Alfred Thayer Mahan and the Utility of US Naval Forces Today

  • George Baer

Abstract

This assessment examines both change and continuity in the post-Cold War US naval services. Let us imagine the Mahan of 1890. For Mahan in the late nineteenth century, security was the main issue, achieved by command of the sea through a strategy of offensive annihilation of a blue-water threat with a battle fleet, the Navy acting almost autonomously. The Navy’s other operations — those that are today considered its peacetime concerns, those that are directed beyond the sea towards politics and prosperity, presence, influence, intervention, and the rest — were for Mahan lesser ancillary missions, hidden by the security strategy of battle annihilation and command of the open sea. But now: let us imagine Mahan today in a post-Cold War world where there is only one superpower. Here, for a latter-day Mahan, open-ocean sea control now exists, there is no blue-water security threat, no competing great-power fleet, and the US Navy operates in a joint, peacetime, and littoral environment. With command of the sea attained, how does our Mahan today justify naval forces? What is today’s US Navy for?

Keywords

Free Trade Marine Corps Naval Force Strike Platform Naval Service 
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Notes

  1. 2.
    William A. Owens, High Seas: The Naval Passage to an Uncharted World (Annapolis, Md.: Naval Institute Press, 1995), p. 4.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    Peter P. Perla et a1., The Navy and the JFACC: Making Them Work Together (Alexandria, Va.: Center for Naval Analyses, 1993), pp. 2, 25–30.Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    See Wm Roger Louis and Ronald Robinson, ‘The Imperialism of Decolonialization’, Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History, vol. 22, no. 3, September 1994, pp. 462–511.Google Scholar
  4. 6.
    A reminder of this is found in Frank Uhlig, Jr., ‘The Constants of Naval Warfare’, Naval War College Review, vol. 50, no. 2, Spring 1997, pp. 92–105.Google Scholar
  5. 7.
    For the first, see John Keefe et al., Sizing and Shaping US Military Forces: Ideas for the Navy to Use in the Quadrennial Defense Review (Alexandria, Va.: Center for Naval Analyses, 1966), and Linton F. Brooks, Peacetime Influence Through Forward Naval Presence (Alexandria, Va.: Center for Naval Analyses, 1993), who says: `In the future, the Navy and the nation must treat peacetime operations as important in their own right, not simply as a preparation for war or crisis.’ For new combat structures, see Andrew F. Krepinevich, Jr.,A New Navy fora NewEra (Washington, DC: Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, 1993).Google Scholar
  6. 8.
    See Matthew Allen, ‘Are Naval Operations Unique?’, Naval Review, vol. 84, no. 1, January 1996, pp. 19–23.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1999

Authors and Affiliations

  • George Baer

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