Till, Geoffrey. Seapower: A Guide for the Twenty-First Century.

Author:Smith, R. Michael
Position::Book Review

Till, Geoffrey. Seapower: A Guide for the Twenty-First Century. London: Frank Cass, 2004. xvi + 430 pp. Cloth, $125.00; paper, $36.95.

The sea matters. Because the sea matters, navies matter.

One purpose of Geoffrey Till's book is to explain why navies matter. Its second purpose is to bring such thinking up to date, to say how navies matter, or are likely to matter, in the twenty-first century.

Till is concerned with definitions and theory. The way one understands navies and naval operations is through definition and theory. At the highest level this leads to or is exploited by strategic thinking. Closer to ground (or water) it is tactical. Till is also concerned with history. It is in past battles and wars that the worth of particular strategies and tactics have been tested and possibly disproved. And he is concerned with the present day and the myriad changes in how the sea is used and how it may be used in the future.

For many states this book has limited relevance. Only a few states are naval powers. Not very many states have long coastlines. Quite a few states rely on maritime trade to supply the necessities of life or to reach markets for their products. Till's book has more relevance for naval powers, fishing states, and trading states, than for the weak, the poor, or the landlocked.

Early in the book, Till states that the sea has traditionally had four uses. The sea is a resource--a source of natural goods such as fish, oil, and gas. It is a means of transportation. It is usually easier or cheaper to move heavy or bulky things by water between two points than by land or air. It is a means of exchanging information. And it is a means of dominion.

Toward the end of the book, Till points to a lesson learned in the last century: The sea is also an environment. Here he means the naval environment understood broadly. This includes issues of the natural environment such as water pollution, but it also includes concern for naval hazards such as pirates, kidnapping at sea, tsunamis, and congested naval traffic. This is a fifth way the sea matters.

At most, few countries are capable of being great naval powers. Most countries are relegated to lesser power status. A great naval power may seek to achieve command of the sea. It seems unlikely that any power can command all the oceans. Command of the sea will be regional and relative. A state that commands any substantial portion of the sea can control the exploitation of sea resources. Its people and businesses...

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