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America's Rethinking of Sea Power and Its Policy Impact

CIIS Time:07 27, 2017 Writer:​XieXiaodong, Zhao Qinghai Editor:Wang Jiapei


Sea power is the basic and decisive factor in traditional maritime security. It serves as a major pillar for the global hegemony of the United States, where the sea power theory was originated. In the 21st century, influenced by globalization, scientific and technological innovation and the rapid rise of China’s maritime forces, a new debate over sea power and subsequently a new understanding of it has emerged in the United States, leading to adjustments of relevant strategies and policies, which will have far-reaching influences on the regional and international security situation.


Concept and Two Major Theories of Sea Power in the West


There has not been authoritative definition of sea power since the concept came into being. People’s understanding of sea power has evolved with the trends of the times, as well as scientific and technological development.

The US naval strategist Alfred Thayer Mahan, who formulated an influential concept of sea power, believed that sea power was the product of naval strategy, with different strategies determining the characteristics of a navy. Only when a strong navy is matched with appropriate strategies can sea power be finally achieved.[1] It is generally believed that the sea power Mahan proposed has two aspects: in the narrow sense, to achieve control of the seas through various kinds of advantageous forces; in a broader sense, not only the military power to dominate the sea by force, but also other marine elements that are closely relevant to the maintenance of a country’s economic prosperity.[2]

Scholars after Mahan have viewed sea power from an increasingly broader perspective. For example, Charles W. Koburger argued that sea power is the military capability to affect maritime affairs and to influence onshore affairs from the sea.[3] Sam J. Tangredi pointed out that sea power can be defined as the sum of the abilities to conduct international maritime business, utilize marine resources, project military force, and exert influence on onshore affairs from the sea by means of the navy.[4] Geoffrey Till argued that sea power consists of the navy, coast guards, marine corps, and civil maritime sectors along with ground and air support forces, and it is the sea-based capacity to make use of the oceans, direct others’ activities from the sea or at sea, and thus influence the situation at sea or on the land. In the new century, non-traditional security challenges have become increasingly prominent. People now realize that, “In the 21st century, it is not enough to focus sea power only on the navy and naval forces, because the nature and scope of threats have changed. The extensive definition of sea power must include all factors of the relationship between the state and the sea.”[5] Admiral Thomas H. Collins, former Commandant of the US Coast Guard, pointed out that, “Sea power in the 21st century is the ability of a nation to use the seas safely, securely, fully, and wisely to achieve national objectives… 21st century maritime power speaks to nations’ needs beyond the purely military capabilities needed for warfighting. It includes for each of us the use of the seas — to preserve marine resources, to ensure the safe transit and passage of cargoes and people on its waters, to protect its maritime borders from intrusion, to uphold its maritime sovereignty, to rescue the distressed who ply the oceans in ships, and to prevent misuse of the oceans.”[6]

Some scholars have also argued that it is not only great maritime powers that possess sea power; instead “Sea power is a relative concept, and nearly all countries have a degree of sea power, only different in terms of degree.”[7] David Gompert has argued that “Sea power is the product of economics, politics, technology, and geography: necessitated by economics, textured by politics, enabled by technology, and shaped by geography. From international economics comes the need to transit the oceans safely and predictably. From international politics come confrontations and hostilities that may prompt nations to interfere with other nations’ sea-borne trade, giving rise to the need for navies. Domestic politics allow naval officers, business interests, and politicians to advocate, machinate, and formulate the particulars of sea power. Technology, defined to include the skill and ingenuity of people, can determine the balance between offense and defense, as well as the capabilities that afford the greatest operational advantages. If technology is equally accessible, the amount of resources a nation commits to naval capabilities determines its sea power. Geography, while largely beyond the control of nations, can make them more or less vulnerable and more or less able to project sea power where needed.”[8]

Although such expanded concepts of sea power are widely accepted, and scholars now tend to view sea power from a broader perspective, and regard maritime military force as only one facet of sea power, for most people, a navy is still the defining aspect of sea power due to the influence of traditional geo-politics.

The writings of Mahan and Julian S. Corbett, the British military theorist and maritime strategist, still wield great influence on the Western strategic theory of sea power. Although Mahan was born before and became famous earlier than Corbett, gaining far more popularity, Corbett’s thought has its own advantages and cannot be replaced by Mahan’s.

