The Erosion of Surface Naval Power

The effectiveness of merchant ships in ocean transport-and of surface naval vessels to protect them or to blockade them as the circumstances require- was the foundation on which Great Britain built her empire, on which the United States bases the credibility of her international commitments and by which the U.S.S.R. hopes to expand her role in Africa and Asia. That foundation continues to erode under an irresistible tide of technology, the key expressions of which are the submarine and the missile.

To many this is an unbelievable assertion, doubly so because its consequences for international relations as they are currently constituted are so massive and, in general, so detrimental. The skeptics, who know from experience that most evaluations of the future occur more slowly than claimed, or not at all, are inclined to wait for results. In this case results could best come from the test of battle. And if the balance between the various forces which are deployed on the oceans lies elsewhere than where "tradition" (an increasingly sometime thing) has placed it, the resulting surprises could lead to ill-considered remedies. These could be as divergent as surrender of a major goal, or nuclear war-if the latter is a remedy. Thus, an understanding of the various technical changes which have occurred since the launching of the Nautilus is inescapable if the planning of foreign policy, and of naval building programs, is to be realistic.

That large surface vessels-merchant as well as naval-will no longer survive the onslaught of the submarines, surveillance systems, homing weapons, and the rest of the paraphernalia of twentieth-century military technology is a proposition with a massive precedent: the fate of the battleship. Who, among the official hierarchies of both Allied and Axis fleets, believed before the fact that this supreme symbol of naval power would perish because it was not, to the same degree as its enemies, a creature of the new technology?

As if the technical issues were not in themselves sufficiently

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