The US Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro called for a “new maritime statecraft” to prevail in an era of intense strategic competition with the People’s Republic of China, during remarks at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, 26 September 2023.

Del Toro’s proposal was made in response to China building up its naval fleet at a rapid pace, which he points out is set to reach 400 naval warships by 2030 compared to the current US force structure target of 355.

Simultaneously, China’s naval growth is matched by its commercial maritime power as the Secretary of the Navy indicates that the Asian superpower has established an ownership stake in 95 ports across 53 countries.

Del Toro’s call for a new maritime statecraft is a call to reverse the “operational and economic risk for the American economy.”

“History proves that, in the long run, there has never been a great naval power that wasn’t also a maritime power — a commercial shipbuilding and global shipping power.”

Del Toro reiterated to the audience that the Biden administration is “committed to finding comprehensive solutions through pragmatic diplomacy”.

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Biden administration invests in critical defence tech

The Biden administration has been prioritising investment in emerging technologies and this appears to be a promising development in securing America’s industrial capacity, particularly its naval industrial base.

In terms of investment, the US Government has been attempting to secure its domestic supply chains in vital tech such as semiconductor chips.

The government has recently awarded a combined $17.5m in contracts to support two initiatives that will strengthen the resilience of the defence microelectronics industrial base on 28 September. Another $238m was awarded to companies for the establishment of eight Microelectronics Commons regional innovation hubs on 20 September.

Likewise, the US Department of Defense (DoD) also announced that it has awarded three contracts that strengthen the supply chains for hypersonic systems. This is a key missile capability for the US Government as it seeks to maintain a competitive military advantage over China and Russia.

Hypersonic investment already seems to be reaping rewards as HII is integrating hypersonic missiles onboard the US Navy’s Zumwalt class destroyers. Although this is a trial, it is significant considering the formative stage at which hypersonic technology is developing right now.

What does a “new maritime statecraft” mean?

Ultimately, Del Toro espouses that power determines authority, while authority props up a solid diplomatic position on the world stage. This triad is important for the US to cultivate a credible position in a bipolar environment.

While this industrial expansion certainly builds the capacity to maintain a credible military posture while also securing US industry, this “new statecraft” could equally be faulted for being counter-productive.

As the alarm bell tolls over China’s military and commercial growth, there is a risk that the US may lapse into a more aggressive military posture, when the Government ought to be looking to shore up its own industrial capacity and operational viability on the world stage, and thus cultivate an authoritative “naval diplomacy” that way.