SEN. ANGUS KING, I-Maine, last week at The Times Record’s office in Brunswick.

SEN. ANGUS KING, I-Maine, last week at The Times Record’s office in Brunswick.


As The Times Record has reported previously, President Donald Trump’s campaign promise of a 350-ship Navy — a significant increase from the current 280-odd vessels — could be a boon to Bath Iron Works, the Midcoast region’s largest employer. Proposals for growing the fleet to that size suggest a large increase in the construction of large surface combatants such as the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyers that are built by BIW.

When asked, Sen. Angus King, IMaine, said that he supported a larger Navy, although he wasn’t sure 350 was the correct number.

“It’s really hard to say strategical- ly,” said King. “I can’t say what the right number is, whether it’s 300 or 320 or 350. I think it’s larger than it is now. I think we’re at a low point.

“I had the experience of going to one of the security agencies in Washington — I can’t say which one but it was a major security agency — and on the wall were big maps of the world (on) screens. And on those screens were the location of all U.S. assets, bases, all of that. What jumped out at you was DDGs. They’re all over the world. They are the workhorse of the Navy,” he added.

While the destroyers are a vital part of the Navy, continued King, increased modernization expenses across the U.S. military — specifically the replacement of the Ohio-class submarines and B1 bombers — could put a damper on plans to increase the size of the fleet.

“We’ve really got to be thinking about how we’re going to deal with that and where the money’s gonna come from,” said King. “Because if it eats into the rest of the military budget you’re just eating into readiness, or troop strength, or training and those kinds of things, and you end up with conceivably well-armed but poorly trained soldiers.”

The DDGs are involved in a number of actual and potential conflicts around the globe. Just earlier this month, two Arleigh Burkeclass destroyers rained down missiles on airfields in Syria in response to the use of chemical weapons by Syrian President Bashar al- Assad — a response King called appropriate.

“The whole idea of the response was to deter future chemical weapons attacks,” said King. “So in that narrow context, I think the response was appropriate. Whether it will be effective is another question.”

King is much more skeptical about getting further entrenched in the Syrian conflict.

“As far as getting more deeply involved in Syria, I would not recommend it without some definition of what it is our goals are and what we’re trying to do,” said King.

“It is a horribly complex situation,” he added.

“Number one, like it or not, Syria is a sovereign country and Assad is the government,” he said. “So we really don’t have any legal justification for attacking another country.”

With Russian activity in the region, further U.S. involvement could easily escalate to direct conflict with Russian military.

“If we get involved with trying to oust Assad, we’re nose to nose with the Russians,” said King. “Do we really want to start World War III over Assad, as bad a guy as he is?”

But most importantly than any specific concerns is the need for Congress to reassert its authority and responsibility in declaring war, said King.

“Congress, in my view, has grossly abdicated its responsibility in war. The Constitution is very clear. The president is the commander in chief, but Congress is the body that declares war,” said King.

“Congress has not declared war since 1942,” he continued. “(Instead) it has provided these authorizations which are — usually they’re fairly specific but they’re stretched to cover everything. The authorization for being in Syria today is based upon the authorization was passed in 2001 in September, the week after Sept. 11, to go after Al Queda. It just doesn’t fit.”

Any further military engagement in Syria needs a new authorization for war, said King, and full consideration and debate in Congress.

In addition to its response to chemical weapons attacks in Syria, the Trump administration has also escalated tensions with North Korea, reportedly deploying a carrier group with DDGs to the area. Vice President Michael Pence said earlier this month that “the era of strategic patience is over” in regards to North Korea.

King called the situation “very worrisome.”

“We’ve got a situation now where we’ve got two leaders who I don’t think have the least understanding of each other or each other’s culture or each other’s politics, pressures and the danger of a misunderstanding or miscalculation

I think is significant and that’s why the current level of tension is very concerning,” he said.

“Now, I think the administration’s right. How long do we just sit by and watch them continue to test missiles and nuclear weapons to the point where they then have them that can reach the U.S., and then what do we do? So I think some pressure is necessary but I think the real key to it has got to be China,” King said.

“The North Korean economy is — from what I’ve learned — is almost wholly dependent on China, and if China basically said you’ve got to cut this out, that would have some effect,” said King. “I think they’re more and more impatient and uncomfortable with this fellow, but that’s where the path to a solution is — I don’t think we can impose a solution without enormous costs.”

LAST WEEK, Sen. Angus King sat down with The Times Record to discuss President Donald Trump’s budget proposal, foreign policy, his work in the Senate and issues affecting Maine. This is part one of that interview, on topics of foreign policy.

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