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The United States Navy
One of the original military branches of the United States, the United States Navy has undergone many transformations since it was formed during the Revolutionary War as the Continental Navy. The current iteration of the Navy was established by the United States Constitution, which gave Congress the mandate to establish and maintain naval forces. The current version of our Navy has evolved into a global force that provides protection and relief to the United States as well as many other countries all over the world, and its assistance has taken many forms. This paper will discuss an answer to a version of the question posed by Alfred Thayer Mahan: What should we do with the United States Navy today?
For more than 235 years, the Navy has been a vital instrument to be used in the protection of our nation, and although the nature of the threats are far different than they were when the Navy was first born, it is no less relevant to our national security. It is considered to be the best naval system in the world, and its importance is underscored by the fact that 70% of the world is covered in water, 80% of the Earth's population lives near coastlines, and 90% of global business takes place by sea 2.
Among the Navy's responsibilities are: it monitors the cause of freedom in the United States in an effort to protect life as we know it; in addition, it is devoted to defending liberty around the world and ensuring that all of humanity is able to engage in peaceful existence; and it allows the safe transportation of citizens and materials in order to accommodate the needs of a global economy. The Navy responds to any number of situations for which it is called: disaster relief, military operations, and the transportation of military personnel to areas of the world where they are needed. Recently, the highly specialized status of a force of the Navy called Seal Team 6 came to the attention of the world after they were deployed to Pakistan and successfully killed Osama bin Laden. That elite squad of Navy staff is only one of a myriad of special forces and personnel that are deployed to various parts of the world for many different purposes.
The earliest in-depth look at potential uses for our Navy was described by Alfred Thayer Mahan, in The Influence of Sea Power On History (1660-1783), written in 1890. Mahan wrote about the use of sea power in order to achieve political goals, believing that the United States should invest more in its Navy in order to accumulate political power3. Another strategist, Julian Corbett, believed that "the object of naval warfare must always be directly or indirectly either to secure the command of the sea or to prevent the enemy from securing it.".
A more modern perspective has been expressed at times, namely that "the purpose of the Navy is not to fight.". In a more specific noncombative role, the U.S. Navy was utilized to help contain the tremendous oil spill that occurred in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. A Navy blimp was sent to the region in order to help detect oil, organize the vessels that were skimming the water for oil, and search for wildlife that could be damaged lethally by the oil.
The United States Navy was a significant force for disaster relief following Hurricane Katrina in August and September, 2005. A fleet of Navy ships were sent to the area, including aircraft carriers, amphibious assault ships, hospital ships, and rescue and salvage operation ships. These vessels provided medical care, food, shelter, psychological services, and perhaps most importantly, a stable and sound ground on which the terrified residents of New Orleans who had been devastated by the loss of their homes and family members could remain while they made plans for their futures.
Finally, in January 2010, the United States Navy was deployed to aid following the earth- quake in Haiti. The USS Carl Vinson was sent to the region to provide humanitarian aid as well as disaster response on January 13. The ship arrived with equipment and supplies to help with the search and recovery mission that was underway. A fleet of other ships stood by, all of them put in place to be deployed as soon as word was given that they would need to provide relief to earthquake victims 6.
An interesting and futuristic view of the Navy and its potential failure as a global military force is described in How the United States Lost the Naval War of 2015, by James Kraska. In this scenario, the US Naval fleet is defeated in the future because of many years of incompetent decision-making, a declining fleet that is spread too thin around the globe, and a national Naval policy that devalues strategic interests, only to be defeated by China, who has invested a combination of the elements of national power in order to dominate the region 7.
The United States Navy has evolved from a powerful military force focused on the security of the United States into a global power that can be utilized for national security as well as humanitarian aid, disaster relief, and counterintelligence operations. It is one of the most well-known, respected, and successful components of the nation's collection of defense organizations. It has come to represent a stellar collection of personnel and services that make the United States as well as the rest of the world a safer, more compassionate place.