Ushering in a Maritime Century
Chief of Naval Operations predicts greater need for maritime operations.
Adm. John Richardson, USN, chief of naval operations, theorizes that the decades to come could require a greater emphasis on maritime operations because of multiple factors, including global climate change, increased maritime traffic and the rise of megacities near coastal areas
As the morning keynote speaker on the first day of the West Conference in San Diego, Adm. Richardson, speaking via a video connection from the Naval Yard in Washington, D.C., reported that he had recently offered the theory to the Atlantic Council. “At that event I made the point that I think over the next century, if not half a century, the environment is going to bring tremendous responsibility to maritime forces, to naval and maritime forces,” he said.
That shift toward maritime operations will be “manifested in many different ways,” he added. “There’s a lot of talk about the blue economy. So much of our good fortune is going to be dependent upon control of the seas. A blue century also has been a term used more and more frequently."
Rapidly increasing maritime traffic is one of the factors involved. “Out there in the blue things are changing. People have been going to sea for about 10,000 years, starting in the South Pacific, but in the last 25 years, maritime traffic has picked up by a factor of four, which is an incredible increase in a quarter century,” he noted.
The increase in maritime traffic leads to greater economic dependence on the oceans and seas. “That quadrupling of maritime traffic has fueled the increase in global GDP [gross domestic product], which has roughly doubled,” Adm. Richardson stated.
Technological advances are another important factor in the potential focus on maritime operations. “It’s a dynamic environment all the way around. One of the things that’s brand new since the last time we were in a great-power competition is this idea of the information age. The Internet wasn’t even a thing in the Cold War, and now we can’t live without it. We can’t operate without it. We can’t fight without it,” the admiral asserted. “Much of that Internet, 99 percent of that information, travels internationally on cables that run along the bottom of the sea.”
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Technology spurs other ocean-related trends as well. “Technology has given us an ability to go deeper and deeper in the ocean and access natural resources—oil and natural gas. More and more of our food is coming from the ocean. This aqua culture idea is also something that’s expanding very, very quickly,” Adm. Richardson said.
Environmental factors also play a role. “The Arctic ice cap is as small as it’s been in our lifetimes. That gives rise to continental shelves being accessible—and their resources. We’ve got trade routes and sea lanes that are open now for more parts of the year than they ever have been,” he explained.
Rapidly shifting populations are important as well. “There are about 30 megacities in the world now. There are going to be more in the future, and most of those megacities are very near the coast,” he offered. “All of this goes to support the hypothesis, the thesis, that this is going to be a very important time to have firm control of our maritime domain.”