fleet afloat and deployed naval vessels constantly protecting the seas, Washington inadvertently holds the key to dominating these waters in the face of sudden conflict. At present, no other state stands ready to assume or share in this role of protecting the global commons sea-lanes. Moreover, with a world reliant on US maintenance of the sea-lanes, few nations stand ready to contest this maneuver as hostilities commence. Thus, no other nation is in such a position to seize control of these areas in the event of open conflict.