Book Review: The Decline of European Naval Forces: Challenges to Sea Power in an Age of Fiscal Austerity and Political Uncertainty


by Jeremy Stöhs

Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2018. Pp. xx, 292. Tables, appends., notes, biblio., index. $36.95. ISBN: 1682473082

The Passing of European Naval Power?

Stohs, a defense analyst at the Institute for Security Policy of the University of Kiel, examines, with some alarm, the decline in European naval forces since the end of the Cold War, against the background of the rise of new naval powers – China, India, Japan – and how this may affect the future of their ability to protect their interests.

Stohs opens with an introductory chapter discussing the principles of naval strategy. He follows this the a look at recent trends naval policy, notably the rise of new naval powers in the Asia-Pacific and the relative decline of European naval forces.

Stohs then devotes chapters to the navies and naval policies of the various European powers. Each of the major navies– Britain, France, Italy, Germany, and Spain – are treated individually, while the smaller ones are paired based on common problems and patterns, so there are chapters covering Turkey and Greece, Denmark and the Netherlands, and Sweden and Norway, an approach that oddly omits countries formerly in the Warsaw Pact.

Stohs notes that most of these countries have reduced their navies, in some cases dangerously so, Germany, for example, being seen as remarkably unready. He attributes this in part to the increasing costs of warships and aircraft, as new technologies dramatically increase costs. But he also reminds us that many countries are responding to changes in domestic politics, with the rise of the “Welfare State”. Stohs also notes that the fall of the Soviet Union has played a role in the decline of European naval power, as the various countries no longer perceived a need for strong maritime forces, creating a challenging problem with the revival of Russian military power.

Stohs might have looked further back than the Cold War; some powers, such as Britain and France, albeit with smaller forces, still maintain fleets proportionally similar to those they had in earlier times, while other countries, such as the Netherlands and Denmark, have not been significant sea powers in some two centuries.

Oddly lacking maps, The Decline of European Naval Forces is nevertheless a valuable critique, and an important read for anyone concerned about the European and Western security.


Note: The Decline of European Naval Forces is also available as an e-book.


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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