Dilemmas of the Modern Navy

The maritime services are under growing strain. But is there really no alternative to U.S. sea hegemony in the same form we have seen it in since 1945?

Issue: May-June 2013

Seth Cropsey, Mayday: The Twilight of American Naval Superiority (New York: Overlook, 2013), 336 pp., $29.95.

SEA POWER is a conscious political choice. A maritime power’s world standing depends on keeping taut the sinews of naval might. According to the famed American geostrategist Alfred Thayer Mahan, that means amassing international commerce, forward bases, and merchant and naval shipping. But just as Great Britain, in a “fit of absentmindedness,” assembled an empire on which the sun never set, it may be possible to abdicate world leadership thoughtlessly. Indeed, slipping into imperial retrenchment would be easier for the United States, which maintains no colonies abroad, than it was for bygone empires that conquered vast territories and then—having connected national dignity and pride to geographic objects—had to defend them. Withdrawing from diplomatic entanglements and drawing down armed forces are easier than surrendering territory.

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