Former Secretary of the Navy Lehman (On Seas of Glory: Heroic Men, Great Ships, and Epic Battles of the American Navy, 2001, etc.) unfolds the Ronald Reagan–era strategy to reclaim United States dominance on the high seas and contain the Soviet fleet.
In the aftermath of World War II and the early years of the Cold War, writes the author, the U.S. Navy was devalued in favor of the Air Force even as the fleet was required to carry nuclear weapons, which “required much additional manpower and shipboard space.” Even before Reagan took office in 1981, he had been promising a program of “naval rearmament and maritime superiority.” After winning the election, he assembled a team, including Lehman, to bring this program into being. Among the author’s innovations was a push to assert an American and NATO presence in the Arctic and “the icy bastions that the Soviet sailors considered their domain.” Exercises involving U.S. Marines and other Allied forces in the far north brought the point home, to the consternation of the Kremlin. Toward the end of Reagan’s first term, exercises with the South Korean military on an amphibious landing further agitated the Russians, who tried to catch up but could not. It helped that Reagan opened up the treasury for a military spending spree that the Soviets could not afford, but the arrival of Mikhail Gorbachev to the scene was a critical factor; in time, the Soviets began to retreat from distant oceans, particularly lessening their presence in the Mediterranean. Lehman sounds downright Reagan-esque when he writes, “if the Americans were going to press up against Soviet coasts, they had better draw back and circle their wagons.” For the most part, though, this is a matter-of-fact, evenhanded look at a largely overlooked component in the eventual decline and collapse of the Soviet Union.
Valuable for students of naval strategy and geopolitics as well as of Cold War history.