[Admiral James Stavridis, Sea Power. The History and Geopolitics of the World's Oceans. Penguin Press. New York City, 2017. 363 pages]


REVIEW / Iñigo Bronte Barea [Spanish version].

In the era of globalization and its communication society, where everything is closer, and distances seem to vanish, the mass of water between the continents hasn't lost the strategic value it has always had. Historically, the seas have been as much a channel for human development as instruments of geopolitical dominance. It is no coincidence that the great world powers of the last 200 years have been great naval powers as well. We continue living the dispute over the maritime space at the present time and nothing suggests that the geopolitics of the seas will stop being crucial in the future.

Little have these principles changed on the importance of the maritime powers since they were expounded at the end of the 19th century by Alfred T. Mahan. Sea Power speaks of its validity today. The History and Geopolitics of the World's Oceans, by Admiral James G. Stavridis, retired in 2013 after having directed the U.S. Southern Command, the U.S. European Command and the supreme NATO leadership.

The book is the fruit of Mahan's early readings and a long career of almost four decades touring the seas and oceans with the US Navy. At the beginning of each explanation about the different marine spaces, Stavridis recounts his brief experience in that sea or ocean, to then continue with the history, and the development that they have had, until they reach their current context. Finally there is a projection about the near future that the world will have from the perspective of marine geopolitics.

Pacific: The emergence of China.

Admiral J. G. Stavridis begins his journey through the Pacific Ocean, which he categorizes as "the mother of all oceans" due to its immensity, since, by itself, it is larger than the entire combined planet's land surface. Another noteworthy point is that in its immensity there is no considerable land mass, although there are islands of all kinds, with very diverse cultures. That's why the sea dominates the geography of the Pacific as it does not anywhere else on the planet.


The great dominator of this marine space is Australia, which is very aware of what can happen politically in the archipelagos of nearby islands. However, it was the Europeans who explored the Pacific well (Magellan was the first, around 1500) and tried to connect it with their world in a way that was not merely transitory and commercial, but stable and lasting.

The United States began to be present in the Pacific since the acquisition of California (1840), but it was not until the annexation of Hawaii (1898) that the immense country was catapulted definitively towards the Pacific. The first time this ocean emerged as a zone of total war was in 1941 when Pearl Harbor was massacred by the Japanese. With the return of peace, the Japanese revival and the emergence of China, Taiwan, Korea, Singapore and Hong Kong made trans-Pacific trade surpass the Atlantic for the first time in the 1980s, and this trend continues. This is so, because the Pacific region contains the largest world powers on its coasts. In the geopolitical arena, a great arms race is taking place in the Pacific, with North Korea as a major source of tension and uncertainty worldwide.

Atlantic: from the Panama Canal to NATO

As for the Atlantic Ocean, Stavridis refers to it as the cradle of civilization, since the Mediterranean is included among its territories, and even more so if we consider it as the link between the people of all America and Africa with Europe. It has two great seas of great historical importance such as the Caribbean and the Mediterranean.

Undoubtedly the historical figure of this ocean is that of Christopher Columbus, since with his arrival in America (Bahamas 1492) began a new historical period that ended with virtually the entire American continent colonized by European powers in later centuries. While Portugal and Spain were concentrated in the Caribbean and South America, the British and the French did so in North America.

During the First World War, the Atlantic became an essential transit area for the development of the war, since, through it, the United States brought its troops, war materials and goods to Europe during the conflict. It was here that the idea of a community of the Atlantic countries that would eventually lead to the creation of NATO began to take shape.

Regarding the Caribbean, the author considers it as a region installed in the past. Its colonization was characterized by the arrival of slaves to exploit the natural resources of the region for purposes of economic interest for the Spanish. In addition, this process was characterized by the desire to convert the indigenous population to Christianity.

The Panama Canal is an engine for the economy of the region, but in Central America it is also possible to sail along the coasts of the countries with the highest rates of violence on the planet. Admiral Stavridis considers the Caribbean coast as a kind of Wild West that in some places has evolved little since the times of the pirates, and in which the drug cartels are currently operating with total impunity.