Mahan made a complete and systematic elaboration of sea power. The main contents are: 1. Command of the sea is the primary factor for dominating the world. Control of the oceans, especially control of major trade routes, is the primary factor contributing to the power and prosperity of a country. 2. Sea power consists of a convenient geographical location with access to major oceans, maritime logistics bases established in its own coastal ports, a modern merchant fleet, a strong navy, strongholds on main routes, and vast territory, population, resources and economic strength. 3. A strong navy plays the primary role in projecting national power, and is the ultimate expression of national strength. A country’s navy is a tool of state policy. Only with a strong navy, can a country prosper and maintain a dominant position in the international arena. 4. A navy’s strategic goal is to defeat the enemy fleet in a decisive battle to gain the command of the sea. The enemy’s ships and fleets, no matter when, are the ultimate targets to be attacked.[9] The victory of a war depends on defeating the enemy’s battle fleet. To this end, a powerful fleet must be built to destroy an enemy fleet or block it in its base, or realize both objectives. 5. The US Navy is the foundation of the United States’ hegemony. For the United States, a strong navy that can carry out battles in the Atlantic and the Pacific respectively at the same time must be established for it to achieve and maintain dominance of the world.

Corbett’s strategic thoughts include: 1. Maritime strategy is an extension of land strategy, and serves the land strategy. Maritime strategic objectives should be set in line with national policy objectives. The nature of sea battle must be considered in the context of national policy. A navy cannot achieve total victory in a war alone; it must work closely with ground forces so they can jointly complete the political goals of a war. Given that people are living on land rather than in the sea, the final decisive battle must be carried out on land. A successful maritime strategy must attach importance to the relationship between ground forces and the navy. Only through proper balance and appropriate use of the two, can victory be obtained. 2. Limited war on the sea. To win a limited war, it is not necessary to completely destroy the enemy. Occupying and holding a sufficiently important limited strategic location can force the enemy to the negotiating table. 3. Limited interference in an unlimited war. New technology and weapons enable the navy to achieve the purpose of command of the sea by limited means. Disturbing an enemy’s sea routes can affect the enemy’s economy, psychology and war potential at a smaller cost. 4. The exact definition of command of the sea is control of sea lines. The most effective way to affect a national economy and the livelihoods of people in a coastal country is to keep it from maritime trade resources. Control of sea routes can be full and partial, permanent or temporary. Full control can only be achieved through a decisive fleet battle, which is the common approach if a navy feels it has an advantage; partial control can be achieved by partially successful actions to prevent the enemy from using a particular area, which is the approach employed by an inferior fleet. A navy that has an advantage usually will not achieve its goal by concentrating its force to destroy the enemy fleet. It is a better option to deploy its fleets to the areas where the enemy navy cannot avoid a battle (such as attacking the enemy’s coast or merchant fleet), forcing the enemy to engage with superior forces. A naval force is flexible and can be dispersed to attack or protect sea routes, and can be quickly gathered to a designated area when threats arise.[10]

What Mahan and Corbett have in common is that they both summarized the basic rules and principles of naval warfare from their studies of history and naval battles, underlining the importance of having command of the sea and the principle of concentrating naval forces, stressing that the destruction of commercial shipping does not constitute a decisive naval battle, and highlighting that a navy serves national politics. The differences between the two are: the maritime strategy of Mahan is mainly based on the strategic theory of Antoine Henri Jomini, while Corbett’s maritime strategy is based on the war theory of Carl von Clausewitz; Mahan was writing at a the time when the United States was on the rise, so his naval theory emphasized competition, aiming to break the spheres of influence of old colonial powers, while Corbett was in the era when British maritime power reached its peak and his theory emphasized how to turn the navy into a weapon to attack colonies and traditional land powers.

The theories of sea power presented by Mahan and Corbett were very popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, which had a profound influence on navy building and the strategies of major powers in the two world wars, and even during the Cold War. Today, Mahan’s and Corbett’s theories of sea power are still widely read as classics, and continue to exert an important influence on the development of modern sea power theory.


