Three schooners commandeered by General George Washington marked the beginning of America’s Navy. As the Continental Congress dithered (some things never change!), Washington took action to interrupt efforts to resupply the British Army with ammunition. His efforts spurred the legislature into action, and soon the Continental Navy was purchasing, retrofitting, crewing, and operating a fleet that would help our nation win its independence.
A lot has changed over the past 246 years, but some things remain the same. While we are not under threat of invasion, America is more dependent on global trade than ever before. In fact, 90 percent of international trade involves marine transportation.
This is no longer academic for most of us. We saw the supply disruptions and price spikes when a giant container ship ran aground in the Suez Canal in March. In some cases, we are still dealing with the consequences as ports continue to deal with massive backlogs. Combined with other challenges, we have container ships piling up at ports around the country, with the worst delay in southern California, New Jersey, New York, Texas, and Georgia. Even my home state of Florida is feeling the pain.
Supply chain disruptions are expected to last well into next year. Products are harder to find and many are now more expensive. The cost of Christmas gifts is expected to increase by 20 percent.
What does this have to do with the United States Navy?
Imagine if an adversary, like the People’s Republic of China, decided to flex its muscle by shutting down the Strait of Malacca in an attempt to deter the United States from supporting Taiwan. Roughly 20 percent of global maritime trade runs through the strait. Similarly, about 33 percent of the global maritime oil trade runs through the Strait of Hormuz. We have already seen Iran take aggressive action in that choke point.
America’s inability to secure global trade routes would be devastating to our nation and our people. As our nation’s founders understood, the best defense against being held hostage is to have the world’s strongest navy.
Unfortunately, we have fallen behind China in terms of naval assets. While our capabilities remain superior, our leadership is not guaranteed because the Chinese Communist Party is on a shipbuilding spree. We cannot maintain our current advantage, let alone build on it, if we do nothing. Unless we take action, we will find ourselves in the unthinkable position our nation’s earliest leaders feared: a nation subject to the whims of a totalitarian, communist regime who can cripple our economy at will.
The Department of Defense’s 2020 annual report to Congress on China’s military power warned, “China has already achieved parity with—or even exceeded—the United States in several military modernization areas, including shipbuilding.” Fortunately, the United States Navy developed a plan that, if President Biden committed to and Congress fully funded, would increase America’s ability to counter and deter Chinese influence abroad, and increase protection for American interests overseas and at home.
We can start by passing my Prioritizing Readiness and Competitiveness (PRC) Act, which would redirect funds from Afghanistan to address critical supply chain issues, invest in advanced research, and increase Navy shipbuilding. But we must also invest in everything from workforce training to revitalizing our ports and shipyards. It is in our national interest abroad and will create dignified work at home. Our future cannot be outsourced to Communist China or simply ignored.
A strong United States Navy is a force for good throughout the world. It protects critical trade routes, discourages Beijing’s aggression, and provides a sense of stability and certainty in an otherwise chaotic world. As we celebrate the Navy’s 246th birthday, we need to double down on its future success. Let us also not forget the courage and sacrifice of the men and women who are serving or have served in the United States Navy. They need our full support now more than ever.
• Marco Rubio is an American politician and lawyer serving as the senior United States senator from Florida, a seat he has held since 2011.
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