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Have you asked yourself why Somali pirates felt free to execute four Americans even though we know where their bases are? Or why we had to rely on a barely-seaworthy ferry to evacuate our citizens from Libya while other nations sent their naval forces?

It’s called “the Decline of U.S. Naval Power.” That’s also the headline of an op-ed written by Mark Helprin in the Wall Street Journal.

Mr. Helprin notes that we now have the smallest Navy in almost a century. Fifty years ago, we had 1,000 combat vessels at the ready today – we have 286. After the Cold War, we reduced the Navy and since then we’ve made reductions, upon those reductions.

Yes, our ships today are more powerful than in the past – but we cannot project naval power in as many places as before. Any losses could be catastrophic – especially since we’ve shut down so many military bases around the world.

Before 1998, we commonly had 60 ships in the seaward approaches to our mainland. Today we have just 20. Another fact of life: 90 to 95 percent of all the products we trade travel by sea – a vulnerability our enemies could well exploit. “Maritime interdiction,” writes Mr. Helprin, “is the quickest route to both the strangulation of any given nation and chaos in the international system.”

Bottom line: we’re abdicating our role on the oceans, while China invests heavily in its navy. Consider this a wake-up call. We’d better hope somebody is paying attention for America’s sake!

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