America’s Rethinking of Sea Power


After the Cold War ended, with the United States the sole superpower, the sea power theory seemed to be laid to rest. But since the beginning of the new century, in the context of globalization, technological innovation and the rise of China, the sea power theory has again become prominent for the United States. The US started to re-examine sea power, on the one hand by analyzing the impact of globalization and technological innovation, on the other by discussing the emerging powers’ development of maritime forces and their challenge to the United States’ dominant status. The United States is once again paying attention to sea power, but influenced by traditional theories of sea power and its lingering Cold War mentality, its re-examination of sea power does not go beyond power politics and its desire to retain hegemony.


From end of sea power to indispensable sea power

From the Cold War’s conclusion to the end of the first decade of this century, the United States was very confident in its sea power, believing that its overwhelming advantage fully lived up to Mahan’s definition of sea power, with control of the sea realized through aircraft carriers and high-tech warships and the United States capable of eliminating any threat at sea. “The history of sea power has in fact ended with the US Navy becoming the dominant force on the sea.”[11] This argument was based on the US Navy’s absolute advantage in force. In 2010, the United States operated 11 nuclear-powered aircraft carriers. In terms of size and striking power, no aircraft carrier of other countries are on a par with the United States’. The US Navy also has 10 large-deck amphibious ships that can operate as offshore bases for helicopters and vertical-takeoff jets. No other navy has more than three, and all of those navies are US allies or friendly to the US. The US Navy can carry twice as many aircraft at sea as all the rest of the world combined, and it has more nuclear-powered attack submarines than the rest of the world combined. Its major battle ships carry roughly 8,000 vertical launchers, and it arguably outmatches the next 20 largest navies combined in terms of total missile firepower. The displacement of the US battle fleet exceeds the next 13 navies combined.[12] During this period of time, the foreign strategies of the United States have first been “engagement and enlargement” of the Clinton administration (taking advantage of the favorable international situation after the Cold War to strengthen the capabilities of the United States to intervene and participate in global and regional affairs, and to achieve world leadership), followed by the global anti-terrorism strategy of the Bush administration. Sea power was not a highlighted factor in these strategies, particularly in dealing with non-traditional security challenges such as terrorism, the use of traditional sea power is costly and the effect is limited. The lack of practical application of sea power was an important reason why the theory of its end emerged.

The emergence of the end of sea power theory reflected the excessive self-confidence of some Americans in their sea power superiority or selective neglect of the sea power’s importance in a special period. However, there are still a lot more people who appreciate sea power. In recent years, with the development of international situation, the end of sea power theory has basically disappeared, and belief in the importance of sea power has once again soared with the realization that globalization has made the oceans more important to all countries due to the international maritime trade system. In the era of globalization, access to resources and markets is essential for the development of all countries, yet non-state actors, transnational threats, the proliferation of advanced weapons and the development of anti-access/area denial strategies have increased the vulnerability of access to the oceans, and the importance of navies has re-emerged even without maritime warfare. In the new maritime strategy, maritime forces play a key role in the containment of China and act as a deterrent to Iran and North Korea, just like in the Cold War period. They play a uniquely central and indispensable role in the United States’ grand strategy of the command of the commons, denying adversaries’ access and depriving them of their anti-access and denial abilities, something that could not be done by the army or air force. In the absence of adequate maritime forces, there would be no command of the commons for the United States. “Command of the commons has made the United States a superpower.”[13] As the transportation of commodities around the world can only be done by sea or by air, and air transport is more expensive and has less capacity than water transport, “only control of the oceans could turn the United States into a superpower.”[14] Ray Mabus, who served as US Secretary of the Navy, pointed out in 2015 that “Seapower has been and will continue to be the critical foundation of national power and prosperity and international prestige for the United States.”[15] With the United States turning the focus of its foreign strategy on great power competition, the theory of indispensable sea power has become a domestic consensus.


