Monday, June 17, 2013

Alfred Mahan

1.0 Introduction The most important responsibility for any government is to ensure that it has the required strategy and resources to defend its citizen as well as its interests, when need be. War is a phenomenon that has characterized human civilizations since time immemorial. War is commonly described as an aggressive clash of interests between or among organized groups which make use of armed force. Black (p. 3) reveals that the 21st environment is typified by an increased level of volatility and unpredictability which makes the processing of formulating and executing effective and sustainable security policies very difficult for the United States of America. The issues that are top priority for present day America in the formulation of such strategies include America’s global war on terrorism as the China issue (Holmes and Toshi, 2009). In the past years, historical studies reveal that the nation of Britain was at one time faced with challenges similar to those that face the modern day American nation. In his scholarly piece entitled The Influence of sea Power Upon History, 1660-1783, Rear Admiral Alfred Thayer Mahan described in detail the diplomatic strategies as well as maritime policies that were applied by the British to ensure that they acquired victory from their enemies and established a powerful empire. This paper elaborates upon Mahan’s ideas with the intention of revealing whether or not they are relevant to the contemporary strategic environment. 2.0 Alfred Thayer Mahan (1840-1914) Alfred Thayer Mahan, an historian and an officer at the US navy, was born on the 27th of 1840 in West Point New York. The father of Alfred Thayer Mahan was known as Dennis Hart Mahan and he was a professor at the United Military Academy. In his early years Mahan attended St. James School in the western part of Maryland State before going to Columbia where he schooled for two years. It was during his stay in Columbia that Alfred Thayer Mahan defied his parents’ wishes and joined the Naval Academy where he graduated as the second best from his class in the year 1859. Immediately after becoming a Lieutenant in the year 1861, Mahan was deployed to serve in the Civil War. As a consequence of his exemplary dispensation of duties assigned to him Mahan was promoted to become a Lieutenant Commander in the year 1865, Commander in the year 1872 and later on in the year 1885 he became a Captain. Paret (p. 445) claims that in spite of being one of the most successful and influential war strategists of all time, Alfred Thayer Mahan lacked the skills required for command of vessels and would frequently engage in crash accidents; consequently he preferred inactive duty. After receiving training in the US Naval Academy, Mahan was to dedicate four decades of his life to actively dispensing his duties in the Navy. In addition to engaging in the American Civil War military combat, Alfred Thayer Mahan was the president of Naval War College in Newport. As a matter of fact, Keegan (p. 272) described Mahan as “the most important American Strategist of the 19th century”. Mahan is the man responsible for coming up with the notion of “sea power” which has remained very significant in the present day. Sea power was based on the presupposition that nations that are able to create the most powerful navy in the world will be able to wield the most power and impact globally. Mahan presented his ideas on sea power in his book The Influence of sea Power upon History, 1660-1783 in the year 1890. From the year 1896 until hi demise in 1914 Alfred Thayer Mahan resided in the city of New York as well as on Long Island with his wife and children. 3.0 Sea Power Sea power is described as the influence and authority that a nations wields as a consequence of its water bodies or those that surround it. Any deliberations on the sea power possessed by a nation must analyze such power, not only in times of war, but also during spells of peace. In times of peace, the seas power of a nation is usually described in terms of the commercial ventures and economic activities that are conducted on or via the water bodies for the development of the financial systems of the concerned nations. Black (p. 9) claims that in the early 20th century many nations were made rich and prosperous through economic activities carried out in the sea for instance fishing and mining of minerals in the sea. Government policies may be structured in such manner that they allow its people to venture out into the seas as well as set up industries. On May the year 2001 The Joint Hearing on Port and Maritime Transportation Congestion by the House of Sub-committee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation and the House Sub-committee on Water Resources and Environment revealed that an estimated 95% of foreign commercial tonnage in the nation of America is carried out by sea (Black, p. 10). The second scenario in which sea power is a very important phenomenon is during warfare. The sea power here is demonstrated by the ability of a government to lawfully maintain navy armed forces of a satisfactory size which is also equipped with the skills and artillery required to attain victory in any armed confrontation. A nation with sea power must be able to have an adequate number of armed officers as well as advanced water vessels to protect its interests and people as well as launch offensives on the enemy. 