Why maritime infrastructure isn’t just about the U.S. Navy
This is the big time for infrastructure in America. The Biden administration got out of it, initially floating a $ 3 trillion package, and while the Republican counterproposals are more modest, the United States is on track to launch the biggest investment in our ever growing infrastructure. fragile for generations. The big debate will be about what counts as infrastructure, but underneath are several parallel debates. One of the most important is the line between military and commercial infrastructure and the interconnectivity of the two, especially for the US Navy and the maritime industry. This is just one aspect of a persistent problem of covering up aspects of our infrastructure and national security and treating them as if they were unrelated.
The Biden and Republican definitions of infrastructure both miss a key dimension of modern connectivity: What happens on land often begins at sea. Global trade is linked to maritime trade – think of the disruption when the Suez Canal went. stranded, or closer to home, when the Mississippi River was recently closed to shipping due to a failed bridge. Our technology also depends on the seas, in the form of submarine cables that carry the vast majority of our data.
Enter the bipartisan SHIPYARD bills introduced by four Democrats, one Independent and three Republican Senators and a pair of bipartisan representatives. The genuinely bipartisan nature of the bills is enough to warrant attention and the substance is on track with major change needed.
Basically, the SHIPYARD Act is designed to provide funding, in part using the Defense Production Act (DPA), to help the US Navy renovate four critical shipyards in Hawaii, Washington (State), Virginia and the United States. Maine. The act’s full name (somewhat unusual) explains its purpose: “To provide infrastructure assistance at US ports, yards, and repair docks.” It’s part of a larger effort in Congress to ensure the United States has the assets it needs to face a growing naval arms race in the Western Pacific and beyond. But the SHIPYARD Act risks focusing too narrowly on the Navy’s own shipyards and on the national security aspects of maritime capability, neglecting the commercial side.
Maritime infrastructure serves both commercial and national security purposes, as well as scientific purposes. All three are related; shipbuilding, port maintenance, maritime engineering, projection of naval power and participation in marine science are intrinsically linked. Unfortunately, this is not the case with the federal government.
In the late American conversation, we overestimated the importance of the military dimensions of maritime capability and gave too little consideration to the ever-deteriorating US shipbuilding industry. American commercial shipbuilding was a dynamic industry equal in economic size to military shipbuilding in the mid-1970s and employing 180,000 workers in 1980. After President Ronald Reagan cut subsidies to American commercial shipbuilding, the industry has largely disappeared; America today produces less than half a percent of the world’s commercial vessels. The decline in commercial shipbuilding capacity translates into increased costs to the Navy in building and maintaining its fleet.
We became dependent on non-U.S. Shipping in a way we refused for the production of automobiles and airplanes, industries that both received large taxpayer subsidies during COVID-19 and the Great Depression. financial. Now this question is nuanced: there is no immediate commercial downside to the use of non-U.S. Shipping, especially when European and Asian allies play such a large role in commercial shipping (as does China , of course). But there is a real domestic cost: fewer jobs (especially high-quality jobs not focused on 4-year liberal arts college degrees), higher costs for building and maintaining ships the navy and reduced trade movements between US ports.
There is a difference, however, as cargo can only be shipped between certain parts of the United States using American-built vessels. The American Founding Fathers wanted in our first great law (Public Law 1-2) that goods shipped between American ports use ships built in America, an idea currently codified in the Jones Act. Since America is unlikely to abandon the principle of its oldest law, then without enough US-built ships, inland shipping is not possible.
The result of neglect of inland navigation and port infrastructure is greater congestion on the roads and rails of our country as well as greater pollution. Transport is the main source of greenhouse gas emissions (nearly 30%) and transport by truck is much less environmentally sustainable than by boat. Freight rail faces different congestion challenges to keep up with our ever increasing movement of goods on a fixed number of rails. Investing more in expanding U.S. domestic transportation capacity is critical to building a sustainable infrastructure system for the future.
The Biden team insists on a foreign policy for the American middle class. Tying an effort to strengthen the US Navy with a larger effort to strengthen the civilian dimensions of US maritime capability would reap economic, environmental, military, and political rewards. A better plan would be based on the SHIPYARD Act, but rather than using the authority of the DPA, it would instead include funding for dredging operations, port renovations, US shipbuilding, and ocean science. The Navy, the Department of Transportation, commercial port operators and shipbuilders should jointly develop plans to maximize this investment. Congress must recognize the links between military and commercial shipbuilding and understand that investing in commercial shipping saves Uncle Sam defense spending and creates quality jobs for the middle class.
This is infrastructure time, and a time to think about US infrastructure in the context of the world. Expanding the openness and bridging the commercial and military dimensions of maritime capability will benefit the US economy and environment and strengthen our national security.