Traditional sea power theories receiving different attention

Mahan’s theory of sea power unfolded the era for the United States to shift from land strategy to maritime strategy, and dominated the US Navy and academic community for a long time. However, the US strategic circle has begun to review Mahan’s theory a century after its birth. To them, Mahan’s thought of concentrating forces to destroy the enemy fleet does not have universal guiding significance in a real war; Mahan paid most attention to traditional naval conflicts, and although he discussed non-war situations, neither did he touch upon the flexibility a modern navy needs to fulfill its many functions, such as disaster relief, naval contact and diplomacy, and combating crimes such as piracy that threaten maritime security, nor did he provide guidance for the role of modern technologies, such as missile defense and nuclear deterrence.[16] Yet despite the above shortcomings, the US strategic circle believes that Mahan’s thought still has practical significance, considering Mahan an exceptional strategic theorist who clearly elaborated the purpose and means, logic and principles for a country to achieve its maritime goals. Although his technique for naval combat is outdated, his thinking of sea power is of “eternal value.”[17] The world today, featuring globalization, instability and the rise of great powers, is in a similar situation to that facing Mahan at the end of the 19th century, so the majority of Mahan’s strategic thinking still applies today.[18]

While Mahan’s theory is partially negated, Corbett’s strategic thinking is receiving increasing attention. Researchers on the US naval strategy believe that the 1904-1905 Russo-Japanese naval battle and the experience of the United States during World War II have shown that Corbett’s theory is more applicable. “Mahan’s conclusions lacked the sort of timelessness which Corbett’s possessed.”[19]The US Navy’s expeditionary and coastal operations must be guided by a more appropriate naval strategy in the post-Cold War era. Corbett stressed that the navy and ground forces should coordinate to influence the development of a situation; attention should be paid to the role of the battleship, but at the same time, the role of small boats in controlling sea areas needs to be examined, which has practical guiding significance for any future naval combat. James Holmes, a scholar at the US Naval War College, argued that in the high-tech era, land-based fighters, anti-ship cruise or ballistic missiles and other weapons enable coastal states to influence the offshore situation without dispatching vessels. Therefore, the continental sea power theory is worth exploring, and Corbett’s strategic thinking is conducive to the formulation of a future strategy.[20] Holmes believed that the Joint Operational Access Concept (JOAC) proposed by the US military marks the transition of its guiding ideology from “Mahanian” to “Corbettian.”[21] Holmes pointed out that “Chinese navalists have been mixing some Sir Julian Corbett into their Mahanian cocktails lately. That is something that bears American scrutiny.”[22]


Technological revolution bringing new and complex factors

Technological developments have enhanced the capacity of mankind to exploit the oceans. With the significant increase of energy exploration, resource extraction and other commercial activities, the oceans have become more congested, and competition for access to oceans and resource exploitation has also intensified. The development and spread of technology also makes it more difficult for the United States to control the oceans. Submarines, drones, missiles, land-based air strike forces, and electronic war capabilities have made surface fleets less advantageous and fleet-to-fleet combat outdated. Sea denial is much easier than sea control.[23] The development of cyberspace and the electromagnetic (EM) spectrum raises new requirements for a navy. “New challenges in cyberspace and the electromagnetic spectrum mean we can no longer presume to hold the information ‘high ground.’ Opponents seek to deny, disrupt, disable, or cause physical damage to our forces and infrastructure with advanced networked information systems. The exploitation of space, cyberspace, and the EM spectrum threatens our global C2 (command and control). Naval forces must have the resilience to operate under the most hostile cyber and EM conditions.” [24]


Influence of New Thinking about Sea Power on US Policy


In the second decade of the 21st century, to reduce the continued high public debt, the US government launched the automatic deficit sequestration bill, and defense spending was the first to be affected, as a result of which, a large number of naval vessels when they reach their decommissioning year will not be replaced. In recent years, the number of US Navy vessels has declined, and currently the number of vessels is at the lowest point since 1917. At the same time, with the rapid increase in the number of Chinese naval vessels, China has become more active in protecting its maritime rights. The development of situation and the rethinking of the United States on sea power interact with each other, driving the US to adjust its policies.

