The History and Geopolitics of the World’s Oceans
Admiral James Stavridis
Penguin Press, New York, 2017, 384 pages
Book Review published on: June 23, 2017
A former Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR) has written an engaging work combining grand strategy with insights from his long naval career. He carries the torch of Alfred Thayer Mahan forward by demonstrating how control of oceans and other key bodies of water has been a major interest of great powers throughout history. Like SACEUR Dwight Eisenhower in his At Ease: Stories I Tell to Friends, Adm. James Stavridis also shares recollections from his days when he was a young officer. Having traveled the seven seas extensively, he relates a few of his early ship handling miscues. After a paint scrape at Pearl Harbor, his saltier captain gave him an Adm. Earnest King observation that “the mark of a great ship handler is never getting into a situation requiring great ship handling.” Stavridis uses his geopolitical experience to recommend ways for the United States to avoid unnecessary incidents and put itself in a superior strategic position using our maritime power.
He begins in the Pacific Ocean and the implications of China’s rising naval strength. Its efforts beyond an anti-access/area denial program could change the game and signal forthcoming offensive capabilities. He is critical of the United States’ announcement of a new focus, categorizing it as more sound than light. In a later chapter on the South China Sea, he warns that the United States should challenge China’s territorial claims or its global strategy will fail. Confrontation might be necessary if regional cooperation does not bear fruit. He sees hope in multinational initiatives such as the recent exercise between the U.S., Japanese, and Indian navies. Although Stavridis has concerns about a growing regional arms race, he still asserts the Pacific will probably continue to develop peacefully.
The “special relationship” between the U.S. and British navies is another important theme as the discussion moves toward the Atlantic. The spirit of independence in command has been a part of the legacy passed down from Viscount Horatio Nelson and other iconic sailors. The model for this book was influenced by Stavridis’s early instruction at the U.S. Naval Academy from a British lieutenant commander who would analyze the separate qualities of each maritime body and their important connections during class. Stavridis interestingly singles out Atlantic explorer Christopher Columbus’s title of “Admiral of the Ocean Sea” as pompous, although Dwight Eisenhower had many of the same qualms about being a “Supreme Commander” at NATO. Donald Trump is also criticized for repudiating linkages with allies around the world and other misjudgments about the value of cooperation. Stavridis speculates that for the first time in history, the Atlantic has emerged as an underappreciated zone of cooperation and peace.
Sea Power is a great survey for joint strategists looking for a current perspective from an expert in his trade. Stavridis is unafraid to venture into the choppy waters of national politics. He continues to prove that military professionals can both write and command to the benefit of our nation.
Book Review written by: James Cricks, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas