Friday, November 20, 2015

Paper: America Vulnerable to Maritime Coercion

By Mark Edward Nero

While China continues to expand both its naval sea power and its fleet of merchant vessels, the United States has adopted an ‘abandon ship’ policy towards the merchant maritime industry, according to the authors of a new paper on maritime security.

The paper, entitled “Sea Strangulation: How the United States Has Become Vulnerable to Chinese Maritime Coercion,” was released Nov. 19. It highlights the perceived defense risks of a reduced American merchant fleet and the need to improve its capability.

The authors are Capt. Carl Schuster, former Director of Operations at the US Joint Intelligence Center Pacific, and Dr. Patrick Bratton, Associate Professor of Political Science at Hawai’i Pacific University.

In their 28-page document, Bratton and Schuster state that China has the potential to implement a strategy the authors call “Sea Strangulation,” cutting off the supply of critical military and civilian goods.

“China’s growing commercial and military sea power are carefully planned to support one another, giving China the ability to control – or even halt – shipping of essential goods by other nations,” the paper reads in part. “China could severely damage the US economy, threaten our allies, hold our military hostage and deny critical supplies to Americans in locations such as Hawai’i without firing a single shot.” Currently, nearly 30 percent of global trade passes through the South China Sea.

The authors state that in the event of a military conflict with a hostile nation, America’s reliance on foreign-flagged vessels in commercial shipping could become its Achilles’ heel.

If the US were forced to rely on foreign-flagged ships to supply US troops, other nations could refuse to carry such goods, or a growing naval power such as China could blockade crucial supplies for US military forces, Bratton and Schuster speculate.

They also argue that the US should not weaken the Jones Act, which requires US-flagged ships be used to deliver goods between US ports; and that America should strengthen – and possibly expand – the US Merchant Marine.

With a renewed commercial shipping capacity, the US can control its own destiny, they say, but by contrast, an over-dependence on flag of convenience ships belonging to China or other nations “could be worse than inconvenient.”

It could, the authors state, lead to “severe hardships for those who live and serve under the flag of the United States.”

The full paper can be seen at