Abandoning “from the sea to the land” and shifting back to “command of the sea.” After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the United States enjoyed its unipolar moment. Its naval power was unmatched, and the mission of the US Navy was adjusted in line with the changes in national strategy. In September 1992, the Department of the Navy issued the report From the Sea: Preparing the Naval Service for the 21st Century. Its main points include: turning from independently carrying out large-scale naval warfare to joint operations by providing support to the ground and air forces from the sea; from operating on the sea to operating from the sea; from forward deployment to forward presence; from carrying out major battles on the sea to dealing with regional conflicts.[25] The report changed, for the first time, the main combat task of the US Navy in the Cold War from seizing command of the sea to attacking targets far inland, which is a major amendment to the US Navy’s longstanding theory of sea power. In recent years, as the United States has once again given priority to great power competition in its national strategy, the Navy’s guiding ideology returns to command of the sea. A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower, published in August 2015, defined command of the sea as one of the five major functions of the Navy. Surface Force Strategy: Return to Sea Control, announced by the US Naval Surface Forces in January 2017, emphasized that the US Navy should pursue the new concept of “distributed lethality” to implement its command of the sea strategy.[26] Tom Rowden, Commander of the Naval Surface Forces, stated that the US would take back command of the sea that has been challenged by the Chinese Navy and the rebuilt Russia fleet.[27] Notably, the command of the sea in the current US maritime strategy is limited control — establishing partial maritime superiority and depriving adversaries of the same capacity.[28] The abovementioned Surface Force Strategy pointed out that “Sea control does not mean command of all the seas, all the time. Rather, it is the capability and capacity to impose localized control of the sea when and where it is required.”[29]

Expanding the size of the US Navy. Since the end of the Cold War, the size of the US naval fleet has shrunk, but compared with other countries, the US Navy still has a considerable advantage. However, the hawks from the military and other related fields have repeatedly advocated the necessity to maintain and expand the size of the Navy. In 2014, the United States made a 30-year vessel building plan to ensure the Navy possesses about 308 warships. The 2015 A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Sea Power takes 300 warships as the number of vessels that the US Navy needs to maintain. In the 2016 presidential election, Donald Trump and his chief aides proposed plans to build 350 naval vessels and increase the number of aircraft carrier battle groups to 12. In December 2016, the US Navy Armed Force Structure Assessment report proposed to increase the number of vessels to 355.

Increasing deployment of maritime and air forces in the Indo-Pacific region. As the global strategic center moves eastward, the importance of the Atlantic in the traditional US “two-ocean strategy” has weakened while the Indo-Pacific’s standing has increased.[30] To strengthen security control in the Indo-Pacific region, the United States announced it would deploy 60 percent of its maritime and air forces in the Asia-Pacific region by 2020. At present, the number of US troops in the region is 368,000. In the future, the size of US troops in Japan will remain around 50,000; 2,500 Marine Corps will be stationed in rotation in Australia; four littoral combat ships in Singapore will be deployed to carry out combat, demining, anti-submarine and other modular duties. The Asia-Pacific Maritime Security Strategy published by the United States in 2015 announced that the United States would send the newest amphibious assault ship USS America, three DDG-1000 stealth destroyers and two Virginia class submarines to the Asia-Pacific by 2020. In addition, the US military will also deploy F-22 and F-35 fighters, B-2 and B-52 strategic bombers, Osprey transport aircraft and other air combat forces to the region.[31] In order to strengthen its deterrent force in East Asia, the United States sent some vessels of the Third Fleet stationed in eastern and northern Pacific to perform tasks in East Asia. In April 2016, the United States incorporated three guided missile destroyers of the Third Fleet, namely USS Decatur, USS Momsen and USS Spruance, into the Seventh Fleet deployed in East Asia. In October 2016, USS Decatur carried out the so-called freedom of navigation operations in waters off China’s Xisha Islands. The USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier battle group of the Third Fleet has also performed multiple tasks in East Asian waters. In February it entered the South China Sea and in April waters off the Korean Peninsula.

