SEST-680-01 Naval Strategy
Spring for 2016-2017
The aim of this course is to teach students to think strategically about the role of naval forces in achieving national objectives by – among other things – examining the historical and recent theories and experiences concerning the strategic uses of naval forces; and by offering an understanding of naval operations and their often unique contributions to achieving national purposes, and of the strategic relationships among naval, ground and air forces.
It is often observed that, when there is a crisis involving the United States, one of the first questions asked by the President at the time is, “Where are the aircraft carriers?” This is indeed an early question in a time of crisis, when immediate action may be necessary; but the answer to this question depends in considerable part on the answer to a prior, long-term question: What kind of naval forces should we build and maintain in our national interest and how should we deploy and employ them? This course considers both the long-term and more immediate roles of naval forces in U.S. strategy.
We begin by looking at early uses of naval forces for strategic purposes, going back 2,500 years to the Peloponnesian War between Athens, a naval power, and Sparta, a land power, and to the history written by Thucydides and others on that war. You might ask, “Why?” Is it really worth our time to look at an era when ships were powered by oars to find lessons for today? How could events then be relevant to our circumstances? I promise you, there are strategic lessons for us there.
We next examine the naval strategy and forces of Great Britain, the world’s leading sea power, in the period of the American Revolution and Britain’s wars with France and Napoleon; and at the work of two important historians and theorists writing about maritime and naval strategy after this time: Alfred Thayer Mahan, an American naval officer and second president of the U.S. Naval War College, and his contemporary Sir Julian Corbett, a naval history professor and strategist at the Royal Naval College, England. These two have valuable perspectives to share.
We then look at the 20th Century, a century indelibly marked by two enormously destructive wars, World War I and II. We consider the strategic significance of navies and the different approaches to their use in these wars by the belligerents; and at the innovation in naval thinking and practice that occurred in the years between those wars.
By the end of WWII, the torch of world-wide naval dominance passed from the United Kingdom to the United States. Yet the future value of naval forces was subject to vigorous debate at the beginning of the new Cold War world. We examine the role of naval forces in national, NATO, and Soviet strategies during this 40+ year Cold War period; the rise of the nuclear Navy; the relationships among naval, ground and air forces and strategies; and the movement toward joint organization and operations of the armed forces.
Finally, we consider naval forces and maritime strategy in the post-Cold War, post-9/11 world, a world less ultimately dangerous than in the Cold War years but in many ways a more complex and more confusing world. A world in which, so far, the use of military and naval forces have played a central part in U.S. national strategy. Will this continue to be true? Whether or not, what ought to be the role of naval forces in future strategy? If we look ahead to, say, 2030, what do we see and what do we recommend?
The following syllabi may help you learn more about this course (login required):
Fall '16: Murray B (file download)
Additional syllabi may be available in prior academic years.
Other academic years
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