To identify the development of sea power, we can employ the function cluster rule. It means that in a specific field, the major military factors of hard power and soft power gathering in clusters could facilitate mutual interaction and development, achieving advantages in certain battlefields and the piercing through function of specific military strength.
Only with the seamless integration of technology and strategic thinking, can maximum sea power be achieved.
War starts on land. Throughout history, humanity has studied military affairs on land, which is characterized by strength of arms relying on science and technology. In military history, the representative technologies have glistened in stone and metal used in equipment forged with technologies from early times, and have been shown in the innovation of explosive and fortification technologies.
The trend of strategic sea warfare commenced in the 16th Century. Comparing with land and sea warfare, we see that the naval battle is no longer simple attacks, but combat with master strategies by impenetrable units. It is no longer simple plunder at sea, but planned and highly efficient actions.
Technological advantage is not enough to maintain a strong navy. For example, the maritime supremacy of the Portugal, Spain and Holland finally declined in spite of the rapid development of technologies of shipbuilding, nautical knowledge, steam power, wireless communication, and firepower.
The emergence of sea power theory and its combination with naval combat technologies contributed to the emergence of sea function clusters. The attainment of sea power propelled Britain and the U.S. shift their military focus to the sea, which helped them gain maritime supremacy.
Without sea power theory, the sea function clusters would be only half as successful and there would be no real maritime superpowers.
If we follow strategic thinking and expand into unconquered new fields, we will be able to achieve great strategic advantages.
According to the theory of Alfred Thayer Mahan, naval force exists to safeguard the exports of emerging capitalism. The three factors of domestic goods, ocean transport and colony were the three major aspects of sea power. In the hundred-year history of sea supremacy, its character has changed greatly away from mercantilism to global strategy.
Mercantilism injected abundant vitality into naval construction. It even spurred Columbus' expedition to look for China with its "gold and spices" bringing attractive economic returns. The costal European countries got the first of the gold.
Global strategy guided the strengthening of Western superpowers. Its aim was similar to that of mercantilism, and originated in the 18th Century, facilitated by the trade and supremacy of the European continent.
Now, the U.S has taken the place of Britain and gained an unapproachable advantage in global strategy. We can see three facets of sea power: the global economic system and the benefits of globalization; global military intervention and maintaining supremacy; and the promotion or compulsion of Western values.
Highs and Lows of Sea Power
After the formation of the sea function cluster, the steam engine, the power of the mine, was equipped on warships in the 18th Century, before the invention of the steam locomotive. By tradition, such a development should have been employed first in land transport.
We have adequate evidence that the revolution of naval power led the development of railway transport and land warfare. Following that, the appearance and improvement of steel battleships, naval artillery and the submarine drove the emergence of the mechanized warfare.
The formation of function clusters brought social as well as military benefits. Science historian J.D. Bernal said most of the major improvements in science and technology could be directly attributed to the requirements of land and sea forces.
Many of the technologies driving social progress come with the emergence of function clusters that accelerated the development of maritime civilizations, new social structures and economies. In technologies such as the computer, satellite positioning and mobile communications, we can see the influence of sea or space function clusters.
However, we should remember that they were based on destroying the balance of global geopolitics and allowed a few countries to plunder the world's ocean resources. They had other negative and disastrous effects.
Firstly, the rise of sea power destroyed the structure of civilizations. Colonialism and aggressive wars indeed propelled the rise of Western civilizations, but seriously damaged global civilization and non-Western civilizations. It also deepened conflict among civilizations.
Secondly, the rise of sea power damaged international relations. It changed geopolitical relationships. The expanding wars become weapons in benefits disputes. Humanity paid a painful price and sustained serious damage to social progress.
Moreover, the rise of sea power subverted security. The sea power theory is primarily focused on military conquest. The expansion of sea power represented the continuously increasing threat of war, putting the sea and coasts forever at war or on a war footing.
Evolving Sea Power Theory
Today, sea power faces a series of exterior transformations such as economic globalization. Even those superpowers that can influence the global economy cannot avoid the structural defects of capitalism, such as the financial crisis. This undermines trade based on sea power.
In the era of equal civilizations, the developed industrial countries can confine rational competition among civilizations, but they cannot suppress extreme violence such as terrorism. They can destroy an army, but cannot cope with an uprising of religious doctrines.
The expanding rule of economies should not be neglected. The rise of sea power has made it possible for all countries to boost their economies. The "Four Asian Dragons" and BRIC countries are examples of this phenomenon. Piracy in the Gulf of Aden is an example of obtaining wealth by violence. They are driven by poverty rather than ideology. Even for modern warships, piracy is a hard nut to crack.
All of these conditions put the sea power theory cherished by Western countries in conflict with global ambitions.
In the modern world, major events in international politics, military, economy and culture contribute to the emergence of the modern sea function cluster. We can speculate on how to evolve modern sea power theory.
Can we abandon restraints on the values of attractive foreign cultures?
Samuel Huntington's "Clash of Civilization" aimed to point out the phenomenon of contradictory civilizations separated by the sea. He highlighted Chinese Civilization, in which military culture plays an important role, inheriting ancient Chinese military strategies expressed as "the supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without combat."
With more coastal countries developing sea power, a harmonious maritime environment will be required. The world is waiting for a trans-ocean culture based on the mutual understanding of civilizations and mutual respect in the interests of development, rather than superiority of values, economic plundering and gunboat diplomacy.
Can we demolish the cold war mentality by drawing up a responsible "sea power strategy"?
China is positioning itself internationally to be firmly rooted in the present while looking to the future and playing the role of "a stakeholder" in international politics, a responsible great country and a major part of the global security system.
Whereas some colonial powers made the sea a channel for plunder, China is using it to optimize the structure of its economy. The new sea power does not use the strength of weapons to bully others, but instead focuses on safeguarding the nation's interests and facilitating mainstream development, and in this process contribute to the stabilization of the global economy.
Thus we propose that the strategic aspect of sea power theory should focus on safety at sea, and effective military deterrence to safeguard security. It brings not compulsion politics, but responsible politics; not a "leadership" strategy, but a "development right" strategy.
Can we change the idea of "the sea as a military tool" by establishing a "peaceful sea power"?
For a long time, hegemony has made or extended the sea as a battlefield.
China's navy has never brought war to another country.
We can define the concept of a "peaceful sea power" based on the features of never waging war abroad, never participating in colonial wars or overseas military occupation, and having no interest in exploiting other countries through military compulsion.
Mahan's concept of the implementation of sea power comprises two parts: control of the sea and utilization of the sea. Analyzing the effects of the financial crisis on trade and piracy in the Gulf of Aden, we can conclude that the desirable navy value is operational effectiveness of the sea.
Traditional sea power theory confounded the dialectical relationship between control and utilization of sea power, as the former should yield to and serve the latter.
Communication and cooperation coexist and grow with globalization. Sea power should be a tool for communication rather than a tool for war. It should be a creative and vigorous path to peace. Such thinking indicates the rise of a new type of sea power.