Proposing “all domain access” and “third offset.” At the beginning of 2015, the US military renamed the concept of Air-Sea Battle as Joint Concept for Access and Maneuver in the Global Commons, or JAM-GC, to comprehensively utilize its land, sea, airspace, cyberspace and electromagnetic advantages to defeat an opponent’s anti-access/area denial strategy and assure appropriate freedom of action in any domain.[32] In the same year, A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapowermentioned for the first time “all domain access,” and listed it first among the essential basic capabilities of the US Navy. This function is in line with the JAM-GC concept, which aims to ensure the US military’s freedom of action on land, at sea, in space and cyberspace and in the electromagnetic spectrum. To ensure it has comprehensive technological advantages and military action capabilities, the US Department of Defense has proposed the Third Offset Strategy to strengthen its military superiority in the 21st century. The Department has increased its technological research and development, and is striving to gain a breakthrough in high technology, especially robots, automatic control systems, miniaturization, big data, 3D printing, etc. and integrate these technologies into innovative ideas of combat and organization, in order to ensure “freedom of access” in an anti-access/area denial environment.[33]

Considering China the main competitor in sea power in the Western Pacific. In recent years, China has been one of the most important factors in the discussions of sea power in the United States and the US adjustments to its naval strategy. To the United States, China’s enhanced anti-access/area denial capabilities are threatening the sea power advantages of the US in the Western Pacific, and testing the US security commitments to its allies. At the same time, China’s maritime strategy is challenging the US-led maritime order. Once China’s “restricted access” concept is generally accepted by the international community, it will affect the US Navy’s freedom of action, and constrain its external intervention capacity. With China’s increasing capabilities and measures to protect its maritime rights, the United States’ vigilance toward China’s challenge to its sea power has been raised to the level of national security strategy. The 2007 edition of A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapowerdid not mention China at all, but in recent years, the report issued by the White House and the US military has put China in a prominent position. The National Security Strategy issued by the White House in February 2015 stated that the United States remains vigilant against China’s military modernization and is firmly opposed to it resolving territorial disputes by any form of coercion.[34] Later, the 2015 edition of A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Sea Power accused China of using force and intimidation against other countries to pursue its sovereignty claims, which, coupled with lack of transparency in its military intentions, has caused tension and turmoil in the region and could lead to misjudgments and an escalation of tensions.[35] The Asia-Pacific Maritime Security Strategy released by the Defense Department in August the same year is basically tailored to detail the challenges the United States perceives from China. The report stated that China’s construction activities on the Nansha Islands had a serious impact on US-China relations. Especially, China’s maritime and air operations significantly have increased “unsafe and unprofessional” encounters, which seriously threatens the policy objectives of the United States and US military, and even the safety of US troops.[36]

In response to China’s sea power challenge, in recent years, the United States has strengthened its deterrence on the sea against China through multiple approaches. First, strengthening and optimizing its forward deployment, especially its military presence in the Asia-Pacific. Through the rebalancing strategy, the US is redeploying its military forces from Northeast Asia to Southeast Asia, and partially to the second island chain (such as Guam, Australia, Hawaii, and the Mariana Islands). Second, enhancing the military capabilities of the United States’ Asia-Pacific allies and partners and increasing mutual familiarity in joint operations through arms sales, military aid and joint exercises. Third, increasing the frequency of close-up reconnaissance and “freedom of navigation” operations. Fourth, introducing strategic or operational plans mainly targeting China. Strategic and operational concepts the US military has successively proposed, such as ASB, JAM-GC, Third Offset Strategy and Distributed Lethality, are all aimed at China to various degrees. Fifth, changing its long-term “neutral” position on maritime disputes in East Asia. The US has directly been involved in territorial and maritime rights disputes between China and its neighboring countries, questioning the legitimacy of China’s claims and actions to protect its sovereignty and maritime rights, and promoting internationalization and judicialization of the South China Sea issue.




Sea power is the basis of the United States’ hegemony. Maintaining absolute sea power superiority is the ultimate goal pursued by the US since Mahan introduced his sea power theory. The United States’ rethinking on sea power, against the background that it has to reduce its military spending while China is increasing investment in its navy, is not directly caused by the fall of the US sea power advantage, but it reflects the increasing domestic anxiety about a rising East and a declining West. Moreover, the military industrial interest groups and the defense hawks are taking the opportunity of the China concern to build up momentum to increase naval investment. From the perspective of policy impacts, their activities have been successful to a certain extent. The United States’ naval strategy has turned again to the control of the oceans, the size of its fleet is expected to expand in the near future, and the Indo-Pacific region would be the main area for the new warships to project the Unites States’ power. However, viewed from potential international influence, strengthening its sea power advantage would only stimulate other great powers to accelerate the development of their own maritime forces in order to narrow the gap with the United States. That would promote a maritime arms race, and intensify geopolitical competition, as a result of which the regional security situation would become more complicated, adding more uncertainties and instability to today’s world.




