Maritime power in British strategy, 1945 to the present

Britain’s naval power was long the central instrument in its strategy and defence policy, at the heart of what was even claimed to be a distinctive ‘British way in warfare’. This centrality was challenged in the first half of the 20th century and even more in the second, with some casting doubt on the continuing relevance of sea power for Britain and with the size and shape of the Royal Navy becoming the single most contentious issue in a succession of defence reviews. Naval power continued to be important in British strategy, however, albeit in ways that fluctuated and evolved across the course of the Cold War and then in confronting new challenges afterwards. This paper explores how naval and maritime power fitted in to British strategy from the Second World War to the present. It argues that naval power had a more important role than has often been suggested, and that it is likely to be increasingly prominent in contemporary strategy.

Tim Benbow is a Reader in Strategic Studies in the Defence Studies Department, King’s College London, based at the Joint Services Command and Staff College of the UK Defence Academy. After studying at Brasenose College, Oxford, as an undergraduate he completed an M.Phil and then a D.Phil. in International Relations at St Antony’s College. Tim remained at Oxford conducting a post-doctoral research project and teaching international relations and strategic studies at the undergraduate and graduate levels. He spent two years teaching at Britannia Royal Naval College, Dartmouth, before joining the Defence Studies Department in 2004. His research interests include UK strategy and defence policy, and naval strategy and history during and since the Second World War.