Admiral James Stavridis’s maritime opus, Sea Power, is a tour de force that ranges across the global commons of the world’s vast sea-lanes and both near-littoral and distant shores. With four decades of distinguished maritime service in the US Navy, the admiral (now retired) is uniquely qualified to evaluate current geopolitical maritime realities. Stavridis brings that strategic perspective to his historical contextualization of how and why oceans have impacted seafaring and landlocked civilizations and nation-states differentially.
Stavridis is a prolific author, having first been published, early in his naval officer career, in US Naval Institute Proceedings. As someone who has embodied that institution’s motto to “dare to write, think, and speak to advance the understanding of sea power,” he now fittingly serves as chair of the institute. As he does in that role, in Sea Power Stavridis continues to lead and shape the intellectual conversation surrounding sea power and the sea services.
These contributions to scholarly maritime and policy discourse run deep—but they are not silent. The lessons that Sea Power offers should echo around the globe, like pulses of sonar, ready to be received and analyzed by an internationally dispersed community of naval and military strategists in allied and competitor nation-states. In particular, the admiral’s clear-eyed warnings and policy prescriptions regarding China, Russia, North Korea, Iran, and ISIS are sure to make waves on distant shores.
Sea Power is the most recent link in a chain of American maritime strategy that connects back to Alfred Thayer Mahan’s seminal treatises of the 1890s. Stavridis revisits Mahan’s underappreciated work The Problem of Asia: Its Effect upon International Politics through a twenty-first-century lens—its discussion of a persistent geopolitical choke point resonates today.
In fact, Stavridis invokes Mahan to articulate an updated case for an American naval supremacy and strength that—when closely aligned with the efforts of allied nations—can ensure the US Navy’s ability to defend the homeland, project power, deter aggression, and maintain open sea-lanes for global commerce, communications, and freedom of navigation.
Notwithstanding Sea Power’s ambitious subtitle—The History and Geopolitics of the World’s Oceans—the book should be comfortably navigable by a broad range of readers, even those less familiar with naval history or maritime strategy. As he did in his earlier book The Accidental Admiral: A Sailor Takes Command at NATO (Naval Institute Press, 2014),
the author writes with a dry wit and an engaging manner, highlighted by numerous historical insights and cultural references Moreover, Stavridis’s Dedicated “to all the sailors at sea,” Sea Power, like the works of Mahan, is destined to become required reading for midshipmen at the US Naval Academy and the officer candidates in Naval Reserve Officers’ Training Corps programs before they embark on careers in the US. Navy. It is no accident that this admiral has been a mentor to many men and women who have served with him in the US Navy “wherever the wind and waves have taken them,” buoyed by the wise counsel and leadership lessons evident in Sea Power.