CAMBRIDGE — Retired naval officer, author, and public speaker Bryan McGrath kicked off a statewide speaking tour at the Cambridge Rotary Club meeting on Thursday, Oct. 6.
The purpose of his tour is to increase awareness of the importance of seapower to the nation’s security and prosperity.
“Seapower is represented primarily by the forces of the United States Navy, but also by the U.S. Marine Corps and the Coast Guard,” said McGrath. “I’m here to explain how this country’s prosperity and security is disproportionately protected and sustained by globally deployed American seapower. I’m here because our nation’s security and prosperity is increasingly threatened by the military forces of rising great powers who just don’t see the world the way we do.”
McGrath’s qualifications on the topic include primary authorship of the 2007 maritime strategy entitled “A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower,” and a 21-year naval career that included commanding the USS Bulkeley. McGrath said he has written articles, appeared on panels, and testified before Congress on the issue of seapower. He said he now seeks to inform those who, perhaps, do not already think as he does.
“I want to inform some, I want to remind some others, and I want to persuade most, if not all, in this room that this country’s security and prosperity requires not only a strong Navy and Marine Corps, but also seapower second to none, dominant under, on, over, and adjacent to the world’s oceans,” said McGrath.
He began by explaining why the protection of American interests requires a powerful and globally deployed U.S. Navy.
“We sustain a powerful, globally deployed Navy for one important reason, and that is to guarantee freedom of the seas,” McGrath said. “Freedom of the seas is the minimum condition necessary to guarantee global trade, the overwhelming majority of which travels by sea. Our nation’s ability to import to and export from global markets is utterly dependent on freedom of the seas, as is the prosperity of virtually every other nation on Earth.”
According to McGrath, the economic impact of the 57 coastal seaports in the United States amounts to 21 million jobs, $321 billion in federal, state, and local tax revenues, and $4.6 trillion in economic activity — more than a quarter of the country’s entire gross domestic product (GDP).
To lessen the scale of the idea and bring home the message, McGrath related the importance of freedom of the seas to just the Port of Baltimore. The movement of goods through that port, he explained, accounts for $59 billion per year in economic activity and 230,000 direct and indirect Maryland jobs.
“Consider, if you will, what would happen to this nation’s economy, if that flow of goods in and out of our coastal seaports, were halted or even dramatically limited by great power war,” said McGrath. “What would be the impact if, for an extended period of time, we lost 26 percent of our wealth?”
The Great Depression is what happened the last time we lost so much of the country’s wealth over a relatively short period of time, McGrath said.
“For over 500 years, the global system of commerce has worked best when there was a dominant naval power ensuring that the seas were free and open to commerce among nations,” he said. “This role has never been undertaken out of a sense of charity or magnanimity. A dominant naval power exercises this responsibility because it is in its economic interests to do so, and it is in our interest to do so today.”
McGrath noted that the U.S. Navy is unique in its ability to impose such dominance because it is unique in its design and purpose.
“Unlike any other nation on Earth, the U.S. Navy is not built solely to defeat other navies,” McGrath said. “The U.S. Navy is built and sustained to influence entire nations. In order to do so, it must be able to control the seas and skies wherever it operates.”
In addition to its broader than average mission and purpose, McGrath said, the U.S. Navy faces a bit of a logistical obstacle in that much of the world’s activity happens in Europe and Asia, half a world away from our shores. He said, citing naval affairs specialist Ronald O’Rourke, that this is the reason the U.S. Navy must be larger than any other nation’s naval forces.
“When people wonder about the relative size of our Navy compared to say, China or Russia, they have to realize that those countries are already located where the action is,” McGrath said. “They don’t need to sail their forces half way across the world and be prepared to conduct combat operations when they get there, mostly because they are kept busy with the security requirements of their own neighborhood.
“A powerful Navy is an asymmetrical advantage that allows us to ensure that conflict, if it comes, happens over there and not here.”
As to why he has decided to spread this message beyond an audience of national security experts and politicians, McGrath said he worries that the U.S. and its Navy is not prepared for the kind of great power competition we have battled in the past, and will inevitably come to see again, particularly from China and Russia.
“When I think of Russia and China, I think of two nations who are developing the capability to threaten freedom of the seas in their near abroad, something they might consider doing if they wished to withdraw from a global economy and concentrate more closely on dominating a regional economy; something that they could do with a more powerful navy,” said McGrath. “This kind of Balkanization or regionalization of trade or protectionism, in a world of global trade, and where there are other major military powers, is particularly destabilizing.”
To do their part, McGrath urged the members of the Cambridge Rotary Club to continue their commitment of service to their community, keep their representatives accountable for the nation’s preparedness, and to stay informed about the issues our Navy and other military services face from the possibility of renewed great power competition.
“I do believe that this nation will one day be ready and prepared for the challenges posed by great power competition. My hope is that it comes as a result of the actions of an informed, energetic, and active citizenry, and not as a result of disaster caused by waiting too long to prepare,” said McGrath.
McGrath will continue to speak to the issue on nearly twenty additional occasions through February. He is the founder and managing director of the defense consulting firm The FerryBridge Group LLC in Easton.