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State of the Navies/Spending Figures



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3.2 State of the Navies/Spending Figures

A study of the naval expenditures and policies of both the traditional metropoles, such as Great Britain and France, and up-and-coming powers like Germany and Japan in the period leading up to Roosevelt’s presidency and beyond reveal why his focus on naval might was unsurprising. In a sign of their increased ambition on the world stage, the Japanese government had authorized the doubling of its army and navy in 1896. Unsurprisingly, this precipitated a series of responses from the European powers, with Russia commencing an extraordinary naval program in 1898 and Britain compelled to match this buildup despite pressing commitments in waters nearer home. Simultaneously, there was a rapid growth of the other European navies, including those of France and Germany.149

Germany’s program of rapid naval development had particularly alarmed the United States. It also highlighted the need for increased investment. Admiral Tirpitz had urged Kaiser Wilhelm to build a big navy so that Germany would be one of the “four World Powers: Russia, England, America and Germany.”150 The 1898 Flottengesetz, or naval law, saw a commitment to the construction of a first class navy and German naval aims expanded significantly on June 14th 1900 when the Reichstag approved a second Flottengesetz that doubled the size of the authorized fleet.151 The German Navy Bill of that year involved an additional expenditure during twenty years of nearly $460,000,000.152 These systematic outlines for naval expansion would be extended and enlarged by further resolutions in 1906, 1908 and 1912, boosting Germany to second place, after Britain, in the naval competition. German development was all the more remarkable for its precision and efficiency. Every detail of the expansion, repair and replacement of ships, men and dockyards, was thought out in advance for each year with due regard to the capacity of the country to bear the expenditure.153 This efficiency- reflecting that of Germany’s industrialization- was in marked contrast to Great Britain and would allow Germany to rapidly narrow the naval gap that existed between the two nations. The rapid buildup overseen by Tirpitz would transform the German navy from having the sixth-largest fleet in the world to being second only to the Royal Navy.154

Britain’s situation was more perilous than that of an emerging and ambitious Germany. Having enjoyed naval supremacy for most of the 19th century, Britain would soon have to accept that her command of the seas was no longer undisputed. When Gladstone declared in 1878 that “the strength of England is not to be found in alliances with great military Powers, but is to be found henceforth in the efficiency and supremacy of her navy- a navy as powerful now as the navies of all Europe.”, he spoke in the realization that naval supremacy is based on economic supremacy. At the time, Britain’s economic dominance was uncontested. However, at the turn of the century this was no longer the case. By 1904 Britain’s total naval expenditure had risen to over $200,000,000 a year and the admiralty were informed that the limit had been reached.155 With her colonies capable of accounting for only one percent of her naval outlay, Britain would be forced to scale back her investments in the sector and ultimately accept the end of her dominance. That the total number of British military and naval personnel fell by fifty-three thousand between 1900 and 1910 (the comparative figures for Germany and the United States saw a rise of 170,000 and 31,000 respectively) and her growth figures in warship tonnage for the same period were considerably lower than her rival powers demonstrate that Great Britain was beginning to lag in the arms race and her strategic influence was waning.156

So it was against the backdrop of dramatically heightened naval spending programs in the ‘traditional’ metropoles and emerging powers that the United States belatedly chose to take her place amongst the finest navies of the world. The outbreak of hostilities with Spain in May 1898 resulted in congressional authorization for ambitious shipbuilding programs (1898-1900) that included eight new battleships. Although the naval expansion program was initiated before Roosevelt’s ascension to power, his administration would oversee a second burst of authorizations. Pursuing his desired aims with determination and vigor, he would achieve significant results in his drive for expansion, gaining congressional authorization for ten additional battleships in his first term.157 By March of 1905, he had apparently decided that further growth was not necessary. He made the decision public in his fifth annual address to Congress in December 1905. Such had been the staggering proliferation of new naval technologies in the intervening four years since he boldly announced his quest for programs of expansion, he announced that from that time onwards, it would be necessary to only add one battleship per year to replace superseded or outworn vessels.158 The years 1906 and 1907 had seen the fruition of the battleship authorizations made in the early years of Roosevelt’s first term. Between 19 February 1906 and 1 July 1907 ten battleships joined the fleet, while three others were nearing completion.159 However, by the time of his annual address to Congress in 1907, Roosevelt had dramatically altered his view that further development was unnecessary and again sought approval to further build up the nation’s navy. In an address dominated by the topic of the navy, Roosevelt declared that “it would be most unwise for us to stop the upbuilding of our Navy. To build one battleship of the best and most advanced type a year would barely keep our fleet up to its present force. This is not enough. In my judgment, we should this year provide for four battleships.”160 So Roosevelt’s zeal for increased naval investment and development remained steadfast. And precisely two weeks after his address to Congress came an action that would demonstrate America’s increased assertiveness on the global stage under Roosevelt’s stewardship.




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