Naval Warfare, 1815-1914

By Lawrence Sondhaus | Go to book overview

CHAPTER NINE

Reflections on deterrence

A study of the evolution of naval warfare from 1815 to 1914, leading ultimately to the focus on the battle fleet and the dreadnought, provides an excellent opportunity for a discussion of the nature of deterrence in sea power. Analysis of the concept of deterrence itself poses rather unique difficulties. As Louise Arbour, prosecutor for the International War Crimes Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, remarked in 1999, in assessing the success or failure of any policy of deterrence we face the task of “measuring what did not occur.” 1 The utility of the large armored warship came under attack at its birth in the early 1860s, during the era of the Jeune École, and again after 1918, with the emergence of air power and in light of the fact that battleships had spent most of the First World War rusting at anchor, while smaller vessels did the bulk of the fighting at sea. Twentieth-century critics of battleship construction have argued that most countries could have done without them. Their judgements have been harsh for the pre-1914 naval programs of every country except Britain, the United States, and Japan, on the grounds that for the others some less expensive combination of cruisers and lighter craft would have provided a better actual fighting force. 2

This sort of argument overlooks the fact that deterrence always has been largely psychological, and that the force which best deters is not necessarily the same as the force which, in actual warfare, would best attack or defend. 3 Regardless of their relevance to modern naval warfare, the works of Mahan quite correctly emphasized the importance of the British battle fleet in the early modern period and the Napoleonic era. A guerre de course could make life miserable for the British, but without a battle fleet able to command the seas France had no hope of dislodging Britain from its pre-eminent position. The same essential fact remained unchanged after 1815, eventually applying to Germany's challenge to Britain. Indeed, beyond 1914, German submarine campaigns in two world wars inflicted serious damage but not of the catastrophic sort that would have followed the loss of the battle fleet, opening the way to the invasion and defeat of Britain. The only other modern naval powers with overseas trade of sufficient importance to tempt opponents to adopt a guerre de course strategy-the United States and Japan-likewise have withstood the challenge. The

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Naval Warfare, 1815-1914
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • List of Plates vi
  • Preface vii
  • Chapter One - The Twilight of Sail, 1815-30 1
  • Notes 24
  • Chapter Two - Continuity and Change, 1830-50 27
  • Chapter Three - The 1850s 55
  • Chapter Four - The Ironclad Revolution 73
  • Notes 104
  • Chapter Five - The 1870s 108
  • Chapter Six - The Jeune école 139
  • Chapter Seven - The Rebirth of the Battleship 160
  • Chapter Eight - The Dreadnought and the Origins of the First World War 197
  • Chapter Nine - Reflections on Deterrence 225
  • Bibliography 230
  • Index 237
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