The Economic Soft Power-Military Hard Power Linkage

By Joe Buff

Defense Tech Futurist and Submarine Warfare Novelist

The following is an editorial by Joe Buff, an award-winning writer specializing in undersea warfare fiction and non-fiction. He is also currently working as a producer on turning one of his novels into a major motion picture.

Engagement by talking, alone, has yet to prove its effectiveness on the international stage. To thrive economically, a maritime nation needs a strong navy. The high cost of sustaining that navy is worth it.

Businesses and consumers depend on merchant shipping that demands protection from security threats. These range from piracy (think of Somalia), to terror (possible al Qaeda takeover of a liquid natural gas carrier or another crowded cruise ship like the MS Achille Lauro), to spillover from regional wars (the costly “Tanker War” in the Persian Gulf in the 1980s, growing out of the Iran-Iraq War), to attacks against trans-oceanic territory (Falklands Crisis), to defeat or containment of invasions of allies and trading partners (Kuwait, Bosnia, Georgia) and preferably deterrence of such invasions (Israel, Taiwan), not to mention deterrence of nuclear rogue states (Iran, North Korea), and more.

This economy-navy linkage creates a national structural feedback loop, which can be positive or negative. A case study of the positive effect is the Peoples’ Republic of China. Her burgeoning shipping in the Gulf of Aden is being protected from pirates by her new blue water navy, encouraging more Chinese investment in Africa, helping to pay for an ever more capable navy.

A case study of the negative is the U.K., whose weak economy since World War II caused the Royal Navy to shrink, encouraging Argentina to invade the Falklands (Malvinas). The resulting costly naval campaign to retake the islands was prohibitively expensive, with lasting ill effects on the British economy and submarine construction skills.

The U.S. has reached its own tipping point here. Nowhere is this more evident than the zero-sum game between federal bailouts of private industry, and the Navy’s 30-year shipbuilding plan. This highly charged political process unfolds against a backdrop of disturbing headlines such as “China Testing Ballistic Missile ‘Carrier-Killer,’” “Pak Navy to Acquire Seven Submarines to Meet Challenge Posed by India,” and “Russian Defense Minister Says Russia to Help Vietnam Build Submarine Base.”

The recent U.S. rescue of insurance giant AIG, due to its excessive use of overly risky securities vended by Wall Street, cost American taxpayers roughly $200 billion. That single bailout could have otherwise been used over time to pay for dozens of additional nuclear powered fast-attack subs and Littoral Combat Ships, plus a handful of nuclear aircraft carriers fully equipped with air wings, along with much needed R&D on a replacement for the ageing strategic deterrent subs.

Enlightened self-preservation of our democracy demands structural checks and balances against “anything goes” capitalism going too far. Such accountability to the country by financial corporations is an essential foundation of good government under the U.S. Constitution’s charge to provide for the common defense. It is one place where stronger regulation will not become the creeping communism some voters fear, but rather will form a high bulwark protecting world freedom from tyranny.

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