As the world takes stock of the upcoming transfer of power in Washington, DC, the US military faces tremendous challenges to what seemed, for a time, its limitless ability to project power around the globe and protect its interests and allies, especially in the Asia-Pacific.
Indeed, America’s enemies have studied the wars of the past and discovered a simple truth: don’t let Washington’s forces, specifically its naval forces, near your coastline — or you invite your own demise. The only way to deter American sea power, the thinking goes – specifically among Chinese strategists – is to develop a vast array of what most military experts have named anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) weapons platforms. Their goal is simple: to impede US naval and expeditionary forces from intervening in any conflict along the so-called “first-island chain.”
From the East China Sea to the shores of Taiwan, all the way to the furthest reaches of the South China Sea, Beijing’s 80,000 sea mines, ultra-quiet submarines, ballistic and cruise “carrier-killer” missiles, sonar nets and other fearsome A2/AD platforms have only one goal in mind: to make America’s navy suffer (or at least to make it believe it will suffer) great losses in the event of a crisis.
Along with other naval dilemmas, from a resurgent Russia in Europe to Iran’s provocations in the Middle East – and both Russia and Iran are developing their own deadly A2/AD capabilities – these are the challenges causing US military planners, and specifically naval planners, the greatest of headaches.
This makes Donald Trump’s pick as Secretary of the Navy all the more crucial. Such a person will be taking on some of the most serious military challenges America and its Asian allies have faced for decades.
So far, the leading pick – as reported by John Hudson at Foreign Policy – is oof a curious nature. Philip Bilden, a relative unknown in US national security and naval circles, seems to have moved ahead of others on the short list. While nothing is certain, and Bilden could very well go on to be a fantastic head of the navy, there is another candidate whose credentials seem to elevate him above all others: the soon-to-be former Virginia Congressman J. Randy Forbes. Chairman of the critically vital Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee in the House of Representatives, he is one of America’s most sought after naval minds.
Bilden could very well go on to be a fantastic head of the navy, there is another candidate whose credentials seem to elevate him above all others
Over the last several years, I have had the opportunity to work with the congressman in various formats and I can honestly say there would be no better person for this position – especially when considering the fact that the role will have a very heavy Asia-Pacific focus.
Forbes has been one of the leading critics of Beijing’s bullying tactics in recent years, and not just when that was the popular or majority viewpoint. From island and military base building, to pushing around key US allies and partners, to enhancing key capabilities that seek to challenges US naval dominance, Forbes has pushed hard to ensure these topics are injected into the daily national security conversations around Washington, as well as in Asian capitals. Forbes has led countless efforts to keep Congress, key staffers, the media and, most importantly, anyone who will listen at the White House, abreast of China’s coercive activities. He would be a strong fit with other Asia hands in the Trump Administration such as Peter Navarro and others who have called tirelessly for a tougher line on China – and with his years of congressional experience, he has much to offer.
Forbes is also one of the few people who could lead the rebuilding of the US Navy to 350 ships, up from the roughly 270 Washington has today. President-elect Trump and Congressman Forbes are perfectly aligned in the need for a much larger, more robust navy. This would include more nuclear-powered attack submarines, aircraft carriers, the next generation of America’s underwater nuclear deterrent, enhanced on-the-water missile defense platforms, and more.
Of all the people Trump could tap for this important position, Forbes is one of the only politically-minded naval experts who understands the challenges the US Navy faces, the strategies that could ensure naval dominance for decades to come, and the weapons systems and funding needed in the years ahead.
Considering the challenges America faces in Asia – from a nuclear-armed North Korea to a China pushing on multiple tracks all along the first-island chain, while nervous allies throughout the region look for support – there is only one man who has the knowledge, experience and expertise to serve as America’s next Secretary of the Navy. And that man is J. Randy Forbes.
Harry J. Kazianis (@grecianformula) is director of defense studies at the Center for the National Interest, founded by former US President Richard M. Nixon, and Executive Editor of its publishing arm, The National Interest. He also serves as fellow at both the Potomac Foundation and the Center for China Policy at the University of Nottingham (UK). He is the author of The Tao of A2/AD: China’s Rationale for the Creation of Anti-Access. In the past Kazianis has led the foreign policy communication efforts of the Heritage Foundation and served as editor-in-chief of The Diplomat and as a fellow at CSIS:PACNET. The views expressed are his own.