Two weeks ago, President Clinton commissioned the USS Harry S. Truman, making Clinton the first president to perform this ritual since 1975 when former President Ford commissioned the USS Nimitz. Republicans were invited to the ceremony, but boycotted it because of Clinton’s previous slashing of the Navy’s fleet from 600 ships down to just more than 200. The USS Truman is the eighth of 10 planned Nimitz class aircraft carriers and is a welcome addition to the Navy’st trimmed-down fleet. But beyond the 10 planned already, the United States does not need any more carriers or ships than what it has. The Republicans want 100 more shipsand might have much to gain politically but that’s it — it’s self-indulgent at best. The Republicans’ request for the increase is not based on rational policy judgement but on pork-barrel spending.
Senator John Warner, R-Va., a powerful member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, supports the stable business contracts between the Navy and the Newport News Shipbuilding, the builder of the USS Truman. But now, the shipbuilding company is starting to lay off workers because it cannot support itself without additional Navy contracts. Newport News Shipbuilding depends on their contract with the Navy for 90 percent of their revenue. Facing the decline of naval shipbuilding since the end of the Cold War, the company tried to make the transition from military to civilian, but failed to do so. They have already received Navy contracts worth more than $30 million for work on the two remaining nuclear-powered aircraft carriers during the next two years.
The Navy, Newport News and the Republicans contend they need more government funding to keep shipbuilding in operation and raise the limit to 300 ships. The Navy is concerned that it won’t have enough ships in a time of crisis, especially if the shipbuilding company goes out of business. However, with the end of the cold war and no real major future threat, 10 Nimitz-Class and a couple hundred other carriers ought to take care of any situation just fine.
In addition, the role of Nimitz-size aircraft carriers will become less important with the development of new aircraft technology. William E. Odom, director of National Security Studies at the Hudson Institute, points out that the Air Force can get from the United States to the Persian Gulf within 24 hours. When aircraft can fly across oceans in less than a day, this reduces the need for aircraft readiness. The remaining fleet is sufficient to act in times of crisis which require immediate attention. The Republicans contend that the U.S. Navy will be dwarfed in 20 years by the aircraft fleets of China, Russia and even Iran. Based on the world’s unified effort to reduce the arms race and America’s current capability, this Republican fear seems unwarranted.
It is most befitting to honor Harry S. Truman with a aircraft carrier the size of more than three football fields, 20 stories high and requiring a crew of around 6,000. Ten of these carriers backed with a smaller fleet of 200, plus America’s current and future air power is considered sufficient by the Clinton administration, and rightly so. The Republicans’ refusal to attend the commissioning of the USS Truman was unnecessary and over-reactive.