in the late Cold War, there was a lot of talking of an American strategy that
imposed costs on the Russkies -- costs they couldn't afford, for things like
national missile defense. It seemed pretty snazzy at the time.
turns out that this is nothing new. Paul Kennedy, in his terrific study of The Rise and Fall of British Naval Mastery,
quotes the Duke of Newcastle as stating in 1742 that, "France will outdo us at
sea when they have nothing to fear on land. I have always maintained that our marine
should protect our alliances on the Continent, and so, by diverting the expense
of France, enable us to maintain our superiority at sea."
says this was the key to British policy for centuries: Keep Europe in a balance
of power so that no one nation dominated the continent, and all nations there
would have to focus on land power at the expense of sea power. Hence Britain's
"perfidious" reputation -- it didn't care much about the nature of its alliances
as long as it could balance European powers while it expanded its empire
outside Europe. He writes that, "of the seven Anglo-French wars which took
place between 1689 and 1815, the only one which Britain lost was that in which
no fighting took place in Europe." This pattern gave rise to the expression
that France lost Canada in Germany.
approach worked until 1914.
British occupation of Gibraltar grew out of this strategy. By having a base at
the mouth of the Mediterranean, the British could deter the French from moving
their Mediterranean fleet out to join their Atlantic fleet.
book reminds me a lot of Piers Mackesy's The War for America in
that it teaches not just history but strategy. I am surprised that no one told
me to read it years ago.