By now, you’re undoubtedly aware that Iran has seized a Marshall Islands flagged merchant ship (1). The reason is unclear although it seems to ComNavOps that it is in retaliation for the US using a carrier group to turn back the Iranian convoy bound for Yemen.
The rationale for the action doesn’t matter. What matters is the US’ nearly non-existent response to the seizure of a US protected vessel. The Navy is doing nothing more than monitoring.
“In response to the taking of the ship on Tuesday by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy patrol boats, U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) has ordered a Navy guided missile destroyer and three Cyclone-class patrol craft to monitor the situation.
Marshall Islands is an American protectorate and the U.S. is responsible for its defense and the defense of vessels under its flag.”
Navy supporters continually make the argument that forward presence is required to deter potential enemies. However, time and time again, the Navy (and US military, generally) stands aside as unfriendly countries abuse the boundaries of acceptable behavior right up to, and including, acts of war. We have allowed the force-down and seizure of electronic surveillance aircraft and ships, harassment of US forces, and many other acts constituting war.
The point of this post is not to debate responses but to point out that if we are completely unwilling to use military force to respond to these incidents then there is no point and no justification for maintaining those forces forward deployed. They aren’t deterring anyone.
The Navy can’t have it both ways. If they want to make a case for a given force level based on forward deployment and deterrence then they have to use the forces for that purpose. If they have no intention of using the forces then they don’t need the forces and certainly don’t need them forward deployed. A strongly worded letter is just as effective as unused force.
(1)USNI, “Pentagon Unclear Why Iran Seized Maersk Tigris; U.S. Destroyer, 3 Patrol Craft Nearby”, Sam LaGrone, April 29, 2015,