4.0 Alfred Thayer Mahan’s Principles on Sea Power According to Black (p. 5) the Sea Power Strategy by Alfred Thayer Mahan can only be fully comprehended after one has understood the very significant role that was played by the sea in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Mahan was convinced that a nation’s strategy at sea could not be isolated from the commercial activities carried out on the sea during times of peace as well as the controls in executed in times of military confrontation on the water bodies. In the depiction and elucidation of his strategies and theories on sea power, Mahan made use of historical events such as the 17th century military confrontations experienced in nations such as Holland, Spain, England and France. He also extensively consulted the historical accounts of the war between France and Britain, mostly the Napoleonic war. Black (p. 6) posits that in his descriptions of sea power Mahan identified six chief elements that had the propensity to make a nation a great sea power. The first was the geographical locale of a nation. If a nation is surrounded by water bodies through which it can launch offensives on its adversaries and defend its territories, Mahan argued that such a nation did not have to exert its resources extensively to land defense. The second principle to mastery of sea power according to Mahan is a nation’s sea board. A nation should have frontiers that allow it easy access to areas that are beyond particularly for commerce. The third element described by Mahan is a country’s square miles, in this case the length of its coast-line as well as the nature and character of its harbors. The best suited nation for sea power is that with an elongated coast line as well as many natural harbors which can be used to support its navy’s water vessels (Mahan, p. 46). Fourthly, the number of populace in nation is also very significance in its sea power as is the attitude of the population towards involvement in commercial activities. Nations that value commerce tend to have strong financial systems which in turn increase sea power. The sixth and last element by Mahan (p. 50) is the character of the political system in power; a government with sea power pays great attention to commercial activities via the sea as well as the establishment of a strong and effective navy. 5.0 Relevance of Alfred Thayer Mahan’s Ideas in Present Days The strategic ideas by Mahan are very important in the 21st century, particularly for the United States of America. Sumida (p. 100) claims that this is due to the fact that the present day America is confronted with the challenge of determining features that will characterize the future security scenario in the world as well as the role that America’s military and political dominance will play in such a scenario, particularly in regard to safeguarding its national interests. Pruitt (p.2) claims that as a consequence of the significant role played by Alfred Thayer Mahan and many other war strategists in the United States, America and the Allies were able to emerge victorious in the World War 2. Within not time the American nation had gained international fame as the leader of the free world, a role that vested America with the responsibility of ensuring, not only its own safety and well being, but also that of the western world. While in the period after the WW2 and the Cold War the main enemy was Communist Soviet Union, the debate still rages on in America on what degree of security can be said to be adequate, and whether indeed it is within America’s means. Puritt (p. 3) claims that modern day America is tasked with the responsibility of creating equilibrium between its international duties and its financial actualities. The SEA POWER 21 Strategy between the nation of China and the American navy refers to a policy that is intended to ensure the presence and authority of the United States of America in the region of interest regardless of the present diplomatic relations. Black (p. 4) indicates that one of the strategies applied by the United States of America in ensuring peace, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region, is the amicable relationship that America has forged with China. This relationship is intended to enable the American nation to attain its set National Security Strategy as well as the national military strategy (Meyer, p. 5). This is caused by the fact that the nation of China is not only an economic force to reckon with in the modern day, but also a nation with the power to determine the influence and authority that the American nation can wield in the Asia-Pacific region as well as the rest of the world. In addition to this, the fact that the Chinese nation has in recent years increased its budgetary allocations to the military and defense has been a cause for worry not only in America but also amongst the neighbors of China such as Japan. The Chinese nation is also the fastest growing investor in other parts of the world such as Kenya, Iran and Sudan. Black (p. 5) claims that the Sea Power 21 Strategy will not only enable America to interrelate with the Chinese nation at home and in other regions across the world, but it will also allow the nation of America to ascertain free communication and trade structures for the nations of the world while at the same time responding to any emergent security threats in the areas of interest (Black, p. 5). According to Pruitt (p. 6) the connection between the financial and military power of a nation as described by Mahan is till a vey dominant approach event in the present day. It is for this reason that a great number of nations invest heavily in their defense forces. In its fight against terrorism the nation of America has formulated a strategy that is typified by four main goals. The first goal is to completely crush terrorism, impede any form of funding given to terrorist organizations, reduce all completely eliminate any circumstances that terrorists can use to their advantage and finally offer the American citizens enough security regardless of whichever parts of the world they are at (Black, p. 6). 