First was Robert Kaplan's
over-the-top " War with China
" piece in The Atlantic
that sparked Thomas P.M. Barnett's infamously caustic rebuttal
( with Curzon
exchanging supporting fire ). Now Ralph Peters
has his own " Navy" piece entitled "Waters of wealth and war
" in The Armed Forces Journal
. An excerpt:"As you read these lines, nearly 20 million shipping containers are underway around the globe — carried by fewer than 4,000 hulls. The explosion of transoceanic trade simultaneously has made that commerce more vulnerable, not only in the obvious sense that economies have grown more interdependent, but also because, even as the volume of shipped goods increased, the number of significant cargo carriers plummeted — because of the increasing size of commercial vessels, from supertankers to container ships. Far fewer transports ply the seas today than a century ago; the sinking, seizure or blockading of a small portion of the international merchant fleet could bring high-end economies to a standstill. While our Navy — the most powerful and skilled in history — focuses on grand fleet actions (or their postmodern, dispersed equivalent), the strategic weak link across the globe is trade.
This is nowhere more evident than in the greater Indian Ocean (GIO), on whose shores lie great potential wealth and incomparable poverty, along with multiple immediate and potential clashes of civilizations, cultures and minorities. Here, the world’s great religions confront each other; systems of government challenge one another; social systems conflict; and the world’s two most powerful states, the United States and China, find themselves in a competition for resources and allies that Beijing, at least, views as a zero-sum game.
And no waters are so vulnerable."
I'm not questioning Peters facts or argument here, I'll leave that to others to dissect, but I'm curious if this emerging Neo-Mahanist
perspective is as relevant today at the start of the twenty-first century as it was at the close of the nineteenth?
I am no opponent of a large and versatile U.S. Navy. Back in the day when the Soviets had ambitions for a global power projection, I admired the Reagan administration's plan for a 500 Ship Navy and thought that the first Bush administration's eliminating the Iowa class battleships from active duty removed a useful arrow from the American quiver ( In fact, I still do; the battleship is a " Leviathan in the Gap" ship if there ever was one). Credibility of American military deterrence, both conventional and nuclear, rests on the expectation of ally and foe alike that the U.S. Navy can show up anywhere and be the hammer of the American Leviathan, from the Arctic circle to the East African coast.
But spatially speaking, isn't much of the security problem Peters describes here highly, highly, localized to a few choke points where geography and dysfunctional governance coincide ? How will the energy lifelines that China seeks to secure today look in a quarter century when natural gas and most likely, a resurgent nuclear power industry, change the global energy market profile ? Is the security problem in this region answered by massive ( physically and and in terms of investment) naval platforms or nimble littoral/amphibious assault forces, robust HUMINT and SIGINT penetration or even - looking ahead - legions of robotic naval UAV equivalents ?
There's more here to the geostrategic picture than is dreamt of PACOM's philosophy.LINKS:Younghusband's Mahan vs. CorbettEddie's post on The Shipbuilding Fantasy of the Navy