China is working to establish regional hegemony in the South China Sea, with aspirations for broader influence and control of the Pacific Ocean. While China is a formidable foe, its weaknesses can be exploited using lessons from British naval scholar Sir Julian Corbett. To do so, however, the United States must disengage itself from the allure of Alfred Thayer Mahan, as his principles of force concentration and the decisive battle would work to China’s favor. Corbett’s concepts of blockade, “cruisers,” and attacks on trade are more sensible options for containing and strangling China in a possible war.
U.S. fleet composition and a culture centered on carrier strike groups (CSGs) reveal that fleet engagement, in a Mahanian concept of sea control through defeat of the enemy fleet, still drives U.S. naval strategy. However, the situation China has created in the South China Sea negates many of the strengths of a CSG and its conceptual deployment strategy.
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4. Ronald O’Rourke, China Naval Modernization: Implications for U.S. Navy Capabilities—Background and Issues for Congress (Washington, DC: Congressional Research Service, 2018), 5.
5. Norval, “The Return of Mahan, Mackinder, and Spykman.”
6 Julian S. Corbett, Principles of Maritime Strategy (New York: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1911), 87.
7. Corbett, Principles of Maritime Strategy, 90.
8. Corbett, 113.
9. Corbett, 185.
10. Corbett, 263.
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12. Holmes, “Visualize Chinese Sea Power,” 29, 30.
13. Sean Mirski, “Blockade: The Ultimate Way to Win a War Against China?” The National Interest, 30 July 2018.