The financial world is obsessed with stock market gyrations and bond yields. But the numbers that matter in the long run are those of US warships. Asia has been at the centre of the world economy for decades because security there can be taken for granted, and that is only because of the dominance of the US navy and air force in the western Pacific. Because 90 per cent of all commercial goods traded between continents travel by sea, the US navy, which does more than any other entity to protect these lines of communication, is responsible for globalisation as we know it.
There is no guarantee that this situation will last, however. In the 1980s era of high Reaganism, the US navy boasted close to 600 warships. In the 1990s, following the collapse of the Berlin Wall, that number fell to about 350. The US navy’s current strength is 284 warships. In the short term that number may rise to 313 because of the introduction of littoral combat ships. Over time, however, it may fall to about 250, owing to cost overruns, the need to address domestic debt and the decommissioning of ageing warships in the 2020s. Meanwhile, the bipartisan quadrennial defence review last year recommended that the US move toward a 346-ship navy to fulfil its global responsibilities.