What will happen should American sea power wane and China replace the U.S. as the guarantor of maritime security?
Adm. Roughead, a former chief of naval operations, is a fellow at the Hoover Institution.
The American strategist Alfred Thayer Mahan (1840-1914) characterized naval power as “more silent than the clash of arms.” His emphasis on the centrality of this “silent” power in world affairs captured the interest of a young visiting lecturer at the Naval War College in the late 1880s. That lecturer, Theodore Roosevelt, would go on to be president and transform the U.S. Navy into the global force that has underpinned international security and prosperity for a century.
The sort of thinking about naval power that informed Mahan’s and Roosevelt’s work now appears anachronistic. When the U.S. Navy is discussed today, the conversation leaps immediately over strategy to commentary on budgets and the number of ships. Those are aspects of sea power, to be sure, but the ability to command the seas is much more than comparisons with other navies and much more complexly tied to our place in the world. Sea power sets conditions for stable world trade, as some 90% of commerce moves on the oceans. The Navy’s persistent presence far from our shores enables effective diplomacy and provides regional influence without the burdens and sensitivity of deploying ground troops on foreign lands.
In “Mayday: The Decline of American Naval Supremacy,” Seth Cropsey, a former deputy undersecretary of the Navy, argues that the end of unchallenged U.S. supremacy at sea may be closer than American policy makers would like to think. In a well-structured narrative, Mr. Cropsey provides a concise and compelling summary of the evolution of American and other great powers’ application of and dependence on sea power. He chronicles the waxing and waning of that power and the global order that has come with our nation’s ability to command the seas.