Since the 1820s, with the Monroe Doctrine, the United States carried out a series of interventions through its navy to reinforce regional stability and leave Europeans out of places such as Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Central America. In the 20th century, politics was dominated by caudillos, and communism and the Cold War soon reached the Caribbean, with Cuba as a zone zero.

Indian and Arctic: from the unknown to the risk

The Indian Ocean has less history and geopolitics than the other two great oceans. Despite this, its tributary seas have been gaining geopolitical importance in the post-World War II era with the increase in global navigation and the export of oil from the Gulf region. The Indian Ocean could be considered nowadays as a region to exercise smart power rather than hard power. While the slave trade and piracy has declined to almost disappear almost everywhere, they are still present in parts of the Indian Ocean. It's a region in which countries from the whole world could collaborate all together in order to fight against these common problems.

The history of Indian Ocean doesn't inspire confidence in the potential for peaceful governance in the years to come. An important key to unlock the potential of the region should be to solve the existing conflicts between India and Pakistan (threatening the use of nuclear weapons) and the Shia-Sunni division in the Arabian Gulf, which make the region very volatile. Due to the tensions of the Gulf countries, the region is today a kind of cold war between the Sunnis, led by Saudi Arabia, and the Shiites, led by Iran; the U.S., with its Fifth Fleet, is in the middle of these two sides.

Finally, the Arctic is currently a mystery. Stavridis considers that it is both a promise and a danger. Over the centuries, all oceans and seas have been the site of epic battles and discoveries, but there is one exception: the Arctic Ocean.

It seems clear that this exceptionality is coming to an end. The Arctic is an emerging maritime boundary with increasing human activity, rapidly melting ice blocks and important hydrocarbon resources that are beginning to be within reach. However, there are great risks that will dangerously condition the exploitation of this region, such as weather conditions, confused governance due to the confluence of five bordering countries (Russia, Norway, Canada, the United States and Denmark), and geopolitical competition between NATO and Russia, whose relations are deteriorating in recent years.

More blog entries

Publicador de contenidos

Carrera por los recursos espaciales: de la minería al control de rutas

▲ proposal of lunar base for obtaining helium, taken from [Christopher Barnatt]. GLOBAL AFFAIRS JOURNAL / Emili J. Blasco [8-page document.... ReadmoreAboutRace for space resources: from mining to route control "

Conexión eléctrica entre Ceuta y la Península: un asunto de seguridad energética y medioambiental

The routeing of a submarine cable for power transmission to Spain's place has been stalled since 2016 The project of electrical interconnection between Ceuta and the Peninsula, of the network Eléctrica... ReadmoreAboutElectrical interconnection between Ceuta and the Peninsula: a matter of energy and environmental security "

Ecuador desaprovecha su salida de la OPEP y pierde producción petrolera

The country left the cartel in order to expand its pumping, but the Covid-19 crisis has cut extraction volumes by 10.8%. Construction of a variant of the pipeline that crosses the... ReadmoreAboutEcuador misses out on OPEC exit and loses oil production "

Argentina ve en Vaca Muerta una tabla de salvación, pero falta más capital para su desarrollo

The hydrocarbon field is the central axis of the Gas 2020-2023 Plan of President Alberto Fernández, which subsidizes part of the investment Activity of YPF, Argentina's state-owned oil and gas... ReadmoreAboutArgentina sees Vaca Muerta as a lifeline, but more capital is needed for its development "

El gas natural licuado cambia el juego en el hemisferio americano

U.S. LNG sales to its neighbors and exports from Latin American and Caribbean countries to Europe and Asia open new perspectives Not to depend on gas pipelines, but to be able to buy or sell... ReadmoreAboutLiquefied natural gas is a game changer in the American hemisphere "

Could Spain partner up with Morocco in the field of solar energy?

