‘To Rule the Waves’: The Necessity of a Navy

‘To Rule the Waves’: The Necessity of a Navy
(AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

The imperative of protecting trade lanes on the high seas is fueling maritime competition, especially between the U.S. and China.

Even for those transfixed by grand strategy, Alfred Thayer Mahan’s “The Influence of Seapower Upon History” (1890) is a slog. In more than 500 pages of often turgid prose, Mahan, who twice served as president of the U.S. Naval War College, examined how maritime strength shaped war between 1660 and 1783. “The necessity of a navy,” he wrote, “springs . . . from the existence of a peaceful shipping.” He concluded that a large merchant fleet and a strong navy with bases allowing it to operate far from home were vital to protect the U.S. economy and maintain foreign trade in times of war. “In order to do this,” he added, “the enemy must be kept not only out of our ports, but far away from our coasts.”

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