How Strong Is the U.S. Navy?
Summary: We spend a substantial faction of the US national income on national defense (broadly defined), roughly the same amount as the rest of the world spends (most of which is by our allies). Yet our leaders frequently warn that we’re at risk, and our military edge can vanish quickly. Recently Romney gave a fine example of this. Today two political scientists give us a more accurate perspective.
“How Strong Is the U.S. Navy Really?“
By political scientists Brian Crisher and Mark Souva.
Published at The Monkey Cage.
Posted here with their generous permission.
“A good navy is not a provocation to war. It is the surest guaranty of peace.”
– Theodore Roosevelt, his second State of the Union, 2 December 1902
In the last debate, Governor Romney made the claim that the US Navy is the smallest it’s been since 1916 implying that the US Navy is regressing in terms of overall strength. How accurate is this claim? We recently compiled a new data set on naval capabilities and created a measure of state naval strength for all countries from 1865 to 2011. As such, we are in a position to address the claims of the Romney campaign.
Broadly stated, our measure of state naval power is based on a state’s total number of warships (non-fighting ships are excluded) and each ship’s available firepower. To make comparisons over time, our annual measure is based on available firepower within the international system in that year. (For more information, see our paper below)
In 1916, the US controlled roughly 11% of the world’s naval power. This is an impressive number that ranks the US third in naval strength behind the UK (34%) and Germany (19%), and just ahead of France (10%). What about the US navy in 2011? In 2011, the US controlled roughly 50% of the world’s naval power putting it in a comfortable lead in naval power ahead of Russia (11%).
The US Navy has decreased in absolute size as Governor Romney argues (although this decline has been ongoing since the end of Cold War). U.S. warships are more powerful now than in the past, as President Obama implied. However, neither the number of warships nor the power of our ships is what is most important for understanding military and political influence. It is relative military power that matters most. In this respect, the U.S. navy is far stronger now than in 1916.
Their paper, including the key graphic
“Power At Sea: A Naval Power Dataset, 1865-2011” — Abstract:
Naval power is a crucial element of state power, yet existing naval datasets are limited to a small number of states and ship types. Here we present 146 years of naval data on all the world’s navies from 1865 to 2011. The creation of this country-year dataset focuses on warships that can use kinetic force to inflict damage on other structures or peoples. As such, the dataset captures naval power in terms of ship types and available firepower. This paper introduces the country-year data, describes variables of interest that can be used in either country-year studies or dyadic studies, and suggests potential questions of interest that scholars could explore using the naval power dataset.
The key graphic (click to expand):
About the authors
Brian Benjamin Crisher is a PhD candidate in Political Science at Florida State University. He has an undergraduate degree from Western Michigan University in international and comparative politics, and a graduate degree from WMU in comparative politics.
Mark Souva is an Associate Professor of Political Science at Florida State University. For details see his webpage.
For more information
All posts posts about this topic (including pirates and the USMC) are listed at the FM Reference Page Naval warfare and strategy.
Posts about the US Navy:
- Recommended reading: an autopsy of the 2002 Millennium Challenge war games, 14 January 2008
- A 4GW puzzle: what happened in the Straits of Hormuz?, 17 January 2008
- DoD Death Spiral – the US Navy version, 31 January 2008
- Update to the “Navy Death Spiral”, 22 April 2008
- A lesson in war-mongering: “Maritime Strategy in an Age of Blood and Belief”, 8 July 2008
- A step towards building a Navy we can afford, 16 July 2008
- “Amphibious Ships are the Dreadnoughts of the modern maritime era”, 2 September 2008
- What Tom Barnett should have told Congress about America’s 21st century Navy, 3 April 2009
- How to design a naval strategy for a crazy nation, 16 July 2009
- Dr. Gross asks “Can The Case Be Made For Naval Power?”, 5 July 2010