Xie Xiaodong is Dean of Bohai University’s School of Politics and History; Zhao Qinghai is Director of the Center for Maritime Security and Cooperation, China Institute of International Studies (CIIS).



Source: China International Studies, July/August 2017.


[1]Alfred Thayer Mahan, The Influence of Sea Power upon History, 1660-1783, Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1890, p.110.

[2]Geoffrey Till, Maritime Strategy and the Nuclear Age, London: Macmillan, 1982, p.33.

[3]Charles W. Koburger, Jr., Narrow Seas, Small Navies and Fat Merchantmen, New York: Praeger, 1990, p.xiv.

[4]Sam J. Tangredi, ed., Globalization and Maritime Power, Washington, D.C.: National Defense University Press, 2002, pp.3-4.

[5]Andrew T. H. Tan, ed., The Politics of Maritime Power: A Survey, Routledge, 2011, p.5.

[6]Thomas H. Collins, “Maritime Power for the 21st Century,” International Seapower Symposium, Naval War College Newport, RI, October 27, 2003,

[7]Geoffrey Till, Seapower: A Guide for the Twenty-first Century, 3rd edition, Routledge, 2013, p.25.

[8]David C. Gompert, “Sea Power and American Interests in the Western Pacific,” 2013, p.21,

[9]Russell Weigley, The American Way of War: A History of United States Military Strategy and Policy, Liberation Army Press, 1986, pp.219-288.

[10]Geoffrey Till, Seapower: A Guide for the Twenty-first Century, pp.61-71.

[11]R. B. Watts, “The End of Sea Power,” Proceedings Magazine, September 2009, Vol.135/9/1, p.279.

[12]Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, “Remarks at the Navy League Sea-Air-Space Exposition,” May 3, 2010,

[13]James Kurth, “The New Maritime Strategy: Confronting Peer Competitors, Rogue States, and Transnational Insurgents,” Orbis, Fall 2007, p.596.

[14]Julian Dale Alford, “How Important is ‘Command of the Commons’ to U.S. Defense Strategy Going Forward?” April 9, 2013,

[15]Department of the Navy, United States Marine Corps and United States Coast Guard, A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower, March 2015, p.ii,

[16] “Seapower: A Conversation with Professor Geoffrey Till,” December 9, 2012.

[17]James R. Holmes, “China’s Naval Strategy: Mahanian Ends Through Maoist Means,” The Diplomat, June 21, 2013,

[18]Benjam Armstrong, “Living in a Mahanian World,” Infinity Journal, Vol.2, No.3, Summer 2012, p.11.

[19]Brian O’Lavin, “Mahan and Corbett on Maritime Strategy,” November 8, 2009,

[20]James Holmes, “Dilemmas of the Modern Navy,” The National Interest, May-June 2013,

[21]James R. Holmes, “From Mahan to Corbett?” The Diplomat, December 11, 2011,

[22]James Holmes and Toshi Yoshihara, “China’s Navy: A Turn to Corbett?” Proceedings Magazine, Vol.136, No.12, December 2010.

[23]David C. Gompert, “Sea Power and American Interests in the Western Pacific,” pp.186-187.

[24]A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower, p.8.

[25]US Department of the Navy, From the Sea: Preparing the Naval Service for the 21st Century, September 1992,

[26]US Naval Surface Forces, Surface Force Strategy: Return to Sea Control, January 9, 2017,

[27]Tom Rowden, “U.S. Navy Must Return to Sea Control,” USNI Proceedings, 2016, p.9.

[28]A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower, p.20.

[29]Surface Force Strategy: Return to Sea Control, p.20.

[30]The US military uses Indo-Asia-Pacific to identify this area, while the US academic circle tends to use Maritime Asia.

[31]Department of Defense, The Asia-Pacific Maritime Security Strategy, August 2015, p.20.

[32]A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower.

[33]The Asia-Pacific Maritime Security Strategy, p.22.

[34]The White House (President Barack Obama), National Security Strategy, February 2015,

[35]A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower.

[36]The Asia-Pacific Maritime Security Strategy, p.14.