Book Review: Sea Power: The History and Geopolitics of the World’s Oceans by ADM James Stavridis

Sea Power is a book that takes a fresh twenty-first century look at the world’s oceans and the geopolitical challenges facing the United States in the century ahead.

As always, the stats.  There are 343 pages of texts divided into 9 topical chapters with an index and recommended reading/sources list.  The chapters cover an introduction to ocean geography and a detailed treatment of each ocean and the history and current challenges associated with it for the United States.  The final chapter is a look and a recommendation for what America’s maritime strategy should be going forward.

The book is well written and while ADM Stavridis is no Robert Kagan in the geographer department he provides a concise and well written study of each of the world’s oceans in turn with a good rundown of the geopolitical issues in that ocean.  He pay particular attention to the various rivalries and potential rivalries that each ocean faces from both nations neighboring that sea and others that are vying for influence in the region.

I found the chapters on the Arctic and Indian Oceans’ to be the most fascinating.  The arctic because it is the ocean that has been largely ignored by both the general public and policymakers for the longest time but also the one that is poised to be the most game changing.  He makes an excellent case that with the Northwest Passage being ice-free for longer periods of time each year and only expected to be free for navigation even more in coming decades with the globe warming it is past time for American policy makers to get serious about developing an Arctic strategy and working with partner nations to head off conflict at the top of the world.

The Indian Ocean chapter is revealing because her I also think he is absolutely correct that it is becoming increasingly important with the rise of India as a global power and the Chinese working hard and diligently to establish influence in the region.  While he only briefly mentions Chinese basing agreements in Africa I was surprised he did not mention the Chinese port agreement in Gwadar with Pakistan at all as I think that deep water port agreement presages ever deeper Chinese involvement in the Indian Ocean in the future and also increases the possibility of conflict.  This is especially so as both china and Pakistan are not only Indian rivals but countries that India has active disputes with.

This is not a policy wonk book, rather it is written so that the average person can understand and grasp the maritime issues the United States is facing around the world and makes the case that a minimum 350 ship navy is not  goal but a minimum requirement.  ADM Stavridis identifies several key areas of naval acquisitions and strategy where the United States not only should but must devote more time and effort to.  This is a well written book should be read by those unfamiliar with maritime issues to understand what is going on in the world and how events thousands of miles away from the US coasts are still relevant to everyday Americans.