Executive Briefings

Is America Dangerously Reliant on Chinese Merchant Ships?

In future conflicts, America's merchant fleet could find itself outnumbered and outmaneuvered on the high seas, say the authors of a new paper on U.S. maritime security.

The paper, "Sea Strangulation: How the United States Has Become Vulnerable to Chinese Maritime Coercion," highlights the defense risks of a reduced American merchant fleet and the need to improve its capability.

The authors – Captain Carl Schuster, former Director of Operations at the U.S. Joint Intelligence Center Pacific, and Dr. Patrick Bratton, Associate Professor of Political Science at Hawaii Pacific University – claim that “the United States has adopted an 'abandon ship' policy towards the crucial merchant maritime industry,” and has let it shrink to its smallest size since the Spanish-American War.

Bratton and Schuster point to the gap in fleet size between the U.S. and China. “Only about 80 of the ships engaged in international trade across the world's oceans are U.S.-flag carriers,” compared with a Chinese deep sea merchant fleet of 3,900 ships.

“China does not need to blockade foreign ports to cut off the flow of goods . . . Chinese authorities could do this by controlling the price of goods entering or leaving United States ports through manipulation of shipping rates or ocean carrier service.” The authors describe this potential threat as “Sea Strangulation.”

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The paper, "Sea Strangulation: How the United States Has Become Vulnerable to Chinese Maritime Coercion," highlights the defense risks of a reduced American merchant fleet and the need to improve its capability.

The authors – Captain Carl Schuster, former Director of Operations at the U.S. Joint Intelligence Center Pacific, and Dr. Patrick Bratton, Associate Professor of Political Science at Hawaii Pacific University – claim that “the United States has adopted an 'abandon ship' policy towards the crucial merchant maritime industry,” and has let it shrink to its smallest size since the Spanish-American War.

Bratton and Schuster point to the gap in fleet size between the U.S. and China. “Only about 80 of the ships engaged in international trade across the world's oceans are U.S.-flag carriers,” compared with a Chinese deep sea merchant fleet of 3,900 ships.

“China does not need to blockade foreign ports to cut off the flow of goods . . . Chinese authorities could do this by controlling the price of goods entering or leaving United States ports through manipulation of shipping rates or ocean carrier service.” The authors describe this potential threat as “Sea Strangulation.”

Read Full Article