With publication of Advantage at Sea, the Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard have a cogent, broad-based strategic theory of how to apply naval power in the turbulent 21st century. Advantage focuses on the growth of peer competition with China and Russia, while reemphasizing traditional broad naval objectives of power projection, sea control, strategic deterrence, and strategic sealift. Though these four pillars of naval activity go back in one form or another to Alfred Thayer Mahan, they remain a sound structure through which to view the application of maritime power at a strategic level.1
1. For an updated sense of how Mahan’s theories translate more than a century after he posited them, see ADM James Stavridis, USN (Ret.), “America and the Oceans: A Naval Strategy for the 21st Century,” in Seapower: The History and Geopolitics of the World’s Oceans (New York: Penguin Press, 2017), 303–43.
2. For an excellent overview of this concept, see Robert Kaplan, The Revenge of Geography: What the Map Tells Us About Coming Conflicts and the Battle against Fate (New York: Random House, 2013).
3. An excellent overview of PLAN capabilities can be found in RADM Mike McDevitt, USN (Ret.), China as a Twenty-First-Century Naval Power: Theory, Practice, and Implications (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2020), or in the annual overview of Chinese capabilities produced by the U.S. government. These reports have been generated annually for several decades and are authoritative at the unclassified level.
4. The challenges are well outlined in VADM Jamie Foggo, USN, and Alan Fritz, “The Fourth Battle of the Atlantic,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings 142, no. 6 (June 2016). Foggo was Sixth Fleet Commander at the time and went on to become Commander of all U.S. Naval Forces in Europe and Africa.
5. As an aside, Putin (a superb tactician and a lousy strategist) should be careful what he wishes for in terms of a long-term relationship with China. The Chinese look at Siberia—a vast, empty land space full of resources—like my dog looks at a ribeye steak.