The two countries are greatly exposed to solar radiation and they already share electricity interconnectors Spain was an early developer of solar energy, but it didn't keep the pace with the... ReadmoreAboutCould Spain partner up with Morocco in the field of solar energy? "

Surinam sigue a Guyana en el ‘milagro’ petrolero

The finding of a "significant" amount of oil in off-shore wells places the former Dutch colony in the footsteps of neighboring Guyana. The intuition has proved to be right and the... ReadmoreAboutSuriname follows Guyana in the oil 'miracle' "

Climate Refugees will raise, nations should find the way for shelter them

▲ Flood rescue in the Afghan village of Jalalabad, in 2010 [NATO]. ESSAY / Alejandro J. Alfonso In December of 2019, Madrid hosted the United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP25,... ReadmoreAboutClimate Refugees will raise, nations should find the way for shelter them "

La nueva guerra de precios petroleros

March and April 2020 will be remembered in the oil industry as the months in which the perfect storm occurred: a drop of more than 20% in global demand at the same time that the oil industry... ReadmoreAboutThe new oil price war "

Was the Madrid COP25 useful?

The UN Conference did little to increase international commitment to climate change action, but did at least boost the assertiveness of the EU In recent years, the temperature of the Earth has... ReadmoreAboutWas the Madrid COP25 useful? "

La minería ilegal, la otra destrucción de la Amazonía

Gold mining and oil transport pollute Amazonian rivers It is not only the fires that are negatively affecting the Amazon, which is undergoing an accelerated reduction of... ReadmoreAboutIllegal mining, the other destruction of the Amazon "

Centroamérica aprovecha sus volcanes para generación eléctrica

Geothermal energy already accounts for 7.5% of the Central American electricity mix, with installed capacity still far below the estimated potential. Volcanic activity and tectonic movement... ReadmoreAboutCentral America harnesses its volcanoes for power generation "

Jordan River Basin: Hydropolitics as an arena for regional cooperation

▲Satellite imagery of the Jordan River [NASA]. ANALYSIS / Marina Díaz Escudero Water is an essential natural resource, not only for individual survival on Earth, but also for nation-states... Read moreAboutJordan River Basin: Hydropolitics as an arena for regional cooperation "

Qué hará Bolivia con su gas natural cuando Brasil y Argentina ya no lo necesiten

The upcoming gas self-sufficiency of its two major gas-buying neighbors forces the Bolivian government to seek alternative markets Yacimientos Pretrolíferos Fiscales gas plant in... ReadmoreAboutWhat Bolivia will do with its natural gas when Brazil and Argentina no longer need it "

Blood diamonds keep going through Antwerp

The Belgian city, the world's capital of diamonds, has applied more regulations, sanctions and scrutiny on the industry, but still there are some bad practices ▲ The diamond industry has... ReadmoreAboutBlood diamonds keep going through Antwerp "

Cumbre del Clima 2018, un paso hacia adelante

The meeting COP24 made progress in regulating the Paris agreement , but "carbon markets" remained blocked. Mobilizations in favor of governments taking more drastic measures... ReadmoreAboutClimate Summit 2018, a step forward "

La nueva Guyana petrolera y su proyección internacional

One of the poorest countries in the Americas may become the world's largest oil producer per capita, disrupting the relationship with its neighbors. The promising oil discoveries... ReadmoreAboutThe new oil Guyana and its international projection "

Acuífero Guaraní: mejor que otros, pero pervivencia no asegurada

Geopolitical misgivings about perceived foreign interests should not distract beneficiary countries from implementing sustainable use. The Guarani Aquifer has given rise to a... ReadmoreAboutAquifer Guarani: better than others, but survival not assured "

El 'boom' de la quinoa

Global interest in this fashionable grain has brought additional income to Andean communities. The localization of quinoa production, especially in Peru and Bolivia (together they account for... ReadmoreAboutThe quinoa boom "

Impulso a la conexión gasística de los países de la Iniciativa de los Tres Mares

Poland-Germany struggle for influence in the European region between the Baltic, the Adriatic and the Black Sea The latest summit of the Three Seas Initiative (TMI) was attended by the... ReadmoreAboutBoosting the gas connection of the Three Seas Initiative countries "