Sea power the theory of geopolitics | By Dr M Akram Zaheer


Sea power the theory of geopolitics

SEA power” refers to the power exercised by a State through its ability to use the sea for both military and civil purposes. The ability to use the oceans for transportation and other urban purposes such as fishing and, more recently, the exploitation of resources on or below the seabed has sparked considerable debate. The sea as a “great highway” and a “wide common ground” with “trade routes” through which men pass in all directions. It is identified several strategic straits, or “bottlenecks”, the control of which contributed to Britain’s dominance of the seas. Sea power has six basic elements: geographic position, physical structure, extent of territory, size of population, character of people, and character of government. Based on these factors, Alfred Thayer Mahan envisioned the United States as the geopolitical successor to the British Empire.

Alfred Thayer Mahon wrote an article in The Atlantic Monthly titled “The United States Looking Outward” (1890) in which he urged that American leaders to recognize that their security and interests are affected by the balance of power in Europe and Asia. He considered that the United States, like Great Britain, was an island geographically distant from the Eurasian landmass whose security could be threatened by a hostile power or coalition of powers gaining effective political control over key power centres. He further considered that dominant Anglo-American sea power was the key to ensure Eurasian geopolitical pluralism in its broadest sense. He wrote in The Influence of Sea Power on the French Revolution and Empire that it was Britain’s navy that stood between Napoleon and world domination.

It is a profound geopolitical insight based on an understanding of the impact of geography on history. Later Mahan examines the successive moves toward continental European hegemony by the Spanish and Austrian Habsburgs, Louis XIV’s France, and Revolutionary and Napoleonic France, and by great alliances supported by sea power, which he successfully disappointed. In his subsequent essays and books, Mahan reimagined the geopolitical struggles of the 20th and 21st centuries. In America’s Interest in International Conditions (1910), Mahan predicted the basic geopolitical conditions leading up to World War I and World War II, recognizing that Germany’s central position in Europe, on the continent, Its industrial and military power is unmatched, and its pursuit of sea power became a threat to Britain and eventually the United States. He warned, “After the fall of Britain a German navy, superior, with a superior German army capable of being easily dispatched to large-scale expeditionary operations abroad, is one of the future possibilities. The rivalry between Germany and Great Britain was a point of danger not only for European politics but also for world politics.

Mahan also understood the basic geopolitical realities of the Cold War, which had emerged from the ashes of the first two world wars. In The Asian Problem, Mahan urged statesmen to “look at the map” of Asia and note the “vast and unbroken mass of the Russian Empire, stretching without break”. He envisioned an expansionist Russia that needed to be included in an alliance of the United States, Great Britain, France, Germany and Japan, which took place between 1945 and 1991.

However, Mahan’s prediction did not end there. He also recognized China’s power potential and predicted a time when America should worry about China’s rise. In 1893, Mahon wrote a letter to the editor of The New York Times recommending US annexation of Hawaii as a necessary step in asserting control of the North Pacific. Mahan’s doctrine stated that America should be a world power; control of the seas is essential to world power status. The way to maintain this control is through a powerful navy. Concomitantly, US had to prevent preponderant.  I leave her a summation capsule of Mahan’s thesis that Sir Walter Raleigh provided him several hundred years ago. He, who, rules the sea controls world trade and therefore the world’s wealth and ultimately the world itself.

Similarly, in The Asia Problem, Mahan described the future power struggle in the Central Asian region in what he called a “contested and contested arena” and China’s “enormous hidden power” as a potential geopolitical rival. Like Germany before World War I, China in the 21st century has embraced Mahan. Naval War College professors Toshi Yoshihara and James Holmes examine the writings of contemporary Chinese military thinkers and strategists in this regard and their seminal work Chinese Naval Strategy in the 21st Century turn to Mahan. Regarding Mahan’s elements of sea power, China is located in the heart of East and Central Asia and has a long coastline, a large population, a growing economy, growing military and naval power, and now there is a stable government too. China’s political and military leaders have made no secret of their desire to replace the United States as the dominant power in the Asia-Pacific region. Under these circumstances, China’s acceptance of Mahan is reason enough for Americans to familiarize themselves with the writings of this great American strategic thinker.