Episode 2: Neptune’s Prophet: Alfred Thayer Mahan

Writing when the USA was becoming a great power, strategist Alfred Thayer Mahan (1840-1914) drew on historical precedent in his talks and books to prepare America to pick up the baton from the United Kingdom.

Unashamedly imperialist, Mahan wrote in his The Impact of Sea Power on History, ‘Naval strategy has for its end to found, support, and increase, as well in peace and in war, the sea power of a country.’ Yet as he pondered the instruments and their ways of application, blending geopolitical, economic and cultural considerations in his analysis, Mahan’s thinking was much more nuanced than many of his fans realised. Although naval battle was prominent, it was not the only tool of strategy in Mahan’s toolbox.

Cdr. Dr Benjamin Armstrong, Permanent Military Professor at the United States Naval Academy, joins Paul and Beatrice to discuss Mahan and how naval leaders and educators the world over – including RUSI which awarded him its highest prize, the Chesney Gold Medal - fell under his spell, albeit in a caricatured rendering dictating the pre-eminence of the navy over the army, and with an undue fixation on naval battle.

Cdr. Dr Armstrong’s publications include Small Boats and Daring Men: Maritime Raiding, Irregular Warfare, and the Early American Navy (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 2019), and has edited a work on Innovation, Education, and Leadership for the Modern Era (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2015). He has received several awards for his publications.

The views or statements expressed by guests are their own and their appearance on the podcast does not imply an endorsement of them or any entity they represent. Views and opinions expressed by RUSI employees are those of the employees and do not necessarily reflect the view of RUSI.


Beatrice Heuser

Senior Associate Fellow

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Paul O’Neill

Senior Research Fellow

Military Sciences

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