The deployment of one aircraft carrier is not usually big news. The deployment of the USS Ronald Reagan to support the withdrawal of forces from Afghanistan, however, highlights the massive gap between U.S. global commitments and U.S. military power.
The Reagan’s move will likely leave the entire Western Pacific region without a U.S. aircraft carrier for a number of months. This almost never happens, as a carrier is the United States’ first line of defense against North Korean or Chinese aggression. Without a carrier in the region, for example, the United States would find it difficult to actively contest Chinese military activity in disputed regions of the South China Sea, because the major U.S. military bases in Asia are in South Korea and Japan — some 1,500 miles away. A Chinese invasion of Taiwan, something U.S. war games already suggest might succeed, would be even easier to pull off without a U.S. carrier to contend with.
One might wonder why the United States put itself in this position despite spending roughly $700 billion a year on defense. The answer is that even such a huge expenditure is nowhere near enough to meet all of our global commitments.
Henry Olsen is a Washington Post columnist and a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.