A Brief Guide To Maritime Strategy

A Brief Guide to Maritime Strategy by James R. Holmes. Published 2019 Naval Institute Press

Reviewed by Philip Kiley

Professor James Holmes set out to write a compact introduction to the Maritime Strategy that could easily be read by junior officers and policymakers in their spare time. The goal was to introduce readers to the central ideas and literature of strategy at sea. The intended audience is young professionals in the maritime environment who may have heard the names of great naval thinkers like Mahan or Corbett but are not intimately familiar with their work. Professor Holmes’ book will change that.

Maritime Strategy is not an all-encompassing review of naval strategy, history or tactics. Professor Holmes selects key ideas and introduces them to the reader in a simple and concise fashion. Maritime Strategy begins with the basics, answering the question, “What is the sea?” Professor Holmes then builds on this foundation by showing the relationship states have with the sea and how they can project power regionally and globally. All through the text Holmes interjects the topic at hand with the thoughts of Mahan, Corbett and others.

Topics range from the ideal location for a seaport, to the purpose and function of the merchant marine, as well as the diplomatic role of a navy. Professor Holmes would be the first to acknowledge that important topics were left out of the book. Most noticeable were focused discussions of the Marine Corps and Coast Guard. Each branch was briefly mentioned, for example the use of a shore battery attachment conducting access denial in the littorals, or the law enforcement duties of a Coast Guard. A future edition would be well served to dedicate some space to the two-thirds of the U.S. maritime forces not mentioned, so if nothing else, the new Congressional staffer reading this book understands how they fit into the big picture of maritime strategy.

Professor Holmes’ book is a must-read. What may be the best part of the book, and what will continue to bring the reader back to its pages time and time again are the detailed endnotes. The notes will serve as a springboard for future readings. Professor Holmes ended his preface by sharing the words of the Prussian strategist Carl von Clausewitz that reading about strategy, “is meant to educate the mind of the future commander, or, more accurately, to guide him in is self-education.” A Brief Guide to Maritime Strategy is the perfect introduction for new maritime professionals who are interested in building a foundation of knowledge for their career.    


Philip Kiley is a Coast Guard Reservist committed to life-long learning and professional development through reading and formal education. Having spent time as a Boatswain’s Mate and a Storekeeper Kiley is familiar with the operational and logistical challenges of the military. In his civilian occupation he is a Senior Buyer with a major U.S. defense contractor.

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