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Strategic Thought of Alfred Thayer Mahan

Alfred Thayer Mahan was one of the leading thinkers on maritime strategy and naval warfare. He was an expert in sea power, which was a crucial starting point for conducting war at sea. He was also known as one of the most influential naval historians who shared his thoughts about the role of navies in the conflict between the great European powers in the 18th century (Milevski 2018, 124). He aimed at learning strategic affairs and international relations to understand strategy problems and foreign policy of his times.

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His views on international relations and strategic management were highly regarded by policy-makers, the public, and news outlets. Mahan developed a number of strategic thoughts and approaches to improve the naval industry of the country, and his message to the 21st-century navy officer is to never neglect the importance of education and the right choice of disciplines.

During the late 19th century, the military thinkers were dazzled by advanced naval armament and burgeoning steam power fields. Navy leaders instituted technically-focused and strenuous curricula at the Nava Academy. These opportunities attracted many young men to be engineers and technical specialists to exploit the wonders of contemporary science. Today, in the 21st century, people cannot neglect science as it has already penetrated their lives. Cyber warfare, drones, and transformational technologies are implemented in many strategies operations.

The United States Navy stipulated that building the necessary force to excel in the navy depends on the quality of new office equipment such as electronic computers, large system-level prototypes, and full-scale vessels (Hooper 2019). The complexity of cyber sphere requires a new set of officers for this task. These changes can create cyber specialists but do not necessarily produce professional naval officers.

The thoughts of Mahan show that electrical systems, principles of aerodynamics, and missile mechanics may be learned without officer commissions and college degrees. By exaggerating the technical competence needed from officer corporals, the naval system continues with a simple, practical matter. However, if a person starts trusting in formulas and technologies more than colleagues, there is a possibility to rely on science more, which leads to the destruction of human warfighting functions. Therefore, human-machine teaming is highly promoted in many organizations to create a safe and effective environment (Lewis 2019). Current naval officers have to demonstrate their professionalism in treating machines to control naval activities.

Regarding such conditions and attitudes toward the role of science and human relations, Mahan’s words and strategies gain a serious meaning now. He argued that there was no level of mental caliber to compensate for the lack of moral force in their profession. Modern people are confronted by various allegations of impropriety and corruption from their office ranks. Major reasons that result in naval officers being dismissed from their duties include drunk driving, bribery, poor command climate, and sexual assault.

Midshipmen are recently focused on steam boats, physics, electrical engineering, and calculus as a portion of their core curriculum. The level of knowledge needed to attain a degree of bachelor in science is immense, including the courses of Ethics, Leadership, and Naval History. Mahan believed scientific and studious intellect is not the one that is readily attached to naval life. The leaders’ failure to be fully instilled with the ethics and history of the navy profession provokes public dismissals and mistrust in naval management. Technical knowledge overemphasis at the expense of profession and moral education may negatively affect the type of naval leadership the country deserves.

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The need to improve naval education was frequently discussed after the publication of Mahan’s books and essays. This person truly believed in the greatness of naval forces and the necessity to learn the history and past achievements. Naval officers have to do everything possible to go back to their roots’ study and understanding of their academic and personal needs. The most assuring way to do it is to divert the focus from technical acumen as the primary goal of the undergraduate. The focus is then directed to commissioning officers that are sharp about their tactics, history, and traditions as they are with thermodynamics homework.

There are three important changes that must be embraced. The first one is removing the requirements for certain percentages of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) majors (Milevski 2018, 125). A new rule has recently been stipulated, stating that at least 85% of new officers will be from STEM majors (Micallef 2017). Second, it is vital to make Naval Leadership, History, and Ethics mandatory classes for a four-year education. Furthermore, these courses should compromise at least four credit hours in a semester. Finally, it is recommended to promote the disciplines of Naval Leadership, History, and Ethics elective in the final year, so students can define their strengths and weaknesses and follow the necessary direction. According to Mahan, the moral virtue of the officer corps has to become one of the most crucial aspects of the Navy (Cross 2021, 30).

Rigidly focusing on science and engineering cannot solely produce navy officers of great character. At an undergraduate level, technicians are pursuant to the mission stated by the Navy Academy to develop midshipmen physically, morally, and mentally and underline the importance of professional and moral education.

Mahan was a great thinker of maritime strategy and naval warfare who wanted to prove the worth of international relations and underline the necessity to solve strategic problems in the chosen sphere. His thoughts made significant contributions to the development of education for navy officers in the 21st century. Mahan stipulated that electrical systems, principles of aerodynamics, and missile mechanics can be learned without officer commissions and college degrees. Navy officers of great character are produced through physical, mental, and moral education rather than plainly learning science and engineering classes.


Cross, Graham. 2021. “‘Command of the Air’: Alfred T. Mahan, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston S. Churchill and an Anglo-American Personal Diplomacy of Air Power.” Journal of Transatlantic Studies 19: 27-53.

Hooper, Craig. 2019. “How to Keep New Technology from Crippling the U.S. Navy.Forbes, 2019. Web.

Lewis, Larry. 2019. “AI Safety: An Action Plan for the Navy.” CAN. Web.

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Micallef, Steve. 2017. Militarisation in East Asia. Considerations from the Works of Thucydides and Alfred Thayer Mahan. Hamburg: Anchor Academic Publishing.

Milevski, Lukas. 2018. “Strategic Theories.” Parameters 48 (1): 124-126.

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