21st Century Gorshkov
The Challenge of Sea Power in the Modern Era
Edited by Kevin Rowlands
Naval Institute Press, Annapolis Maryland, 2017, 192 pages
Book Review published on: February 16, 2018
Should Sergei Georgiyevich Gorshkov, the commander in chief of the Soviet fleet from 1956-1985, be as familiar to students of naval science and art as the giants of Western naval strategy, Mahan and Corbett? In 21st Century Gorskov: The Challenge of Sea Power in the Modern Era, editor Kevin Rowlands certainly believes that he should be. Rowlands presents the reader with carefully selected essays of this prolific writer. The writings range from his account of the “Battles to Liberate the Danube States” to the “Tasks of Navy Men” and “Navies in War and Peace.” Coupled with an insightful introduction and commentary before each chapter, this book makes a convincing case that Gorshkov should be familiar to students.
Gorshkov was arguably the single most important architect of the most powerful Soviet naval fleet in history. Unlike his more Western contemporaries, he was in that position for twenty-nine years, serving under five Soviet premiers, including Nikita Khruschev, Leonid Breshnev, and Mikhail Gorbachev. He presided over the expansion of the Soviet navy from an inward-looking costal defense force to a blue-water navy that rivaled the U.S. Navy for control of the global commons. While he did not build the navy from scratch, his ability to maneuver within the politics of the Soviet Union allowed him to have a profound impact on naval theory and thought. In an era where there are once again challenges to Western dominance of the seas, the writings and thoughts of someone who was able to challenge that dominance have resonance for any serious naval practitioner today.
Gorshkov was a prolific writer throughout his tenure as the chief of the Soviet navy. Rowlands has done a good job selecting writings to display the range of Gorshkov’s conception of the navy and naval power. Included are writings that were not widely published in English, as well as a selection of articles published in Proceedings in 1974 as part of the “Navies in War and Peace” series. While all the chapters contain important material, two seem to be particularly relevant.
In chapter 2, Rowlands selected three of Gorshkov’s reports to the navy following the Congress of the Soviet party. Titled “Navy Shipboard Regulations—Basis of a Navy Man’s Service,” all three provide a vision statement to the navy from its senior officer. However, the second article is a basic treatise on the importance of Navy shipboard regulations as the foundation for a successful navy. This seems particularly relevant given the recent difficulties of the U.S. Navy’s Naval Surface Force. It is basically a call to professionalism for all those in the sea service.
In chapter 6, titled “Sailing the Global Commons,” the editor has selected the last of the “Navies in War and Peace” articles. In the article, Gorshkov discusses his concept of the “World Ocean.” He states, “The main reason of interest by states in the World Ocean is its truly inexhaustible resources, while the aggressive powers are attracted by its vast military significance.” He further envisions a nation’s sea power to include its scientific endeavors, merchant marine, and fishing fleet in addition to its naval forces. In these days, where our focus seems to be on the number of carrier task forces, this concept of sea power perhaps deserves a hearing.
Rowlands has made a convincing case that Gorshkov should be considered as important to naval art and science as Rear Adm. Alfred Thayer Mahan and Sir Julian Corbett. He maintains that reading Gorshkov gives a different perspective on naval power, and that it is particularly important when several nations—such as China, India and Russia—are intent on building their capacity to ply the World Ocean with, and perhaps in competition with, the West. This book is well worth reading; it should appear on the chief of naval operations’ reading list.
Book Review written by: Richard T. Anderson, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas