Till, Geoffrey. Seapower: A Guide for the Twenty-First Century.
Article Type: Book Review
Subject: Books (Book reviews)
Author: Smith, R. Michael
Pub Date: 09/22/2005
Publication: Name: International Social Science Review Publisher: Pi Gamma Mu Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Social sciences Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2005 Pi Gamma Mu ISSN: 0278-2308
Issue: Date: Fall-Winter, 2005 Source Volume: 80 Source Issue: 3-4
Topic: NamedWork: Seapower: A Guide for the Twenty-First Century (Book)
Persons: Reviewee: Till, Geoffrey
Accession Number: 140744256
Full Text: 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 can exploit those resources; it can determine who else it will allow to exploit those resources. It can manage or restrict transport on the sea or the collection or exchange of information about or on the sea. It also can use its command of the sea to pursue military objectives. It may use the sea to attack its rivals or to defend its allies. It can use its command of the sea to allow allied navies to pass and to block or sink hostile navies. It can blockade hostile ports while assuring that goods reach friendly ports.

Lesser powers may seek to prevent a great power from achieving command of the sea. Strategies useful for such powers, to undermine great-power command of the sea, depend on the strategy used by the great power. If the great power seeks to pursue and sink hostile warships, the rival will want to keep these in safe waters much of the time. If the great power seeks to escort its merchant convoys or blockade hostile ports, the rival will adopt different strategies.

Much of the book is devoted to the composition and use of naval forces. Till favors the idea that there is a level of theory and practice between the strategic and the tactical--the operational. Strategy aims to win wars, operational thinking aims to plan successful campaigns, tactical thinking aims to win battles. Till focuses on strategy and campaigns and says little about tactics.

Too, he recognizes the need for joint operations. Naval forces may need to operate in conjunction with land and air forces. Often the forces of one state operate jointly with those of other states. When properly combined and led this can multiply effectiveness. Till recognizes but minimizes the difficulties in such cooperation whether it is inter-branch or interstate cooperation.

As should be clear, Till aims to accomplish much in this book. Over the years he has developed the knowledge of history, the understanding of different navies, and the insight into strategy and campaign, to succeed in this effort. This book has a grand design and succeeds in conveying the variety of human uses of the sea and how navies are needed and shaped to achieve national purposes.

The central focus of the book is on the military use of the sea (i.e., force structure, strategy). Discussion of other matters is limited. One should not look to this book to understand how oceans are being exploited, current or future methods or volume of ocean-going transport, or the production or distribution of information about or by the sea. Till has a sensible grasp of such topics but does not explore them.

Till's handling of the future is thoughtful but lacks imagination. He projects present trends into the future. This is safe but prosaic. Because he does not explore non-naval topics, he is unable to make original forecasts. He is much better on the usefulness of missiles or amphibious forces than on the modern information economy.

To this reader, there is a message implicit in the later chapters of the book, especially the chapter about the need for good order at sea--i.e., a good naval environment. Till appears to call for interstate cooperation in achieving and maintaining such good order. States that lack the capacity to prevent piracy need help. Disputes over islands or exploitation of the sea need to be resolved. Tsunamis and changes in the sea floor need to be detected and reported.

Such interstate cooperation is also required for joint operations aimed at bringing order to failed states, supporting peacekeeping operations, or achieving regime change. Here, too, Till limits his remarks. Matters of multilateralism and the diplomacy required to make this possible are beyond the scope of this book.

This is not a book that will interest everyone. It focuses on naval issues and does so in an abstract, theoretical way. The analysis is well supported by historical examples. For those engaged by such topics, this book merits study because it is comprehensive and well informed.

R. Michael Smith, Ph.D.

Professor of Political Science

Glenville State College

Glenville, West Virginia
Gale Copyright: Copyright 2005 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.