6.0 Counter Argument Despite the fact that the principles by Mahan have indeed been described to be relevant for the modern day America which is faced by problems similar to those that faced Britain in the late 19th and early 20th century, there are some scholars who argue that the principles by Mahan cannot be applied in the present day. Sumida (p. 107-8) claims that the political-economic perspective utilized by Mahan makes it impossible to implement his ideas of naval warfare. Sumida argues that Mahan did not possess the skills of technological ratiocination that are required to offer opinions and recommendations on a very intricate subject such as the formulation of water vessel designs. In addition to this, rather refer to technical and operational know how in determining the most effective strategy, Mahan over-relied on historical accounts of the naval and maritime happenings of his time so as to come up with the insights of navy and sea power that he presented in The Influence of sea Power Upon History, 1660-1783. The sea power theory by Mahan was put to test by the French Navy in the year 1914 during the World War 1 as it attempted to gain victory through dominating the seas. Nevertheless, the weaknesses in this theory of sea power became clear when the German Navy refused to engage in a sea war. In addition to this, despite the theory of sea power being translated into the Japanese language and being used by the Imperial Japanese Navy in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905 as well as in World War 1, Japan was defeated. This coupled with the emergence of sub-marine warfare revealed that in order for sea power to be as phenomenal as suggested by Mahan it had to be combined with a very effective air and land military effort. 7.0 Recommendations For the American strategy to be effective it is important that the American nation invites its as many of its allies as possible to utilize the Sea Base concept. Such international collaboration will offer the US enough support against potential threats. The principles by Mahan should also be elaborated upon more keenly so as to learn the manner in which the British incorporated their national power elements, the environment as well as diplomacy to respond to problems such as those that currently face America. In order for the United States of America to remain superior and dominant in the global political and military affairs, it is imperative that the American government not only focuses on sea power but also ensures the establishment of an Army and Air force that is well equipped and with the necessary training and expertise to safeguard the interest of America. 8.0 Conclusion In conclusion it is indeed an unarguable fact that a majority of the challenges that the United States of America is faced with in the modern day are as a result of the globalization phenomenon. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries the Great Britain was able to amalgamate diplomacy, its prowess at trade and sea power to respond to problems similar to those that confront the American nation in the present day. It is for this reason that the principles by Alfred Thayer Mahan are perceived as being very relevant. The main issues that are top of the American security agenda are the nation’s fight against international terrorism as well as the manner in which it responds to its most dicey competitor- China. As already indicated in this paper, the principles of sea power by Alfred Thayer Mahan remain very relevant in the present day. The Sea basing strategy formulated by the US in its engagement with China, for example is intended to enable the American nation to attain its set National Security Strategy as well as the national military strategy. 9.0 Work Cited Black, Bruce: The Legacy of Mahan for the 21st Century, USAWC Strategy Research Project, United States Navy (2006) Holmes, R. James and Toshi Yoshihara: Mahan's Lingering Ghost, US Naval Proceedings, (2009), Vol. 135 Keegan, John: The American Civil War New York: Knopf, (2009), p.272 Mahan, Alfred T: Mahan on Naval Strategy, Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press, (1991), p. 37-46 Meyers, Richard B:The National Military Strategy of the United States of America, Washington, D. C., The Pentagon, (2004) p. 5 Paret, Peter: Makers of Modern Strategy from Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, (1986), p. 445 Pruitt, John CDR: The Influence of sea Power in the 21st Century, Working Paper 00-4, (2000) Sumida, Jon: New Insights from Old Books: The Case of Alfred Thayer Mahan, Naval War College Review 54:100-111.