A combined Russian and Chinese naval group practiced anti-submarine warfare near Alaska last week. It should serve as a wake-up call that hostile actors are developing their naval capabilities, but most in D.C. seem to keep hitting the snooze button.
For decades now, the Navy has not kept pace with the threat from China, and numerous war games have cast doubt on whether it still has the ability to sustain the peace or win in war.
Last year, hoping to turn things around, Congress mandated a commission to figure out how to get the Navy back on track.
Despite a requirement that the commission be formed and underway by the end of this past March, it appears lost in a sea of bureaucracy and inaction. Done well, this commission on the future of the Navy could break the year’s long dithering over what kind of resourcing is needed to produce a fleet capable of executing a smart, proactive strategy against China.
Last year’s National Defense Authorization Act contained a provision, championed by then-Rep. Elaine Luria, Virginia Democrat, to establish a Commission on the Future of the Navy. The law stipulated that the commission was to be established no later than 90 days after the president signed the bill. That deadline passed on March 23, with barely a murmur on Capitol Hill.
The law requires the commission to provide recommendations on how to turn around the Navy’s anemic shipbuilding plans and chronic staffing shortfalls so that the nation acquires the significantly larger fleet it needs to counter rising threats globally.
The Defense Department and the Navy have struggled for years to answer these questions satisfactorily, resulting in the decision by Congress and President Biden to seek outside help. The commission, should it ever materialize, is to file its findings and recommendations by July 1, 2024.
Issues bedeviling the Navy are complex and politically charged, and they have been decades in the making. The commission will need every day from now until July 2024 to do its job.
Sadly, only half of the team has been named: Mackenzie Eaglen, Bryan McGrath, Scott O’Neil and Mitchell Waldman. All are experienced in the challenges facing the Navy, but they cannot begin work until the full commission is named.
With members of Congress home for a month on recess to hear from their constituents, now should be the time for citizens to demand action.
As it stands, the commission is waiting for member nominations from the House minority leader, the Senate majority leader, the Senate Armed Services Committee chairman, and the House Armed Services Committee ranking member.
All four of those positions are held by Democrats.
This foot-dragging is odd given that it was a Democrat who championed the idea of the commission in the first place, that the bill passed both chambers of Congress by large, bipartisan majorities, and that it was signed into law by a Democratic president.
While this commission won’t be a cure-all for the Navy, it can help by shaking things up and challenging outdated assumptions about what is needed and possible to build the Navy the nation urgently needs. It’s likely that only such a commission can compel the Navy and Defense Department to provide needed information to make the best-informed recommendations.
Doing nothing while our enemies forge ahead only further mortgages our national security to an uncertain future, greatly compounding the dangers and looming costs of war.
A small step toward ending government dysfunction is simply to name the four missing appointees to the commission so it can get to work and chart a path to modern naval capabilities for the United States.
This piece originally appeared in The Washington Times