To project power and protect America the U.S. military requires a robust American sealift capability. Transporting materials and weaponry over across the high seas is a key component of America’s ability to protect its interests around the globe yet it is often overlooked, misunderstood and underappreciated.
History teaches this lesson unmistakably. In 1812, when the greatest army the world had seen up to that time launched an invasion of Russian. Napoleon had an army of almost 700,000 men. At first his troops routed the opposition wherever they engaged but, as he led his forces deeper and deeper into Russia, supplies ran short and his men began to starve.
As winter came, his men began to freeze, not from fear but from hypothermia. Napoleon was forced to beat a hasty retreat back to France, leaving 380,000 dead, 100,000 captured, and many so sick that they could no longer fight. His once great army had only 27,000 soldiers capable of fighting.
The Russians, who fought as best they could, actually lost most engagements. Nevertheless, Napoleon and the greatest army in the world was defeated by the lack of a reliable supply chain.
Today America has the world’s greatest military — even with its parts shortages, aging air fleet, and a lack of attention that has gone on for most of the last decade. Yet some in Congress and some policy advocates, in the name of saving money, are setting us up to repeat Napoleon’s fatal mistake. They advocate leaving our ability to supply our troops to chance by repealing or substantially changing “The Merchant Marine Act of 1920.” Today commonly referred to as the Jones Act, this law was passed after World War I so as to ensure that America’s ability to supply its troops in future conflicts would never again be in question.
A key feature of the Jones Act allows foreign vessels to make deliveries at only one U.S. port, requiring them to leave for other nations before they may return. Instead, only American vessels with American crews can handle shipments stopping at multiple U.S. ports. Consequently this requirement helps ensure America has a viable shipping industry and a capable American Merchant Marine to support America’s military.
Notably, the Jones Act also protects the American homeland. Foreign vessels carrying a hodgepodge of crewmen from other countries cannot simply sail up the Mississippi or other waterways into America’s heartland. Imagine the homeland security nightmare of foreign ships with unvetted foreign crews traveling inland wherever they please. It would be easy to hide a mobile missile launcher on a large cargo ship and fire it from deep within America’s heartland.
Some argue the Jones Act is outdated because it is almost 100 years old. The constitutional protections for freedom of speech are over 200 years old but no one questions whether they are still of value because of their age. Only a few weak-minded snowflakes on liberal college campuses think of free speech as out-of-date. Not everything old is outdated. Some things have become old precisely because they work and make sense. The Jones Act works and it makes sense. History proves it.
If you don’t accept the lessons of history then consider the American military’s modern perspective. The U.S. Navy’s position is clear — undermining the Jones Act in any way would “hamper [America’s] ability to meet strategic sealift requirements and Navy shipbuilding.”
Gen. Paul J. Selva, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff says, “I am an ardent supporter of the Jones Act. It supports a viable ship building industry, cuts costs and produces 2,500 qualified mariners. Why would I tamper with that?”
Imagine sending America’s high tech weapons half way around the world on a foreign owned and crewed ship. For weeks, foreign agents would have access to our highest technology. It could be studied by scientists who could reverse engineer it in order to copy it or to find ways to defeat it in battle.
Perhaps the most senseless reasoning for eliminating the Jones Act is that doing so would require the DOD to build, maintain and man its own ships for military sea lift. The cost to replicate the entire shipping network the Jones Act provides to our military when needed — the actual ships, logistics capabilities, global reach, manpower, etc. — is $65 billion. That’s $65 billion that wouldn’t go to our existing national security needs. The question is: which missile interceptors do you want to give up? Which new planes do you want to cancel? Which military hospitals do you want to close? Tackling this responsibility when it isn’t essential isn’t an efficient trade off in economic terms or as a matter of security policy.
The bottom line is clear. History and today’s generals and admirals all make the same point: America needs the Jones Act. It supports our military. It aids homeland security. It promotes freedom through commerce. That’s all good for America!
(George Landrith is the President and CEO of Frontiers of Freedom — a public policy think tank devoted to promoting a strong national defense, free markets, individual liberty, and constitutionally limited government.)